Tuesday, May 29, 2012


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

The first time I noticed Jack Black was in what was perhaps his breakthrough role: as the loudmouth scene-stealer in High Fidelity. Since then, he's grown into one of the many roles Hollywood loves to designate for certain types of actors - in this case, the Funny Fat Man. I've liked him here and there, never really drawn to him in particular as much as who he works with: John Cusack and Stephen Frears in High Fidelity, Peter Jackson in King Kong, Rick Linklater in both School of Rock, and now, Bernie as well.

It's cool that he's got a sideline as a musician, like another Funny Fat Man before him, John Belushi. Black is perhaps closer to Meatloaf than to Jeff Bridges or Hugh Jackman, but it's all in good fun - until I saw him in Bernie, and realized that he actually has a little range, stylistically speaking.

While it's not a musical, Black gets to do a whole lotta singing: gospel, mostly, with a little bit of showtunes, and he pulls it off quite nicely. I always thought there was a smidgen of self-awareness to his singing in the past, a hint of look-at-me mugging, but here he totally gives himself over to the vocal challenges in his role, and I didn't see any hint of self-awareness.

Bernie is based on a true story, about the strange relationship between a multi-talented funeral director and the bitter old woman he befriends and grows to love, in his own way, before circumstances take a bizarre turn. If this is indeed Black's Oscar push, he definitely shows some dramatic chops, but I'm convinced a Golden Globe is a much more realistic possibility. All the singing will make it a natural for the Comedy/Musical categories.

I'm not always enthused by funnymen taking on serious roles. On the one hand, I always like to see an actor stretching his or her acting talents in other directions, but on the other hand, sometimes they go too far. Am I the only one who still misses the funny Tom Hanks? (Larry Crowne and You've Got Mail just don't cut it.) While I've never been a huge Black fan, I'd still hate to see him give up comedy altogether - not that I think he will. (Yet.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Black Stallion

The Horseathon is an event devoted to horses in the movies, hosted by My Love of Old Hollywood. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

The Black Stallion
first seen in Queens, NY

I have this memory of seeing The Black Stallion with my mother (and perhaps my sister too) when it came out, at a movie theater somewhere in Queens, possibly Flushing. The theater has been gone for many years, though, and I'm still not completely sure which one it was. I have a feeling that it was in Flushing. It could have been the RKO Keith's, which I've written about before, but it may have also been a different theater, a few blocks south along Main Street. The memory is old and extremely vague, but it's there in my mind, and it kinda frustrates me that I can't be sure about where. (I've already asked my mother; she doesn't recall a second theater on this stretch of Main.)

Today, there's a bunch of Chinese markets and businesses all along Main. Usually, the marquee of an old theater is kept when the building is renovated, but there's nothing resembling a marquee anyplace other than the former site of the Keith's. All I remember of the theater is the red carpet in the lobby. I think there was a balcony. It was a fancy old-school place, and the Keith's was certainly that. Flushing has changed so dramatically that I don't recognize much anymore, but like I said, the memory is there, and has been for a long time. It's certainly something that could have happened.

Anyway, let's move on to the reason we're here today: horses. When I wrote about War Horse, I talked about my sister's love of horses as a child. I have nothing against them. One tends to see them frequently in New York, whether they're being ridden by cops or pulling carriages full of tourists. Central Park is the best place to see them up close, especially the south end. It's also the best place to smell them; horse crap is as abundant as you'd expect, though it does get cleaned up fairly quickly. We also have two major horse racing tracks within the area, though, I've never been horse racing.

Favorite horse scenes in the movies: Joey wildly running across the battlefield in War Horse, naturally; Clint Eastwood struggling to get on his horse in Unforgiven; Kirk and Picard riding together in Star Trek Generations; Johnny Fontane waking up with the horse's head in The Godfather; and of course, Mongol punching a horse in Blazing Saddles. (I recently saw the old Henry Fonda/John Wayne film Fort Apache and that had a good scene of soldiers learning how to ride horses.)

The Black Stallion was based on a series of children's books by Walter Farley, beginning in 1941. The primary horse used in the film, and its sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, was an Arabian stallion named Cass Ole. As a show horse, he won over fifty championships plus over twenty reserve championships in seven years. He was recruited for the film at his San Antonio ranch on the condition, set by his owners, that he not be used for any running or swimming scenes. His forehead and pasterns had to be dyed black from their natural white for the role. Also, he had hair extensions woven into his mane to give it a fuller look. After both films, Cass Ole went on performances all around the world, including the White House, and would sire over 130 foals before being put to sleep in 1993.

Other horses in Stallion include: Fae Jur, Cass Ole's main double; El Mokhtar, the producers' first choice for the lead, though he doesn't appear until the sequel, by which time he was available; and Junior, who was also in Animal House.

Stallion is an excellent movie, with one of Mickey Rooney's best roles, though personally, I think if I were stuck on an island with a horse, I'd probably kill it for food before trying to tame it. I mean, who knows how long I'd be stuck on that island, you know? But then, I guess a little kid might not think of it that way. At least not at first.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I make these links look good

So what are your plans for this Memorial Day weekend? I usually like to head down to Coney Island every year and soak up the sea air and get some munchies at Nathan's (I'm partial to their fries myself - y'know, the ones they give you a tiny little fork with). Going out of town? Barbeque maybe? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, let's take a look at what's going down in the rest of the film blog world...

Retrospace has a way-cool compilation of songs from old sci-fi movies and similarly themed sci-fi tunes.

Here's an interesting idea for a blogathon: movies that potentially could be future classics one day. Of course, these choices are highly subjective, but I don't think I can argue with most of these.

John at The Droid You're Looking For (a fine blog) drops some science on B-movie cult director William Castle.

I would sooner watch one of these theoretical "Celebrity Battleship" movies, I think, than the actual Battleship movie.

Here's a great piece written by a TV producer about the long hours it takes to film a TV show and just how brutal it can get.

In the debate on whether Marvel owes anything to the estate of artist Jack Kirby in the wake of the Avengers movie, here's a strong argument against it.

And here's a nice interview with stage, screen and television star Angela Lansbury, still going strong at age 86!

Monday, May 21, 2012


E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
seen on TV @ GMC

Okay, if you have warm fuzzy memories of E.T. and don't want them ruined, you'd better skip this post, because I'm about to rip it to shreds. Consider yourself warned.

Let's begin with the aliens - might as well call them ETs - and their mission to Earth. They're intelligent enough to build a spaceship in the first place, so it's safe to assume they're no dummies. Let's also assume that they're benign and weren't planning on nuking us Independence Day-style. It looked like they were on a basic survey mission, but why weren't they more covert about it? If they weren't interested in observing the dominant life form on this planet, well, fine - they probably studied our communication networks and thought we were primitive savages - but if that's true, then why settle down within the vicinity of a highly populated area? They couldn't have gone someplace much more remote? Didn't they equip their vessel with some kind of shuttlecraft? Or a cloaking device? If all they wanted to do was make a simple scientific study, they really should've been more cautious. They had to know sentient life forms were around and that they could potentially discover them.

Next: if you're organizing a landing party, why do you not give your unit communication devices of some sort? Whoever led that away team should've been reamed by his or her CO for not only forgetting something so basic, but for being forced to leave a crewman behind. That's just sloppy work.

Then there's our boy, ET himself. Telekinetic, some kind of projecting empath, with tactile healing abilities and who knows what else - he should not have been nearly as helpless as he seemed. We don't know the full extent of his abilities, so maybe he wasn't powerful enough to uproot entire trees and toss them at the humans about to discover their party, but he could've at least chucked branches and rocks and stuff, enough to buy him and his team enough time to re-board their ship and get the hell outta Dodge. Slow as the ETs are, however, they would've needed a whole lot of time - which makes me wonder what the evolutionary advantages are in a species that developed feet but not legs. Then again, maybe their powers evolved as a means of compensation, assuming ET is not unique. Anyway...

Like I said, we don't know if all ETs can do what our hero can, but he doesn't strike me as being all that bright anyway. I suppose it's possible that he was the ET equivalent of Mot the barber instead of Commander Riker, but if so, then, what was he doing on the away team? (Actually, I remember reading the novelization of E.T. and as I recall, he was a botanist.) Once he was stranded on Earth, his priorities should be to learn the native language and figure out a way to contact his people, which he does, though not before getting drunk on crappy beer and hiding in children's closets.

So ET builds a radio transmitter of some sort out of a Speak-n-Spell, a buzzsaw, and some other crap. Fine, I'll buy it. We've seen this sort of thing before, though I would've found higher ground to set up the device. What exactly happens to him afterward? Elliot wakes up out in the woods and ET's gone. Why did he leave? And how did he get sick? Huge plot hole that's never adequately explained.

Finally, after a whole lotta other stuff, the ETs return for their missing crewman. Where were they? Surely they didn't scarper back to the homeworld. They knew they were missing someone (at least I sure hope they knew - maybe I'm overestimating their intelligence after all); the least they should've done was remain in orbit around Earth until a window of opportunity opened up for them to retrieve him - and this is where a shuttlecraft would've really come in handy.

Also, what about the G-man? After all the effort he and his people went through to surveil and study ET, he makes no effort at all to try and pursuade ET to stay? He said that meeting aliens is something he had dreamed of since he was Elliot's age. I think a bit more could've been done with his character.

I realize that none of this matters that much in the end because of the kind of story that Steven Spielberg was trying to tell (for instance: no clear shots of adults' faces other than that of Elliot's mom - something I never noticed until yesterday), but he could've given much more thought to the ETs - specifically, what kind of beings they are and what their purpose on Earth was. I think if E.T. had been released today, it would still be a big hit, but because geekdom has become a much bigger thing than it was 30 years ago, I think it's fair to say that a small segment of the audience (read: people like me) would look at it with a more critical eye.

Kudos to GMC for airing the original version of the film, not the bastardized one where Elliot and friends are chased by feds with walkie-talkies instead of guns.

(My idea for the sequel, which will never happen but it's an idea I've had in my head for years: Elliot grows up to become an astronaut. Some spatial anomaly throws his ship off course and he lands on ET's planet, making him the extra-terrestrial now. Drew Barrymore makes a cameo appearance as Gertie at the end, welcoming Elliot back to Earth.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The 39 Steps

For The Love of Film is an annual blogathon dedicated to raising awareness of film preservation, and to raising money for the cause of restoring old films lost to time, hosted by The Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films, and This Island Rod. This year, the movie up for preservation is The White Shadow (1923)AKA "White Shadows", in which a young Alfred Hitchcock worked as an assistant director. For more information about the film, click here. Proceeds will go to the National Film Preservation Foundation, who will stream the surviving parts of this film on their website. To donate, click hereThe blogathon's theme is things associated with Hitchcock, The White Shadow, or film preservation in general. For a complete list of participating blogs, click on the links to all three blogs.

seen @ The Rubin Museum of Art, New York NY

Before Alfred Hitchcock came to America and Hollywood, he had a thriving career in the British film industry. He started out in the London branch of what would become Paramount as a title card designer, after a brief stint writing short stories for a local magazine. From there, he moved on to Islington Studios in 1920, working in the same capacity. He learned the ropes of filmmaking, eventually becoming an assistant director. Influenced by German directors F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, his directorial debut was Number 13 in 1923, which suffered financial difficulty and went unfinished. His first successful film was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog in 1927, one in which he began to develop his personal tropes that would reverberate throughout his career, such as the "wrong man" premise. His first sound picture was 1929's Blackmail, one of the first British talkies. Among his subsequent British films included the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The Lady Vanishes (1938) and 1935's The 39 Steps.

Steps is one of the first Hitchcock films to use what he called a "Macguffin," an object meant to spur the plot along but is ultimately unimportant. The story he always told to explain what it is involves two men on a train. One explains that he's carrying a Macguffin, a device used to catch lions in the Scottish highlands. When informed that there are no lions there, he replies, "Well then, that's no Macguffin." The Macguffin in Steps is a pilfered set of design plans.

There are other familiar Hitchcock tropes in the movie: man get accused of a crime he didn't commit and is forced to go on the run, relying only on his wits; unlikely partnership with blonde chick added at no extra cost. There's quite a bit of humor in this one, though I'd stop short of calling it a comedy. Some of the situations Robert Donat finds himself in - for instance, when he's mistaken for a politician and has to give a speech to a room full of people - are situations I could imagine happening to, say, Cary Grant in a Hitchcock film. Though Hitchcock is revered as the "master of suspense," he also had a lively sense of humor. Watching a movie like Steps, it seems as if Hitchcock knew the improbability of the dilemma he has put his protagonist in and keeps the story light as a consequence.

Steps has some beautiful location shots of the Scottish countryside. In black and white, one doesn't quite get the full majesty of it all, especially with the overcast skies and fog, but it's still thrilling to see Donat running through the rocky terrain with the cops on his tail.

I saw Steps as part of a series at Manhattan's Rubin Museum of Art, in which the theme was the use of memory in movies. Steps begins and ends with a character who entertains audiences with his ability to memorize and recall random facts at will. The way he figures into the plot is a clever one, and indeed, it hinges on Donat's character's memory: the way one bit of information, seemingly unconnected to anything, can actually be an unconscious link in a chain of memory.

This was my first time at the Rubin, a place recommended to me by my new friend Sylvia, whom I met at another one of Vija's fabulous parties (it's amazing how many people I've met this way). The theater at the Rubin is small, but cozy: low ceiling in the back opening up at the front, soft lighting, comfortable chairs, and candle-lit tables too. The host was this British dude who introduced author James Gleick, who spoke about Steps in the context of how memory figures in the plot.

The set-up for admission was a bit unusual. The Rubin stays open later than usual on Friday nights to show movies, and when I got there I was directed to the lounge, where I had to buy something from the over-priced bar so I could get a ticket to the show. I immediately looked for whatever was the cheapest thing on the menu, but they were serving Indian and Nepalese food, in keeping with a current exhibit, and I'm not that familiar with either, especially the latter. I might've been willing to try some, except it was ten minutes to showtime and I didn't want to have to wait for however long it took to make. Then the guy next to me at the bar said all I needed to do was get a beer and that would be enough to get in, so I did. I bought an $8 Heineken, which is about the price of a matinee movie ticket in Queens or Brooklyn, so it worked out somehow, I guess.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to Murder Your Wife

seen on TV @ TCM

Wow, where to begin with this one?

Let's start with the simple stuff. Folks, most people who choose to become a professional cartoonist do it for love, not money. It is not a career that puts its practitioners on Easy Street, and never has been, at least not without ancillary merchandise. There's a scene in How to Murder Your Wife where Jack Lemmon's character Stanley (Stan Lee?) talks to either his editor or his lawyer (I forget which) about merchandising, but this is long after the movie has established him  - from the opening scene, no less! - as a jet-setting celebrity with a Manhattan town house, fancy clothes, and a friggin' butler. All of that was the result of his work on the strip alone? Are you kidding me?

The hell of it is, Stanley didn't even need to be ridiculously wealthy for this story to work. Charles (as in Schulz?), the butler, could've easily been a next-door neighbor, or a brother. Stanley could still be a successful cartoonist while living in a comfortable apartment or even a small house in the suburbs and it wouldn't affect the story's premise. To suggest that a cartoonist in 1965 could be as affluent as Stanley without the benefit of ancillary merchandise really strains credulity - but let's accept it for now.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For your consideration: LAMMYs 2012

So it's that time of year again where all of us LAMBs shill for the LAMMY Awards, and I am no exception. This is my second year doing this, and I'm aiming a little higher this year now that I've more or less established myself. The categories I'm gunning for are as follows:

- Best Reviewer. As it says right there at the top of the sidebar, this isn't a film review blog and I don't write traditional reviews. However, it's obvious that I do write about movies, after a fashion, and since there's no "Best Writer" category, I'm choosing to compete in this category regardless. You can go through the archives if you like, but I have conveniently arranged some choice selections from the blog on the "favorites" page. Click on that to read some of the posts that best represent this blog.

- Best Running Feature. The Wide Screen World Roundtable is, I believe, one of the strongest elements of the blog, in large part because of the generous participation of my fellow LAMBs. I've moved the links to the Roundtable to the top of the "editorial" page, so just click on that and it'll take you straight to them.

- Best Festival Coverage. My time spent covering both the Urbanworld and the Queens World Film Festivals were among the best times I had in the history of this blog. I've written reviews and taken pictures from both festivals, and you can see them by clicking on the links here.

Here's where you vote. Thanks for your support, fellow LAMBs.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Film bloggers assemble!

Yep, it's time once again to look around and see what's doin' in the rest of the film blog community...

- It's Ruth's wedding anniversary! Awwwwww... Check out her list of favorite movie husbands and wish her a happy anniversary while you're at it.

- Jacqueline writes about The Out-of-Towners and It Happened to Jane with an emphasis on trains. As someone who fully supports public transportation, I naturally approve of this sort of thing, and her posts are both quite informative. Well worth a look.

- A guest writer at True Classics discusses the early days of seeing movies in NYC.

- One of my all-time favorite TV mini-series is I Claudius (and not just because Patrick Stewart's in it). The Lady Eve recently did a nice piece about the history of the mini-series, including how it almost came to the big screen.

- Retrospace looks at an old celebrity gossip mag from the late 70s.

- One aspect of The Avengers I never talked about is how it, and the Marvel movies that led up to it, were based on the work of comics legends less well known to the general public than writer Stan Lee, including that of artist Jack Kirby. Grantland corrects this with an informative piece on the publishing history of the Avengers comic and how it informs Marvel today.

- And here's a piece from the Chicago Tribune about how Hollywood tends to shoot for the PG-13 rating more often than not.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties
seen on TV @ TCM

I've never thought of the drinking of alcohol as a vice. I remember my father letting me have a sip of his beer as a kid, every once in awhile. I thought it made me feel grown-up. (I think he drank Michelob, but I don't recall for sure.) My beer of choice is Heineken (sorry, Frank Booth), but I usually only drink on special occasions. I'm not a prude, I'm just not that into beer, which also means I'm not a regular bar-goer. Hand me a beer, though, I won't turn it down (especially after spending twenty hours on a train).

Same goes for wine and other spirits. When I traveled to Barcelona for a summer, I was only 21 and still learning about the rest of the world, so it took me a bit by surprise when I saw how commonly people over there drink wine. Either my first or my second night there, I tried some of the local vino. I can't say with any authority whether it was good or not because I was unused to the taste of wine in general. Suffice it to say it wasn't to my liking. I stuck to Coke and bottled water for the remainder of the vacation. And of course, I've had champagne on New Year's Eve, but that tastes even weirder.

I'm certain I've never been falling down drunk - and no, it's not a matter of "if I have been, I wouldn't remember," either. It takes longer for someone as big and tall as I am to get drunk. I have a few friends who are recovering alcoholics. Once, I was at a comics convention and I was crashing with one of those friends. We had come from a party in the hotel and were walking across the parking lot to her car. I was finishing off a beer. As we got into her car, she said to me, "Please don't drink that in my place," and I was quickly reminded that she was, indeed, still clean and sober. I hurriedly drained the bottle dry and stuffed it into my backpack, out of sight.

In thinking about Prohibition, I can't help but be reminded of the so-called "war" on drugs. Without getting into a big political debate, let me just say that curtailing vice through legislation seems to create more problems than it solves. I think the most you can do is make it harder for people to engage in, as opposed to eliminating it altogether. Here in New York, laws have recently been passed banning smoking not only from bars, but also from parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas. I still see people lighting up, though - and cigarettes haven't gotten any cheaper either.

The Roaring Twenties plays kinda like a documentary in that the narrative is sprinkled with voice-over montages describing what Prohibition was like in the 1920s, how people profited from the liquor bootlegging business, and how the law combated it. I'm sure this movie was meant to be as much cautionary tale as entertainment; after all, Prohibition was still within recent memory. It's unsubtle, yet interesting to watch, and doesn't detract much from the main narrative.

Jimmy Cagney's in fine form, as always. I really felt for his character as he goes through his rise and fall. It was odd at first to see Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role, but there's no mistaking his presence - and he shares some great scenes with Cagney.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The ethics of sneaking food into theaters

...theaters clearly permit eating in the auditorium. They might, fairly, be able to stop you from eating if eating was not permitted at all (say, for sanitary and janitorial reasons; in fact, they encourage you to eat messy and smelly foods).
Unlike a restaurant, which can reasonably stop you from sitting and eating your independently purchased food, because otherwise you would be stealing the use of their facilities, the primary usage of a theater is noteating; there is no requirement that you eat. And most people don't; they just watch the movie. Thus, the theater is trying to curtail legal and reasonable behavior in an attempt to coerce you to do something that is an optional part of the deal.
One thing I didn't mention in my post on Avengers - because I was saving it for here - is that I snuck in a box of cookies when I saw it. I was surrounded by people with popcorn and soda, and one can hardly blame them; it's that kind of movie. Still, I had already bitten the bullet and chose to pay full price - a whopping thirteen dollars - to see the film, and I was not about to add another ten bucks on popcorn and soda myself. Unlike the film critic in the preceding article, Michael Wolff, I stuck my cookies in my knapsack. I saw no need to flaunt them.

Don't get me wrong. I understand why first-run theaters charge as much as they do on concessions. The percentage they get from the box office only goes so far, so they have to make it up somewhere. I get that. I do. I even sympathize, to a degree.

Still, I'm not a first-run theater owner. I'm a consumer, a customer, and I personally cannot justify paying both a full-price ticket and a seven-dollar popcorn. It's too much money for what should be a casual, somewhat frivolous, bit of entertainment. In recent years, I've opted to buy candy instead, but at three or four bucks a pop, that also tends to be overpriced. I got my box of cookies for a mere two dollars. (It was at an Entenmann's outlet store, where they sell their bakery products at dirt cheap prices. Two bucks is like half the normal price at a supermarket.)

At the same time, though, I don't think it's right for me to openly advocate sneaking food into theaters. I may have done it in the past, but the more I think about it, the more I don't wanna advocate it anymore. Theaters have it rough enough as it is these days, and as someone who favors seeing movies in theaters and tries to recommend that as much as I can (why do you think I always state where I see movies?), I don't want to make it worse for them. Ultimately, you should do whatever feels right for you.

And as for the Wolff incident, well, what can I say? Clearly everyone overreacted big time. Wolff didn't need to be such a dick. As a film critic, he's been to enough movie theaters to know that they tend to frown on people sneaking food and/or drink into theaters. He should also know that people still do it anyway, and often. He didn't need to act like he was above it. That said, was a single bottle of some health drink really worth calling the cops? No winners in this situation, says I.


Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers (2012)
seen @ UA Kaufman Studios Cinema 14, Long Island City, Queens, NY

The truth is, I don't ever recall being ostracized for reading comic books as a kid. I remember certain friends I shared them with, though those weren't many. My parents were never opposed to them; in fact, my father used to drive me to the comic shop on Saturdays at one point. I never felt protective of my level of fandom as a child. I never had to justify it in any way, and I suppose in that I was lucky.

At some point along the way, when I got older, I picked up the notion that comics fandom was a kind of secret society, and while I didn't necessarily think reading comics was nerdy, I did kinda like thinking that knowing the minutia of comics in general and superhero comics in particular was specialized, arcane knowledge. When I started reading non-superhero comics, that lore became even more specialized - they're not as big sellers as superheroes, which is insane, but that's for another post - making me, in a way, a deeper level of geek. It's the difference between knowing all the different colors of Kryptonite and what they do, and knowing some obscure mini-comic made on a shoestring budget out of some guy's bedroom.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bells Are Ringing

Bells Are Ringing
seen on TV @ TCM

I can't believe I'v gone over a year and a half on this blog without talking about a Judy Holliday movie. I've already expressed my undying love for her in this space, but that's not the same as talking about one of her films. Let's rectify that - but first, I must take a moment to reaffirm my love for this adorable woman.

My love for Judy is different than my love for, say, Barbara Stanwyck. Stany was a different kind of actress, and projected a different kind of demeanor: brassy and colorful, like Judy, but also tough as nails, with a sensuality that she could use to make men do anything. Stany had fire to her - she'd keep you warm, but she'd burn you if you weren't careful.

Judy seemed like the stereotypical dumb blonde that could be taken advantage of, at least on the surface, but her characters had a sincerity, a vulnerability, an earnestness that couldn't be hidden. Her characters never knew the meaning of duplicity; it wasn't in their natures, and something about the way she played them makes me believe they weren't far removed from the real her (though of course, I have no way of knowing for certain, but still).

Judy, like Stany to a degree, didn't resemble your typical movie star. She didn't look like Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy or Betty Grable, nor did she talk like Irene Dunne or Audrey Hepburn. And she was a little bit curvier by comparison, though in a very pleasing way, the way a woman should look (not that I'd kick Betty Grable out of my bed, mind you). But she had comic timing and skill like few actresses before or since. She was goofy and playful. When she had to be nervous and self-conscious, she elicited tenderness as well as laughs. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, who used coyness as a kind of seduction, Judy rarely came across as coy. She didn't need to.

You never felt like she was capital-A Acting. John Wayne always asserted that he never acted, he reacted, and I believe it was very much the same with Judy. I think she knew her strengths as an actress well (she was on Broadway before she came to Hollywood, after all) and played to them, and no matter how silly the situations she'd get into, when you watch her, you're willing to go along with it because of her openness. She became a star around the same time that Lucille Ball was dominating television, and one can't help but wonder if they influenced each other in any way.

Also, as we can see in Bells Are Ringing, she had a lovely singing voice. Watching this, I was reminded of another gifted comedienne who left us far, far too soon: Madeline Kahn. Judy gets to do accents and impressions in this, though one gets the sense that she's hamming more than anything else, whereas Madeline was really good at adopting funny accents.

Still, Judy gets to be glamorous as well as sassy, and in color (that red dress...), and I was smiling contentedly throughout the whole thing. Dean Martin was just the right singing partner for her, especially in the film's hit "Just In Time," a love song for the ages. I liked most of the songs in this as well.

If you've never seen any of Judy's films, this is a good place to start. She's one of those old-time stars that few people remember today, but there's no doubt in my mind that she still shines as brightly as she ever did.

Five Avengers I'd like to see in future movies

My post on The Avengers will go up next week, but before that, I hope you'll forgive me as I indulge in my inner geek and talk about semi-obscure comic book characters. Actually, given the levels of geekdom in the online media, not to mention in Hollywood studios, I should probably stop thinking of comics this way. I mean, in recent years, we've seen movies based on some pretty unlikely properties: Scott Pilgrim, Constantine, The Losers,  A History of Violence - not to mention The Walking Dead on TV. Regardless of quality, it's assuring to know that Hollywood is investing in more than just superheroes.

But for those of us of a certain generation, we first discovered comics through Marvel and DC superheroes. (For younger people, manga - Japanese comics - are the thing now.) The Avengers was one of my favorite comics for a long time, and like the X-Men, they've had a wide variety of characters over their half-century of publication. Here are a handful that I'd love to see make the jump to the big screen:

- The Wasp. At one point she was gonna be in this movie, but it didn't happen. The Wasp is one of the original Avengers, and when I started reading the comic, she was beginning a crucial transition from ditzy, one-dimensional, stereotypical female to a more well-rounded, competent and confident hero who would go on to be one of the greatest team leaders - without losing her femininity and becoming grim and gritty and dark. Chances are she'll wind up in the Ant-Man movie (she and Ant-Man are an item), if they ever get it off the ground. I've always liked her, and as one of Marvel's first ladies, she deserves some respect. Who I'd cast: Elizabeth Banks. She radiates the perkiness and spunk that would work perfectly for the character.

- The Vision. Another long-time Avenger, I would like to see a theoretical movie version of him that either avoids the "artificial intelligence learns the meaning of humanity" angle or finds a new way to approach it. He's a "synthozoid," which is not quite an android, nor is it a robot. That's definitely something that should get explored, since that's relatively unique in sci-fi movies. He has ties to Ant-Man (and to a lesser degree, the Wasp), as well as another Avenger, Wonder Man, which could either be used or not, I don't care, but he would make for an excellent addition to the cast if long-time villain Ultron, another AI, is used for the sequel. Who I'd cast: I dunno. Gerard Butler?

- The Scarlet Witch. Can't have Vision without her. They were married for a very long time in the comics, but I think they might've broken up recently. Comics marriages tend to be as fleeting as Hollywood ones, most of the time, except of course for Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four - they're like the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward of superhero comics. The Scarlet Witch is a mutant, however, so Fox may want to stake a claim on her (and her brother Quicksilver) at some point, but I hope not. Her powers are a bit hard to define - it used to be simply altering probability, but now she's become a full-fledged witch, I think (it's been awhile since I've read the comics), so I would pick one or the other and stick to it for the film version. Who I'd cast: Um... Not sure. Preferably someone European, since she's from Eastern Europe. I'd like her to have an accent at least (still kinda disappointed that the Black Widow doesn't have one).

- Firestar. Speaking on behalf of everyone who ever watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends growing up, I think this would be awesome, but again, there's that fear that Fox would claim her for the X-franchise (I'm surprised they haven't already). Not every mutant needs to be an X-Man or an X-villain or whatever. She could fill the role of the youngster still learning how to use her powers and learning through interacting with the rest of the team. (And no, we can do without her boyfriend Justice.) Who I'd cast: Jennifer Lawrence would be perfect, but she's a little busy with a franchise of her own. How about Elizabeth Olsen?

- Captain Marvel. This will never happen, but a fan can dream: she's actually gone by several different code-names, but she debuted as Captain Marvel (no, she didn't yell "Shazam!"; that's somebody else). She probably wouldn't go by this name if she appeared in an Avengers movie, but that's how I still think of her. Anyway, she's a New Orleans naval officer with vast energy-based powers. She led the team for awhile, but in recent years, she's been written wildly inconsistently (but then, what superhero hasn't at some point?). I've always loved her too; during her first few years as an Avenger she was part of some epic storylines, and I'd totally geek out if somebody found a part for her. Who I'd cast: Gabrielle Union.

Now I know you've got some dream choices of your own, so don't be shy; let's see 'em. Oh, and by the way, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that today is Free Comic Book Day, so if you liked the Avengers movie, take a visit to your local comic book shop today and take home some freebies.

'Avengers' will be a fanboy's dream come true

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why does "car-free = loser" in movies and TV?

"Einstein rode a bike!"
...The continuing contempt for the poor is a huge problem for sustainable transportation because so many Americans think of the stuff we promote as symbolic of poverty and disempowerment. Whether it's intentional or not, imagining that people can be tainted by the mode of transport they use is pretty dehumanizing. I've felt the shame of standing at a bus stop, waiting and waiting, while cars flow past. You're not supposed to have to wait; you're an American, the cultural conditioning says in the back of my mind. Well eff that. 
For-profit entertainment media hasn't caught up with the reality I inhabit, where lots of people get around outside of cars. Grown ups of different socioeconomic strata are commuting to work, toting kids, hauling goods, all on bikes, despite these continued assertions that only people who do not matter get around this way. I don't have any interest in perpetuating the idea that I should stay in a car so that I can stay away from the undesirables who can't afford to drive.
As National Bike Month has begun, this article comes at an appropriate time. This is particularly relevant for me; I took up biking as a means of transportation during my year in Columbus, and I've written in this space before about filmmakers who promote alternative transportation in general.

One thing this piece doesn't mention, but which I think is also relevant, is how Hollywood has, it's fair to say, a vested interest in keeping the auto industry happy. Car ads are given prominence in prime-time television, as well as in the ads that precede trailers - hell, even in the films themselves often times (the Transformers films, for example, as well as the recent Lorax tie-in). Is it any wonder that it seems as if a pro-car agenda is at work?

"Why am I even listening to you? You're a virgin who can't drive."
Living in the Northeast, it's easy to forget how much of the rest of America lives in car-oriented areas. It's something I became aware of while living in the Midwest: for many Americans, walking or riding bikes is less feasible than driving because they live in sprawling, decentralized cities and towns with wide, straight, multi-lane streets that encourage driving at unsafe speeds, endangering the lives of pedestrians and bikers.

And as for public transit, too many cities, New York included, are unable to build and/or sustain the capital necessary for a viable system. New York has the largest subway network in the world, but we're reliant on the state government for funding, and in recent years, they've stolen funds from city transit to balance their own books, and city transit is drowning in debt as a result. If that can happen here, you can imagine how vulnerable other places are as well.

Unfortunate as it is for Hollywood to look down their noses on alternative transportation, they're simply reflecting attitudes in real life. Fortunately, however, some of those attitudes are changing, and the work being done to promote National Bike Month (with a shout-out to my friends in Columbus for their efforts) has been, and continues to be, a major catalyst for that change. One likes to believe that Hollywood will eventually follow suit, but that will take time.