Thursday, August 25, 2016

Metamorphosis: Discovery to break the Trek mold


Bryan Fuller
Looks like we now have more information on Discovery, though we're still waiting for casting news. I think we have enough on the new Trek series to begin a discussion. Much of it will remain in the area of speculation, but let's put the basic facts front and center:

- The setting is between Enterprise and TOS. Ten years before TOS, to be exact, according to showrunner Bryan Fuller, focusing on an important but rarely discussed event (not Axanar). Can't say I'm very thrilled about this being another pre-Kirk series, not when there's so much territory between TOS and TNG to explore, but whatever. Maybe the look will match TOS: the colorful interiors, the funky-shaped doorways, the beehives and mini-skirts! As for the event, if it's not Axanar, I don't know what it could be. My knowledge of the 23rd century timeline is spotty. It could be anything.


The Comic-Con "teaser" image of the USS Discovery
- Female lead. Fine, especially if it's gonna be a minority. We figured they were going in this direction when they courted Angela Bassett earlier this year. Sadly, she declined. (Maybe she swore off sci-fi after Supernova!) Hey, how about a Latina? Trek doesn't exactly have many Hispanic characters. (B'elanna Torres counts, I guess, but she's thought of more as a Klingon than a human, much less a Latina.) The character will start as a lieutenant commander, though? Hmm. Maybe she'll be the head of a department on the Discovery - chief engineer, or head of security?

- Gay character. Absolutely. Long overdue. No complaints here.

- Lots of aliens. The quote from Fuller: "We wanted to paint a picture of Starfleet that's indicative of encountering people who are much more different than we are." Non-humanoids, maybe? Perhaps a cast member in a performance-capture suit? Also, the lead's raison d'etre will involve "get[ting] along with others in the galaxy." Fine, as long as it's not too PC. Trek has rarely been one to preach; I would hate to see that change. And robots! Oh boy! Hey, maybe we can get Twiki from Buck Rogers out of retirement!


- The look of the Discovery. Nothing final yet, but we know they're looking to a discarded Enterprise re-design from what would have been the first Trek movie, "Planet of the Titans." It's somewhat different from what we're used to: a slightly smaller saucer section and a wider rear that flares out from the secondary hull in a triangular shape. Not that crazy about this look, but maybe it has to do with the function of the Discovery.

- Self-contained stories that tie into a larger arc. This is a compromise I can live with. The Dominion War was told this way, and I prefer this to one long, ongoing serial, like chapters in a book. "Done-in-one" stories have great power and they shouldn't be abandoned completely.

- "...slightly more graphic content." That's a direct quote from Fuller. I don't expect this to be Game of Thrones, but Star Trek has been successful despite the limitations of what can and can't be shown on network TV, not because of them. I see no reason for that to change just because the creators want to curse and show nudity. I'm sure it won't be as simple as that, but you get my point.

- There will still be commercials. Huh? CBS has ballyhooed this All Access subscription-based service as the Next Big Thing, but they're still gonna show commercials? I don't care if it is 25% less than network TV, this endears me to All Access even less.

At this point, I'm resigning myself to not watching the new show after the premiere, no matter who they cast or what it'll be about. That might change between now and next year, but the odds don't look good. Still, like I've stated here before, we don't have to rely on Trek's corporate overlords. We can make our own Trek, in many varieties across multiple media. That, I think, will have to be my consolation for now.

-------------------------
Previously:
Axanar and fan fiction
William Shatner's 'Leonard'
Two Nimoy docs
Lin brokers Axanar settlement
action Trek vs. mental Trek 
the new fan film rules






Monday, August 22, 2016

Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Disney Channel viewing

My health scare earlier this year convinced me I need to start eating better. I've attempted to do so in the months since. Habits I had ingrained within me for so many years - the bag of chips bought on the way home, the box of cookies unthinkingly tossed into the shopping cart, the constant refills on soda - they all have to be broken.

Temptation is in my face every damn day. I have to make conscious choices to not buy certain food, to read the nutrition labels on packages, to be careful not to eat too much of something. I have successful days and unsuccessful ones.

Then I started to do my own cooking.

I had a very mild interest in cooking for awhile, but it was never serious. I considered making spaghetti a culinary triumph. Now, though, my health has given me a reason to learn how to cook, and my whole outlook has changed. I've taken baby steps in a few directions. For instance, I used to be horrible at making rice. It would always burn. Now, I can make it in my sleep. I like cooking it in a broth and adding chicken cutlets cut up into pieces.

My mother has been a tremendous help. She always knows how something should be fixed, at what temperature and for how long. Learning from her hasn't been as difficult as I thought. When she demonstrated how to cook fish, she showed me not only how to turn them over in the pan so they won't fall to pieces, but also how to buy them at our local fish market. I've only cooked fish twice so far, but I find it less intimidating now than before. Definitely couldn't have done it without her.



The big surprise has been the outpouring of support I've received on Facebook. A number of my friends have been incredibly encouraging, offering advice, suggestions and recipes. For instance: I met Tricia in Columbus. She was one of my bicycling friends. Don't even know her that well. She sent me a package of basmati rice with spices!

Most friends, though, have stuck to providing words of wisdom. Lynn has been a big help. Recently, she suggested I try sautéed vegetables, which I may do the next time I make noodles. Melissa is a friend of Andi's. I don't know her that well either, but I've picked her brain for advice because she cooks for her girlfriend all the time.



Jen and I have had lots of conversations about food. As a child, her mother fed her junk food literally all the time, and it took years to restore her health to normal and to lose weight. (She's writing a memoir about her rough childhood. There's a beautiful passage where she describes walking for exercise for the first time and how liberating it felt.) She has a pretty good understanding of what I'm going through, and I've confided in her a great deal. She recently suggested I visit a supermarket in Elmhurst, an Asian neighborhood, because I can get things like noodles dirt cheap.

In the beginning, I stuck to the basics, but I've slowly begun trying to cook with a flourish - adding a spice or an herb here, a vegetable or two there. I recognize it's a matter of trying out what works and what doesn't, but I'm still learning about so many things: portions, tastes, smells, cooking techniques. I certainly don't expect to learn even a fraction of it all. If I never cook for anyone other than my mother and myself, that would suit me fine. Melissa seems perfectly happy cooking for her girlfriend. (I had mistakenly thought she cooked for a living.)



Given all of this, you can imagine how differently I now view a movie like Ratatouille. I may not have Remy's culinary instincts, but I think I understand his love for cooking better. It is a form of self-expression, as individual as art or music or writing. It's a language I'm only starting to speak, but native speakers like Remy are eloquent.

For Remy, cooking is not just a fun hobby; it represents an escape from the conservative traditions of his clan and a window into a new culture, a new way of thinking. That's a powerful metaphor. I think this is one of the finest of the Pixar movies; it's certainly one of the best American films of the 21st century so far.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Big Bad Mama


The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon is a month-long event corresponding with the Turner Classic Movies annual presentation, in which each day in August is devoted to the films of a different classic film star. The blogathon is hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

Big Bad Mama
YouTube viewing

I was way too young to know who Angie Dickinson was during her heyday - the 60s and 70s. All I knew for a long time was, she was a sexy siren in a vein similar to Raquel Welch, Pam Grier and Brigitte Bardot.


Looking over Dickinson's IMDB page, I didn't realize how far back her career goes - all the way to 1954! She did a whole lot of early television, appearing in a variety of anthologies and Westerns - sometimes credited, sometimes not - as well as films. Then, in 1959-60, her career took off when she starred in two big hits: Howard Hawks' Western Rio Bravo, with John Wayne, and the Rat Pack extravaganza Ocean's 11.

Dickinson would alternate between the big (Point Blank, Pretty Maids All In a Row, Dressed to Kill) and small (Dr. Kildare, Cassie and Co., Wild Palms) screens throughout her career. The one TV show she's remembered most for, though, is the 70s cop thriller Police Woman. It was the first primetime, hour-long drama with a female lead. It came during the rise of the women's lib movement, and it led to more ladies choosing to become cops.

Dickinson, however, never saw her career as groundbreaking. In a 2011 interview with AARP, she said, "I never felt the need for feminism... I never felt competition with men, which I really believe started the movement.... When I was up for a role, I didn't compete with a man; it was for a role as a woman."

And yet some of Dickinson's parts do reflect the slowly-changing beliefs in what a woman could do in a movie at the time. In her 1974 film Big Bad Mama, a Roger Corman-produced Bonnie and Clyde knock-off, she is put front and center in a unique role: leader of a bank-robbing gang in the 30s.

Yes, she gets totally naked and has hot sex with William Shatner and Tom Skeritt, but she's also busting caps in suckas with a tommy gun! The added presence of her character's two daughters (who also get naked) and a clearly defined goal to chase - escape from poverty - gives this film a pre-Thelma and Louise female empowerment vibe, in a time when that concept was beginning to take root in the public consciousness. Mama doesn't tread any new ground but it's entertaining to watch.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Misery

Misery
IFC viewing

It's not hard to imagine what Kathy Bates' character in Misery would be like today. Annie would have a Misery blog at the very least; probably a full website as well. I could see her debating minutiae about the Misery books with other fans on message boards and holding court in chatrooms. It goes without saying that her Twitter avatar would be taken from the cover of a Misery book. Her handle would be something like @Misery4Eva or maybe even @Higher_Justice. Do romance book fans cosplay?

Was fandom always obsessive? Did Shakespeare's fans pester him in the streets, demanding to know when the next play was coming out? Did Beethoven fans bag and board his sheet music? Did Dickens fans run around quoting Great Expectations at each other? We like to think the stereotypical obsessive fan is a modern invention, but surely there were precedents? I feel like it must be something within human nature that drives us this way. Not being a psychologist, I couldn't say for sure, but it does make you wonder.



I read comic books as a kid, but only Marvel comics. Through in-house advertising, letters pages and promotional editorials, I was subtly conditioned to believe Marvel was the best and everything else was inferior. As a result, I bought almost everything with the Marvel name on the cover, regardless of quality. Looking back now, I can see this as the compulsive behavior it was, but I can also write it off as youthful enthusiasm coupled with ignorance.

Sometimes I think blogging about film is an obsession. I know much more about movies, past and present, than the average person, though not nearly as much as others. Some might call that unusual. Again, though, I feel like I can justify it: I've always said the blog keeps me writing, and movies are the means to that end. Rationalization or convenient excuse?



I mean, it does seem like there's no such thing as a casual fan anymore, at least if you go by the Internet (which is no substitute for reality, I know, but bear with me). My Twitter feed is full of (as far as I know) ordinary, non-psychopathic killers who are not shy about sharing their enthusiasms with each other. If the Internet didn't exist, would we all sit at home with our Buster Keaton DVDs and X-Men comics and Nick Hornby novels, like Annie in Misery, waiting for someone to talk to about all this cock-a-doodie stuff?

I think that's why I can't help feeling for Annie, despite her homicidal tendencies. (Well, that and the fact that Bates is outstanding in the role.) Maybe if she had other Misery fans to hang out with, her life would be different. Maybe she wouldn't have to sit up in that small, isolated house all alone with her pig, listening to Liberace records, re-reading her Misery books over and over and wishing she had a child. Maybe she could put a one-in-a-million encounter with Paul Sheldon in the proper perspective, instead of demanding more Misery novels from him.



Then again, maybe not. One major drawback of Online Fandom Assembled that has reared its ugly head in recent years is the groupthink mentality, particularly when it's directed towards anyone with an opinion opposite that of the herd. This fustercluck over Suicide Squad is but the latest in a long, long line of recent examples. Strange how this sort of thing never happens with, say, Woody Allen movies...

Perhaps we should just accept that to be a fan of anything is to be a little crazy. Maybe not hobbling-people's-feet crazy, but crazy nonetheless. Because like my father used to say, "fan" is only a short way of saying "fanatic"... Mister Man!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sixx




It's hard to believe this little corner of the Internet has been Home Sweet Home for the past half dozen years. Though WSW hasn't led to fame, fortune and Girls Girls Girls for me yet, it has still meant a lot. Thank you for reading and for indulging my Wild Side whenever I write experimental or silly movie posts. I couldn't have gotten this far Without You.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Naked City

The Film Noir Blogathon celebrates this unique genre of crime stories, especially from the 1940s and 50s, hosted by The Midnite Drive-in. For a list of participating blogs, visit the website.

The Naked City
YouTube viewing

Modern movies shoot on location all over New York's five boroughs so often, one sometimes feels as if they're living on a set. It's a fun sensation most of the time, although I've probably gotten jaded by the experience by now. Back in the day, it was different. Lots of Old Hollywood movies used New York as their setting, but many of those settings were no more than sets on California studio lots, made to resemble Manhattan in a general, roundabout way.



As a New Yorker, I've learned to accept this when watching an old movie. It's like watching a stage play: you fill in the gaps or paper over the inaccuracies with your imagination and concede the physical limitations. Seeing so many modern films and TV shows filmed on location has spoiled me for sure. It's always nice to spot a cafe you've eaten in or a retail shop you used to work at in the background of a movie.

Watching The Naked City, therefore, was a pleasant twist. This wasn't the first Old Hollywood movie shot on the streets of New York I've seen - Hitchcock's The Wrong Man was filmed here in Queens, for example - but this movie also made a strong effort to capture everyday life in the Big Apple while telling a murder mystery.



Naturally, I don't remember Manhattan as it was in 1948, but that's why we have websites like this one. Scouting NY, among other things, compares New York movie locations, then and now. The differences between Manhattan in the movie and today are dramatic, to say the least. There's little I recognize, and what does look familiar, such as the Williamsburg Bridge, isn't quite the same.

City is the vision of producer Mark Hellinger, who cheekily narrates the film. The title comes from a 1945 photo book on New York by the famed photographer known only as Weegee. He worked on the film as a visual consultant.



Hellinger was a New York journalist for the Daily News and the Daily Mirror, whose column was syndicated in 174 newspapers. He came to Hollywood in 1937. His short story "The World Moves On" was the basis for the Cagney/Bogey flick The Roaring Twenties. As a producer, Hellinger worked on, among other films, The Killers, They Drive By Night and High Sierra. Sadly, he died only weeks before City was released.

City is a wonderful time capsule of post-war urban life. I had heard stories of how New York used to be all my life, but actually seeing things that seem unimaginable today, such as swimming in the East River, is something else. It wasn't a completely idyllic time - many things about this period deserve to be dead and buried forever - but it's good to be able to look at it from a safe distance.

------------------------
Other film noir movies:
On Dangerous Ground
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The File on Thelma Jordon
T-Men
Lady in the Lake
Raw Deal
Double Indemnity
The Wrong Man
The Big Heat
Dark Passage
Gun Crazy
Pickup on South Street

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Run Lola Run

Run Lola Run
seen @ Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park, Brooklyn NY

This is a story.

Last Thursday I went to Prospect Park's Celebrate Brooklyn festival to see the German movie Run Lola Run. I took the G train. A street musician entered the subway car at the Carroll Street station. He had a violin. Right before he began to play, though, he sat down, holding his stomach. Then he threw up onto an AM New York someone left on the floor.

A pair of guys who looked like they were a couple came over to the musician. They propped his feet up. I heard one of them say he was a med student. He asked the musician questions about his health, who he was, that sort of thing. At the Smith/9th Streets station, the med student's boyfriend ran for the conductor, and sure enough, the train was delayed. There was nothing I could do for the guy, and the med student looked like he had things under control, so I got out and walked to Prospect Park.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Forever, Darling

Forever, Darling
TCM viewing

We love Lucy (and Desi) for many reasons. We love them for being a glamorous interracial couple in a time when the struggle for civil rights was at a fever pitch. We love them for running a successful television studio that created and distributed some of the finest and most enduring series of all time. Mostly, we love them for the many hours of laughter and entertainment they gave us, together and separately. But not everything they made was golden.

Forever, Darling was one of two movies Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made during their reign on television, the other being The Long Long Trailer. I was pretty disappointed with it. The biggest problem is its tonal shifts. It begins as this half-comedic, half-dramatic portrait of a marriage in decline. Then James Mason appears as Lucy's "guardian angel," and it strays into Twilight Zone territory. Lucy can see him but no one else can. Is she going nuts? Then the final third is basically I Love Lucy The Movie. Darling doesn't know what kind of film it wants to be, and the result is less than the sum of its parts. I wanna talk about it anyway, because it still made me think about a few things.



When Lucy & Desi fight in the first act, it's almost painful to watch because it's played straight, not for laughs. Technically, they're portraying different characters, but we can't help seeing them as the Ricardos, and their fights were never this serious! Also, on another level, they're still Lucy & Desi, and we know as happy as they were together for a time, they would eventually divorce - four years after this movie, in fact. Looking at them fight this seriously in a movie, one wonders how often they fought in real life.

I had expected Mason's role to be similar to that of Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife, but his is a more passive presence. He doesn't even speak for his first ten minutes or so of screen time. When you see James Mason in a movie, you long to hear that rich, cultured, elegant voice of his, and to not get it right away is frustrating!



There's a scene where Lucy and her father try to convince Desi she's seen an angel. Desi's character is a scientist, so he's naturally skeptical of such things. I almost thought a full-fledged theological debate would break out. Darling doesn't run with the guardian angel concept as far as it could. The advice Mason gives Lucy could just as easily come from her father. And the less said about Mason's embarrassing movie-within-a-movie scene, the better.

Then, it's as if Lucy & Desi realize they're losing the audience and they essentially become Lucy & Ricky again, taking advantage of the bigger screen to go camping (on location) and get into assorted Lucyesque hijinks that somehow lead to a reconciliation (with an assist from Mason). Desi even gets a musical number! While it's fun to watch on a certain level, it's also jarring because the characters they're supposed to portray weren't slapstick-y. They certainly don't seem like the same couple who were at each other's throats in the beginning! It was simply too big a turnaround.



If these were any two other actors, I might have given up on this movie by this point. Because they're Lucy & Desi though, watching Darling is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Its image changes slightly when you view it from different angles, and that makes it a semi-interesting curio at best. Also, future Mrs. Howell from Gilligan's Island in a small role (and she actually looks pretty good!).

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cafe Society

Cafe Society
seen @ Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, New York NY

Ever since Vija took over our movie club, the one constant she's maintained year in and out is going to see Woody Allen's annual movie. He's been remarkably consistent in his filmmaking; I don't recall the last time he skipped a year, if indeed he has. Anyway, I always treat these outings as more of an excuse to be around friends rather than any great interest in Woody, although ever since I joined my writers group, I've had to leave early after the movie ends. Both groups meet on Sundays, you see.

My understanding is that after the movie, the party usually reconvenes at Lynn's dee-luxe apartment in the sky on the East Side. She has a terrace. I've seen pictures of it and it's amazing. Lots of plants and shrubbery, and room for maybe 15-20 people. I imagine the view must be great as well. The weather was drizzly this past Sunday, however, and Lynn opted to go home by herself after the movie so she could walk her dog or something.

Lynn has what they call a "therapy dog," named Mackenzie. She goes to hospitals and clinics with him, visiting patients. Something about Mackenzie's presence acts as a soothing, positive influence on them, and I can imagine why. He's small and fluffy, with big, dark, expressive eyes. If I were a cancer patient laid up in bed all day with nothing to do but watch TV, I'd probably welcome his company too. One of these days, I hope to meet him!


On Sunday, I asked Vija if all the things they say about Woody - his alleged improprieties with much younger women, the peculiar nature of his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, not to mention his dislike of bike lanes - if any of that bothers her. I figured it mustn't, because she lines up to see his movies every year. She said she wasn't entirely sure she believed the worst of it - and in fairness, it's not like what happened with Bill Cosby, where you had a conga line of women coming forward with accusations against him. That hasn't happened to Woody yet.


Franz, being Franz, spun this long-winded and didactic theory that whatever Woody chooses to do off a movie set is nothing more than human nature at work and should be regarded as such. I told him he sounded like he was excusing immoral behavior in general, but I imagine he believes there's no such thing as morality. Susan said she just ignores that stuff about Woody. I never got Lynn's opinion. Me? I figure we'll never know the absolute truth about Woody one way or another.


I was kinda eager to see Cafe Society after seeing the trailer in front of Les Cowboys, since it takes place in Old Hollywood. It actually alternates between Hollywood and New York. Jesse Eisenberg comes to Tinseltown to try and make a living, gets entangled in a love triangle with Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell, goes back to New York and becomes a society swell, etc.

The consensus opinion of the rest of the crew was, it was good until the ending, which sort of petered out into nothing. I didn't think it was such a bad ending at first, but upon further reflection, maybe it was underwhelming. I wouldn't have bothered to see it on my own, but then, I wasn't on my own - and that was the point of going in the first place.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Suicide links


I was gonna write this month about the new Star Trek series, Discovery, but the news out of Comic-Con was less than I expected. Bryan Fuller says he wants to "strike new ground" with this show, and I believe him. I just wish he was doing it on regular TV and not some special subscription service. Bibi and I talked about Discovery briefly when I saw Beyond with her and Eric, and she's not thrilled about having to pay to see it either. No point in complaining about it now, I guess. I'll watch the free premiere episode and after that... I dunno.

In the meantime, we got the 30 Days of Star Trek coming up here next month. This is gonna be a real challenge, blogging 30 consecutive posts. I've already started writing the first week and a half's worth, and I'm trying to limit what I want to say, but sometimes it's hard. And now I just signed up for a blogathon that happens the first weekend of October, so I gotta make sure I leave time for that too. Oy! But at least I know you're out there reading. July's pageview count was the third-highest in WSW history. Thank you, again. I hope I can keep you guys interested.

Last Wednesday, the 27th, I saw Dog Day Afternoon at Riverside Park's Pier 1 (the hostess kept calling it Pier I as in eye), but I'm not gonna devote a post to it - too many other things I wanna get to before September - but I figure I'll mention it here. Still a great movie, as if there was any doubt. There was this European (I think) couple in front of me who must have thought this was a romantic comedy, because they couldn't stop kissing, before and during the movie. I had to move up front so I wouldn't have to look at them. Weird.

Your links:

Paddy connects the dots between two great Hollywood actresses and one great stage actress, Shirley Booth.

Le explains why she relates to the movie Freaks.

Danny reviews an interesting book about film marketing in the studio era.

Ivan writes about Gene Roddenberry's pre-Star Trek show, The Lieutenant.

And keeping the Trek theme going, Jennifer describes what Dr. McCoy means to her as a Southerner.

Pam digs Astoria's own Christopher Walken.

Check out this tag-team "jam" short story written by a number of notable film bloggers, starring Cary Grant, Mae West, and other Hollywood Golden Agers.

An update on the ongoing restoration of the Loew's Jersey City theater.