Friday, December 30, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
seen @ Main Street Cinemas, Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY


I've been waiting all damn year to get this off my chest and now I'm gonna say it: Tattoos and piercings, in my humble opinion, do not make a hot chick look hotter. I cannot begin to tell you how much it depresses me whenever I see some chick on the street who already looks good to begin with (and my definition of a good-looking chick is fairly broad), and yet she still feels the need to stick small pieces of metal through her lip or her brow or - gah! - her tongue, or cover her chest and arms with tats. It's like putting neon lights on the Mona Lisa because you think it looks cool.

There's a comic strip I read where the main characters start a tattoo and piercing business in order to make money off of gullible teenagers with more money than sense. They pierce them with crap like wire hangers and barbed wire and hang irons from their nipples and tattoo insults on them, but to their shock, the kids love it all, because they think it makes them look hipper and more "alternative" than ever. Sometimes that's how I see some of these people who do these things to their bodies - like they're suckers who'll follow any trend in the name of individuality. But how can they be "individual" and "alternative" if everyone's doing it?

And I don't find it sexy. One or two tattoos, maybe. A whole bunch, no. Plus, what will these chicks look like when they're 60 and have sagging boobs, cellulite and liver spots on top of those tattoos? But then, one wonders if that's even a consideration.

Still, I don't wanna sound like I'm blanket-condemning tattoos and piercings. If that's your thing and you wanna do that to your body, by all means, have at it. Go nuts. Just don't think it's gonna automatically make you look any hotter.

Of course, not everyone gets ink done for looks alone. I knew a girl who had a tat of wings on her back in tribute to a fallen friend, whose name was also inscribed with the wings. I can accept something like that. Though some people, of course, take that sort of thing too far as well. I read a story a few years ago about a father who had tattooed on his back a reproduction of a drawing his eight-year-old daughter made. (There's actually much more to that particular story, but I'll save it for another time.)

I missed about the first ten minutes or so of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because of an unusual incident that happened to me on my way to the theater. I was coming from a different direction than last time (this was only my second time at the Main Street), through a neighborhood I'm unfamiliar with, and as a result, I got lost. I asked a bus driver for directions and he set me back on the right path, but as I was walking down a residential street, I saw an old lady standing out the door to her house with an arm outstretched in my general direction. I couldn't tell for sure, but it sounded like she was saying something. Then I realized she was calling for help!

I backed up and approached her front door. I was the only one in the vicinity. She looked to be at least in her 70s, maybe even her 80s. She said her husband had dementia and needed help getting from the bathroom back to the bedroom. I asked if he needed a doctor, ready to dial 911. She said he didn't. Tentatively I walked into their place and she led me to the bathroom.

The old dude, probably around the same age as his wife, was sitting on the can in his boxers and a button-down shirt. (I was quite grateful there was nothing that needed cleaning up, if you know what I mean.) There was a metal cane, the kind with four prongs at the base, next to him. He seemed reluctant to use it to help him get up, or indeed, to get up at all. He seemed like his mind might've been out to lunch at the moment.

I slowly helped him up and eased him into the bedroom, little by little, though I had to keep urging him to grab his cane and use it to lean on, even as I held him up on one side. Eventually he made it. The wife thanked me as the phone rang, and that's when I chose to make a discreet exit, having helped solve the immediate problem and not willing to wait until she got off the phone to find out if she needed anything else. I couldn't help but wonder why they didn't have any neighbors they could rely on, or a nurse or home attendant, but then I suppose there could be a myriad of reasons, and thinking about it further just depressed me, so I moved on.

Anyway, by the time I made it to the theater, I considered waiting for the next show, but I thought I'd only miss the trailers. Well, I did miss the trailers - and the opening credits, and a bit of the beginning of the story, but I was able to catch up easily enough. And I could hardly complain about it, now could I?

So. That book... or should I say those books. I never read them, nor did I see the original Swedish film version. I might've mentioned here before how suspect I tend to get towards mega-popular things in pop culture - my lizard brain automatically thinks if it's popular, it must suck. That's why I never got into Harry Potter at its peak. Sometimes, of course, this belief is true, but not always.

I can't recall ever seeing a character quite like Lisbeth in the movies before. I knew she was gonna get raped in the story (some spoilers are impossible to avoid). It didn't surprise me that she'd take her revenge; I fully anticipated and applauded that. What I didn't expect was how quickly she'd be willing and able to have sex with a man (or a woman) again. Now, I'm not about to pretend I have any clue what rape is like for a woman, but the way the film presents Lisbeth, it seemed almost as if she didn't suffer any lingering psychological scars from the incident. Basically, she was raped, she suffered physically, she got her revenge (in a totally AWESOME fashion, I might add), and she moved on like it ain't no thing. I can't believe she could put it behind her so quickly and easily...

...but then again, Lisbeth is hella tough. Maybe it's one of those things you need to accept in the name of entertainment, like the hero shrugging off bullet wounds that would put anyone else outta commission. I did like the movie overall, so maybe I should forget about it. I dunno.

I'll say this much, though: I think I understand why many of the promotional images for Tattoo were as sexually provocative as they were: Lisbeth's sexuality is an integral part of her identity. She decides she wants to have sex with Blomkvist - and doesn't fool around about it, either. And while I initially thought it was just about sex, by the story's end it turns out she genuinely cares about him - another surprise.

That's it for 2011. See you next year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Don't ask me to explain Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I can't - beyond, of course, the very basic premise of looking for the mole within England's MI6. I knew going into this movie that this wasn't gonna have any James Bond-type shenanigans, but I thought there'd at least be a healthy amount of action to it. Haven't we come to expect a little action in spy movies? I dunno. The worst part is that I was really looking forward to this movie.

Like many people, I saw this as Gary Oldman's Oscar bid - and he's excellent in it, though the odds do not look good for him getting that Best Actor nod right now - but I also believed it would be a good movie overall. It's well put together, and all the actors are top-notch (though John Hurt chews more than his share of scenery), but ultimately I was given no reason why I should care about any of it because there's a distinct lack of passion to these proceedings. 

The theater was giving out these "cheat sheet" things to everyone seeing Tinker. Maybe you got one too, if you've seen the film - it's this great big fold-out that explains what "The Circus" is, who the characters in Tinker are and how they relate to each other, and what all the different code names mean. By the time I arrived, I had only a minute or two to look it over before the trailers started, so I didn't get a good look at it. I doubt it would've helped much, unless I was able to refer to it during the movie, which of course I couldn't (unless I had a pocket flashlight or something).

Maybe it was because of the holiday season, but there was a fairly large crowd for a late-afternoon midweek showing. The room looked half full. I had the misfortune to sit behind an older couple who felt the need to quietly chatter at every little detail, so during the opening credits I moved up an aisle. There was more chatter than usual during the movie, which I took to be people trying to figure out what the hell's going on in this movie, but I could've sworn I heard someone talking on a cell. Not sure. I did hear a cell go off, I know that. By contrast, I also heard a couple of people snoozing. Afterwards, I saw one dude comparing this to the BBC mini-series. He didn't seem to like this version much. In fact, I got the impression that much of the audience didn't care for it.

Not much more to add, except that I spent my time waiting for the movie to start in a cafe across the street which I had never been to before. I like it; I can't believe I've never been in there before, in fact. It's the perfect place to wait for the movie. The Kew, like many theaters these days, play a bunch of commercials before showing the trailers, so rather than sit through them, I wait until the last minute before entering whenever I go there. Getting a good seat usually isn't a problem when I go during the middle of the week, when it's cheaper. Now, though, I have a place I can hang out in first. Their tea is very good, and they even have soft, cushy lounge chairs, although I didn't get to sit in one because it was crowded. Had to settle for a stool. But that's okay.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 5 movie-going moments of 2011

Other movie blogs may give you a list of their top films of the year - and actually, I'll probably do that too, but unlike a certain film critics group, I'm in no rush to reveal it to the world (in fact, I probably won't get to it for another month at least). This being WSW, however, I have something different to offer. 2011 will be the first calendar year I've completed, and naturally I have quite a number of movie-going memories, whether alone or with friends - the kind of stuff that I do my best to write about here, in this blog that's more of a personal journal than a movie blog. These are the five moments that stand out most. Unlike my usual lists, this is an actual ranking - and it wasn't easy to rank these, either.

5. Singing oldies songs with Andi at a diner before seeing The Illusionist. I think I may have gone to more movies with Andi this year than anyone else. I may not have liked all of them equally, but she's always great company. Sometimes she talks me into some nutty things (remind me to tell you of the time we sneaked into a gated community pretending we were gonna buy a house there), but that's only because she has a great curiosity about the world and isn't shy about it. Why else would she go on a cross-country hike across half of Spain covering hundreds of miles? Or sing Motown songs in a Queens diner with yours truly just because?

4. Going to Vija's party in-between movies during the Urbanworld Film Festival. This being my first film festival, I thought I could see and do it all. Boy was I wrong! Still, Saturday proved to be the busiest of the three-day festival for more than one reason, and I knew that whatever else happened, I couldn't miss one of Vija's parties which, thankfully, was within walking distance of the theater. In the close-to-twenty years I've known her, I've always enjoyed her soirees because I like her friends! Andi is just one of a number of friends I've met this way. Some of them, like Vija and I, are artists; some are co-workers or neighbors of hers; some are old friends of hers that go way back, but I've always gotten along well with them. In fact, at this particular party I met this one woman whom I would've loved to have gotten better acquainted with had I more time; we had a wonderful, but sadly, brief conversation. (I sent her a friend request on Facebook, but I don't think she uses FB much.) Regardless, this was one day I won't forget for a long time.

3. Lining up on the red carpet for the first time at the Urbanworld Film Festival. I could've had a better camera. I might've liked a slightly better spot. And I was a bit star-struck at seeing the likes of Spike Lee and Chris Rock at first. Once I settled into my unlikely role as a paparazzo, however, it was truly exciting. UWFF took place at the same time as the Toronto festival, and I admit I couldn't help making comparisons in my mind (not that I've ever been there), even though Toronto is, of course, one of the biggest film fests in the world. Still, for a film fest novice, one could hardly ask for more: a central location in the heart of New York City, a plethora of film and TV stars to meet and greet, and an all-access pass to see some terrific films. My prior experience as a comics blogger helped prepare me some - going to conventions, interviewing writers and artists - but this was something else. (The glamor of the red carpet itself was dulled for me somewhat when I saw UWFF staffers tape it down to the linoleum floor... but that was a minor detail.)

 2. Hearing the Alloy Orchestra perform their score for Metropolis. In a year in which a silent movie is favored to win Best Picture for the first time in many generations, perhaps it was the best time to have discovered this astounding band, doing what they do best - playing live music for silent movies. If you're ever in NYC in the summertime, make it your business to come to Brooklyn and see a show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. For three bucks you get one helluva bargain.

1. Seeing The Captains on the Intrepid with William Shatner and hundreds of fellow Trekkies. At the risk of sounding like a gushing fanboy, I can't express accurately enough how thrilling it was to be in the presence of The Man Himself for the first time, under these circumstances. The Intrepid, like many NYC landmarks, is not someplace I ever gave much thought to actually visiting one day - as impressive as it is, it's still a tourist trap, and an expensive one at that. So this was momentous on three different levels - the movie itself (which was interesting, but more for Trekkies than anyone else, I think), having the Shat there to introduce it, and being on board the Intrepid for the first time - and all of it for free! I was gonna go with a friend, but he couldn't make it at the last minute, so the only negative about this night was I didn't have anyone to share it with, but I had a great time nonetheless.

As for the blog itself, I have a few ideas for new stuff to add and experiment with in 2012. Once the Oscar season ends, I'm thinking I might cut back to two movies a week (not counting theme weeks). Cranking out three a week isn't always easy, and I'd like to diversify the content a little better. I have Skype now, so you may start hearing me on a podcast or two here and there. I would like to start one of my own also, as soon as I can decide on a film-related topic I'd want to discuss. And I'd like to bring my original art back in some form. Alex has kinda cornered the market on actor sketches, so maybe I'll do something different. I hope you'll stick with me throughout it all.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Design For Living

Design For Living
seen online via YouTube

The first time I heard the word "polyamory" was over a decade ago. I was in love with a girl who used this to describe herself. She made it very clear that even though she already had one boyfriend, it didn't necessarily preclude the possibility of her getting involved with others, but she knew that this was a concept that was blowing my mind. Even today, it's still something that's difficult to wrap my mind around.

Having sex with more than one chick at the same time is perhaps the ultimate male fantasy, and I'm sure plenty of women have wondered what having two guys at once would be like too. This is not like that. Sometimes one person will date others simultaneously, without the other parties' knowledge. This isn't like that either. This is about open relationships - one person going with two (or more) lovers and everybody being aware of it and everybody being cool with it. 

A dubious proposition? Maybe. But whether you're talking the free love movement of the 60s, or the wife-swapping key parties of the 70s (or much further back in time than that), it seems like for every streak of morally-induced prohibitions against sexual relations as imposed by some higher authority, there have been alternate groups pushing back against those restrictions. 

I dunno... is it simply against our nature to commit to one person, long-term? At what point in human history was it decided that monogamy was how it had to be and anything else was taboo? A major reason why it didn't work out for me and that girl was because in my heart, I didn't really believe it was possible for her to love me and someone else at the same time - and she knew it. Was it wrong of me that I wanted her all to myself? I don't think so. I knew I couldn't change her, and as much as I tried, I couldn't change either. Maybe it would've made things easier, but it was a bridge too far for me to cross. I wish I could have somehow.

So I look at a film like Design For Living - a pre-Code film from 1933, if you can believe that - and while it's entertaining to a degree, I still find myself bemused and bewildered by its approach to what we now call polyamory. One chick falls in love with two dudes and doesn't feel she should have to decide between them. She agrees to forego sex in exchange for helping them pursue their respective careers in the arts, presumably to avoid jealous rages, but that doesn't quite work out the way it's supposed to. Also, Edward Everett Horton.

It's a comedy, so it's kinda mannered and... I dunno, tasteful, though I imagine 1933 audiences saw it much differently. Tom and George fight over Gilda at different points, but I never got the sense that it was all that serious. No one sees Gilda's behavior as truly unusual, and maybe that was intentional, but I think my own experience with being in a similar situation made me not completely buy this story - or perhaps, not this approach to this story. I guess this hits home too hard for me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

March of the Wooden Soldiers

March of the Wooden Soldiers (AKA Babes in Toyland)
seen online via YouTube

Jacqueline from Another Old Movie Blog recently posted an interesting theory about Christmas movies. She says that modern ones tend to put Christmas at the forefront of their stories, which makes them less enduring than older ones that tend to use Christmas as the backdrop instead:
...As every classic film fan can tell you, we notice the backdrops. We study them. They are important just where they are. Bedford Falls is the backdrop; James Stewart and his stupendous meltdown and the reasons for it are the story. But through the telling, we know all about Bedford Falls, and it becomes a character in the movie. The Christmas climax is fitting because Christmas is not the nightmare; it’s just the time the nightmare occurs...

By keeping Christmas in the background, the classic Christmas movie becomes so much more meaningful than the trite “finding the true meaning of Christmas” or having “the best Christmas ever” stories we have today. The classic Christmas film is about life and death, prison and sickness, lies and deceit, and never getting what you really want. Then the Christmas scene -- like the thunderous ringing of church bells or the clash of symbols that accompany it, makes us feel triumphant in a colossal way, because we have discovered again we are human and survived being human, and have forgiven others for being human.
I suspect she's speaking in general terms; while I haven't seen very many modern ones, I can certainly think of a few that use the holiday as a background (Die Hard, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon), but setting aside the modern-day-versus-classic aspect, I can't help but agree that these kinds of movies are definitely better to watch. I may find this time of year practically intolerable to begin with, but I can still appreciate a good holiday movie.

So I was stuck trying to find a Christmas movie to watch (the one I originally wanted wasn't available) when I came across this post about an old Laurel & Hardy film called March of the Wooden Soldiers. I'm a fellow New Yorker, but I'm afraid I don't recall seeing this on Channel 11 around Christmas. Then again, I would've been pretty young. (Brief aside: WPIX used to be great for showing old movies and TV shows. They'd run Honeymooners marathons and Twilight Zone marathons, and that's where my love of those old shows started. Sure, one can watch those shows online or on DVD now, but man, do I miss the excitement of seeing them on TV like that. When you can watch it anytime, it's not the same.)

Anyway, I figured at the very least it'd be an excuse to watch another L&H film and get better acquainted with them (earlier this year I watched my first L&H movie, The Flying Deuces). As it turns out, Soldiers barely qualifies as a Christmas movie; Santa Claus makes a brief appearance, but it doesn't actually take place during Christmas time.

To sum up: it's Toyland, where everyone's a nursery rhyme or fairy tale character, and the Boys are toymakers who must prevent the resident bad guy from taking over and marrying the heroine. For a kiddie movie made in 1934, it's about what you'd expect, though the obligatory musical numbers are worth sitting through in order to see Stanley in drag (not kidding). Still, who knew there'd be this much nightmare fuel in it? And I don't just mean the army of boogeymen that invade Toyland; they're gruesome, but they're supposed to be gruesome. I mean crazy stuff like this:

Those are supposed to be the Three Little Pigs on the left and the Cat and the Fiddle (as in "Hey Diddle Diddle") on the right. (Don't worry, purists; I watched Soldiers in black and white.) Folks, these stills don't really begin to capture the sheer, absolute terror of these creatures. I mean, I understand that make-up and costuming techniques weren't as sophisticated in 1934, but these costumes are seriously creepy. The faces don't move, for one thing. The cat in particular looks dead-eyed and lifeless. For another, they're this Dr. Moreau-esque hybrid of human and animal that look out of place in what's presented as a generally happy fantasy land. There's one moment where one of the pigs bites the hand of the bad guy, but of course, the mouth doesn't really move (thankfully, none of these abominations have any dialogue). 

Even these devil-spawn, however, pale in comparison compared to this:

What in the name of all that's holy is that supposed to be?

It looks like somebody dressed up a monkey to look like Mickey Mouse and then set it loose - but who the hell thought that was a good idea?! Look at it! The unseeing eyes, the maniacal painted grin - that thing is waiting for the little kids watching it to go to sleep so it can creep up on them with a butcher knife!

So if this is indeed a de facto Christmas movie, then it's an extreme example: L&H are working on toys for Santa to distribute on Christmas, but that doesn't really factor heavily into the plot, such as it is, so I suppose this is the kind of movie Jacqueline was talking about. And that's cool. All things considered, it goes down a lot easier - nightmare fuel and all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Center 13, New York NY

I wish I could say that I was any kind of authority when it comes to sex. My sexual liaisons have been few (and no, you may not know about them). I remember my first time, of course. Without giving away details, let me just say that it was with someone I loved, and who loved me. And while the mechanics of it may not have been perfect, I'm glad we did it when we did it and I still cherish the memory. Not everyone is so fortunate when it comes to their first time.

I can see how sex can be addictive. Hell, it's a wonder more people aren't addicts. Under the right circumstances, it's the most beautiful, transcendent, and yes, even spiritual - a word I do not use lightly - act (at least) two people can engage in. Throughout history, people have fought, killed and died for it, or lack of it. Of course, often people confuse sex for love, but that's another post.

I have a wandering eye, like many guys. I see a pretty girl on the street, on the subway, in the supermarket, sex immediately comes to mind. I have a friend for whom it's practically an unconditioned reflex. Doesn't help that he always complains about not having a girlfriend. Sex, or a lack of it, does things to people.

I knew that the sex in Shame would not necessarily be sexy. At first it kinda was... but ultimately it reached a point where it was simply disturbing and even a little bit stomach-churning. Part of it was the context of the story, of course; part of it was also the way it was filmed. There's a three-way near the end that under other circumstances might definitely be hot, but because of everything that came before it, definitely wasn't. At the film's end I felt empty and sad and depressed. (And then I had to go into the lobby and hear the end of a goddamn Justin Bieber Christmas song and that made it worse!)

The more I think about Shame, though, I can't feel too much in the way of pity for Michael Fassbender's character. Brandon is - ain't afraid to say it - phenomenally attractive, must make a fair amount of money to afford the kind of apartment he has, and can get any kind of woman he wants, but we're supposed to sympathize with him because he gets no pleasure from the copious amount of sex he gets! Alright, granted, not enjoying sex is certainly a legitimate problem, but, well, let me put it this way: I can't help but wonder what kind of movie this would be if it starred, say, Steve Buscemi, and was directed by, say, Jim Jarmusch, instead of someone as artful as Steve McQueen.

(Brief aside: I saw McQueen's first movie, Hunger, when I was in Columbus. Believe it or not, it played there before it came to New York, which made me very happy to know. I thought the film was absolutely mesmerizing.)

An unspoken aspect of Shame is that Brandon's affluent lifestyle, combined with his amazing good looks, enables him to get the kind of chicks he wants. He's barely even at his job for much of the movie (it's unclear what exactly he does; he's some mid-level office peon). He even plays hooky at one point for a tryst with a co-worker. Can you imagine him being able to do this if he was a manager at the Gap? My point is that Brandon's sex addict story doesn't have as much drama as McQueen seems to think there is, at least not by itself...

... which is why I was grateful for the presence of Carey Mulligan's character Cissy, Brandon's sister. This is where I thought the real heart of the drama lay - the push and pull between Brandon and Cissy. I wish there was more of it. If there was, maybe this would've been just an R-rated movie and not an NC-17.

The intensity of Fassbender's performance, combined with the corporate world Brandon inhabits (and even the 80s music) reminded me a little bit of American Psycho. At times, I expected Brandon to pull a Bateman on one of the chicks he scores with.

I'm pretty sure that Shame is the first NC-17 film I've seen theatrically. I half expected to get carded at the box office. I actually stopped shaving prior to seeing the movie as a precautionary measure, not that it was necessary; I've always looked older than I am.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five actors I'd want for the movie of my life

C'mon, who among us hasn't thought about this at one point or another in their lives? Especially as film fans? We're all movie stars in our own minds, and I'd say it's perfectly natural for anyone born into a culture that reveres and craves celebrity as much as ours to dream that one day their lives will be worthy of making into a movie. I mean, my god, reality television alone has made "stars" out of the stupidest people imaginable, so anything's possible, right? Or so goes the fantasy.

Me, I don't flatter myself into thinking my life's worthy of a movie. It's just a dream - but I do like playing casting director with my friends. I do it all the time. Just last week, in fact, after I saw Young Adult, I told my friend Dave that he looked just like Patton Oswalt. (He didn't think there was a resemblance, but I say there is. Trust me.)

Hollywood movies and TV shows, naturally, are the most well-known frame of reference; your level of knowledge of foreign films might lead you to conclude that your friend Rajiv may look like a certain Bollywood star, but he may or may not know that himself. So if you should decide to play casting director, do it with caution!

I could extend this casting call to friends and family members, but since you don't know them, nor what they look like, that'd probably be a waste of time (though I did recently suggest that Marisa Tomei could play Andi). Of course, you don't know what I look like either, but these five actors should at least give you a general impression.

- Ice Cube. For looks if nothing else, although the resemblance isn't that great. Among the vast amount of rappers turned actors, he's no Will Smith, but I liked him in Barber Shop, and of course, he'll forever be part of the great Boyz N The Hood, a film which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year.

- Mekhi Phifer. Loved him in Clockers and Soul Food. Thought for awhile that he was gonna become a breakout star. It didn't quite happen, but at least he had a nice run on ER. And of course he's been forever immortalized in song thanks to Eminem.

- Omar Epps. He and I actually went to the same high school at the same time, though I didn't know him. I remember feeling a surge of pride when Juice came out. Another ER alumnus, he's apparently on House now, but I perhaps remember him best in Scream 2.

- Chiwetel Ejiofor. I don't even know how to pronounce his name, but I know that I've liked him in whatever I've seen him in, especially Children of Men. Younger than I thought - only 34. I thought he was much older. Sooner or later someone's gonna put him in a film that's gonna make him a star (though it probably won't be my hypothetical one).

- Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Sentimental choice. When I recently saw ads for his new sitcom Reed Between the Lines, I was a bit stunned to see that Theo Huxtable is old enough to play a husband and father. Where does the time go? Never liked him with the dreads! Thank god he got rid of them. The best part is that Regina King could play my sister!

So who would you want to star in the movie of your life?

Monday, December 19, 2011


seen @ Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens, NY

So the last time I wrote about the Museum of the Moving Image was to talk about the Jim Henson exhibit currently on display. I didn't go much into the fact that MOMI plays all kinds of new and old movies on a regular basis, which is awesome because most of the time they come with a special guest or guests of some sort to talk about the film afterwards, be it the filmmakers or the actors or a film critic or historian.

I don't think I've talked about the surrounding neighborhood. Astoria, along with neighboring Long Island City, has become the hip part of Queens in recent years. There's a wide variety of restaurants serving food from many parts of the world, for one thing. MOMI, along with the Kaufman Astoria Studios, are the big attractions, and along with the UA movie theater and even, to stretch it out a bit further, the Silvercup Studios in LIC (remember that fight scene in Highlander?), the area is the place to be for film-and-television-related activity on this side of the East River. There's even a performing arts high school named after Frank Sinatra.

Steinway Street is one of the main drags in Astoria, and somebody, I don't know who, got it into their head that it would be a great idea to install speakers all along the street and pump holiday music out during this time of year. I am a grinch when it comes to the holidays; if I could, I would go into cryogenic sleep from Thanksgiving to December 26 every year and not feel like I've missed a thing. So you can imagine how I feel about heading into Astoria, for whatever reason, during the month of December.

This time, though, I had good cause. I was gonna pass on watching any movies this weekend when I saw on Twitter that MOMI was hosting an advance screening of Pariah, a film that was on my radar ever since I first read about its debut at Sundance way back in January. It's a coming-of-age story about a young lesbian girl trying to make her way in the world. Her parents don't know for certain that she's gay, but they suspect, and they subtly try to steer her away from it - not an easy task.

One can find a few surface comparisons to another recent Sundance hit, Precious: Black teenage girl in New York (Brooklyn, anyway) struggling to find her own path; normally-comedic actress in a dramatic role as the mother (Kim Wayans in this case, and she was quite good, though her character wasn't crazy like Mo'nique's); a schoolteacher as a positive role model. The differences end there, though.

Homophobia cuts across all racial and social lines, but I've found it particularly distressing when it comes from the black community. You'd think we of all people would know what oppression and discrimination in this country is like. So to see a film that portrays a young black lesbian with as much sensitivity and compassion as this does is encouraging. Of course, director Dee Rees is herself a black lesbian, so that's hardly surprising.

Producer Nekisa Cooper was on hand for a brief Q-and-A after the screening, and she talked about how Pariah, a film originally written in 2005 and evolved from a short, was shot in Fort Greene, Brooklyn in only eighteen days, using a single building for many interior shots of the characters' apartments. She also mentioned the support the film received from Sundance and from executive producer Spike Lee (with whom Rees had worked in the past).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Young Adult

Young Adult
seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Center 13, New York NY

Once upon a time I loved a girl. It didn't work out. I never thought I'd see her again, but time and circumstances conspired otherwise, and now she's back in my... sphere of influence, I guess you could say, but is no longer available. For a (very) brief period, however, I did contemplate the possibility of getting back together with her. Maybe she's not happy with this new man in her life, I thought. Maybe she'd be willing to try again, given the right excuse.

It was a total fantasy and I knew it, though. For one thing, she was and is perfectly happy with her man, and I know how I'd feel if an old flame tried to steal my girl from me. For another, I knew that what we had once could never be recaptured, no matter how much I might have wanted it, which was kind of ironic since from my perspective, she doesn't seem to have changed much.

Still, though, it's the knowledge that she's with someone new now that gets under my skin. I'm happy for her, but at the same time I was happier not knowing. After all, it does me no good in the long run and I was better off without it. But I can't fault her for it, either. I guess what I want is for her to be happy with her man and for us to still be friends, yet without that knowledge hanging over me, that elephant in the room that I notice but can't talk about. It's really frustrating.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like I can identify with Charlize Theron's character in Young Adult - not that I'd go to the lengths she does to try and win back her old boyfriend. Still, I can understand how living with the regret of breaking up with a lover can gnaw at you, how subsequent loves can never quite match up (though you may think they do at first), how convinced you become that your life will turn around for the better if you could correct this one mistake.

Which is why I was so disappointed that I was able to predict what would happen in this story! I remember thinking as I watched it, well, the cliche thing would be if she [SPOILER], but I'm sure something else will happen instead - and then the cliche thing actually happens (to an extent - but I was genuinely surprised that it even went that far). That really let me down, because I liked the movie up to that point, so when it ended, I was like, that's it? Oh well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Hype (I Don't Care, Babe)"

... it’s four months before The Hunger Games hits theaters across the nation, and yet I’ve already seen…oh….a third of the movie through a mixture of set photos, ‘exclusive’ clips, and trailers that have hit the internet. (I’ve probably seen about half of The Dark Knight, too.) Our attention to films in production is not, of course, a new trend–gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper provided us with our juicy tidbits back in the 1930s. But now we have more than newsreels and newspapers to sate our gluttonous thirst–we have the internet. So now, whether we like it or not, we can learn everything there is to know about a film before it hits the theaters. (Hell, with leaked copies we could probably watch every film before it’s released, too.)

"Hype (I Don't Care, Babe)"
[sung to the tune of "It Ain't Me, Babe"]

Buy yourself the rights, babe
Greenlight the film right away
Cast it with some hot young things
Pick out the right release day

You say you've got a big movie
And that sounds swell, I just can't wait
But I wish I could get away
From all these sites you inundate
With trailers, pics and interviews and more

Well I don't care, babe!
No, no, no, I don't care, babe
The film's all I'm waiting for, babe!

Cater to the fanboys, babe
They'll make you rich every time
Add pretty girls and explosions
You don't need a reason or rhyme

You say you've got a blockbuster
I wanna see it, I really do
But when you promote it non-stop
I swear it makes me wanna spew
It's nothing but a constant stream of hype

And I don't care, babe!
No, no, no, I don't care, babe
Listen to me as I gripe, babe!

You say this film will be the best
A summer treat for all to see
But I feel I've already watched the flick
With all the hype you've thrown at me
Why should I bother paying for it now?

'Cause I don't care, babe!
No, no, no, I don't care, babe
You'll make money anyhow, babe!

[with apologies to Bob Dylan]

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Artist

The Artist
seen @ Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn NY

I've written a fair share this year about performance-capture filmmaking and advances in 3D technology. An increasing number of prominent directors are experimenting with these new techniques, many of them to great success, which has led to speculation that this is where the future of movies lies. I think it's absolutely possible, particularly when this mini-revolution is being led by so many creative giants who have welcomed these innovations late in their careers.

The numbers don't lie: six of the top ten grossing films from last year were released in 3D, and while those are all cartoons and genre movies, 3D is being used for other types of films as well. And while p-cap has been slower to catch on, advances in the field have made the possibility of a p-cap performance getting nominated for an Oscar a plausible one, however slim.

One can imagine that to those within Hollywood, this explosion of technological breakthroughs in filmmaking might feel akin to the period when sound first came to motion pictures. Is it possible that some may find it threatening? Sure, but then neither 3D nor p-cap have yet to change film as fundamentally as sound did. Anyone who has seen a silent movie can tell you how different the experience is: in a way, silent films engage one's imagination more profoundly. It certainly forces you to pay attention more.

As charming and entertaining as The Artist was, I have to admit something about the attitude of George, the main character, struck me as a little off. I can understand someone in his position - a silent movie superstar - scoffing at the coming of talkies, but he doesn't even try to make one, not even when talkies prove to be immensely popular. If he was worried about how his voice would sound - a very legitimate fear, one many stars struggled with during the transition period - he never indicates it. Yeah, foolish pride and all that, but for someone who loves the spotlight as much as George does, you'd think he'd try to work harder at keeping it.

There has been sooooooooo much hype around this movie for so many months, I admit, I came into it thinking it would leave a greater impression on me than it actually did. This doesn't happen to me all that often, but when it does, it's kind of a drag because I always end up feeling suckered in some way. And again, I enjoyed The Artist and I would absolutely recommend it, but when you keep reading about how it won all these film festival awards and how audiences all over the world are eating it up and how it's sure to not only get nominated for Best Picture, but win... you see the problem.

Watching this, I found the experience slightly different than watching a silent film from back in the day. For one thing, I kinda wished there were a live organist playing the score (although the film's score was very good). Also, I found I could "hear" the voices of familiar modern actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell in my head, even though I actually couldn't. Reading the lips of the actors was a little easier, partly because the picture is so clear and clean and there are more close-ups, I think, than in your average old-school silent film. Also, any sound the audience made was magnified in a way that it probably wouldn't be if there were, in fact, live music, because live music, especially an organ like the one at the Loews Jersey City, has a way of filling up a room. Even when I saw Metropolis outdoors with the Alloy Orchestra performing, they were loud enough to drown out any audience sounds.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Freeze Frame: The WSW roundtable take 4

We're back once again with the roundtable, to talk about what's going on in the film world. A new lineup of guest LAMB bloggers has been assembled this time around...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I didn't expect My Week with Marilyn to be spectacular, and it wasn't - far too much editing that takes you away from Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, who are both superb and make the whole thing watchable, especially Williams, whom I completely believed was Marilyn Monroe. I found the conflict between Monroe and Laurence Olivier, on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, to be particularly interesting because it represented, in its way, a clash of ideals.

When I wrote about Olivier's Hamlet, I remarked how his acting style was of another era, one much more stage-like and formal in comparison to that of the Brando Method generation, and indeed, the movie placed this dichotomy front and center. According to the movie, Monroe came to the set of Prince with an acting coach - Paula Strasberg, wife of Method master Lee Strasberg - and Monroe kept her within arms length at all times because she was so intimidated at working with a legend like Olivier, who also directed Prince. For his part, Olivier is depicted as being scornful of the Method; he briefly mentions how he disapproved of his wife Vivien Leigh working with Elia Kazan.

In Week, Paula Strasberg is constantly propping up Monroe's self-confidence, telling her again and again how great an actress she is, and I thought she was just soothing her ego. It turns out that the Strasbergs thought very highly of her acting ability, and Lee Strasberg apparently once said he believed her second only to Brando himself out of all the actors he worked with. At one point in Week, Monroe is so frustrated with Olivier's constant berating of her that she cries, "I want Lee! I want Lee!"

This is an aspect of Monroe's legend that people don't think of as much, and again, Week pays lip service to it when Olivier, frustrated, says to her at one point something along the lines of how she should just wiggle and pout and look sexy, since that's what she does best. (I think that's the point where she cries for Lee.) Developing her acting ability meant a great deal to her, and perhaps that's the true tragedy of her premature death: how much farther could she have gone? She was beginning to creep towards middle age at the time of making Prince; eventually her looks would begin to fade, a point Leigh makes in one scene in Week in talking about her own career. I suspect Monroe knew this in the back of her mind and worked on her acting to prepare for the day when her reign as a sex goddess would end.