Saturday, April 30, 2005


It's time for a courtesy flush on the whole Rex Reed business, but not before I direct you to Alison Willmore at The IFC Blog. She's sussed out an apology of sorts, or at least a direct mention by Reed in print, of the controversy surrounding comments made in his review of Oldboy, and then goes on to astutely read between Reed's arrogant lines. Alison, thanks for the heads-up. I salute your rooting this one out, and your conclusions about what to do with further Reed columns: not read 'em. Call me insensitive, but I read a news item the other day that made me imagine Reed as a toad. Mr. Reed, I've seen you on TV since I was a pre-teen in the early '70s on the Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas shows, straight on through the awful Siskel & Ebert rip-off At The Movies, your brush with the law for shoplifting, and now this. Here is your courtesy flush. It's been a long time coming.

(Thanks to the good folks at GreenCine Daily for pointing me toward the IFC Blog, and many other wonderful links and blogs every day...)


If you scroll down and take a quick look, you'll notice a new addition to the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule sidebar located just below the hit counter. It's a button that says "Sub Bloglines." Click it and you'll be taken to a web site for, which is a free service that allows you to "subscribe" to a list of blogs (hopefully SLIFR will be one of them). Once you compile your subscription list, you can click on a button that shows you which of the blogs you read regularly that has posted something new you haven't yet read. The service also offers programs you can download that will create pop-on messages, much like those indicating the arrival of a new e-mail, to alert you when your favorite blog is featuring a new post, and many other keen bells and whistles as well. My friend PSaga helped me through the basics when I signed up for the service, as I am far more computer illiterate than I have any right or excuse to be, but once she did it was clear sailing. Now I can check all my favorite blogs at a glance and add new ones (or delete old, tired ones) whenever I want. It's a terrific service that I wanted to pass along, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I already am. (Thanks, PSaga! Now, about Magnolia...)

RILEY TO PLISSKEN TO PERRY: For Blaaagh, The Kurt Russell Progression is Now Complete

Frequent reader Blaaagh expressed disappointment after reading the Key to Mr. Hand's Spring 2005 Pop Movie Pop Quiz that I had failed to post a picture of Kurt Russell from Dark Blue, thereby completing the portrait of the actor's aging process from goofy kid (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) to indie action antihero (Escape from New York) to grizzled movie star/character actor. Blaaagh, your wish is my command.

Kurt Russell as Eldon Perry in Ron Shelton's Dark Blue

And while we're on the subject, maybe you'd like to tell your Kurt Russell story on SLIFR sometime. I think the comments section of this very post would be a great place to do it, if you're so inclined...


My wife, the girls and I got home very late from the office tonight (Friday). When I got home, I had a dishwasher to unload (hey, at least I have a dishwasher now, so no complaints, believe me) and a sink full of dishes to rinse and load into the freshly empty life-saving mechanism. And I had five pounds of excellent CostCo ground beef (12% fat, $2.99 a pound, best tasting burger you can buy) ready and waiting in the refrigerator for me to work some end-of-the week magic on it. So I turned on KFWB 980 and began listening to the Dodger game while I kneaded the secret ingredients into 2-1/2 pounds of what would soon go sliding into my oven, to emerge one hour later as some fine-ass meatloaf.

And I had designs on another pound and a half too-- George Foreman and I would be joining forces tonight to make delicious burgers for the girls, with freshly sliced lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on the side, and a steaming bowl of red beans and rice courtesy of the good folks at Zatarain's. As I started flattening the patties, Colorado took an early 1-0 lead. Odalis Perez was struggling-- 20+ pitches in the first inning, and he continued having troubles in the next inning or so, while Rockies' starter Jason Jennings looked to be cruising. Jennings threw five pitches to get out of one frame-- I think it was the second-- and the Dodgers didn't get a hit off of him until the fifth.

The meatloaf still had about a half hour to go when Patty got the girls out of the tub, into their jammies and up to the table, where the burgers, rice, and sippy cups filled with milk (a banana served as extra enticement for Nonie) awaited them. I shut the radio off and joined everybody at the table. Despite the fact that it was around 8:30-- usually the late end of bedtime on a normal night-- we were all having too much fun enjoying each other's company to worry about staying up late or missing the game. Emma put some Japanese lullabies on the CD player and we ate, laughed and talked in front of a background of those lilting, haunting melodies. I was made inordinately happy by the fact that both my daughters seemed to really enjoy the hamburgers, and I myself was pretty impressed with how good they tasted-- clean, not greasy, the beef intensely flavorful but not overwhelming, and all the better because they were homemade and so well appreciated. Nonie even decided tonight that she liked pickles, and proceeded to suck the juice out of and/or ruthlessly pound down dill chip after dill chip. This made me happy too. When you're lucky enough to have such beautiful blessings greet you and be with you every day, happiness is, despite all of life's attendant problems and worries, really a pretty accessible commodity, yet one that I work hard never to take for granted (I admit, though, that I am sometimes unsuccessful at this). And there's enough old-school Italian in me to really get a molto grande kick out of it whenever these somewhat picky eaters (Nonie much more so than Emma) both greedily show appreciation for the homemade meals their daddy or their mommy provides for them. So tonight's dinner table shenanigans were, for me, a major blessing, the perfect way to decompress after another typically exhausting working week.

I was just beginning to get the dinner dishes cleaned up (fortunately, tonight we traded our fine Farberware for that of Dixie) when the phone rang. Patty immediately knew who it was, and even though the radio and TV were still off, I suspected that I knew too. As I answered the phone, I braced myself. This most likely was good news, but it could also be bad.

"Hee-Seop Choi!" the voice on the other end screamed with obvious joy.

"What? What happened?" I said, giving my position away immediately.

"You're not watching the game? What the--" he stammered. "Hee-Seop-fucking-Choi just hit a grand slam! And you missed it?!"

I tried to explain. "Well, I was eating dinner with the girls-- I had the game on for a while, but we didn't--"

"I don't wanna talk about it," he insisted. "This conversation's over, you piece of shit. Let me talk to your wife."

I handed the phone off to Patty, walked over to the TV and turned it on just as the inning ended, just in time to see the replay of Choi's granny. It was a home run much like the other two he's hit so far this season-- it just barely cleared the fence in left center. After the game, Choi even said he thought it was going to be a double. From a game standpoint, it must have been hugely exciting to watch the inning develop and get capped off in that fashion. Hopefully, combined with Choi's 4-for-5 outing the other night, it'll signal more consistency and better application of the bat, if Tracy opts to start him at first base more often than he does Norihiro Nakamura or Olmedo Saenz. But from an aesthetic standpoint it wasn't particularly pretty, at least when seen as a minutes-old highlight, even though I couldn't have been happier for Choi and the Dodgers. End of the fifth: Dodgers 4, Rockies 1.

I decided to take a break and let the dishes wait a bit. The kids found a giant coffee table book called The Art of Walt Disney that was good for several minutes' worth of ooh-ing and aah-ing and "Oh, my goodness"-es while I settled in to watch an inning or two. Patty came back into the room and placed the phone back in its cradle.

"Your buddy wants me to take all your Dodger souvenirs and paraphernalia and throw them in the Dumpster," she deadpanned.

"Hmm," I replied. "Okay, everything but my signed David Ross baseball. That thing's gonna make us rich someday."

"He says that if you're a true Dodger fan and you're home on Friday night, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be watching the game. I think he said something about demanding satisfaction, like you burning your 2004 division championship T-shirt in the parking lot of the Big A, or something like that. I stopped listening after a while."

I glanced over at the girls amusing themselves on the living room floor. "Look, Nonie!" cried Emma, "it's Cinderella!"

With a squeal of appropriate enthusiasm, Nonie replied excitedly, "Oh, my goodness!"

"Well, before I go turning in my Eric Gagne decoder ring or anything," I said, "perhaps I should take it upon myself to remind Excitable Boy of just who it was that left in the sixth inning on Opening Day." I felt myself getting on a roll. "Who was it that was yanking out his own teeth by watching the rest of the game from the office kitchen as the Dodgers and Milton Bradley pulled off that miraculous win against the Giants? And who was it who stayed till the very end and basked in every glorious moment of it from inside the stadium?"

"I know," Patty said patiently. "He's a twisted, yet somehow lovable jackass. I told him that you were eating dinner with us and having fun, and that sometimes it's okay to live for someone other than yourself, but I don't think he was listening. He kept chattering on about taking a hammer to your Dodgers schedule watch."

"Whatever," I said. That threat to my Dodgers schedule watch was the final straw. Why, I oughta-- I looked back at the TV and, lo and behold, here comes Cesar Izturis to the plate, with two out and, what do you know, the bases loaded. Maybe he can do it too, I said to myself. And then the phone rang again. I picked up and spoke first without even saying hello.

"He's gonna do it," I said definitively.

"Oh, so you're watching now?" he snorted.

"Yeah, I'm taking a break before the girls' bedtime" was my tart rejoinder.

"I see how it is. Typical fair-weather fan," he snarled accusingly. "Turn the game off when it's going bad, miss the good stuff, and now you want 'em to do it again so you can see it. 'Come on, Little Cesar! I missed the other one!'"

I was undaunted. "Watch this. He's gonna do it."

"All right, I just called to make sure you were paying attention this time." Then, as is typical of our very brief mid-game phone conversations, he barked "Later!" and hung up.

I looked up at the TV. Izturis let loose and hit a towering... pop-up back of the plate that was handled by sliding Rockies catcher Todd Greene. End of the sixth: Dodgers 4, Rockies 1.

Odalis Perez would pitch strongly, after recovering from the tough beginning, through the seventh. And in the bottom half of the same inning, J.D. Drew would hit a two-run insurance homer to make it Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

Colorado would score two more times, sending Tracy to the bullpen for Schmoll, Wunsch, Carlyle, and eventually Brazoban for the save, but by then our TV had already been shut down. Patty was with Emma for a couple of stories before bedtime, and I was pulling Nonie duty for the same. The girls were both ultra-tired, it being past 10:00 and all, but they never lost the giggles and the happiness that had been the hallmark of their entire evening, right up till the final droop of the eyelids, when sleepy turned to sleep for real. And as luck would have it, after storytime I finally made it back to the kitchen, and the unloading and reloading of the dishwasher, just in time to hear Charley Steiner and Rick Monday call the final half-inning on the radio.

It was, as evenings go around here, a pretty wonderful one. That might sound strange, and it might not, but how could I possibly complain? I got the housework done, I got to play with my girls, I got to cook for them, and my daughters, and my burger-averse wife, all three gave my sandwiches their highest rating. (Patty says it was better than an animalized Double-Double, but then she's married to me, so she'll say something like that occasionally-- I'm sure she means it, but still, I don't think In-N-Out has anything to worry about). Oh, and the Dodgers won, perhaps charting the beginning of an upswing out of their recent and inevitable slump following their very hot start to the season. One or two more like that this weekend and maybe I'll be spared another round of "What's up with those Dodgers?" questions at the office Monday morning. As for my buddy, I could ride him about the harsh treatment, and I could bring up that whole Opening Day thing again. But maybe I'll just let him bask in the glow of tonight's win, knowing that he didn't miss it, and that I did. He saw the grand slam, but I got thank-yous after dinner, hugs and kisses after the umpteenth reading of Goodnight, Moon, and an "I love you, Daddy" as I shut the door to Nonie's room that made my heart soar.

And he's giving me a ticket to Tuesday's game, so at least for now I gotta watch my step...

UPDATE 4/30/05 5:00 p.m.: The twisted, yet somehow lovable jackass responds.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


When I said everyone loves a pop quiz, I was being kinda sarcastic. But it does seem that most everyone enjoyed Mr. Hand’s Spring 2005 Pop Movie Pop Quiz, despite the fact that it was not a quiz that lent itself to quick and easy answers. Most everybody who took part found at least half the questions had to really be chewed on, for one reason or another, and the chewing resulted in some very interesting and good-natured responses from the movie-loving readers of SLIFR. In fact, I was so delighted with the enthusiastic response to the quiz that, if I can come up with more decent questions, I may try and make this a quarterly bit o’ fun. As far as the Spring 2005 edition, I thought it’d be worth rounding up a few of the more amusing/thought-provoking/unexpected answers in each of the categories in an easily digestible format, now that submission of answers seems to have subsided, just in case everyone hasn’t had a chance to scroll down through the seemingly endless comments section for this post.

To start with, among those who expressed a preference for one classic movie star over another (I realize I’ve just revealed the whole thing to sound about as edifying as the Pepsi Challenge…), here’s how the preferences ranked:

Humphrey Bogart in a walk over Jimmy Cagney—Bogie notched 10 votes to Cagney’s one. (As soon as I read my own answer, I realized that though I’d picked Bogart on the strength of In A Lonely Place alone, I should have taken the opportunity to step up for Cagney based entirely upon One Two Three, and had I known the vote was going to be so lopsided, I probably would have done just that. Oh, well…)

Jimmy Stewart edged Cary Grant by a slender margin, 6-5.

Katharine Hepburn trounced Carole Lombard, 9-3.

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis emerged from their gothic horror Baby Jane catfight dead even, 5-5.


What I hoped for from this question was to get a sense of the range of everyone's individual movie obsessions, and I think you could say that the following list makes a pretty good case that regular visitors to this site definitely march to the beat of their very own drum. How else to explain this wildly eclectic list?

Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy
Carol Reed’s Flap
George Melies’ Les Fromages Automobiles (The Creeping Cheeses)
John Huston’s The Dead

Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws
Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Todd Holland’s The Wizard
Harold Ramis’ Caddyshack

As keen and varied as the responses were, hands down the most interesting answers to question #1 were offered by Blaaagh:

“The one movie you’d drop everything just to see again-- Sicko, the (bad) satire of Psycho which I directed, edited, etc., in high school, along with my friend Bill Helwig. It’s a lost film now, perhaps for the best.”

And PSaga: Manneken Pis.

First of all, I’ve seen Sicko. I know the guy who directed Sicko. And, Sicko, you’re no Psycho. But, hey, Birth of a Nation is no Psycho either. And Psycho is no Birth of a Nation. I don’t know what my point is, exactly, but I will say that I would drop everything to see Sicko again myself.

And Manneken Pis is the only answer given to this question, and I might venture to say to any other answer in this quiz, with which I had not at least a passing familiarity. That one sent me scrambling to the Internet Movie Database quicker than you can say “Greta van Langhendonck” or “Ludo Hoogmartens.” PSaga, please elaborate! And congratulations to all my fellow ignorami who read of it and refrained from admitting, for the sake of a cheap laugh, that the first thing you thought PSaga was referring to was a lost sequel to a bad ‘80s romantic comedy starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Catrall, all about the adventures of a young man in love with a chronically incontinent (and all the more sexy for it) department store dummy.


Are our aversions more interesting than our attractions? You make the call:

David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (Virgil Hilts)
Roman Coppola’s CQ (Machine Gun McCain)
Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Sharon)
Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (Murray)
Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things (Blaaagh)
Rupert Wainwright’s Blank Check (look it up!) (Thom McGregor)
Ron Howard’s Ransom (Dennis)

Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (PSaga)
Anything by Steven Spielberg (The Mysterious Adrian Betamax)
Bryan Spicer’s For Richer or Poorer (Loxjet)
(see Blank Check, or as it is known in the U.K., Blank Cheque— gee, thanks, IMDb!)
Robert Iscove’s From Justin to Kelly (Jonas)
Robert Englund’s 976-EVIL (Jonas)
Rob Reiner’s The Story of Us (Alison)
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (Twosctrjns)

Two names jump out at me off this list: Rob Reiner and Steven Spielberg. Again, it’s a measure of how varied are the perceptions within this little group that both the movie many might consider Rob Reiner’s best work (This is Spinal Tap) is included along with one which few would argue is one of the worst (The Story of Us) in a stable of putrid Reinerian contributions to the cinematic form. Makes me wonder what a preferential ranking of the entire Reiner oeuvre would look like, especially if the rankers were Murray and Alison.

As for Spielberg, the Mysterious Adrian Betamax would like to seal up the director's entire filmography in a giant lock box wrapped with chains and drop it into the sea. Okay, but even directors whose work I wish would disappear have made a film or two that I would consider saving— Ron Howard made Parenthood, Tony Scott made Crimson Tide and, yes, even though it’s a film that’s arguably more dependent on performance and writing that any particular sensibility or style brought to it by its director, Rob Reiner made This is Spinal Tap. So for the Mysterious Adrian Betamax to dismiss the entirety of Spielberg’s work out of hand suggests to me that he’s got some serious issues with the director that I’d love to hear about, as I can identify with an impatience with or indifference to some of his work-- the first two Raiders of the Lost Ark films, Hook, Jurassic Park, The Terminal, and the logistical and moral question of whether all those soldiers were worth losing in order to save Private Ryan-- at the same time that I feel all kinds of love for Duel, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Empire of the Sun, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and, with some major reservations, E.T.-The Extra-terrestrial and Schindler’s List. Mysterious A.B., if you have a desire to elaborate…


The answer on several lists here was Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, so it seems that if our little band of cinephiles has any common ground it can be found in Middle Earth by way of New Zealand.

Other interesting titles that popped up included:

Joe Dante and Allan Arkush’s Hollywood Boulevard (because it seemed like such an unlikely title to feature an audio commentary— thanks, Machine Gun McCain)…

Robert Altman’s Nashville

Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law (PSaga demanded the Criterion edition, and she got it!)…

The Movies Begin, an early cinema DVD set from Kino treasured by the Mysterious Adrian Betamax…

Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (deluxe MGM version with added footage—thanks, Tuco, I mean, Jonas)…

Andy Tennant’s Ever After (cinematic comfort food for Alison)…

and my favorite answer— Loxjet cites the collected works of the Burt Reynolds-Hal Needham collaboration (Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey and the Bandit II, Hooper, The Cannonball Run, The Cannonball Run II and, of course, Stroker Ace). Why? “For sentimental reasons.”

4)What is the Most Coveted DVD You’d Like to Add to Your Collection?

There’s only approximately 240 shopping days left until Christmas, so, Santa, if you would, keep some of these titles in mind, would ya?

* Machine Gun McCain would love the Buster Keaton set from Kino…
* Blaaagh would love to be swept away by Days of Heaven
* It’s SCTV Volumes 2 and 3 that would make Thom McGregor smile…

* Sharon covets The Americanization of Emily...
* PSaga wants to keep Santa on his toes and see if there’s room enough in his heart for an eclectic double bill of Big Deal on Madonna Street and The Return of Captain Invincible
* Louis Feuillade’s 1915 Les Vampires would keep the Mysterious Adrian Betamax’s mind off of Steven Spielberg…
* Loxjet wants to unwrap the remastered Gimme Shelter
* And Alison thinks “it might be swell to own The Matrix


Interesting double feature-- Annie Hall and Escape from New York get the edge in the voting (they were both mentioned twice).

Virgil Hilts also likes The Warriors; Thom McGregor will take Manhattan; Dennis shouts Dog Day Afternoon (and "Attica!"); Machine Gun McCain unearths the early ‘80s NYC dreamscape of They All Laughed; Murray likes his New York City via Wise and Robbins (West Side Story) and Zwick (The Siege); Loxjet prefers the Joe Buck of Times Square (Midnight Cowboy) to the Joe Buck of Fox Sports; and Alison prefers the Travis Bickle of Times Square (Taxi Driver), period. But probably the most literal-minded and well-rounded response comes from The Mysterious A.B. who picks Ric Burns’ documentary New York: A Documentary Film. Is it on DVD, M.A.B.?


Well, when the first response is Earthquake, I guess there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

M.A.B. comes up a little more middle-of-the-road with his response here (L.A. Story), and Alison says simply that there’s nothing good about L.A. Although I think I’m more in Alison’s camp when it comes to day-to-day life involving freeways and the buttheads that run wild on them, some of the other responses to the question suggest there may be some good about L.A. after all-- good films, that is, that back up Alison’s claim that L.A. is a pretty curdled place after all:

To Live and Die in L.A., Sunset Boulevard, L.A. Confidential, The Long Goodbye, Mulholland Dr. and Chinatown.


Again, Virgil Hilts steals “Best Response” honors with by invoking the Sensurround magic of Earthquake, along with newly respectable director Taylor Hackford’s attempt to make an East L.A. Godfather out of the chaos of Blood In, Blood Out. Coming up a close second, for sheer irreverence (as subject) and sheer irreverence (as choice) is Loxjet, who hails from Montana and cites the double feature of Rancho Deluxe and Heaven’s Gate as the best of the Big Sky. PSaga checks in with Hoosier love for not Hoosiers, but Breaking Away (“Refund? Refund?!”) The Mysterious Adrian Betamax says that he “can’t think of any for New Hampshire that weren’t crap” (would Tanner ’88 count?) so he went with his home country of England and Alberto Cavalcanti’s Champagne Charlie, about the British music hall scene. Jonas pines for the TV version of Fanny and Alexander, Murray thinks The Way West best represents Oregon (and cites some pretty good personal reasons for saying so), while Dennis and Bruce both thought Sometimes a Great Notion captured the state (Dennis also threw in National Lampoon’s Animal House for good measure). But Machine Gun McCain’s response-- “There’s really only one, The Bay Boy, and it’s god-awful”—sent to me to IMDb, due to my unfamiliarity with the title, where Paul Emmons sums up the plot thusly:

"A Roman Catholic teenage boy in Nova Scotia during the 1930s faces various growing-up problems: Should he become a priest? What should he do about the murder he witnessed, committed by a local cop and upstanding parishioner? And how far should he go with his girlfriend, who happens to be the murderer's daughter?”

On top of all that, it stars Kiefer Sutherland and Liv Ullmann. Can anyone find another movie that takes place in Nova Scotia to suggest to Machine Gun, please?


Loxjet asks the question, “Are there any?” I think there was some pretty good evidence in the answers to suggest that, while the remake may more often smack of craven commerciality and bankruptcy of original ideas, there are times when they work out pretty well.

To wit: Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, one of the many remakes of Ben Hecht’s The Front Page, was cited twice, and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, another remake which was not the last word on its original source. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven is clearly a remake of a movie that few, if any, thought could do anything but improve upon its besotted source material, and probably the same could be said of David Cronenberg’s silken spinning of The Fly from the sow’s ear of the original (I also like PSaga’s props for James Wong’s remake of Willard starring Crispin Glover). Some may not know that The Ten Commandments (1956) was Cecil B. DeMille’s remake of his own silent-era take on the book of Exodus, or that the recent Denzel Washington thriller Man on Fire was also a remake of a 1987 thriller with the same name. And finally, two remakes mentioned clearly weren’t too troubled by the long shadows cast by the originals: John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, a western retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which was itself Kurosawa’s take on some of the grand westerns under whose influence he had fallen, and Gus Van Sant’s rather more notorious remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, an entry from the Mysterious Adrian Betamax that may serve to back up Loxjet’s point.


Where Loxjet wondered in the last category if there even were any good remakes, Alison takes up the call for this question by stating categorically that there is no answer to the question because “remakes are bad.” Even if you subscribe to this point of view, wouldn’t you like to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone remake Earthquake or For the Love of Benji? (Virgil Hilts) Or what about the mouth-watering possibilities of a Love Bug remake starring Gary Busey and directed by Hal Needham? (Loxjet) Rather less facetiously, Machine Gun McCain wonders about the possibility of John Carpenter actually redoing Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, Thom McGregor thinks Paul Thomas Anderson would refashion Nashville in an interesting manner,and Dennis would like to see David R. Ellis take a Fantastic Voyage with Clive Owen, Eva Mendes and, yes, the late Donald Pleasance.

But getting back to the Mysterious Adrian Betamax’s obsession with the Gus Van Sant Psycho remake:Psycho should be remade every 10 years and followed shot for shot each time. I don't care who does it next. van Sant again! Chow Yun-Fat as Norman Bates! Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Janet Leigh! Eddie Izzard as Martin Balsam!” Someone get M.A.B. some Mrs. Fields cookies, and quick…


“Ride of the Valkyries” (Apocalypse Now)
“La Marseillaise” (Casablanca)
“Queen Bitch” by David Bowie (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
“Pachelbel Canon in D” (Ordinary People—damn you, Blaaagh!)
“In Dreams” by Roy Orbison (Blue Velvet)
“Ooh La La” by the Small Faces (Rushmore—sorry, PSaga!)
“Jockey Full of Bourbon” by Tom Waits (Down by Law)
“California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas (Chungking Express)
“If You Don’t Love Me, I’ll Kill Myself” by Pete Droge (Dumb and Dumber)
“Big Poppa” (by the Notorious B.I.G.? Sorry, Alison, you may have to educate me here) (Daredevil)


The best answers speak for themselves…

“Well, it’s not typical, but I hate that “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” montage in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”—Blaaagh

“Well, obviously ‘The End,’ but number 12 wouldn't be completely answered without mentioning ‘How Do I Live Without You’ by Trisha Yearwood in Con-Air.”—Loxjet

“Standing by my utter loathing of Smash Mouth's ‘All-star.’”-- PSaga

“I think of The Sound of Music as one long, boring movie montage filled with unwelcome pop songs.”—Virgil Hilts

“I'd rather not try to recall one.”—Alison


Blaaagh on Gorillas in the Mist: “Not because it was a great movie, but because it spurred me to read the book Farley Mowat wrote about Dian Fossey, Woman in the Mists, which incorporates her journal entries. At the time I was working at a job I hated (sales), not acting, had just moved to a dreary place, etc— and Fossey was a woman with virtually no qualifications who found a way to work with the gorillas, and eventually gave up everything in order to study and protect them. I thought, the least I can do is to find a job that performs some service to someone, and to pursue in some way what I would like to be doing with my life.”

Thom McGregor on Star Wars: “My school friends and I would take the bus to the Chinese Theater all through summer to watch it over and over again. My first cult.”

And just to illustrate the breadth of demographic of this little survey, how about this trio of films cited: Heart and Minds, The Passion of the Christ and the original Planet of the Apes?


My favorite response out of all those submitted came from the always entertaining, as well as Mysterious, Adrian Betamax: “Whatever teen werewolf movie is playing on TBS that night.”


PSaga’s response is my favorite of all those submitted under this number: “An ugly can of worms containing lots of sappy world War II dramas and smarmy swashbucklers.”


Cary Grant gets two mentions in Notorious, and another two for North by Northwest. Otherwise, it’s a sexy dogpile made up of the likes of Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind), Laurence Olivier (Rebecca), Montgomer Clift (Red River), Ewan McGregor (Big Fish), Gregory Peck (Spellbound), Chow Yun-Fat (God of Gamblers 2: Gamblers Return), Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Brad Pitt (or is that Robert Redford, in A River Runs Through It) and, perhaps most satisfying of all, Jack Elam in Once Upon a Time in the West.


Two women get double mentions in this category: Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West and Rita Hayworth in Gilda.

Otherwise, it’s a much sexier dogpile here featuring Ava Gardner (The Barefoot Contessa), Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind), Juliette Binoche (Blue), Nicole Kidman (Cold Mountain), Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) and Sylvia Bataille (A Day in the Country).

Does anybody have any snappy theories as to why the majority of picks from both the male and female side were “classic” movie stars rather than contemporary actors and actresses? Did they just make 'em more beautiful back then?


Conveniently linked to IMDb are the following names you hopefully will get to know a little bit better upon your survey colleagues’ recommendations—ask for them by name:

Brooke Adams
China Chow
Keith David
Viola Davis
Luis Guzman
Jessica Harper
Regina King
Angela Lansbury, about whom Alison correctly observes, “Everyone knows about her, but few people know how good she is.”
Bruce Lundy
Melanie Lynskey
Gabriel Macht
Sandra Oh
Timothy Olyphant
Michael Parks
Bill Paterson
James Remar
David Strathairn
Shawnee Smith
Pruitt Taylor Vince
David Wenham
Margaret Whitton
Evan Rachel Wood


There’s much hate out there for The Sound of Music, but that didn’t daunt Sharon…

Machine Gun McCain would like to stand up for
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Murray tries to get in good with government by recommending, against all opinions otherwise, Kindergarten Cop

Blaaagh sees something in Gus van Sant’s Psycho that escaped lots of people…

The White Nights of Mssrs. Hackford, Barishnykov and Hines are blissful cover for Thom McGregor…

Dennis is alone in high-fiving Robert Altman’s Popeye

At the risk of associating herself much to closely with Kevin Spacey, PSaga admits a weakness for Pay It Forward

Loxjet: “Good question, as I rely almost completely on other people's opinions... Okay, the movie version of Hair… If nothing else, one gets a peek at Beverly D'Angelo's tummaters."

Twosctrjns is enamored of Adam Sandler as The Waterboy

and Alison finds CQ charming, whereas many others, including Machine Gun McCain, um, didn’t…


Now to the juicy stuff:

Machine Gun McCain just doesn’t get all the huzzahs for the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead

If Sharon hears one more word about how great Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is… well, you’ve been warned…

Jonas and Blaaagh would like to go medieval on Pulp Fiction's ass…

This is Spinal Tap sits most notoriously atop Murray’s cinematic pile of burning tires…

Thom McGregor wishes nothing but harm upon The Wizard of Oz

Alison thinks the floating plastic bag, and the whole of American Beauty, is just garbage…

Attention, Machine Gun: Dennis doesn’t get the love for George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, and just what the hell it is that's supposed to be so good about The Shawshank Redemption escapes him too, Sharon…

PSaga would like everyone who enjoyed Rushmore, Kill Bill (both volumes) and Magnolia that you’re all wrong, wrong, wrong…

and Loxjet again (You ever think of getting your own blog, LJ?): “This one'll be easy: Forrest Gump is about as intellectually offensive a movie as has ever been made. Yet it was an enormous triumph, not just as a movie but as a piece of culture. I think nothing defines the stupidity of Americans as succinctly as the overwhelming success of this movie.”


Virgil Hilts (Memorable): “After seeing The Last Detail, asking my father if that's what the navy was like.”

Virgil Hilts (Unpleasant): “My father's silence as my mother, brother and I waited for his answer.”

Blaagh (Memorable): “Sitting in a Westwood movie theatre (the Regal?) on opening night of Blue Velvet, with Lynch himself (or someone who looked just like him) across the aisle in a tux, shaken and stunned as the lights came up. We had been given little comment cards and pencils, and Pattie and I looked at each other over the first question: ‘What is your overall rating for this movie? Excellent,Good, Fair, Poor’ We both shrugged and simultaneously said, ‘Excellent?’ and checked that box.”

Thom McGregor (Memorable): “Standing behind Alfred Hitchcock as he filmed his last movie Family Plot down the street from my parents' house (on Bates Avenue, of course) and, despite the fact that I was a child, his security guard made me move. ‘Mr. Hitchcock doesn't want anyone standing behind him,’ my sister and I were told.”

Thom McGregor (Unpleasant): “At the New Beverly Cinema, watching some old movie, and suddenly feeling poked from behind through the opening at the base of my chair. Poke. Poke. I kept turning around. Five minutes later, a stream of unidentified liquid flowed down the floor past me toward the front of the theater. I changed seats immediately.”

Dennis (Unpleasant): “Tricking my dad into taking me to see Deliverance when I was 13 years old, then realizing Mom wanted to come along and that I’d have to sit between them for the entire movie.”

PSaga (Memorable): “Standing with the paparazzi (the Italian paparazzi!) and watching Woody Allen arrive with Soon-Yi Previn to the world premiere of Everybody Says I Love You in Venice and then getting to sit and watch the film in the grandest cinema I'd ever seen. (Ehm. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out to be the grandest of WA's films.)”

The Mysterious Adrian Betamax (Unpleasant): “When the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian omitted a reel (20 minutes) of a film and then played it at the end afterwards.”


Several of you felt compelled to remind us of Mr. Creosote’s spectacular meal, and the evacuation of same, from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life...

But others found plenty more to be disgusted by…

Virgil Hilts likes Robert Morley being fed his poodles in Theater of Blood

Murray and Twosctrjns like Bluto’s self-applied acne treatment in National Lampoon’s Animal House

Thom McGregor and Dennis share a distaste for Sean Connery shlurping—smack, smeck—and shwallowing his shupper in The Hunt for Red October

Incredibly, only PSaga pointed out Divine’s dog-doo dinner in Pink Flamingos (Shows you where her mind’s at, huh? The gutter…)

The M. Adrian Betamax thinks someone downing a bowl of live ants in Jet Li’s My Father is a Hero is less than appetitizing…

And again, Alison demurs: “I’d rather not think about these things…”


Once again, some interesting responses that bring up some unexpected, and in one case nearly forgotten, titles:

Hoosiers, Grand Prix, Hard Times for Virgil Hilts, and he makes special mention of the nearly forgotten (there it is!) Number One—“When Chuck Heston dies on the field at the end… that’s special for lots of reasons.”

Alison goes Bollywood for the cricket match in Lagaan

The Longest Yard takes a hit for Loxjet, Twosctrjns and Machine Gun McCain…

Hockey gets props in a couple of movies: Miracle (Jonas, Twosctrjns) and Mystery, Alaska (Murray)… What, no Slap Shot?

Sharon finds Field of Dreams dreamy, and Blaaagh and Dennis make Bull Durham a seasonal treat, though Dennis gives the edge to The Bad News Bears, as does T McG…

PSaga makes sure cycling is represented by Breaking Away and (this is my favorite answer from this category) The Triplets of Bellville

And the Mysterious Adrian Betamax continues his ways of mystery by citing John Huston’s 1981 soccer/prison camp picture Victory, but surely only because Pele was in it…

(I thought it was amusing that lots of people thanked me for having asked…)

Sharon liked it hot and sticky in Body Heat

Bruce swoons for the woodsy outdoors in Ryan’s Daughter

Thom McGregor digs the comic fornicating of Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson in The Tall Guy

Dennis prefers his eggs raw and swapped between lovers in Tampopo

Don’t Look Now is PSaga’s sweaty number-one choice…

A Catherine Breillat movie made it onto this list courtesy of The M.A.B.—it’s Dirty Like an Angel

and Loxjet likes the sisters doing it for themselves: Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound, and Kim Basinger vs. Kim Basinger in 9½ Weeks


The chases from The French Connection and Bullitt were well represented by Virgil Hilts, Machine Gun McCain, Jonas and Blaaagh…

Thom McG and Dennis agree on the 1969 Italian Job...

Dennis also chimes in, along with Loxjet, for Ronin

PSaga and the M.A.B. think The Blues Brothers is car chase-and-crash ne plus ultra, although PSaga put a mysterious (even for the M.A.B.) question mark after the title…

Twosctrjns fondly recalls the bent metal and smoking rubber of his youth in H.B. Halicki’s rock-‘em-sock-‘em tour guide to the South Bay, the original Gone in 60

And once again, Alison racks up my favorite response in the category, The Dead Pool, wherein Dirty Harry and his partner give chase to a remote-controlled toy car what just happens to have a bomb strapped on it…


Alison also gets a little queasy over my choice of the word “favorite” for this category, before listing Takeshi Kitano’s exit from Battle Royale as her favorite (It’s in my queue, and it just moved up a few spaces…)

Wouldn’t be a category without acknowledgement of Janet Leigh’s Hershey’s Syrup- smeared demise in Psycho, and Blaaagh kindly provides it…

Loxjet likes Tony Montana on top of the world in Brian De Palma’s Scarface

Dennis also tips his Dodger cap to De Palma by including Piper Laurie's orgasmic crucifiixion by kitchen implements in Carrie...

Virgil Hilts salutes Robert Duvall’s poignant death in Walter Hill’s Geronimo, which is very similar in tone to Thom McG’s choice: Slim Pickens sitting in the creek waiting to die in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

and Blaaagh, Virgil and Dennis team up to acknowledge the slow, agonizing death scene enacted by Richard Jaeckel in Sometimes a Great Notion


Few opted to stoop to this level, but those who did found unity in their love for jackass: the movie (Dennis, Blaaagh, Twosctrjns),

John Hurt’s indigestion problem in Alien (Thom McG), Regan’s bad behavior in The Exorcist (Loxjet) and Lionel’s upended lawnmower treatment in Dead Alive (or BrainDead, or, if you saw it in Italy, Splatters: Gli Schizacervelli—thanks, PSaga!). The M.A.B., God bless him, skirted the line by citing Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom


As expected, "R" was very big here, as was "PG-13." But Blaaagh reached back to Jack Valenti’s awe-inspiring “M” (Suggested for Mature Audiences), and Dennis wanted to make sure that “M”’s inexplicable cousin, “GP,” got some attention as well. However, PSaga likes the fact that a David Lynch movie got a “G” rating (that’d be Lost Highway, right?), and the M.A.B., never at a loss, loves “Passed by the British Board of Film Censors.” But my favorite answers come from Twosctrjns (“Huh?”) and Alison (“What, like 'R'?”), two responses that really get to the heart of this pointless question…


For exotic locales, how about the Lumiere in Bologna, Italy (PSaga), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (The M.A.B.) and the Casino on Catalina Island (Twosctrjns)?

In the Guess You Had to Be There department, notch two for the Alger Theater in Lakeview, Oregon (Dennis and Murray)… In fact, we’ll also put PSaga’s pick of the Cinema Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Dennis’ pick of the Bijou in Eugene, Oregon,

and Blaaagh’s pick of the Paramount in Portland, Oregon (pictured here in 1938), in this subcategory too…

In the Feels Like I Have Been There department, how about Loxjet’s nostalgia fo the Sky-Hi Drive-in in Helena, Montana, a frequent haunt where he actually watched movies once or twice…

In the Gone But Not Forgotten department, much love from PSaga for the UC Theater in Berkeley

And Los Angeles favorites include the Rialto (Virgil Hilts),

the Pasadena Playhouse (Thom McG), the Arclight (Thom McG), the Nuart (PSaga), Grauman’s, then Mann’s, and now again Grauman’s Chinese (Sharon),

and the Vista (PSaga, Dennis, Alison)…


Not much room for controversy here…

Gummi Bears!
Red Vines!
Milk Duds!
Miller Lite!

Boy, I really know how to push those buttons, don’t I?


Virgil Hilts: “Harry Lime on black marketeering in The Third Man, John Qualen squatting in the dust in The Grapes of Wrath…”

Sharon: Michael Douglas at the end of The American President, and Alec Baldwin’s “God” speech in Malice (surprised nobody mentioned Baldwin’s steak knives speech in Glengarry Glen Ross...)

Murray: George C. Scott addressing the troops at the beginning of Patton

Blaagh: Uncle Charlie’s “Women keep busy out here… not like in the cities…” from Shadow of a Doubt

Thom McG: Bill Murray’s “It just doesn’t matter!” from Meatballs

Dennis: Otter’s “We’re not gonna stand here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!” from National Lampoon’s Animal House

PSaga: The POTUS to Alan Arkin’s drunken and disheveled superhero in The Return
of Captain Invincible
(can you hum a few bars, PSaga?)…

Loxjet: “Because it’s so bad it makes me cringe, the bit in Rocky III on the beach, where Rocky confesses to Adrian that he don’t believe in himself no more…”

Alison: Dennis Hopper in True Romance

Twosctrjns: “Be the Ball” from Caddyshack


Cinema Paradiso (Virgil Hilts)
The Big Knife (Machine Gun McCain)
Bowfinger (Sharon—good one!)
Sunset Boulevard (Blaaagh, Dennis)

Ed Wood (Loxjet)
Singin’ in the Rain (Thom McG, Alison)
The Player (PSaga… again with that question mark)
(The Mysterious Adrian Betamax)

(Again, among those who stooped to conquer…)

Horror of Dracula (Machine Gun McCain)
Brides of Dracula (Blaaagh)
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (Dennis)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (PSaga)
One Million Years B.C. (Alison)
“I’ve only seen The Quatermass Experiment, and it sucked!” (The Mysterious Adrian Betamax)


Much love for The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes from Machine Gun McCain, Murray, Dennis and Sharon,

whereas Blaaagh and Thom McG dig Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Twosctrjns gets clever and cites Miracle, and Alison speaks up for “the one with the monkey”-- That’d be The Barefoot Executive, which Dennis also has a soft spot for.


The Love Bug was the easy favorite, getting raised hands from Twosctrjns, Machine Gun McCain, the M.A.B., Dennis, Loxjet and Thom McG (“Though he’s brimming over with hostility in every Disney movie he’s ever been in, not that I blame him…”) But no one’s exactly in lockstep here— Blaaagh likes Blackbeard’s Ghost, Dennis digs That Darn Cat!, Sharon speaks kindly of The Shaggy D.A., Alison likes “the one with the monkeys” (Monkeys, Go Home), and Murray refuses to discriminate—“I like ‘em all!” (Even Snowball Express?)

Thanks, everybody! Please put your pencils away and your hands on your desktops and sit quietly until the bell rings… And put away that pizza, Mr. Spicoli!

Friday, April 22, 2005


Do the Hustle

Gravity and the basic laws of physics are, as it turns out, overrated. Tex Avery and Chuck Jones knew this and based entire animated universes upon the suggestion. Joe Dante has, on occasion (Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, his episode from the ill-fated Twilight Zone movie), taken inspiration from it. Jackie Chan has even built a career out of trying to outright defy the laws themselves, with ever diminishing results. But Hong Kong triple-hyphenate superstar (writer-director-star) Stephen Chow has taken Avery, Jones and the whole Warners cartoon sensibility and translated it into a live-action universe where gravity and physics are not only overrated, they’re practically afterthoughts. His previous smash hit, Shaolin Soccer, posited a world designed to make Pele look like a third-stringer, where martial arts and soccer could coexist to create kicks hard enough to turn balls into flaming tigers that could strip a goalie of his uniform, and the field of its turf, upon chest impact. Soccer became the all-time box-office champ in Asia upon its release there, but in America it was acquired, then subsequently butchered by Miramax and shelved for two years. When the Weinsteins finally did present it last spring, after several announced dates that were all eventually reneged upon, the release resembled less a flaming tiger kick than an ineffectual dribble, and the public was spectacularly indifferent—perhaps partially because those who really wanted to see it had already done so by obtaining DVDs of the uncut original version from video stores and Internet sites specializing in Asian cinema.

If television and print advertising is any indicator, Sony Pictures Classics is working pretty tirelessly to ensure that the same fate does not befall Chow’s latest, the delirious action-comedy masterpiece Kung Fu Hustle. The movie takes place in a fantasy hybrid Hong Kong that seems to exist in the 20’s, the ‘70s and the present day all at the same time, and that’s fitting for Chow’s approach—Kung Fu Hustle is a parody of the stories, conventions and excesses of martial arts films, which gained popularity in the ‘60s and ‘70s and often took place in the early part of the 20th century, but it’s also respectful of those conventions and excesses—it’s like a zippy, manic condensation of every martial arts movie ever made, simultaneously a giddy commentary on those movies and a brilliant and genuine example of the genre.

Chow’s evocatively imagined Hong Kong, vibrantly photographed by veteran cinematographer Poon Hang-Sang (A Chinese Ghost Story), is dominated by the tuxedo-clad Axe Gang, murderers with a tendency to break into well-choreographed bursts of energetic dance after bloody encounters with police and various citizenry. The Axe Gang, however, focus their criminal intimidation only on areas of the city whose relative wealth makes it worth the trouble—the run-down complex of shops and apartments known as Pig Sty Alley would, therefore, seem beneath their murderous attention. However, when Chow and his obese sidekick (Shaolin Soccer's Lam Tze-Chung) stumble into Pig Sty Alley and try to pass themselves off as Axes, demanding favors and respect, they quickly discover that several of the Alley’s shopkeepers and residents, and even its monstrous, curler-laden landlady (veteran martial arts performer Yuen Qiu, returning to the screen after a 28-year absence—she rescued James Bond from a deadly dojo in The Man with the Golden Gun), are retired martial arts masters trying to live out their lives in quiet poverty and obscurity who don’t take well to intimidation tactics from obvious impostors.

I'm gonna wash that gang right outta my hair: Yuen Qiu in Kung Fu Hustle

The ensuing ruckus catches the attention of the Axe Gang, who unleash a barrage of attacks from various hired killers upon the Alley in an attempt to preemptively quash this potentially powerful force of resistance. Chow casts the denizens of Pig Sty Alley with an eye toward actual retired martial arts masters, like Yuen Qiu, and there’s considerable poignancy, comedy and power to be derived from loading up a kung fu movie with heroes who look, at least to audiences for whom the likes of Vin Diesel and the Rock are action movie models, decidedly unheroic. This casting extends to the movie’s centerpiece villain, the Beast (played by retired fighter and action choreographer Leung Siu-Lung), a homicidal maniac sprung from a frog-laden, deliberately Lecter-esque asylum dungeon who appears somewhat unprepossessing in his tattered hospital gown and green plastic zori, but who turns out to be the most resilient, terrifying and surprising villain of them all.

Chow is one of the only filmmakers working now whose use of computer-generated imagery doesn’t drive me up a tree. He’s not using the technology to augment what’s possible, in the manner of a Bad Boys 2 or a XXX, to try and convince the viewer’s eye that what it’s experiencing is some form of heightened realism when at the same time everything the effects are being configured to do serves as a constant reminder of the limits of actual stunt coordination and camera placement. Big Hollywood machines like these prime the viewer to “ooh” and “ahh” on cue while the very excess of the staging and choreography emphasizes the essential phoniness, the impossibility of the imagery, and therefore ends up distracting from the story rather than enhancing it. Chow, on the other hand, adeptly mixes real fighting skills with the various wire and editing tricks of martial arts movies past, and then stretches the boundaries of what’s possible not by demanding that you believe it with your mind, but that you accept the elasticity of the physics within the world he’s created with your eyes.

There’s a hilarious high-speed foot chase that deliberately evokes the Road Runner cartoons; an eerily brilliant sequence involving assassins who pluck out deadly high frequencies on stringed instruments that cut through the air and take the form of rampaging beasts; and individual fight sequences that are dizzyingly, beautifully staged, sending bodies exploding through walls and out the other side to somehow land on their feet, fists clenched, ready for more. During almost every moment of Kung Fu Hustle there’s something going on that either defies description or belief, but you’re never prompted to go “Gee, how’d they do that?” Instead, the movie sucks you into the eye of its hallucinatory hurricane and leaves you barely enough breath to gasp with delight and laugh like hell, which you will do. By the time a character casually takes on some of the throaty characteristics of your average anuran amphibian in order to prepare for battle, you’ve already seen so many amazing feats and eye-popping flights of fancy that you simply gasp, giggle, embrace the action and thank your lucky stars for the director’s wild and apparently boundless imagination.

Exhaustive in its cinematic references and in its reverence for the martial arts genre, yet somehow never exhausting to watch, Kung Fu Hustle feels all at once like the apex of the possibilities within a heartfelt parody/tribute, a slapstick Hong Kong answer to Kill Bill, and a love letter not only to some of the genre’s greatest performers, but to its audiences as well. And if it’s as big a hit in the United States as Sony Pictures Classics hopes it will be (it opens in very wide release theatrically today), it may also be the last purely Hong Kong movie Stephen Chow makes before crossing the Pacific on his inevitable journey to America. I can’t imagine a movie as unabashedly, wonderfully weird as Kung Fu Hustle ever getting green-lit through the paranoid Hollywood system, but a sensibility as potent as Chow’s might very well still be more interesting watered-down than the endless formulaic action trash and tepid TV remakes regularly offered by studios today. Here’s hoping he takes the lessons, bitter and sweet, learned by countrymen Jackie Chan, John Woo and others to heart and can sidestep some of the pitfalls that awaited them in the American movie business. Movies like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle suggest that Chow may be able to bend like a reed in the Hollywood winds (and twist like a pretzel, and stretch like taffy, and snap back like a rubber band) better than most.

(For those inclined to check out pre-Soccer Chow, my friend and rabid Hong Kong aficionado the Mysterious Adrian Betamax suggests the following titles: From Beijing With Love, Chinese Odyssey 1 and 2, King of Beggars and God of Gamblers III. These titles, and others the M.A.B. has not yet seen, are available through Netflix.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


A little over a month ago I passed along the news via Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press about the firing of critic Charles Taylor from Salon magazine. I was fortunate enough to correspond with Taylor and wish him well, but at this writing I'm unaware if he's found another place from which to write his challenging, acerbic, thoughtful criticism. I and others who have long appreciated the work Taylor did for Salon continue to hope for brighter days for him in the immediate future, not least because his is a quality of voice and spirit that is fast becoming rare and endangered in American film culture.

To this end, Ed Gonzalez of Slant magazine has posted a levelheaded, yet nonetheless enraging article which considers the Taylor firing in light of the recent controversy over "critic" Rex Reed and racially and culturally insensitive remarks regarding the South Korean film Oldboy made in his New York Observer column "On the Town." Read Gonzalez' detailing of "The Crime of Monsieur Reed" for yourself, and then check out Dennis Lim and Ed Park's brief but damning chronicle of other disturbingly similar insults Reed has perpetrated in his column.

The big questions Gonzalez raises are, why is there room for Reed's bitchy, elitist ravings at the Observer, yet still apparently no place suitable for Taylor's brand of serious film criticism? Do Reed's editors think what he's saying is just fine in the year 2005? Are they simply ignorant? Or does Reed hold more sway over his content than even his bosses? However these questions are answered, Gonzalez makes it clear that Rex Reed and those who allow him to spew this kind of horseshit should be held accountable. The day is long past (if there ever was such a day) when Rex Reed's opinion on movies ever carried any weight; his rancid bigotry, however, begs to be taken far more seriously than Reed ever took the practice of the art of film criticism.

Update 4/23 12:01am: Thom, Alison, and everyone, here's more on Rex Reed and his bizarre food&film thing. I've now officially got the creeps...

Monday, April 18, 2005


In the grand tradition of boiled egg-eating contests gone grotesquely wrong and the fatal consequences of laying down in the middle of the road between two speeding cars comes this latest story about ordinary folks who can't understand why the real world often doesn't play the way their favorite movie does... And if it's over the top they crave, how about a Scared Straight program for these geniuses headed up by shell-shocked and pissed-off veteran Brinks drivers who've lived through an armed robbery or two?

Saturday, April 16, 2005


A few months ago I was invited by Lauren Kessler, noted author and director of the graduate studies program for nonfiction literature at the University of Oregon, to submit an article about my experiences in the blogosphere to Etude, a journal, which she edits, dedicated to new voices in literary nonfiction. Needless to say, I was honored that she would feel, based on what she’s seen on this blog, that I would have what it takes to deliver a piece worthy of inclusion in such a journal. I was also more than a little nervous, but even more eager to submit some work and have it appraised and criticized by someone of her reputation and talent. Blogging is an editor-free affair, and unless you’re lucky enough to have someone reading everything you write and offering creative suggestions before you post, it doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of independent, trustworthy voices adding what they can to make your good work better, or raise your mediocre work up to a passable standard. All of which was why I leapt at the opportunity to work with Ms. Kessler and see what might come of it. Well, the results are in. This past Thursday saw the publication of the Spring 2005 edition of Etude, featuring terrific writing from Ms. Kessler, Amy Duncan, Sarah Gianelli, Frederick Reimer, and the essay I submitted, entitled ”I, Blogbot.” I hope all of you will have a chance to click on the links above, read the essay, let me know what you think, good or bad, and take the time to enjoy what the other Etude contributors have to offer.

I'd also like to thank Lauren Kessler for allowing me the opportunity to participate in and experience yet another facet of the grand task of learning to be a writer, and for checking out the work I do here and believing that I might be able to take that work in another direction, to another level. Lauren, I appreciate your confidence and feedback very much. It has done for my own confidence and inspiration what a good Oregon rain does for my soul. May the rain continue to fall.

IT'S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL! Opening Day 2005 at Chavez Ravine

Opening Day at Dodger Stadium has been a tradition in which my father-in-law and I have indulged for about ten years now, but this year money has been so tight that I just didn’t make any effort to get tickets. I read with envy the “Comments” page on Dodger Thoughts as April 12 approached, trying to keep the vicarious thrill of listening to all the regulars expressing excitement about their Opening Day tickets from curdling into dark-green envy, but other than that I tried not to think about it.

Then, about three weeks ago, a friend called and asked me if I’d gotten my Opening Day tickets yet. I laughed to cover the pain and said, wincing, “No, I figured I was just going to end up missing it this year.” His reply was the one thing I didn’t expect to hear: “Well, I just picked up four of ‘em, and you can have two.” Whoo-hoo! Although I did win Loge Section 153 season tickets in a Little League raffle in 1997, otherwise known as The Summer When I Discovered Just How Many Friends I Really Had, these kinds of tickets don’t habitually fall into my lap. But this time I lucked out. That unlistenable Sting song, “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” suddenly made a little more sense.

Game time was 1:05pm, and FIL and I arrived at around 12:15pm to our luxurious position within the stadium, Section 35, Row E, seats 112 and 113, about as far down the third-base side as you can get in the Top Deck, which means we were high, high above, but almost directly in line with, the Dodgers batters box. We got to meet Odalis Perez at the gate, along with newcomers D.J. Houlton (the relief pitcher who would figure impressively in the day’s action), new catcher Jason Phillips (acquired from the Mets in exchange for Kazuhisa Ishii) and second-string catcher Paul Bako (who was a Cub last year).

Then we hit the concession lines which were, at 12:15, about a tenth as long as the meandering snake leading into the Top of the Deck souvenir shop, thank God. We grabbed our Dodger Dogs (as is Opening Day tradition, I got two— Gary Busey would have been proud) and settled into our seats. Had not the electricity of the L.A. season opener been crackling through our systems, we might very well have been lulled to sleep by the persistently mediocre and fatally sincere mid-tempo thrashings of the rock band Lifehouse, who were set up on a stage in center field, a most unwelcome substitute for the lilting, bobbing swells of Nancy Bea Hefley at the Dodger Roland organ. Nancy would have her moments, but not as many as she deserves, and Lifehouse overstayed its welcome by about six songs (I think they played seven). This kind of Star 98.7 fan-baiting isn’t quite as bad as last year’s abominable “AOL Sessions” mid-inning promotions, in which the crowd was encouraged to pick their favorite among three incredibly lame acoustic versions of songs that were generally pretty wretched to begin with, but it was close. However, we knew it couldn’t last, and the electricity was still crackling about all that was to come. And we were right— Lifehouse ended their performance to the general indifference of the crowd and we moved right along to Navy SEALS parachuting into the stadium, fireworks, and all the other traditional Opening Day pomp and circumstance.

From our seats way up in heaven (all the better to get a really good overview of Heaven, I say, and for just $6.00, one of the best deals around!), I could pick out familiar and soon-to-be-familiar faces milling around the Dodger Dugout— Steve Lyons and Charley Steiner seated in front of the FSW2 cameras doing the pre-game show; Caroline Hughes glad-handing as many Dodger big shots as possible; Frank and Jamie McCourt mingling with friends and the media and eventually taking their seats in the owner’s box adjacent to the dugout; Eric Gagne accepting his (I’m not kidding here) Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award; Bill Plaschke’s mug peering out from the press box (we were too close in and too high to be able to see Vinny); Cesar Izturis being presented with his 2004 Gold Glove award; Tommy Lasorda posing for pictures with Paul DePodesta and Duke Snider, who was present to kick off the season-long celebration of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 World Series win by throwing out the first pitch.

Fan reaction to the introduction of most of the Giants lineup ranged from tepid boos(Deivi Cruz, Michael Tucker) to lustier, but still half-hearted boos (Marquis Grissom, J.T. Snow). Of course, BalcoMan was greeted with a house-rattling barrage of low-register howling and catcalls, which he reveled in by lifting his bionic arms skyward and grinning like the Cheshire Cat caught with a mouthful of his gracious host’s beloved mice.

Fan reaction to the introduction of most of the Dodgers lineup was similarly tepid, but largely because the average fan had no idea who Jason Repko or Jason Phillips or Steve Schmoll is, or much feeling for new Dodgers Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin, J.D. Drew or Derek Lowe. Of course the loudest and heartiest applause and cheers were reserved for the returning veterans of the National League West division championship team— Gagne, Izturis, Perez, Opening Day pitcher Jeff Weaver, Giovanni Carrara, Jayson Werth and Milton Bradley, who seemed, if we’re to believe the defensive and offensive evidence of the first few road games, not to mention the favorable column in the Los Angeles Times that morning, to be enjoying the responsibility of his role as the emerging team leader. All the while these players were being stacked up on the first and third-base lines, I kept tumbling the thought around in my head: I wonder if this Opening Day will be one of those special ones, or one of those days that makes the walk back to the car seem excruciatingly long. And if it does end up special, which one of these guys is gonna be the one we’ll remember being right in the center of it?

A woman most of the crowd seemed to know-- she's apparently an American Idol contestant of some infamy, judging from the animated reaction of the crowd upon her appearance-- did a creditable job with “The Star-spangled Banner” (a far better rendition than was offered by previous AI winner Ruben Studdard before tonight’s opener of the weekend Padres series), the Stealth bomber buzzed the stadium— in the Top Deck that thing looks, and feels, like it’s gonna give you a buzz and a butch wax— and then the game got going. And right away, I started imagining that long, somber walk back to the car.

The Giants roughed up Weaver for five runs on a succession of soft singles that seemed to have no problem finding just the right holes in the infield to thread themselves through. Weaver’s location was terrible and it became clear very, very soon that he did not have the same stuff of last week’s 6-0 shutout up at SBC Park— hell, I’m sure he’d be the first to say that he had no stuff at all, and as a result the Hated Ones took him on the orange-and-black equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

But in the bottom of the first, Cesar Izturis reached base and then immediately cruised home on Jason Repko’s first major league home run. Now the average fan might have a better idea who this kid Repko is. Not only did he give the fans an early sense that the Dodgers weren’t just going to roll over, like on one Opening Day of the recent past which had the Giants trampling the Dodgers by some 12 runs, but he also showed himself to be a heads-up left fielder, playing a couple of deep drives off the wall like a seasoned pro, not a rookie playing his first game at Dodger Stadium. Score at the end of one: Giants 5, Dodgers 2.

Weaver wobbled, but he didn’t fall down in the second, and the Dodgers would score again on an RBI single by Phillips to make it 5-3, Giants.

But the Dodger pitcher’s house of cards tumbled down in the fourth, when he was brutalized by a three-run Pedro Feliz homer that brought Jim Tracy out of the henhouse with the hook. Enter reliever Buddy Carlyle. The Dodgers would bat again, but the score would remain as it was at the top of the fourth: Giants 8, Dodgers 3. (I blame myself: I left at the top of this inning to get a Diet Coke for FIL and a bottle of water for myself. Surely if I’d stayed in my seat rather than opting to stand in one of the now-incredibly-long concession lines, Feliz would never have hit that F-in’ dinger…)

The top of the fifth would see Carlyle return, the first of the day’s relatively unsung heroes take the mound for the Dodgers. He and his bullpen mates D.J. Houlton and Giovanni Carrara would pitch two brilliant, scoreless innings each to keep the Giants quiet. But Giants starter Kirk Rueter would retire 11 straight batters himself before Repko reached on shortstop Omar Vizquel's error to open the sixth. After Drew singled and Kent walked to load the bases, Scott Eyre relieved Rueter. Bradley hit a sacrifice fly and Olmedo Saenz followed with an RBI double to make it 8-5, Giants.

And so it would be going into the bottom of the ninth. By this point probably close to 3,000 or more fans had hit the exits, opting for beating traffic rather than staying to witness a now nearly inevitable defeat at the hands of the Hated Ones that was about to be sealed by their newly acquired closer Armando Benitez. Giants manager Felipe Alou had already given hot-hitting left fielder Feliz the rest of the day off and put Jason Ellison in his place in the eighth inning. Alou, like most everyone else in the stadium, figured Benitez to be lights-out and the Giants soon-to-be winners of both their own home opener as well as the Dodgers’. Sure enough, the closer got leadoff batter Phillips on a grounder to short to start things off. Two outs to go.

Then Ricky Ledee comes up and hits a monstrous double to the center field wall, taking third on Izturis’s single, and all of the sudden the fans still in the stadium started getting a whiff of October 2, 2004 all over again. Only this time it wasn’t the Giants’ beleaguered bullpen throwing gas can after gas can, it was their high-quality closer who was having trouble locating the ball. Despite that, however, Benitez managed to get Jose Valentin, pinch-hitting for Jason Repko, to pop up to first. Two away.

But thanks to a combination of Benitez’ ineffectiveness and J.D. Drew’s discipline at the plate, the right fielder walked to load the bases. Two out, Dodgers down three runs. In a virtual repeat of a similar opportunity during the seventh inning, when he hit a soft grounder to third and into an inning-ending double play, Jeff Kent again came to the plate, this time with a chance to launch a monster game-winning grand slam and send all the remaining Dodger fans, who had by now twisted themselves into soft, sun-baked pretzels and chewed the insides of their mouths raw and bleeding, into a delirium of joy. But the salami was not to be. Instead, in another amazing display of discipline under extreme pressure, Kent laid off four of Benitez’s wild nibblers and walked in Ledee for a run. Giants 8, Dodgers 6. Still two out.

Enter emerging team leader Milton Bradley. Word had it that he’d endured a brutal barrage of taunts and insults, in center field and at the plate, during the opening series in San Francisco, but you could never tell as much from his on-field demeanor. During the subsequent weekend in Arizona, Bradley was effective with the bat, but even more impressive with his glove, making two spectacular catches in Saturday night’s game, the second of which was so wild that Vin Scully was almost as beside himself with joy as Bradley was, as Bradley ran off the field leaping and laughing like a overjoyed Little Leaguer. And during Tuesday’s Opening Day game, he was remarkably loose, even displaying a sense of humor about himself and his reputation as a hothead. At one point a fan in the bleachers tossed an oversized inflatable pill bottle with “BALCO” on its label in big red letters onto the warning track. The game was stopped long enough for Bradley to retrieve the comedy prop and toss it over the fence. But before he did he stopped short, stared briefly in the direction from where the pill bottle came, lifted it with one arm above his head, as though he was going to chuck it sharply back at whatever fan was responsible— a clear reference to the infamous plastic beer bottle incident of last season that ended with Bradley charging off the field and tearing off his jersey. But instead he tossed the inflatable harmlessly over the fence in between the pavilions.

Bradley calmly approached the plate with the bases loaded. And then my FIL turned to me and said, “I gotta go to the restroom. Meet me at the gate when this is all over.” Now, I don’t begrudge a man, particularly an 82-year-old man, his right, or his undeniable need to pee whenever it is that he’s gotta pee, and I never tried to talk him into staying. But if it were me, I think I would’ve just had to let whatever might happen, happen and worry about the mop-up afterward. But that's just shameless me. As Milton settled in to face Benitez, my FIL took off to one of Dodger Stadium’s lovely Top Deck troughs. Oh, well, I thought, at least they pipe Vin Scully in there.

Just to test the effectiveness of my blood pressure medicine, I’m sure, Bradley took Benitez to 2-2. And then he lined a shot right up the left field line. Fair ball.

Izturis scores. The ball rolls past Ellison, who gives chase all the way to the wall. By the time he catches up to it, Drew scores. Kent is rounding third when he sees Ellison bobble the ball and stumble backward a step on the pickup. Kent heads home. Ellison sees the Dodger second baseman a few feet from home plate and spikes the ball in the grass in anger. Kent scores! Dodgers win, 9-8! Bradley is elected mayor of Los Angeles, or at least of Dodger Stadium!

I’m vaulting over three rows of seats to high-five anyone and everyone in the general area. My voice is gone and will not fully return until the next day. This is the third dramatic comeback win for the Dodgers in seven games to start the season. And remember, they pulled this agonizing magic act 53 times last year. I know that everyone has their reasons— traffic, children, commitments, boredom, despair, whatever— but I know that from this day forward, whenever I watch a Dodger game in the 2005 season (and I do plan on watching a few), whether I’m at the stadium or at home in my comfy chair, I am not leaving/shutting off the TV, especially if they're only down three or four runs, until Vin Scully says “Good night, everybody!”

(Quick Jason Ellison note: The same buddy who procured our the Opening day tickets accompanied my girls and me out to the stadium the following night to see the Dodgers beat the Giants again, 4-1. Ellison was in right field this time. And he let two balls get past him. Neither resulted in Dodger runs— the damage had already been done, and Odalis Perez had held the Giants offense to just one run over a string of something like 15 batters shut down in a row. But still, how this guy Ellison isn’t back in double-A after this road trip, and especially after spiking that ball on Tuesday, is well beyond me. The funny thing is, he was replaced by Michael Tucker late in the game Wednesday, and Tucker let one slip past him too! My buddy and I were starting to wonder if Ellison might not actually be on the Dodger payroll. That crafty DePodesta!)

The walk back to the car was the most glorious Opening day post-game parking lot trudge I’ve ever experienced. My FIL, for God’s sake, was high-fiving delirious Dodger fans as they passed in their cars! Unheard of! Unbelievable! I believe, baby, I believe! May this season be sweet validation for Paul DePodesta, who is still twisting in the wind for some of the moves he’s made— the jury is still out on Hee-Seop Choi, even after his first home run as a Dodger Wednesday night— but who is certainly not the clueless slide-rule-and-laptop-wielding bumbler that Bill Plaschke has so relentlessly and routinely painted him in his fish-wrap column. I hope all those writers and commentators who have made such a profession out of piling on the Dodgers’ every move before a single pitch was thrown in the 2005 season feel compelled to publicly recant their Chicken Little prognosticating, should the season continue to play out well and thrilling for the organization and its fans. As good as I felt midseason last year, after such a long drought of mediocrity at Chavez Ravine, I feel twice that good right now, only nine games in. Maybe I’m a fool, maybe I’m setting myself up for a long season and even more heartbreak. But I’m betting I’m setting myself up instead for a summer of terrific baseball played by a roster full of “unfamiliar” Dodgers with no names on their backs and no “heart and soul” or “chemistry.” Well, somebody else said it first, but I believe it— winning breeds chemistry, not the other way around, and I hope these 2005 Dodgers, who barely knew each other before Opening Day, and who most fans are just now getting familiar with themselves, can build on that premise and prove it in October.

For now, thanks from the FIL and me to the Opening Day Dodgers-- Cesar, Jason R., J.D., Jeff K., Milton, Olmedo, Nori, Jason P., Jose, Buddy, Jason G., D.J., Hee-Seop, Giovanni, Ricky, Jim T., Jim C., John, Glenn, Tim and, yes, even Jeff W.— for a memorable, thrilling day. May there be 155 more just like it. Or, as my two-year-old daughter said when she saw the game on TV the other day, “Baseball! Beautiful! Go, Dodgers, go! Go, Dodgers, go!”

(My apologies for posting this so many days after the fact, but I've been pretty busy at work and, quite frankly, enjoying the giddy buzz of the Dodgers' hot 7-2 start to the season, and I've only now gotten a chance to write about it. I can only hope I make up in enthusiasm for what I lack in timely reporting skills...)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


French director Claude Lelouch, perhaps best known to American audiences as the man behind the sentimental romantic hit (and Cannes award-winner) A Man and a Woman (1966), starring Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and the Oscar-nominated And Now, My Love (1975) is a filmmaker one might easily be forgiven for excluding from a short list of those who have committed memorable car chases to film. John Frankenheimer (Grand Prix, 1966, Ronin, 1998), William Friedkin (The French Connection, 1971, To Live and Die in L.A., 1985), Peter Yates (Bullitt, 1968), Walter Hill (The Driver, 1979), Peter Collinson (The Italian Job, 1969) are all names you might expect to be mentioned for such a roster. Hell, even the name of the late stunt coordinator/director H.B. Halicki, the man behind the 60-minute car chase in the original Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), would come up before that of Lelouch, a filmmaker who Leonard Maltin’s Film Encyclopedia describes as having “a fashion magazine approach to directing.” Trintignant’s character in A Man and a Woman was a race-car driver, but the film was not exactly Grand Prix, or even Winning (1969), for that matter, and that character’s career associations would seem as close to high-octane action as the director has ever come on screen.

In a feature, anyway.

In 1976, sometime after production wrapped on his film Si c’était a refaire (If I Had to Do It All Over Again), Lelouch, as the story goes, had a reel of film stock left over from his shoot-- approximately ten minutes worth—and an itch to scratch. He had recently purchased a Ferrari and had the idea to mount a gyroscopically stabilized camera low on the front end of the car and navigate a predetermined route through the streets of Paris, during the early morning hours when traffic and pedestrians would be relatively sparse, at a ludicrously high rate of speed. It’s at this point in the history of Lelouch’s nine-minute film C’était un Rendezvous (1976) where what is actually known about its production ceases and the rumors and mythology built up over the years since its release overwhelmingly take over. Lelouch screened the short film several times before one of his other movies (which leads one to wonder just how those primed to see one of the director’s gauzy coffee-table romances reacted to Lelouch’s reckless, testosterone-fueled side), but after objections began mounting, and after his arrest following one of the screenings, the film went underground. Lelouch, undoubtedly happy to perpetuate the mystery surrounding the circumstances of its filming, and the mystery surrounding its subsequent unavailability, was entirely silent on the subject, a stance he holds to this day. Car enthusiasts, though, kept the rumor mills buzzing throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, and poor-quality pirated VHS tapes eventually started popping up on the Internet, adding to the resonance of the film’s outlaw mythology.

Was it actually Lelouch driving the car, as he claimed after the film’s release, or did he hire a Formula One driver to get behind the wheel? Was it done with the cooperation of the Parisian police, allowing Lelouch to choreograph the various obstacles and near-misses that the Ferrari encounters along the way? Or was it done, as Lelouch claims, using only strategically placed radio contacts at various stations along the route, come what traffic may? And did one of those radio contacts actually fail, putting the driver and other cars at far more risk than was even anticipated? Was Lelouch arrested after the film’s release? And was the car really going as fast as some enthusiasts have claimed, up to 140 mph?

The movie starts on a blank, dark screen, all silence but for the faint beating of a heart, and after a disclaimer stating that no special effects or film speed manipulations were used to make the car appear to be going faster than it actually was. The car emerges from the silence of a dark tunnel into the muted daylight of an early Paris morning, and as soon as it does Lelouch jumps us into what will make up the entirety of the rest of the film’s mesmerizing soundtrack—the high-gear revving of the Ferrari’s engine, alternating with the engine’s growls and shrieks as the driver rapidly gears down, and then back up again, and the sound of the tires squealing on the asphalt and cobblestone of those otherwise relatively quiet Parisian streets.

It’s on the first straightaway, leading to the Arc de Triomphe, when the driver first opens up the racer and builds up some terrific speed, that that disclaimer at the beginning seems, while certainly not untrue, then just a little bit disingenuous. Certainly no special effects, as filmmakers in 1976 understood and employed them, could have been utilized in a single-take situation such as this without being as apparent as a proverbial sore thumb. The same goes for undercranking the film-- exposing fewer frames per second than normal filming speed (24 frames per second) so that when projected at the normal rate the action of the film appears speeded up. This is a technique that anyone who has dabbled in Super 8 and 16mm filmmaking, as I did in my long-lost youth, is undoubtedly familiar with—my friends and I shot several car chases and employed this technique to make similar sequences of us barreling down the highway look as though we were going 80-90 mph, when in fact we were probably only going half that, or less. And undercranking is not just the province of amateur enthusiasts—it has been routinely employed in big-budget features for years. George Miller even used the technique (to much better effect than ours, to be sure) in the elaborate chase sequences featured in Mad Max and The Road Warrior. There’s only one problem with undercranking—it’s extremely detectable, even in The Road Warrior, and therefore distracting as hell. And it’s definitely nowhere in evidence in C’était un Rendezvous. But despite his otherwise sedate oeuvre, Lelouch definitely understands what Frankheimer, Miller and others also understood about the dynamics of filming road action. By mounting the camera relatively low on the front end of the vehicle, Lelouch is able to take advantage of the graphic weight given to the street as it zooms by underneath, and his stunt is helped along to an immeasurable degree by the sense of speed that the camera positioning is able to convey. My suspicion about C’ Etait un Rendezvous is that that camera may be making up, in visual terms, for the speeds of the car that may not always be living up to the mythology. On that first straightaway (and this may be as much a matter of psychologically settling into the spectacle before one’s eyes as the ability to suspend even the slightest sliver of disbelief), if attention is paid not only to the street, to which we are extremely close, but to the cars, both parked and those passed that are in motion, it may appear that Lelouch (or his driver) is not hurtling along as fast as all that (yet).

However true or untrue that suspicion, it hardly makes Lelouch’s film a con job, and given that the route of the film is easily tracked (and, in fact, has been mapped) and that we know how much time it takes to run it, it wouldn’t be too difficult for a mathematically inclined viewer (sorry, but that’s not me) to calculate the average rate of speed that would be necessary to negotiate the course we see on the film.

The other mysteries surrounding the film are less easily and tangibly confirmed or denied. A writer at Neon who reviewed the film upon its DVD release believes that Lelouch must have been the driver: “Lelouch…was most likely doing the driving himself, as no Formula One driver would commit so many driving errors.” Unfortunately, the writer chooses not to elaborate upon those errors, for the benefit of the less Formula One-inclined of us. But we don’t just have to take him on his word—it’s apparent that several times along the way the driver hesitates, for reasons having to do with what little street activity there is going on, when choosing which narrow, cobblestone street to go barreling down, and often his preferred route is cut off by the unexpected presence of a delivery truck angled sideways in the road or a parked taxicab partially blocking the street. This feeling of “improvisation,” that the planned route might have undergone some last-second mid-shoot revamping, adds to the edge and the suspense of what may or may not be coming when the car shoots off a street and into a crowded traffic circle or around a darkened corner, and it may be evidence in favor of the less-experienced-Lelouch-as-driver theory. But there are also several rumors that the director had indeed hired a driver to take his car through its paces. And even if one buys the professional driver story, then it’s a matter of deciding which driver was responsible—one legend has the car being driven by Formula One professional Jean-Pierre Beltoise (and in a Matra Le Mans prototype, not the Ferrari), another places driver Jacques Lafitte behind the wheel (of the Ferrari), and still another suggests that a driver of Finnish descent was the perpetrator of the stunt. Whoever actually did the driving, Lelouch, either by an impulse of publicity, protection of the driver, or a sense of personal responsibility for an idea that he generated, always claimed it was he behind the wheel, and it certainly was he who was found responsible by authorities, who had him arrested for reckless driving, briefly held in custody and stopped all further public screenings of the film.

As for the matter of whether Lelouch had the approval of the Parisian police, well, it seems clear by their rather disapproving stance when the film was screened, and their disposition to hold him legally responsible for several counts of reckless endangerment, that they probably did not cooperate by blocking traffic and ensuring the safety of the pedestrians and other drivers who the Ferrari happened upon during its fierce journey. According to a review of the film from the November 2003 issue of Automobile magazine:

“City officials rejected Lelouch’s application to close the necessary streets. Undaunted, he decided to do it without permission and take his chances, reducing the risks by shooting at 5:30 on a morning in August, the month when almost all of Paris shuts down for vacation. The most dangerous part of the route would be the ticket-window area at the Louvre, where there was zero visibility at the courtyard’s exit onto the Rue de Rivoli. An assistant, Elie Chouraqui, stood watch over the exit with a walkie-talkie. The shoot went off as planned. However, with no signal from Chouraqui as he approached the exit of the Louvre’s courtyard, Lelouch floored it and roared through the gates. After the rendezvous, Lelouch headed back to collect Chouraqui and found him fiddling with the walkie-talkie. “What’s up?” Lelouch asked. “It’s this piece of crap!” replied the assistant, pointing to the walkie-talkie. “It broke down at the start of the take!”

The reviewer in Automobile magazine fails to cite his source for this story, although a good guess would be Lelouch himself, perhaps in one of those conversations held in the wake of the movie’s uproarious and outraged reception. But it’s almost immaterial as to what the source is, because perpetuating the mysteries surrounding the film, a source of immense amusement, apparently, for Lelouch himself, and certainly for the enthusiasts who did so throughout the early days of video, before the DVD age, are as much a part of its appeal as the white-knuckle experience of the film itself.

And the visceral power of that experience, whatever one believes to be true or untrue about the film and its genesis, remains undiluted. I’ve screened it for myself and others several times over the past week and each time I feel my own suspicions perhaps not melting away, but at least becoming secondary to the sickening gut rush of hurtling out of two-way traffic and into the less densely populated, but still populated, courtyard surrounding the Arc de Triomphe; the almost involuntary impulse to hit imaginary brakes when the car comes barreling up onto much slower cars, unlucky pigeons, and the occasional genuinely startled pedestrian; or the claustrophobia mingled with fear and excitement generated by hurtling down tight cobblestone streets where every corner is blind, dark and very dangerous. But is that giving way to sensation necessarily a good thing? There are those for whom the morality of a movie that puts real people in real danger is a daunting question, overwhelming all others, and that’s as it should be. This movie’s mythology would be far different if the failure of that walkie-talkie had precipitated a violent crash or the running-down of an old lady carrying home the morning’s groceries—a jolt of pure adrenaline becomes snuff death for the characters in J.G. Ballard book or a David Cronenberg film. And there are those for whom the movie is adrenaline and nothing more—the fact that laws and lives were possibly flaunted in order to get that action on the screen just adds another layer of goose bumps as they uncontrollably crop up amidst the comfort and safety of the thrill-seeker’s home theater. Perhaps Werner Herzog, in the fevered days of Fitzcarraldo, could have mounted a defense of Lelouch’s methodology, if there was an accompanying argument to be made about the resulting artistic achievement borne of the risk. For me, as undeniably gut-wrenching and exciting as C’était un Rendezvous is, it is, ultimately, not worth the verisimilitude, the knowledge that it is, for all intents and purposes, real. I’m content with the artistic achievements of the stunt coordinators, technicians and directors who have, through hard work and untold hours of preparation, created awe-inspiring stunt sequences in films like Ronin, The Italian Job, The Road Warrior, Bullitt and countless others, without either the loss of life or the indefensible impulse to flirt with the possibility of such a loss. Those films fold stunt sequences into larger works of art, displaying comic and dramatic trajectory to enhance and inform the whole. Lelouch’s C’était un Rendezvous, so unlike anything else he ever made, and on some levels perhaps better, or at least more alive, than anything else he ever made, is an amazing stunt. Unfortunately, given what was at stake, that’s all it is.

Thanks to Jonas Sjogren, who brought Lelouch's movie to my attention, and who helped immensely with the research for this article, and to Andrew Blackwood for using a rental on his NicheFlix subscription so that I could see it for myself.