Friday, December 27, 2019

Top 5 movie-going moments of 2019

2019 was the year I learned to stop worrying and love Netflix. Well, okay, that may not be completely true, but I can’t deny I went to the movies fewer times because of it. Is that a good or a bad thing? I’d say the jury is still out on that one. Netflix is convenient, almost too much so, perhaps—and the fact that it has enabled me to save money and see new releases at home is a game-changer. That said, I won’t abandon the moviegoing experience that easily. Things like the following can still happen:

5. Seeing Movieworld reborn as the Squire Great Neck. It’s further away from me than the old Movieworld location was and it has less character, but it exists, it’s still a bargain, and with enough advance planning, I can get there for the price of a single bus fare. The spirit of Movieworld, a local movie theater that cares about its patrons, is alive and well and I am grateful.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Angela’s Christmas

Netflix viewing

Angela’s Ashes is one of my most cherished books and Frank McCourt is one of my most beloved authors. The vividness of his descriptions, the way he created a narrative voice and sustained it, his sense of humor, his empathy for his characters, made him a treasure to read, and still does. Plus, he became a literary star late in life, which provides hope for this aspiring writer.

In 2007, two years before his death, McCourt wrote his first and only children’s book, Angela and the Baby Jesus, which could be considered the prequel to Ashes. It’s based on a story his mother, Angela, told him as a kid about when she was a kid, set during Christmas. In 2017, Netflix and Ireland’s Brown Bag Films adapted the story into a 30-minute animated short, Angela’s ChristmasMalachy McCourt, Frank’s brother and a bit of a celebrity himself, narrates and Ruth Negga voices Angela’s mother. The late Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries performed a song.

In 1910 Limerick, Ireland, young Angela is about to celebrate the Christmas season at church with her family. She sees a doll of the baby Jesus on display in its traditional tableau, with Mary and Joseph, in the stable, etc., and being a child, thinks He must be cold. She secretly steals the doll and takes it home to warm it up, only to discover why what she did was wrong from her mother. Director Damien O’Connor, in this interview, discusses the meaning of the story to him:
The story is ultimately about family with warmth representing love. That connected into everything - visually you have the blue and gold in almost every shot with gold representing love. As Angela moves through the story she moves from the cold blues into the warmth, eventually ending up fully basked in the gold heat of the family fire. Once you have the theme then you have a clear path for the writing, if a scene was not working in the script it was usually because we strayed from the theme.
Frank McCourt fans will recognize the Limerick represented here as the one from his childhood as depicted in Ashes: devoutly Catholic to the point of superstition, yet basically warm-hearted and sentimental like many people at Christmas time. The computer-generated animation is splendid; Angela is wide-eyed and innocent, yet with a soupçon of Irish sassiness. I like the interaction with her brothers. Negga as the mother adds exactly the right touch. Absolutely worth viewing whether you’re Catholic or not.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Cats link round-up

Because it’s not like I’m gonna come within a million miles of this abomination...

Highlights from the scathing reviews.

Tom Hooper on the online backlash.

He finished the film WHEN?!?!?

The estate of TS Eliot says he probably would’ve dug it.

 The Guardian’s poetic review.


...and you can hear Eliot read from it

Maybe a newer version with better FX will save this turkey.

That scene in Six Degrees of Separation (with Ian McKellen!) where they talk about a Cats movie

How does Cats stack up against movie musicals of the past?

...or the original stage musical, for that matter?

Audiences are turning the viewing experience into a camp-fest

A storyboard artist analyzes Hooper’s shot selection

Comparisons to cat people in other media

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Astonished Heart

The Astonished Heart
YouTube viewing

I can’t say I knew much about Noel Coward beyond the fact that he wrote one of my favorite movies, Brief Encounter, but then I was enticed to see another movie of his. Sister Celluloid did a post about The Astonished Heart, a film Coward also wrote that not only has actresses from Encounter in it, but it can be looked upon as the flip side to Encounter; at least, that’s how SC pitched it. And as if that wasn’t enough, Coward himself stars in it and even wrote the score!

Encounter was about a married woman, Celia Johnson, tempted to carry out an affair but doesn’t do it in the end. Heart, made five years later and based on one of Coward’s plays, is about a married man, Coward, who does go through with an affair, but it doesn’t work out the way he hopes it should. Johnson is his wife in the film. SC goes into more detail about the film (and even embeds it in her post), but I wanna talk about Coward.

As an actor, he was alright—he talks in a very clipped, rushed manner that sounds unnatural to modern ears. I actually thought he got better the deeper into the story he went and the worse his situation got. SC said she disagreed with those who thought he was miscast; I thought the character, in a twisted kind of way, was miscast. He should’ve been in a Fatal Attraction-style, crime-of-passion thriller. His ultimate fate is grim enough, but I thought it would’ve been cooler if he just went berserk and stalked and attacked Margaret Leighton, the chick he falls for.

Coward was what people used to call a “Renaissance man.” Guy wrote plays, you probably already know that much, but he also wrote screenplays, poetry, short stories, songs (including songs for theater productions), a novel and an autobiography that actually took up three volumes. He trained in dance as a kid, he sung, he acted of course, and he also directed. He won an honorary Oscar during WW2, and you better believe he was knighted.

He was a bit of a character; he had a public image as a dandy with an acerbic wit. Yes, he was gay; in fact his lover, Graham Payn, appears in Heart as his business assistant. Apparently, Coward talked the way he did because as a kid, that made it easier to communicate with his deaf mother. As for his cultural influence as a playwright, composer, etc.... well, just read this.

I prefer Encounter to Heart in the end, though, because I felt like I understood Johnson’s character in the former better than Coward’s in the latter. At first I didn’t believe Coward had the hots for Leighton like he kept claiming. It wasn’t until tension arose between them that I was more convinced—and he’s so straightlaced for much of the film it was hard to feel the depth of his love for her. Johnson in Encounter, on the other hand, is an open book. She narrated the story, but even if she didn’t, her feelings were closer to the surface, even beneath her own layer of British propriety. Maybe it’s those eyes of hers... Plus, Heart, as SC also pointed out, had the annoying habit of jetting us from scene to scene too abruptly.

Joyce Carey, the lady at the train station cafe from Encounter, is also in Heart. She, like Payn, also works for Coward. She was so convincing as a cheeky working-class lady, I admit I didn’t recognize her as a dignified upper-class woman. Liked her.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What’s so pure about entertainment?

What’s wrong with the modern American cinema? Out of the top twenty films in 2015, why were twelve rated R, six rated PG-13, and not one rated G? The reason for these depressing statistics is a simple one: films are merely rated but not censored. In other words, all obscene content is allowed as long as audiences are warned of it. Many people complain about the shocking content of nearly every film released in this country, and moral Americans dream about times in the past when they could go to the theater and see good films. Not even all senior citizens remember a time when every film was decent.
This is the opening passage from a post on a blog begun in 2016 called the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, originally written as a research paper by the blog’s creators, Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan. I first heard of the blog a few months ago, when I saw some bloggers taking part in one of the Brannans’ blogathons. The subject was the Hays Code, one about which the sisters know plenty: the bulk of their paper discusses the origins of the Code and its effects on Hollywood.

The Brannan Sisters are on a mission to not only educate their readers about the “benefits” of the Code on the American film industry, but to try to bring it back. They have a petition with which they hope to lobby modern Hollywood into making today’s movies more like those of the 1930s and 40s. To further quote them, “With films getting worse every year and the immorality in America rising to terrifying heights, something must be done to regain order. If America is going to change, Hollywood must change first.”

Friends and neighbors, I’ll be blunt. These women are severely misguided and wrong.

Here’s how.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Is comedy always better with an audience?

Knives Out
So Sandi and I were discussing Knives Out, the new murder mystery, and she confirmed for me what I was uncertain about at first: it is meant to be a comedy. When I told her neither I nor the audience I saw it with found it that funny, even though I still enjoyed the film, she was all “Whaaaaat? But what about so-and-so and such-and-such a scene” and I agreed they were amusing, just not the laugh riot she and her audience thought it was. And that got me thinking...

I think we can agree that not all comedy is created equal. There’s the traditional pie-in-the-face gags of slapstick, which never really goes out of style. There’s the wacky, almost non-sequitor-like wordplay found in the Marx Brothers or Monty Python. There are sex jokes and innuendo, like you’d find in Benny Hill or the Carry On films. There are the more highbrow comedies based on class distinction, that Oscar Wilde dealt in, and the ones based on race or gender, like the humor of Chris Rock or Sarah Silverman. You get the idea.

Regardless, I had always believed experiencing humor with an audience had a way of amplifying the jokes, making them more enjoyable than if you were alone, but that’s not entirely true, is it? Duck Soup is hilarious whether you see it with other people or not; so is Annie Hall. Two different types of humor, yet both hold up as examples of funny movies—at least according to critical reception, box office success, and their places in film history, markers which are about as objective as you’re likely to get—with or without an audience.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Marriage Story

Marriage Story
Netflix viewing

The first time I saw Scarlett Johansson was in the indie teen comedy Ghost World. She was second-billed to star Thora Birch, who was coming off of Best Picture winner American Beauty and was touted to be the star on the rise, but for whatever reasons, it never happened. I didn’t think ScarJo outshined her—I thought they were about equal, talent-wise—but two years later she made Lost in Translation, which put her over the top and made her the It Girl. I’ve liked her since then—she has been more of a kick-ass Black Widow than I would’ve guessed—but I never appreciated how good an actress she really is until seeing her in Marriage Story.

Written and directed by indie lifer Noah Baumbach, it’s about a marriage in decline. ScarJo and Adam Driver, parents as well as spouses, are going through a painful divorce, and though they say they want to keep it amicable and civil, the things that drove them apart escalate till they reach a breaking point.

This film reminded me a lot of 80s-era Woody Allen, but his dramas, good as they are, still have a measure of gentility, of civility, as if Woody wasn’t quite willing to take his characters all the way to the edge, and maybe even over it. Marriage does go to the edge. After speaking through intermediaries for much of the story, whether they’re lawyers or family or friends, the characters end up unloading all the cruel things we think about our loved ones whenever we’re really pissed off at them. It’s ugly, but it’s horribly real.

And omigod, can we talk about Driver? He came from the TV show Girls, and the few film roles of his I had seen didn’t really blow me away until now. (I don’t blame him for Kylo Ren. That’s just a poorly-conceived character.) We see both tenderness and great affection for his young son, and rage and bitterness for the woman he once loved, and he is never anything less than convincing. He really gives it all he’s got in this role. They both do.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Knives Out

Knives Out
seen @ Cinepolis Chelsea, New York NY

Knives Out is a movie based on an ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. These days it’s rare that such a beast exists in Hollywood, much less one that becomes a hit, much much less that it’s written and directed by the same person, so I feel it’s important to establish this up front. In this case, that person is current wunderkind Rian Johnson, the guy who directed the Star Wars movie everybody hated—or so it seems, if you go by social media.

I did not see The Last Jedi, nor am I likely to anytime soon. I’m burnt out on Star Wars right now, and being reminded of it everywhere I go these days doesn’t help—but I am familiar with Johnson’s career before he hit the motherload. He did the SF time travel flick Looper, which was interesting, and he did an earlier one called Brick, a suspense movie of a different stripe from the sound of it, which is currently in my Netflix queue.

Johnson has become the new caretaker of the Star Wars franchise: he’s slated to write the next three movies after this month’s latest installment, The Rise of Skywalker (which he did not write or direct). If so, I hope it doesn’t mean a moratorium on films like Knives, because it was good. If you’ve heard about it, you know it’s a modern-day, Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, with an all-star cast.

Daniel Craig plays the sleuth looking to solve the mystery, a character who’s more Tennessee Williams than Agatha Christie. Craig puts on a broad Southern accent for this one, and once you get past the sight of James Bond talking like Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he’s actually not bad. I wouldn’t call him flamboyant; it’s just that he stands out among a cast of very Northern, very modern characters.

In this story, you’re led to believe a specific someone committed the murder; in fact, halfway through the film you even see how the deed was done, but the murder only leads to subsequent events that are equally important—and was it a murder anyway, or did it only look like one? Johnson guides you down one blind alley after another before changing the rules of the game so that you’re no longer sure of anything. It’s quite clever.

Is Knives meant to be a comedy? The marketing for it, as well as interviews with Johnson I read, made me think so, but neither I nor the smallish audience I saw it with (perhaps 20-30 people) did a great deal of laughing. That’s okay, it was still an excellent movie, but I was kinda hoping it was a comedy, in the vein of earlier flicks like Clue and Murder By Death.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first fiction movie I’ve seen that directly discusses the current occupant of the White House. His actions are debated in a scene where they’re both condemned and defended, and while this scene doesn’t play into the plot, it gives us a deeper insight into the squabbling family of the story: their privilege, their conscience, and ultimately their cluelessness. One of the big themes of Knives involves immigration and what it means to live in America as a foreigner, but Johnson doesn’t hit you over the head with it, to his credit. This movie’s real good.

Have I talked about Cinepolis before? It’s in Chelsea. The national chain took over this local theater a few years ago and they’ve done a good job. Gourmet food though not on the level of Alamo Drafthouse, single-digit matinee screenings (barely; it’s $9.50, but still), reclining seats with trays, even programmed events and film series. It’s a good bargain, for Manhattan.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Irishman

The Irishman
Netflix viewing

Before I start talking about The Irishman, I wanna make one thing clear: I waited till it came out on Netflix because it’s a three-and-a-half-hour movie and I wanted to be able to take breaks! I also wanted to save a little money, but mostly, I wanted to take breaks. Marty, I love ya, but seriously, bro, why couldn’t you have made this an HBO miniseries?

I bring this up because a lot of people in Hollywood are still freaking out over the fact that Netflix exists, much less that it’s making Oscar-caliber movies with directors like Marty—and I totally understand. I’m lucky to even have Netflix. I think we need, once again, to address the current mishegoss behind it and online streaming in general, because friends and neighbors, it’s changing the way we consume entertainment quicker than you can say “Marvel movies aren’t cinema.”

This Variety piece discusses how the traditional window between theatrical release and TV/home video release is less of an issue overseas than domestically with The Irishman. The limited (at first) domestic theatrical release was motivated, in part, by Netflix’ desire to win Oscars with the movie, and you may recall from earlier this year that some within Hollywood don’t like that streaming movies are Oscar-eligible. That’s the business end.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Links out

I announced it on Twitter and perhaps you’ve already noticed the change here, but for the record: WSW now moderates comments. This is a change I had thought about doing before, but I didn’t believe it was truly necessary until the spammers started getting bolder. I don’t want this; we’ve gone this far without needing to moderate comments, but I believe it’s better this way, at least for now. You (and you know who you are) have always provided insight and wit to go along with my posts. You’re not the problem and never were.


My third 5K run turned out well, but it didn’t feel that way. I beat my personal best time by perhaps three minutes, but the whole run felt tougher than usual. It was windy, but not gusty, the sky was mostly cloudy, and there was no hint of rain or snow. I just felt like the whole thing was a harder push than usual, like I was pushing harder than before. I slowed to a walking pace a lot, and I had to remind myself to not get comfortable. And once again, the presence of so many other people changed my mental approach, making me think of the competition instead of my own game... but I still set a personal record. I did something right.


Last month Virginia and I went to an unusual twin bill of Georges Melies films: A Trip to the Moon and Kingdom of the Fairies. Both silents were accompanied by original live scores by composer Kyle Simpson and his chamber orchestra, held at The Dimenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan. A university professor, musician and conductor, as well as a composer, he briefly talked of his love for film in general and how with this project, he sought to create scores that would match the story and themes of these movies, and I thought he did. His scores made both films feel almost contemporary. In addition to the movies, there was an “undercard” of film scores by Phillip Glass and Alexander Borodin, performed by the Red Line String Quartet. I’ve always liked Glass’ music. I’ve seen it performed live before, but not like this. It felt different, yet recognizable as his work. Virginia loved the whole thing, of course.

Links on the other side.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Well, I used up all of my Mr. Rogers material when talking about Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and I’ve talked about Tom Hanks in depth before, too, so I guess I’ll cut to the chase. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was directed by Marielle Heller, who also did the Melissa McCarthy drama from last year, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Whereas Neighbor was strictly about the life of TV children’s show host Fred Rogers, Neighborhood approaches the man from the perspective of Esquire journalist Tom Junod, renamed here “Lloyd Vogel.” Normally a hard-hitting, combative writer, he’s assigned to write a puff piece on Mr. Rogers for a special issue devoted to heroes. It comes at a time of change and great turmoil for him—which Mr. Rogers can’t help wanting to fix.

It should come as no surprise that Hanks is perfect as Mr. Rogers: the voice, the manner, even the singing, but the bulk of the film belongs to Matthew Rhys as “Lloyd.” It makes sense; his is the more dramatic story arc, and he was quite good. He’s cynical at first as to whether or not Mr. Rogers is for real; then, when Mr. Rogers probes his defenses, he’s confused and vulnerable, until the personal issues he has involving his family spill out. Heller wisely avoids the big cathartic moment, but she does mix reality with the world of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at one point in a scene meant to dramatize “Lloyd’s” fractured state of mind.

Overall, Neighborhood the dramatic movie is a nice complement to Neighbor the documentary. Really liked how Mr. Rogers’ tiny, artificial landscape from the show’s opening credits is expanded to include the whole city of Pittsburgh, plus New York.

I briefly talked to an older dude on the way out of the auditorium about the movie and Mr. Rogers in particular. He has four adopted kids, grown now. He wasn’t all that familiar with the TV show, but he really dug this movie. I imagine Hanks was the bigger draw for him, rather than Hanks-as-Mister-Rogers.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and Through the Never

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Netflix viewing

Metallica: Through the Never
YouTube viewing

One of my Spotify playlists is called “Headbangers Ball.” It’s for metal and punk bands: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Black Flag, The Sex Pistols, etc. Generally, I have anywhere between three to seven songs for each band, for a total of over three hundred.

I have over twenty songs on the playlist for Metallica alone.

I don’t recall when I first discovered the San Francisco quartet, but I do remember buying their album And Justice For All on cassette, when it came out in 1988, around the time I seriously got into metal. I might’ve learned about them from my friends, or from the radio, maybe even from MTV—this was also around the time I first got cable.

Like lots of metal bands, Metallica writes songs about abstract concepts: war, violence, death, fear, politics, religion—you get the idea. Unlike lots of metal bands, they perform with a ferocity and a virtuosity unmatched in all of rock. If you’ve ever seen or heard them live, it’s like they operate at another level. Historically, despite changes to the band through the years, there have only been four active members at any one time, yet they engage the crowd and make them part of the show like few bands are capable of doing. It helps that their fans know the words to their most popular songs: “Enter Sandman,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Creeping Death,” “One,” and of course, “Master of Puppets.” When band and audience combine, the music becomes almost alive.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Good Liar

The Good Liar
seen @ AMC Lincoln Square 13, New York NY

Sometimes two actors star in a movie for the first time and you wonder why they never appeared together sooner. Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen have both become big-bordering-on-household names later in their respective careers; the former as a result of her Oscar win for the 2006 biopic The Queen, the latter for his leading roles in the X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises, but both of them have done consistently good work from earlier in life.

In an industry that worships at the altar of youth, it’s reassuring to know the two of them can be perceived not only as legitimate stars but glamorous ones, in their own ways. McKellen has this sly, almost roguish charm partly inspired by his great friendship with Patrick Stewart. He’s the cool grandpa who’ll not only let you play that Sex Pistols record that drives your folks up the wall, but he’ll buy you tickets to see them in concert and mosh in the pit with you!

As for Mirren, much has been written of her status as a GMILF icon. Recently, actresses like Jamie Lee Curtis and Linda Hamilton have found new life late in their careers as a result of reviving franchises they’re known for, and re-presenting themselves as badass mamas on par with their male counterparts. Mirren, by contrast, can be badass with a look better than other actresses her age can with a gun. She’s deliciously, irresistibly, unmistakably female—and powerful.

Therefore, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to see them together in The Good Liar, the latest collaboration between McKellen and director Bill Condon, of Gods and Monsters fame—despite the mediocre reviews. Besides, as I said to Virginia after we saw it, it’s really nice to see thespians of their caliber together in a film that for once, doesn’t have mutants, aliens, giant robots or dragons. There’s still a place for films like this today, and if they’re good, they should be supported when possible.

And we thought it was good. Mirren and McKellen meet through an online dating service for seniors. They see each other, but he has an ulterior motive: he’s a con man trying to cheat her out of her savings. Her grandson suspects McKellen’s not what he seems, but then, neither is she... Lots of great location shots of London and Berlin, lots of double-dealing, an important World War 2 connection, and our two stars, in a story that only works with them as older people, not younger ones. They’re sexy without having sex, though there’s a very good in-story reason for that—-and while there’s some violence, it serves the story. Is it Hitchcock? Not quite, but it’s very watchable.

From what I could tell, it was close to a full house on an early Saturday evening, mostly full of old farts like me and Virginia. Going to the movies with her is a gas. She’s the type that’ll audibly react to everything: an “umph” at a notable plot twist, an “oooh” when things take a sinister turn, a “No, no, no” when the protagonist is on the verge of making the wrong decision—but with a big crowd, like last Saturday, I’m always worried someone will try to shush her, especially in a crowd of old farts! It didn’t happen, and I hope it doesn’t, but I can’t help but wonder...

I don’t go to many “senior-sploitation” flicks like this, probably because I don’t like thinking I’m the audience for them. I’m not even fifty yet! Still, the truth is, most of my friends these days are well north of fifty—hell, north of sixty. Don’t ask me why; it just happened that way. When I wrote about recent shifts in audience taste for comedy films, I acknowledged my tastes have changed from when I was younger. Does that mean I’ve gotten old? I fear it does—but if Mirren and McKellen are any kind of example, being old ain’t what it used to be.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Una O’Connor and her final resting place

The What a Character Blogathon is an event devoted to the great character actors of classic Hollywood and the often memorable supporting roles they played throughout film history, hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites. 

And this is where she’s buried.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Manoel de Oliveira, late-blooming filmmaker

A Luso World Cinema Blogathon é um evento dedicado a filmes e cineastas em língua portuguesa de todo o mundo, organizado por Critica Retro e Spellbound by Movies. Para uma lista completa dos blogueiros participantes, visite os links nos sites de hospedagem.

Portugal, and Portuguese-speaking countries like Brazil, may not come immediately to mind when one thinks of world cinema, but even if you don’t know the films, chances are you may know more actors of Portugese descent than you think. Who can forget Carmen Miranda, dancing with that basket of fruit on her head? Mary Astor, of The Maltese Falcon and many other great 30s and 40s films, was Portuguese on her mother’s side. More recently, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, James & Dave Franco, Amy Poehler and Jasmine Guy, among others, have some Portugese roots.

Regarding the films, here’s one list of top Portugese movies, and here’s another list of top Brazilian films, keeping in mind there are other countries worldwide that speak Portugese—that’s called being “Lusophone”—and have their own film industries. Many Lusophone filmmakers have made their marks, but one in particular stands above the rest—in part because he lived so long.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Five 5K runs inspired by movies

To be honest, running, for me, is not the transcendental experience it is for some. I jog up and down a small, three-block side street adjacent to my apartment building. I’ve done it in warm weather and now, Zod help me, I’m doing it in cold weather too. It’s lonely, grueling work. Every weekday it’s an effort to push myself to keep going, to keep my legs and feet in motion when all I’d rather do is stay in bed.

I don’t trust my feet. I’ve fallen more than once, not due to poor ankles or weak bones or anything like that, but just because. Falling has always been a fear of mine, and a part of me can’t help but think something is out on the pavement waiting to trip me up, no matter how smooth it may seem.

And yet I still run. Virginia is one reason why, as she is for so many things I do these days: she’s not a runner, but her own ongoing struggle to keep the weight off inspires me—and hell, I wanna look good for her. Why not? I also remember the health problems I had that landed me in the hospital only three years ago, and I do not want to experience them again. I’ve joined a Facebook running group, and seeing other people go from being large and round to leaner and fitter, really makes me think it’s possible for me too.

But I gotta run a lot.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

He Walked By Night

He Walked By Night
YouTube viewing

The cool kids amongst the classic film blogger crowd like to devote this time of year to blog and/or tweet about film noir flicks. They call it “Noir-vember” (get it?). When it comes to WSW, I mostly prefer to march to my own drum, but it occurs to me this is a nice excuse to talk about a film I first watched last year, as research for my Dark Pages article—a film that amazed me.

He Walked By Night is credited to Alfred Welker as director, but Anthony Mann finished it when Welker was no longer available. It’s based on a true story about the search for an LA cop killer and robber who had the police befuddled because he was smarter than the average bear. The film is very much of a piece with Mann’s other noir work, such as T-Men and Raw Deal, as well as other police procedurals from the era like The Naked City.

My Dark Pages piece was about Mann and his favorite cinematographer, John Alton, a guy who really put the noir in film noir due to his deft understanding of light and shadow and how to photograph it. Since they both worked on Night, I had watched it to learn more about them. The familiar noir tropes are there—narrator; hard-boiled lead character; the terse, gruff cops and their lingo; the chase—but it still works! In an era of CSI and Law and Order and their numerous spin-offs on TV, it’s easy to forget how these kinds of stories still have the ability to entertain, but for me, at least, this film did.

Richard Basehart is top-billed as the amoral killer, a role in which he could’ve laid it on thick, but he doesn’t; in fact, his slow-burn approach is part of his character, who’s described on the surface as average-looking, unassuming, kinda bland. When we see his anger, though, it’s on a hair trigger; you get the sense it wouldn’t take much to set him off—but when he’s on the run, his fear, mixed with desperation, is just as clear on his face, however subtly. Basehart’s lack of melodrama makes you watch him closer.

In a story like this, plot is far above character, but there are revealing moments: the cop on the phone, asking about another cop’s child’s wedding while getting important information; the crippled officer visiting his partner and joshing with him as they go over the case; even the killer’s relationship with his dog, who acts as a sentry against intruders to their bungalow. Even the plot itself goes off the track in unexpected ways: in one scene, a detective, disguised as a milkman as he searches for the killer, runs into a chatty housewife with issues of her own. Little things, but they add life and variety to the story.

The highlight, however, is the climax, in which the cops chase the killer through the underground storm drains of LA. Here’s a brief but checkered history of the system and the river that necessitated its creation. Basehart runs through the tunnels with his flashlight the only illumination, while in the distance the cops pursue, their lights dots in the background that turn into penetrating beams of light. Can you imagine not only filming this in black and white, but directing it? Determining where everyone is to go amidst the maze of tunnels, finding appropriate spots to stage shootouts, contending with the different kinds of sounds and sights to produce something coherent for film and not just a murky mess? But Mann and Alton did it, and well.

A young Jack Webb plays a forensic scientist in a supporting role. This is significant because in talking to the police technical advisor between takes of Night, Webb was inspired to create more police-procedural stories, done in a similar faux-documentary style that emphasized the process in which the cops catch the bad guys, and thus was born, a year later, the radio show-turned-TV show Dragnet.

Night has to be one of the most important noir films ever made. It’s in the public domain, so it’s easy to find and watch. If you’ve never seen a noir film before, start here.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Liebster schmiebster

Sally from 18 Cinema Lane has recently discovered WSW, and likes it enough to bestow upon it the gift that keeps on giving: the highly coveted Liebster Award. Thank you, Sally. Now let’s see what it is she wants to know about Yours Truly...

1. Who do you think deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award?
Given his great success as a screenwriter, producer, and actor, how about Sylvester Stallone?

2. Which actor or actress would you like to see star in a Hallmark movie?
A word of explanation: Sally blogs mostly about Hallmark Channel movies, and from what I can tell, she’s a pretty big fan. I, on the other hand, can’t recall ever watching an original Hallmark movie, so I’m gonna have to pass.

3. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
I dunno. Cookies and cream?

Friday, November 1, 2019

Neighborhood links

Joker director Todd Phillips, previously known for his raunchy R-rated comedies like The Hangover trilogy, has said one reason he made Joker, a drama, was because it was difficult to make irreverent comedies, since audiences are more easily offended these days.

Is it true? The numbers don’t lie: when the tween comedy Good Boys opened at number one this summer, it was the first R comedy to do that in over three years. Once again, PG-13 appears to be the safer choice for Hollywood studios now; in a recent interview, Eddie Murphy, whose R-rated Rudy Ray Moore biopic Dolemite is My Name is playing on Netflix, confirmed as much. This Variety piece from 2017 also theorized a change in the culture, but cited the immediacy of late-night television as a factor...

...which brings us back to Phillips’ theory. I know my tastes have evolved over time. I don’t seek out R comedies (Murphy’s movie notwithstanding), but I don’t think I ever did—unless Kevin Smith made them. Why don’t I go to R comedies as much anymore? If I’m being honest, I suppose I want a little more... sophistication. All those Lubitsch and Wilder and Sturges movies made an impression! Plus, a movie like The Hangover works better if you go with friends, and practically none of my friends, who are over forty, like me, have any interest in them either.

Fear of being offended is not a factor for me (I laughed at the “porch monkey” jokes in Clerks 2), yet I can’t deny “woke culture” is a palpable presence these days. Twitter users are ready and willing to pounce on anything that carries even a hint of being un-PC, and if they have led to a decline in irreverent comedies, that would be a shame and a waste. It may be with the best of intentions, but I don’t like the thought of pop culture settling into a safe middle ground where everything is sanitized. If I choose not to see a Hangover-type movie, that should be my choice—and I should be free to change my mind without fear of censure. At the same time, I hope I don’t have that fear-of-offense attitude myself, but if I do, I’m gonna work at changing it.


Lonergan (L), next to the Wyler sisters.
I don’t know who the moderator was.
Last month, Virginia and I had the privilege of attending a New York Film Festival screening of one of my favorite classic films, Dodsworth. It was a new restoration, screened at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and the daughters of director William Wyler, Catherine and Melanie, were in attendance for a Q&A, along with Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan.

This was the first time I had seen it with an audience, and once again, I found the experience of hearing other people laughing at moments I didn’t necessarily find funny jarring. I’ve seen other film bloggers talk about this when it comes to old movies, and now I understand this feeling better: you see a film made in a different era, you connect with it, and then you see it with a crowd and that connection changes because others don’t react to it the same way you do. I doubt the audience thought Dodsworth was campy, and I don’t think they were being disrespectful; their reactions just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t get like this when it comes to more recent movies, or if I do, the feeling’s not as acute. That’s the chance you take with an audience, but it’s okay.

Regardless, the restoration was beautiful. The Wyler sisters and Lonergan discussed casting, including William Wyler butting heads with Ruth Chatterton; Mary Astor’s great performance despite the scandalous divorce she was part of at the time; the overall acting; and the film in a historical context. Virginia loved the film, as I knew she would.


I saw Ad Astra again, this time with Ann, who wanted to see it. I think I understand the movie better the second time around. As I explained to Ann afterwards, the bigness of the movie, the Kubrick-meets-Malick aspect of the storytelling and filmmaking might have blinded me to the humanity at the heart of it all, but the second viewing made it easier to see the characters as people, and I appreciate it better. If you wanna talk about it further, spoilers are allowed in the comments to this post.

More on the other side.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Zombieland: Double Tap

seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

This one’s really not worth overthinking. It’s gory, bloody, silly fun. If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one too. And I did. To hell with the critics.

Happy Halloween!

P.S. Don’t do what I did. See it with a bunch of your friends. With an audience that’ll appreciate movies like this.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Dolemite is My Name

Dolemite is My Name
Netflix viewing

I would’ve been fifteen years old when I went to see Eddie Murphy’s concert film Raw. As I recall, someone recommended it to me. I was still getting used to seeing films by myself, and somewhere along the line I realized I could get into R-rated movies, despite them being technically verboten for me, thanks to my size, which made me look older, and lax ticket booth clerks.

And I wanted to see this one. Eddie was the reason I stayed up late on weekends to watch Saturday Night Live. Stand-up comedy was a new concept for me. I only knew Eddie’s predecessors—Bill, Richard, Redd—through the safe lens of television, both live-action and animated.

SNL was different. It came on late at night; that right there made it seem illicit, almost dangerous. The cast might do or say something... naughty! And Eddie, in particular, walked that tightrope in skits that were not only hilarious, but spoke to me in a way unlike Joe Piscopo or Billy Crystal, funny as they were too.

So why wouldn’t I want to go see him uncensored? I was too young to have seen 48 Hrs. or Trading Places and I only knew Beverly Hills Cop through the soundtrack, so this was a golden opportunity, and I took it—and I never regretted it. Eddie was part of that wave of black superstardom that swept through pop culture in the 80s: Michael and Prince and Whitney in music, Magic and Kareem in sports, Bill on TV. Everybody knew them, everybody loved them. It was a renaissance.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Mambo with the Honeymooners!

The Honeymooners Blogathon is an event dedicated to the CBS television show starring Jackie Gleason, hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog II. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Earlier this year, I discovered for the first time that The Honeymooners only had one season. All those great episodes, those hilarious moments embedded into our collective unconscious from years of late-night viewings and holiday marathons, constituted a single season on TV?

Hard to believe, but it’s true: all 39 episodes—not counting the sketches from Jackie Gleason’s previous series, Cavalcade of Stars and The Jackie Gleason Show, nor the periodic revivals that came afterward—aired during the 1955-56 season and that was it... but what a run!

Picking one episode to talk about is like picking which Beatles song you like best, but I settled on one that not only features all four stars, but defines their roles well and even has one or two things to say about men and women.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Netflix viewing

I’ve seen quite a bit of minor league baseball, maybe as much as major league ball. Here in New York we have at least three minor league teams I know of, such as the Brooklyn Cyclones, who play in Coney Island, right on the boardwalk next door to the amusement park. Last year I took Virginia to a game. When I lived in Columbus, we had the Clippers, and I saw games both in their old stadium and in their newer one, closer to the downtown. I’ve seen games in other towns, too.

From a fan’s perspective, the game looks the same. The fastballs aren’t as fast, and the home runs not as big, but it still takes three strikes to get a batter out and three outs to end an inning. The big difference might be in the entertainment factor. The minor league teams work overtime to please the crowds with between-inning games, mascots, promotions, even cheerleaders. I was about to say they do it to a greater degree than the majors, but it’s been so long since I’ve been to a major league game I can’t judge.

When a labor strike cancelled the World Series in 1994, it shattered my faith in baseball for a long time, but I couldn’t stay detached from it forever. The minors, though I didn’t necessarily look at them this way at first, seemed like a reasonable compromise: a way for me to enjoy the game I loved as a kid without thinking about the things that ruined the game at the major league level for me: labor disputes, steroids and other drugs, contract negotiations. I know the minors aren’t immune to such things, but at least they’re less magnified. If a Cyclone star player doesn’t report to training camp, it doesn’t make the back page of the Daily News.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

This is the movie everyone was so scared would incite another mass shooting?

I almost fell asleep while watching it!

In fairness, I saw Joker the day after a late night out with Virginia. I got home at three in the morning, so while I was wide awake by the time the movie began, I didn’t have much sleep. Still, by the time I started dozing off, maybe a smidge past the halfway point, I had already decided Joker was not saying anything new or different; that Joaquin Phoenix, while excellent in what will almost certainly be an Oscar-nominated performance, couldn’t make up for a largely derivative screenplay (though he does come close); and that Joker isn’t a love letter to Martin Scorsese. It’s a rehash of Alan Moore.

Monday, October 14, 2019


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

Why does she mean so much to so many people, even today, over fifty years after her death? It’s hard for me to truly appreciate. I think there were better singers than her: Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, to name three. I think there were better actresses: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck.

She had something different, something to which people instantly responded. Part of her appeal might have been the result of seeing her on the screen from an early age and watching her mature into a young woman. A big part of it was because of That Movie. I suspect some of it is also pity for her deeply troubled off-screen life.

She, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, became a symbol after her death, but the symbol changes depending on who you are and what kind of life you live. Some of us, like me, just see her as a immensely talented actress and singer, beaten down by the Hollywood machine but immortalized by her fans into something much greater in the end. Others...

I can’t speak to the gay perspective. Intellectually, I get the how of it—“Over the Rainbow” as an unofficial gay anthem; the association with musicals; her respect for gay culture—but the why runs deep, and far outside of my experience... yet one can’t discuss her without at least acknowledging this facet of her legacy.

Suffice it to say Judy Garland spoke to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

Judy is not the first film to depict her life, but it might be the most high profile, and coming as it does, so soon after the Gloria Grahame movie and the Laurel & Hardy movie (and even Juliet Naked if you wanna include fiction), it builds on a new sub-genre: “celebrities who spend their twilight years in England.” So remember, when you become rich and famous and decline in either your health or your popularity or both, hop on a plane to dear old Blighty for a third-act comeback and you’ll be just fine!

Actually, this film has a lot more in common with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the Grahame film: a May-December (September? Garland wasn’t that old) romance with a younger man, health issues, an inability to perform properly on stage. There were times during Judy when I thought I was watching the same damn movie—but this, of course, is much bigger and splashier. Perennial Oscar bridesmaid Annette Bening gets the short end of the stick again, which is too bad, because I thought she was good in Liverpool.

Renee Zellweger showed off her song-and-dance chops in Best Picture-winner Chicago. Here, she’s more song than dance, but she’s no less able, even if she doesn’t sound like Garland. The hair and makeup job make her resemble Garland, if not personify her (I recall when Anne Hathaway was rumored for the part; a closer fit looks-wise). It was difficult to not see her as Renee Zellweger, but that’s the risk you take when you play someone world-famous.

Judy would be a by-the-numbers biopic except for her. I never saw Chicago (or her other big Oscar film, Cold Mountain), so I had never really appreciated just how good she was. I loved her in Jerry Maguire, of course, but that didn’t prepare me for this. She makes Garland into a real person, one to whom being a good mother ranked almost as high in her life as being a good entertainer, maybe higher, and while the hair and makeup help sell the role, they are not the role; she is. I think there may have been a fear of her falling into caricature, but if she did, I didn’t sense it.

Not too much else to say about this one. Celebrity biopics always make potent Oscar bait for someone eager to stretch their acting wings, and while it’s still early to call a winner, Zellweger has to be considered a frontrnner.

Judy and Liza

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Carmen (1915)

Carmen (1915)
YouTube viewing

I’ve discussed Cecil B. DeMille here before—the blockbuster filmmaker with the moralistic streak. The guy whose films condemn sin but show you lots of it, in detail. A silent adaptation of Carmen seemed like a good fit for him—it’s not a Biblical story, but there are lots of people behaving badly in it.

Georges Bizet’s opera was first performed in 1875 in Paris, and it was plenty shocking for its time. The tale of the gypsy temptress and the two dudes whom she seduces didn’t catch on until it played outside France; by the time it returned home, in 1883, its fame grew. It has been adapted and readapted for film lots of times—I wrote, for example, about the contemporary all-black version, Carmen Jones. DeMille’s version was one of the very first for the screen, made forty years after its debut.

Carmen was one of thirteen films DeMille made in 1915, including the crime-of-passion drama The Cheat. His version of Carmen is actually based on the original novella, since the libretto was under copyright at the time. His brother William wrote the screenplay. The version I watched had the libretto on the soundtrack. I was surprised that I recognized some of the songs, but I guess they’re pretty famous.

Opera singer Geraldine Farrar (not to be confused with Geraldine Ferraro) played Carmen, and for 1915, she was pretty sexy. Carmen, let’s face it, is a bitch, but she’s a fascinating bitch. She charms Spanish soldier Wallace Reid because it’s her job (to distract him from a smuggling ring going on under his nose) and cock-teases bullfighter Pedro de Cordoba because... she can? From the get-go, she’s utterly confident of her abilities and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, either: in one scene she gets in a vicious cat-fight with a woman who gives her static.

That same year, Raoul Walsh released his own version of Carmen, with Theda Bara, and Charlie Chaplin directed and starred in a Carmen parody called A Burlesque on Carmen, proving that the common phenomenon of similarly-themed movies coming out around the same time is older than most people think.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Waterloo Bridge (1931)
YouTube viewing

In this month’s link post, I included the piece by Karen from Shadows and Satin and the noir zine The Dark Pages about Mae Clarke. It made me want to check out some of the actress’s other stuff.

Chances are if you’ve heard of Clarke, you only know her for being the one who got a grapefruit squished in her face by Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy. She made other movies, including one from the same year, 1931, called Waterloo Bridge. If you’ve heard of that movie, though, you probably only know it from the Vivian Leigh version, made nine years later, so, yeah, one could argue Clarke’s career has been overlooked—hence Karen’s deep dive into her filmography.

Bridge was directed by James Whale, of Bride of Frankenstein and Invisible Man fame, but it’s no horror flick. It’s a very down-to-earth wartime romance, set during the First World War. Clarke is an American showgirl in London who meets soldier Kent Douglass (AKA Douglas Montgomery) during an air raid at the titular bridge. They spend some time together and he’s instantly smitten, but he doesn’t know Clarke turns tricks on the side to keep a roof over her head—and she’s terrified of him finding out. Look for a pre-fame Bette Davis in a few scenes!

Bridge is a pre-code film, made before the self-imposed restrictions on cinematic content were enforced by a Hollywood fearful of government intervention, and as such, it wasn’t explicit about sex and violence, but it made the audiences of its day read between the lines much more than modern films need to do. No one ever out-and-out proclaims Myra, Clarke’s character, is a ho, but the way the film is written and acted, you can come to that conclusion on your own.

In one early scene, Clarke and a friend are “on duty,” standing in front of a shop window, when a cop comes along. He gives them the eye and at first you wonder, what are they doing wrong? But the way they look at each other, the cop’s body language, and one’s knowledge of such situations—historically speaking, why would a cop be suspicious of women loitering on the street at night?—and the answer is obvious without it being stated outright.

This sort of thing was what filmmakers in the pre-code era did, and it was a kind of storytelling that engaged the audience and forced them to not only pay close attention to what was going on, but to rely on their personal experience.

Douglass’ character struck me as naive. He justifies his infatuation with Clarke by saying how wartime life makes people act on their impulses sooner, since they could all be dead tomorrow. I can buy that rationale, but I still couldn’t completely buy him wanting Clarke so swiftly because he was only nineteen. I remember how I was at nineteen, and though I thought I wanted to marry the girl I loved at the time, I was not ready at all.

But let’s get back to Clarke. Karen called her performance in Bridge “a revelation—she displayed a natural acting style that was liberally infused with poignancy, sincerity, and subtlety.” For the most part, I agree; she rarely descends into melodramatic histrionics, and she shines in a number of important scenes, such as the one with Douglass’ mom where she confesses her illicit sideline.

Myra is a very proud character; she won’t take charity and a part of her thinks she can do alright on her own, but deep down, she still wants love, and she fears her circumstances will keep her from it. It’s too bad Clarke didn’t become as big as Leigh or Harlow or Crawford, but I guess there was only so much room at the top in those days.