Saturday, June 25, 2005


Finally, just a quick note to pass along courtesy of my friend Katie, who tells me of an outdoor screening of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure courtesy of Cinespia in the heart of Hollywood next Saturday night. Sounds like a lot of fun. But will Amazing Larry be there?


Well, looks like I’ll be having some fun entertaining my nephew Evan from out of town next week. Evan carries on the newly formed tradition in my family of being an unapologetic movie freak when all around you are either callously indifferent or not quite as freaky as you (I like to think I started this tradition). Anyway, we’ll be taking in as many films as we can pack in over the next week, including his first experience at a drive-in (the Vineland in the City of Industry, the only ozoner left in Los Angeles proper), and I’ll be attempting to work at least a 40-hour week on top of all that, so I may not have much left in me for blogging next week. I’m not saying I’ll be absent, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be less prolific than usual. I’ll try to keep abreast and at least post some comments, if not any new articles, and then when I come back I’ll let you know what Evan and I ended up seeing. Have a great week!


Michael Bay may be getting most of the attention this summer, but there are three other directors, and perhaps now even four, who I admire, and whose specialty is action with a certain higher level of craft, intelligence and cinematic virtuosity than the average 900-pound gorilla. When I see their names in the credits, it’s really all I need to know.

The directorial work of ex-special effects craftsman Joe Johnston (Star Wars is chief among his many credits) has been consistently satisfying and shot through with far more wit and elegance than one might have guessed could come from one so technically oriented. His films are wizardly and cheerfully grotesque (Jumanji), rousing and elegantly detailed (The Rocketeer), brisk, lean, and heartstopping (Jurassic Park III), humane and filled with the poetry of the everyday (October Sky), epic, affectionate and engaged with American mythology (Hidalgo). One of the reasons I worry about Michael Bay and his ilk becoming the standard for action filmmakers, and filmmakers in general, is the inevitable devaluation of genuine talents like Johnston, whose gifts are square within the scope of traditional cinematic storytelling. I continue to hope that his facility with the narrative of big-scale filmmaking will continue to keep him in the hearts and minds and BlackBerries of the Hollywood hotshots.

Another action director worth keeping an eye on is David R.Ellis, a former ace stunt coordinator who has only two films to his credit as director, but they are doozies. If you decried in the last few years the toothlessness of the mainstream horror thriller, get thee to a DVD player and rent Final Destination 2, the nearly universally trodden-upon sequel to the modest hit Final Destination, in which a group of kids deplane from a doomed flight and inadvertently save themselves from Death, who comes stalking them in ever more gruesome, jerry-rigged ways. Ellis’ sequel continues the same basic concept, and it’s a bit dicey in the logic department at times, but as a showcase for Ellis’ ability to stage awe-inspiring road destruction, even Bay must have bowed down after seeing the opening 10 minutes of this movie. And the movie gleefully restores the bad-ass bloodletting of disreputable ‘80s horror films and ups the ante considerably, thanks to some of the most clever CGI-enhanced gore yet seen. Ellis also headed up last year’s exceedingly clever car-chase thriller Cellular, which should have garnered some mention in our big Los Angeles movie debate of a couple of months ago. It’s a terrific travelogue of L.A. and a snappy critique of the cellular phone culture, courtesy of a devilishly sharp concept by screenwriter/director Larry Cohen in which a kidnapped woman contacts an average kid on a cell phone, convinces him her life and her family’s life is in danger and to try to help her, all without losing the tenuous cell phone signal that has become her lifeline. Ellis’ facility with action is put to marvelous, agile use here—he juggles some pretty fragile balls intelling this story and manages to keep them all in the air with a casually sadistic grin on his face, which will be matched by the one on yours when you see Cellular.

I would include two others on my list of interesting new action directors based only having seen one film from either of them: John Moore, who directed the intense remake of The Flight of the Phoenix, and Louis Leterrier, director of Unleashed. (Leterrier is also co-director, with stunt coordinator Cory Yuen, of the Luc Besson-scripted The Transformer, and well as sole credited director of the upcoming Transformer 2.)

These are the guys that give me hope for the American action cinema.


Last week Slate editor Bryan Curtis wrote a “What? Me Worry?” piece in defense of the aesthetic of director Michael Bay, the general gist of which was a none-too-sly implication that those who weren’t on board with Bay’s tactics as a pummeler nonpareil in the fine, nonintellectual (he typed with a straight face) tradition of what has become known and defined, thanks in part of Bay’s contributions, as the summer movie, were flying in the face of the inevitable. Here’s Curtis:

“The apoplexy Bay's movies inspire reveals something interesting about film critics: That no matter how much they insist that they've made their peace with the summer movie, and its bullying domination of the multiplex, they can still go limp at the idea of the summer movie as an artistic end in and of itself. Bay is a pure creature of summer, a man who has no ambition other than to dazzle and pummel. As he once put it, savoring his critical infamy, "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime."

Curtis is out to get some goats with this piece, in a garrulous, nondogmatic manner, to be sure, but he’s also all about trying to position Bay as some sort of innovator who’s (here we go again) just giving the people what they want, yet attempting to fashion an aesthetic purse from what others (critics) have been conditioned to accept only as a sow’s ear— that is, the preconception of a “summer movie” as by definition beneath the realm of art. Well, if the roots of the modern summer movie can be said to extend further beneath the surface of film history than the emergence of Michael Bay, then we might see that one of the first examples, if not the first example, Jaws, is not exactly without critical acclaim to go along with its popularity. So what does Curtis mean when he writes about “the idea of the summer movie as an artistic end in itself”? Is he talking about pure sensation detached from the artistic impulse to explore character, themes and techniques designed with something other than heightened blood pressure as a desired end? If you look solely at the faintly glib conclusion of his article, you might be forgiven for thinking so:

“There are those who say that watching a Bay movie is itself like watching one long chase scene out of context, as Bay whips from one image to the next, but I think Bay is on to something. He's whittled the summer movie down to its smallest constituent parts—without the clutter of character, cohesion, or exposition.”

But it’s clear from looking elsewhere that, for Curtis, Bay’s work, and presumably its acceptance at the box office, represents the evidence that the kind of hyperactive editing and “look at me, ma!” camerawork that is its hallmark has made the transition from all-flash-no-substitute signpost to “an artistic end in itself":

“’Fast-cutting’ is seen as a hackneyed technique of music videos, not cinema. In fact, patching a bunch of quick cuts together is a massive undertaking in the editing room.” (The fact that “patching a bunch of quick cuts together is a massive undertaking in the editing room” is somehow apparently evidence unto itself that the technique is not hackneyed. Curtis never elaborates, but instead goes on:) “Moreover, Bay has a fluid, gliding camera—he's using quick cuts to create atmosphere, not to whip up false momentum.”

What the hell does Curtis mean by “creating atmosphere”? Bay applies the same frenetic editing style to every situation, be it action or dialogue based, so can it be said that for Bay there is only one “atmosphere” with which his films are imbued? And what atmosphere can be created by the excessive visual bombardment of a 30-40 cuts per minute of footage? Perhaps that of sitting on a crowded airport tarmac while sitting six inches away from and staring directly into a strobe light, which was exactly what sitting through Armageddon in a movie theater felt like to me.

But his claim that Bay uses this technique for atmosphere, and not to whip up false momentum, is the single biggest chunk of balderdash the article has to offer. If Mr. Curtis had ever sat through Bad Boys II, as I did last night, he would have witnessed the spectacle of Michael Bay creating scene after scene loaded with false momentum. The movie features one absolutely smashing (literally and figuratively) car chase involving several vehicles and a truck transport loaded with cars which the baddies unleash from the trailer and drop into traffic, causing some spectacular and rather beautiful vehicular mayhem. The scene flirts with deflation by Bay’s insistence on cutting to reaction shots from the titular bad boys (Martin Lawrence’s wide-eyed fear, Will Smith’s hooting and expressions of “extre-e-e-e-eme” excitement), but there’s no doubt the momentum in this scene is the real thing.

Unfortunately, none of the other big sequences (especially another car chase in which the obstacle du jour dumped from the fleeing vehicle this time is not other vehicles, but a truckload of morgue stiffs) measures up to the effectiveness of this first chase (which occurs 30 minutes into the movie’s incredibly bloated 145-minute running time). Each big action sequence is alternated with "hilarious" character by-play between Lawrence and Smith, which not only adds immeasurable and inessential minutes to that bloat, but effectively kills the movie’s real momentum. (As a father of two daughters, I was, however, grateful for a very inessential scene in which Lawrence and Smith intimidate a young boy coming to call on Lawrence's 14-year-old daughter. It builds up a head of comedy steam I found very funny and with which I experienced much empathy.) So each Lawrence/Smith breather is shot through with as much phony editing (which can’t serve to move the story along, because the scenes themselves aren’t designed to do so) and swooshing camerawork as the director can think to pack in, all of it intended to give the viewer the impression that something is happening when, in fact, the opposite is true.

Curtis finishes off this section of his piece by quoting one of Bay’s professors at Wesleyan, Jeanne Basinger, as saying that rather than using rapid-fire editing to “create atmosphere,” what Bay is really doing is attempting to “introduce something like abstract expressionism to the $150 million blockbuster.” Would that be anything like a professor trying to assign some dubious artistic rationale to a former student’s methods in order to minimize her own embarrassment?

For Curtis, there is an implication that, within a few generations, Hollywood will have, through its various processes of cannibalization of previous pop culture iconography and methodology, produced a director who knows nothing but “the grammar of blockbusters—the bastard son of Top Gun’s Maverick and a velociraptor.” What he doesn’t seem to see, or at least accept, is that a summer movie need not be, by definition, divorced from character, cohesion and exposition in order to achieve some reductive transmogrification into artistic expression-- Batman Begins ought to be evidence enough of that, and there’s reason to hope that Land of the Dead and even War of the Worlds might also fulfill that hope. Those who hold these beliefs might also hold that Curtis’ prognostication has already seen fruition, and that Michael Bay has already achieved that Maverick-velociraptor hybrid status. It’s never clear through what Curtis writes whether he thinks this is a bad thing or not, but he’s certainly for embracing Bay’s deconstructive aesthetic approach, which is simply a glib way of saying that it just doesn’t matter, albeit a bit wordier than a shrug and a “who cares?” There’s the definite implication that those who would worry about such things are almost exclusively calcified dinosaur critics who just aren’t on Bay’s wavelength the way most paying audiences are. (Does anyone really still hold to that old saw about paying audiences voting with their dollars? And if they do, how about asking them what they thought on their way out of the cineplex?)

Strangely enough, my viewing of Bad Boys II instilled a faint ray of hope for Bay’s next project, the upcoming sci-fi thriller The Island. My aesthetic objections to the Bay movies I’ve seen have been pretty much consistent across the board-- The Rock, Armageddon and Bad Boys II all featured the same aggravating editing, the overwrought, insistent camerawork, and a certain approach to character that could be described as “crude” or “rendered in broad strokes.” But my objections otherwise have been either script-based-- the screenplays for The Rock and Armageddon were almost pathologically averse to common sense and believability—or attitude-based—if two-thirds of the allegedly charming interaction between Lawrence and Smith had been cut from Bad Boys II, as well as some of the redundant action (and any first-year film student could have probably done the job to effectively tighten up the pace), Bay might have had a snappy, 105-minute action film on his hands instead of the lethargic clunker into which the movie devolves.

Yet The Island is his first job out from underneath the Jerry Bruckheimer umbrella, and it boasts the promise of genre sophistication that his other movies, generously speaking, have not. And anyone who wouldn’t trade Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Josh Hartnett, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for Ewan MacGregor, Scarlet Johannsen, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou , Sean Bean and Shawnee Smith, well, you probably think Michael Bay’s trying to inject abstract expressionism into $150 million blockbusters and is onto something with this whole whittling the summer movie “down to its smallest constituent parts—without the clutter of character, cohesion or exposition” business.

Divorced of the hip-hop, bling-bling bullshit bravado of the Smith-Lawrence show and the jingoism and visual mayhem of Armageddon, I think The Island has, if it’s got anything like the frenzied smackdown theatrics of that first car chase in Bad Boys II up its sleeve, a real chance to be Michael Bay’s first good movie. But that said, if it is it won’t be because I’ve suddenly bought into this business of Bay and others like him fragmenting audiences’ attention spans with eyeball-crushing edits and deafening sound in search of that great, awesome thrill-ride movie experience. It’ll be because Michael Bay finally figured out a way to put that prodigious ability to stage action to the service to telling a story worth telling in a manner that tells it well. Consider my mind open and my fingers crossed.


Frequent commenter and regular site visitor The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, who only reads articles from this blog by printing them out and taking them along on bathroom visits (which I take, believe it or not, as a huge compliment, knowing as I do the sanctity of one’s bathroom reading time), has harangued me in person about my enthusiasm for Unleashed. He held that my claim of Jet Li never having displayed better form as a martial artist than he does in this movie was evidence that I hadn’t seen any good Jet Li movies.

There are a couple of things wrong with this complaint. I think that having seen and loved Once Upon a Time in China series, Tai Chi Master, Fong Sai Yuk and Fist of Legend might suggest that I have at least an inkling as to what constitutes a good Jet Li action performance. Of course, I’ve not seen every Jet Li movie, good or bad, so how could I make such a claim that Unleashed featured his best work as a martial artist? The answer: I didn’t. A quick look back at my comments reveals that what I actually wrote was, “Li has never been better as an actor, and perhaps never better as a pure martial artist, than in this movie.”

The key word, of course, is “perhaps.” “Perhaps” is important because, as anyone who has even seen a picture of me ought to be able to suss out fairly easily, I’m not a martial artist myself and would be foolish to claim any expertise about them in any other light but my own experience of them in movies. I can only make assessments about this kind of athletic performance within the framework that the movie constructs, so any judgment I put forth about the quality of the performance of a martial artist must necessarily be read with this qualification in mind (a qualification I suspect also holds true for the Mysterious Adrian Betamax and 90% of all other appreciators of movie kung fu fighting).

The word “perhaps” also implicitly invites the suggestion that there may be other, better examples out there to which I would gladly be directed by anyone with knowledge of them, since my experience with Jet Li movies is incomplete, as is my experience with almost any nameable film artist (the only all-knowing, all-seeing completist I know of is the giant pulsating brain that resides behind the oversized curtain in the city at the heart of the Internet Movie Database, and even it doesn’t really have it all covered). Film writers should be able to be relied upon for the intelligent application of thought and experience to the films they write about, but it should never be assumed by the reader, nor implied by the writer, that one’s knowledge is sufficiently all-encompassing to make sweeping pronouncements of the kind the M.A.B. took me to be making. I will say, however, that I should have been as qualified in my assessment of his acting and wrote instead, “Li may have never been better as an actor than in his movie,” to avoid anyone assuming I’m trying to claim absolute knowledge of Jet Li as an actor either.

All that said, I stand by my enthusiastic endorsement of the movie. I suspect the M.A.B. may object to Unleashed because it is not a Hong Kong-generated film, but that would only be a guess, because he has yet to actually articulate to me why the movie is no good, in fact, flat-out awful. Therefore, I invite him, or anyone else who has seen Unleashed and passionately disagrees with my high opinion of it, to check in on the comments column of this post and tell me why I’m wrong. I’m not interested in discrediting anybody for their reactions, but I certainly would be interested in hearing about them, and I will argue back. The collar on this debate has now been removed.


It took me about ten minutes into the running time of Batman Begins before I got that familiar buzz. You know, the one you get upon delivery of honest goods to the entertainment receptors of the brain that are used to being outright ignored or clogged by endless, half-assed repetition of tired themes and bloated budgets for big-ticket movies that should have never seen the light of day. I’ve felt that buzz already this year watching Kung Fu Hustle and Unleashed—it happens whenever it starts to hit me that, yes, the filmmakers are onto something, and that what I’m watching has a really good chance of turning out to be a good movie. And that’s what Batman Begins is that the other Batman films, including Tim Burton’s influential and moneymaking first foray into the world of Bruce Wayne, are not—an entirely terrific movie, and not just a stunning piece of set design directed by a man only sporadically interested in the telling of a ripping tale, or a shallow super-freak villain showcase which quickly degenerates into a hopeless can-you-top-this carnival of desperate, hammy acting.

Director Christopher Nolan manages to find a near-perfect balance of filmmaking showmanship, narrative energy and psychological weight to lend to the telling of the half-familiar tale of Batman’s origins. He takes matters seriously enough to wring real emotion from the assassination of Bruce Wayne’s parents (the only part of Wayne’s background Burton chose to dramatize, and then only half-heartedly). But then Nolan, along with coscreenwriter David S. Goyer, proceeds to devote, with some deft chronological imbalances familiar to those who experienced the temporally unmoored pleasures of the director’s ass-backward noir Memento, nearly another hour to Wayne’s isolation and training with a group of justice fighters called the League of Shadows, which provides the basis of the philosophy he grafts onto the facing of his fears (personified by his revulsion for bats) by battling criminal forces back in his home city of Gotham. It is only after this compellingly told back story is methodically laid down that the central figure of Batman, as we are familiar with him, ever makes an appearance on screen. By then our appetite has been whetted. We’ve been enveloped by a more realistic foundation on which the story of that winged hero must be built, and Nolan, with actor Christian Bale delivering a complex and nuanced performance as Wayne, turns out to be more than up to fulfilling that promise.

The Gotham of Batman Begins is definitely influenced by the expressionistically overwrought city Anton Furst designed for the 1988 film, but that influence does not fall into simple plagiarism—it has a festering, grotesque grandeur all its own, and it feels, from the air and the ground, like a city we might recognize, one in the midst of a breakdown, in a freefall from beauty. Also, there is no trace of the ghastly cartoon bloating of the Joel Schumacher movies—there is humor, but it is not italicized and punched up so obviously that even the most witless audience member might be sure to correctly interpret the jab in his ribs. Strangely, for some Batman Begins seems to have not enough villainy, or rather, villains not grand enough to constantly catch our eye and color in the operatic expectations left unfulfilled by the central superhero. Thus, the movie has been shrugged off by some who ended up feeling, ironically enough, that Nolan’s mistake was in overemphasizing that hero, that is, the titular character-- not a mistake often attributed to writers and filmmakers who are usually right to ensure that the eponymous character, be he Batman or Macbeth or Ivanhoe, ends up being the central focus of the story.

But Nolan’s instincts are right; the satellite disbursement of malevolence in Batman Begins is a perfect antidote to the maddening silliness of the Schumacher films, and even the off-putting grotesquerie of some of Burton’s concepts of criminality. Here, there are ever-increasing layers of Gotham corruption and evil embodied by three separate villains who share that focus, but never throw the balance of the film out of whack—mob boss Carmine Falcone (an excellent Tom Wilkinson), a perfectly skin-crawling Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), known also as the Scarecrow (whose fate, thankfully, is left open-ended, all the better for a future nerve-rattling reappearance), and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), high priest of the League of Shadows, who exits the film early only to have his most twisted views of the perpetuation of justice carried out by a fourth figure more closely tied to Bruce Wayne. But the movie always returns to Wayne’s motivations—revenge, tempered by a sense of social responsibility, and a desperate need to use his newly assumed identity as a vehicle for confronting interior demons that rage nearly as dangerously as those on the city streets-- and they infuse the action with just the right flourish of righteous indignation and disoriented buzz.

The movie has also been criticized as a bit of a hash in terms of its ability to visually map out and make clear the geography and choreography of some of its fight scenes. As a pretty strong objector to the usual sort of slice-and-dice editing that tends to render movement and graphic continuity within action sequences incoherent, I saw this kind of approach in Batman Begins as having, if not a ultimately different narrative effect than, say, one in a routine bad action film, then at least a believable psychological rationale. In a crummy action movie, an overly edited sequence is usually a pretty strong indicator that the director may not be confident in his staging or his ability to convey the power of the fight in visual terms, and therefore he overworks the Avid machine to hopefully make a limp sequence somehow snappier, or at least cover up its flaccidity. Nolan may not yet be any more comfortable with more personal, small-scale fight sequences either—his are largely broken into shards of sudden movement from the shadows, an unexpected frenzy of chaos. But, at least in the initial sequences when Batman begins taking various groups of baddies by surprise, there is a psychological motivation to this kind of editing, which produces a disorientation in the viewer quite similar to the one being experienced by the surprised thugs who Batman swats around—a disorientation similar to the one the young Bruce Wayne feels when, at the bottom of a well, he has his first traumatic encounter with bats, enveloped and overwhelmed by the flapping of wings in his ears, claws and teeth pulling at his hair.

Unfortunately, this psychological rationale doesn’t hold water by the end of the film, when Batman must face his final foe. A one-on-one battle between two nemeses who once had a much different relationship would seem to suggest that Nolan’s camera (manned by the capable and talented director of photography Wally Pfister) might better serve the battle by stepping back a pace or two, and that his editors resist the temptation to punch up each arm movement and successfully delivered blow with its own cut. By editing the sequence in this fashion, the action (which by now most audiences will be willing to follow, no matter the aesthetic misdemeanors used to present it) is violated, the editing loses its effectiveness, and it reduces the impact of an otherwise powerful ending confrontation by a simple few, yet quite noticeable, degrees.

Happily, though, Batman Begins, cruising on the conviction of its director to virtually recreate a familiar mythology in more realistic, edgier film-noir strokes, survives to the end as an excellently told comic book movie. It’s a movie with little fear of its own darker hues that wants to be taken fairly seriously, yet is hardly so inordinately glum and posturing that it renders itself pretentious, and therefore unworthy of being taken seriously at all. It’s a beginning that shuffles the history of the Batman character and forces a different perspective on his various past incarnations. It’s a beginning that feels like a solid foundation for many more tales hopefully as well-told as this one. It’s a beginning that signals hope for the future, not only of Batman, but for the prospect of other intelligent, ambitious blockbusters making it through the straitjacket homogeneity of the Hollywood production mill with their brains, hearts and souls intact.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

NO, YOU HOLD IT BETWEEN YOUR KNEES! Lorna Thayer 1919-2005

Lorna Thayer, the character actress probably best known for her role as the waitress who refuses to take Jack Nicholson’s order for toast in Five Easy Pieces, has died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Thayer's 39-year career as a character actress in movies and TV began inauspiciously in 1952 in a B-western called Texas City, with her first big role coming four years later in The Beast with a Million Eyes. Although she would work with directors such as Robert Wise and Billy Wilder (she played bit parts in I Want to Live!, The Andromeda Strain and Buddy Buddy), her film career was largely limited to roles defined as often by societal position as by name—Grocery Clerk, Prison Guard, Passenger on Mexico Flight, Hospital Attendant and, of course, Waitress. TV would be slightly kinder, as it would to a lot of working actors throughout its history; she appeared in roles of varied importance in the ‘50s and ‘60s on such shows as Medic, Studio 57, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Dragnet, Have Gun-Will Travel, Johnny Ringo, The Untouchables, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Garrison’s Gorillas, It Takes a Thief and, after a long hiatus from TV, a final guest appearance on CHiPs in 1977 in a role described in the credits (and on the Internet Movie Database) only as “Matron.”

That famous scene from Five Easy Pieces, an awards-show favorite from the 1970 Academy Awards straight on up through today, is funny and entertaining, all right, but I’ve always found that standoff with Nicholson also quite uncomfortable and not just a little disingenuous on the part of Nicholson, writer Carole Eastman, and director Bob Rafelson. The movie was one of the few post-Easy Rider pitches to the sympathies of alienated youth that actually succeeded in making a cultural ripple all its own, and as such was loaded with anger, toward the older generation that had frittered away the opportunity to connect with their sons and daughters and toward the Establishment that allowed for that older generation’s calcified morality and corruption. So when Nicholson begins his tug of war with the waitress over the toast, which ends with him trashing the table and leaving the diner trailing an air of frustration and, of course, a sense of triumph, of having in some way stuck it to the Man, the audience is primed and ready to go with him, laughing all the way at his subversive outrage. The problem is, the movie scores all its points in this scene by Nicholson berating a woman whose sole function is to exist as an Establishment symbol, when the reality is, this waitress is far more the victim of any Establishment repression, being a minimum-wage worker in a diner, than is our hero, a cultured, piano-playing oil worker who walks off his job without a second thought because he knows he’s got his (corrupt) daddy’s money to fall back on. (Substitute "struggling actress" for "waitress" and "pampered movie star on the rise" for "cultured, piano-playing oil worker" and maybe my point becomes clearer.) The waitress plays by the rules of the restaurant in refusing Nicholson’s order because if she doesn’t, she’s likely to lose her low-paying job and have to hit the pavement in search of another one that might not even be as good as the one she’s got. Rafelson and Eastman’s point might have gone down a little smoother had Nicholson demanded to see the manager and taken out his self-righteous frustration on him. But would our sainted antihero have had the balls to stand up to a man, perhaps one far bigger of frame and weight than him, in a similar situation? We never find out, because it’s easier and funnier to let Nicholson have his way with someone who’s sassy enough to spar with him a little but who won’t fight back when he loses his cool over a piece of toast.

It’s a tribute to Lorna Thayer, as “Waitress,” that the thing I remember most, and most fondly, from not only that scene but from the whole of Five Easy Pieces, is the disgusted smirk on her face as she reads back the order that last time, before asking him, “You want me to hold the chicken?” Would there were an alternate-universe director’s cut in which she, not Nicholson, gets the last word: “No, you hold it between your knees, asshole!”

Monday, June 20, 2005


My dad was never much interested in the movies. He grew up in the same small town I was born in (and where he still lives), the Italian-American son of a father, who earned his living in the woods as a logger, and a mother who ran the meat department for the local Safeway, and his interests were outdoor-oriented ones—fishing, hunting, scouring the sagebrush-dotted landscape of Eastern Oregon for Native-American artifacts—passed down from his dad. But his mother’s interest in Hollywood movies of her day—the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s—never really held much sway for him. When I came along in 1960, he was only 20 years old (my mom was 19), and he has admitted in recent years that he was too young to really know what lay in store for him in his role as a father, that he probably wasn’t ready for it. What he has never admitted, but what I certainly believe to be true, is that he had some hopes, some plans, some idea of what it would be like to have a son, an idea grounded in his own relationship with his dad, and that he suffered a bitter disappointment when the interests I developed as a young boy didn’t exactly line up with his own.

He wanted to pass along his love of the outdoors, and his weekend interest in football and baseball, and I was much more interested in reading, writing, drawing, watching TV and following the flights of my imagination, which often (but not always) involved a lot of solitary play time. I can even remember a conversation with my mother when I was no more than three, in which she sat me on the top bunk of my bed and asked me to try to be interested in football for my daddy’s sake. But a three-year-old is what a three-year-old is, and I just couldn’t find it in me to sustain enough interest in sports to make my dad happy. Conversely, the only TV show I can remember him watching with any active interest was McHale’s Navy, which I enjoyed but which he, to my mother’s annoyance, found hysterically funny. And I can remember him dragging me out of bed around 10:00 p.m. one weeknight, again when I was about three, to watch Ralph the Muppet Dog play the piano on The Jimmy Dean Show. Science fiction, horror and fantasy programs were, I’m sure, far too fanciful for a man whose idea of a good time was going away for three weeks at a time hunting bighorn sheep in Montana, but he never really cared for earthier concepts like westerns and cop shows either. And other than the occasional episode of Gunsmoke, he never seemed to much care about the TV I was interested in—cartoons held no allure for him, of course, but neither did stuff like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Have Gun Will Travel, Dark Shadows, Batman, Land of the Giants, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Combat, Honey West and The Avengers.

My earliest memories of going to the movies were all courtesy of my mom. The first movie I remember seeing was the MGM cartoon feature Gay Purr-ee at the Marius Theater in Lakeview, Oregon. My mom and, I believe, one of her sisters took me and my two older cousins—I was probably around three, but the movie came out in 1962, so I could have even been two. And as we got older, she shepherded my sister and I to all the latest Disney features as soon as they came out. We saw The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, Blackbeard’s Ghost, That Darn Cat!, Lieutenant Robin Crusoe, USN and The Jungle Book with my mom at the old Tower Theater in Roseville, California, before moving back to Lakeview when I was six. There, as we were getting old enough to be trusted, she often dropped us off for Saturday matinees at the Alger Theater, and the occasional evening show (she knew that Mrs. Alger, a family friend, would keep an eye on us). It was she who felt that The Sound of Music would be something with which my sister and I would be enthralled, and it was after that experience that I knew my taste and my mother’s wouldn’t necessarily have to coincide, nor would they likely ever from that point on.

Dad did, however, take me to the movies a couple of times. I remember that the first time he asked me if I wanted to go to a movie with him I became irrationally excited, as if this were the most unlikely question to ever hear emanate from his lips. Of course I immediately said yes, not caring a whit what the feature even was. It was a chance for my dad and I to enjoy something together, something that I liked. I realized he was reaching out to me, and for a six-year-old who up to that point seemingly had little in common with his dad except a strong familial resemblance, this was welcome news. When we arrived at the “theater,” however, I realized even Dad’s idea of what constituted a movie didn’t exactly gibe with mine. We ended up in a converted airplane Quonset where a local club of some sort (I don’t even know if Dad was a member) was screening some 16mm travelogue footage of river rafting and fly fishing, which, of course, I found as compelling as I would real-time footage of a tortoise race.

To be fair, Dad did occasionally throw us into our pajamas, grab Mom, and head us out in the family Volkswagen bug to the Circle JM Drive-in for big ticket items like John Wayne’s The Green Berets (the Circle JM’s marquee said it all—“The Big One Is Here!”) and the inexplicable double feature of Fitzwilly, a wry Dick van Dyke comedy that nobody was much interested in, and The Incident, a grim subway hostage drama that Mom insisted we abandon after a flash of switchblade and the movie’s first big swear (Something on the order of “Where the hell do you think you’re going, old man?”).

But from about my tenth year on, if my dad ever suggested seeing a movie in an indoor theater, I could be reasonably sure it would be something on the order of a four-walled Arthur R. Dubs nature documentary like American Wilderness (1970), The Wonder of It All (1974) or Vanishing Wilderness (1974). These pictures usually played only one night—the companies would rent the theater out, advertise like hell on radio and TV (a relatively rare phenomenon in itself in those days), provide their own box-office employees, and rake in a tremendous amount of cash—causing a huge line to snake out from the Alger Theater box office and around the block, and my dad made sure my family and I saw them all.

I was forever asking Dad, usually out of my mom’s earshot, to take me to the latest R-rated sensation when they hit town, and sometimes he’d even agree. But the tantalizingly dangled prospect of getting to see MPAA-forbidden fruit like Easy Rider, The French Connection, M*A*S*H and Klute was almost always dashed at the 11th hour by my mom in a huff and a flurry of top-volume, “Whatwereyouthinking?He’snotoldenoughforthatkindofthing!” shout-downs for which my dad had no defense, or at least not much interest in mounting one. (Ironically, my mom would provide the ride to my first R-rated movie, a drive-in screening of Dirty Harry at the ripe old age of 12, thus opening the door to a lifelong series of perversions and mind-warping movie experiences that continue to have their way with my fragile psychology to this very day.)

One afternoon, when I was around 11, my dad stunned me by asking me if I wanted to go to the movies with him that night. By age 11 I was very aware of the approximately two months of programming that comprised the Alger Theater “show calendar,” and I knew that there was no wildlife epic or Bigfoot faux-documentary on the bill. Instead, my dad was suggesting that we see a real movie, Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse. Of course, I jumped at the chance, and we had a pretty darn good time—we were able, I suppose, to bond over our mutual disinclination to participate in any ceremony in which we’d end up, like Harris does in the movie’s centerpiece Native-American tribal initiation rite, hanging from the ceiling with only eagles’ talons embedded in our pectoral muscles keeping us off the floor. A Man Called Horse was a good-enough movie, but it did not precipitate much more regular movie-going for my dad and I.

He sprang another surprise movie invite on me about a year later and we headed out to the drive-in to take in—brace yourselves—Richard Harris in Man in the Wilderness. Good movie, nice to spend some time with Dad, but I was beginning to detect a pattern here. If I was ever to get Dad to take me to see any other movies, particularly ones I was not old enough in the eyes of the MPAA to attend solo, then it might help if the words “man, “wilderness,” or “Richard Harris” were somehow involved. Unfortunately, Harris wouldn’t make another movie with “wilderness” in the title, his next “man” movie would be Return of a Man Called Horse six years later, and his next Western-period film, The Deadly Trackers (1973), wouldn’t even get booked at the Alger.

It seemed the likelihood of seeing another movie with my dad was dwindling, and I was more obstinate than ever as I entered high school about not participating willingly in any of his hunting and fishing adventures. And although I had not yet formulated any real moral argument against hunting, I was very open, as a freshman in high school, to critical thinking about the sport and about the assumed masculine imperative it embodied. But I must admit all such highfalutin considerations were quite secondary to the fact that I’d heard a lot about the film version of James Dickey’s book Deliverance and that it sounded pretty tough, pretty cool. And I was aware of vague language in some of the reviews I’d read that intimated the movie contained a pretty shocking, violent episode of some kind that would end up pitting the four weekend adventurer “heroes” of the movie against some pretty horrific, relentless backwoods Gomers with guns. But I didn’t know the true nature of this “violent episode” until a girl in my Spanish 101 class, a senior girl, a senior girl who I had a crush on, spilled the beans to me one day in giggles and hushed tones. I knew that I had to see this movie, if for no other reason than I couldn’t imagine how such a scene could possibly be staged, and since I knew it was scheduled on the Alger Theater show calendar for later that month, I began relentlessly hinting to Dad about the good things I’d heard about this new river-rafting movie that was coming up. I figured if I made it sound like Vanishing Wilderness or something similarly Dubsian, my chances of actually getting him to take me to see it would increase sharply. The reductive little ad on the show calendar itself played right into my hands—it simply showed a silhouette of four men carrying a canoe on their backs, the ad copy intimating danger of some sort. It really didn’t take much wheedling to get him to agree to go, and Mom was uncharacteristically silent on the subject, so I began thinking that maybe my efforts might be successful this time around.

When it came time to head off to the show, I was a bit surprised to find out that Mom, not a big film fan in her own right, had decided to tag along. I guess she just wanted to have a night out at the movies too, and I never considered it strange that she’d have any interest in seeing a movie like this one. In fact, nothing about the entire situation struck me as the least bit odd or uncomfortable, until Deliverance was well underway. The movie was shot through with dread from the first sepia-toned frames (which eventually turned a saturated, vibrant, no-less-dread-drenched color), and I immediately became nervous, though I wasn’t sure why. Then, as the scene approached, I started remembering details about it that the senior girl in Spanish class had let fly. I’m not sure at exactly what point it dawned on me, but dawn on me it did—I was trapped between my mom and dad in the balcony of the Alger Theater, the Pyrrhic victor in a scheme of my own devising to trick my dad into taking me to a movie I was at least four years too young to see, and I was about to be subjected to the sight of a pudgy, pathetic man in a dopey fishing hat getting raped and humiliated by a Filthy, Leering Moonshiner while his Greasy, Toothless Buddy held a shotgun on the proceedings and commented on the “right purty mouth” of the pudgy guy’s canoeing partner, who stood a helpless witness to the whole atrocity while strapped by the neck to the trunk of a tree.

As the scene went on and on, I remember feeling almost nauseous and wanting to turn away, not only because of the horror being depicted on screen, but also because of my growing realization that my mom had mostly turned away from the screen herself, and not to protect herself from the horror being depicted on screen, but to start the laborious process of boring a hole into my throbbing temples with the white-hot laser of her furious stare. By the time Burt Reynolds put a razor-sharp graphite arrow through the Adam’s apple of the F.L.M., sending the G.T.B. scooting off through the trees and dodging rifle fire from the fourth weekend whitewater warrior, I felt that the worst had to be over and settled down to try to “enjoy” the more conventional turns of the screws that director John Boorman still had in store. But I swear I could feel the heat radiating off my mom’s shoulders for the rest of the movie. Dad’s reactions were, on the other hand, as neutral as could be. Perhaps he too was cowed by the anger of his wife and felt he was in for an epic scolding on the responsibilities of parenthood. Perhaps he himself was queasy over what he’d just seen and the prospect of having to explain or discuss it in any way with his barely pubescent son. Whatever was going on in that head of his, he kept it quiet for the length of the movie and for the entire short ride home. When we got home, I remember my mom, who had calmed down considerably by then, berating me mildly and telling me that I had no business seeing a movie like that (as a 45-year-old parent myself, I can say that she was absolutely right). I don’t remember my dad ever commenting on the movie or the experience, however. To this day I don’t know his side of the story. Perhaps I should ask him about it. But just not when Mom’s around—she still scowls at the memory, and even the mention of the movie Deliverance.

As far as I can recall, that was it for my dad and I and the movies all the way through high school. Oh, there would be those Sunday afternoons when he’d come back from a goose hunt or a fishing trip and walk in on me engrossed in a Sergio Leone western on TV, stand and watch for a minute or two, complain about how close the camera was to the actors’ faces or that nothing ever happened in these stupid movies, and walk out of the room. But by the time I was 13 or 14 he and I had, with the exception of one interesting but ultimately unpleasant deer hunting trip he took me on, gone our separate ways as far as our personal interests and activities were concerned. He still came, with my mom and others in our family, to see me in plays or performing with the high school concert and stage bands, or with the swing choir, but he rarely, if ever, expressed any interest in going to the movies, and certainly not with me.

The last great hurrah for the movies, as far as my dad and I were concerned, came in September of 1978. He, my mom, and my seven-year-old sister, had accompanied me back to Eugene to help me get packed into my new dorm room on campus, and the weekend we were there we had all decided to meet up with my best friend Bruce and take in a showing of National Lampoon’s Animal House, which had just been released about a month earlier. The previous October, in 1977, Bruce and I had met on the set of the film, where we had both been cast as extras for the length of production, he as a member of the Delta fraternity, the Animal House, I as a Delta pledge. We spent long hours on the set getting to know each other, talking, laughing, observing the various insanities of the movie’s production, and getting to know some of the actors and crew. And now, a year later, the movie had come out and we began the process of seeing it as many times as possible before it disappeared from theaters (this was in the heady pre-VCR days, and the movie played in Eugene for at least six months, in one venue or another, not counting its official re-release at the beginning of the following school year in September 1979).

We had already seen the movie several times since its August unveiling, including two separate “premieres” for local people who were involved in the production, one held in Eugene at the National Theater, with many of the cast and crew present, and another at the Fox Theater in Downtown Portland. And we both looked forward to seeing my parents’ reaction not only to seeing their son and his best friend up on the big screen, but up on the big screen in a hilarious hit that, at the time, featured a level of raunchiness never before seen in an American movie (it’s amusing to register just how quaint and almost innocent Animal House seems 27 years later). I took particular pleasure in my dad’s anticipation. During that summer of 1978, especially after Animal House had become a hit and was the movie everyone had to see, I caught him bragging several times to his friends about my being in it. It seemed that, finally, I was involved with something that my dad seemed to be genuinely proud of me for, and he hadn’t even seen the movie yet.

But when it came time to get together with Bruce and actually go to the theater, we realized there was a hitch in our plans—someone had to stay in my mom and dad’s motel with my sister, who was obviously too young to be seeing a movie like Animal House (it was conveniently forgotten that, when Angie was the tender age of four, my mom took her along with me and my other sister, Carrie, to see the only slightly less- raunchy Blazing Saddles because she couldn’t find a baby-sitter). After some fretting, it was decided that Mom would stay in the motel room with Angie while the boys went to the 8:00 p.m. show. Then Mom would bring Angie to the theater and meet us out front as we exited, where she would give Angie over to Dad, who would take Angie back to the motel room and put her in bed while the boys went back for the 10:15 p.m. show with Mom.

I’ll always remember that 8:00 p.m. show with Bruce and Dad as one of the highlights of my young life. My dad howled with laughter throughout the entire movie—Bruce Magill’s character D-Day particularly tickled him, so much so that during the Where Are They Now wrap-up of characters before the end credits, the shot of D-Day letting loose that high-pitched hyena cackle before throwing the Deathmobile into reverse and making his escape sent my dad into a fit in which he matched D-Day’s high-octave laughter to a perfect pitch, only Dad sustained it long after D-Day, whose whereabouts turned out to be unknown, had made his final exit from the movie. As the lights came up, my dad was more animated than I’d ever seen him after a movie, and he laughed and recalled favorite moments all the way out the front doors.

We met Mom as planned amongst the throng of ticket-buyers waiting to get in for the next showing. She and Angie were ready for the hand-off. Fortunately, we didn’t need to worry about whether the next show would be sold out or not, as we had bought our 10:15 tickets in advance. All we had to do was hurry up and get back in line before all the good seats got taken. But as we started to move to the back of the line, Bruce and I realized something was wrong. Dad and Mom had moved off to the side of the line and were discussing something in a seemingly serious fashion, something I feared might end up derailing our plans to get Mom inside to see the movie. As they moved back toward us, I heard my dad say to my mom, “It’s really not that bad. I don’t think it’d be that much of a problem for her.” Bruce and I looked at each other, wondering if we’d gotten the gist of what my dad was suggesting. It turned out that we did. My dad had talked my mom into bringing Angie inside for the 10:15 p.m. show so he wouldn’t have to go back to the motel. He talked her into letting his seven-year-old daughter see National Lampoon’s Animal House because—and I’m stunned to this day to think about this-- he wanted to turn right around and see it again himself! It had always been my understanding of my dad’s proclivities, and his impatience with most every kind of entertainment that didn’t involve projecting 35mm slides in his living room depicting bighorn sheep hunting trips he’d gone on with his buddies, that for him to want to see a movie twice—let alone in quick succession on the same night—was a virtual impossibility. I just couldn’t imagine a situation where he would willingly let that happen. And yet here it was happening right before my very eyes. And the movie that inspired this freakish behavior on his part was this wild-ass cultural phenomenon of a comedy in which I, his only begotten son, had a very small part.

If Mom shot Dad that same laser beam of fury during the 10:15 p.m. show that she used to burn a small hole in my head during Deliverance five years previous, it sure wasn’t apparent to any of us that night. We all emerged from the theater laughing, excited, and happy, none more so than my dad, who diffused any lingering doubt my mom had about Angie being exposed to the R-rated high jinks of the Delta House by repeatedly reliving some of his favorite moments (the not-so-nasty ones, at least). My dad saw National Lampoon’s Animal House twice in one night. And he’s seen it several times since then, both in the theater and on TV and home video. I would guess that he’s probably seen it more times than any other movie he’s ever encountered, and even though I had nothing to do with his laughter, I still take a certain amount of pride in that fact. To this day, the movie is one of the sure-thing topics we can talk about with mutually assured pleasure. After all these years, my dad and I had found some common ground, and it didn’t have anything to do with hunting, fishing or all the other outdoor activities he often seemed more interested in than his own kids when my sisters and I were young—no, it all centered around a movie, the movie, as it turned out, and I just can't help but smile when I think about that.

These days my dad and I see things much more on similar planes. When I was five years old, he was 25. Now I’m a 45-year-old father of two daughters, one is five, the other about to turn three. Imagining how he must have looked at life having two kids at an age 20 years younger than where I’m at right now is a daunting bit of empathy—I’m pretty convinced that, no matter how much I might have thought so at the time, I wouldn’t have had the character or the strength to be a good father at 25 years old. And yet I feel like, despite our various insecurities, my sisters and I turned out to be pretty levelheaded, productive citizens and, thanks to the example we grew up with, pretty good parents too. And the irony, as far as my dad and I are concerned, is that now that he’s a grandfather several times over and well into his official retirement, he’s become a much more frequent movie-watcher. He and Mom rent quite frequently, and more significantly, they make it up to the good old Alger Theater (with its newly upgraded ‘80s-vintage Dolby stereo sound system and platter projection system) about once a month, an unheard-of level of cinematic activity on their part when I was a kid. Dad has even gone so far as to vocally champion on several occasions the work of Pixar Studios, which he considers, not without some pretty convincing evidence, the source of some of the best filmmaking around right now.

As satisfying as all that news is to me, I know that he’s been somewhat similarly amazed to witness my emergence over the last decade as a serious baseball fan, and someone who really enjoys fishing and camping too. Neither development would ever have been guessed by him as he watched me grow up with unapologetic disinterest in sports (although I did do some time in Little League and on the junior high basketball team) and the Great Outdoors, but I have a feeling he revels in them just the same, especially on those occasions when I’ve scored him tickets for Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. Of course, we remain devoted to our particular interests to degrees that the other will never truly understand, and one of the great securities of growing up and becoming a man and a father is discovering that that kind of independence is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s desirable (something I’d do well to remember as my own daughters grow up and begin to have even more individual thought and motivation than they already have). But another great security is being able to approach your dad, or your son, as adults on each other’s playing field. I cherish the rare times when I’ve been able to go fishing with my dad since I’ve grown up and been old enough to actually appreciate the experience, the opportunity to be with him in a completely open-ended, unhurried situation away from the often annoying influences of everyday life.

And I look back with particular fondness on those times, and there have been a few in the past few years, when we’ve set aside whatever was going on at the time and gone to see a movie together, just us two. On one visit to Los Angeles some years ago, I remember he and I sneaking out to a late show of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. My dad and I watching a subtitled movie together—the mind reels. And the year my oldest daughter turned two, we contrived to delay her birthday party by about a month so that Mom and Dad could come down from Oregon for the festivities and Dad and I could make it to Opening Day to see the Dodgers. That Monday night before the day of the game, Dad got the itch to see a movie, so we slipped out to see Dennis Quaid in The Rookie, the story of Jim Morris, the real-life pitcher who stepped out of the shadow of an overbearing military father and the security of a teaching job to become the oldest rookie in major league history by unexpectedly acing an audition with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. As my dad and I sat enveloped in the rich story the movie told, one of a reticent father’s expectations for and disappointment in his son, and the son’s struggle to gain some level of acceptance and love from that father, all unfolding amid the atmosphere of the game I’d grown to love so much, a game my dad had always loved, and with the anticipation of the big game we’d go together to see the very next day, I felt connected to my dad in a way I never had before, in a way I’d long given up hope of ever experiencing. We spent time in each other’s company that week with few uncomfortable silences, in the awareness of some level of mutual respect that had never been very accessible to either of us in the past. I think we could both see and appreciate the fact that such respect was orchestrated largely because of three things we probably never thought we’d have in common—fatherhood, baseball and the movies. Amazing how life turns out sometimes, isn’t it?

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I’ve got a dirty secret. The highbrow cineaste in me knows that there’s something inherently corrupt and creatively bankrupt about all these TV show remakes that have been clogging American cineplexes the past few years. Yet I wrote only last week about how I’d rather sit through a Dukes of Hazzard/Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo double feature in a drive-in during a severe electrical storm rather than watch or even think one more thought about the latest movie by Henry Jaglom coming soon to a Beverly Hills art house screen (rented for five months by the director in order to make it look like people are actually going to see his movie) near you. My best friend and frequent reader Blaaagh was kind enough to point out that the described double feature, under those circumstances, sounded like it could actually be a lot of fun, and mighty similar to ones we’d endured/enjoyed in our college days. Of course he was right. And I also regretted making it sound as though I anticipated that either the artless TV remake or the pointless Rob Schneider sequel would be anywhere near as excruciating to experience as the new Jaglom film surely would be.

But none of that is my dirty secret. Saturday night I snuck out to the pictures and, sure enough, before the big-budget summer spectacular I paid full price to see (more on that experience in a couple of posts) there was attached a trailer for The Dukes of Hazzard. I sat stone-faced as the preview began, and then something curious began to happen. To paraphrase Piper Laurie’s Margaret White, I could smell the corn whiskey on its breath, its brainless humor and spectacular car stunts pawin’ me, putting their hands all over me, and I liked it! I liked it! Or, more precisely, I liked the trailer—all that hee-hawin’ and full-throttle General Lee-jumpin’ and all those shots of Jessica Simpson in those painted-on Daisy Dukes bending over the chassis of her car and drawlin’ on to the sheriff’s deputy about there being a leak in her undercarriage or somethin’, and I began to fervently and sincerely pray that the movie would be playing at the 99W Drive-in in Newberg, Oregon when I make my pilgrimage up there later this summer. I don’t know what to make of the spell the trailer has cast over my imagination, other than I must be dumber than I ever imagined, but I do know one thing in my heart of hearts-- Hal Needham must be rock-hard with envy over the impending release of The Dukes of Hazzard.

I also saw the trailer for War of the Worlds, or more precisely, a trailer grafted onto a cheap ad imploring the captive audience patiently awaiting the feature to be sure to “see War of the Worlds at a Mann THEE-ter!” I thought I'd misheard it, but then the obviously uneducated announcer said it again: “Be sure to see War of the Worlds in a Mann THEE-ter!” Now, where I come from, they’re called thee-AY-ters, and by God, I was so all-consumed with my annoyance over this linguistic trampling that I almost stood up and demanded to speak to the manager of the THEE-ter—I mean, thee-AY-ter. But I stayed seated, fuming, and it turned out Providence had guided that decision, for if I had indulged my haughty impulse of superiority, I would have missed the trailer for, yes, The Dukes of Hazzard.

One final thought: I’m surprised that no one has mentioned how much the bus kiosk print ads for War of the Worlds, from the graphic design of the movie’s title to the color scheme of that image of a world in flames being embraced by none-too-friendly-looking tentacles, resembles nothing so much as the cover of a Dianetics paperback.


My next post will be a belated Father’s Day tribute to my dad and the movies we saw together when I was growing up. I got about three-quarters of the way through it, but I ended up not being able to finish because I was too busy being treated like a king all day by my wife and daughters. The dilemma of whether to type or to receive multiple unexpected, unsolicited kisses from your three favorite women in the world is no dilemma at all. I hope all you fathers had as wonderful a day as I did, and that everyone’s dad was near to heart and mind, if not body, today.

Friday, June 17, 2005


“Let's be honest. The young viewers who will be most influenced by Kill Bill won’t care, initially at least, that a particular scene 'refers' to Dressed to Kill or that the character Pai Mei is an artifact from Shaw Brothers films (and before that, a historical figure); if they are in the midst of that miraculous courtship that viewers enjoy with films that rapture the imagination, they will naturally ask themselves the same questions Tarantino, as an impressionable youth, likely asked himself about the works that took his breath away: 'Why do I like it? What is this film about? What drives my favorite characters? Is there some less-than-obvious meaning here to be gleaned?' In addition to those questions, one I sometimes ask myself when faced with a work this ambitious--and in some mysterious way obsessive--is, 'Why was it so important to this director to tell this story?'”

-- Michael Crowley, from the introductory paragraphs of his essay “Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Tranformation in Kill Bill, published by 24 Lies a Second

Good film criticism, that is, criticism about film, and not about the latest hot release fresh from the cover of Entertainment Weekly, or projections about the weekend grosses and their meaning for the industry, or whether the Brad-Angelina is-it-or-isn’t-it romance translates to actual screen chemistry in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, invites the reader to indulge in the writer’s perceptions that have, hopefully, themselves been constructed in an artful manner. And if the reader is already familiar with the work in question, he/she is invited to revisit the film through the writer’s eyes, to “review” it, if you will.

There’s a lot of writing about film on the Internet these days, much of it of the “Ain’t-It-Cool” variety of breathless junketeering and advance sneak peek titillation. But there’s also a lot of terrific film literature being written exclusively for the Internet that holds itself up in the shadow of a long history of stimulating, cogent and vital film criticism and dares to be held to the standard set by writers like Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, the Cahiers du Cinema set and many others. You can even link directly to some of it by setting your mouse on the sidebar of this site and clicking on names like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Henry Sheehan, Chris Fujiwara, Film Freak Central’s Walter Chaw, the demanding and rewarding Senses of Cinema, and the inquisitive and brilliant writing found on the none-too-prolific 24 Lies a Second, which takes its name from the conflicting observations of two formalist masters of film, Jean-Luc Godard (“Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 frames a second”) and Brian De Palma (“The camera lies all the time. It lies 24 frames a second.”)

The pieces come slowly at 24 Lies-- sometimes two, three months can pass in between new articles. But when one does get posted, you can be assured you won’t be reading a cheap knockoff of someone else’s ideas or a lot of posturing and smoke-and-mirrors film rhetoric. The editorial staff at 24 Lies, Peter Gelderblom and James Moran, are about the least pretentious, intellectually oriented film writers one could hope for. The readers forum they run on the site is stimulating, serious, but fun, and refreshingly nonaggressive and lacking in blustering confrontation and ridiculous flame wars—it’s a friendly neighborhood place where everybody knows your name, and Pino Donaggio’s too (and if that reference gives you a buzz, hop right on over to the forum and start chatting). They are, in the best sense of the phrase (and to reference a none-too-revered De Palma film), wise guys.

And the stuff of their best essays—Gelderblom’s recent consideration, in the shadow of Hitchcock, “Building a Better Bomb: The Alternatives to Suspense,” Moran’s detailed and sensitive analysis of De Palma’s devastating war film, “Casualties of Genre, Difference and Vision: Casualties of War and Michael Crowley’s “Love Costs: Rescuing Se7en from Nihilism”—reveal probing sensibilities that are neither out to destroy the plausibility of other critiques and perspectives nor shut out all but the knowing few with a barrage of impenetrable logic and acrobatic language. When a piece of mine was submitted to 24 Lies and was published, I immediately began to worry if what I had written—indeed, my entire way of thinking—was up to the standard they have been able, in a relatively short time, to set at their site. I think what I did was good, and I got nothing but solid criticism and encouragement from Peter and Jim all through the editing process and beyond. But I still look at the kind of writing available on this site—intelligent, accessible, without no compromises toward shrinking attention spans and vocabularies—as more a goal for me to aspire to than a goal achieved, despite my sharing their company.

Articles like those previously mentioned, and the newest article available on 24 Lies, Michael Crowley’s “Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill,” are a major reason why 24 Lies a Second should be bookmarked by every reader of serious Internet film journalism. Crowley’s article is a classic example of seeing a seemingly played-out film—one that was not taken particularly seriously even by those who most rigorously championed it—through fresh, wide-open eyes. And Crowley, if you follow him to the end, will take you through paths of thought about Tarantino’s epic tribute to ‘70s grindhouse cinema and credibly expand your notions of the director’s achivement beyond his stated motivations and intent. There may be internal discussion along the way with some of Crowley’s initial premises, and you may find yourself arguing with him long after the piece has been read. But isn’t that, after all, the essence of truly good film writing (and plain old good writing)—work that stays with you, exists alongside you, to be referenced and returned to and tussled with as you encounter other pieces of writing, and other pieces of cinema? I think it is, and as a prime example of such, Crowley’s article is a fascinating read.

Which makes it a very typical companion piece with the other articles by other fine writers at 24 Lies a Second, who aren’t so above it all that they would, I suspect, reject being described as film buffs either, even in these heady (headachy) days when embracing such a description threatens to get you lumped in with the likes of the scholarly cineastes at Ain’t-It-Cool-News and Access Hollywood. Refreshingly unpretentious, often rigorously stimulating to the intellect, and always loads of fun for those who believe that thinking and responding to cinematic art can and should be fun, 24 Lies a Second deserves your attention. Experience Michael Crowley’s new piece for yourself, and after you do, feel free to stop back by here with your impressions, and, of course, at the 24 Lies Forum too, where, if I’m not mistaken, Paul Hirsch just stopped by for a round and some Beer Nuts. Cheers!

Monday, June 13, 2005


There’s a terrific post from Jon Weisman over at Dodger Thoughts today regarding Hee-Seop Choi’s six home runs in the Twins series this past weekend (“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Choiday, Choiday, Choiday”).

Weisman’s coverage of the Dodgers is always fair, with guarded, fact-based optimism when called for, and equal amounts of frustration based in the same. But ever since Paul DePodesta’s trade that sent Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota to Florida for Brad Penny and Choi, Weisman has stood firm in his belief, against many fans (as well as Jim Tracy at times too, it has seemed) that Choi, who was a quick and convenient whipping boy for the anti-DePodesta crowd when he seemingly underperformed during 62 at-bats last season, would come around if given half a chance to play regularly and gain wisdom under the tutelage of Dodger batting instructor Tim Wallach. Well, this past weekend, the Choi home-run machine just kept churning out the dingers (including a game-winner against former Dodger goat Terry Mulholland), surely providing sweet satisfaction for Weisman and many other Dodger fans, including, I’m sure, those who would prefer not to admit (at least while Choi remains hot) that they were ever naysayers. I particularly liked Jon’s observation regarding the Baseball News Show of Record and their enthusiastic coverage of Choi’s three-homer performance at Dodger Stadium Sunday afternoon:

“My congratulations to ESPN's Baseball Tonight for managing to sneak in its first mention of Choi's three-homer game - no tease, no anything preceding - 19 minutes into their highlight show. Only six minutes after some timely analysis of the fact there are three Molina brothers in the bigs.”

Oh, if Choi were only still a Marlin, or better yet, a Cub. Then baseball journalists could surely then allow themselves to be interested minus the conventional wisdom of disdain and cynicism, and without the fear of suffering embarrassment in front of their colleagues in the press box for doing so. May Choi continue to confound those tireless proponents of team chemistry whose gnashing of teeth last September over the brutal gutting of the Dodgers' heart and soul seemed to drown out all good reason or patience concerning the possibility that the Choi/Penny trade might result in something other than a flaming Dodger meltdown in 2005. We Dodger fans now wait with enthusiasm and anticipation, on this day off, for Choi's first at-bat Tuesday in Kansas City. And Izturis', and Perez's, and Drew's, and Kent's, for that matter. (And for a speedy recovery for Milton Bradley, favored Dodger around my house these days, as well.)

And at least I didn't miss Hee-Seop's heroics this time...

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Part 1: My Life At The Movies

It figures that the year I finally sit down and begin writing fairly regularly and fairly seriously about movies is also the year in which I will see (at least so far) the fewest new releases, in theaters or on video. Usually, by the start of the summer season I will have taken in anywhere from 20-40 new films, but this year I’ve managed to see precisely 12. Of course, a first half loaded with treats like Sahara, Monster-In-Law, Guess Who, The Interpreter, The Pacifier, Hitch, Beauty Shop, the umpteenth retread of The Amityville Horror and A Lot Like Love (did American moviegoers really demand two Ashton Kutcher movies in the space of as many months?) didn’t exactly inspire me to run out and brave the teeming throng on a Saturday night at the AMC Burbank 16. (Though I did put a minor dent in my Netflix queue and get a lot of writing done!)

Just to give you an idea of my somewhat skewed cinematic priorities these days, the first theatrical release of 2005 that I saw in the theater was the surprisingly watchable Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. That was quickly followed by the dreary clutter, rattle and hum of Robots, and most recently, Madagascar, which turned out to be a lot less shrill and peppered with already tired pop culture references than I expected—truth be told, it was pretty damned clever and enjoyable, though quite run-of-the-mill when measured by the Pixar yardstick. These are the Emma and Nonie Movies, wonderful times I get to spend with my daughters, hopefully introducing them to the joys of going to the movies, even when the movies themselves turn out not to be so wonderful. If I were to make guesses strictly on the basis of the trailers I’ve seen, I’d say that some of the Emma and Nonie Movies to come might just be worth the wait—the advance looks at Valiant, Chicken Little (directed by Mark Dindal, who helmed Warner Animation’s little seen and underrated 1997 feature Cats Don’t Dance and, most tantalizingly, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the WereRabbit make me exceedingly glad that I have such convincing and delightful curly-headed excuses to attend these movies.

However, the word from another father I know who got an advance look at Herbie Fully Loaded is that it could be—let’s see, how did he put it? Oh, yes… the worst movie so far this year. This news came just a little too late for me—right after I’d sold Emma and her best friend on attending a screening on opening weekend, two weeks from now, and also after I’d heard that Disney, not wanting to tread too clumsily on the thin cultural ice encrusting George W.’s America, decided it was in their potential audience’s best interests that pulchritudinous teen star Lindsay Lohan’s breasts be digitally reduced in postproduction from a D-cup to a B-cup. Never mind that the Lindsay Lohan in Herbie Fully Loaded barely even resembles the jarringly thin paparazzi bait that has graced all the top tier tabloids of late (and you Maxim readers know that the breasts are the first to go when a well-endowed woman goes on a savage weight-loss campaign). No, Disney’s Victorian response to those test screening scores that registered such dismay over shots of Lohan in a tight, low-cut blouse bending over Herbie’s steaming manifold (Just where did they test this movie anyway? Bob Jones University? Amish Pennsylvania?) has virtually snatched away all tangential interest the movie might hold for devoted fathers who selflessly give up their Saturday afternoons to take their daughters to the movies. But, given the slim gap of years between some of those daughters and Lohan herself, perhaps it’s better that those dads keep their minds out of the gutter anyway.

A look at the other titles that I’ve seen so far in 2005 might, if you were one to hurl about wounding epithets like “nerd,” “geek” or “fanboy,” lead you to conclude that I was some nerdy, geekish fanboy or something when, I swear—I swear nothing could be further from the truth. Okay, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a geek. But if anything, I think the movies on my 2005 list are indicative more of what I’d term my ideal cinema of relaxation than any inherent nerdosity or geekophilia. And if “relaxation” isn’t a word that comes to mind when you hear titles like Sin City, Assault on Precinct 13 or the grueling South Korean revenge drama Oldboy, then maybe you’d prefer I added the word “circus” to my own character description and would care to drop off a couple of live chickens for me to take to the movies next time I go out. I had less affinity for Sin City (I don’t know Frank Miller’s graphic novels) than did several smart people I know, but it never felt like a waste of time, and it was a marked improvement over the execrable one-two DV punch of Spy Kids 3D and Once Upon a Time in Mexico—that said, I think I am about ready to hang up my hat on Robert Rodriguez’s homegrown pulp cool and the violence he revels in that resonates so shallowly for me. Assault on Precinct 13 seemed to me an honorable, well-crafted and drawn-out updating of John Carpenter’s potent “original” (it was actually Rio Bravo crossed with Night of the Living Dead), and the little I asked of it—that it make me care enough about the people inside the precinct house to make me overlook the niggling questions raised by the plot and allow me to get caught up in its genre-specific narrative familiarities— it easily fulfilled. Oldboy, however, is a movie on an entirely different level, an ostensible genre piece that isn’t beholden to oft-played rhythms of American thrillers, a harsh, aching and surprisingly emotional pop fantasia on the inescapable price of revenge, both physical and psychological. Yet it sweeps you up and dashes you about like a good movie should, and never asks you to disregard the nuances of its intellectual elements in order to have a “good time” watching it. I came out of Oldboy feeling splendidly disoriented, like I’d been privy to a world which looked familiar, yet was completely alien; by the end of the movie’s two hours that world had become familiar, and being spat back out onto Fairfax and La Brea at 12:30a.m. after the screening felt like having to reconnect in minutes to a world that seemed suddenly askew, suspicious, terrifying. Now, that’s entertainment!

The missus has been my go-to movie pal for big-budget science fiction so far this year. However, she tends to give a whole lot less quarter when it comes to comic book adaptations or violent alien invasions starring Tom Cruise, so it looks like I’ll be on my own for Batman Begins, War of the Worlds and, if I haven’t been completely polluted by negative advance word by release day, The Fantastic Four. She did accompany me (or, more appropriately, I accompanied her) to the Arclight for Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, and I feel pretty good about being able to tell you that, yes, we’re still happily married, and it’s not just for the sake of the children. (She has since seen it again, and by the beard of Obi-wan Kenobi Version 2.0, I’d bet there’s at least one more theatrical screening in it for her before the leaves start to turn.) A much less contentious time was had by both of us when we were able to ditch the girls one afternoon a few weeks ago and head to Westwood (yes, Westwood), where we stopped by Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic book store (I scored a really keen old-school Fantastic Four logo T-shirt!) and took in a near last-chance screening of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’d read the first book some 20 years ago and loved it, but never made my way into the rest of Douglas Adams’ whimsically absurd universe in any form—book, radio play, or TV special. The missus, however, is a big fan of all of the books. So together we both looked forward to seeing what might come of the big, splashy Disney-financed movie, she with a mite more trepidation than I based entirely on what she felt she had at stake in seeing them pull the unlikely enterprise off properly. We were both pleased, I, predictably, a bit more than she. She termed it as having a 65% success rate at translating the bizarre humor, the seemingly random rhythms and connections of the books, whereas I, if held to a similar rating system, would have upped the percentage to 75. There are stretches when the gulf between the filmmaker’s intent and the flatness of the resulting scenes is indisputable. But I felt the “science” was engaging enough, and Adams’ curly-cue “fictions” were navigated with sufficiently streamlined and enthusiastic accuracy, and augmented by the wittiest, most perversely pleasurable special effects I may have ever seen in a big-budget extravaganza, that I felt the movie stood well on its own as an honorable addition to the Adams legacy.

The remaining four films on my “seen ‘em” list for 2005 fall into two disparate categories, both of which have held enduring fascination for me ever since my formative days as a filmgoer, and both of which now seem to be undergoing somewhat of a renaissance, in quality and even sometimes in relative popularity: the martial arts movie and the documentary. One from each column combine to make up the two best movies of the year that I’ve seen so far—Stephen Chow’s extraordinary Kung Fu Hustle and Thom Andersen’s captivating and challenging Los Angeles Plays Itself.

But each also has a companion piece at spots three and four on my in-progress Best Of 2005 list that has drawn less attention than its ostensible counterpart. Mike Vranovics’ eccentric and darkly humorous account of the frenzy to claim ownership of Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball, Up for Grabs, is a terrific examination of the culture of greed surrounding baseball, and by extension all elements of American culture in the 21st century, and I’ll have a lot more to say about it in the coming weeks as part of a long-delayed multi-part article on the Best Baseball Movies Ever (and yes, I think Up for Grabs is good and smart enough to make that list).

And the new Jet Li martial arts thriller Unleashed may just be the best thing on which Luc Besson has ever stamped his name (the French auteur, who co-wrote Li’s mediocre vehicle Kiss of the Dragon, is credited as Unleashed’s screenwriter). The movie is a stunning piece of work, as action cinema, as acting showcase, and as an emotional ambush—I was unprepared for how deep these filmmakers-- director Louis Letterier (co-director, with Cory Yuen, of the Besson-scripted The Transformer), Besson and Li—were willing to go, and in fact would go into the heart of this grim, yet openly sentimental tale of a man trained by a Scottish thug to become a deadly attack dog who discovers a normal life, and the secrets of his past, through his friendship with a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his daughter (Kerry Condon). Li has never been better as an actor, and perhaps never better as a pure martial artist, than in this movie. Morgan Freeman is reliably good, in a way understated even for him. But Hoskins is terrific in what could be seen as a quintessential Hoskins role—a roughneck baddie who struts about like a erect penis on two feet, and who manages to deliver dimension to what most actors might have made a simple stock character of unrelentingly evil motivation. Hoskins’ methodlogy of character revelation mirrors the movie’s own surprising depth. And I was totally mesmerized by the work of Kerry Condon, whom I’d never seen on screen before, but with whom I fully intend to familiarize myself now. Condon seems, in Unleashed, a total original, and I could not take my eyes off of her—she does things, again within a character which, in different hands, could have come across as quite the stock concept—that made me grin with happy surprise, laugh out loud and, once or twice, conjure tears. It’s a performance, like Shawnee Smith’s in Saw, that seems so out of the ordinary of its surroundings, so refreshingly imagined and vital to watch, that I hope somehow she bucks the odds and gets remembered at year’s end by critics groups. Of course, the movie was largely ignored, dismissed or attacked by a lot of those same critics as too soft and cuddly—I guess they prefer their action films to be as robotic and unfeeling as Li’s Danny in attack mode, and would rather not confront any messy realities or emotions that might naturally come tied to that action. That this lean, effective, yet expansive movie could be knocked as having a soft underbelly that undermines that effectiveness seems more an indicator of a reviewer’s own desensitization than evidence of Unleashed’s failure to deliver the goods cleanly, with no recognizable aftertaste. If I see a better all-out entertainment aimed for thinking adults than Unleashed, or Kung Fu Hustle, for that matter, this summer, then I’ll know I’ve truly gone to glorious movie heaven instead of the strip-mall chapel of mediocrity to which it appears we moviegoers might be headed this season.

Part 2 of "Behind the Summer 2005 Movie Curve," Coming Attractions, can be found in the post immediately following this one.


Never Give a Sucker A Even Break: Probably better than anything that'll be released during the summer of 2005

Part 2: Coming Attractions

So, what, then, about what’s coming up? Since it’s clear to me there is virtually no chance that I’ll get to see more than a quarter of the movies on the following lists before year’s end, and that I might be able to catch up to some of them only after they’ve arrived on DVD, I’ve allowed myself a little more indulgence of my preconceived notions than I normally would if I felt I might actually see most or all of the titles in a reasonable period of time. I’ve categorized most of the upcoming summer releases in four slots: MUST SEE, which ought to be fairly self-explanatory; OF INTEREST, which simply means I’d love to see it, but given my newly realistic assessment of how much time I have to devote to seeing films, other titles will likely—though perhaps not absolutely—come first; IN MY QUEUE, meaning that I’ve already pretty much decided that Netflix is going to have to be my avenue for accessing the films in this category; and perhaps the most devilishly fun category to assemble, I DON’T CARE!, in which I allow myself to publicly admit to my absolute disinterest, and sometimes deliberate avoidance, of certain high-profile titles being let loose on the unsuspecting public this summer. Of course, I reserve the right to keep an open mind about any or all the movies in this particular category, because, as any regular filmgoer knows, great movies often sneak up on you when and where you least expect them. I sincerely hope that my worst prejudices will be trumped with high art and/or terrific entertainment by several of the movies in this final section. To the callous and insight-free categorizations, then!


BATMAN BEGINS I know, I know… bring on the live chickens, circus geek. (June 15)
A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN Documentary about one of my favorite things when I was growing up, the Pro Bowlers Tour… What’s holding up those chickens? (Now Playing)
SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (The Journey of Romeo Daillaire) Documentary revolving around the UN general, haunted by his inability to prevent the Rwandan genocide, who remains tied to the country of the people he couldn’t help save. (Now Playing)
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE Alison Veneto talks about the latest from master animator Hayao Miyazaki, as well as High Tension and Night Watch, two other movies found on this massive list, in her International Intrigue column on
WAR OF THE WORLDS I never liked Tom Cruise much, and now that he’s the poster boy for the Let GNC Get You Past Your Post-partum Depression campaign, I have even less respect for him. That said, this movie looks like fun, though being late-period Spielberg I’m not expecting a flawless ride. And to be quite honest, as soon as I heard that the first trailer for Peter Jackson’s King Kong would be attached to this movie, I knew I'd go see Spielberg's contraption. I know, I know… get to biting off those chicken heads! I will, I will! (June 29)
ROCK SCHOOL The trailer for this real-life Jack Black and his School of Rock sold me. You can see it here. (Now Playing)
DEEP BLUE Another gorgeous nature doc from the creators of the BBC series Blue Planet. That kind of imagery on the big screen sounds impossible to resist (Now Playing)
LAND OF THE DEAD I realize this is, in some circles, a heretical comment, but last year’s remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead far outstripped that overrated original work, and the remake, not the two sequels in Romero’s own trilogy, seems to be not only the template for this new chapter (from what I can gauge from the trailer, anyway), but the real standard to which the new movie must live up to. (The original Night of the Living Dead has already proven its unassailable stature in the canon of great horror films by withstanding its own crappy remake as well as nearly 40 years of rip-offs and wanna-bes—it’s still one of the most terrifying of all.) I can’t wait to see how this new chapter stacks up.
ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE I KNOW Entertainment Weekly’s brief synopsis—“Writer/director Miranda July captures the idiosyncrasies of a dysfunctional family in this offbeat dramedy”—makes this sound like every Sundance award-winner you ever wanted to avoid. But advance word from trustworthy sources has been very enthusiastic about this one. (June 24)
THE ISLAND My intense love for the oeuvre of Michael Bay might make the inclusion of this film on my “Must See” category seem a little odd. But I don’t know, Ewan and Scarlet just look so damned sexy with all those vehicles exploding around them and such… (July)
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY I base my interest not on the arch trailer so much as my faith that the Depp/Burton combination, along with an alleged faithfulness to the spirit, if not the letter, of Roald Dahl’s story, might cough up something interesting here. But to those who dismiss the original as being treacly sweet and a betrayal of Dahl’s sensibility, I urge another look. That Gene Wilder musical is a fairly nasty creation in its own right. (July 15)
THE ARISTOCRATS Documentary account of the telling, by a hundred different comedians, of the same filthy joke, is reportedly fall-down hilarious, as well as an vivid portrait of the art of improvisation. (August 5)
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN Self-explanatory comedy starring Steve Carell (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), written and directed by Judd Apatow (Freaks and Geeks). Good enough for me. (August 19)
GRIZZLY MAN Werner Herzog delivers a documentary, as only he can, about Timothy Treadwell, who spent his life among Alaskan bears, and who was eventually killed by one. (August 5)
BROKEN FLOWERS The third seriocomic showcase for Bill Murray in as many years, this one courtesy of director Jim Jarmusch. (August 5)
UNTITLED MIKE JUDGE COMEDY On the strength of Office Space, I’m willing to give Mike Judge a lot of rope, but this premise sounds irresistible: an “average dumb-ass” (Judge’s description) wakes up 500 years in the future, as part of a military experiment, and discovers that he’s the smartest person alive in a world of the future that has been dumbed-down beyond imagination. (August 5)
ZU WARRIORS Gosh, another lush martial arts spectacular starring Ziyi Zhang? Well, there were those major disappointments, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers-- maybe they’ll get it right this time? (September)
2046 The long-awaited, long-delayed new film by Wong Kar-wai. (August 5)
LAST DAYS Gus van Sant’s Cannes sensation, shot in the elliptical style of Elephant and the brilliant Gerry, based loosely on the life and death of Kurt Cobain. (July 22)
THE BROTHERS GRIMM Terry Gilliam lends his eye to a fantasia built around the titular fraternal storytellers, played by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon. (July 29)
PULSE More insinuating creepiness from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director of Cure and Bright Future. (July)






It’s the new Ridley Scott movie, but I just don’t care… (That said, I’m scheduled to see it at work this week…)
Nothing like an Adam Sandler remake to make the raucous, rough-edged 1974 original look like holy text.
Bancini, a fellow patient on the ward with R.P. McMurphy in the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest summed it up best when he said, “I’m tired… I’m tired… I’m tired…”
This is a Hilary Duff movie. They already suckered me into one teen queen movie this summer by teaming her with a 1968 Volkswagen. Using Heather Locklear in the same fashion is not going to work.
I admit it—I just don’t think I’m the target demographic here.
Leave me alone, Virtuoso Homemade Filmmaker Genius Boy, you bother me!
A futuristic geopolitical thriller starring Christian… Slater… and…zzzzzz….Selma….Blair—Hunh? Selma Blair? Okay. I’m listening. Oh. Geopolitical thriller with Christian Slater. Wake me when it’s over…zzzzzzzzzz
Looks to be a raven-haired, long-locked Glenn Close as a Mrs. Robinson-type in a dysfunctional romantic foursome involving Close’s daughter. I could be wrong, but based on the trailer… I don’t care!
The Los Angeles Times describes it as a movie about an American scientist who “embarks on a passionate affair with a Lebanese cook as a response to her suffocating marriage to an adulterous British politician.” The scientist is played by Joan Allen. The British politician is played by Sam Neill. The cook is played by Simon Akbarian. The film is directed by Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson, The Man Who Cried). Heard enough? No? Okay. And the entire movie is performed in iambic pentameter verse.
Another extreme action thriller from the supreme hack Rob Cohen, whose entire output over the past 10 years seems directly attributable to mid-life crisis.
Kid has superhero parents, tries to live a “normal” life. From the director of Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo, Surviving Christmas and the recently announced update of H.R. Pufnstuf.
Martin Lawrence teaching basketball to wacky group of junior high school kids. You so craaa-a-a-azy!
See entry for The Longest Yard, substitute “Jessica Simpson” or “Seann William Scott” for “Adam Sandler." Consider seppuku before mentioning title of this movie and the phrase “holy text” in same sentence.
Horror movie starring Cole Hauser. But isn’t any movie starring Cole Hauser a horror movie?
Hey, it’s directed by a guy named Mike Bigelow. That means this one’ll probably be pretty good.
Does anyone else detect the lingering stench of The Stepford Wives? And the name Nora Ephron attached as director isn’t exactly a can of Glade.
Please, Diane Lane, no more fuzzy romantic comedies! You’re too good to be nuzzling with John Cusack!
Seems no one listened to my impassioned plea for an embargo on any combination of pairings of Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Vaughn and Wilson are the stars, and I have no inside information, but would anyone like to wager on the probability of a hilarious cameo appearance by Stiller somewhere in the middle of this thing?

…and last, and almost certainly least, GOING SHOPPING, the latest self-indulgent pile from the supremely narcissistic and solipsistic Henry Jaglom. Is there anyone left who would willingly pay to see a new Henry Jaglom film? I can honestly say I’d rather see a Dukes of Hazzard/Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo double feature at a drive-in during a massive electrical storm than think one more thought about this or any other film in Jaglom’s oeuvre. But now, as I turn in for the night, my head is going to be filled with all the unleashed memories of all the horrible Jaglom films I’ve seen-- Somebody to Love, Eating, Venice/Venice, Last Summer in the Hamptons and New Year’s Day. Not to mention that smug mug with that ever-present hat. All these things are swirling around in my mind now as I go off to sleep. Thanks a lot, Henry, for your films, for all those indelible images, the warm, probing conversation, and that smug mug and that ever-present hat. Michael Emil never wore a hat. He was proud of his bald head. Thanks a lot, Henry. Thanks a lot.