Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Time Machine (1960)

The Time Machine (1960)
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City NJ

Last year I bought a used anthology of HG Wells stories: The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and today's subject, The Time Machine.  I haven't finished it; I started Time but other things distracted me, as they tend to do.

Wells' writing is different from modern fiction. It's sparser, but a bit more florid also. Time the book didn't necessarily bore me, but it didn't quite suck me in either. Maybe that was because I had seen the time travel genre to death, in many forms (especially recently), and he was practically inventing the genre when this was written.


Herbert George Wells, born in England in 1866, started out as a teacher and later a journalist and even an artist before he got into short story and novel writing, and not just SF. Of course, it is SF for which he's best remembered.

In Wells' day, science fiction was called "scientific romance," a term associated with writers like Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, as well as the filmmaker George Melies. Wells' approach to the genre revolved around grounding the reader in credibility, so that the incredible elements could be more easily accepted. He felt one crazy assumption, such as the possibility of time travel, was all you needed on which to build.

Time was not Wells' first time travel story. In 1888, seven years before Time, he wrote a short story called "The Chronic Argonauts," which was also about an inventor of a time travel apparatus. (Some say Wells was inspired by Thomas Edison.) Before even that, in 1881, a short with a different kind of time machine, "The Clock That Went Backward" by Edward Page Mitchell, ran in the New York Sun.


Did you know there's a deleted scene from Time? Wells wrote it at his editor's suggestion. The nameless protagonist goes even further into the future, past the era of the Eloi and Morlocks, and discovers a new species that resembles them both. Wells didn't like it, though.

I had seen the 1960 film adaptation before, but I had forgotten how entertaining it was. Screenwriter David Duncan, in adapting the book, fleshed out the protagonist's 19th-century buddies and his relationships with them in a way that really humanizes him.


Rod Taylor, under George Pal's direction, portrays the idealistic humanist well, in a way that made me think he might have been an influence in shaping Star Trek's Captain Kirk. And speaking of Trek, Wah Chang, one of the Oscar winners for the film's special effects, went on to work on the show as a prop man, designing the original tricorder and communicator.

I saw Time with Virginia. It was her first time at the Loews JC and she loved it, taking pictures on the mezzanine level and digging the Wonder Organ. I was thrilled to have her there in a place that means so much to me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

It never occurred to me I could see Avengers: Infinity War with anyone else. Not that I was so psyched to see it, like I would have been twenty years ago, but even now, after the new wave of superhero movies have broken the bank time and again, I still thought of this, however unconsciously, as a niche pleasure, not something "ordinary" people would dig.

So when I told Virginia I was gonna see it — alone, by implication — there was this awkward pause for a second. We had seen Black Panther together, but even that almost didn't happen: when we tried to pick out a movie, I had said to her something like well, you're probably not interested in an action movie... are you? 

Turned out she was willing. She didn't grow up a superhero geek, you see. She had no sentimental ties to BP or any other long underwear types, so why would I think this might interest her — or so my logic went.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Oliver Twist (1922)

The Lon Chaney Blogathon is an event devoted to the life and career of the silent film star, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating blogs, visit the links at either site.

Oliver Twist (1922)
YouTube viewing

I never read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist in school or anyplace else. Dickens was one of those old authors I probably took for granted. A Tale of Two Cities was one I tackled in school, naturally; I think I might have read, or tried to read, Great Expectations in college, back in my reading classic literature phase, but I couldn't tell you much about it. I know Oliver from the movies, especially the 1968 musical.

The 1922 silent film is, I believe, the first film adaptation. It was a vehicle for rising child star Jackie Coogan, hot off the smash success of The Kid, with Chaplin. He was all of eight years old when he made Oliver, but he's not bad in it. He knew how to look pathetic and downtrodden, at any rate, as his character is shuffled from one fate to another by opportunists, oppressors and no-goodniks. One would never know he'd go on to be Uncle Fester in The Addams Family!


But he's not today's subject; that would be his Oliver co-star, the man of a thousand faces, the one and only Lon Chaney Sr. He played Fagin in the film, and as you'd expect, he was made up to look really old, with scraggly hair and beard, plus ratty clothes. He's good, as usual, getting deep into the role: walking hunched over, gleefully teaching his charges, including Oliver, how to pick pockets from unsuspecting marks.

I've talked about Chaney before. In an era in which computers can make anybody look like anything, Chaney still stands out for his chameleon-like ability to embody a wide range of characters.

The child of deaf parents, he learned how to pantomime early in life. On the stage, he used makeup to hide his insecurity, and after awhile he became an expert on the craft of using makeup. Eventually, he made his way to Hollywood, and the medium of film, still in its infancy, proved the perfect vehicle for him.


In her book Silent Stars, film teacher and historian Jeanine Basinger praised him for his ability to empathize with outsiders:
...As Chaney's career developed, he was drawn to playing two basic types of social outcast: the criminal and the cripple. He seemed to identify deeply with characters who were outsiders and loners. No matter how twisted mentally or physically these characters were — either human or monster — he played them as having recognizable emotions... so the audience could understand their evil, realize where it came from, and even sympathize with it if they chose to. He brought understanding and tolerance to these outsiders, and a conviction that there was another side to their lives beneath the obviously ugly surface. Audiences responded to this conviction, and they still do.
Practically the entirety of Chaney's career was in the silent era. What kind of films would he have made in the sound era? His only talkie, a remake of his silent film The Unholy Three, provides a clue. Here's a clip.

Would he have continued in this vein of playing outsiders? We'll never know, but I prefer to think of him as being of the silent era. The films he made then were like nothing we've seen before or since. I'd argue they belong there.

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Related:
Lon Chaney Jr.
Tod Browning

Other Lon Chaney films:
He Who Gets Slapped
The Phantom of the Opera
Laugh Clown Laugh

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Ready Player One

Ready Player One
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

I have so much to say about Ready Player One that I'm dividing this post into segments. It's much easier for both of us. Trust me.

1. The internet and internet culture

2. Ernest Cline's 80s vs. my 80s

3. Steven Spielberg's 80s

4. Columbus

5. RP1 the movie


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Solo links

Bill Cosby's downfall is complete at last. I had talked to my mother about this; she's convinced the whole thing was a case of entrapment that he was dumb enough to fall for in his youth. Maybe. I'm not here to debate it one way or another, though; I want to hold a candle up for him one last time, for all the good he achieved as an entertainer and as a pioneer for black people in television. Like it or not, he's part of the official record and always will be; he was part of my childhood; and he helped bring positive change to the image of blacks on television, and the culture at large. Though we may condemn him for what he did when the cameras stopped rolling, we cannot and must not dismiss him.

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I finally decided, after almost four years within my writing group, to part company with them last month. I've found an online group months ago that I think can help me better, particularly now that I'm in the revision stage; plus, I was getting kinda tired of running things.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was how hard it would be to say goodbye. The group roster had changed completely from when I had first joined, and many of the people in the group now signed on within the last year, but I still felt a connection with them — and they with me. I truly didn't realize how much of an impact I had made on them. They were disappointed to see me go. Some of them friended me on social media. They pretty much insisted I come back to visit, which I will.

They were a great bunch, both the current membership and the ones from the past, minus the occasional oddball or two. I've talked about Jen here before, who I still think was the best writer we had in my time in the group, and will get published for sure.

I'm glad to have been part of them. My Sundays won't be the same.

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I've been devoting more time to the novel revision, which is why I haven't been around much (that and I just needed a break), but I did see movies. I saw Isle of Dogs and liked it. I think it's Wes Anderson's most ambitious film, not just because of the stop-motion animation (which was smoother and slicker than in Fantastic Mr. Fox), but because of its political overtones. The film is set in Japan, and while most of the human characters spoke Japanese, there were no subtitles; either someone was on hand to translate or the meaning was clear through context. I thought that was quite clever on Anderson's part.

I also watched Black Panther again, this time with Sandi, and once again, she noticed something I didn't the first time around: apparently the deities invoked by characters in the film are not native to Central Africa, where Wakanda resides. She's an expert on mythology, so if she says it, I believe it, though I'm sure Ryan Coogler has some manner of justification.

The Ready Player One post is coming. Promise.

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I'll keep things up here, but it probably won't be as frequent as in the past. I saw Avengers: Infinity War and I'll write about that, of course; I've got one blogathon post coming this week and I may take part in another; not sure. Sorry for the light schedule, but the novel has to take priority.

Your links:

Raquel and Danny, among others, have coverage of this year's TCM Film Festival.

Jacqueline writes about an adaptation of a book that was never filmed — but totally should have been.

Le checks out a compilation of rare Chaplin flicks.

Ivan has the skinny on the first Shirley Temple film in which she gets kissed.

Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones, came to Jennifer's hometown.

The long and convoluted tale of ailing comics legend Stan Lee and his battles with his daughter.

Is Quentin Tarantino writing a script for the next Star Trek movie?

Tommy Wiseau wants to be the Joker.

The radical, sci-fi-flavored philosophy of musician Sun Ra was once turned into a movie.

A bunch of Broadway stars held a secular Passover seder, performing non-traditional tunes.

What makes a movie bad?

MOMA has restored a Swedish short about life in Manhattan from over a century ago. Note how slowly the cars travel.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Trip to the Moon

The Outer Space in Film Blogathon is an event about films set in space, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

YouTube viewing

PARIS, 1969

Eugénie opened the door and saw six solemn men in grey overcoats and suits. The white-haired one closest to her spoke.

"Bonjour, Mademoiselle. May we come in?"

Mère sacrée. They came after all.

"Of course." She widened the door and they entered one by one, removing their caps. Once they were all in, she shut the door. The leader took off his monocle.

"How is he?"

"Struggling, but by the grace of God he lives still."

"Mademoiselle, I assure you if the doctor continues to cling to life, it is by the force of his stubborn nature, not any divine intervention." His scowl gave her a tremble. "May we see him?"

She felt her ears burn. You could at least say please.

"This way, messieurs."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

I'm gonna do a quick post about this one because I'm still a bit behind and I wanna catch up as soon as possible. This was Vija's suggestion, and if you've heard anything about it, you know it's gotten spectacular reviews.

Cold War-era Russia has been the subject of comedy before, but mining the demise of its most notorious ruler for laughs is a new one to me, and it's actually pretty good, no matter how little or how much you know about Stalin and his cabinet. You see the atrocities of the Stalin regime, but you also see the bumbling and the weirdness too — and one can't help but be reminded, to a certain degree, of the current administration here in America. 


Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci lets the international cast (including Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev!) keep their native accents; no one speaks with a Russian accent, which lends a somewhat surreal aspect to the story, but hey, if black people can portray the founding fathers of America, anything's possible, right?