Saturday, September 27, 2014


The Cozzalio ladies and I went to dinner last night at a restaurant on the outskirts of the dread Americana here in beautiful downtown Glendale, and while Nonie and I waited for the table, Patty and Emma walked over to Barnes and Noble for some pre-food browsing. They returned with the 2015 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, the last gasp in a long run of such volumes which began back in 1969. I had the first one (seen here), obtained as a bonus gift for joining the Movie Book Club when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I bought the new one each time out ever since, up until about three of four years ago, when bookshelf space, even after donating my old copies to Goodwill, started becoming a premium. And I knew, given that this was the final chapter, I'd have to have this one too.
Maltin's books were always handy and full of interesting technical information on running time, casts, dates and, in later editions, aspect ratios, but also, as the man on the cover acknowledges in his foreword, increasingly cumbersome and perhaps even superfluous in the age of proliferating information, accurate or otherwise, on the Internet. They were also touchstones for me, sort of a rock-solid place of repose right down the middle of the mainstream, and I'll always appreciate them as such, even when the aggregate of opinion gathered in the books (they were not always Maltin's, but instead an amalgam of observations gathered by his editorial staff) were exceedingly predictable posts from that mainstream, or surprisingly skimpy-- even for bite-sized capsules-- on actual reasons for some of the lower star ratings. He'll probably never live down the two-star ratings for Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet, but at least he's stuck to his guns-- those ratings, and the reasons for them ("Ugly and unredeeming!" "Terminally weird!") still stand. Which is quite unlike the time when he acknowledged upgrading his initial *1/2 stamp on Smokey and the Bandit because, well, a lot of people seemed to like it.

At dinner last night, we all amused ourselves playing a game that my best pal Bruce and I used to indulge in upon the release of each new annual edition. The new "Leonard" in hand, we each took turns trying to accurately predict the star rating for whatever notable releases from the previous year that would be included for the first time. We were both always pretty good at this-- a serious indicator of that predictability I mentioned-- and it turned out Patty was too. And since I'd skipped a couple of years, there were lots of titles that came to my mind. The girls even shouted out some predictions, and we were all surprisingly close, if not spot-on, never more than a half-star away from the truth. A sampling:

Antichrist ** (grimly serious, but also difficult to decipher, with touches of fantasy thrown in)
Blue Jasmine ***1/2 (Allen's screenplay offers food for thought about ethics, morals, friendship, family and our consumerist society)

Curse of Chucky *1/2 (Lacking the comic tone of the last few movies of the series, this is really just for fans)

Godzilla (2014) *** (spectacular, surprisingly good)
The Grand Budapest Hotel **** (breathless farce populated with characters out of a Lubitsch movie)

The Great Beauty ***1/2 (a visual feast with thought-provoking dialogue)
Holy Motors **1/2 (pointless)

Hot Fuzz ** (protracted, disappointing, resolutely dull)
Inside Llewyn Davis **1/2 (form trumps content here, though it's obviously catnip to Coen loyalists)

Killer Joe *** (solid direction, not for the squeamish or easily offended)
Only Lovers Left Alive ** (hip but terminally boring)

Passion ** (stylish film reveals De Palma's usual superb use of the camera and has its moments, but it's too twisty, ironic and uninvolving)
Savages ** (long, boring look at mostly scummy characters)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives **1/2 (a spiritual quest for some, frustrating for others)
Under the Skin ** (contemplative, metaphysical sci-fi doesn't go anywhere as a story, but almost succeeds as a lesson in style as substance)

Lots of eyebrow-arching fun, in other words. Of course, re Curse, the "comic tone of the last few movies" was only good enough for a half-star upgrade over the rating he gave the latest installment, which ranks a stinker rating even without any indication whatsoever in the review as so what makes it so bad. And that's Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide in a nutshell, really. Lots of good objective information-- the book has always been a great resource regarding running times as a point of comparison for determining the degree to which any given version of the film has been cut-- coupled with predictable reactions you can guess before even reading them. Makes you wonder, if Maltin just left out the opining and stuck to the facts, like John Willis did in his Screen World series, the books might not be so fat (or so expensive) and maybe he'd feel like cranking 'em out for a few more years. But those opinions, as bland and cranky as they might sometimes be, have been an integral part of the fun for 46 years. It just wouldn't have been Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide without 'em. So salud, Leonard, and thanks for being a diverting and integral part of my getting to know the movies.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

That's it eh. I go back to about 1973 with Maltin, didn't upgrade as often as you, but periodically I picked up a new version over the years. IMDB made his book mostly unnecessary, although it was still nice to have a physical reference guide. The last few years, like 10 or so, I have been finding myself disagreeing more and more with his ratings and after picking up my last copy (2012) decided I probably wouldn't pick up any more of his guides, just too many ratings I disagreed with. Stil, I'll probably miss the guy for some odd reason.

(really - 2 1/2 stars for Inside Llewyn Davis? Right there, that's the problem)