Sunday, November 28, 2010

R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen

When I watched a DVD of "Superhero Movie" last week (a film that I felt was a thin spoof of "Spider-Man," with but a few references to "Fantastic Four" and X-Men" and could have been so much better if they opened it up to spoofing more superhero movies) I noticed Leslie Nielsen looking a little old. I realized the guy is no spring chicken, but I thought part of the look was makeup and costuming for the role. Then I saw the picture in the obit at New York times Obituary. He looked like a gaunt masque of death.

I never knew that Mr. Nielsen had a serious acting career apart from "Forbidden Planet." He was just so great at the comedy and slapstick. But I guess it proves that talent is infinitely adaptable.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Thoughts About the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2010

The shong from Memphis is a fabulous Broadway musical number...just like every other fabulous Broadway musical number. It kind of made me think I was watching Family Guy, which has a lot of fabulous Broadway musical numbers.

The guy playing Jerry Lee Lewis in "Million Dollar Quartet" has totally got the moves of the Killer down. From what I saw here and on the Tony awards, though,makes me wonder if this is a musical play or a tribute concert.

Crystal Shawanda's Native American/County/Pop fusion fascinates me.

The U.S. has become a cultural colony of Japan. There were appearances by Hello Kitty, Takashi Murakami, Power Rangers Samurai, and Pikachu, and the NYPD Marching Band played the theme to Space Cruiser Yamato.

Those dancing penguins are cute!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pieces of April - nothing original, but well done

When a movie is just like every other movie of its type, it really has to be done well to be tolerable.

In this case, "Pieces of April," written and directed by Peter Hedges and released in 2003 (which was just broadcast on PBS, Channel 13) hits a lot of notes of a young indie director's movie:

Hot girl in counter-cultural clothing and makeup - check.
On-location shooting - check.
Estranged family that doesn't understand her - check.
Arguments between mom and dad - check.
Road trip - check.
Oddball urban characters - check.
Rough, trash-strewn, graffiti-covered urban landscape - check.
Generally quiet soundscape - check.
Girl breaks down in tears - check.
Bikers - check.
Reconciliation with family at the end - check.

It was a story of a young woman (Katie Holmes) living in an inner-city neighborhood with her boyfriend (Derek Luke) preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her family. The family happened to include her terminally-ill mom (Patricia Clarkson), and this was the first time that the girl had ever cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

This film proved that just because a film is a lot like many other films doesn't mean it can't be very good.

"The Patriot," on the other hand...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RIP: Harvey Pekar

RIP: Harvey Pekar

There's not much I can say that has not been said by others. His work proved that an ordinary life can be incredibly complex and quite fascinating. He cut through the bull and said exactly what he wanted to say. His honesty and truthfulness will be missed.

I had always been vaguely aware of comic book "American Splendor," but was more into superheroes and science fiction , so I never really looked into it. My mom saw the movie and insisted that I see, but I never made it to the theater while it was out. I finally saw the film when it was shown in the public library at Glens Falls, NY.

As a movie, I found it very original and unique. It was refreshing in it's honesty in showing the "unglam" life of the subject, and even admitting that actors were better looking that the real people.

So here's to the man who made uncommon use of the common life, and expanded the possibilities of the comics form.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soime thoughts about the Tony Awards this year....

Does Sean Hays remind me of Jon Cryer, or does Jon Cryer remind me of Sean Hays, especially when Jon is doing something "gay" on "Two and a Half Men?"

Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Holmes looked like Frodo and Arwen in "The New Adventures of Middle Earth" on the CW Network.

It's good to see my old Stuyvesant High School classmate, Lucy Liu back in town. I wonder if she made it to the last couple of reunions we've had that I missed?

I am constantly wondering if I am missing some of the gay in-jokes.

Kelsey Grammer in "La Cage Aux Folles" looks like Tony Curtis.

Almost every nominee is a well-known movie actor.

Catherine Zeta Jones is one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in teh history of women, but "Send in the Clowns" always depresses me.

The Jewish chick from "Glee" is frickin' awesome!

Miley Cyrus is finally old enough to be up late enough to be on "The Late Show."

Superhero movie actors nominated for awards:
Kelsey Grammar - Beast "X-Men 3"
Alfred Molina - Dr. Octopus "Spider-Man 3"
Scarlet Johansen - Black Widow "Iron Man 2"
Liev Schreiber - Sabertooth "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
Christopher Walken - "Batman Returns"
Rosemary Harrris - Aunt May, "Spider-Man 1, 2, 3"
...and all of them were in superhero movie sequels.

When I tuned in, Green Day was opening the show. I have not really been keeping up with trends on Breadway like I used to, but I remember whn it was in such a state that having a modern rock band at the R=Tony;'s would be a sign that they were desperate. But perhaps its a sign that Boradway is not more accepoting of a greater variety of musical forms that ever before.

After the musical numbers from "Million Dollar Quartet" and Memphis" I was really in a mood to hear more "birth of rock & roll" music in a movie. So I watched "Great Balls of Fire."

Brilliant, just brilliant, having Sean Hays come out in the Spider-Man costume. Between that, Rosemary Harris, and Alfred Molina, who needs a $42 million musical?

Nothing thrills and excites the soul in quite the way a well done Broadway musical number does.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Avatar depression

Tonight I had the pleasure of enjoying the Trevor School’s version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and now I know what “Avatar” depression is.

I had heard that folks were getting suicidally depressed after seeing “Avatar,” and I couldn’t understand why. When I saw the movie, it inspired me to do things, like fight in a grappling tournament (see my review from Feb 8, 2010). Then I saw this.

The play was set in a mostly bare, open, piece of floor in front of the seats with multi-leveled platforms. It opened with gentle mystical sounds being made by the fairies. A freaky figure, who we would later learn is Puck, entered, moving in a not-quite-human way and observing the audience. A character dressed in shirt and tie then entered, put on a sleeping cap, and lay down. The fairies pulled a strip of paper out of his hear revealing the title of the play.

From there, the play began. The fairies were portrayed by 5 lovely young ladies in motley leather vests, torn stockings, and face paint, contributing as a sort of punk-pagan presence to the proceedings. They served as a sort of Greek chorus, and furniture, and background, and framing device for the entire play.

The performances of the actors ranged from the enthusiastic to the excellent, utilizing the natural talents of the performers well. Notable were Helena’s ballet, Bottom’s gift for physical comedy, and Lysander’s flexibility.

The cast brought an excellent sense of unity to the world of the play. They had a remarkable synergy that enthralled the audience, making us eager to embrace the world in which they lived.

A particularly nice touch was to have Titania enter and relate to Bottom as he went through the suicide scene in the player’s play at the end of the show. It gave a sense of development, and a degree of depth to both characters, and made the play a bit more affecting than a mere comedy.

The last bit of action had the sleeper at the top of the play waking up and finding the banner with the title of the play. This represented the fact that the entire story was a dream, and gave the piece a symmetrical close.

Oddly, while much of the action was very funny, I didn’t find myself laughing out loud as I do at certain TV shows, or as much as the rest of the audience. But at the end, when the lovers had been united in wedlock and the players and done their play, when the lights went down and music came up before Puck’s epilogue, I found a great sadness coming over me. The music was a familiar melody that felt, in context, like a beautiful sunset at the end of a very good day. It was the perfect ending, but it was an ending, and we will never have that day back again.

The effectiveness of the play even came through a sub-optimal viewing set-up. The seats were on a set of particularly deep bleachers of gradual elevation. This meant that the back rows were very far from the action without being high up, and thus their view was were blocked by people’s heads. For a piece with such a strong environment, it would have been nice to be more physically embracing of the audience. Perhaps they could have figured out a way to do it in the round, or to have allowed the audience to sit on the floor within the performance area.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably Shakespeare play that is most adaptable to various media. Its location on the borders of a fairyland allows the production a lot of leeway to use its media. It got me to thinking of ways to do it with various movement vocabularies I have been familiarizing myself with lately.

But the fact that I will never be able to recapture the precise magic of this particular production if very sad.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Latest Adventures in Hi-Def TV

When Hi-Def TV became the standard, as regular readers of this blog may recall, I held out to the last minute and beyond (while I tried to figure out why I wasn;t getting a signal) But once I did finally embrace the Hi-Def revolution, I noticed that Channel 5 was duplicated on Channel 9-2, and Channel 9 was duplicated on channel 5-2. It was convenient because if I wanted to flip between chshows on those two channels, or the adjacent channels, I could save one click. Of course it was also a little annoying because when surfing I had two more clicks to go through that were simply du[plicate channels.

Well, now those "2" channels are now blank.

So, what's gonna happen? Are they gonna put new channels there, like 4, 7, 11, and 13? Cuz right now they are two blank black spots on the dial. Couldn't they at least point a camera at a fish tank or something?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Swan Lake: is it ballet?

A friend of mine fwded a link to this video of the Great Chinese State Circus' reinterpretation of "Swan Lake":

This is amazing and beautiful, but is it dance? Is it ballet? There is little chemistry between the two dancers and there is almost no storytelling at all, it's just one amazing move after the other. In that "World Championship of Dance" competition the Chinese had a similar idea: They got the Shaolin monks to string together a bunch of acrobatic martial arts moves, but that's not really dance, is it? Like any art, dance should make you feel something more than "what amazing technique!"

Any partner dance is about the relationship of the characters and the chemistry between the two dancers. Check out these versions of "Swan Lake":

You can't help but feel the attraction and the struggle between the two lovers over their forbidden romance in the first video, and the finale really knocks you out. Every move is a dialogue between the dancers that progresses the story. It's about using the movement vocabulary and physical virtuosity to tell a story, not just impress you with skill.

Just for fun I decided to look up "Swan Lake Pas de Deux," because I understand it is a standard, with traditional choreography. I found this...

...which is another part of the story, and has a "black swan" seducing the hero. Now I want to see the whole thing because I am intrigued by the story.

I searched a bit more and found thwo more interesting versions, this one has no stage set and no chorus...

...and this ballerina is particularly expressive in the same dance...

Reading the comments is very informative and helps the appreciation of the performance and the art. The comments about the ballet are about the beauty and perfection of the dancers, the emotional content of the scene, the expressiveness of the performance, and comparing with other performances. The comments about the Chinese acrobats is mostly "amazing@! Incredible! Did they use wires?" etc


Friday, March 19, 2010

Hurrah for Universal Sports!

When the switchover to digital TV happened, and I finally got my digital converter box to work, it was small pile of "so what? Big deal." to me. So we got "crystal clear digital reception" now. That was only if the antenna was pointing in the right direction. Otherwise you got a perfectly black screen. Art least with analog we could sort of make out the picture through the snow and ghosties.

Sure, it's convenient to have a weather channel on 7-3,but Icould find out that kind of info by a quick look out the window most of the time.

Extra kids channels? That's merely an excuse to put less kids programming on the regular channels.

The Spanish stations seem to be doubled up. What's the point of that?

New York Nonstop and LiveWell, have yet to impress me with their programming (although LiveWell did show Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speches uncut late one night).

And what's with that channel that only shows certain roadways and intersections?

But NBC's Universal Sports ans just given me programming that has me saying "All Is Forgiven!" The Paralympics! Legless hockey! Armless biathlon! Visually-impaired cross-county skiing! Before this channel, I was lucky to stumble upon a few highlight on Wide World of Sports or something, but now I am getting the full games and events!

I can;t wait till the summer games to watch wheelchair rugby!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kick-Ass kicks ass!

On Monday night I was fortunate enough to have obtained a pass to the advance premiere of “Kick-Ass,” the new movie based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and drawn by John Romita, Jr. Of all the movies I wish I had seen before making my latest movie, this is the one that fit’s the category best.

The story is a Campbellian hero’s journey that takes the concept of “what if a real person tried to be a superhero” to the dirtiest, most violent, foul-mouthed, and glorious degree.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, it goes sorta like this: A high school student comic book geek wonders why no one has ever really tried to be a superhero. Of course this kid and his friends are regularly pushed around and ignored by girls, and muggers don’t even have to threaten them with violence. One day he buys a scuba suit and tries to be a superhero. It doesn’t work out, but he doesn’t give up. His example inspires others, and he winds up in a deadly, violent confrontation with an organized crime boss. People die, and he finds the hero within himself and becomes a man.

“Comic book movies,” that is, movies based on comic books or comic book characters, come in two varieties these days. There are those that are based on a character, usually with a long publishing history, and try to build a movie around the concept (with varying degrees of seriousness and success), ie: Superman, Bat Man, Spider-Man, etc. Then there are those that are based on specific comic book stories or graphic novels; A History of Violence, Sin City, Watchmen, Etc. Those of the latter kind seem to have a higher rate of success, both as movies and as adaptations, and this movie, fortunately, fits that pattern.

The casting of the movie is excellent; combining perfect talent (Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz) and some inspired “gimmick casting” (Nicholas Cage, Christoher Mintz-Plasse). As the hero, Johnson’s face echoes Toby Maguire’s “gee, something good actually happened to me” cockeyed half-smile, combining cultural reference with endearing honesty. Cage, as the ultimate badass superhero, does some of his best work as a mild-mannered father, and hits all the right notes imitating the delivery of a noted 1960’s TV actor. Mintz-Plasse brings a surprising darkness to a role that seems like a development of his character in “Role Models.”

There are differences between the movie and the book. Some of them are simply matters of the necessary structural difference between a movie and an 8-issue comic series. As Mark Millar stated in the Q&A after the screening, the miniseries was an eight-act structure, while a movie has a three-act structure. Some of the differences, though, were blatantly involving the difference between what you can do in a comic book and what you need to do to sell a movie. Millar pointed out that one change (and a very drastic one, I thought) was instituted because they simply needed to have some sex in the movie.

Another change was a bit more of a trade-off than a pander to the masses. There is a moment in the comic book where the hero makes a moment of immense personal sacrifice, paying off a setup from very early in the story and showing the character take control of a situation unlike he had ever done before in his life. That scene was eliminated in the movie, allowing for a touching moment between a father and daughter. This gave more of the movie to another character, and made it less about the titular hero. The hero did get to have his hero moment later, but it was not as strong and significant as the one in the book.

The audience, packed with fans of comics in general and the original comic in particular, ate this movie up with a spoon. They cheered and laughed at all the right moments. I happened to be sitting between two women who were not fans, and they seemed a little shocked at some of the violence, though at they end they admitted it was a good movie. I agree that the gun violence does get a little gratuitous at times, but this is not a movie for the weak of heart. Life and death can be an ugly, unforgiving business, and by not skimping on the blood and violence, they show how far you have to go if you really want to be a hero.

And that’s what heroism is about. It’s about taking your lumps for something you believe in. The hero, Kick-Ass, believes in fighting for decency, protecting the weak, saving lives, and helping people. Even in the face of death, he keeps true to his beliefs, and takes his lumps.

In my movie, “Redemption,” the main character proves that he is willing to take his lumps to be the best that he can be. This movie is the grittiest, gutsiest, most literal expression of that I have ever seen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Avatar review: I am a happier man because of this movie

On Saturday night I went and saw Avatar, and I am glad I did.

Even though the movie is basically “The Last Samurai” and "Donnie Brasco" on another planet, there is enough visual spectacularism that I got a thrill watching it.

Also, and more importantly, the execution of the idea (a man who has lost something finds himself in the camp of the enemy, where he is adopted by the tribe and finds what he has lost, then rebels against his former masters) was very compelling. It worked best for me in the sequences where the hero, Jake, was learning how to use his alien avatar body to run through the trees, ride giant birds, and then became part of the tribe. The physicality of his actions was exciting, seductive, and made me want to do them myself; and as he earned the acceptance of the tribe, I really believed, and sympathized with, his desire to belong.

The climactic battle scene was a bit gratuitous, but the peril felt real, and the payoff was highly acceptable.

I had heard that there are people who have been having suicidal bouts of depression after seeing this movie. That made me think that there would be a really depressing payoff at the end, but no. The balance of life and death, good vs. evil, and overall justice is resolved in a perfectly satisfactory manner. Apparently some people just find the real world suicidally depressing compared to watching the movie.

The effect this movie had on me was that it inspired me to compete in a grappling tournament the next day. The physicality of wrestling and grappling is the closest I have ever come to the physicality of the alien tribe in the movie, and Jake’s growth and acceptance by the tribe mirrors my current journey through the world of submission grappling. So I had an outlet through which I could exercise my longing to be a part of the world of the movie, and I am a happier man because of it.

Read my writeup on the tournament at My other blog.