Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Neil Simon Blogathon begins here!

Today I take your links.

Tomorrow Paddy takes them.

Let's see what you got.

Post your links in the comments or tweet them to me @ratzo318.

Thanks for joining us in saluting this great writer.

My post is on Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
California Suite

Caftan Woman
Simon on The Phil Silvers Show

Poppity Talks Classic Film
Seems Like Old Times

Once Upon a Screen
The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Friday, October 12, 2018

Brighton Beach Memoirs

The Neil Simon Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the great American playwright, who left this world for a better one less than two months ago. Paddy and I thank you for joining us. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries this weekend!

Brighton Beach Memoirs
YouTube viewing

The Alvin Theatre, on West 52nd Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan, was renamed for Neil Simon in 1983, so he was a big deal for a long time before the 80s, but growing up, I used to think he was around for less time than that. I vaguely recall seeing ads on TV for his plays, but I had no sense of his history.

I only know his plays from their film adaptations, but I have yet to find one I dislike. I discovered Simon during my video store years in the 90s. It took me awhile to tie the name to the stories, but once I did, I began to notice some commonalities.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

The James Mason Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actor, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
YouTube viewing

Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait has nothing to do with the Don Ameche film of the same name; rather, it's a remake of the Robert Montgomery film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which must have been a little confusing when it came out in 1978, but whatever. (In 2001, Chris Rock starred in a third version, Down to Earth.)

I wasn't fond of Jordan, not necessarily because of its premise — afterlife bureaucracy condemns a man to death before his time — but because of its poor plotting. Heaven attempts to improve on the original, and in a number of ways, it does, but I was still uncomfortable with the whole theme of fate, and things being "written," not to mention the lack of accountability for the mistakes made by the afterlife bureaucracy.

That said, Heaven was entertaining, in a 70s kind of way. Beatty not only starred and co-directed, he co-wrote the screenplay, with Elaine May.

Beatty was a "New Hollywood" icon. After the tremendous success of Bonnie and Clyde, he positioned himself as a multitasker, writing, producing and directing the films he wanted to make at a time when young filmmakers had an unprecedented level of power in Hollywood.

In the Peter Biskind book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the pages on Heaven depict Beatty as a "finicky, obsessive" nitpicker. He butted heads with Warner Brothers management over the film's budget before taking it to Paramount, where he fussed over the potential female leads for not being his ex-flame Julie Christie. In the end, he talked Christie herself into the film.

Beatty's perfectionism paid off: Heaven was nominated for nine Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay.

I didn't think it was nine Oscars worth of great, but I liked the humor, and the way the editing accentuated the pacing, making you really aware of the funny lines when they land. Dyan Cannon was great; she got a Supporting Actress nod — and so was Jack Warden, playing the same character as James Gleason in the original, and like him, getting a Supporting Actor nod.

We, however, are here today to talk about James Mason, taking over for Claude Rains in the role of Mr. Jordan and not doing much other than being stately and dignified.

Mason had a very long career, working steadily from the 30s to the 80s, mostly in high profile films on the big and small screens, including North by Northwest, A Star is Born, Lolita, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and many more.

His story was not unusual for Golden Age actors: started in British theater, then transitioned to the big screen during World War 2; came over to America and found greater fame. With his first wife, he co-wrote a book about cats, and illustrated it, too. Here's The Paris Review on his book, including some of his pen and ink drawings. They're pretty good.

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Other films with James Mason:
Forever Darling

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New release roundup for September '18


I saw both these films with Virginia and we liked them both. Why didn't I write full posts about them? Because I didn't.

-BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee has been kinda so-so lately, so it's nice to see such a stylish and entertaining film from him again. John David Washington is the son of Denzel Washington; he had a small role in Malcolm X years ago, according to IMDB. He sounds a lot like his dad, too. The most memorable moment for me was when the "white power" rhetoric of the Klansmen was juxtaposed against the "black power" dogma of the black activists. Unexpected and unsettling — that's Spike at his best. Virginia was particularly interested in the true story angle.

- Juliet, Naked. The latest adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel got mediocre reviews, but I liked it — and not just because I'm a fan. The changes from the book didn't bother me much. As I told Virginia afterwards, Ethan Hawke's interpretation of his character's songs, good as they sounded, can never match the ones I imagined when I read the book. So while obviously we needed to hear his character's songs for the movie, a part of me almost wishes we didn't, if you know what I mean. A nice companion piece to High Fidelity.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A star is linked

Not a whole lot to talk about this month. Cynthia Nixon was robbed, the novel rewrite is going great, and things between me and Virginia are swell. The Neil Simon Blogathon is in a couple of weeks; there's still time to join Paddy and myself for the occasion, if you want in.

Let's jump straight to the links for once!

Raquel answers questions from her readers.

Ivan discusses the century-old comic strip Gasoline Alley and the two films inspired by it.

Jacqueline ponders whether this Depression-era film endorsed socialism.

Jennifer talks contemporary high school movies and compares them with her own experience.

Le writes about a very early Ernst Lubitsch silent film which challenges gender roles.

Variety's coverage of Cynthia Nixon's loss in the New York primaries.

What are Feedspot's choices for the Top 30 Classic Film Blogs?

The Wizard of Oz ruby slippers, after having gone missing for 13 years, have been found!

Gauging the truthiness of films "based on a true story."

Bullwinkle and political satire.

Is it possible liking trash cinema makes you smarter?

Claudette Colbert liked cooking desserts.

Armie Hammer hearts scooters.

Finally, best wishes to Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, who's recovering from surgery.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Twelfth Night (1969)

The Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon is an event which looks at roles where men play women and women play men (and other variations) hosted by The Midnite Drive-in and Angelman's Place. For a list of participating bloggers visit the links at the host sites.

Twelfth Night (1969)
YouTube viewing

I've written about William Shakespeare here before, but only in a limited sense. This seems like a good spot to go in more detail.

In college, I took an acting class and I performed a scene from Hamlet. I thought I had a grasp of the meaning behind the lyricism of the words and the outdated language, but only after I read and re-read the scene a bunch of times. I think you have to see Shakespeare performed by professionals to get a real sense of what's going on and what his characters are meant to be like.

It's a stereotype that the British do him better than anyone else, but he's part of their national heritage. It kinda makes sense! His words just sound better when they come out of the mouths of Patrick Stewart or Judi Dench or Kenneth Branagh — though we Americans are no slouches when it comes to the Bard. I once saw Richard III with Denzel Washington at Shakespeare in the Park, for example, and he was riveting.

Still, when it comes to the Bard, none of these people can compare to that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura. You've probably heard of him.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Remembering a legend with the Neil Simon Blogathon

I never had the pleasure to see a Neil Simon play live, but it wasn't until the news of his death last month that I looked over the stories he wrote, for the stage and screen, and realized how many of them I've enjoyed. He may not have been flashy, but he wrote delightful, funny and poignant stories about ordinary people like you and me — and I realized a simple eulogy wasn't enough.

Normally I only do one blogathon a year, but I'm breaking that habit in order to give all of us a chance to celebrate the life and career of an American original with this blogathon. And there's no one I'd rather do this one in particular with than my pal Paddy.

So you know the deal: in the comments here or at Paddy's, let us know what you wanna write about: one of Neil Simon's plays, or film adaptations, or original screenplays, or his life in general. It's up to you. We'll collect them all on the weekend of October 13-14. Duplicates are okay.

I'll write about Brighton Beach Memoirs. Paddy's gonna write about some Simon-written episodes of The Phil Silvers Show.

The banner at the top is the only one for now. (Many thanks to Ruth for a last-minute save!)

Amy's Rib: A Life of Film, Murder by Death
The Stop Button, The Cheap Detective
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, Barefoot in the Park
Once Upon a Screen, Chapter Two
Poppity Talks Classic Film, Seems Like Old Times
Critica Retro, The Odd Couple
Maddy Loves Her Classic FilmsCalifornia Suite
Slightly Scarlet, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Moon in Gemini, The Heartbreak Kid (1962)

Realweegiemidget ReviewsThe Goodbye Girl
MovieRob, The Heartbreak Kid/Only When I Laugh

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Farmer's Daughter

The Joseph Cotten Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actor, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.

The Farmer's Daughter
YouTube viewing

Sometimes the timing of when one watches a movie can make a difference in one's perception of that movie. I chose The Farmer's Daughter for this blogathon knowing nothing of its plot. (You're just gonna have to take my word on that.)

I watched it last week: it's the story of a woman, an outsider, drawn into the world of politics, who ends up opposing a career insider with money and connections, despite her lack of experience in the field. Sound familiar?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Primary links

The New York State primary election is this month, and on paper, Cynthia Nixon's chances for becoming governor don't look good. Despite the groundswell of online support for her, rooted largely in her constant and justifiable criticism of incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she remains way behind in the polls.

There's still plenty of skepticism over whether Nixon, Hollywood actress and double-Emmy winner, has what it takes to run a state, but if nothing else, she's helped raise the consciousness of many people, both here in New York State and beyond, about some important issues — education, housing, marijuana legalization, and yes, the dreaded NYC subway — and she's proven that being a celebrity is not automatically an impediment when it comes to running for office, despite the presence of the one in the White House now.

For what it's worth, I intend to vote for her (in the primary, at least). She's earned my respect.

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Last month, I learned how to sing in a chorus. There's a choral singing workshop Virginia attends every year in Massachusetts. She heard me sing months ago, as part of a group, and invited me to attend the workshop with her.

Now, I admit, I can carry a tune, but my sister is the singer in the family, not me. I've taken part in talent contests back when I was younger and contemplated a career as a musician — I have a keyboard and have taken lessons on the organ — but that doesn't make me Billy Joel by any stretch. Still, I was curious, and it provided an opportunity to travel with Virginia for the first time (we also visited friends of hers in Vermont).

The first day was the worst. Singing in Latin? Reading sheet music on sight? Focusing on my part while everyone around me sung different parts? I was angry, confused and lost and felt like I was letting Virginia down, since she was paying my way. She kept encouraging me, though, and against my instincts, I persisted.

Thanks to a terrific teacher, I got over my fear. He took my shaky bass voice and made it presentable through humor, patience and mostly by example. In addition, I found a song I genuinely liked, and wanted to sing. By the time my small ensemble performed for the other teachers, I was ready — and I even got some compliments! Virginia was impressed too, which meant more to me than anything.

Don't know for sure if I wanna keep up with this, but at least I can say I did it.

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The original film version
of The Band's Visit
Virginia and I also went to see the Broadway musical The Band's Visit, based on the Israeli film from 2007. I never saw the movie; don't even remember it, but it got a 98 on Rotten Tomatoes. As a Broadway show it has enjoyed even more success, winning the Tony for Best Musical, and after seeing it, I can see why.

The premise is simple: a small Egyptian orchestra, invited to perform at a show in Israel, arrive in the wrong town. They spend a night with the locals and change a few lives in the process. It should have been Israel's entry in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race, but it was disqualified on account of having too much English.

In December 2016, the musical adaptation debuted off-Broadway and moved to the Ethel Barrymore Theater almost a year later. The version we saw last month had original production stars Katrina Lenk and Ari'el Stachel, who won Tonys, as well as Sasson Gabay, star of the original film.

We both loved the show. It was an exquisite, character-driven production with Arabic and Israeli flavored music; the whole thing felt different from what one normally thinks of as a Broadway musical. I still would like to see fewer film adaptations and more original material, but for what this was, it's the real thing.

More after the jump.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Too Many Husbands

The Fred MacMurray Blogathon is an event in tribute to the life and career of the actor, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site at the link.

Too Many Husbands
YouTube viewing

Fred MacMurray is best remembered as a comedic actor and a good guy, but I tend to think of him, in cinematic terms, as a bad guy. It's all Billy Wilder's fault, for casting him in two dramatic films, Double Indemnity and The Apartment, where he plays scumbags.

The latter film in particular is a good example. He takes advantage of both Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, less as a sneering villain and more with a deceptive charm. He uses them to serve his own ends and he comes across so reasonably in the process; his perpetual nice-guy image is turned inside out. Double may be his most popular film role, but I think The Apartment is his best.

And then there's My Three Sons. The early TV sitcom gave MacMurray's career a second wind, lasting twelve seasons. There's little more than snippets of the show on YouTube, but I watched them for this blogathon. The impression I get is Sons was warm and gentle. The kids seemed unrealistically well-behaved, but gosh, maybe MacMurray's character was just that good a father. A single one, no less.

Perhaps you know MacMurray played the saxophone. He played in a few bands while attending college in Wisconsin. He also sang a little. Here he is in 1930, singing with Gus Arnheim and the Coconut Grove Orchestra.

And I would be remiss if I forgot the comics connection. Remember Captain Marvel? Little kid says "Shazam," turns into an adult superhero? (Perhaps this trailer for the forthcoming Shazam film will jog your memory.) Creator CC Beck modeled CM on MacMurray. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.

Today's subject, Too Many Husbands, is an early MacMurray comedy that's more of a vehicle for the delightful Jean Arthur. Drowned at sea and believed dead, MacMurray survives and returns home a year later only to find Arthur, his wife, moved on without him and married his best friend, Melvyn Douglas.

Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt needed less than ten minutes to settle this problem in Cast Away. Arthur and company take an entire movie, though in fairness, the whole thing is as fluffy as a pillow.

It's watchable, thanks to Arthur; MacMurray and Douglas just bicker and make goo-goo eyes at her. Would you believe Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made essentially the same movie, My Favorite Wife, in the same year, 1940?

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Other Fred MacMurray movies:
Remember the Night
Double Indemnity

Monday, August 20, 2018

Requiem for the video store, part 4: Blockbuster

...Pick up. Drop off. It was, for many, a daily experience. Blockbuster made it easy for you, with mailbox-like units that you could deposit your used movies in like letters. You didn’t even have to get out of your car. You pulled up, rolled down your window…
And in writing this, I realize how absolutely ancient that must seem to a teenager.

It's true, there was a time, not that long ago, when Blockbuster Video stores were as ubiquitous as Starbucks cafes. Hard to believe that time has passed, but how can you compete with online streaming? Still, I never thought the day would come when BB would generate not only nostalgia, but sympathy.

BB as the underdog, the analog lone wolf struggling to survive in a digital wilderness? Under other circumstances, I might be more  sympathetic. Fact is, though, my history within video retail gives me a different perspective, because for many years, BB was the enemy.

I worked at three independent video stores from 1996-2003 (plus a six-month stretch at Tower Records in 1995, where I split time in the video and music departments), and one thing the customers at each indie had in common was their gratitude we weren't BB.

I'd hear it all the time. Maybe it was  because it was New York City, and we tend to get indie and foreign films before most places (and for a longer time), but I dealt with customers who demanded more than just mainstream Hollywood cinema — and BB didn't supply it as much or as often as we did.

That made a big difference in all three indie stores in which I worked, though in the end, BB won out through sheer strength in numbers. When I worked at the Third Avenue store, a BB opened on Second Avenue, on the same block as us, but I don't remember feeling seriously threatened. I believed we could compete with them, in large part, because so many of our customers hated BB and wanted nothing to do with them.

Oh, yeah, that's another thing: BB, like other national chain businesses, set up shop in locations where their (smaller) competition, like us, was already established, so that they could be top dog in time. They could afford to wait, too. Funny how none of the articles I've seen about the last BB standing mention little details like that.

And y'know, props to the Bend, Oregon BB for keeping their doors open this long and surviving in the age of Netflix, but as someone who actively worked against them for eight years, I can't forget the old days that easy. One day, sooner rather than later, the last Blockbuster Video will die, too... but the end will come far, far too late for me.

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Previously:
part 1
part 2
part 3

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Oscars and the art vs. commerce debate

Okay, I read all about this lame new Oscar category for "Best Popular Film" or whatever it'll be called, and I've given it some thought. I get that the Academy and ABC felt they needed to do something to make the Oscars relevant again, and I get that it's called show business for a reason, but this was not the answer. Columns like this reflect my position well. That said, I wanna examine this from a more personal angle.

In my former life, within the comics industry, I had begun my activity at a time, the early 90s, when what was popular truly was mediocre at best. I was in college, and my classmates and I were frustrated at this because we were getting lessons in the fundamentals of art and comics storytelling from industry veterans who didn't fall prey to trends.

Movies like Black Panther would be
a shoo-in for this new Oscar category.
Some of us young turks worked within the system, at Marvel and DC, to help bring about change. Most of us, like me, worked from outside by self-publishing our work or hooking up with small press publishers.

I didn't want to compromise my art by being a slave to trends, but you can bet your ass I still wanted to make money. I believe in the 21st century, it's rare, though not impossible, to find creative people who don't want or expect compensation for their work, but much depends on the audience and what they (think they) want.

"Best Popular Film" could have
benefitted recent blockbusters like Avatar.
With movies, a lot of the time they settle for what's most easily available, true, but these days, it's not uncommon to see a popular indie film playing alongside the latest blockbuster at the multiplex. (Over the past few weeks, I've seen Three Identical Strangers playing in small town, three-screens-or-fewer cinemas.)

Does that mean we, the audience, have become conditioned to choose the popular over the unpopular? Probably. If TCM is on, I'd sooner watch a Jack Lemmon flick over some B-movie starring actors I've never heard of. If I'm in the supermarket, I'd sooner buy a familiar brand name product than a generic version of the same thing. I think it's an inherent aspect of consumerism: the product that advertises better sells better.

As I learned with comics, however, popular doesn't always equal better, a mentality I had adopted for years and have found difficult to shake. In the mid-90s, I watched more indie films, in part, because that's what my video store co-workers, whom I was trying to emulate, watched. They tended to scorn Hollywood and I copped that attitude too.

Will future films like the new Star Wars
films profit from this category?
Most moviegoers, though, aren't like that. If they were, films like Spotlight and Lady Bird and Won't You Be My Neighbor would each make $100 million — and it's not like these films are inaccessible, artsy-fartsy meditations for aesthetes.

The Academy continues to honor these "art" films with Oscars over the "commercial" ones, though, and while we may wish this false dichotomy didn't exist, it does — and not just within the film industry.

Can the playing field be leveled so that all films, large- and small-budgeted alike, compete as true equals? Online streaming could hold the key to the answer. It may mean tearing down the old distribution model, which would make me sad — I enjoy seeing a movie in a theater — but maybe that's what it'll take. In the meantime, I don't see the art versus commerce struggle changing much.

Hard (getting to) eight


...and it has been hard getting to the eight-year anniversary — at least this year! At the pace I'm on, I may not crack 100 posts in 2018, but that's okay. I've had other things to occupy my time lately, not the least of which includes meeting Virginia and falling madly in love with her. You're probably sick of hearing me mention her by now, but she's made all the difference to me this year — and it's not over yet.

Anyway, thanks once again for sticking around here, sporadic as I've been. I appreciate it, and all of you. Hey, I'm getting pretty close to double digits, aren't I?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Re-engage: Stewart to return as Picard

"With overwhelming joy, it's a privilege to welcome Sir Patrick Stewart back to the Star Trek fold. For over 20 years, fans have hoped for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and that day is finally here. We can't wait to forge new ground, surprise people, and honor generations both new and old."

I've already provided my assessment of Picard, so let's talk about the man behind the character. I think Sir Patrick has, in his own way, become as representative of Trek as Bill, yet he never became tied down to it; he has been Professor Xavier for so many X-Men and Wolverine movies, it's easy to think of him in that context as well (Logan might have been his best movie as Xavier).

His theater and other TV work, his close friendship with Ian McKellen (another geek icon), his occasional ventures into comedic videos such as this, not to mention his talk show appearances, all have helped make him a legitimate celebrity that non-geeks know and respect. Even my sister liked the Facebook post that carried this announcement!

I think it's a foregone conclusion this new show, like Discovery, will be on CBS All Access. What was that I said recently about how I may need to think twice about getting it? An issue for another time, for now, but damn, a new Trek series with Picard would be incredibly tough to resist. I think there was a TNG episode where somebody said something pertaining to resistance...

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Related:
Enterprise-D
Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds
Star Trek: Discovery

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Link: impossible

Here's something I haven't talked about yet: the Disney/Fox deal. Last month it was approved by the shareholders, and now I gotta believe Disney won't be satisfied until they own all of Hollywood. This is kinda disturbing. Should one studio have this level of power? If it's not a monopoly yet, it's beginning to feel like one.

One wonders what Unca Walt himself would have made of all this. It's a cinch he wouldn't recognize the business he started so long ago. Maybe I'll do a post on him.

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It occurs to me I haven't been to any outdoor movies this summer. This is unusual; it's something I've indulged in for as long as WSW has been around, but not this year.

Meeting Virginia has meant doing different things with my spare time, so there's that. She's actually not a big moviegoer (I had to remind her who Tom Hanks is), and as you've read, we've been doing things like going to plays and concerts instead.

I don't mind; she's exposed me to new stuff I wouldn't have known of before, and being with her has been more than worth it, even if the play or concert bored me on occasion.

Perhaps going to outdoor movies was a way to occupy my time in the absence of someone like her in my life. Don't know — but I find I haven't missed them much. Hope you haven't either.

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So Spock is gonna appear in Discovery; this does not surprise me in the slightest. As soon as I saw in the first half of the pilot that Cmdr. Burnham was raised on Vulcan and conveniently knew Sarek, I knew it was only a matter of time before they figured out a way to work Spock into the series. That's not what I wanna talk about.

I read the news on a Star Trek Facebook group. I'm not part of the group; I was just lurking. Ever since I chose not to subscribe to CBS All Access to watch Discovery, I've shied away from the fan groups, blogs, and news sites because I knew Discovery would be a big part of their coverage. I looked at this group, though, because I missed being part of the fandom.

The Trek canon (not owned by Disney) is growing, and will continue to grow in the near future —maybe not in all the ways I want it to, but it is happening. Will it follow the Discovery model and be part of the streaming service? Unless someone says otherwise, I can only assume so, which means I may have to reassess my anti-streaming stance. I know I said Trek fandom no longer needs to rely on CBS or Paramount, but things have changed in a big way since then. Maybe I need to get with the times?

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Starting to pick up a little around here; we got some more blogathons scheduled for the coming months, and some good-looking movies are on deck. Hope you'll stick around.

Links after the jump.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

My instinct is to reply hell yeah, if I thought I could abandon civilization and live in the woods, or up a mountain, or on a desert island, I would. People suck (well, not you) and if I believed I could live completely on my own, away from their cell phones played on buses, their car alarms, their two AM parties, etc., not to mention their racism, greed and stupidity, I'd do it. My instinct is to say that.

The truth, unfortunately, is that I couldn't last one day in the wilderness for soooooo many reasons: I don't know how to hunt for food. I don't know how to start a fire. I couldn't identify edible plants to save my life. I would sooner run like hell from a wild animal than try to kill it. Not to mention I actually have a few good reasons to remain in civilization, such as a woman I've grown to love and would miss dearly. Couldn't say that a year ago.


There's a reality show my mother watches, Zod knows why, in which people are thrown into a forest and are forced to survive for a couple of weeks, I think, eating nuts and berries, making their own shelter, avoiding wild beasts, etc. Did I mention they have to do this completely naked?

There's a similar show she also watches that's set in the wilderness of Alaska. It's less extreme, but it's also about survival without many of the creature comforts of modern life.


Whenever I happen to see it, I'm reminded of my friend Layla, who does live in Alaska, but not in an igloo or anything like that. Still, she'll post pictures of nature on Facebook and joke about how cold it can get up there, even in the summer. Once she posted a video of a moose that crossed the highway in front of her!

Civilization, ultimately, is much more good than bad, but certain kinds of people can do without it, given a choice... and then there are those who don't have a choice.

Leave No Trace is about a father and teenage daughter who live in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Why? At first, it seems as if it's because the father is just plain fed up with the modern world and the daughter is along for the ride. When they get caught, though, and are forced to return to civilization, it becomes clearer that the reasons are deeper than that.


Co-writer/director Debra Granik caught lightning in a bottle with Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone, and made a superstar out of Jenny Lawrence. At long last, Granik has made a follow-up, and I'd say it was worth the wait.

Like the work of Kelly Reichardt (I was reminded of Wendy and Lucy in particular), Trace is spartan in both pictures and words, relying on the audience to fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions. Is Ben Foster's character a bad father? He raises his child apart from the modern world, but he does a really good job of it; she's intelligent and is fully schooled in her father's survival skills.


Would she be better off in a normal home with normal caretakers, though? That's part of the movie's dilemma, and Granik, with co-writer Anne Rosellini (adapting a novel), takes her time providing the answer. The issue is never as simple as one might think.

Granik provides lots of nice shots of the forest, and gets solid performances from Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie, who no doubt must be sick to death of the Jenny Lawrence comparisons by now, so I won't make any.

Trace is thoughtful, character-driven and off-beat in a good way. Well worth a look.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Books: Double Indemnity

The 2018 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

Why do I keep coming back to Double Indemnity? I'm not sure. There's no doubt it's one of my favorite films, but in terms of the blog, I've dissected it pretty thoroughly. I've talked about Billy Wilder, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson; later this summer I'll add Fred MacMurray to that list; I've analyzed a scene from the movie, and now I'm gonna discuss the book on which it's based. I don't think I can get much deeper than that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers
seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York, NY

To know that the current administration is responsible for separating the children of immigrants from their parents, going so far as to cage them in many instances, really makes me ashamed to be an American, yet at the same time it's not too different from a despicable pattern we've followed for as long as there has been an America.

Whether the cause is anti-terrorism, or fighting the Axis, or the right to own other humans as slaves, or simple manifest destiny, there's always been somebody behind it all who will tell you, with a smile and a wink, that an act such as (but certainly not limited to) breaking up a family without their consent was for the greater good. Sometimes there is no reason behind it except meanness.

And sometimes there's a plot at work.

Please don't ask me to identify which is which.

I don't remember the story of the long-lost New York triplets — Bobby Shafran, Eddie Galland and David Kellman — reunited after an entire childhood apart; I might have been a bit too young for it to register. The story of their reunion and everything after, including the mystery of why they were separated to begin with — is what makes up Three Identical Strangers, a heartbreaking, yet warm and often funny documentary.

If this were a Hollywood screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin or somebody like that, no one would buy it because no one would believe in it. The simple coincidence of the triplets living in the same region and suddenly meeting by chance stretches credulity enough... but then again, as you learn to your shock as you watch, it wasn't entirely coincidence.

The Triplets meet Madonna in a cameo in
Desperately Seeking Susan

I think if this were a Hollywood screenplay, there'd be a race-against-time third act where the triplets unite (after a second act in which dissension tears them apart) to unravel the conspiracy against them, Da Vinci Code style. Unfortunately for them, their actual story is nowhere near as melodramatic or cliche.

It's much more about mental illness, and genetics, and above all the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Bobby, Eddie and David grew up independent of each other, yet had so many things in common it was as if they had never been separated.

The Triplets had their own Manhattan
restaurant named, of course, Triplets

Is that genetics at work? One would think so, but if so, what does that say about our ability as self-aware beings to choose? These questions are brought up in the film, and they have a direct bearing on why the triplets were separated; I can't say more without giving it away. Just see it and be amazed.

I would've seen this with Vija and company, but the @#$(+& subway made me late again, and the line for the Angelika was out the door and around the block, which isn't unusual for the Angelika on a Sunday. I hadn't been back there in quite awhile, so I forgot.

David Kellman today

I went back to see it the next day. Meanwhile, I caught up to Vija after the movie; Debbie and Sue came along. We had Japanese for an early dinner and then Sue took Vija and me on a tour of the side streets of the west Village, where she used to live.

The two of them recently spotted none other than Alec Baldwin outside his apartment building in the Village, so we all went back there, thinking we might spot him again. We didn't, of course, but I certainly had no expectations. And it was a beautiful afternoon.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nanook of the North

The Winter in July Blogathon is an event in which the theme is winter movies watched in the summertime, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Nanook of the North
YouTube viewing

The timing for this blogathon is perfect: the weather here in New York has been in the 80s and 90s and mostly sunny all week long. We're about as far removed from the winter as you can get.

Nanook of the North is one of the first true feature-length documentaries, the brainchild of explorer turned filmmaker Robert Flaherty. His initial job was to research the Hudson Bay of northeastern Canada, beginning in 1910.


In 1913, he took a three-week film course to acquaint himself with filmmaking in an attempt to better document his experience. When the time came to shoot, he chose to focus on the native Inuits of the region, specifically the hunter Allakariallak, also known as Nanook, and his clan.

The long road to a finished product was riddled with obstacles. You can read about them in Flaherty's own words here, but the result was a film, released in 1922, that was a critical and commercial hit.


I was surprised at how engrossing Nanook was. We see him ice fishing, hunting walruses and seal, building igloos, and raising his family the best he can under primitive conditions. The stark terrain doesn't look as intimidating as it probably was, on account of the grainy film quality, but Flaherty and his team get it all, during a time when the boundaries of film were still beginning to be explored.

As I watched, I had wondered about the authenticity of some scenes; call it the consequences of reality television permeating the zeitgeist. Turns out, quite a bit of Nanook was fake and staged.


Should it matter? Patronizing references to the "simple, happy" Inuit aside, I think Flaherty definitely knew his subject matter, if nothing else. It's unlikely anyone else at the time could have made this film. If he was upfront about how he had manufactured drama, well, keep in mind the documentary film as we know it wasn't real in 1922. As is usually the case, Nanook needs to be considered in the context of the time.

I watched Nanook at Virginia's place, on her laptop. She was out of town (still is, as of this writing; she comes back this weekend) and asked me to housesit for her.


I was glad to do it, since it meant living in Manhattan again, but I didn't get around to watching the movie until Friday night, because of a bunch of things that went wrong this week which I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that watching the movie, especially given the fact it was silent, calmed me down at a point where I needed it bad.

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Other films set in the winter (a select list):
Fargo
A Simple Plan
Happy Feet
Murder on the Orient Express
War for the Planet of the Apes
Force Majeure

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won't You Be My Neighbor?
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Telling you which children's shows I watched as a youngling will date me, I'm sure, but that ship sailed long ago, so what the heck. Sesame Street and The Electric Company are both given, and you can add Romper Room to that list too. (People from my generation don't believe it when I say the Magic Mirror scared me. I really thought she could see me with that thing!) I even remember Captain Kangaroo.

Here in New York we had a local show called The Magic Garden, with these two hippie chicks with guitars, Paula and Carole, amidst their tricked-out studio set garden full of puppets and other weird critters. They'd sing songs and play games and stuff. I dunno, I just really dug them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ant-sized links

So Virginia and I spent last Sunday, which was gorgeous, on Governors Island, in New York's East River, near Ellis Island. There was a folk music festival going on, and though we didn't see as much of it as we had planned, what we did see was nice.

She talked me into trying a free yoga class, one of a bunch of smaller events taking place on the island that day. I had never done it before, believing I didn't have the body for it (to put it mildly). Even though I've lost a little weight recently, I'm still convinced I don't have the body for it! She was more experienced, but I think it was still a bit of a challenge for her too. If there weren't little kids taking part, I probably would've been more embarrassed than I already was!

That evening, after dinner, we went to a free screening of Blade Runner at a hotel in Manhattan. She had never seen it and was curious. She liked it a lot. I hadn't seen it in years; looking at it again now, I was struck by how little "action" there was in comparison with today's SF flicks. There's a much bigger emphasis on atmosphere and setting - and of course, so much of it is on real sets, not CGI ones. I can imagine how big a contrast it is to the recent sequel.

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The novel revision is going well, though I've hit a patch in which I'm doing much more rewriting than I had anticipated. I'm cutting stuff but also adding details the previous draft didn't have — more the cause-and-effect type than anything else. I'm more aware of story mechanics: if I want so-and-so to happen, what all must happen first? And how much of that do I need to show?

My critiquers still like the story, though I had to revise a chapter a second time when it received some hard, not harsh, reviews. You think you've written good stuff and you feel good about it, then you're told it doesn't make sense and you're ready to chuck the whole thing: that's fiction writing. Still, I do feel I'm on the right track.

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It would be silly to say I'm taking next week off for the holiday, like I usually do at this time, so I won't say it. I plan to stop by the Movieworld farewell party next week and take pictures, so you'll actually see me again sooner than expected.

In the meantime, your links after the jump:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens NY

Superheroes are hot in Hollywood right now, but mostly if they come from Disney (Marvel) or Warner Bros. (DC). When Tinseltown tries to make original heroes, their track record so far has been spottier.

James Gunn made Super when he was an indie. The Uma Thurman comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend barely made a dent at the box office and scored only a 50 at Metacritic. The Hollywood Reporter called it a "sour, joyless affair." The Will Smith vehicle Hancock, from my understanding, had a much better screenplay than the one which made the final cut. And the less said about Superhero Movie, the better.


So what does the Incredibles franchise do that makes it rise above the pretenders and compete with the Marvel and DC characters? It's from Pixar, for one thing; they simply understand storytelling better. Their success rate speaks for itself. Being computer animated doesn't hurt either.

Pixar, and writer-director Brad Bird, just don't settle for good enough. Incredibles 2 comes fourteen years after the original film, and this is sheepishly acknowledged in an intro to the film by Bird and stars Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Sam Jackson. (Is this a Disney thing now? Ava DuVernay did a similar intro for A Wrinkle in Time.)


In this Indiewire interview, though, Bird explains the deal. He describes an overheard phone conversation by the late Steve Jobs in which the former Pixar owner rejects getting a hot pop singer to sing an end credits song because he cared more about making a product for all time, not for the here and now:
...[Jobs] knew that stuff was still going to be looked at later if we did our job right. And I loved his long view because often there's something quick and cheap you can take advantage of to get heat at the moment. And he didn't care at all about that. And that was really inspiring. We're not making it just for now but for long into the future, for anyone who's interested in storytelling.
I2 picks up where the last flick left off (easy to do with an animated film), but alters the group dynamic. Elastigirl is put front and center (she spearheads a proactive campaign to reform the reputation of superheroes), while Mr. Incredible raises Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. When the adults, Frozone included, get in trouble, it's the kids who come to the rescue.


Granted, I had a feeling who the villain might have been halfway into the story, but getting to the finish line was thrilling anyhow. Maybe the next time Hollywood tries to make brand new superheroes, they'll keep Bird and the Incredibles in mind.

In all likelihood, I2 will be the last movie I see at Movieworld before they close in a few weeks. I made sure to take a good look around: the movie posters and pictures of vintage film stars that dotted the box office and the walls; the cafe; the video games off to the side; the hub-like concession stand, etc. I really wanted popcorn, but I was told the salt was mixed in with the kernels. (Cinemart is the same way. A pattern?) It was okay, though.


I was more concerned with the large number of teenagers at this screening. For an afternoon show, it was fairly packed with them. I got a seat near the front, not caring about looking up. I wanted as little contact with them as possible, but surprise surprise, they behaved well during the movie.

To play devil's advocate for a minute: the mall above MW totally looked threadbare without Macy's and with Toys R Us on its last legs. The huge parking lot had enough room to hold a soccer game, there were so few cars. The Modell's was open, but it didn't seem like it. Only Burger King looked active.


I understand the landlord wanting to bring in new business here. If it was a choice between saving the mall by vacating MW or keeping MW but watching the mall wither away, I would not want to have made that decision. The issue, though, is whether or not Lowes really needs the MW space in addition to the former Macy's site. The landlord believes so.

Not much more to say. I'm glad MW was around long enough for me to enjoy it.