Tuesday, April 29, 2014

5 hopes I have for Star Wars: Episode VII

"We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."
This seems like an appropriate time to address it, I suppose, now that the cast has been announced. If you sense a certain... reluctance to my tone, it's because the new Star Wars movie is one of those stories that's unavoidable, something everyone will be talking about no matter who you are or what your tastes in movies are. It will be analyzed and over-analyzed long before it's released and everyone will be expected to have an opinion on it, so I might as well weigh in now. Why not? I want pageviews and hits as much as the next blogger.

I like Star Wars... or perhaps it's more appropriate to say that I like the idea of Star Wars: an outer space epic that embodies many of the tropes of sci-fi that we've come to know and love. In execution, however, even the diehardiest of diehard fans will admit that Star Wars has been less than perfect, to say the very least. 

By all means, give George Lucas credit for contributing to the revival of science fiction as a legitimate movie genre - not to mention an immensely profitable one for the studios. But I've always found it amusing how much Fandom Assembled has been willing to bend over backwards to excuse the more egregious flaws, nitpicks and outright sloppy storytelling directly attributable to Lucas throughout those six little movies (and yes, I know Trek is not exactly without its share of embarrassing storytelling moments, either). 

Now, though, we don't have Lucas to kick around anymore: the franchise has been taken out of his hands, and as a result, expectations are higher than ever. Of course, I want to see a great new series of Star Wars films. Who doesn't? But the fact is that the franchise has a great deal of baggage to overcome, especially given how much the sci-fi genre has evolved across all media in the decades since A New Hope came on the scene in 1977. The following is by no means a complete list of what I hope to see from Disney and JJ Abrams, but for me, they're the most important:

1. Greater racial diversityAttack the Block star John Boyega, as well as Inside Llewyn Davis' Oscar Isaac (apparently he's Latino; I didn't know that). Good start. An encouraging start. What kind of roles will they have? We'll have to wait and see, but they're clearly considered important cast members.

2. Greater gender diversity. On the other hand... it looks like there's only one female among the new cast, named Daisy Ridley. Never heard of her. Still, would it have killed Abrams to have included a few more women characters? (At one point Lupita Nyong'o was considered for a role.) In recent years, The Hunger Games and Frozen have conclusively proved that chicks in genre flicks doing stuff can make lotsa money too, if done right. Having a single new female role kinda smells like tokenism, even if her role turns out to be spectacular. Again, we'll have to wait and see whether or not there are more women.

UPDATE 4.30.14: Sure, enough, Abrams says they're not done casting.

3. If Luke, Han and Leia must be in Episode VII, let their roles be smaller. I might have taken this as a given - of course, they would want a transitional period between the old and new casts - but word on the street is that Harrison Ford's role as Han is big. This might be the biggest problem I have with the new movie. It's okay to recast Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew, but not the Big Three of Star Wars? Assuming it's them that the fans want most, Episode VII could've easily picked up from where Jedi left off without having such a huge time gap - and the characters would still be relatively young. I'm genuinely surprised Abrams didn't go in this direction. Still, my hope is that Episode VII will be a "passing of the baton" kind of movie that'll clear the way for the new cast in future films. We've already seen Abrams using "older generation" characters as a deus ex machina; we don't need to see that sort of crap again.

4. A bit of examination of the human condition. Abrams' first Trek movie was said to be more like Star Wars; well, why can't Episode VII have a touch of Trek to it? Revenge of the Sith probably came closest to examining the kind of moral dilemmas that made Trek famous, albeit in a heavy-handed and unsubtle way, and of course, Into Darkness tried to do the same, with similarly mediocre results, which is why I'm not holding out a lot of hope for this one. Still, there's no reason why space opera can't be mixed with some genuine gravitas.

5. More personal stakes and less saving-the-galaxy-type bollocks. In this superb article by HitFix's Drew McWeeny, he talks about how modern audiences have gotten used to computer-generated special effects to the point where nothing less than perfection will do. He also stresses, however, the need for filmmakers to expand their imagination beyond an over-reliance on end-of-the-world stakes, and while that's important for all Hollywood genre movies, I'd especially like to see it applied to Star Wars as well - at least for Episode VII. In an era in which many genre movies rely on such stakes to wring out faux-emotional moments, Star Wars needs to be different - in fact, I'd argue that Star Wars must be different, because it's no longer the trend-setter... and hasn't been for a long time. And while I have my doubts that Abrams is the one who can bring this to fruition, I'll be there on December 18, 2015, like the rest of the world, to find out one way or another.


Return of the Jedi
Does Lucas have the right to alter Star Wars?
The Disney/Lucas deal from a Trekkie's POV
5 times Trek and Wars have crossed paths

Monday, April 28, 2014

Little Fugitive

Little Fugitive
seen @ Landmark Loew's Jersey Theater,Jersey City, NJ

There was a television PSA that used to play on afternoons and Saturdays when I was a kid - I forget who specifically it was for - in which a little girl gets separated from her mother in a public place. All these strangers would come up to her, speaking different languages, presumably trying to help her but oblivious to the fact that she doesn't speak whatever language they're speaking. They're shot from the girl's POV, so it's as if they're addressing you, through the camera. Eventually someone identifies her mom and they're reunited. (That PSA creeped me out not because of the fear of getting lost in an unfamiliar place, but because of all those strangers!)

I don't recall many childhood incidents where I wandered off on my own. The most prominent one is perhaps my earliest memory - running away from my grandma's house when I was about two because her dog freaked me out. I don't think I got far, though. Running away scared me at least as much as the dog.

As a child, I knew my neighborhood, of course, and I tended to stick to the same spots most of the time. During third and fourth grade, I walked to and from school by myself. On weekends, I'd walk to the stationery store to buy my comics, and that was about a half-hour to forty-five minutes, longer if I stopped off at McDonald's or White Castle to eat. These were all familiar locations, though. I like to think that my parents impressed in me the importance of not straying too far from the neighborhood.

These days, though, it's different. While I rarely, if ever, wandered off on my own, my parents still trusted me enough to go certain places by myself once I reached a certain age, whether I walked, took public transportation, or rode my bike. Now, it seems like a lot of parents go far out of their way to keep their children safe and protected - and not just little kids, and for more purposes than just playing by themselves. They got a term for it - "helicopter parenting" - and apparently it's a real problemStill, there are people who actively advocate letting kids be kids and to not worry so much when they go off on their own.

Little Fugitive is a time capsule, capturing an earlier time in American history in which the freedom of kids to walk and play on the streets and in other public places was taken for granted. Watching it now, in 2014, it's hard to believe that a little kid could wander around Coney Island in the summertime by himself, and not get abducted or hurt or what have you. And while there is an element of urgency - his older brother wondering where he is, the horse trainer who looks out for him - it's not as amplified as you might expect. 

The movie chooses to emphasize little Joey's adventure, as opposed to the potential danger he may or may not be in, and it's clear that by the time his brother finds him, he does alright - more than alright, in fact. Traditionally, this has been the premise of many a children's book, especially those in which the protagonists travel to magical realms where they meet fascinating and unique people, have adventures, and rely on their wits to accomplish a goal and make it back home in one piece. Fugitive plays a lot like that, actually.

I've written before about Coney Island and what it means to me, and while I've seen Coney in other classic movies, I've never seen it in such detail as this. In particular I loved seeing the old parachute drop ride in action. It's been out of service for just about my entire lifetime - I certainly don't remember ever seeing it in use - and while it looks like fun, it also seems a bit tame compared to some of the newer, more modern rides. And my god, was the beach packed in this movie! I know I've never seen so many people there before.

Last Saturday's screening at the Loew's JC also included a guest appearance by Mary Engel, daughter of Fugitive co-writers/co-directors Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin (Ray Ashley is also credited as a co-director and co-writer), and she talked about the film and how she has kept it in the public eye all these years. Apparently it was a major influence on the French New Wave, and it's easy to see why: it was shot entirely on location, with a specially built, handheld, 35mm camera, and it feels very modern, very European in terms of cinematography and editing, quite unlike a typical Hollywood movie from the 50s.

Your Humble Narrator and Ms. Citizen Screen herself

Did I mention I had company? I've written before about my pal Aurora, whom I met for the first time at the Loew's JC after making her acquaintance through her blog. She was there too, fresh from her week in Hollywood for the TCM Film Festival, and we caught up on old times before watching the movie together, which we both adored. (It was the first half of a twin bill, but unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the second half.) When it comes to movies, she gets around: she had spent the previous night in Fort Lee, NJ at a screening of the old John Barrymore film Twentieth Century, as part of a special Barrymore tribute. I'm hoping I can get her to come into the city this summer for some outdoor movies.

UPDATE 4.30.14: Here's Aurora's account of the night, in which she also talks about the second movie, Harold Lloyd's Speedy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Under the Skin

Under the Skin
seen @ Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

A Twitter friend recently described a brief encounter in which some dude on the street verbally harassed her - you know, saying how "hot" she was while passing by in his car, that sort of thing. It's the kind of incident that happens to many young women, only in this particular case, it happened back when the weather was colder and she was wearing a thick coat. She was able to put it in perspective, though; she tweeted that whenever a guy does this, it's not about looks, it's about being a woman alone.

I thought of that as I watched Under the Skin yesterday, an amazing movie that's difficult to describe. It's a singular visual and auditory experience unlike anything else I've seen this year, but if there was one idea that resonated with me as I watched, it was the notion of aloneness, of isolation. Scarlett Johansson's character is alone in a sense, being an extraterrestrial among humans (though she does have at least one accomplice), as are the young men she ensnares for some nefarious yet unexplained purpose.

Something about being alone, however, stuck out for me, and not just because it figures into the plot. I think it has something to do with how one is perceived when they're alone as opposed to being with others, as alluded to in the example of my Twitter friend. Johansson's unnamed character emulates humanity well: she dresses like a human, drives a car like one, and talks to people like one, and no one suspects any different, even though it's all a lie - skin deep, you could say. Her looks are important; she uses seduction to lure the young men into her trap. The fact that she's alone makes her less threatening.

I'm constantly aware of how strangers perceive me when I'm alone. My size gets me a lotta "big man" remarks, particularly from homeless people who want money, but from other strangers as well. I don't like it. It makes me feel self-conscious. I mean, these people probably think they're putting me at ease by saying that, but in fact it's just the opposite. Whenever I'm traveling somewhere, be it by bus or train or just walking, I wanna be left alone. In a city the size of New York, though, that's difficult, because there's always somebody hustling you for something (and being black, I get hustled harder by other black people).

Also, when I'm alone, I can come across as being very dour. I know this because sooner or later, there's somebody urging me to smile for whatever reason, especially when I don't feel like smiling. A recent example: my sister Lynne and her husband are musicians, and I was working the door at one of their band's live shows in the city, taking tickets. I didn't particularly wanna be there that night, but I promised her I would, so I did. Many, if not all, of the audience were friends of hers, and a number of them were the type that acts overly familiar with you, even if you're a total stranger. 

I certainly wasn't interested in having conversations with anyone; I just tried to do my job, but what I thought was dispassionate professionalism struck this one woman as being dour, so she urged me to smile. My instinct was to bash her head in for being so goddamn presumptuous, but I couldn't embarrass Lynne, so I made a fake grin, which seemed to satisfy this lady.

Being alone makes you more vulnerable to other people's perceptions, which you can't control. They think they know you, they think they can be your friend, they think they can scam you, they think they have some proprietary right to your time (or worse, your body), and while their ulterior motives may be totally benign and harmless, you never know when someone will lure you back to their place for what you think will be sex only to sink into some kinda liquid-y goo and have your insides sucked out.

I found Skin fascinating but very disturbing as well. I don't want to get into the major Plot Twist that changes the nature of Johansson's character and the movie as well, because it's something you absolutely need to experience first-hand. I will say, though, that it ties into the concept of isolation, but from a different angle. (I think I know what really happened, though - as opposed to what appeared to happen. If you've seen it and you wanna talk about it, save it for the comments.)

ScarJo has come a hell of a long way. It's nice to know that she's still willing to take roles as unique as this now that she's a legitimate star. She's never been sexier than she is here, but oddly enough, her nude scenes here aren't quite sexual. She takes a detached approach to her fabulous body in Skin because it's as alien to her (in more ways than one, if my theory on the Twist is correct) as this world. She's not so much acting as being.

The score is also an important factor in Skin. In places, it's not so much music as it is ambient sound, especially in the 2001-esque beginning, where you're not quite sure what it is you're seeing or hearing (I thought it was ScarJo's character trying to learn English).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cargo bike documentary on Kickstarter

...At once I understood all the stories I was reading of regular folk--some who hadn’t been on a bike in years, getting on a cargo bike and instantly becoming fanatic evangelical advocates, reaching out and befriending every cargo bike lover they could find. They can’t contain their excitement and neither could I. I felt duty-bound to make the cargo bike experience accessible, to show people how easily it can be done, how much sense it makes, how completely ALIVE it makes you feel. 
It was obvious that the rapidly growing network of cargo bike users heard the same call; what if I helped them connect and we tackled this project as a team? I had to try it. Given my knowledge and love of filmmaking, we had to make a film.
I know, I know, everybody and his brother's got a Kickstarter project that's absolutely deserving of your money. I'm sure you've seen plenty of them by now and the last thing you need is one more pitch. Well, this isn't a pitch, necessarily. I just wanna share my thoughts on this particular Kickstarter project - a documentary called Less Car More Go.

As some of you may know, when I lived in Ohio, I got around on a bicycle, though it wasn't a cargo bike. I hadn't planned on doing it; I simply needed a better way to get around than waiting on a bus system that isn't 24-7 and runs sporadically. (I don't drive.) It was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you've never ridden a bike, I don't think I can properly convey the sense of liberation you get from being able to travel in this fashion. It's efficient, yes, but unlike a car, you feel connected to your environment in a much more direct way. You're not surrounded by a great big hunk of metal that has the potential to maim or kill someone if you're not careful.

I don't see that many cargo bikes on a daily basis in New York, but I know there are people here who use them, and frankly, they make sense. They're good for lots of activities from grocery shopping to taking little kids to school to doing laundry - all those little tasks that many people use the car for without even thinking about it. 

When you take the car, though, you gotta worry about parking, about traffic, about gas, etc. I'm not saying ditch the car completely, but why not save it for longer trips instead and avoid all the hassle? And yeah, there are all the environment and health-related reasons to switch to a cargo bike, too, but bottom line, it has the potential to make daily living a little bit easier.

So I wanna see this doc do well. If it interests you at all, click on the link at the top and read all about it. Needless to say, I'll keep an eye on its progress.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dinner at Eight

Dinner at Eight
seen on TV @ TCM

Among the many awesome posts written for my recent Diamonds & Gold Blogathon was one about Marie Dressler. I had a vague idea of who she was prior to reading this: middle-aged 30's star... and that's about it. I had the impression she was big in her day, though I found that kinda hard to believe: a matronly, not-that-great-looking (sorry) woman was once a box office draw? But apparently it's true.

Seeing her in a movie like Dinner at Eight, I think I can see something of what made her successful. It feels very much like a play, which makes sense since it's based on one, and it's much more character-driven than I expected. It takes its time in setting up its story, and it has a rambling, leisurely kind of feel, unlike, say, Grand Hotel, another MGM all-star attraction, which feels more plot-driven.

I liked the first scene between Dressler and Lionel Barrymore. It's two old pros playing off of each other, making acting look easy. You get the sense of history between the two of them, and genuine affection even though the passion has died. The way Barrymore plays it, I can almost believe that Dressler's character was once someone desirable. By contrast, she seems at ease and a little wistful, knowing that time has passed between the two of them and whatever beauty she may have once had has faded. It's a warm moment that plays out naturally.

The whole movie lets us into the lives of its many characters in much the same way. I also liked seeing Jean Harlow stand up to the ever-intimidating Wallace Beery. I had seen her before in one or two other movies, so I had an impression of what she was like. Such a shame that she died so young - only 26. What would the rest of her career had been like?

This year marks MGM's 90th anniversary, and while they're no longer the Hollywood powerhouse they once were, they still have one of the greatest legacies in the history of film. I guess when I think of MGM movies, I mostly think of musicals - big, star-studded affairs in widescreen and Technicolor. And James Bond, of course. They, perhaps more than any other old-school studio, symbolize the Golden Age of Hollywood for me and, I imagine, for many others too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Spoiler Experiment pt. 1: Draft Day

Draft Day
seen @ Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas, Jamaica NY

In a sense, what I'm doing with this Spoiler Experiment isn't terribly new for me. There have been movies in the past that I've seen knowing either (almost) everything or (almost) nothing. This, however, will be the first time I've made a conscious effort to pay attention to whether or not it makes a difference either way.

I'm writing this section on April 10, the night before I go to see Draft Day, the first of my two case studies. To reiterate, I chose my two test films, Draft Day and Million Dollar Arm, because they're just similar enough: sports comedies featuring middle-aged star actors, about businessmen looking for young talent to replenish their teams. It's my belief that this will make for a fairer comparison than if I chose films from different genres, or if I picked a studio film and an independent one.

The WW2 record of Brigadier Gen. James Stewart

The James Stewart blogathon is an event devoted to the life and career of the great Golden Age actor, presented by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. For a complete list of participating bloggers, please visit the host site.

James Stewart is fondly remembered today as one of Hollywood's finest actors, but to those members of the Greatest Generation who fought in World War 2, Stewart is also remembered as a war hero, who served with great distinction as a member of the US Army Air Corps.

Stewart had piloting experience from his younger years. Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1908, he had an deep interest in aviation as a child. Charles Lindbergh, whom he would go on to portray in the movies one day, was his idol. In college, however, he gained a greater interest in acting, which led to theater work (where he first met, among others, Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan), and eventually, a career in Hollywood. Aviation still interested him, though, and in 1935 he got his civilian pilot's license and bought his own plane. In 1938, he obtained a commercial pilot's license.

Stewart was drafted into the fight in Europe, entering before Pearl Harbor led to America's formal declaration of war. In February 1941, the same month in which he'd win his one and only Best Actor Oscar, for The Philadelphia Story, he went to his local draft board but was turned down for being underweight, so he spent the next month bingeing on spaghetti, steak and milkshakes until he barely made it in a second time.

Inducted as a private on March 22, 1941, Stewart underwent basic training at Moffett Field, California and was a media sensation. During this time, in addition to his education, he was a flight instructor and a narrator for training films, and also went on war bond tours. By the spring of 1943, he rose to the rank of captain, serving as operations officer for the 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force.

By November, he led the B-24 Liberators, who were part of the Second Air Division, out of Royal Air Force Station Tibenham in England. The B-24 was a bomber plane, generally used with the B-17 on daylight raids throughout Europe, with a cruising speed of 215 MPH and a maximum speed of 290 MPH. The standard crew compliment was anywhere between seven and ten. In addition to bombs, they were outfitted with M2 Browning machine guns. Over 18,000 B-24 bombers were made by the war's end.

Stewart led several bombing missions that winter, including one on Christmas Eve in France, before getting promoted to major in January 1944. In March, he was transferred to RAF Old Buckenham as group operations officer of the 453rd Bombardment Group, a B-17 unit, where he continued to lead sorties. By the spring of 1945, he made colonel and was named chief of staff of the Second Air Division, having completed twenty raids with the 445th and the 453rd. He came home in September, remaining part of the Air Force Reserve as commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base. In 1959, he was promoted one more time, to the rank of brigadier general.

Among the military accolades awarded to Stewart for his service include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He retired from the Air Force on May 31st, 1968.

The book Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot goes into much greater detail about Stewart's war record from the perspective of one who served with him, author Starr Smith, an intelligence officer assigned to Stewart.

This short propaganda film, Winning Your Wings, was narrated by Stewart and directed by John Huston in 1942.

Other James Stewart films:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Diamonds & Gold Blogathon: The men

So here we are - this is part one of the blogathon, where all day today, I'll post the links to the pieces about the men. All you gotta do is put your link in the comments section and I'll put them up onto this page for all to see. If your post is about the women, Paddy will take them beginning tomorrow.

On behalf of Paddy and myself, I want to once again thank everybody who's participating, everyone who tweeted about it, everyone who linked to it on Facebook - seriously, this is the first blogathon I've had a hand in running that was not only this big, but this well promoted, and I truly, truly appreciate all the support.

In case you missed it, here's my post, on the movie Cocoon.

Ride the High Country (McCrea, Scott, Buchanan) - Caftan Woman
Charade (Cary Grant) - The Man on the Flying Trapeze
True Grit (John Wayne) - Ramblings of a Cinephile
Bunny Lake is Missing (Laurence Olivier) - Movie Classics
Dr. Cook's Garden (Bing Crosby) - A Trip Down Memory Lane
The Toll Gate (William S. Hart) - Movies Silently
Witness for the Prosecution (Charles Laughton) - Tales of the Easily Distracted
Inherit the Wind (Tracy, March) - Critica Retro (Google Translate required)
Venus (Peter O'Toole) - A Person in the Dark
The Ox-Bow Incident (Harry Davenport) - Thrilling Days of Yesteryear


Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Long, Long Trailer

The Long, Long Trailer
seen on TV @ TCM

In her superb book on how marriage is depicted in movies, I Do and I Don't, Jeanine Basinger devotes a section to the rise of television, in particular the birth of the domestic sitcom, and while she cites examples of shows featuring idealized nuclear families that Americans aspired to, there was one show in particular that, despite the atypical setting and characters, came across as more relatable:
Most people think of I Love Lucy as a typical 1950s married couple. Lucy, in particular, is thought of as a 1950s housewife (God help us!). But nothing about I Love Lucy is really "typical" the way The Donna Reed Show or Father Knows Best are. I Love Lucy uses a real marriage as a springboard to hilariously off-the-wall (and totally unrealistic) adventures.... Lucy has an endless fountain of crackpot ideas to further her goals, but also an indomitable spirit to keep her plugging away at them when they obviously aren't working.... (This is why Lucy became emblematic of the 1950s American woman: not because she's "normal," but because she's determined. She treks ever onward, confident there must be a better life somewhere up there ahead.)
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz enjoyed tremendous success with I Love Lucy, which had the subsidiary effect of boosting their film careers, and during their run on the show, they starred in two movies together, Forever, Darling and today's subject, The Long, Long Trailer.

Lucy & Desi were unique among Hollywood couples in many ways. There's the interracial aspect, for one thing. The Supreme Court would not uphold the right of interracial couples to marry until 1967, yet here was this highly visible, glamorous and successful couple proving to the world that it was absolutely no big deal for people from two different races to love each other.

Their on-screen personas as Lucy & Ricky Ricardo sometimes seemed indistinguishable from their real lives. When Lucy was pregnant with their son, Desi Jr., not only was he written into the show, but he became a character all his own (played by a different child). In their follow-up series, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, other Hollywood couples played themselves on the show, but Lucy & Desi were still Lucy & Ricky.

They were business people as well. Their Desilu Studios not only innovated the way television shows were filmed and distributed, but it was the home for many other popular shows from the 60s.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that in watching Trailer, one finds it difficult, if not impossible, to look at the two of them and not see the Ricardos. Their characters in the movie have sound-alike names, for one thing - Tacy and Nicky. Surely that's no coincidence. Nicky is basically Ricky Ricardo without the bongos, while Tacy seems like a toned-down version of Lucy Ricardo. She's not a dingbat, but she does have a hint of Lucy Ricardo's scatterbrained nature. The big difference here is that Tacy is funny because of the things that happen to her, not the things she does. One great example is the scene where she's trying to cook on the trailer as it's in motion. 

Lucy & Desi even get to sing together in one scene!. It's not meant as a big, theatrical moment, as you might expect to see on I Love Lucy, but a tender, casual, intimate moment the two of them share while they drive along the highway, listening to the radio. It's so sweet and feels so natural. If you had never seen or heard of the two of them before seeing this scene, you would not doubt for a second that they were deeply in love.

Trailer's premise is simple: Tacy convinces Nicky to buy a trailer that they can spend their honeymoon on as they travel cross country, with an eye towards making it a permanent home as well, but the one they get is huge and expensive and, of course, leads to all sorts of problems as they make their trip. Basinger notes in I Do that the trailer is the perfect metaphor for marriage: the expense leads to financial problems, the in-laws are horrified when Nicky tries to park it, Tacy's determination to keep it forces her to lie to Nicky - all of these and more are aspects of what Basinger calls "marriage movies" - the typical conflicts that arise in films about married couples.

Lucy & Desi were a match made in heaven, but it didn't last, and looking at the two of them, whether in movies like Trailer or on TV, it seems so hard to believe that they could ever part. In I Do, Basinger talks about a 1993 documentary produced by their daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, called Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, in which, through archival footage, home movies of the family, and interviews, Lucy & Desi's marriage was explored in detail, the ups and downs, to attempt to find out what went wrong. Basinger writes:
Sadly, Lucie Arnaz says to the camera, "They would have loved to have been the Ricardos," but like so many others, they couldn't manage a  sitcom life offscreen, only on.... her parents did the I Love Lucy show in order to be closer together in their work, and to be able to have kids and raise a family. The show worked, but the marriage didn't.... The film becomes a marriage movie, a TV movie, a real-life movie, and a documentary - but [it provides] no answer to the question "Why couldn't they stay married?"
Still, seeing Lucy & Desi in a movie like Trailer is a treat. They may not be Lucy & Ricky in it, but they come across as something closer to their real selves, an image refracted as it is through the lens of television.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


This is my post for the Diamonds & Gold Blogathon, an event hosted by Caftan Woman and Yours Truly in which the theme is great performances by actors age 50 and over. Check back here Saturday for my listing of the posts devoted to actors, and check CW on Sunday for the listing of posts by actresses.

Netflix rental

Earlier this year, at the Oscars, there was a bit of a to-do over seeing Hollywood Golden Ager Kim Novak, on account of her looks: it certainly seemed as if she had had some work done on her face. The general reaction on social media was negative, to say the least, though some came to her defense afterwards, and it set off a conversation about how celebrities, especially women, respond to aging.

This blogathon was not created as a response to that, although the timing has made me think about how modern audiences perceive older celebrities. As film bloggers, we tend to be sensitive to stars who struggle in vain against Father Time, even though (or perhaps because) they live in our memories as being forever young and beautiful, as a result of watching their movies over and over. For those who are less familiar with them and don't remember them from their salad days, it's harder to sympathize - not that this excuses those who ridiculed Novak. I suspect that this was one more case, among many throughout history, of celebrities being fair game for public criticism, right or wrong.

The increasing number of gray hairs on my head doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. My mother noticed them for the first time recently and I think I just shrugged and said something like, "Eh, I've gotten used to it," but no one likes being reminded that their youth is fading. Still, thanks to medical improvements, being old is no longer considered as much of a curse as it used to be... and for those of us who love those stars of the silver screen, the longer we can see them work their magic, the better. So I like the fact that we're celebrating movie stars in their twilight years... because as we've seen, it's easy to take them for granted.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The African Queen

The African Queen
seen @ Landmark Loew's Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ

I had forgotten how good The African Queen is. I had only seen it once before, way back in my video store days, and all I remembered of it was the opening scene - Katharine Hepburn in that makeshift church, earnestly playing the organ to a bunch of stupefied African natives who have no idea what she's singing about.

It's funny that I'd see a movie where Humphrey Bogart is at his scruffiest so soon after reading this article about what made him such a style icon. It's true that for someone with such... unconventional looks as Bogart (to put it nicely), he rocked the tuxedo like nobody's business. And next to Harrison Ford, no one else looked better in a fedora. 

While his character in Queen is very much a Bogart kind of character - the American abroad (well, Canadian, anyway) - in terms of his image, he's playing against type. Even in To Have and Have Not, another movie where he's in another country, dresses casually and owns a boat, he's still recognizable as Bogey. Not here, though, looks-wise.

The print that the Loew's JC presented was a recent restoration (from 2009, I believe) and it looked beautiful. The Technicolor colors popped in a way I didn't remember seeing from the VHS version I saw years ago. During the opening credits, legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff got a brief burst of applause from someone in the audience, and no wonder - all those images of the river, and the surrounding jungle, and the animals, and the boat itself as it made its fateful trip. He captured it all well.

Queen was a bit of a last-minute selection on account of the problems the Friends of the Loew's (FOL) are still having with Jersey City. Despite that, and despite the pouring rain on Saturday night, a fairly big crowd turned out, which is very encouraging. Host and FOL head Colin Egan had nothing new to report regarding their struggle to retain control of the Loew's JC, but it was quite clear that the crowd was on his side. 

He always acknowledges the FOL volunteers in his introductions, but on Saturday night he made special mention of their efforts to preserve the theater during this difficult time, and someone shouted out "That's right!" as part of the applause. In addition, Egan and the rest of the staff were wearing "I support Friends of the Loew's" buttons, which they gave away for free. Naturally, I snagged one. 

I don't live in Jersey City, so I don't know if Saturday's crowd is representative of the city at large, but in this recent poll taken by the Jersey Journal, 65% of the respondents opposed JC picking a new organization to run the Loew's JC, so that's something. I would've preferred a different phrasing of the question, though, to something like "Should the FOL remain in charge of the theater" or something to that effect. 

I think FOL's efforts to preserve the theater and make it a viable venue for movies and other events are blatantly obvious to anyone who looks at the facts, but then again, I'm not the mayor of JC. Here's hoping they can resolve this dispute soon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

All-american links

Last month, I was quite saddened to see that one of the last neighborhood movie theaters from my youth, the Jackson Cinemas in Jackson Heights, was closed for business. The movies on the marquee were Thor: The Dark World, Catching Fire and Frozen, so based on that, I'd say it's probably been at least three months since they closed their doors.

I've written about this place many times in this blog, mostly positive but sometimes negative. As much of a beloved hot spot as it was for me growing up, those days seemed long past whenever I'd visit it in recent years, which is especially depressing now, since the neighborhood is really coming into its own. Jackson Heights is becoming known for its international variety of food. It contains an historic district, and the installment of a pedestrian plaza near a major transportation hub has slowly become a source of local pride. Despite all this renewed interest in the neighborhood, the theater couldn't keep up somehow.

The entrance to the Jackson, taken a couple of weeks ago
Still, all may not be completely lost. I know for a fact that there are those in the neighborhood who want to bring it back, such as filmmaker and renaissance woman Celeste Balducci, who's something of a big shot within the cultural life of the neighborhood. I know of no concrete plan to save the Jackson at this time, but if one forms, I, for one, plan on getting in on it.

Also, I wanna be among the many others to wish Turner Classic Movies a happy 20th anniversary. I haven't watched the network as long as some of my other movie blogger brethren, but I've found it to be a fantastic resource for revisiting many of my favorite old movies and discovering new ones, uncut and commercial free. The TCM Film Festival is this month, and I know several of my blogger friends are attending. I'd love to go there one day; I hope I will.

This month, my Spoiler Experiment will begin in earnest when I see Draft Day, the first of two test subject movies to determine whether or not knowing spoilers in advance of a movie helps or hinders the experience. Draft Day is my "blind" subject; so far, I've been successful in knowing nothing about it beyond the bare-bones premise, which I've mostly extrapolated from the poster. On my [#spoilerxpmt] Twitter feed, I've gathered a bunch of news items related to spoilers and made some idle commentary about them. When this experiment ends next month, after I see my "spoiler" movie, Million Dollar Arm, I'll attempt to gather all my thoughts together into one summation post. If anyone wants to share their ideas, feel free to post them in the comments here, or on Twitter under the [#spoilerxpmt] hashtag.

And oh yeah: next weekend is the Diamonds & Gold Blogathon! There's still time to join Paddy and me for this event; if you want in, leave a comment below.

Your links for this month:

John re-watched Magnolia and his attitude about it changed.

Danny talks about the third and final team-up of Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell - on the small screen.

Raquel has the scoop on the re-releases of old books that were adapted into films many years ago.

Jennifer recently took the family to Hollywood.

Kellee writes a blog called Outspoken & Freckled; you might recall the name from a few blogathons. She's from Kansas, where they have a Silent Film Festival.

There's a young lady named Margaret Perry who writes a movie blog that's mostly devoted to Katharine Hepburn. As part of a Women's History Month series, she writes here about historical women who totally deserve biopics.

Cliff from a blog called Immortal Ephemera wonders (again) if there's anything to the old myth of movie stars dying in threes.

I found I related to this piece about trying to find a distinctive voice to write about film with.

The next AFFRM/ARRAY-distributed film is a doc about the BP oil spill, called Vanishing Pearls, due out this month.

Leonard Maltin reviews a novel inspired by a silent film legend.

I'm not entirely certain how much I agree with this piece about how the new black cinema should focus more on cultivating an audience and less on box office. Can a paradigm like this be financially sustainable for the filmmakers over the long term? I would imagine that not every filmmaker would be content with staying small - and at some point, some  of them will simply need more money to make their movie the way they want to. Plus, Hollywood needs to see quality black movies make money, period. Oscars are nice, but studios understand box office better.