Sunday, January 14, 2018

Darkest Hour

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

If you know me by now, you may be able to guess what my favorite scene was in Darkest Hour. England had the Nazi wolves howling at the door, the government was all set to negotiate for a surrender, and Winston Churchill was the only official left who still wanted to fight. He decides to talk to the people, get their opinion, so what does he do?

He takes public transportation.

Did this moment really happen? Who cares? It makes for good drama; indeed, it's not unlike Henry V walking among his troops on the eve of battle. Churchill mentions he had never taken the subway before — believable, given the kind of life he had led prior to that moment — yet he understood this was where he could take the pulse of the people. True, he could have gone into a pub, but he chose the subway, or the underground, as the Brits call it, and the people told him what they wanted: to fight. More to the point, he listened.

It goes without saying that we're currently experiencing a leadership void in Washington, but here in New York, there's another lack of leadership taking place, and it, too, involves the subways.

We have a governor, who controls the administration that operates our subways, who has also ridden the rails to talk to the people, only it's usually for things like ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a new station (usually delivered late and over budget).

Meanwhile, the trains themselves fall behind schedule, suffer derailments (my train had one the day I went to see Hour; I had to take a second bus and walk a long way), operate with ancient signals, and keep more and more passengers late for their appointments. The buses are little better.

In this election year, the governor finally claims to have a plan to get transit the money it needs to not only update the system, but to simply keep it functional, although this is the same guy who, in the past, raided the transit coffers for his own ends.

In Hour, Churchill knew enough about the value of the subway to go there and engage the people in a dialogue during a time of crisis. Twitter overflows with stories of our broken trains, tweeted directly to the governor, the same guy who declared a state of emergency on the subways last year, but his silence has been deafening. Which man looks more like a leader to you?

Anyway, back to the movie: these days we take this period in history for granted in the sense that we say, of course we had to fight the Nazis; no question about it, but at the time, in England, it wasn't so obvious. No one knew for sure how far Germany would go, and negotiating a peace with them must have made sense to a lot of folks because who the hell wanted them to come in and kick England's ass arse? Churchill, however, saw more to the situation than that.

Joe Wright made this film in a way that, ironically, reminded me of a German expression, "Sturm und Drang:" bombastic music, extremes of light and shadow, dramatic camera angles, heavy on the emotion, yet it never feels too melodramatic or over-the-top. And do I even need to go into Gary Oldman's towering performance, in all that prosthetic makeup, no less, one which should FINALLY get him the Oscar he has deserved for so very long?


Friday, January 12, 2018

Five classic film chicks (and one dude) in glasses

I've worn glasses most of my life, going all the way back to grade school, in different shapes and colors. I can't say exactly when I first became conscious of how I looked in them. I had my high school yearbook photo taken without them, so it was probably sometime when I was a teenager. Even today, I prefer being photographed without them, so yeah, I guess that makes me a little vain — not that I look like a movie star or anything without them.

I remember when Jen got contacts because she said her husband preferred her without the specs, but I always thought she looked better with them because her eyes are small and glasses make them look bigger. Most of the time, I tend to not have a real preference when it comes to chicks, unless the glasses themselves look ugly.

Four-eyed movie characters are not uncommon throughout film history, but for a long time they were a sign of nerdiness and/or unattractiveness (even if it was only Hollywood Homely), especially the ladies, and you can be damn sure they were often meant to make the lead actress more glamorous.

No other movie drives this portrayal home more, to me at least, than Vertigo, featuring the patron saint of four-eyed movie chicks, Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge. Every time I see this movie, I think the exact same thing: why, oh why, was Jimmy Stewart so blind to her? She dug him (Zod knows why) but she was in the wrong movie. She should have been in a late 30s romcom with him instead!

The specs were like a bright shining neon sign above poor Midge's head that said "number two," "consolation prize," "bridesmaid," but give her credit for having the audacity to paint her portrait in a fancy 19th-century dress — with her specs! That takes a certain level of self-confidence, folks.

Vertigo is an all-timer, but I wonder how it would look if Kim Novak was the "plain Jane" — as much as it was possible to have made her look ordinary, anyway? Would Jimbo still have pursued her the way he did?

Anyway, I wanna show some love to a few more bespectacled beauties from the good old days of film — plus one token guy:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time is on your side in the Time Travel Blogathon!

I'm very excited to do this year's blogathon with someone who has pretty much become an expert at it: Ruth from Silver Screenings — and we've got one we think you'll dig for sure!

Time travel movies include more than just the Terminators and Back to the Futures of the world: think of A Christmas Carol or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court or Brigadoon. We're sure you can find similar movies from throughout all of film history, and we wanna see them in our Time Travel Blogathon. (Here's a list.)

You know what to do: let either Ruth or myself know what movies you want to write about and we'll collect all your entries on the weekend of March 9-11. Your banners are here (so nice to have great looking banners for a change, thank you Ruth!).

Ruth will write about one called Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea, while my film will be Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New year's links

Dan Talbot
For the second year in a row, I spent New Year's with Sandi and her choral friends. They performed their annual show in Manhattan and we went out to a dinner party afterwards.

This year's show included, besides classical music selections, a James Bond medley, a Beatles medley, songs by Coldplay and Adele (imagine, if you will, hearing "Rolling in the Deep" sung by an operatic diva in an orchestral arrangement — in a church!), and even "Bohemian Rhapsody"! I teased Sandi about it afterward because she has no love for rock music, though she didn't think it was a bad song — she just couldn't understand what the lyrics meant.

On a sadder note, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas owner Dan Talbot died over the New Year's weekend. I wasn't aware of how deep his roots in the indie film market were until his name came up in relation to the sale of the theater; he did much to support independent and foreign cinema from a very early time period.

Unfortunate as it is to say, his death leaves us with very little hope that the Lincoln will be saved, but stranger things have happened — and while this closing is supposed to be for repairs, no one knows for absolute certain what the plan is if and when it reopens. This is why my movie posts include the theater I saw it in, folks.

Meanwhile, the plan for the novel is to start revising this month. It's more of a mess than I realized, but they say that's not necessarily a bad thing at this point. It may have taken me four years to reach this stage, but at least I haven't gotten tired of it yet. My fear is that I will get sick of it before it's finished, but I think this means more to me than that. Anybody want to be a beta reader?

Your links:

Silver Screenings Ruth examines Casablanca from the perspective of the bit players who were actual European refugees.

Le looks at the long and distinguished Hollywood career of that noted comedic thespian, Porky Pig.

Monstergirl is back with another epic post, this one about the Bronx' own Martin Balsam.

Even if the Lincoln Plaza reopens, what will happen to films already booked there?

My prediction came true much sooner  than expected: meet the documentarian who unraveled the secret of Tommy Wiseau.

Another piece of Cecil B. DeMille's buried Ten Commandments set has been excavated.

Here's an early review of a forthcoming movie written by Greg Sestero and featuring Tommy Wiseau in a supporting role.

Want your own portrait of Jennie?

How cable TV, specifically TCM, rescued certain Christmas movies from obscurity.

What did critics of the day think of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when it first came out?

Come back tomorrow to find out the theme for this year's blogathon!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Top 5 movie-going moments of 2017

Again, not a whole lot of rare or unusual things happened at the movies this year, but there were some rare and unusual movies.

5. Talk of the Town at the Astoria Historical Society. It wasn't exactly a large crowd - it wasn't even a crowd - but Sandi and I enjoyed the movie nonetheless, we made a new friend, and the day on the whole was pleasant. I think the Society gets more people at screenings when they're tied to a major event of some sort. This wasn't. It's okay, though.

4. Rebecca at Vija's place. Also more for that entire day, pouring rain, donuts, and all, although the situation with the malfunctioning DVD player was certainly an event in itself. I would've hated to have lost that DVD. In fact, I wrote a short story inspired by that incident. Gonna shop it around next year.

3. Island of Lost Souls at the Loews JC. Once again, Halloween at the Loews means party time; I got to hang with Aurora, plus I finally met Monstergirl (along with her girlfriend). Wish I could've stayed for all three movies in the triple bill, but I had a good time anyway.

2. Loving Vincent. One of the rare occasions I've loved a movie more for its looks than its story. The plot was good; it's just I wanted to bask in the visuals more - and every single frame of this extraordinary film literally is a work of art. It's a singular achievement that needs to be seen to be believed.

1. Mother! Full stop. I'm still not sure how I feel about this movie, but I do know it took brass balls to make, and Darren Aronofsky has got 'em. Maybe if I had gone into it knowing everything, I might not have been as freaked out by it as I was, but it seems to me this is why we go to the movies in the first place: for the possibility of seeing something you've never seen before that will shake you up in some way, even if you don't understand how or why. This may not make my top 10 for the year, but damn if it wasn't the craziest two hours I've spent in a movie theater in a long time.

Happy new year to you all. Barring any news about the future of the Lincoln Plaza, I'll return January 9.

2016 top five
2015 top five
2014 top five
2013 top five
2012 top five
2011 top five

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY

Even as a kid, I had the impression King Kong wanted to, um, do the horizontal mambo with the chick. Maybe it's not as obvious in the Fay Wray original, but it sure as hell is in the Jessica Lange version, the one I grew up with. I couldn't have articulated it then, but I distinctly remember having "that funny feeling" when he was alone with her, using his finger to tug at her clothes...

In all those old monster movies where the heroine is carried by the alien or the creature or the robot or whatever - a trope stolen from the covers of pulp SF books and magazines - I suspect the implication of sexual intent was there, but how often did we actually see it happen?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Off-topic: cookies a la Paddy

So I was rummaging through Paddy's back pages and found this recipe for chocolate chip cookies, which she calls choir cookies (click the link to find out why). I've made a few desserts ever since I've seriously taken up cooking, but I hadn't tried cookies of any kind yet, so this seemed like a good time.

The good news is, they were edible!  I didn't follow the sequence exactly (I was finishing dinner at the same time I was working on these) and I thought they would come out wrong; plus, my oven didn't cook them all the way through the first time, so I had to bake them longer, but in the end, they looked the way chocolate chip cookies should look.

They're not as soft as I expected: firm shell outside, softer on the inside; tasted a little buttery (even though I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter); lots of chips. They're okay. I'm sure Paddy makes them better.