Friday, July 30, 2010

MIXED-UP HORROR DADS MIXING IT UP-- PT 2!



“I’m also more sensitive to the reactions of parents in movies now. Not just if they’re experiencing grief but in empathizing with their protective instincts. The remake of The Fog (2005) was shit but it came out the fall after my son was born and I remember liking that Selma Blair’s Stevie Wayne actually left the lighthouse to go after her kid. That seemed right to me. I must have seen the original The Fog (1980) about thirty times and never thought twice about the fact that Adrienne Barbeau stayed on the air but when I watched it again after having my son, I couldn’t help but think that it was a movie clearly made by people who didn’t have kids at the time. I still love The Fog but the idea that Barbeau’s Stevie Wayne would stay on the air no matter what rather than get the fuck back home when the only thing standing between her son and all the shit in the fog is the decrepit Mrs. Kobritz is insane. The hell with staying on the air - get your ass home and protect your kid! For that matter, the old lady could use your help, too!”


That’s horror dad Jeff Allard, one of six panelists (including the Old Codger Speaking Now) sounding off on mixing horror films with the perspective of parenthood, as Richard Harland Smith continues his terrific feature The Incredibly Strange Film Fiends Who Had Kids and Became Mixed-Up Horror Dads Part 2 today over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks.

It was a real honor to have been asked to participate in what I naturally believe to be a pretty fertile subject. How great it is, then, that the feature itself has turned out to be deliciously readable, I think, for non-parental horror fans as well as those of us who have had to evaluate and re-evaluate our passion for the fantastic and the terrifying as the arrival of our little ones changed and continue to change the way we go about life.

So please visit our discussion, which is far more suitable for the Overlook than the Algonquin (but no less fun for that!) and join in with your own thoughts. Part three comes your way next Friday. The Incredibly Strange Film Fiends Who Had Kids and Became Mixed-Up Horror Dads Part 2-- fear not the grue, for it beckons to you… !

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SHOW PEOPLE AND THE REAL MARION DAVIES



"Marion Davies makes up for the rest of Hollywood."
– Tennessee Williams


If only as many people knew about Show People as know about Citizen Kane

Like most folks who are aware of the ABCs of their film history, a couple of months ago I could have told you that in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ brilliant but not-so-disguised portrait of a media tycoon based with obvious relish on rich and powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the character of Susan Alexander, the talentless vixen whom Hearst promotes into a career of fake stardom, was meant to represent Marion Davies. But unlike Susan Alexander, Davies, who in real life fell in love with the already-married Hearst, was by measure of viewers, critics and historians a sharp-eyed, quick-witted comedienne, the polar opposite of the rather nasty picture painted by Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, and I’d never seen her on screen to judge her talents for myself.

Davies started in show business early. By 1917, at age 20, she was already a familiar face on Broadway, having landed a featured spot in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916, which is where Hearst first became aware of her. Her first film, which she wrote, was called Runaway Romany (1917), but it was Cecilia and the Pink Roses (1918) that was her first film backed by Hearst, and with that film their strange professional relationship began in earnest. Davies was certainly ambitious and hard-working, and Hearst wanted the whole world to know about her. He brought the full force of his media empire to bear on her relentless promotion, but unfortunately Hearst had little instinct for where Davies’ true talents lay. Over the course of her career, until she retired from pictures in 1937, Marion Davies made close to 50 movies all under the watchful eye of Hearst, all of them expensive, almost all of them financial flops. According to Pauline Kael, who wrote extensively about Davies in her famous essay “Raising Kane,” Davies, by all accounts an unpretentious and down-to-earth personality, felt smothered by Hearst’s notions of what roles were best for her. Kael wrote:

“Marion Davies was a mimic and a parodist and a very original sort of comedienne, but though Hearst liked her to make him laugh at home, he wanted her to be a romantic maiden in the movies, and—what was irreconcilable with her talent—dignified. Like Susan, she was tutored, and he spent incredible sums on movies that would be the perfect setting for her. He appears to have been sincerely infatuated with her in old-fashioned, sentimental, ladylike roles; he loved to see hr in ruffles on garden swings. But actresses didn’t become public favorites in roles like those, and even if they could get by with them sometimes, they needed startling changes of pace to stay in public favor, and Hearst wouldn’t let Marion Davies do anything ‘sordid.’”



Like take a pie in the face. (More on that later.) In the late ‘20s Davies managed to wrest free of the dull costume pictures which had become her trademark under Hearst and she made a series of freewheeling comedies, including The Red Mill (1927, costarring Fatty Arbuckle), The Fair Coed (1927), Tillie the Toiler (1927), Quality Street (1927), The Five O’Clock Girl (1928) and The Patsy (1928). However, outside of the occasional screening on Turner Classic Movies, movies starring Marion Davies have typically been difficult to come by. The recent made-to-order Warner Archives program has rectified this situation somewhat, with The Red Mill, The Patsy and other titles like The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), Operator 13 (1934) and Cain and Mabel (1936) all now available to purchase . (Click here to find out more.) Also, new to the top of my Netflix queue is the DVD of a 2001 documentary entitled Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies, produced in association with Hugh Hefner and TCM. That DVD, in addition to the documentary (which is purported to be quite good), also includes the previously mentioned Davies comedy Quality Street, which costars Conrad Nagel and Helen Jerome Eddy and which was remade in 1937 by George Stevens with Katharine Hepburn and Franchot Tone.

Unfortunately, the reemergence, such as it is, of Marion Davies on DVD does not yet include perhaps her most beloved movie, a 1928 silent comedy called Show People, directed by King Vidor. The movie is still available on a VHS issued by MGM/UA in 1998, and though I am unaware if MGM (or now Fox) still holds the rights to the film or has any plans to reissue it on DVD it certainly would seem to be a good time to do so. Show People is one of the first, if not the first, and certainly one of the best of all Hollywood comedies, that is, comedies that shine a light on the moviemaking process and the glittery allure of the movie business.

Davies is Peggy Pepper, fresh from the boondocks and escorted to Hollywood to give a career in pictures a try by her pompous father, the Colonel (Dell Henderson), who uses his military status to affect the easily impressed who might be standing in Peggy’s way. The picture opens on the two of them riding down Hollywood Boulevard, fresh into town and wide-eyed as any modern-day tourist, and viewers in 2010 will be just as dumbstruck and fascinated as Peggy and the Colonel by all the lost monuments of Hollywood at the end of the silent era on view as they pass on the street. Soon Peggy makes friends with another young up-and-comer, Billy Boone (William Haines), who joins her on a parallel pursuit of Hollywood stardom. Peggy lands a series of jobs which put her on a distinctly Gloria Swanson-esque career track, while Billy remains mired in the land of Mack Sennett-type bit players. Of course this disparity in experience is grist for the movie’s ripe sense of parody, but it’s also a terrific showcase for Davies and her comic talents (arguments over which should abruptly end after seeing this movie) as well as a glimpse inside MGM during a period when the movies themselves were about to change forever.


It’s up for grabs just how talented Peggy and Billy really are, but in Peggy’s case her wild-eyed energy is enough to get her noticed, and enough to position Davies to let loose the gifts of mimicry and snap comic timing that were the stuff of legend within the walls of San Simeon. (A scene where she is commanded to cry on cue and finds the act near impossible is a gut-busting classic.) Davies and Haines knew the Hollywood world inside out, of course, and both had star images that were sharply at odds with their own personal lifestyles-- Davies was nothing like the Hearst-groomed waxwork candidate on display in most of her movies, and Haines was gay and living a relatively uncloseted life—so you can feel the relish and joy with which they rip into this genial parody of the Hollywood styles and fashionable entertainers of the day. Peggy rises from lowly farm girl to the hoity-toity toast of the movie business on the strength of a roster of highfalutin pictures that closely resemble Davies' own filmography, but also those of Gloria Swanson. (Swanson also comes in for some good-natured nudging by way of many of Peggy’s facial mannerisms and her body language when the actress “upgrades” her name to Patricia Pepoire.) The telling of this story certainly gives Show People ample opportunity in which to cast a wonderfully observant eye on the world of making movies in the days when talkies were but a year or so from really taking hold. Peggy dines at the MGM commissary, and in a single scene, sharp-eyed observers of the silent film firmament will spot William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Norma Talmadge, John Gilbert, Mae Murray and seemingly dozens more relaxing over their lunches. As her star begins to rise, she is approached for an autograph by a dapper but diminutive admirer, and poor Peggy is still such a rube she doesn’t realize the fella she’s haughtily putting off is Charlie Chaplin. And in one unforgettable bit of “meta” business, Peggy and Billy are making their way through the lot when they encounter Marion Davies herself, all dressed-down, comfortable and laughing as she passes by. Naturally, Peggy cannot help but observe that the young star Davies is nothing like what she expected.

Show People’s most famous entry into Hollywood lore relates to Hearst’s hawk-like supervision of every element of Davies’ performance. He refused to allow her to participate in a scripted pie fight, and despite director Vidor’s pleas to Louis B. Mayer, who was apparently sympathetic to Vidor and his star’s desire to indulge in the spirit of the scene, Hearst insisted that his Marion not be demeaned by having to take a face full of custard. He seemed to feel that a high-pressure blast of seltzer water directly in the kisser was the more dignified route, and so it stands in the final film. Davies' wild over-emoting in her audition scene is a highlight in a movie filled with highlights (I wondered if Naomi Watts saw this performance before jumping into Mulholland Drive), and Show People stands, some 80 years after its release, as one of the funniest movies to ever come out of Hollywood. And thanks to having seen it recently on the big screen (thank you, American Cinematheque!), I’ve got the biggest crush on Marion Davies, one which I hope never goes away.

The movie deserves its stellar reputation, and I just wish that it would somehow be rediscovered so that more people who, like me, only knew Marion Davies from what we were told by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz could discover for themselves what an effervescent, charming actress she was. Kael reminded us that by the time Citizen Kane was released Davies had been retired for four years, and the publicity machine, which had tried so desperately to sell her image in such a way that even the public began to see through it and reject her, continued to grind on during that time. She suggests that audiences and readers were so worn down by Hearst’s efforts on behalf of Davies that they probably no longer even trusted their own memories of the charming comedienne they had loved in those late ‘20s comedies, like Show People:

“Mankiewicz, catering to the public, gave it the empty, stupid, no-talent blonde it wanted—the “confidential” backstairs view of the great, gracious lady featured in the Hearst press. It was, though perhaps partly inadvertently, a much worse betrayal than if he’d made Susan more like Davies, because movie audiences assumed that Davies was a pathetic whiner like Susan Alexander, and Marion Davies was nailed to the cross of harmless stupidity and nothingness, which in high places is the worst joke of all.”

Welles himself, in the recent PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, admitted: ““We had somebody very different in the place of Marion Davies. And it seemed to me to be something of a dirty trick, and does still strike me as being something of a dirty trick, what we did to her.” I haven’t had an opportunity to read it myself, but Welles did write the foreword to Davies’ own book The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst, and in it I hope the mercurial director displayed a similar tone of contrition. Personally, I hope Welles is still apologizing to Davies, wherever they both might be.

More on Marion Davies:

The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst by Marion Davies

A brief biography of Marion Davies written by Robert Board

Notes on Show People, particularly the life of William Haines, by Jack Hagopian

Fred Lawrence Guiles’ published biography (1972)

The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw (2001).

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Many thanks are due to my friend Charley Taylor, who first made me aware of the American Cinematheque screening of Show People and insisted I take my daughter Emma to see it with me. I did, and with that single act he has well earned, with all due respect to William Demarest (whom Emma also loves), the familial moniker Uncle Charley.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

MOVIE OF THE MOMENT: INCEPTION



Inception is nothing if not the most ambitious Hollywood movie of the year. The hype machine has been telling us so for months, and the actual film, whatever its ultimate successes and failures, bears this out. Its director, Christopher Nolan, has built a career on an obsession with tricky narratives that are, by their very nature, difficult to navigate, from the low-budget Following and Memento through to his emergence as a major Hollywood player with the box-office shredding Batman films. These narratives can feel like personal obsessions-- Memento’s backward-tracking film noir hero was driven by the need to make sense of the narrative of his own life and forced to depend, thanks to crippling short-term memory loss, on the kindness of lovers and strangers to tell him the truth about his past. (Nolan upped the ante, clever boy, by telling the story backwards.) But the very trickiness of Nolan’s notions can also feel imposed from without—the multiple-narrative storytelling strategy that pointed The Dark Knight to its potentially orgasmic finish backfired, and the movie collapsed into an incoherent, pretentious heap. However, even narrative devices that are employed to serve the story thematically aren’t necessarily a measure of success. Nolan kept the audience suitably and satisfyingly disoriented in Insomnia in a way that conveyed the distress of the sleepless lead detective (Al Pacino) investigating the film’s central mystery, but in The Prestige the cinematic sleight-of-hand with which he constructed the movie was involving, but it couldn’t hide the obviousness of the movie’s big twists.

I can remember growing up and being swept up in the breathless rush of information gushing forth from movies as disparate as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Network and even a thriller like The Andromeda Strain, movies that attacked their subjects with seriousness but with wildly different tones—cosmic mystery, anger fueled by satirical corporate-speak, poker-faced medical and military panic-- and made me feel as though I were somehow inside the events and being carried along. It didn’t matter that I may not have understood all the ins and outs of what was being referenced or inferred or even explicitly laid out (some of which was due to the age at which I saw them, surely)—the movies themselves carried the electric charge of engagement with their audience that helped at least this viewer to connect with what was going on. The very act of watching them, plugging into them, made me feel smart, alive, ready for more.

This kind of tidal wave of visceral connection is clearly what Nolan is going for in Inception, and the breathless pace at which the movie hurtles into his opening set piece, all the way through its tangle of exposition, made me eager to anticipate the moment when, like in those other films, I would find a way to just give myself over to the experience of tumbling through the different levels of consciousness on which the movie plays out its mind games. Leonardo Di Caprio, with that familiar haunted glumness that is fast (after Shutter Island and The Departed) becoming his signature, is Dom Cobb, a corporate spy whose stock in trade is the extraction of company secrets by means of invading, along with a team of specialists, the mindscapes of his targets and navigating their unique psychological terrain. After a test-run designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of Cobb’s talents, he’s hired by a smooth bigwig (Ken Watanabe) not to steal secrets but instead implant an idea into the brain of a rival businessman (Cillian Murphy)—an idea to dissemble the monopolistic company he has inherited even as his own father (Pete Postelthwaite) lays dying, thus opening up the marketplace for the competition, an idea which he must perceive as organic, his own.


So far, so good. As it has been pointed out, this is essentially a Rififi-esque caper movie blown up to gargantuan Hollywood blockbuster proportions, and as such Inception remains aware and unashamed of its genre roots at this point, as Cobb and his business-like assistant (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) embark on assembling the team that will be required to perform this daring reversal of their usual methods, a job which some of them believe can’t even be done. We’re introduced to the chemist (Dileep Rao) who will concoct a sedative powerful enough to allow Cobb and company access to several different levels of consciousness, all the while keeping their inner ears “alive” to physical influence from the outside world so that they might be jolted out of the dream state at the crucial moment. Then there’s Tom Hardy (magnetic, and near unrecognizable from his thrilling turn in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Bronson of last year) as the team muscle who can capably assume the identity of various important acquaintances of the target. And lastly, Ariadne (note literary/psychological reference, please), the student recruited by Cobb to create the fantastic interior dreamscapes on which the intrigue will play out. She’s played by Ellen Page with the actress’s patented perky insouciance and native intelligence, but thankfully minus the Juno-influenced snark, and she seems alive to the possibilities of creating mazes of the mind designed to be deliberately perplexing, especially to Cobb, who needs to be kept most unfamiliar with the mental terrain she creates in order to keep the projection of his very unhappy dead wife (Marion Cottiard), which tends to pop up at inopportune times, at bay. All these actors are sharp and fun to watch, and if their characters are written a bit on the thin side, it may be a side-effect of existing in a movie crammed to this degree with stuff. (I saw Inception with my friend Don, and I like his suggestion that a good way to look at these characters, one which could justify that thinness, is as separate aspects—the scientist, the businessman, the macho swagger, the long-buried creative idealist—of Cobb’s personality.) And they all get their introductions amidst a sea of exposition, which is annoying and overwritten, but also part of the territory—I didn’t resent it so much as accept it as part of what I wanted to see these terrific actors navigate successfully. And frankly, the effort it took to keep up with it was strangely more compelling than I expected—I wanted it to gel and make sense.

Inception hints that the worlds Ariadne will have to create will materialize the awe-inspiring, disorienting center of Nolan’s concept. The imagery most familiar to audiences subjected to the movie’s unstoppable advertising campaign are the images of Cobb and Ariadne sitting at a sidewalk cafĂ©, expressionless as a Parisian street crumbles and explodes around them. Cobb illustrates to the woman the possibilities of dreamscape design by folding the city over and onto itself, and it is an undeniably exhilarating effect. Later, Gordon-Levitt further demonstrates the power of creative dream technology by taking the young designer on a walk up a staircase that leads nowhere, a reference to Escher that portends the visual feats of disorienting space and surreal unreliability of the dream environment that the movie surely holds in store.

But when Nolan gets us into the meat of the action, in which the fates of this team of mental raiders, along with Watanabe and Murphy, play out amidst Ariadne’s constructs, the movie is often thrilling, but just as often it is overwhelming and suffocating. Inception settles into a extensive pattern of cross-cutting as various intrigues—a dizzying car chase, anti-gravity hand-to-hand combat (the physical disorientation of which is caused by the jarring movement of that car chase up on Consciousness Level #1), a James Bondian ski slope shootout, a frightening confrontation with the deepest fears and emotions of two major characters—work themselves out simultaneously, each affecting the other. In other words, the last half of the movie is assembled in a frenzy of simultaneous action in the manner of The Dark Knight, and though the action hangs together much better than it did in that movie, Inception simply becomes too busy for its own good (or at least for mine). My mind was working overtime just to keep the action straight in my head, but I never found a way to give myself over to it, to surrender. It’s not a dreamer’s movie, it’s a clockmaker’s movie, and as such it demands that a viewer’s facilities be poured almost exclusively into following the machination of those various narrative cogs. For me, following them came at the expense of the treacherous emotional tones Nolan reaches for in the final act. There was no room in my tightened lungs and overstuffed skull for the expanse of feeling those scenes clearly intended.


More problematic, and more damningly on its own terms, is that the movie feels like a disappointment in terms of its visual imagination. After the priming of that Parisian street folding and the trip up that Escher staircase, it’s not unreasonable, I don’t think, for an audience to expect (especially for a big expensive movie like this) that Ariadne, inspired, might construct some playfully maddening cages inside which her prey and her colleagues might bounce. And it doesn’t seem unreasonable either for a movie that takes place almost entirely within the realm of the unreliable, the unpredictably mutable and ethereal, to have some of that feeling about it itself. Inception’s conception of those various levels of consciousness are pedestrian at worst (a hotel corridor, a ski slope) and half-baked at best—a skyline of cut-out skyscrapers and a cliffside beach setting that seems to be missing only a half-buried Lady Liberty. But they’re not differentiated enough in terms of the movie’s visual style to make keeping them straight any fun—the whole movie is Action 101, no variations of tone or texture, and those familiar street-folding, landscape-crumbling images from the movie’s trailers are just about it in terms of arresting special effects. Inception is a work made by a man who wants to give himself a technical workout—Nolan wants to see if he can pull off the challenges he sets for himself as a storyteller. The movie is, for all its big-ass sensibility, relatively light on pretense, which is the last thing that could be said of The Dark Knight, and I find it difficult to take points away from a filmmaker for his ambitions, for trying something not necessarily so much new as it is, oxymoronically, simply complicated. (In this pursuit Nolan seems to be spiritually kin to a director like Nicolas Roeg, who loved fracturing rather simple, and sometimes simplistic, ideas and reassembling them in ways that made them seem more... complex.)

But ambitions have to be realized, and I think Nolan only gets halfway there with Inception. I’m not suggesting that Nolan should have made a spy movie version of Mulholland Drive or The Exterminating Angel, but it would have been nice to at least sense some of the shivering instability or devilish humor of those movies, or other films which have successfully suggested dream imagery and thought and logic. A better movie for Nolan to have at least partially emulated would have been Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape, which is a lot more fun than Inception while plumbing much of the same territory. As it is, Nolan’s is ultimately too square and literal for a film about the mysteries of the mind. (Did the team have to ride an elevator from one level of consciousness to the next?) And It’s simply too much; I would have appreciated some room to breathe, a break from the movie’s insistent intensity (which is too often represented by its volume level). Had I been able to breathe, I might have been more receptive to the pain at the center of the story, that which surrounds not only Cobb and his doomed wife, but Murphy and his distant, disapproving father as well. The movie doesn’t reject Freud or Jung so much as misplace them; the two are nowhere to be found in the supposedly psychologically charged action set pieces, which is the aspect of the story Nolan really cares about. At times Inception had me right where it wanted me—it has a protracted vehicle crash off a bridge into a river that is extended so long that I’m sure somewhere Brian De Palma is cursing in envy-- and even after that feeling of disappointment has taken hold, the movie flips right over and serves up the most exhilarating cut to end credits I’ve seen since Drag Me To Hell. (It involves the image of that spinning top seen above, a recurring motif in the film.) But most often I just wanted to wake up.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

THE MOVIE MORLOCKS HORROR DADS EXPLAIN IT ALL FOR YOU... PART 1!



“My posse has changed over the past few years. Now that I’m a father of two kids under 5 years old, I don’t get out to many rep screenings or conventions and I turn down most invitations to sneak peeks and movie premieres. As such, I don’t hang with the black tee shirt crowd anymore and find I’m commiserating with other parents online … and a (perhaps not) surprising number of these are horror lifers who either carry the creep torch blog-wise or actually make horror movies. I decided to corral some of these horror dads for a roundtable discussion of the challenges involved in raising children when one’s tastes run to the grotesque and arabesque (to put it diplomatically).”

So begins Richard Harland Smith’s nifty a three-part horror movie roundtable over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks entitled The Incredibly Strange Film Fiends Who Had Kids and Became Mixed-Up Horror-Dads: Part 1, the first installment of which debuted on the site today. The panel represents a good mix of writers and filmmakers who are unrepentant horror dads- old friend Greg Ferrara of Cinema Styles, along with new friends Jeff Allard, creator of the horror blog Dinner with Max Jenke (Jeff also writes for Shock Till You Drop and Cinefantasique); Paul Gaita, a terrific writer who has penned for everything from The Los Angeles Times to the legendary genre publications Famous Monsters of Filmland and Sleazoid Express; writer-director Nicholas McCarthy, whose daughter grew up in the shadow of a vintage Night of the Living Dead poster; Richard, of course, and Yours Truly (that’s my little contribution to the new generation of horror fandom baring her fangs above).


The discussion is brisk, wide-ranging and fun—at least we thought so—and if nothing else really underlines the common themes that seem to occur in growing up a horror fan—the encouragement, the disbelief, the feelings of loneliness, of being an outsider, and the flipside of that loneliness—the joy of loving something you know nobody else quite gets or, better yet, which totally grosses everybody else out.

The roundtable went on long enough— this is what happens when you get a bunch of grown-up, verbiage-oriented horror geeks and turn them loose to talk about their passions— that Richard will have at least one more segment coming next week, perhaps two. Bookmark Movie Morlocks to keep up with the gab and all the other good stuff that goes on there daily from their excellent staff of writers.

P.S. I finally saw Inception last night, and I promise to write it up, along with about four or five other long-gestating projects this weekend. No hints. Okay, just one… it turns out to have something to do with dreams…

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Friday, July 16, 2010

SLIFR AND FRIENDS HONORED IN FILM COMMENT'S LIST OF TOP FILM CRITICISM SITES!



Hey, kids, SLIFR and I are on top of the moon this week!

It’s been a very busy, very heady week for me and for Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. I finally got to see Despicable Me-- I loved it (review forthcoming). It has the punch and wit of the best politically incorrect Warner Brothers cartoons, a great eye for exploiting 3D (stick around for the end credits) and toying with an audience's expectations for it, and a hilarious script that never pushes for effects or jokes too hard.

Secondly, the imbroglio over Inception and David Edelstein’s much-maligned negative review brought much attention to these parts, not least of which from Roger Ebert, who tweeted the message “FWIW, I think it’s perfectly permissible for David Edelstein to dislike Inception.” (How reasonable! Kids, this is a good example of how to approach an opposing opinion—Ebert gave the movie four stars.) What’s more, Ebert attached a link to my piece on Patrick Goldstein’s weird rant to his own comment, and I found out in very quick order just how many people follow Ebert’s every tweet. My traffic on Wednesday went through the roof—an all-time high—and though it dropped precipitously the next day, it’s still running above average through the end of this week. (And no, all you hotheads, I did not write the piece to attract attention from the likes of Roger Ebert for the express purpose of driving up my traffic. On very rare occasions it just happens that way.)

But there was a much nicer surprise in store on Wednesday that had nothing to do with Roger Ebert, Christopher Nolan or Patrick Goldstein. Internet friend Ted Haycraft left me a message on Facebook (“Have you seen this yet?”) along with a mysterious link which led to the web site for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, specifically the on-line edition of Film Comment and an article by Paul Brunick entitled “IT’S ALIVE!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll”. The article, part one of an extensive two-part piece on Internet film criticism, is far more open-minded than mentions on this digital-age phenomenon have been in the magazine in the past, and there’s a lot of good information to be had and debated within it. But the really cheery part of the article came in Brunick’s long sidebar, into which he leads with the following:

“The projects included here span a wide range of genres: digital film journals, multi-writer theme sites, side projects of film studies academics, digital outreach by professional print reviewers, and, above all, the personal blogs of unpaid enthusiasts. Our only criteria for inclusion were that (a) posts must be written primarily in the English language and (b) the content must be specifically produced for online consumption. The selections are unranked and in randomly generated order (our highly sophisticated algorithm is modeled loosely on the perennial schoolyard favorite MASH).

For years now, Internet film critics have been relentlessly dumped on by many (but by no means all) in the legacy media. Though they’ve gotten little in the way of social recognition or financial compensation, cinephile bloggers have filled in the gaps of mainstream review coverage, corralled hard-to-find source materials, enriched cinema’s theoretical vocabularies and historical narratives, and shared their personal obsessions in often fascinating, hilarious, and deeply affecting ways. I feel personally privileged and just really fucking happy to shine a light on their work—all of them life-affirming examples of democratic participation and humanizing cultural exchange.”


Wow. That’s enough to put a smile on this Internet writer’s face already. And “unranked and in randomly generated order” or not, it was exceedingly thrilling to see my good friend Farran Nehme Smith and The Self Styled Siren right at the top of the heap. The list would be littered, as it turned out, with good friends and Internet acquaintances, including Acquarello’s Strictly Film School, Rumsey Taylor’s Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Glenn Kenny’s Some Came Running, Dennis Lim’s Moving Image Source, Tim Lucas’s Video Watchblog, the eponymous blogs of Girish Shambu, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr, Greg Ferrara’s Unexplained Cinema, Jim Emerson’s Scanners and such essential sites as The House Next Door, Senses of Cinema, DVD Beaver and even Ain’t It Cool News.

And smack dab in the middle of that list was an entry for Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule!

As I said to the list of folks whom I e-mailed immediately with this giddy-making news, this honor has to be counted as one of the highlights of my writing life, if not my life in general. I started this thing off with zero expectations for an audience or even my own ability to sustain it past a couple of months or so. Instead, SLIFR is going on six years, has brought me many new friends and has allowed me to keep the company and be mentioned in the company of the kinds of people who do such good work on all those sites mentioned. I am honored beyond even my own capacity to articulate and understand at this point. Wednesday was a pretty good day, and this news has sustained by spirit and renewed my drive to live up to the enthusiasm of the likes of Paul Brunick and Violet Lucca (who wrote my entry on the sidebar). Thanks to each and every person who has helped me get this blog into the seventh month of 2010. Hopefully you know who you are. Many of you can be found on that list too.

The list is located on the site for The Film Society of Lincoln Center and also at The House Next Door, which cross-published it with Film Comment and Slant magazine. The full article, with a brief tag directing readers to the list, will also be available in the hard copy of the latest issue of Film Comment, available on newsstands now. (It’s the one with the picture of Leo on it.) Mine just came in the mail!

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35 MINUTES OR SO WITH PAULINE KAEL (1982)


My first awareness of Pauline Kael came on the old syndicated Mike Douglas show, around 1975-1976, I'd guess, where she sat on the panel of guests. I was fascinated and intimidated by her in equal measure, of course, though at the time I had no idea she would become such an important figure to me. By the time I started absorbing Reeling and her other collected criticism, her TV appearances became much rarer, at least to these roving eyes. I never met her and have only her books through which to hear her voice, so I'm always glad to get hold of whatever footage I can of this great critic speaking. Many thanks to The Film Dr. for cluing me/us to this four-part City Lights interview with Pauline Kael taped in 1982. It will make a nice weekend of happy viewing for me, and I hope it does for you too.









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PETER FERNANDEZ 1927 - 2010


News of the passing of yet another beloved figure reaches us today. Voice-over actor Peter Fernandez, whose stentorian tones were best known from his work as voice director on the American version of the Speed Racer cartoon series, died Thursday at his home in Pomona after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83. Fernandez also co-wrote many of the scripts for the American version of the show as well as the familiar theme show ("Here he comes/Here comes Speed Racer/He's a demon on wheels...") Fernandez spent a good part of his later years addressing fans of the cartoon series and various conventions and was a welcome presence wherever he went in this capacity.


But outside his original work from the series, I’ll cherish most Fernandez’ appearance in the Wachowski Brothers’ 2008 movie, in which he appears on camera near the beginning as one of the many race announcers tracking the action when Speed goes up against the legacy of his brother Rex at the Thunderhead Raceway. Amidst all the multinational raving and clucking of tongues that the announcers offer up, Fernandez’s homespun demeanor cuts through the noise long enough to provide the juice on Rex’s back story and also to remind us of the unique, familiar timbre of his voice. That voice roots us squarely in the tradition of the original cartoon while at the same time the Wachowskis work their own magic to stake their own claim to a piece of that tradition. When he finally intones, “Folks, I knew Rex Racer, and if he’s up there somewhere watching this race, you can bet your ass he’s damn proud of his little brother,” Fernandez puts the finishing touch on what is effectively his blessing on the movie. For many reasons it’s sad/annoying that Speed Racer never got its due when it was released, and for Fernandez it must have been more than a little disappointing. I just hope that he closed his eyes this week convinced of the quality of spirit and cinematic achievement that the movie represents, and happy that he was asked to be a small but integral part of it.

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VONETTA McGEE 1945 -2010



"It’s her eyes I remember best. They were large and brown. Exotic, to me anyway. Haunting. Or haunted. Either way, they burned right through you but not in a witchy, malevolent way. They were kind, her eyes. Hopeful, even. On Saturday, July 10, 2010, Vonetta McGee’s eyes closed forever."

So begins Richard Harland Smith’s beautiful, poetic tribute to Vonetta McGee, an actress who was underrated and frequently dismissed because of the films she made, films which included Blacula, Shaft in Africa, Detroit 9000 and Thomasina and Bushrod. McGee also appeared in Alex Cox’s Repo Man and Clint Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction, as well as Dan Curtis’ well-regarded TV film The Norliss Tapes. To these eyes, growing up in the ‘70s and watching her whenever I got the chance (though I grew familiar with her at first largely from published stills from the movies I was either still too young to see or which never played my hometown), she was as lovely as it seemed possible to be. But when I started catching the movies themselves, I discovered that she had a flinty spirit about her, an appealing toughness to contrast the softness of her beauty which made her an interesting screen presence even when her talent outshone her roles (which it most often did). She made quite an impression on me as Prince Mamuwalde’s bride, whose reincarnated self becomes Blacula’s romantic target, but perhaps even more so as the African princess who guides Richard Roundtree’s Shaft round about the true motherland experience in John Guillermin’s punchy and unusual Shaft in Africa.

When I found my way to Richard’s tribute over at Movie Morlocks this morning, I was stricken with sadness at seeing the gallery of photos he has provided, each one testifying to the woman’s sensitivity and spirit, and now in retrospect to her vulnerability. McGee, 65, died Friday at a hospital in Berkeley after experiencing cardiac arrest and being on life support for two days, according to family spokeswoman Kelley Nayo. Although McGee had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 17, Nayo emphasized that her death was not related to the disease. I highly recommend a visit to Richard’s lovely piece, the better to remember Vonetta McGee with sadness, yes, but also with an eye toward the vital and talented actress and human being she was. Richard’s words capture her contribution to the movies and to our hearts far better than mine ever could, and he has my thanks for sending her off in such a moving fashion.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SUCKER-PUNCHED: IS IT NOT OKAY TO DISLIKE INCEPTION?


UPDATED 7/15/10 1:11 pm


Didn’t we just do this a couple of summers ago?

Remember when The Little Movie That Could, a.k.a. The Dark Knight came out and several critics, among them David Edelstein, Keith Uhlich, Stephanie Zacharek and Armond White, wrote negative reviews that went decidedly against the grain of the colossal pre-release hype and the consensus of the critical community? Well, it wasn’t pretty, with much of the tidal wave of vitriol directed at these critics by denizens of the Internet during the period in between the publishing of the review and the actual release of the movie, a period of about a week. Which means, of course, that most of the people who took offense early on over the dissenting views about The Dark Knight were reacting having not yet seen the film themselves. It wasn’t the film they were defending, it was their level of pre-fab excitement over the impending release of the film that was apparently under assault, and they let these writers know in no uncertain (and often inarticulate, incoherent) terms that they didn’t like the raising of the prospect that their hopes might be dashed, that The Dark Knight, rather than a masterpiece, might instead just be a mediocre action movie with only the hopes and dreams of a giant multinational corporation fuelling its future fortunes in the marketplace.

Once audiences finally did start seeing The Dark Knight life didn’t get any easier for these critical malcontents. Some of the comments they received were perhaps more well-reasoned, but the anger, the disbelief over what they had written took a long time to dissipate. The fact that The Dark Knight failed to garner a Best Picture Oscar nomination didn’t help these writers’ standing with a community of Internet movie buffs who felt betrayed by critics they felt were hopelessly out of touch with what mass audiences wanted to see, who refused to accept that a negative view of the movie could be motivated by anything other than a perverse contrarian impulse or a desire to drive up hits on their individual websites.


Well, here we are again, on the eve of the unveiling of yet another big budget, Christopher Nolan-directed potential blockbuster which has been at the eye of a hurricane of pre-release publicity. You may have heard of it. Inception has been screening for the press for several weeks now, with instructions from Warner Bros. to honor an embargo on published reviews until at least the first week of July. Peter Travers, whose enthusiasm for the film seemed to know no bounds (despite only a ***½ star rating in Rolling Stone) was the first to publish a review, well in advance of that embargo date, and since then members of the press have reacted strongly in the positive, bandying about descriptive words and phrases like “Kubrickian,” ‘masterpiece” and “Kubrickian masterpiece” in advance of the film’s July 16 release date (this coming Friday). The critical hyperbole was so widespread and unchallenged that it actually led Los Angeles Times industry reporter Patrick Goldstein, never one to resist faulty logic when contemplating the incompatibility of art and commerce, to wonder out loud if the critics and industry press weren’t setting the film up for a nasty backlash:

“When the critics start building a film up like this, it only inspires other critics to assert their independence from the overwhelming groupthink by taking pot shots at the movie sooner rather than later. At this rate, the Inception backlash could begin before the film even plays Peoria.”

Aww. There goes Goldstein, like a particularly nervous mother watching out that her kids’ feelings don’t get hurt, rushing to the preemptive rescue of this poor little $200-million movie, afraid that getting too excited too early might damage the movie’s rep, and his own paper’s prospects at running endless Calendar pieces built around it, if audiences should themselves smell a rat nowhere near the size of Batman come July 16.

That was last week. Now today Goldstein, like a knight in shining armor, flips his strategy with a thickheaded post on his Times blog The Big Picture entitled “Chris Nolan’s Inception Gets Its First Critical Sucker Punch,” in which Goldstein recounts the circumstances surrounding the unveiling of the first high-profile negative review, written, as it happens, by that notorious Dark Knight hater and fanboy symbol of critical corruption, David Edelstein.

Goldstein quotes Edelstein’s first paragraph:

"With its dreams, dreams within dreams, and dreams within dreams within dreams, Christopher Nolan’s Inception manages to be clunky and confusing on four separate levels of reality—while out here, in this even more perplexing dream we call 'life,' it’s being hailed as a masterpiece on the order of '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Slap! Wake up, people! Shalalala! Slap!"

Then it was time for Goldstein to begin his own examination of Edelstein’s piece:

“It only went downhill from there, with Edelstein mocking Nolan's lofty ambitions ("So it's, like, Mission Impossible in the Dreamscape-Matrix!'") while dissing the director as being "too literal-minded, too caught up in ticktock logistics, to make a great, untethered dream movie." And as for the people, like his fellow critics, who've been over the moon about the film? Edelstein thinks they're cracked, or as he put it: "It's as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that 'Inception' is a visionary masterpiece and--hold on... Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype--a metaphor for itself."


For someone who has long ridden the “critics are out of touch with mass taste” pony, you can practically hear Goldstein’s lips smacking at the prospect of a lone dissenting voice rowing up the face of a giant wave of critical adoration for Inception. But to address Goldstein’s objections, does the quote Goldstein uses provide evidence that Edelstein is mocking Nolan’s ambitions? If one has any history of following Edelstein’s work, it won’t come as a surprise that he would use humor in describing plot elements like this, which come off in this context as an attempt to deflate what Edelstein views as the movie’s pretensions by pointing out how the movie uses corny action-adventure tropes from earlier films and TV shows (films and TV shows with perhaps a far less inflated sense of themselves). But the humor is also employed as a way of pointing out Edelstein’s own well-documented child-like enjoyment of those very same silly tropes. This critic has never hidden from his own appreciation of what in some circles might be termed “lowbrow." The crime here seems to be pointing out Nolan’s use of those very same bits of familiar material as central elements of his allegedly unique, visionary, one-of-a-kind movie.

And what Goldstein terms a “diss” on the director, with complete awareness of how loaded his own language is, is actually an observation of how Edelstein operates in tune with the role of any good critic, that is in measuring the perceived limitations of a director and his approach against what he has tried to achieve in the film. Why is it out of line to characterize Nolan as a literal-minded director who is too caught up in plot logistics to make a movie that flows with the ethereal, immutable impenetrability of “a great, untethered dream movie”? It’s not like Edelstein doesn’t take time in the review itself to back up that claim.

But it is Goldstein’s decision to skip over all that troublesome stuff in order to make way for his own diss. Edelstein writes about the movie’s central idea, that of an agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) who specializes in invading people’s dreams and extracting corporate secrets from them, who is then presented by a client with a special challenge: to invade a subject and not steal but implant an idea. “Why is an `inception’ more difficult than an extraction?” Edelstein asks, not unreasonably. “`The subject’s mind always knows the genesis of an idea,’ explains one character—which strikes my unoriginal and highly suggestible mind as dead wrong. But that’s the premise, anyway.” Just ask David Lynch, or David Cronenberg, two truly visionary directors whose own movies often resemble the undulating, shifting logic of dreams, if they always know the genesis of an idea.

Neither can Goldstein resist pointing out the abuse in the New York website’s comments thread to which Edelstein has already been subjected. And he does so with obvious relish: “As it happens, Edelstein's own readers gave him quite a spanking, calling him a charlatan (and) a schoolyard bully,” Goldstein writes, either blissfully or purposefully unaware that the readers submitting these gems of reactionary prose are all minus the experience of actually having seen the movie themselves. Once again, it’s the rabid fans prefab enthusiasm that is being defended here. Anyone with any history of reading Edelstein’s column will know right away just how much water these claims and others, like the ones which speculate that the writer is just ripping the movie everybody likes out of some perverse bid for attention, or out of his inability to respond in kind to the grand gestures of popular entertainment, really hold.


Undeterred by facts, Goldstein tramps on: “As one reader put it: `You know, it's fine to dislike a movie that many other people like. But to call them all delusional because they have a differing opinion is terribly arrogant of you. Shame on you, sir! Go back to watching Avatar and its easy-to-understand eye-candy." I love that “As one reader put it.” Goldstein shows his true colors here, and he gets to subtly put this reader’s comment in his own mealy mouth. The comment that has Goldstein and some members of the New York readership so up in arms is discussed in Goldstein’s post thusly:

“And as for the people, like his fellow critics, who've been over the moon about the film? Edelstein thinks they're cracked, (italics mine) or as he put it: "It's as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that Inception is a visionary masterpiece and--hold on... Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype--a metaphor for itself."

Edelstein thinks his colleagues are cracked? Here’s the comment as it actually appeared in the final paragraph of the review, introductory sentences intact:

“For the record, I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn’t want to be out in the cold, alone. But I truly have no idea what so many people are raving about. It’s as if someone went into their heads while they were sleeping and planted the idea that Inception is a visionary masterpiece and—hold on … Whoa! I think I get it. The movie is a metaphor for the power of delusional hype—a metaphor for itself.”

Here Edelstein expresses his own preconceptions and desires for Inception-- Yes, it’s entirely possible that even critics want to like a film going in. And really, what sane person would want to put himself in the same position that caused them such unending joy and goodwill over The Dark Knight? But what is mystifying to me is how scorched Edelstein’s feet are getting over the honest practice of exactly what his critical duties entail. One cannot have read much of his work to seriously entertain the idea that David Edelstein is anything like the pugilistic look-ma-no-sense troublemaker that Armond White prizes himself for being. Given that basic fact, shouldn’t we respect and value a reasonably composed and articulated voice that is willing to speak up and offer an alternative point of view that cannot be folded seamlessly into Warner Bros. unstoppable marketing campaign? This is in no way to suggest that anyone who likes or even loves Inception is equally corrupt or even wrong, and I think it’s a mistake to read Edelstein’s final comments this way. Edelstein admits bafflement at why people are so enthusiastic, which simply means they have not been able to successfully, convincingly convey to him what was at the basis of their positive response. And the final sentence, in which Edelstein judiciously employs humor, a frequently misconstrued tactic, to make his point, in no way condemns those who would rave about Nolan’s movie. He’s merely framing his own response in a less-than-poker-faced fashion, and darned if Goldstein isn’t right there to salve the wounds of those Nolan fans who might get their feelings hurt by someone else’s wit. Sticks and stones, after all…


Make no mistake—I have not yet seen Inception myself, though I look forward to it (perhaps now more than ever) and I remain intrigued with the hope that it will feel more like Nolan’s Insomnia (a movie Edelstein praises in his review) and less like The Dark Knight, which I found as incoherent and unconvincing as those reviews cited above. I’m not crying foul over either camp’s honest reaction to Inception. Why would I, or anyone? No, what I’m crying foul over is Goldstein’s eagerness to characterize Edelstein’s honesty, and his excellent faculties as an observer and critic, as somehow corrupt or wrongheaded. (How else to interpret that “sucker punch” headline?) This bastion of industry integrity, writing in the movie industry city’s paper of record, has some real issues with film critics doing their job. And this was the point in Goldstein’s brief post where I cried irredeemable foul (again, the italics are mine):

“I give Edelstein points for lively writing, but in an era where critics have enough credibility issues as it is (and again, italics mine), the last thing we need is a critic thrashing a film because, in part, he's chagrined to see it get so much open adulation. If you want to write that after the movie has opened, fair enough. But it's the wrong stance to take before people have even had a chance to make up their own minds.”

Not to put too crude a point on it, but Mr. Goldstein, what the fuck are you talking about? First of all, with the review itself as my only evidence, Edelstein is in no way basing any part of his reaction to the film itself on other writers positive reaction to it. If that were true, wouldn’t it make more sense that he would have outright lied and claimed to have loved it rather than endure this kind of armchair bullshit? But what’s really perplexing are the last two sentences. Why, exactly, is it fair to express a negative reaction to a movie that has been universally praised only after it opens? Why is it “the wrong stance to take before people have even had a chance to make up their own minds”? With these two sentences Goldstein completes his application to the Warner Brothers marketing department for the position of Head Sycophant, because what’s he’s saying is that critics who don’t like a big-budget release like this shouldn’t have the opportunity to say so and potentially affect the potential box office windfall of that crucial opening weekend. Goldstein would, it seems, favor a selective embargo on any review that couldn’t be quoted whole hog in the two-page Los Angeles Times Calendar ad on opening day. Is Goldstein even aware of what he’s calling for?

The concluding paragraph of the post takes Goldstein from potential publicity hack straight down to the dregs of the Internet goofballs who called for Armond White’s head on a stick for writing a negative review of Toy Story 3. I happen to think White is dead wrong about that movie, even though he certainly has a right to his opinions as well as a forum in which to express them. But most of the outcry wasn’t over White’s opinion which, given his history of, shall we say, impatience with Pixar movies, was no surprise. No, what pissed off the geeks was that White and fellow critic Cole Smithey screwed up the movie’s chances at a rare 100% recommendation rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. Even those who raise a cynical eyebrow at White’s motives had to recognize that whether or not Toy Story 3 had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 100% irrelevant to whether or not it was a good, bad or great movie. What could concern over such a trivial pursuit have to do with responsible critical reportage or even something so crude as the potential box office performance of such a movie. Were there any heads so soft out there as to believe that a 99% rating would make a dent in the movie’s inevitably lucrative future? Or that even Armond White would write a negative review of the movie with the express desire of putting a blemish on an otherwise spotless Rotten Tomatoes ranking?

Well, maybe we could ask Patrick Goldstein those questions. Here’s the devastating conclusion to his withering take on David Edelstein’s integrity in the Inception brouhaha:

“So far, all Edelstein has accomplished is lowering Inception's" initial Rotten Tomatoes score from 100 to 97. But now that the backlash has officially begun, I suspect it will go lower still.” (Shudder. Sniffle. Sob. But that’s not all. Wait for it…) “Apparently, there is no greater sin than for a filmmaker to make a movie that some people just like too much.”

This is a comment that is just so brain-dead dumb as to almost be beneath comment, were it not for the fact that it bears the imprimatur of the Los Angeles Times. Yes, let’s go back and read the terrible reviews bestowed upon the likes of Jaws, The Godfather, Rocky, even Star Wars, not to mention more recent efforts like Inglorious Basterds and, yes, Toy Story 3, all of which, by the way, have had the David Edelstein Seal of Approval bestowed upon them. What the hell sense does this final sentence make? Clearly none, unless we’re to conclude that Goldstein expects a critical, not to mention audience consensus, to greet every big hit. Believe it or not, Patrick, I’ve talked to everyday people, not critics, who don’t think all that highly of The Godfather or Rocky or Star Wars or Casablanca. It's difficult to see where the sin comes in on either the part of the filmmakers or on the part of those who would dissent from popular opinion about these pictures. What this all sounds like to me is that once again you’re trolling for a pat on the back from the big studios and the approval of the majority pro-Inception crowd. Does that mean you’re corrupt too? Or are you just expressing your opinion?

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Here’s my totally non-tongue-in-cheek recommendation of 21 Things I’d Rather Do This Weekend Than Fight the Crowds at Theaters Showing Inception:


1) Attend a lecture by Author/Hollywood historian Cari Beauchamp on actress Marion Davies at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood, followed by a screening of her 1928 comedy Show People.

2) Go get chilled by an ectoplasmic double feature of The Uninvited and Robert Wise’s original The Haunting Friday and Saturday night at the New Beverly Cinema.

3) Go see one of two, or both, Eric Rohmer double features at the Aero Theater. (My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee screen on Friday, and Saturday features La Collectionneuse and Chloe in the Afternoon.)


4) Go see F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise in a brand-new print at the Nuart.

5) Go cruisin’ with the Cinefamily and their ’70s Van Triple Feature, featuring Stuart Getz in The Van, plus Mag Wheels and Supervan.

6) Go back to the New Beverly on Sunday and thrill to Fred and Ginger in Top Hat and Swing Time!

7) Stay inside, turn on the AC and watch the DVD of Julien Duvivier’s Le Fin du Jour that the Siren sent me this week.

8) Take the kids to Glendale Cruise Night.

9) Pour a beer and page through the made-to-order Warner DVD Archives.

10) Go see a minor league baseball game.


11) Find a swimming hole and jump in.

12) Eat a Pink’s Double Bacon Chili Cheeseburger.

13) Retreat to the family bathroom with a stack of magazines after having eaten the Pink’s Double Bacon Chili Cheeseburger.


14) Go biking with my kids.


15) Write, write, write.

16) Go to the drive-in.

17) Take a walk with my best gal(s) and go get an ice cream cone.

18) Pick up one of the approximately 30 books I have currently bookmarked in progress and make some serious headway on at least one of them.

19) Decide on a new color with which to paint my house.

20) Cash in that gift certificate for a 90-minute massage that I got two Christmases ago.


21) Raise a glass to the friends I see every week, the friends I miss dearly and the friends I’ve never met.

Anybody got any other ideas?

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UPDATE 7/15/10 1:11 pm Jim Emerson rounds up the preemptive strikes in the pre-release war of words over Inception and Christopher Nolan over at Scanners.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

DC MERCILESSLY INTERROGATED AT THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO MIDNITE CINEMA



Well aware that the title of their Internet endeavor might just be an irreconcilable contradiction of terminology, an elegant oxymoron not quite up to the level of “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence” on the scale of semantic significance, the good folks at The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema have been around since the autumn of ’08, podcasting every week and guiding willing listeners “through the worlds of sleaze, action, westerns, horror and more.” The GGTMC is overseen by the likes of Big Willy (a.k.a. Large William), The Samurai (who sounds a whole lot like Joe Don Baker), Pickleloaf (who sports a mighty Joe Don Baker fixation of his own) and a motley host of others. For aficionados of grindhouse minutiae, the long-lost midnight movie aesthetic of the ‘70s and its VHS-inspired reflection from the ‘80s, these podcasts will be a treasure trove of laid-back, slightly-stoned conversation, with names like Ciro Santiago, Thalmus Rasulala, Akira Kurosawa, Anna Biller, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Henry Silva, W.C. Fields and Abel Ferrara bandied about like old friends on pretty much the same level playing field.


And then there’s GGTMC’s West Coast correspondent Rupert Pupkin-- that’s the name he gave himself, folks, though I prefer to think of him by his Twitter handle, Big Bob Freelander, a nod to Bruce Dern’s eternally optimistic character in Michael Ritchie’s Smile. Rupert has his own territory, a blog entitled Rupert Pupkin Speaks, and when Rupert Pupkin speaks, we know at least his Mom (“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”) is listening. And why not? His list-oriented blog is a mind-joggling spot of fun. (Behold Rupe’s list of his favorite “Bet” films. Okay, parlor game fanatics, which ones did he leave out?)

Well, it turns out Rupe is a superb listener as well, and his duties as West Coast correspondent have made him the GGTMC’s de facto stringer for interesting interviews with interesting people, both on the margins and right in the center of the boiling stew that is Hollywood Genre Filmmaking 101 and Hollywood Genre Filmmaking Appreciation 101, circa 2010. He’s really racked up quite an impressive list of subjects for grilling under the hot lights during the past two months: there’s Lars Nilsen, programming mastermind at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin Texas; Nilsen’s programming colleague Zack Carlson; screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence); blogger, raconteur and movie geek extraordinaire Marc Edward Heuck, who hangs out at The Projector Has Been Drinking; and directors Allan Arkush (Hollywood Boulevard, Get Crazy, Rock and Roll High School ) and Joe Dante (Hollywood Boulevard, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Howling).

And now he’s gone and dirtied that watering hole by interviewing me. That’s right, Rupert cornered me in his basement studio (I was sitting just to the left of the Liza Minnelli cutout) for an off-the-cuff discussion that ranged from my blogging origins to Brian De Palma, Howard Hawks, the aforementioned Henry Silva (being, as he is, close to the molten core of the earth for denizens of the GGTMC) all the way down to, through an unfortunate piece of timing, the virtues (but mostly the lack thereof) of Mannequin 2: On The Move. It’s a spirited, free-wheeling conversation— or so Rupe tells me. I have an aversion to listening to my own voice blathering on and on (strange for someone with a radio background, but…), so I haven’t actually heard it myself. But Rupe assures me he’s pleased with it, and when you’ve got the Pupkin breathing down your neck the one thing you want is for him to be pleased (for a least as long as it takes to find the keys and break out of that basement). So click on over to The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema and enjoy all the treats they have in store, not least of which (I hope) is Rupert’s interview with Your Humble Narrator. It was a lot of fun and a sincere honor to have been asked. I'm also kind of holding out some hope that this podcast conversation will serve as an adequate-enough audition tape to get me booked on Letterman or maybe Conan. Because you see I, not unlike Rupert himself, have ambitions… and I think if Dave just listened to this interview for just a second he’d really like it and, you know, maybe he’d see how much I deserve to be on television and that he’d give me my shot…

Go ahead— slip through the keyhole into the weird, wonderful world of The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema, but never say you weren’t warned.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

HECK YES, ROBERT ALTMAN!





Seeing as that we seem to have Robert Altman on the brain around here this week, here’s a link to a terrific Tumbler site that should appeal to the would-be Altman archive diver in us all. It’s called Fuck Yeah Robert Altman (thanks so very much, Mssrs. Parker and Stone), and it’s loaded with goodies. My favorite so far? A headline that reads: “Boston Globe Doesn’t Mind Quintet,” a link to one of the few middling reviews of that much-lambasted 1979 Altman release. And there’s also a ton of great pictures (like the ones seen above) and links to the latest news, including this tidbit fresh off the presses about the upcoming Warners DVD release of Brewster McCloud. This new issue is a real dream come true for us Altman-heads who still love our MGM laserdisc but have long anticipated a clean anamorphic transfer, all the better to appreciate Sally Kellerman’s clipped wings, the popped contact lens revealing Michael Murphy’s true colors, the texture of the various stages of Rene Auberjonois’ feature-length transformation, and all the other joys of this weird and wonderful movie (which was Shelley Duvall’s movie debut, on top of everything else).

Click and enjoy, and remember… um, damn, I forgot the closing line…

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