Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Meet the Feebles

Meet the Feebles
YouTube viewing

How about that Peter Jackson, huh? I think it's fair to say he was nobody (in America, anyway) until Lord of the Rings made him a superstar, but of course, he had been making films in his native New Zealand for years.

I remember watching his American breakthrough, The Frighteners, on video during my video store years. I liked it, but it didn't do well commercially. It came as a surprise to me that he was chosen to take on Rings, especially as a trilogy.

To anyone who knew his pre-Hollywood work, it must have been a bigger surprise. His NZ films were a lot weirder and gorier. For someone born on Halloween, perhaps that's appropriate.

Even a dramatic film like Heavenly Creatures — the film that made many of us aware of a young, curvaceous beauty named Kate Winslet for the first time —  had its bizarro moments. I've written about Dead Alive, a film I still think is the ultimate zombie movie, going places of which George Romero never dreamed.

None of that, however, prepared me for Meet the Feebles.

Imagine The Muppet Show directed by John Waters and that'll give you some idea of what it's like. It's puppetry, small, large and in-between, and it's adult. Profanity, violence, satire, it's all there, and you better believe there's puppet nudity and sex too.

In the film, Meet the Feebles is the name of a Muppet Show type TV variety show. We get a look backstage at the illicit affairs, scandals and depravity that goes on when the cameras stop rolling. It's an ensemble, but much of the action centers around Heidi, a Miss Piggy type diva in the form of a life-sized hippo.

The puppetry is impressive, and it looks like it cost a pretty penny to create. The variety of the characters range from a smallish fly tabloid reporter to a humongous spider who appears late in the film in an elaborate outdoor sequence. Some of them are cute, like the romantic leads, a porcupine and a poodle, while others, like the show's sleazy producer and his henchmen, are anything but.

Jackson co-wrote Feebles with his long-time collaborator and future wife, Fran Walsh, along with Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, who operated the Heidi puppet.

The humor is pitch black, of course, but the ending is tragic, so Jackson manages to make you sympathetic to Heidi's fate. Mostly, though, Feebles is one WTF moment after another.

Adult puppet films turn up every so often here in America. The recent Melissa McCarthy film The Happyland Murders sank like a stone this past summer; Trey Parker & Matt Stone's Team America fared a little better, made at the height of their South Park fame.

Puppetry, though, like animation, is mostly regarded in America as kiddie fare. I don't see that changing anytime soon, if at all, but give Jackson props for daring to make something as over-the-top and insane as Feebles. It's not for everyone, but Jackson fans should check it out for sure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
seen @ UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Astoria, Queens NY

I guess it was only a matter of time before I got sucked into the world of Harry Potter.

I never got into the series of books, or their film adaptations, for reasons I went into here — and yet, I can tell you the basic, most rudimentary things about the character without having read a single page or watched a single frame. I guess that's how you know an IP has blown up.

From studying novel writing, I've learned a bit about J. K. Rowling. I know she created Potter at a time in her life when she was down and out, for instance.

Credit where credit's due: she tapped into something in the zeitgeist that touched adults as well as young adults, something that comes along once a generation; I still remember seeing folks — ordinary-looking people, not stereotypical fans — read those colorful hardcover bricks on the subway and wondering what the deal was.

This was when my definition of "young adult," in terms of the book industry, was rigid. I understand now that just because they're written for kids and teens doesn't necessarily mean they're written down for them. Maybe that's partly why adaptations of The Hunger Games and their ilk have become so popular in Hollywood.

The point is, I didn't give a fiddler's fart about Potter when it first took off. So why have I gotten involved with him now?

Like many great stories, it began with a girl.

Friday, November 16, 2018


The Greatest Film I've Never Seen Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating bloggers visit the link at the host site.

YouTube viewing

Okay, first, I don't really believe Topper is the greatest film I've never seen before. I decided at the last minute to take part in this blogathon and I needed a film I could get my hands on quick, so to speak, so I chose this.

Here's a short list of "great" films I have yet to see: The Sound of Music, Alphaville, Throne of Blood, La Strada, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Seven Beauties, Wild at Heart, The Age of Innocence, Empire of the Sun and A Beautiful Mind.

Some I never saw because they didn't appeal to me, some because I never got around to it, and some I think are overrated. Perhaps I'll watch a few of them one day. Don't know.

Monday, November 12, 2018


His name was always at the top of every Marvel comic book when I grew up. The first page would have a small box that briefly described the character, in a sentence or two, and then the words: "Stan Lee Presents."

I knew who he was because he was on TV, sort of. He would do voice-over introductions to The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings.

It was comforting, in its way. To my mind, it was like he was the caretaker of the Marvel Universe, a constant, active presence who acted in its best interests, though I couldn't have phrased it that way back then.

I met him at a convention once. He autographed for me some comics he had written, including a special issue of my favorite comic, Fantastic Four.

Marvel Comics used to have a newsletter-type page in every comic. Sometimes he would say a few words in it, usually reporting from Hollywood about the in-roads Marvel was making: a new TV show here, a new video game there, that sort of thing. It was exciting.

Those in-roads laid the foundation for the Marvel kingdom of today: a subsidiary of the mightier Disney empire, true, but his creations — in collaboration with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and all the rest — have never been more popular. (Whether or not this has translated into higher sales of the comics themselves is another story.)

Recent years have not been kind to him: embroiled in one lawsuit after another, not to mention a contentious relationship with his daughter. I can only hope he made peace with her before he went to that great bullpen in the sky.

Today is a sad day for Fandom Assembled, but we will never forget him and his great gift to American popular culture. I have distanced myself from the comics; they no longer mean to me what they once did. Still, if it weren't for them, my life — the friends I've made over the years, the passion I have for visual art in general — would be quite different.

Face front, true believers.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

So far, my favorite Melissa McCarthy movie is this. It's a short from 1998, long before she hit the big time. She's everything you would want a genuine movie star to be: funny, engaging, a embodiment of her character that allows the real her to show through, and beautiful.

So now that she is a movie star, she takes an almost perverse glee in de-glamming herself in her roles. I get it, it's what made her popular, but it holds no appeal to me, especially when she plays mostly slobs!

Then came Can You Ever Forgive Me? Once again, she plays a slob, but it's a real-life one, in a dramatic role no less, which as we all know, is a surefire way for comedic actors to gain credibility with the Academy come Oscar time. The first time I saw the trailer, I didn't recognize her at all!

Lee Israel is a struggling biographer. She struggles because she doesn't play well with others, but she don't give a damn about her bad reputation until money troubles force her to rethink her career options. She stumbles into a scheme to make money by forging letters from famous authors. She's pretty good at it, but how long can she keep it up?

I have no doubt McCarthy will get her second Oscar nod for this one. It's a dream role for any actress: a hard-drinking, unapologetically surly woman who wants to live her life her way for as long as possible.

Richard E. Grant was good in this too.
It was nice to see him again.

McCarthy brings enough humanity to the role that she's not totally repulsive. I would compare this to her big comedic roles, except I've never seen them. When I was in the hospital two years ago, I watched part of the cop movie she did with Sandra Bullock, but I didn't finish.

How long can McCarthy keep on playing slobs? I would've thought she'd have veered away from them by now, but maybe she really likes these kinds of roles. I can't see her sticking to them when she's in her sixties, but these days, who knows?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

This just in from the WSW newsroom...

In this month's link post I mentioned my friend Anna Crawford, who wrote a Halloween-themed piece. Well, she's agreed to make an appearance here, too, so look for her later this month. She and I were in the same writing group for a little over a year before she moved out of New York. I think she's a good writer, and hopefully, so will you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

I don't have any special memories associated with the music of Queen. They were part of my rock education, listening to classic rock radio in high school, and I dug them. I'm glad there's a movie about them in general and lead singer Freddie Mercury in particular, but that's about it. I didn't lose my virginity to a Queen song or anything like that.

As far as musical biopics go, Bohemian Rhapsody was pretty conventional: typical "rise and fall and rise again" story, with all the hit songs you know and love, all the conflict you expect, even a bit of romance.

The music was what kept me interested, that and the sensational portrayal of Mercury by Rami Malek — but it felt by-the-numbers. I'm not sure what Bryan Singer could have done to make this different, but I was aware, as I watched it, of its conventionality, and that kinda dimmed my appreciation.

There will be more rock biopics on the horizon: next year will bring the Elton John movie, and you can bet your bottom dollar someone, somewhere, will make a Bowie movie (I nominate Michel Gondry), and probably a Prince movie too.

Will any of it make rock relevant again?

Rhapsody ends with Queen at Live Aid, a benefit concert — the benefit concert — made when rock still seemed capable of changing the world. I can't recall the last time rock mattered to such a degree. Of course, if the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame is any indication, the very name has been diluted to include singers and groups as far removed from rock as you can get, but that's another issue.

I suspect the answer is no: Freddy Mercury the cultural icon will always be in, but the music he made with Queen will get a little juice while Rhapsody plays in theaters and then return to the classic rock radio ghetto for the old fogies like me, to be trotted out once in awhile for car commercials and the occasional American Idol contestant.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bohemian links

Big news! Some of you are familiar with The Dark Pages, the newsletter (as in actual paper, not an e-newsletter) of the film noir website All That Noir. The December issue is a year-end, oversized special, and guess who got an invitation to contribute a guest article?

The theme for this special issue is "great couples of noir," and after watching so many of his noir films back in 2015, I decided to take on director Anthony Mann, along with his DP, John Alton. The issue will come out December 20. It's sure to make a nice last-minute Christmas gift for the noir fan on your list.

My thanks to Kristina from Speakeasy and TDP editor Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for the opportunity.


By the time you read this, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody should be playing in theaters everywhere. If you like Queen and the movie, I'd like to give a plug here for a graphic novel by my friend Mike Dawson called Freddie and Me.

It's a memoir about when Mike grew up a Queen fan, in England and America. He's a very good artist, and he infuses this story with a lot of love for Freddie Mercury and 80s pop music in general. Check it out; you won't regret it.


The novel rewrite is close to done, and once it is, I'll have to edit it, which means checking for grammar and spelling, not to mention any other minute changes I may want to make (and I will want). In the new year I'll go shopping for an agent and we'll see what happens.

I've decided not to self-publish after all. After giving it some thought, I don't think I have the resources or wherewithal to commit to that route at this time. Maybe I'd do it in the future.

With all due respect to people like Jacqueline, from what I can tell, it's not like self-publishing comics, where it really is as easy as folding and stapling some Xeroxed photocopies and selling them at your local con, or better yet, scanning those pages and posting them online. It costs more, for one thing. And the truth is, I really do wanna see my book in a bookstore. Queens has seen the birth of two new independent bookstores within the past year. (Yes, it's possible to get your self-published book in a bookstore, but my understanding is it's rare.)

I have a couple of ideas for what to write next; it's just a matter of deciding on them.

Links after the jump.