Friday, August 29, 2008


Matt Zoller Seitz has inadvertantly contributed, in his own very special way, to a conversation some of us were having around here last week regarding the merits of the 1976 John Guillermin-directed, Dino De Laurentiis-produced King Kong. Just press play for some musical insight, courtesy of Chet Baker and Matt's imaginative juxtaposition of familiar yet heretofore unrelated sound and picture, into the interior workings of Kong's love for Dwan and the emotional underpinnings of that great climb up the World Trade Center. Thanks to MZS (the Insominiac Dad) for a lovely piece. (You can follow the comments, including some from Matt himself, where the piece was originally posted at The House Next Door)

P.S. How goes things, Matt? Long time no hear!

(Thanks, Don, for the late-night tip!)


The 2008 Telluride Film Festival gets under way this weekend, and how I would love to be there. I have yet to attend any film festival other than The Lone Pine Film Festival which, while not without its unique and irreplaceable charms, didn’t really satisfy my jones to one day make my way to one of the late summer-fall classics like the Venice Film Festival, or the Toronto, or the New York, or the Telluride, or the Fantastic Fest, which sounds like way too much fun. (It's the geek Telluride, I hear tell.)

So I will rely, as usual, on detailed and envy-inspiring reports from Jim Emerson, who always makes Toronto sound like heaven on earth seasoned with just a touch of madness, and all the other wonderful sources available that make these festivals, ever just out of my grasp, seem vivid and familiar and vicariously pleasurable. In that spirit, I just couldn’t resist posting this wacky Telluride widget which, as of today, features the entire festival schedule and other stuff to make me AND you wish we were breathing the mountain air and feting David Fincher with the lucky cinephiles, suits and celebrities who just may take being there for granted.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Silence, you maladroit mental midgets! You lugubrious laggards! Now that I have your attention, I promise never to be so rude again. I didn’t really mean any of that. I just thought I’d grab your attention by getting you used to the kind of treatment typically offered slothful students under the watch of SLIFR’s latest professorial legend. Rather cranky after several decades drifting lost in space with America’s processed and pasteurized astronaut family the Robinsons, Dr. Zachary Smith makes up in salient cinematic investigation what he lacks in common courtesy and scruples. We have implored him to channel some of his impudent intelligence and arrogant approbation of concerns du cinema into quiz form. The results are the questions now set before you. Dr. Smith only asks that, as you complete your answers and post them in the comments column, that you include the questions along with your answers so that they are more easily paired and read. Failure to do so, the professor has asked us to remind you, may result in the kind of linguistic lashing and verbal violence often visited upon Will Robinson on the occasion of his and Dr. Smith’s inevitable entrapment in some mind-bending mire of mystery and miscommunication on an unknown, arid, foam-rock-strewn planetoid. Danger, danger, indeed! So now, as Labor Day approaches and the first rays of light at the dawn of the traditional school year draw near, it is our pleasure to impart to you Dr. Smith’s Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Movie Quiz. Tread faithfully and with great care, young Robinsons, for heaven only knows what traps of reason, nostalgia and personal prejudice await you, for the good doctor will out your cinematic passions at all costs. As he once so delicately put it, “Since you are obviously devoid of any mechanical aptitude whatsoever, I know this is difficult for you to comprehend, but let me assure you the system is foolproof!” Catastrophe then soon followed, right on schedule. (Access other smidgens of Smithian sagacity here!)


1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung

10) Most pretentious movie ever

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?

18) What’s the name of your theater?
(The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?

28) Favorite William Castle movie

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?

33) Your first movie star crush


Here’s a super-fine piece by Matt Zoller Seitz that goes a long way toward proving that there’s juice in even the fibrous binding material that we sometimes feel like we have to slog through to get to the good stuff, or that’s used to justify the good stuff we’ve already enjoyed. (In a strange way, it kinda reminded me of this.) Thanks to Matt for the montage and to Jim Emerson for posting it first!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Here’s my personal strategy: As soon as I have a birthday, I immediately start telling myself in my head that I’m a year older than I actually am. By Christmas it’s received wisdom, by the Oscars if someone asks me my age I actually have to take a moment’s time-out to remember, and by the time the next birthday rolls around I’m so used to the idea of being a year older than I actually am that it takes what little sting there is left in the aging process completely out of the picture for me. So even though I actually only turned 48, I’m feeling like an accomplished and fairly mentally healthy 49-year-old. Let’s see how this works at the actual half-century mark, which is what, now less than a year away. (By my calculations anyway—confused yet?)

I deliberately didn't fly the flag or anything this year, but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who dropped by either in person or on Facebook to wish the grizzled old man a happy birthday, and that means you, Matthew (Freebie and the Bean was waiting for me on my desk when I came in this morning—thanks a ton!), Ali (Seen Speed Racer yet? I await your verdict!), Ted (R.I.P., Manny), Aaron (I can’t wait to hear that Pauline Kael interview—thanks for sending it along!), Tom Sutpen (the man so good the Internet had to make room for two sites for him!), Erin (How 'bout those second-half Dodgers, huh?) and, of course, my all-time-BFF, Bruce. (Yes, I am prepared for an ass-whuppin’ for posting this link.) You are excellent friends all. And my wife and daughters certainly made this one (48th? 49th? I forget) as good as it could have been with some quality biking, swimming and general relaxing on the beach in Ventura, CA. in their precious company. I love you all very much.

Speaking of birthdays, I’m still very much in catch-up mode as I settle in on this Tuesday, so thanks to the Drive-in Dude and my friend Don Mancini for both clueing me in to an interview Don did with Ain’t-It-Cool-News’s Quint that was published today. The subject of the interview, conducted by phone with Don, producer David Kirschner and DVD producer Michelle Gold (who I've met a couple of times and who is delightful), is the upcoming (September 9) 20th-anniversary edition DVD of the original Child’s Play. The interview provides a natural segue into a discussion of what Don has in store for the upcoming “reboot” of Child’s Play, which is in development and will hopefully be in theaters no later than 2010-- see the interview for more details. In the interest of preserving the fear factor Don isn’t able or willing to give away too much about the new Chucky film, but there is much good discussion about what viewers can expect from the new DVD, including an appreciation of the contributions of cinematographer William Butler and why puppetry is still the preferred playing field for this series over the more fashionable temptations of CGI. (By the way, Don, I saw one of those Good Guys dolls in its original box in an antique shop in Ventura over the weekend—I should have bought it, shouldn’t I?) The interview itself could have used some tightening at the editorial desk—a little too much background on Quint’s Jaws obsession for my taste, and on separate occasions each of the three interviewees has to steer the talk back on course—- but it’s congenial and informative and fun, definitely worth a look on a lazy summer evening.

And to continue the birthday theme for one more short paragraph, I want to wish a very happy one to my daughter, who turns six tomorrow. She claims Chucky as her sworn "worst enemy" and cannot figure out how the nice guy who loves Speed Racer and took her to see Hairspray last summer could possibly have spawned that red-headed devil doll. Don and I look forward to that inevitable day when she suddenly finds Chucky cool.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I’m off on a three-day getaway to the coast with my family, so I’ll be checking in periodically but unlikely to post anything new until after Tuesday. But I can’t think about the ocean without drifting off into the dreamscape of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. Forsyth would have been my choice for filmmaker I most miss on the cultural landscape if I’d ever managed time enough to answer the questions on my own damn quiz. The spectrally beautiful Scottish environs he conjures for this 1983 classic—one of the absolute peaks of a lousy decade for the movies—are as much of the mind as of geography, and they've haunted me ever since I saw the movie theatrically 25 years ago. That's why Mark Knopfler’s ethereal score is so touching and expansively gorgeous—it gets into the same spaces that the images from Forsyth’s magical comedy do. This is one of the great merging of music and movie imagery I can think of. So I offer you this beautiful performance of the movie’s main theme, from a 1997 Montserrat concert, as a buoyant gesture of weekend peace, harmony and productivity.

And in a bald-faced attempt to generate some conversation over the weekend, I’m wondering what you’d say were some other great marriages between movie music and imagery. I’ll offer up a couple of others off the top of my head—how about Franz Waxman and Sunset Boulevard?

Or Pino Donaggio and Dressed to Kill?

Michael Giacchino’s scores for The Incredibles and Speed Racer are brilliant compliments to their brilliant films. For some reason Joe Hisaishi’s music for Sonatine just popped into my head. And what about Angelo Badalamenti’s collaborations with David Lynch?

Or Ennio Morricone with Sergio Leone (and seemingly hundreds of others)? And of all Bernard Herrmann’s indelible work, right now I’m thinking of the spectacular orchestral conclusion of Hangover Square and those ominous basso clarinets that signal the rising of the dead in Jason and the Argonauts.

What ones come to your mind?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


UPDATED 2:10 p.m.!

Sorry for the last-minute notice on this, folks, but it is not too late to let you know that Double Secret Probation Month has been extended for one more night. Tonight, the A&E Biography Channel will air a two-hour special documenting the making of National Lampoon’s Animal House, with major contributions to the special made by local Eugene, Oregon filmmakers and talent involved in the shoot which will hopefully add much flavor and fresh angles to the story of the film. By the way, the A&E Biography Channel is not to be confused with the A&E Network—the reason I did not let one about this special sooner than today is that the available information in the press release from talent coordinator Katherine Wilson (which is quoted with clarifications below) made it seem as though the special would be seen on A&E, and not the Biography Channel.

And to tell the truth, I’m not even sure if the Biography Channel is included on my DirecTV package, so I’m gonna rush home at lunch to find out. If this notice is too late and you miss it, fear not—there is, as it turns out, a new 30th-anniversary edition DVD scheduled to be released by Universal Home Video on October 28th, and the Biography special will apparently be included. (Curiously, no one contacted me about including the DVD Commentary provided by Bruce and myself. Weird, huh?) But if you’re like me, you’ll want to see it tonight, dammit!

(UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: My lunchtime investigation reveals that the Biography Channel is NOT offered on my DirecTV package-- 64 home shopping channels, but not Biography! So if anybody is running a VHS on this tonight and would be willing to ship me a copy, I'd be very interested! Thanks! However, utter panic is probably not warranted, as Biography will repeat the show at 10:00 pm PST tonight and again on August 17, Sunday, at 8:00 a.m. Plenty of time to upgrade my digital TV package, right?!)

So make sure you get home from work early enough, if you’re on the West Coast, to catch the 6:00 p.m. airtime. (Those of you on the East Coast will see it at 9:00 p.m.)

Here’s a portion of the press release provided by Katherine Wilson from her offices in Eugene, Oregon with some further details (I have fixed the information regarding the time and place where the show can b seen to clarify any confusing information):

”Native Oregonian Filmmaker Katherine Wilson and her archives will be featured in the Biography Channel’s upcoming two-hour special devoted to National Lampoon’s Animal House Wednesday, August 13th at 6:00 p.m. National Lampoon's Animal House was originally filmed in Lane County, Oregon in the fall of 1977.

Pangolin Pictures from New York flew to Eugene in March and spent several days filming portions of the Biography Channel special with Katherine as their guide. She was the movie's Location Scout, Location Casting Director and Liaison to the Oregon Film Office for Universal Studios.

Also interviewed was Delta Girl extraordinaire Maida Belove, Sean McCartin, a.k.a. the Playboy Bunny kid, the Animal House Janitor (Mr. Michaelostomy) Izzy Whetstine; and Cottage Grove Hysterical Society President Chris Wagner with their recently re-created Deathmobile.

Pangolin Pictures also purchased the contents of Katherine's trunk full of "behind-the-scenes" images, video footage and other archives she had collected for her own documentary "How an Oregon Community Helped Create a Hollywood Blockbuster on a B-Drive-in Movie Budget." She also contributed some of her PG-rated stories from the set as an interviewee.

The Biography Channel Animal House special airs tonight, Wednesday, August 13, at 9:00 p.m. EST, 6:00 PST.
(Thanks to longtime reader and pal Jennifer Park for setting us all straight!)

Monday, August 11, 2008


There's no difficulty conjuring your face, Charlie, but this song brought you back to me even more vividly when I began to see you again, as I always do during the heavy sighs of August.

“I know, I know/Why must it be so?/Why ask for the moon?” – Ronnie Lane, “Done This One Before”

“I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was stronger” – Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, “Ooh La La”


What a joy it would have been to have seen these with you...

"I should have set before thine eyes
The road to heaven, and showed it clear;
But thou untaught springest to the skies,
And leavest thy teacher lingering here."

-- Daniel Webster


No one was more ready to love Pineapple Express than I. After all, Superbad landed in my top five of 2007, and I'm a big fan of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (Why, I even enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, an appreciation that admittedly had less to do with Peter Segal's penis than Mila Kunis' entirely lovely countenance and sassy persona.) But, at the risk of cementing my increasing reputation as a contrarian to the oracle of general opinion about this summer’s movies, after stumbling out of this loud, messy shambles I began to think that this one is probably best thought of as the kind of picture its two stoned leads, process server Seth Rogen (the film’s co-writer with Evan Goldberg) and amiably foggy drug dealer James Franco, would think was really fucking gnarly. Unfortunately, this notion doesn’t make the movie any more fun to watch. After about 45 minutes, as the movie’s aimless hysteria begins to escalate, the good-natured comic intensity is gradually leeched out and all we’re left with is a fuzzy-headed, pot-addled take on an action movie template that requires a whole lot more than goofy paranoia and swearing to hold our interest. There are lots of scenes of Rogen and Franco running around shouting at the top of their lungs, busting in on Rogen’s girlfriend’s unamused family during dinner, or being chased through various urban locales (including an old folks’ home) by hit men who want to pop them both after Rogen witnesses a drug kingpin assassinate a rival, all punctuated by bursts of grotesque Tarantino-esque gore that is supposed to be shockingly funny but instead just throws the movie’s tone pointlessly out of whack.

Director David Gordon Green doesn’t show much talent for building comic momentum, within scenes or over long stretches—the movie seems, for all its noise, curiously remote, forever waiting to spin off into some inspired lunacy that never coalesces. And the screenwriters recycle the “bromosexual” underpinning of their infinitely superior Superbad (which was directed, by Greg Mottola, with sensitivity and spirit, though few have ever acknowledged it), but this time the fraternal love feels forced, shoehorned in, and emotionally misplaced in a movie which climaxes with a routine (and routinely overscaled) shootout in the kingpin’s warehouse hideaway. (Rogen and Franco have a potentially hilarious moment trying to loose each other’s bonds and ending up enacting zipless man-on-man sex, but the joke goes absolutely nowhere.) Here the leads get to indulge in a lot of non-ironic punching and firing of automatic weaponry—it’s supposed to be funnier, I guess, when the heroes are still so stoned that they can barely make out their targets—but by the big finish the movie has already fizzled like a hastily extinguished joint.

Danny McBride as Red, a mid-level dealer who betrays and then befriends our heroes, has some weirdly charming moments, but Red is no McLovin’ and McBride, for all the good press in the wake of The Foot Fist Way, is no Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Only Craig Robinson as a temperamental, imposing, yet slightly fey assassin has anything resembling an original point of view as an actor—at one point he determines that his targets are nearby by observing their untouched dinner still waiting at table, smelling its aroma, and then sticking his hands in the mashed potatoes with a trifle too much sensual enthusiasm in the name of determining the food’s warmth. Each time Robinson comes on screen there’s a tiny bit of business well worth waiting for to contrast with the crass pitch of everything else going on around him. (The actor is paired with the glowering Kevin Corrigan, used far less well here than he was in Superbad’s fateful first party scene as the unpredictably psychotic host whose girlfriend leaves a menstrual souvenir on Jonah Hill’s jeans.) Pineapple Express wants to get by on its genial shagginess alone, and so do Rogen and Franco. Unfortunately what’s funny when you’re stoned rarely translates for the uninebriated into the same kind of giggles. When the smoke cleared I had the munchies, all right—I was still hungry for a good comedy, the sort to which Pineapple Express aspires but really cannot compare.

ISAAC HAYES 1942-2008

It’s truly been a sad weekend. Isaac Hayes was found dead Sunday in his home in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 65. Black Moses, Chef, the Duke of New York, Truck Turner-- however you knew him, there’s a new hole in the soul left by his passing. I wouldn’t see the movie Shaft uncut until I was out of high school, but, by God, I knew the music by the time I was 12. I had Hayes’ double album not long after it came out, and I thrilled to see his outsized personage, a vision in gold chains, marching to the stage to accept his Best Song Oscar in the spring of 1972. This album, with its moody horns and insistent funk, with highlights like “No Name Bar” and the ecstatic undulation of the 19-minute “Do Your Thing” capping all of side four, was my entry into the world of blaxploitation long before I ever saw any of the movies. Hayes’ score isn’t the great achievement of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, but it has its own edgy brilliance, as did Hayes as a performer-writer-singer. As he leaves us, I’d like to remember him from the Wattstax movie, performing his version of Soulsville featured on the Shaft soundtrack. Rest in peace, big man.

BERNIE MAC 1958-2008

In her thoughtful and observant obituary for Bernie Mac, who died Saturday at the age of 50 of complications from pneumonia, Los Angeles Times staff writer Valerie Taylor mentions, of course, the comedian’s fitfully brilliant eponymous TV series, its checkered production history, and Mac’s participation in the Original Kings of Comedy tour which created the career surge that peaked commercially with his participation in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies. But as good as Mac was in those projects, especially the series, Taylor fails to mention, probably because it made nary a ripple at the box office, the one opportunity Mac had to carry a feature film. The movie was Mr. 3,000 (2004), directed by Charles Stone III, starring Mac as Stan Ross, a prickly, egomaniacal baseball star who retires after his 3,000th hit, only to find out years later, after he’s built a cheesy business empire on his fame as Mr. 3,000, that a statistical error has actually left him just shy of the actual goal. Ross decides to return to the game and pursue the three hits he has left to rack up in order to assure his instatement into the Hall of Fame, but he’s out of shape and finds out that getting the at-bats necessary may not be so easy when he’s upstaged by an up-and-coming hitter who takes his selfish view of the game to new extremes. The role suits Mac’s slick-witted, insinuating persona perfectly, and he was fortunate that Stone has a good eye for actors, good timing for comedy and action, and the good sense to make the milieu of baseball believable (those are real minor-leaguers standing in for the Brewers, Astros and other teams in the movie), all of which lent weight and credence to Mac’s presence on the field and in his testy romance with sports reporter Angela Bassett. It was a great role for the actor because it built upon his familiar persona and allowed him the chance to shade it in with the creases and folds of humanity that were a regular attraction on his TV series, and it hinted at the kind of rich work that he might do as his star continued to rise. (His creepy, intimidatingly funny turn the previous year in Bad Santa, all ominous threats as a department store detective whose tobacco-stained grin let on all manner of potential for corruption, seemed to take his character work as far as it could go.) Mr. 3,000 didn’t attract the kind of audience that built a lot of confidence in Mac as a leading man—it was left up to TV to prove the lie in Hollywood’s uncertainty about his audience appeal. And it’s unclear whether, if Mr. 3,000 had turned out to be the hit it should have been, whether he still would have found a niche as a leading man. But it’s nice to know that there exists one movie where he proved what he could do with a meaty lead, a movie that honors its subject as it honors Mac, by giving both the space on screen to breathe and ring true.

Thursday, August 07, 2008



You’ve heard the knock: The X-Files: I Want to Believe is the TV show writ wide-screen sans black oil and shape-shifting aliens, but rendered in a too-minor key for big summer blockbuster standards, and it punctuates the scary stuff with a lot of conversations between ex-FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) devoted to sussing out the personal dichotomies of faith and science that characterized the major thematic concerns of the series. All of this is true. All of it is also central to why the movie is one of the best of the summer, if not the year so far. IWTB delivers the white-knuckle suspense with its grisly story of the psychic connection between a pedophile Catholic priest (a mournful Billy Connolly) and the disappearance of several women in the snowbound West Virginia woods that has decidedly Frankensteinian underpinnings. But the real meat of the movie’s concern is that Mulder-Scully relationship and how it expands the movie beyond the frights into a rich consideration of what it means to believe, the implications of that belief, and whether a man’s most despicable acts invalidates the possibility that he might also be a conduit for the divine. Chris Carter may not be the action director that Rob Bowman proved to be with The X-Files: Fight the Future, but his more earthbound observational skills are precisely what is called for in a movie whose heart is located in the space between these two characters when they’re looking directly at each other, pleading for understanding, arguing case specifics or indicating the personal love and respect that connect them.

Duchovny easily reinhabits the sincere yet sardonic Mulder, still in self-imposed exile from the persecutions of the FBI but stirred to action when Scully, at the behest of the feds, implores him back into action to help investigate those disappearances. But the movie rests squarely on Anderson’s shoulders and she carries it with intense ease. Scully, now working in a Catholic hospital, must balance her revulsion over the priest’s ugly past with mounting evidence that his psychic displays are the real thing, and spiritual in nature. She’s a woman of science who also believes, and the war between rational thought and religious conviction fuels not only her internal conflict, but also the anger at the Catholic Church that is at the movie’s emotional core. (The priest who runs the hospital is viewed with only slightly less disdain than Connolly’s transgressive Father Joe.) Anderson is a resourceful, intuitive actress who doesn’t get many opportunities to shine like the ones this movie gives her, and she quickly reminds us why those who love the old series have always held a special place in their esteem for her talent.

Perhaps the movie doesn’t rise to the level of great episodes like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” which married black humor with muted fear and longing at a masterpiece level-- it may be a little too evenly paced to provide those kind of highs. And it flirts with a degree of homophobia in the revelation of the motives behind the actions of the villains that may sour the tone of serious creepiness for some, and reinforce it in an unfortunate way for others. But even with those caveats, the new movie is an exceptionally well-executed, visually rich thriller for grown-ups—the oppressive gorgeous snowscapes conjured by Bill Roe’s wintry cinematography are eerily, serenely beautiful, and the way Carter paces the movie maximizes the chilly potential for disturbing suspense without artificially cranking up the intensity with tricks of the light or the AVID editor.

In light of the mass audience acceptance of an oppressive machine like The Dark Knight, a movie like The X-Files: I Want to Believe may look as though little is going on; it’s not inflated by self-importance and assaultive aural and visual techniques that earmark it as high-minded, big-budget summer fare. (The movie’s relatively sparse $30 million budget probably isn’t even a spot on TDK’s allotment for TV ads.) The irony, of course, is that The X-Files, at its best, was consistently better than most movies you could see in a theater, so even if one said I Want to Believe is only as good as an average episode of the TV show that would hardly be damning it with faint praise-- and actually, it's a whole lot better than the average. The new movie is one for those who will respond to the spoken and unspoken moments that make the Scully-Mulder relationship resonate, even as we are left to imagine, courtesy of oblique hints and offhand bits of behavior between these fine actors, the lives we sense they lived since the show last aired. And it knows the value of a good inside joke too, like the glimpse we get of Mulder’s cell phone address book just before all hell breaks loose-- just one more reason to believe.



The sublimely goofy, rubber-faced Anna Faris lifts Gregg Araki’s comedy Smiley Face out of its self-imposed aimlessness and into rarified air, borne on clouds of pot smoke and good cheer. It’s not much of a movie— actress Faris accidently ingests a baking sheet’s worth of marijuana-laced cupcakes and spends the entirety of the picture's running time stumbling from place to place, trying to show up on time for an audition, desperately trying to come up with the money to pay off her dealer, and having the occasional conversation with the disembodied voice of the late Roscoe Lee Browne. With not a White Castle in sight, Faris is the movie’s fucked-up one-woman band-- she imbues every befuddled stare, fuzzy-headed chuckle and exasperated lunge of desperate behavior along the character’s good-natured journey to nowhere with grace and sharp timing. The movie goes nowhere too, but Faris, who could be a Carole Lombard for the stoned slacker set, makes it worth following along on this not-so-long, not-so-strange, but good-natured and occasionally hilarious trip.



Martin Scorsese’s visually splendid but conventionally conceived document of the Rolling Stones Beacon Theater concert Shine a Light can’t hold a foot-candle to this year’s other major concert film, U2 3D, which broke new visual ground in its three-dimensional format (it was especially effective in IMAX). There is no hook here, like U2’s integration of performance and technology, or even the closing of an era that defined Scorsese’s other musical feast, The Last Waltz. Instead, the director structures the event as an opportunity for Mssrs. Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts to embrace their inner and outer dinosaur—the subtext here is the unlikely endurance of the Stones twice again past that mile marker of mistrust, the age of 30. The vivid cinematography provides an up-close view of the ravages that time has visited on the band, all of which are embraced with honor and defiance. But the performances are inconsistent—for every ballsy and vital take on Jurassic tunes like ”Jumping Jack Flash,” “All Down the Line,” “You Got the Silver” or “Shattered,” there’s a lackluster and perfunctory “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Start Me Up” waiting in the wings. The band gets significant juice from the guest appearances—Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera—but there’s an air of safety and tameness in the whole concept that eventually defeats the energy of the music. Any Rolling Stones concert movie that feels it necessary to bleep the word “fuck” is definitely not your father’s Rolling Stones concert movie (that’d be Gimme Shelter still). Yet the bleeping is inconsistent—the civilization-threatening word slips through unaltered at least as many times as it is censored—and Scorsese is well aware of the allowable quota of obscenity that can be breached before the golden PG-13 rating is no longer within his grasp.

Which begs the question, why is a PG-13 rating on a Rolling Stones concert film either necessary or desirable? This isn’t a movie, or a genre (documentary concert film) traditionally targeted toward anything other than niche audiences, and it’s a pretty solid assumption that anyone interested in the Rolling Stones at this point is probably old enough to hear Mick Jagger say/sing “fuck” in an R-rated context without fear of cultural damnation. But what’s genuinely perplexing about Shine a Light is the opportunity it dashes to engage and own up to the Stones' controversial past, and this is a complaint that can be laid as much at the feet of the band as it can at Scorsese’s. Richards fires up the familiar lick that opens “Some Girls” about midway through Shine a Light, at which point the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, as they usually do when I hear the beginning of that song, one of my favorites. And I began to anticipate how the movie would frame the tune’s most controversial lyric—“Black girls just wanna get fucked all night”— after repeatedly acknowledged the presence of the band’s talented and dynamically sexy back-up singer Lisa Fischer, an African-American. Would Jagger saunter over to her and embrace the salaciousness of the moment for its black humor (my apologies), making electric hay of the sexual tension between the performers? Would Fischer be specifically acknowledged at all as the lyric was sung? And what would her reaction be? Jagger began the lead-up to the crass, satirical moment of racial decadence that once famously incensed Jesse Jackson, and inspired much fuck-‘im-if-he-can’t-take-a-joke posturing from the members of the band, with the song's observations about the prissiness of English girls and the unfettered materialism of French, Italian and especially American babes. By the time the decadent, indifferent narrator channeled by Jagger makes his way to Asians—“Chinese girls are so gentle/They're really such a tease/You never know quite what they're cookin'/Inside those silky sleeves"— it dawned on me that the “black girls” line had been taken out entirely. Not cut by Scorsese, but avoided by Jagger himself. (Inscrutable and vague, check—insatiable, forget it!)

Either out of respect for Fischer, or in pursuit of the almighty PG-13, an opportunity for the Rolling Stones-- not exactly a band, classic rock gods that they are, to avoid engaging with its past-- to address one of their most risible and racially provocative moments and recast it with newly minted layers of irony, goes unexamined. What's more, later on, and with no further hint of irony, “Brown Sugar” gets aired out in its entirety, enhanced by Fischer’s expert and enthusiastic participation. Shine a Light is watchable and does make one marvel at the stamina of Jagger and company—- Watts provides a hilarious, gasping aside to the camera at the conclusion of one song-- but it’s ultimately a timid, familiar affair. The fever in the funkhouse of old has been replaced by a slight warmth generated by a band that, for all of the isolated moments of glory on display, is long past warranting the kind of self-congratulation and lionization afforded them by Scorsese.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


As a jaded adult living in Los Angeles I like to think I’ve cultivated an ability to retain a reasonable amount of my dignity whenever I see a celebrity for whom I have affection or admiration. Part of that is just being a resident here—there’s an unspoken code that requires you to act like you don’t notice or, better yet, don’t care— ho-hum, not Tom Hanks again. I was blissfully unaware of this code in 1982 when I first visited the city. I got tickets for opening night of One from the Heart at the Plitt Century Plaza Cinemas (which no longer exists—it used to be right across from the Schubert Theater in the same outdoor mall immortalized in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). And for some reason Francis Coppola, the entire cast of the movie, and dozens of Hollywood celebrities,, from Marilu Henner to Bette Midler to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Steven Spielberg were all in attendance and could be (were) spotted in the lobby. Seeing all those people in the same theater lobby was indeed exciting, but I really went all jelly-legged when I turned around and saw Shelley Duvall. I spent a good five minutes trying to decide whether or not to walk up and say hi, but I eventually chickened out and have regretted to this day that I didn’t take the time to tell her that she was, at the time, my favorite actress.

I actually did speak, albeit very briefly and in a public forum, to the only other actress I can think of capable of turning my admittedly already addled brain into high-octane Cream of Wheat. In 1998, Michelle Yeoh appeared at a Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention at the Shrine Auditorium shortly after the release of Tomorrow Never Dies. I was in the midst of a pretty dark time in my life, but the opportunity to see this woman, who I’d admired ever since seeing Police Story III: Supercop at the Kuo Hwa Theater in San Gabriel about five years earlier, was enough to momentarily shake me out of my stupor. She was every bit as glamorous and funny as I’d hoped, a perfect combination of toughness, dignity, beauty and brains, and one of the only movie stars I’ve met who actually lived up to the larger-than-life persona they project on the screen. I asked her some dumb question about the growing acceptance of Asian actors and films and whether the possibility existed that she would someday work with John Woo. Then she signed a picture for me that still decorates the wall in my office, and as she did so she said to me, “This is a pretty wild scene. Do you come here often?” To which I replied, “Nope, it’s my first time. You’re the only reason I would!” That got me a smile, some very nice direct eye contact-- gifts even better than the autograph-- and a memory of the actress than I’ll always cherish. And to this day, if I saw Michelle Yeoh on the street or in some crowded theater lobby I’d still go all hot-instant-cereal, to be sure. Though I wish she was getting better roles—being the best thing in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor isn’t quite worthy of the woman whole almost stole Supercop right out from underneath Jackie Chan, and who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon her own-- just knowing she's still out there making an impression in a world full of spineless cookie-cutter ingenues is its own comfort. Today is Michelle Yeoh’s 46th birthday, and if there was ever evidence of age and intelligence and screen presence and acting ability enhancing beauty, she’s making it with each new breath. Happy birthday, Michelle!

Saturday, August 02, 2008


If memory serves, Freebie and the Bean isn’t a particularly good movie (Vincent Canby certainly didn’t think so). Nonetheless, when I ran across this clip of one of the movie’s wild chase scenes I was reminded of the vitality of Richard Rush as an action filmmaker and my appetite was immediately whetted to see the picture again. Unfortunately, it’s not available on DVD, at least in this country, so I guess those of you who share my impulse to get reacquainted with this nasty ‘70s nugget will just have to make do with this jaw-dropping stunt sequence, which gives but a hint of the large-scale scabrous antagonism between partners Alan Arkin and James Caan. (The score, by Dominic Frontiere, will also put you in mind of Rush’s follow-up, which only took six years to reach American screens, The Stunt Man.)

(Thanks to Buchinsky at Viver e Morror No Cinema.)


It came up on the iPod shuffle this afternoon while I was finishing up my schoolwork and I had to listen to it several times in a row—one of the big tracks from the keen Todd Rundgren-produced concept album Remote Control, "Prime Time" is about as seductive and instantly memorable a pop song as the ‘80s ever produced (the album was actually released in 1979, but who’s counting), with unbeatably smoky come-on vocals by Re Styles that resided just this side of porn parody. And then there’s the familiar music clip, a great, insane relic of the nascent age of music video and a test of the viewer’s ability to endure the visual dichotomy of Styles’ salacious beauty slammed up against Fee Waybill’s somewhat more grotesque visage. Can your heart stand the shocking fact of Waybill’s disembodied head whispering sweet nothings in the song’s spoken-word interlude? Press play and find out.


Now that I’ve gotten my own feet wet with this whole audio thing, I’d like to take the opportunity to point the iPod toward one of my growing addictions, Movie Geeks United, podcasting twice weekly on Blog Talk Radio, hosted by Jamey and Jerry and my pal Aaron Aradillas. It’s a great interview/talk show that takes movies seriously but isn’t a slog to sit through, largely because of the good humor of the hosts and the excellent rosters of guests they’ve been able to line up, including critics David Edelstein, Keith Uhlich and Glenn Kenny, actor Judge Reinhold, X-Files creator Chris Carter and talk show host turned filmmaker Phil Donahue. The shows are frequently united around a theme, like recent podcasts on Sidney Lumet, the Dirty Harry phenomenon, a Dark Knight critical roundtable, with a frequent focus on the independent film scene as well. You can click right here and sync up with one of the best film podcasts in the atmosphere.

But that’s not all, folks. Aaron has another ace up his sleeve, a new podcast devoted to home theater and entertainment entitled Back By Midnight, and how’s this for an inaugural outing—a roundtable with Glenn Kenny and Douglas Pratt and then an interview with John Badham on the 25th anniversary of WarGames. These are the kind of finds that you treasure and may want to keep for yourself, kind of like a great restaurant that nobody else knows about. But by all means, storm the gates of Movie Geeks United and Back by Midnight and discover an addictive film forum that will make you want to forget being selfish and spread the word.