Friday, May 31, 2013

Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell
seen @ Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

Reality television and daytime talk shows have made paternity cases into something tawdry and sensationalist. For me, at least, it's especially embarrassing when it involves black peopleIn recent months in my neighborhood, ads have gone up for a service that provides DNA testing. There's an image of a baby with the legend, "Who's your daddy?" Yes, it is extremely ghetto.

I've probably said it here before, but in case I haven't: too many people who don't know how to be parents are having babies, and a lot of them are just plain stupid - and yet, choosing to not have children is frowned upon. Huh?

Granted, however, it's difficult not to judge. I have a friend (no dummy by any stretch) who had three children with a woman who was absolutely wrong for him. They were wrong for each other, really; my friend was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time. When he first told me about this, I specifically remember fighting the urge to say something like, "What the hell were you doing having kids?" And yet, not only did he get his act together, he managed to raise his kids right. Having met two of them, I can attest to the fact that they're healthy, happy and sane, not to mention very talented artistically. Someone like my friend, however, is a rarity.

This brings us to Sarah Polley and Stories We Tell. First of all, I have to give some massive props to Polley as an actor-turned-director. Maybe it's because she's an indie girl and a foreigner to boot that she doesn't get as much attention as she should, but she's quietly built up an impressive string of quality films, from Away From Her to Take This Waltz (another film about marital infidelity) and now this. 

Stories is about Polley's theater-actor parents and the mystery of whether or not Sarah is their biological child. The emphasis is largely on her late mother Diane who, along with younger versions of the family, are depicted in flashback scenes by actors. Meanwhile, the real-life, present-day versions, through interviews by Sarah, recreate the events that led to her discovery of the truth. In a somewhat meta twist, Sarah's father Michael not only narrates the story, but we actually see them in a recording studio as he narrates and she listens. (We even see Michael re-read a few lines of the narrative at Sarah's request.)

One of the main issues of the film concerns who has the right to tell these stories and how. Diane Polley is dead and, it is argued in the film, only she knows the full story behind Sarah's true parentage. This may be true, but as the film makes clear, this family drama has impacted not only Sarah's life, but others within the family, and even if they may not have had all the facts or were not directly involved, to exclude, or at the very least, minimize them, would be wrong. 

At the same time, however, I don't necessarily think that Polley's version of the story needs to be the definitive one or should even be seen as such. I think it was her father who says something along the lines of how this story will be shaped by the decisions she makes in the editing room on what to keep and what to leave out, and how to present it - and this is true. Another version of the story could shed new light on the story, or provide new information - and isn't this the crux every storyteller faces, regardless of the medium? Gone With the Wind from the slaves' point of view would be a very different tale, for example. In the right hands, that could be a story worth telling.

Diane and Michael's was a love that waned, and that's always sad. The impression the movie gives is that she believed he couldn't love her the way she wanted, which led her to go astray, but at least one of Sarah's siblings is able to find forgiveness for Diane. Again, it's hard for me to be able to judge, which is why I probably shouldn't. The picture painted of Diane is of a life-of-the-party type who was deeply invested in her stage career, moreso than Michael. According to the movie, she married him thinking he was a different kind of person than he actually was, and this on the heels of a prior failed marriage. Could they have made it work out? Was it worth trying? I dunno... and this goes back to the notion that only she can tell the whole truth behind the story of Sarah's parentage.

There's a lot to think about in Stories. It's much more than the sharing of a family secret.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Man of Steel' must escape Reeve's shadow

Christopher Reeve
Ruth recently wrote a marvelous and deeply personal post about what Superman means to her, which you absolutely must read. Yesterday, I was chatting with an old friend about movies in general and we spent a few minutes on the upcoming Superman flick Man of Steel (another movie title that's missing the 'the'), so I've had the big blue Boy Scout on my mind recently. Ruth's love for Superman is partly based in the concept of the character, but I think it's safe to say that a large part of that love is also the result of Christopher Reeve's iconic portrayal over the course of four movies. 

This is entirely understandable and perfectly natural. Reeve had the looks, but more importantly, under Richard Donner's able direction, he was the embodiment of not only the selfless champion of all that's good and right, but he nailed the dual identity aspect between Supes and Clark Kent so well that one could almost believe that a pair of glasses was indeed enough of a disguise. Reeve and Donner's vision of the Man of Steel has been the standard-bearer for superhero films in general for many years and it has inspired millions of moviegoers just like Ruth. It certainly inspired me

Dean Cain
(w/Teri Hatcher)
Subsequent live-action incarnations of the character, however, have had a hard time living up to Reeve's portrayal. The 90s TV show Lois and Clark is fondly remembered by some, but lacked the grandeur of the movies, favoring a more soap opera-like approach. The successive TV show, Smallville, had more of a sense of grandeur and scope, but the fact that it was conceived as Clark Kent before he actually dons the blue tights makes it inherently on a level below the movies. (Plus, some would argue, it lasted far too long.) And the 2006 film Superman Returns was criticized for, among other things, paying too much homage to the Reeve/Donner template. The cartoon incarnations of Superman, in both Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League probably come closest to establishing its own identity. If Man of Steel is to be not only a box office success, but a lasting, memorable experience, perhaps this is where it should take its cue from.

Brandon Routh
The potential is there. Producer Christopher Nolan redefined Batman for the 21st century after almost a decade of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films, injecting the franchise with a grittier, real-world feel that gave his Batman trilogy the feel of crime drama, comparable to the films of Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese. Combined with the sensibilities of director Zack Snyder, whose visual pizzazz in films like 300 and Watchmen is a far cry from the comparatively traditional look of Donner, Man of Steel is bound to have a different visual identity, and if this trailer is any indication, I'd say that's a safe bet indeed.

Henry Cavill
The big test, though, will be with the star. Henry Cavill has been in a few other things, but nothing on this scale. How will he pull off the dual identity aspect? What will his chemistry with Amy Adams (as Lois Lane) be like? Will his fight scenes be convincing? The trick will be staying true to the spirit of Superman without overtly evoking Reeve. Unlike Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, Cavill doesn't bear a resemblance to Reeve, on screen or off, which is encouraging. As much as I, and millions of others worldwide, love and revere the memory of Reeve, Cavill's performance as Superman needs to be something not only new, but compelling enough to stand on its own, and that's what I'll be looking for in this new movie.

There have been enough superhero films ever since Reeve and Donner's milestone to fend off a dozen alien invasions and an entire battalion of super-villains, but Superman remains the one character in the genre that all others look up to, and for generations, Reeve's version has been the defining portrayal of that character... but that needs to change. Hopefully Cavill's incarnation, as realized by Nolan and Snyder, will provide that change.


Man of Steel
The Dark Knight Rises

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ronny Howard and the Golden Age of television

The Children in Film Blogathon is an event examining the great child stars of film and television, hosted by Comet Over Hollywood. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the website.

Today Ron Howard is known as an Academy-Award-winning director, responsible for such huge critical and commercial hits as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 and Splash, among many others. Long before that, however, Howard achieved fame as a television actor, in a career that stretches all the way back to his early childhood, at the dawn of the television era.

Naturally, I remember growing up watching him on Happy Days, the lead-off program on one of the all-time great prime time television lineups, which included Laverne & Shirley, Three's Company and Too Close For Comfort. I was too young to appreciate the nostalgia factor of Happy Days; like most kids, I watched it for the Fonz. Still, Howard was an integral part of the show, too - and the path that led him there was a long and prolific one. 

Born in 1954 as the son of two actors, Rance and Jean Howard, Ron and the family moved to Hollywood from Oklahoma in 1958, and at the age of five, Ron scored his first credited film role, in the Deborah Kerr/Yul Brynner Cold War drama The Journey, billed as "Ronny Howard" (he has also been credited as "Ronnie" during his childhood). A number of small television appearances followed, including shows like Dennis the Menace, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Twilight Zone.

Howard w/Andy Griffith in 'The Andy Griffith Show'
In 1960, Howard would appear on Danny Thomas' sitcom Make Room For Daddy (aka The Danny Thomas Show) in an episode set in a rural North Carolina town called Mayberry. He played Opie Taylor, son of Mayberry's sheriff, Andy Taylor, played by rising star Andy Griffith. Griffith had already made a name for himself through various comedic appearances in variety shows, as well as a dramatic role in the Elia Kazan film A Face in the Crowd, and this episode of Daddy was looked upon as a possible vehicle for a spin-off TV series starring Griffith...

... which is exactly what happened. The Andy Griffith Show debuted that fall, featuring Griffith as Sheriff Taylor and Howard as his son. In an essay about the show, my pal Ivan describes Howard's role:
In Griffith’s debut episode, we’re re-introduced to Taylor, a widower who’s just married off his longtime housekeeper to her fiancĂ© — a situation that does not sit well with his young son Opie (Ron Howard), who’s even more chagrined to learn that Andy’s “Aunt Bee” (Frances Bavier) will be replacing her as head of the household. Aunt Bee tries everything to ingratiate herself with Opie but he rebuffs her at every turn — it is only as the episode comes to a close that the boy changes his mind and begs his father to make her stay, concerned that she’ll be venturing out into the world without being able to function without him. 
Child actor Howard had played Griffith’s son in the Danny Thomas Show pilot and did such an incredible job that he continued on for the full series. In a world where sitcoms often featured children a little too precocious for their own good, Opie was a breath of fresh air. He was decent to the core, but every now and then he get into mischief and wander off the path before his stern but kindly father would steer him back on the straight and narrow.
Griffith lasted for eight seasons and 209 episodes, filmed at Desilu Studios, and it would go down as one of the finest sitcoms in television history. Howard would go on to briefly reprise his role of Opie thrice, in the Griffith spin-offs Mayberry RFD and Gomer Pyle USMC, and again in the 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry.

Howard (second from left) in
'The Smith Family' w/Henry Fonda
As he got older, Howard continued to make appearances in other shows in addition to Griffith, and the list reads like a compilation of the greatest 60s TV shows: Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Fugitive, The Big Valley and I Spy, among others. He also made a few more movies, such as The Music Man.

In 1971, when Howard was 17, he appeared in another, shorter-lived series called The Smith Family, starring cinematic legend Henry Fonda at the tail end of a long career. He played a cop, and Howard was one of his sons. The show only lasted two seasons, and little has been written about it.

Howard in 'Love American Style'
In 1972, Howard appeared in a ABC anthology show called Love American Style, in a episode called "Love in the Happy Days," about 50s teenagers. It was a failed sitcom concept by producer Gary Marshall that was re-packaged for this show, and due in part to the success of the musical Grease, 50s nostalgia was suddenly in. When George Lucas' film American Grafitti, also featuring Howard, hit big a year later, ABC went back to Marshall's pilot and turned it into a series in 1974, called simply Happy Days. Howard's role as Richie Cunningham lasted throughout the series' eleven-year run and led to bigger and better things... but that's another story.

Ron's younger brother Clint has also had a long career in Hollywood that began in childhood. He appeared in several episodes of Griffith, as well as other notable 60s shows as The Fugitive, Bonanza, Please Don't Eat the Daisies and Star Trek. In 1967 he was a regular on the series Gentle Ben, as Dennis Weaver's son, and he'd go on to appear in other shows and movies, including many of those directed by Ron.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Do they even still show movies on free television anymore? I mean, besides traditional holiday-themed stuff. I realize that there are now dozens of ways to see movies today, once upon a time, the "Movie of the Week" on any one of the Big Three networks was a big deal. In my house, it was practically a family tradition. I'm pretty sure I've written here before about the Betamax VCR we used to have (SHUT UP) and all the TV movies I recorded - most of them movies that played theatrically, along with original made-for-TV deals.

I remember watching most of the MOTWs on ABC. This would be the late-70s-to-early-80s. Of course, I gravitated more towards sci-fi/fantasy, horror and animation than anything else, although I'd also watch those epic mini-series too. Remember those? They were always trumpeted as a big deal, so I'd watch them, even if I didn't completely understand everything going on. Basically, if TV said it was Big and Epic and Important, chances are I'd watch it (maybe in a future post I'll go into more detail about it), but MOTWs - theatrical movies debuting on the small screen - were the Biggest of the Big Deals for me, especially on ABC.

I'm pretty sure I first saw the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake as an ABC MOTW, and if I recall correctly, they might've shown it more than once. I'm certain I saw it more than once as a kid, because it's one of those films that left an impression on me for sure. Strange how as kids, we come back again and again to the things that scare us. I mean, I'm pretty sure this gave me a few nightmares; wondering whether or not it would be safe to go to sleep without becoming a soulless pod person. I mean, damn, everything about this version - the music, the atmosphere, the action - is ramped up to knock you off your rocker and keep you that way, and even today, I doubt I'd be able to sit comfortably through it. And a big reason why is probably because I saw it at such a young and impressionable age.

It goes without saying that I saw this version before the original, therefore I couldn't compare the two at the time. A major difference that I notice now is that the frenetic, paranoiac vibe of the 50s version is replaced with something more akin to a cult: join us and feel good about everything. It's too bad this wasn't released during the first half of the 70s, when Jonestown and the Manson family were fresher in people's minds.

I couldn't pinpoint exactly why I responded to it the way I did back then. I mean, obviously, it was creepy and legitimately scary, but it's possible that if I saw it in the early 80s (which is quite possible), well, there may have been a context for my response to it. The early 80s was about the time when I first developed doubt about some of the received wisdom from my parents regarding matters of faith. No, I don't wanna go into specifics; not now, anyway. Let's just say that this was when I first discovered the gap between theory and practice when it comes sharing one's beliefs with the rest of the world. The result made me afraid of accepting what I was told, because it would mean I'd be Different... kinda like a pod person.

The way this just appears for no damn reason simply adds to
the scariness of this movie. Even now I have trouble looking at it!

I wouldn't have understood the term "blind faith" back then, but examples of it were all around me. Take the Cold War: why were we (America) so superior to them (Russia)? And if so, was bombing each other to kingdom come really an inevitability? Again, it's not like I thought to raise the question back then; I just accepted it as The Way Things Are - until sixth grade, at least, when I had an awesome social studies teacher who talked about the Cold War in practical terms that we could understand.

These were the things going on in my life back in the early 80s. I didn't consciously associate them with the Body Snatchers movie, of course - my mind simply didn't work that way then - but it's possible that the movie may have subconsciously exacerbated my fears and provided a framework for them, which I wouldn't have even realized until much later in life, and that may have been another reason why it scared me like it did. But when you get right down to it, my fear of this film can easily be summed up in one image:

Am I right or am I right?

A couple of other things: this film is probably the first time I've ever seen Leonard Nimoy, who certainly knows a thing or two about playing cold, emotionless beings. In Search Of was going strong on television around this time, and the following year he'd put the pointy ears back on again, so this was a good time for him.

I wouldn't say this remake is better than the original, because the original is pretty neat too. I'd say it's different and leave it at that. They both reflect the times they were made in so nicely, and that may be why subsequent remakes have failed. Plus, the Kevin McCarthy cameo in the beginning was a great way to pass the baton, so to speak, so that these two films can and should be considered together.

This was to have been my post for the Terrorthon, which Page and I postponed out of respect to those who died in the recent acts of mass violence in America. We hadn't set a new date to this point, but Page, an Oklahoma City resident, probably has much more important things on her mind than movies right now. So Page, I just wanna say thanks for letting me be a partner in what would've been a real cool blogathon. You're in my thoughts. Be careful out there.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


seen on TV @ TCM

One of the earliest memories I have of my life is hanging out at my grandmother's house in Florida. I was probably around two or so. She had a dog - I don't recall what kind - and it was in all likelihood the first dog I remember encountering. I didn't take very well to it for whatever reason. Maybe it tried to lick my face; maybe it barked a little too loudly for me; maybe this big hairy creature just freaked me the hell out in general. Regardless, two-year-old me panicked and ran away. I doubt I ran far, though; my parents found me before too long...

...but the damage was done. I grew up with a perhaps-irrational, but nonetheless-real paranoia of dogs. If I saw one coming down the street, I'd cross to the other side. I could not get within arms length of one, regardless of size, and it reached the point where I wondered if I needed psychiatric help.

I didn't, though. It literally was as easy as deciding that I was tired of living this way, and making a conscious decision to not be afraid of them anymore. Wasn't easy, and it took some time, but I somehow built up the inner strength to be calm(er) around them. Living in New York, one sees people walking dogs all the damn time! It was either get over my fear or move to Montana or someplace like that - so it's not like I had a choice in the matter.

Funny thing is, many of my friends, both in and out of the five boroughs, are cat people. I imagine it's easier to keep cats as pets than dogs. For instance, Vija had two different cats for many years, and she's even cat-sit for other people. She was very fond of her cats, and since she lives in a great big loft, they always had plenty of room to roam. Andi has a cat now, but she's also a huge dog-lover like you wouldn't believe. I can't go anywhere with her without her stopping to ogle over someone's dog on the street. It's kind of endearing, actually.

Reid has a dog that I've actually become comfortable around. I've only been to his apartment two or three times, but every time I've been there, I've been amazed at how relaxed I get around his fluffy blond dog (please don't ask me what types of dogs and cats these are; I couldn't begin to tell you). He told me once that his dog was trained as some type of caretaker dog for his father, so that might explain it, but I see this sort of thing as progress. I couldn't have done it when I was sixteen.

Sometimes I regret not having a dog as a pet growing up. I think I could've done a halfway decent job with one: I lived in a very suburban part of Queens, in a two-family home very close to a park, with neighborhood friends. If I recall correctly, our landlord didn't allow pets, so it wouldn't have happened regardless, but I might've gotten over my phobia of dogs a lot sooner if I had learned how to be around one on a daily basis. I'll never know. (They don't allow pets where I live now, either.)

I'm not quite sure why Sounder is named for the dog in the story; he's not that pivotal to the plot. Nor does he do any Lassie-like feats of heroism, which I kinda expected when I watched this. Still, it's a very sweet movie, the kind that doesn't get played enough on TV anymore. Watch it with your kids if you have any.

Monday, May 20, 2013


seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ

I've known about Robert Altman for a long time, but I never really studied him or his films in any great depth. I've seen M*A*S*H and The Player a bunch of times, but sadly, I've yet to see Nashville. One of these days... Still, I always figured I knew what defined his films: huge, ensemble casts, lots of actorly improvisation, and overlapping dialogue. It wasn't until I saw M*A*S*H on the big screen for the first time earlier this month, however, that I truly understood what made him such a stand-out director during the 70s.

Peter Biskind's "New Hollywood" book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls describes how Altman butted heads with 20th Century Fox on the film. The studio continued to begrudge the new wave of filmmakers who made cheaper movies faster, and at least in the case of M*A*S*H, raunchier:
[Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown] were looking at the dailies the same time they were watching the rushes from Patton. It was a long way from George C. Scott to [Elliot] Gould and [Donald] Sutherland. M*A*S*H was the anti-Patton. Zanuck and Brown sat in the back of the screening room, looked at each other, and groaned. They were appalled by the fuzzy focus, the raw language, the nudity, and the rivers of gore that flowed through the operating room sequences. "It was the first time you saw guys during an operation covered with blood saying, 'Nurse, get your tits out of the way,'" says [Altman's agent George] Litto. It was the first major studio movie in which "fuck" was used.
 All the times I had seen the movie had been on video, so when I saw it on the big screen, it was like seeing it for the first time. Suddenly, I could truly see the blood and guts and it was a bit of a shock. I was conscious of Altman's decision to present the reality of war, something that's easy to forget when you see it on TV, which was how the Vietnam war was experienced for millions of Americans at the time. (M*A*S*H is set during the Korean war, but it was seen as a commentary on Vietnam.)

M*A*S*H was adapted for the screen by the formerly blacklisted writer Ring Lardner Jr., who also co-wrote such films as Woman of the Year and Laura. He actually was a member of the Communist Party, unlike many individuals pursued by HUAC in the 50s who weren't, and as a result he was imprisoned for a year and fined, plus, he couldn't get work in Hollywood under his own name for years. Still, once M*A*S*H became a hit, Altman took more than his fair share of credit for the screenplay on account of his improvisational approach. In the end, though, Lardner ended up winning the Oscar for his script.

I remember occasionally watching the long-running spin-off TV series as a kid, though I suspect most of the humor was way over my head. As a result, the final episode wasn't as big a deal for me as it was for the rest of the country.

Co-star Sally Kellerman appeared at the screening at the Loews Jersey City, and she still looks great. She was there to promote her autobiography, and in an on-stage conversation after the film with Loews regular Foster Hirsch, she talked about her career, including how she tried to balance a singing career with her acting, which unfortunately led to her passing up some plum roles in the 70s. She mentioned how some people thought her role of Hot Lips was demeaning, but she disagreed because she got to do all kinds of stuff as  the character, like get laid, sit in on poker games with the guys, and be a football cheerleader, which she loved.

Later this week I'll post pictures from the screening on my WSW Facebook page.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (advance screening)


I'm afraid the only way I can talk about Star Trek Into Darkness properly is if I go into full detail about the movie. Sorry about that. If you don't wanna be spoiled, turn back now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sergeant York

The Howard Hawks Blogathon is a celebration of the life and career of director Howard Hawks, and is hosted by the blog Seetimaar. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the website.

Sergeant York
seen on TV @ TCM

I imagine that for as long as man has waged war on each other, there have been individuals with moral objections to the practice. It's certainly not hard to imagine why. Someone once described war as a failure of the imagination, and when one considers how long some conflicts have lasted, that definition makes a lot of sense.

I like to believe that if it came down to protecting my family and/or my home - if, like, aliens invaded Earth and we had to fight them off, Independence Day-style, say - I'd do what I had to do. One can never be truly certain of what one would do in such an extreme situation unless it actually happened. Still, I know that going off to fight for any less of a reason would give me pause. I was in college when Operation Desert Storm happened, and though I never truly believed the US would start up the draft again, I admit the possibility occurred to me... and it scared me. That was one war I wanted no part of.

Part of the problem with war is that there's rarely a good justification for it. There's a reason why Hollywood loves movies about World War 2: it was easy to identify the bad guys, and after Pearl Harbor, it was easy to recognize them as a clear and present danger (to America, anyway).

As we've clearly seen in recent years, however, misinformation and incomplete information have not kept us from getting dragged into foreign conflicts, nor has a lack of Congressional support (technically, only Congress can declare war, though you'd never realize it in this post-9-11 era). When your leaders misconstrue the facts and  offer flimsy justifications for waging war, being a conscientious objector becomes rather easy - at least, if one recognizes the obfuscations and deceptions for what they are.

I'm not a pacifist. I recognize that there are times when you have to stand up for yourself through violent means, simply because it's that kind of world. That said, I also recognize and respect non-violence as a legitimate and personal response to injustice. The civil rights movement was founded on this principle, for example. However, one can't ignore the fact that rioting was also a major factor in that movement. One can go back and forth over which act gets more immediate results. I certainly don't pretend to know the answer, however, I'm convinced that practicing non-violence takes a hell of a lot more courage.

Being a secular person, I can't competently speak to the religious conflict that Alvin York overcame to fight for America in World War One, although I'll say this much: the very fact that he found parts of the Bible that supported both non-violence and violence makes me wonder if he ever found any other contradictions within it. The Bible offers good advice on how to live, this is true, but it was written by men from different time periods and with different agendas, and unfortunately, people don't take this into account as much as they probably should.

The story goes that the only way York would agree to having a movie made about him is if it would help pay for a Bible school. He is also alleged to have only wanted Gary Cooper for the part. If true, that turned out to be a good choice, since Cooper would win Best Actor for the part, and the film itself, Sergeant York, got nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture.

I watched this film with my mother. Unlike my father, my mother isn't all that knowledgeable about most movies, not even ones from her era. She knew who Cooper was, though. She mentioned how much she liked him in High Noon. She likes to try and anticipate what will happen in a movie; every once in awhile, she'll blurt out a prediction, like, he's gonna do this or they're gonna do that. She tends to be about fifty-fifty. At one point early on, I had to remind her that bad things have to happen in order for there to be a story. Sometimes she takes story conflict a little too seriously. Still, she definitely liked Sergeant York.

The movies of Howard Hawks in limericks

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


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

I wrote a post once in which I revealed some of the craziest things I did for love of a girl. Some were less weird than others, true, but in every instance I believed myself totally justified in my actions. Didn't matter if I was thinking straight or not.

I've tried to play it cool. I've told myself that I can't let things get out of hand in dealing with females, can't let things go to extremes, because that has been a problem for me in the past. There was one woman whom I almost scared off completely because I came on way too strong and didn't even realize it. For a brief period afterward, we didn't speak, but because this particular woman has a tremendously compassionate and generous nature, she eventually forgave me and let me back into her life, and I have been forever grateful, because my life is a thousand times better with her in it. We're good friends now and that suits me fine.

Love makes you crazy. No great revelation there, but when you think about it, that fact is mind-boggling. And a lot of the time, what we think is love at the time turns out to be a simple crush, or lust based on surface qualities. I've pursued a wide variety of women over the years, but if I were to be truly honest... I'd say that out of all the times I thought I was in love, I think I've only felt it for real... three times. Three times in which I knew that yes, she's the one. Out of those three, I only had a legitimate shot at two. Neither worked out.

So I look at Matthew McConaughey's titular character in Mud and despite the things he does, I can relate to him in a way, because he can't quite take his dream girl down from off of that pedestal he put her on, even though he probably should. Maybe what he feels for Juniper is love, maybe not, but man, if you've got your mind set on a girl, nobody can tell you anything. Love makes you crazy...

... something young Ellis slowly learns over the course of this poignant and ultimately endearing film, another triumph from Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols. Ellis, being a kid, wants to believe in the power of love, even when seeing it crumble between his parents; even though the evidence suggests Mud and Juniper may not be right for each other after all; even as he himself falls for a girl that seems to be out of his league... It's the kind of blind faith that only a kid can have, and because growing up is as painful as it is, it's ripe for a dose of harsh reality.

Still, Mud finds a way to end on a hopeful note - and that's what keeps suckers like me going, doesn't it - hope that the next girl will look our way, hope that she can look past the surface and see what's underneath, hope that we won't blow it this time. After all, we need some way to get through this hell of a life, don't we?

Monday, May 13, 2013

A coupla things...

My hay fever knocked me the hell out last weekend, and indeed, this has been a kinda rough season for it this year, which is why I haven't written as much lately. Right now, I feel fine.

I've decided I have to put "City Mouse Makes a Movie" on hiatus for awhile, because I have another project that I have to devote more of my attention to, because it has a deadline. I'll tell you about it eventually. CM should return before the end of the summer.

Finally, I wanna say thanks to everyone who dropped by to comment on my Dodsworth post for the Mary Astor Blogathon. It generated more comments than any other WSW post ever, so I really appreciate that! Funny thing, for a brief moment, I had wondered if I had gotten too personal with it, but it didn't seem to bother anybody, so I guess that answers that.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3
seen @ Williamsburg Cinemas, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Iron Man 3 is what it is. Did it entertain me? Yeah. There were funny bits (though not as many as in the first one), there were unexpected bits (I didn't really think [SPOILER] was gonna die, but for a moment I wasn't sure) and the visuals were astonishing as always (sitting through the credits, waiting for the obligatory after-credits scene - which is not worth waiting for - I was amazed at the gargantuan list of people involved in making the effects). But it's reached the point now where I'm no longer sure if that's enough.

Understand, I was genuinely excited at seeing the pieces of the Avengers movie mega-franchise come together, not just for the fanboy in me, but because something like this - making separate movies with different characters and uniting them in one big movie - was unprecedented. It succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and that's great. Now, however, it looks like they may be facing problems similar to their original comic book incarnations.

IM3 makes several references to the events in Avengers, which makes one wonder why Tony Stark doesn't call upon them when he's taking on the Mandarin. In the comics, there are separate books for Iron Man and Captain America and Thor where they do their own thing, and they all come together in the Avengers comic. Sometimes they'll guest-star in each other's solo books, but other times they won't, and when they don't, some lame excuse has to be made as to why they're not around, although sometimes they don't even bother with that much. (Why did the Fantastic Four first fight the cosmically-powered demigod Galactus without the Avengers' help? Because it was a Fantastic Four story.)

This is something I occasionally pondered when I still read superhero comics: is a shared universe really better than separate ones? A bit of history: the concept of a shared universe began in earnest within the comics world in the late 50s, when DC Comics created a new Flash character, different from the previous one, and had him meet the original, in an alternate Earth

World's most beautiful? Whatever, dude.
Next thing you know, you've got all the top DC heroes teaming up in Justice League of America, and they meet the older DC heroes, the Justice Society, who live in that same alternate Earth, and DC creates more alternate Earths, which lead to more crossovers, which  lead to DC streamlining everything into one Earth, and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, Marvel started with one Earth and heroes crossed over into each other's books all the time.

Now as a fan, this was exciting. I daresay there's not a superhero fan who doesn't enjoy seeing their favorite characters team up; in fact both DC and Marvel made books such as The Brave and the Bold and Marvel Team-Up to satisfy this demand. Today, the shared universe concept is taken as a given. But what are the advantages to keeping the characters in separate worlds?

For one thing, there's uniqueness. Much drama can be had out of a superhuman character who is alone in his or her abilities. How would the world view them? How would they view themselves? Would it be possible to live a normal life? Would they even aspire to living a normal life when they could be a celebrity? Maybe they'd take on god-like tendencies and decide to reshape the world in their image. Superman next to Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and the Flash runs the risk of being redundant. Superman by himself, however... is larger than life. Don't believe me? Look at the movies. (Well, don't look at Superman 3 and 4. They suck.)

Another argument in favor of separate worlds is the greater possibility of storytelling range. Imagine an ongoing Superman comic set in the 1930s, in the style of Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons; or an ongoing Batman comic set in the 1970s, with grittiness and street-level violence comparable to a Martin Scorsese movie; or an ongoing Wonder Woman comic set during World War 2, with lots of Nazi-busting action. 

DC publishes multiple Superman and Batman comics at the same time every month, but thematically, they're more or less interchangeable because they're all understood to be part of the shared universe. (At least that was true before their most recent reboot. Don't know what it's like now.) Marvel has a separate line of superhero comics called Ultimate that began as streamlined, modern versions of their classic characters, but it's still all part of a shared universe. (The current "Ultimate" version of Spider-Man is a completely different character, however, so there's that.)

The Marvel movies are following the lead established by the comics, which means a shared universe, something unique to the movies, this is true. However, it's one thing to have Captain America guest-star in the Iron Man comic; another thing to have Chris Evans guest-star in the two-hour-plus third part of Robert Downey Jr.'s multi-million-dollar franchise, which is already stuffed to the gills with Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle and Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley and Jon Favreau and so on.

Have I mentioned how much I love Rebecca Hall?
Still, if you're gonna have a shared universe in these movies, you've gotta play fair by it. If the Avengers and SHIELD are not gonna be in IM3, you owe it to your audience - most of whom don't read the comics - to offer some explanation why, no matter how flimsy. Any old reason will do. It doesn't matter in a story like this!

Beyond this, however, as I've alluded to before here, the bloom is beginning to come off the rose for me. IM3 was entertaining, but I didn't feel the same sense of satisfaction that I did after seeing the first Iron Man movie. It had a been-there-done-that kind of feeling, which is a strange thing to say about a movie with as much thrills as this, but that's how I felt afterwards. Maybe this feeling will change in the coming months and years. I don't know.

A few quick words about the brand new Williamsburg Theater. There have been smaller theaters popping up in the neighborhood recently, catering to the indie/revival crowd, but this is a modern multiplex, like you'd find in Manhattan. Base ticket price is eleven bucks, still cheaper than Manhattan, and they have eight-dollar Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus weekday matinees at the same price. The food options are standard, and the seating is stadium format. It looks like they'll show indie films as well as Hollywood stuff, which is good. They search your bags at the door, though, which sucks, but what can you do? The bathrooms are nice and clean. There's local, neighborhood-oriented advertising during the pre-show, which is a nice touch. The only drawback I noticed was that it took longer than expected to start the parade of trailers. I think this was due to the pre-show lasting too long more than anything else, however. I know it felt long. Still, this is a good place to go in a neighborhood that desperately needed a first-run theater. I'd go there again.


Friday, May 3, 2013


The Mary Astor Blogathon is an event honoring the life and film career of actress Mary Astor, and is hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. Click on the links for a complete list of participating blogs.

seen on TV @ TCM

"What a drag it is getting old," the Rolling Stones sang, and brother, ain't that the truth. It's nothing you can control, try as you might. In your head, you may still feel like you can mosh like a madman and rave till dawn, but one day, you wake up and realize new wave is dead and maybe it's finally time to put that ratty old Cure T-shirt away for good.

So to speak.

For me, that epiphany came when I realized that most of my friends were either married or deep into long-term relationships by now. And not just my friends, either; my sister's gotten married too! (True fact: I found out she was engaged on Facebook.) It's not that I've ever felt in a hurry to tie the knot - in fact, I firmly believe that marriage should not be rushed into, under any circumstances - it was the preponderance of friends and acquaintances doing it within roughly the same five-to-seven-year span or so that depressed me. Well, that and the lack of a Certain Someone in my life, but that, of course, goes without saying.

Sure, you may have done your share of traveling, accomplished goals you never thought you'd achieve twenty years ago, and met all kinds of people, but at some point, you get entrenched in certain patterns, your priorities change, and you settle. At least, many of us do... and maybe that's simply part of first-world life.

Is it wrong to hold on to youth when society tells you to act your age? Because, I gotta tell ya, I don't look forward to old age at all. I understand the younger generation less and less and I'm more cranky about it as a result. Physically, I've already begun to feel slower, more worn down than even five years ago, and I know what's coming. I watched my father spend the last decade-plus of his life in a wheelchair as his body slowly broke down, and I'm seeing my mother struggle with her own infirmities, and I don't want to live my remaining years like that. True, there may be little I can do about it, but if that's the case, why shouldn't I cling to my youth for as long as I can?

I mentioned the Rolling Stones just now - who would've thought that in 2013, they'd STILL be on the road, making music as if it were still 1965? I'm sure plenty of people have told them to pack it in, that they have more money than God and absolutely nothing left to prove, but not only do they refuse to act their age, they sell out arenas year after year. Is it different for them because they're celebrities? Or can we learn something from them?

These are the sort of things that the movie Dodsworth made me think about. I wasn't prepared for its depth, the way it made me feel one way about some characters, and then another. The longer I watched it, the more it moved me, mostly due to Walter Huston's magnificent performance as Sam Dodsworth.

Dodsworth is a retired businessman who takes his trophy wife Fran on a European vacation in an attempt to make up for time lost as a result of his devotion to his work, and perhaps, to save their marriage. Fran has played the role of wife and mother from a relatively young age, and seeing men continue to fall for her feeds her ego and gives her a thrill she no longer gets from her husband. Most of all, it makes her feel young again.

Now, I know the stereotype about women being coy about their age (though in the case of at least one friend of mine, it happens to apply), and I don't pretend for one minute to understand  what it's like for a woman to get older, but I do know that we as a society tend to prefer women to look younger, and that can't be easy for a woman to have to deal with, coming as it does with certain expectations and stereotypes. Plus, within certain strata of high society as the Dodsworths traffic in, it's probably worse.

Notice how Fran dyed her hair?
Still, I had no sympathy for Fran at first, seeing her entertain other men everywhere she and Sam went - until a pivotal scene late in the movie, when someone whose approval Fran desperately wants flat out calls her too old to be running around with a younger man, and the look on her face says it all: she is devastated. It's the last thing in the world she wanted to hear and I couldn't help but feel for her in that memorable moment.

As for Sam, he clearly bends over backwards for Fran, to the point where it looks as if he's about to go way too far for her - and he justifies it at the time by saying that he's too set in his ways to change. (He's eventually proved wrong, thank god.) The impression I got here was that Sam believed it was better to stay in a bad marriage than to be alone, particularly, the unspoken subtext says, at his age - and that's certainly a familiar attitude for a number of people. This is sophisticated stuff, the kind of thing one rarely sees in modern mainstream cinema, and both Huston and Ruth Chatterton nail it...

...This, however, is supposed to be a post about co-star Mary Astor, so I guess I'd better say a few words about her quick. Astor plays a woman whom Sam gets involved with later in the film, though she also pops up early on. She's good too. I can't say I know a great deal about Astor. She was in The Maltese Falcon, of course, perhaps her best known film. I liked her in The Palm Beach Story; she does comedy quite well. I like her voice - semi-deep and cultured without that annoying, aristocratic, faux-British lilt that so many actors from her day tended to put on. No complaints about her at all.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Iron links

Oooooh boy, the summer movie season is finally upon us, and while my expectations for the summer blockbusters are fair-to-middling this year, it's still exciting to see what they have for us. As much as I've been kvetching on Twitter about the new Star Trek film, for instance, there's no way I can avoid seeing it, simply because it is Star Trek. The superhero movies, on the other hand, I've cooled down on a little bit - too much of a good thing, y'know - but hope springs eternal. Can Christopher Nolan's influence have a positive effect on Zack "Overkill" Snyder in Man of Steel? If the teasers are any indication, the answer may very well be yes. On the other hand, I'm all Wolverine'd out, so unless this new one is the Greatest Thing Ever, I'll pass. And I'll see Iron Man 3 if for no other reason than to complete the trilogy. We'll see how the rest fare in due time.

I hate to have to keep asking, but I really am interested in what you think of "City Mouse Goes West." If you hate it, tell me. If there's something you wanna see more or less of, tell me that too. I was considering putting it on temporary hiatus for a month or so, but if I know you like it, I'll keep doing it, so please, don't be shy. Speak up.

Raquel has some great photos and great stories from the TCM Film Festival.

I recently saw the trailer for Mira Nair's new one, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and it looks pretty good. I thought Ruth's perspective on the film, as an immigrant herself, was helpful.

Brian from Sanity Clause was at Ebertfest and saw this really strange film.

Have you read Monstergirl's Last Drive-In blog? Well, you should. Here's an example of what to expect: a post about an eerie 60s Brit horror flick called Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

Should critics care about spoiling a movie? Depends. If it's a bad movie - I mean, really, really bad - critics should absolutely say what's bad about it in order to keep people from seeing it. Otherwise, it's absolutely possible to write about a movie without giving away key surprises and plot twists, and I think critics should exercise discretion - to a point. I agree with the author that the reader also has an obligation to avoid reviews if they want to be completely surprised. Unfortunately, it has become so difficult to keep movie plots from being spoiled to some degree, thanks to movie news sites that constantly post images and teasers and trailers from movies as a kind of second-hand PR network. Yet that kind of stuff gets traffic and hits, so there's obviously a market for it. The individual critic, though, should not have to contribute to that.

The next film to be distributed by AFFRM/ARRAY is Slamdance entry Big Words.

Here's an interesting piece that examines the trend in which older leading men tend to stick with younger leading women.

What will Roger Ebert's death mean for the Chicago Sun-Times?

Finally, you must look at this short film IBM made out of atoms.