Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ad Astra

Ad Astra
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

I hope this doesn’t spoil the movie for you, but don’t expect aliens to appear in Ad Astra. This shouldn’t be a spoiler because director James Grey has alluded to this point in interviews, for one, and it’s important to know because it’s easy to imagine this as the kind of movie that might have aliens, coming as it does after Interstellar, The Arrival, Contact, The Abyss, and similar movies where their presence fills the protagonist(s) with awe and we don’t know what to expect from them because they’re so far advanced from us. Ad Astra seems like it’s in that vein—but it’s not.

That said, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I had hoped I would’ve been—at first. Brad Pitt’s an astronaut in “the near future,” the son of Tommy Lee Jones, who was a legendary astronaut in his day. Jones went on a deep space mission years ago, vanished, and was presumed dead. Now there’s evidence he may be alive and stirring up big trouble, so Pitt is sent to investigate.

It’s Pitt’s movie from start to finish, and he gives a wonderful performance, reminiscent of Ryan Gosling in First Man but much more reflective. In the pursuit of his goal, Pitt does some surprising things which seem justifiable at the time, but then you look back and think, hey wait, he really did that, didn’t he? His character is so invested in keeping his shit together, though, and not wigging out, you don’t think of him as crazy—and this is a vital point, because the nature of his profession requires him to maintain an even keel, and the strong possibility that Jones might have lost his marbles permeates throughout the film. Pitt does not want to be like Jones, who was absent for much of his life on account of his job, but Pitt can’t help but admire Jones for the things he has accomplished. Actually, working it out like that just now has made me get a better grip on the movie.

Right up until the movie’s climax, I expected some deus ex machina appearance by aliens. Jones’ mission was to detect the presence of extraterrestrials, and he’s pretty convinced they’re out there, despite the lack of concrete evidence. Some of us are like that, aren’t we? I’ve talked about that before. The possibility that humanity really is all alone in the cosmos—or at the least, that aliens are so far away they’ll never detect us—is scary; it goes against a lot of notions we’ve cultivated about ourselves and our place in the universe, many of them built up through our popular fiction. I don’t want to believe it, even now—and a definitive answer will likely not come within my lifetime.

I was going to say that Ad Astra was befuddling, but now that I’ve written about it, it seems less so. Don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see it again this year, but I hope I do. I would say more, but each person needs to interpret a movie like this for themselves.

And if I do see it again, I hope it’s with a better audience. The screening I attended had a mother with a teenage kid who might have had some mental issues, to put it kindly. He giggled intermittently and audibly throughout the movie, which had little that could truly be considered funny. All things considered, he could’ve acted much worse, but he was a distraction. He wasn’t in control of himself, though, so what could I do?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sympathetic to parents of children with “special needs” and they should get to unwind like everyone else, but if they can’t get someone to look after their kid while they go see an adult film (not that kind of adult film), perhaps they should reconsider their plans. Ad Astra wasn’t ruined for me, but I couldn’t give myself over to it as completely as I would’ve liked—so know your kids before you take them to a grownup film... and if you think they can’t hack it, or will act inappropriately, do us all a favor and stay home.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Ach du liebster!

It’s been awhile since Liebster Awards have been passed around. This time it’s Rebecca from Taking Up Room who has seen fit to bestow one on Yours Truly; thank you, Rebecca—so it’s time to play the game once more. Let’s look at her set of questions...

1. If you were a plant, what kind would you be and why?
This would make for a better question for my writer friend Sandi. She’s the one who loves flowers. I don’t know; I guess I’d be the kind that can defend itself from predators in some fashion, whether with spores or better yet, with roots. I tried watching Day of the Triffids last year and I totally could not finish it. Normally, when a horror movie scares me, it’s in a fun, “let’s play along with the movie” kind of way. Triffids wasn’t like that. Not for me, anyway.

2. What’s a talent you wish you had?
Whistling! I don’t know why I can’t do it and it’s not for lack of trying. I can make a note or two, but it’s always off key and sounds like a broken whistle. Never sounds the way I want it to.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY

This was my first movie at the Kew Gardens since a driver backed into the front doors last Friday, knocking them down but causing no other damage, to people or property. When I heard the news, and after I was assured no one was hurt, I was scared, I admit it. I’m glad the damage was not extensive, because I do not wanna lose this place—and certainly not because of an incompetent driver, of all things. So now that that’s out of the way...

I’m a fan of the New York City Marathon. When I was younger, I’d go to other boroughs every year to watch the race but now I stick to Queens. The course goes over the Pulaski Bridge from Greenpoint, Brooklyn into Long Island City for a brief spell before the runners take the Queensborough Bridge into midtown Manhattan. Queens Plaza is closed off to vehicle traffic for a change and it’s great to walk the streets there.

I have fantasized about what it would be like to run in the Marathon. One year, my friend Bill (not the  guy from the video store; someone different) ran in it and I waited for him at the Manhattan end of the Queensborough Bridge, but I don’t recall seeing him. It’s been my observation in the past that you don’t have to be built like Usain Bolt to run a marathon; I have seen runners, male and female, with figures close to mine, running with everyone else, which always amazes me—but I never imagined it as anything other than a pipe dream.

Last Thanksgiving, I ran a 5K for the first time, and while it was exhilarating, I do not feel ready to upgrade to a full 26.2 miles yet—but that pipe dream of running a marathon—any marathon, not necessarily the big one here in New York—feels a bit more possible. A tiny bit.

So when I saw the trailer for the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon, I knew I had to check it out, because I saw a whole lot of myself in it. Based on a true story, it’s pretty much what it says on the tin—the story of a... let’s call her pleasingly plump young woman desperate to lose weight for health reasons (and improve her overall life in the process) by taking up running. There’s a romantic subplot, of course, and it all takes place in a New York I recognize as mine.

Mad props to star Jillian Bell for losing forty pounds and actually running the Marathon for this movie (though she didn’t actually run the entire course), but that aside, she’s very likable. Brittany is self-depreciating about her weight, yet she uses her humor to keep people at arms length—she doesn’t always do what you think she should, which factors into the plot late in the film. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo is friends with the real Brittany, so he knows her well enough to translate her story to film.

Brittany runs a 5K first, and I was glad to see that, but the film doesn’t go enough into her eating habits, which she would have also had to change to help her lose weight. It certainly doesn’t address how difficult it is to resist temptation after a lifetime of eating whatever one wants without care of the consequences, or of how much nicer it can be to cook for oneself instead of eating takeout all the time—but maybe Brittany didn’t cook much. Dunno.

As for public perception and dating when you’re fat, well, yeah, I get that it’s different for girls, and the movie addresses that aspect, but us guys have to deal with that too. We see Brittany try to date as she loses weight, and we even see her diss a fat woman (with a boyfriend) during Brittany’s lowest point before she recovers.

I doubt I would’ve gotten as far as I have in my own personal battle of the bulge without Virginia. It was her who took me seriously when I expressed what I thought was an off-the-cuff comment about running the Marathon and it has been her who has encouraged me to run a 5K and motivated me into getting in better shape, in part by setting an example. She too has lost a bunch of weight (I met her after she did it), mostly through dieting and weightlifting. She doesn’t care for running. When I finished my 5K last year, I got a little medal, among other things. I gave it to her, because she made it possible.

Do I worry about my looks in relation to her? All the time. I’m no longer a spring chicken. The day my parts won’t work anymore is never far from my mind, and I worry whatever I do to make myself presentable for her is never enough... but after a year and a half, she’s stuck with me. You can’t imagine what that means to someone like me.

This Sunday, I’m gonna run my second 5K. I’m trying to be cool, since I’ve done one already, but a part of me is still on tenterhooks, thinking something might happen to me and I won’t be able to finish or whatever. I’m gonna do it, though. Will I ever run a marathon? Eh... ask me again in five years. These things take time.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Car crash at Kew Gardens Cinemas; no injuries

UPDATE 9.17.19: I went to the KGC and took this photo. Definitely business as usual there while repairs take place, though I hope they put up a sign or something to that effect, so people won’t think they’re closed.


UPDATE 9.14.19: Repair work has begun. On Facebook I saw a picture with a view inside and the lobby looks fine. I was afraid there might have been more damage beyond what I could see, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The KGC Facebook page says they’re open and operating normally.


I belong to a Kew Gardens Facebook group. On it, the manager of the Kew Gardens Cinemas confirmed a report that earlier today, at around 3:15 PM, an elderly driver made an unsuccessful U-turn on Lefferts Boulevard, in front of the theater, and backed into the front doors. According to the manager, no one was injured.

Long-time readers of this blog know this is one of my major go-to theaters and has been for years. I was planning on going there next week to see Brittany Runs a Marathon. Don’t know yet if they’ll need to close for repairs. I’ll update this post when I know more.

And not to get too preachy on you, but this happens with cars much more often than you would imagine—I see it on Twitter all the time—but until we draft legislation that will rein in cars from causing so much property damage and injuring and killing, yes, killing, pedestrians, so that we can allow access to other kinds of transportation, this will continue. If you live in New York, please consider signing this petition in support of a bill designed to do this very thing.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two
seen @ Squire Great Neck Cinemas, Great Neck, NY

After witnessing so many movie theaters close within the past several years (the latest casualty: the Beekman on the east side of Manhattan), it’s nice to write about a new theater, one that’s independent and affordable! As I mentioned in this month’s links roundup, the staff of Movieworld, formerly in Douglaston, Queens, have found a new home on the other side of the border. The Squire Great Neck Cinemas opened in Great Neck, in Nassau County, back in April—I found out about it a couple of weeks ago—and I went there this week to see It: Chapter Two.

I knew the trip would be much longer than when I would visit Movieworld; indeed, I took two LONG bus rides plus a lot of walking—a short walk to the first bus and a much longer walk after the second bus. All told, it took me around two and a quarter hours to get to the Squire. Movieworld was about a half hour to forty-five minutes less.

It was my first time in Great Neck. It’s a nice neighborhood. Middle Neck Road, the street where the Squire resides, is made up of two and three-story Tudor-style buildings with a variety of shops. The Long Island Rail Road stops there, as does at least one bus. The road was narrow, so traffic didn’t speed everywhere. It seemed racially mixed, but mostly Jewish.

The Squire itself was small but well integrated into the neighborhood, with an old-fashioned marquee, not digital. Inside it looks much like any other multiplex—the previous owners kept it well maintained, from what I could see. The auditorium seats were comfortable and the bathroom was clean. So far, it doesn’t have a distinct identity, like Movieworld did—not just the fact that you had to access it underneath a mall parking lot, but the old school (as in Classic Hollywood) posters and portraits, the neon, the concession stand hub. It’s still kind of generic, but it’s very early. Movieworld had their space for over thirty years.

According to the guy I talked to, attracting crowds on weekends was tricky because many of the Jews in Great Neck are observant, so the crowds on Friday nights and Saturdays aren’t as big as they could be yet, but they’re gonna do things like upgrade the seating and hold contests—I saw some from earlier this summer on their Facebook page—so I expect them to grow into their niche in time.

As for the movie: I never read the Stephen King book, but I know he approved of the changes to accommodate the modern audience. Chapter One didn’t leave a great impression on me, but I thought it was sufficiently scary, and I feel mostly the same way about the second half. It was nice to recognize Freddy from Shazam as part of the kid cast—he better be careful or he’ll be typecast as the cripple kid!

I wouldn’t rule out returning to the Squire, but the journey there is killer. I’m reminded of the even longer trek to the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers. Both places are worth the trip for different reasons, but I don’t need to visit either one; I still have options closer to home. I just wanted to see the Squire for myself and know that Movieworld’s spirit lives on.

The Squire Great Neck Cinemas

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Books: The Disaster Artist

For years, John and Sue have been after me to read The Disaster Artist, the behind-the-scenes account of the making of the cult movie The Room, written by co-star Greg Sestero (with Tom Bissell), and I kept saying yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it. I wasn’t in much of a hurry to read it because I wasn’t as huge a fan of the movie as they were.

When James Franco’s film adaptation came out in 2017, I felt I had understood everything there was to understand about the notoriously awful film that had won over audiences worldwide despite its mediocrity. As interesting and funny as this story was, Disaster the movie didn’t change my assessment of The Room much.

Then, when I visited John and Sue last month (they had moved upstate a few years ago), they lent me their copy of the book—and even though I was reading two other books at the same time, I started this one too. This time I couldn’t wait.

First of all, it’s an excellent account of what it’s like to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Sestero describes the grind of going on auditions, living in both hope and fear that this next one will be the one, making compromises in his life, in pursuit of his dream. He had taken baby steps towards progress prior to The Room, but despite his youth, his good looks and his representation, he had made precious little headway overall. The Room had initially seemed like a stride forward.

Greg Sestero
It’s also a good example of all the little things that go into the production of a movie and what can go wrong when a director and his cast and crew aren’t on the same page creatively. I’ve always felt the “auteur theory” was overrated, but The Room is a legitimate example of how a film can be one creator’s vision—but at the expense of everyone else involved.

Mostly, though Disaster the book is Sestero doing his best to explain his complicated relationship with The Room’s auteur filmmaker, the enigmatic, possibly deranged, but ultimately heroic writer-producer-director-star, Tommy Wiseau. Yes, I say heroic, because in spite of everything, he winds up looking better in this book than he deserves to—and that’s saying something.

Sestero paints Tommy as a ruthless, dictatorial martinet on the Room set who insisted on doing everything his way, even when it flew in the face of reason. He alienated the cast and crew, antagonized everyone who dared question his vision, and tested the limits of Sestero’s patience—yet from the moment Sestero met him, he saw something in Tommy no one else did: someone supportive,  dedicated to his craft, and optimistic to a fault. To a young and inexperienced kid out of San Francisco doing his best to break into the industry, doubting his ability and desperate for a break, Tommy was, in his own weird way, inspiring—and Sestero captures that in the book.

Sestero, right, with Tommy in The Room
The book even provides a possible secret origin for Tommy, though Sestero makes plain it’s only one of a number of stories Tommy has told about himself, kinda like the Joker in The Dark Knight. Is the story real? It sounds plausible, but who knows? I remain unconvinced this isn’t all a put-on the two of them have staged. Tommy seems too improbable to be for real: that accent, his total ineptitude in learning a role, his eagerness to throw money away while making The Room—he sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch character!

Then again, maybe he is real. Could Sestero be that good a writer, not to mention an actor, to collaborate with Tommy in perpetrating such a hoax? He’d have to be the greatest one alive if so. Sometimes, as the cliche goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and this might be one of those times. The Disaster Artist is funny, sad, banal, frustrating and in the end, inspiring. Tommy got his movie made and Sestero helped. That’s the bottom line—and good or bad, that puts them ahead of a lot of other folks.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Easy links

About Peter Fonda: I saw Easy Rider during my video store days but I didn’t understand its significance in movie history until later, reading about how it heralded the youth movement in Hollywood during the late 60s and 70s. He was part of a cinematic revolution that led to some outstanding movies, and for that we should all be grateful.

In Peter Biskind’s New Hollywood tell-all Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Rider director Dennis Hopper, who was high as a kite for much of the film’s production and fought Fonda constantly, said this about the film:
...”When we were making the movie, we could feel the whole country burning up—Negroes, hippies, students,” he said. “I meant to work this feeling into the symbols in the movie, like Captain America’s Great Chrome Bike—that beautiful machine covered with stars and stripes with all the money in the gas tank is America—and that any moment we can be shot off it—BOOM—explosion—that’s the end. At the start of the movie, Peter and I do a very American thing—we commit a crime, we go for the easy money. That’s one of the big problems with the country right now: everybody’s going for the easy money. Not just obvious, simple crimes, but big corporations committing corporate crimes.”

I need your advice. A couple of weeks ago, I read that Morgan Spurlock’s latest film, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken had been shelved for months on account of the revelation that the documentary filmmaker had sexually harassed a co-worker, cheated on his wives and girlfriends for years, and had been accused of rape back in college.

I haven’t talked about the “Me Too” movement much here because I think it’s pretty damn self-evident that sexual harassment is wrong, full stop—and if there’s a line of women out the door saying So-and-So took liberties with them, well... innocent until proven guilty and all that, but I’d say the case doesn’t look too good for old So-and-So. I just don’t want it to turn into a witch hunt for molesters.

Spurlock, however, was different: he confessed. No one outed him; he came forward of his own free will to admit to his wrongdoing and vowed to be a better man. Now you can say, oh, he was coerced into this by someone ready to come forward, as opposed to him having a crisis of conscience he could no longer live with. Maybe. That’s certainly possible... but given the fact that this sort of thing has affected all walks of life and has consistently been news for months, which he mentions in his confession, I’d rather give him the benefit of the doubt. Someone has to—we’ll probably never know for sure one way or another.

SSM2 is finally getting a theatrical release this month. Despite its mediocre reviews (a 56 on Rotten Tomatoes so far), I’d like to see it because I loved the first SSM movie, and it’s set in Columbus, my former home, which I still miss. I totally understand the desire to boycott and shun those who have been tarnished due to similar allegations, but assuming he’s sincere and that he didn’t have a gun to his head when he made his confession, I think Spurlock coming clean like he did counts for something. And again, assuming he’s sincere, which I truly hope he is, forgiveness has to start somewhere.

Therefore, my question to you is: should I see Super Size Me 2?


Next month is the Murder She Wrote Cookalong at Silver Screen Suppers, and this week, I plan to buy the ingredients for the recipe I’ll cook for the event, chicken paprika. When it comes to choosing what to cook, I rely on three criteria: can I afford it, can I make it, and will I like it? I’ve never had chicken paprika before, but I’m guessing I’ll find it agreeable, and I have some of the ingredients already. I often take pictures of the finished dish to post on Facebook, but never of the dish in progress, but I’ll have plenty of light, and though none of you will be able to sample it, I hope it’ll at least look appetizing.

More after the jump.