Monday, November 28, 2005


If you feel a need to condemn or forgive my boyish enthusiasm, by all means please go ahead and do so. But I can pretend no longer—I’m very excited to see this big gorilla movie that’s coming to town. And although I can’t take my daughters—too scary, you see—thanks to all the brouhaha over the new version, I have got them interested in seeing the 1933 original. They even watched with interest Kevin Brownlow’s documentary about Merian C. Cooper on TCM with me a few nights ago. Who knows? Maybe seeing Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong will change one of my daughters’ lives too.

And now comes Newsweek’s Devin Gordon, who has seen Peter Jackson’s new movie:

“Jackson's epic, $207 million remake of King Kong is a surprisingly tender, even heartbreaking, film… The original… was 100 minutes long, Jackson's version is a Kong-size three hours. ‘A few people have already asked me why we're taking twice as long to tell essentially the same story,’ says the director. ‘And I don't really know. We've been asking that ourselves. I'm going to have to come up with a better answer.’ The best answer—the only answer, really—is the movie itself… Jackson has honored his favorite film in the best possible way: by recapturing its heart-pounding, escapist glee.”

And how about this, from coscreenwriter Philippa Boyens:

"I know I shouldn't say this," she begins, "but when other directors see this movie, they're going to fucking give up."

(Thanks to David Hudson at GreenCine Daily for the heads-up. GreenCine Daily is an absolutely essential daily read for me, and if you have any interest in keeping up with the latest worthwhile writing on film available on the Web, it should be a daily stop for you too.)

Friday, November 25, 2005


Well, another too-good-to-be-true Thanksgiving dinner later, courtesy of my wife’s increasing proficiency with all things turkey (including, I suppose, me), and here I am, sated, enjoying a second day in a row on a break from a intense two-week period of office work (which resumes again tomorrow), and exactly one month away from Christmas. It’s been a very bad week for blogging, thanks to that aforementioned pack mule-like workload, and as a result I’ve got a backlog of bits and pieces-- short ends, if you will (thanks, Brian, for reminding me of that bit of terminology—see Hell on Frisco Bay, November 8)—that need tending to before we get too much closer to the end of the year.

First, the news:


Fishbowl NY reports that one of my favorite film critics, David Edelstein, who has spent the past several years as the resident film critic at Slate, has decided to move across town to New York magazine. He’ll take over the post once held by Peter Rainer and most recently Ken Tucker, who will apparently be returning to Entertainment Weekly. Edelstein’s signing is expected to augur an upswing in New York’s Internet interest—perhaps a more interactive Web site to accommodate Edelstein’s level of comfort and proficiency on the Net, and maybe even something more resembling a real blog than did that faux one, “Reel Time,” which Edelstein infrequently contributed to on Slate. The biggest question for those of us infected by Edelstein’s year-end presence is the fate of the Movie Club, in which he gathered three or four fellow critics for a week-long series of postings rehashing the year in film, as well as the continuing relevance of film criticism and any other pet peeves and obsessions that surface during the week. It always makes for an addictive read, and I hope that, if Edelstein leaves his Slate assignment at the end of the year, the Movie Club might be one of his final contributions. Of course, as long as we have access to his casually brilliant and unpretentious voice, to whatever .URL it is attached, and if, somehow, the Movie Club concept finds its way to New York magazine’s Web site, then all truly will be well. I wish Edelstein a smooth move and hope that he finds the print magazine even more receptive to his talents than Slate has. A spot on my sidebar awaits his arrival there.

And speaking of critics, blogs and sidebars, one of the best film critics around has an exceptionally enjoyable new site (available with one click, to your right, on my sidebar) that has fast become a daily must-read for me. Dave Kehr, who currently writes for the New York Times, has created, with Dave, the best venue for regular reading of his stuff since the days when he was a film critic for the Chicago Reader. He’s been posting entries from the Torino Film Festival of late, as well as giving his readers a vivid insight into the ways in which film critics are plied and seduced by studio publicity departments. But hopefully Kehr will also take more of an opportunity to write full-length reviews whenever the muse strikes him. His enthusiasm for Harold Ramis’ The Ice Harvest (which opened Wednesday to decidedly more mixed reviews than Kehr’s positive take might have anticipated) single-handedly fueled my interest in seeing the film. Kehr’s site is very well-written and full of the kind of caustic observations that are often filtered out of family newspapers and other publications, for fear of offense or charges of lack of objectivity (a quality I personally find of little value in a film critic). And even though the site is fairly young, someone’s paying attention-- a quick glance at the names dropping comments on his site ought to be indication enough of that. And some of his observations re The Ice Harvest were actually blurbed in the newspaper ads for the movie here in Los Angeles—the first time I can think of that a critic on a blog has ever been quoted in such a manner. Kehr’s site, like Kehr himself, is one of the good ones. If you’d like to catch up further on Kehr and his sensibility, this interview, conducted by Steve Erickson, ought to fill the bill nicely.


SoCal DIMS had its best turnout yet for signups and commiserating with drive-in aficionados at our table in the snack bar of the Mission Tiki Drive-in Saturday night, November 19. We’re finally building up a nice base of friendly folks who will head into 2006 with us as we look forward to some exciting times for drive-ins in Southern California. If you’re interested in getting on the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society mailing list, e-mail us at and let us know if you have any special talents—proficiency with computers, art design, writing skills, whatever—that might be of special use to the club and its concerns.

Sal, Chris, Lanna and I met up with Jeff Thurman, manger/projectionist extraordinaire, and Frank Huttinger, De Anza’s film buyer, Saturday night for a great evening of planning, discussion, breeze shooting and, of course, movies under the stars. Well, I got in on all but that last part anyway—on the way out to the Mission Tiki, the radio in my car decided it was time to take a stand and not allow any volume adjusting beyond the very low level at which is was set at the time of its little short-circuit fit. So when I settled in for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I was somewhat disturbed to find out that I could barely hear the orchestral swelling over the opening credits. I decided to hang on as long as I could, but when I realize I couldn’t even suss out dialogue over the deafening sound of popcorn crunching coming from inside my own head, I decided to pack it in and head home. (The 10:30 show started closer to 11:00 anyway, which meant that I would have started the trek home at 2:00 am—that Harry IV is lo-o-o-o-ong—much too late for a tired, cranky boy like me.) I pledged to try Harry at the Mission Tiki again, only this time I’ll have gotten some sleep the few nights before!


Here are the two movies I’ve managed to catch at home via Netflix in the past month: Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up and Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky. Any guesses as to which one I enjoyed more?

I’m in the midst of an e-mail debate with the Mysterious Adrian Betamax over the merits of the Antonioni movie, which I found to be Alienation Cinema’s equivalent to a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic—let’s dance around and frug and fret with the denizens of swinging 1960s-era London and secretly dig all the
happenings that we’ll constantly insist, through our visual grammar and sound design, are symptoms of the sick soul of society. (The zombified supermodels David Hemmings makes a living taking pictures of didn’t look like they were having that bad of a time.) And to top it off, Antonioni is so distanced—coolly, deliberately—from his subjects and their world that the movie comes off as being one of those muted, nebulous templates for whatever concerns and/or meanings the viewer wishes to project upon it. And to top it off, the movie begins and ends with mimes running madly about London and engaging in a tennis game with no net, no rackets and, of course, no balls. I’ve nothing against ennui, but please, let it feel more felt (or would that be authentically numbed), less trendy and manufactured than what Antonioni concocts for Blow-up.

On the other hand, Seed of Chucky is easily the best Chucky movie ever made. Which is, granted, not saying much, as there hadn’t been a good Chucky movie before this one’s release. The Chucky phenomenon has long since ceased pretending to have its roots in horror—no, these movies, particularly the unfortunate Bride of Chucky, the Ronny Yu-directed previous entry that introduced Jennifer Tilly to the series, succumbed rather whole hog to the jokiness of the previous three films and collapsed into a series of bad taste set pieces.

But Seed turns out to be worth a look, not because it’s any better as a horror film than any of the others, but because it’s a terrific showcase for Tilly, who appeared briefly as Tiffany in Bride before having her soul transmorphed into the murderous Tiffany doll who will turn out to be Chucky’s romantic companion. In Seed, Tilly still provides the voice for Tiffany, but also plays herself, Jennifer Tilly, working actress, sex bomb, stuck on the set of a cheapjack Chucky horror film, who ends up the target of Chucky and Tiffany’s sinister in vitro fertilization plans. Tilly plays a breathtakingly funny version of herself that is as no-holds-barred a parody of Hollywood ambition and backstabbing as I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’ve never seen an actor be so fearless in dismantling their own persona as an actor as Tilly is here. She raises the Good Sport standard to new heights, even to the point of undermining her own abilities as an actress (something she does with admirable tongue-in-cheek, and not just a little dash of honest insecurity, in a production diary that appears as a bonus feature on the DVD) and playing up her brazen sexuality when she knows it might get her ahead. Her performance is a witty, funny critique of what passes for talent in modern-era Hollywood, and only someone as confident in her abilities as a comedian and, yes, as a serious actress, would even try to walk the line she skates along with the greatest of ease in Seed of Chucky. I wish Academy Awards were given out for this kind of truly brave performance instead of the kind of Charlize Theron-Halle Berry faux-ennobling stunt work that seems to have taken over the voters’ sensibilities. But then, most voters would rather you thought they watched films like Monster or North Country (or Blow-up) than films like Seed of Chucky, and saluting Jennifer Tilly would just send the wrong message, wouldn’t it?


Something strange happened this weekend. Not only did I get a chance to take a breath and engage in some non-work-related activities (a very rare indulgence in these heady, unbelievably busy days), I actually caught a couple of movies at actual indoor theaters. In the shadow of my renewed interest in drive-ins, I’ve seen a grand total of three movies at “traditional” cinemas since September-- 2046, A History of Violence and Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit. Indulging in the ambience of frequently obnoxious crowds, excessive “pre-show entertainment” and beyond excessive ticket prices (a ten-spot just to walk in the door anywhere in Burbank) isn’t something I’ve particularly missed, although it’s hard to match a properly projected wide-screen presentation at a well-tended hardtop. And once the opportunity arose to head out on Thanksgiving Day with my father-in-law to see Walk the Line, out the door we went. I hadn’t even been particularly looking forward to seeing the Johnny Cash biopic, mainly because biopics in general have become less and less interesting to me in quite the inverse to their rise in popularity. Whether it’s the general conservatism of the form, which doesn’t usually encourage directors to take many narrative or stylistic chances, or just the familiar arc of so many warts-and-all celebrity stories that are chosen to be filmed (rise from poverty/obscurity, obsession with family disaster, rise to fame, fall from grace, redemption—at the hands of either art or the love of a good woman/man), I just don’t find biopics all that interesting. Even Ray was overlong and too indulgent with its subject. But Jamie Foxx’s supreme act of mimcry seems to have raised the bar on expectations for actors taking on the task of bringing to cinematic life these familiar public figures, and if that comparison fools anyone into thinking less of what Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon have done as Johnny Cash and June Carter, then more’s the pity. Walk the Line is every bit as good a movie as Ray-- better, in fact—but Phoenix in particular succeeds in creating a believable character and a convincing physical presence on screen as Cash even though he's not close to a physical match for the Man in Black. And Phoenix does his own singing, whereas Foxx lip-synched all those Ray Charles hits. Witherspoon resembles June Carter even less, but she’s a sassy, spirited delight, and—here’s the trump card—she turns out to be every bit the clever comedienne Carter was, and twice the singer. Line is directed with a less-than-Heavy hand by James Mangold-- it’s a solid work of Hollywood craftsmanship, and I don’t mean that to be in any way a denigration of its worth, especially in a season full of cynical Oscar bait and tired retreads of ideas that were already tired before they were retreaded. Mangold’s movie doesn’t pander to its audience, congratulate it for having too much knowledge of Cash’s life (except, maybe, for when Carter shouts at the drunken singer that she refuses to “walk the line” for him), or gloss over the ugly parts in order to paint a rose-colored picture of an American icon who was anything but rose-colored. It’s an honorable portrayal that has the distinct aura of honesty about it, and it’s a very entertaining one as well.

I wish I could say the same about the movie I saw this afternoon. The girls and I finally caved in to the Disney marketing machine and saw Chicken Little, which has gotten some pretty caustic notices for a bit of kids animation, most of which center around how misbegotten Disney’s standards have become if they’re forsaking traditional 2-D animation for something like this. And the complaints turn out to be well-founded: Disney has apparently completely bought into the idea that it’s 3-D computer animation that’s dragging people through the turnstiles, when anyone who’s seen even one Pixar movie could tell you that it’s that company’s strong sense of storytelling that holds primary importance for that brand. But Chicken Little, which could easily be subtitled What Shrek Hath Wrought settles for anachronistic pop culture references (why C.L. and his buddies are so obsessed with bad ‘80s pop music is something that only the demographic geniuses at Disney would have even a clue about) and a relentlessly frantic pace to sell its stale comic set pieces and ugly stereotypes. Sipping at the P.C. trough for platitudes about acceptance and just being who you are can’t hide some pretty mean digs at ugly folks, fat folks and, yes, gay folks, and the fact that the butts of these jokes are anthropomorphized farm animals doesn’t lessen the sting—what’s the point of making a ridiculous pig a fan of Barbara Streisand and show tunes for the sake of a pointless and mean throwaway gag? Chicken Little is well-designed and nice to look at, and it’s not painfully boring for an adult to sit through, unlike this year’s earlier exercise in narrative rigor mortis, Robots. But it is far more spastic and unvaried in tone and pace, and thus even more exhausting. Even more disheartening was the lineup of trailers attached to this movie, three of which were further ugly bits of animation in the knowingly hip Shrek vein—an desperate-looking take off on the Little Red Riding Hood myth from the Weinstein Company called Hoodwinked; a Madagascar rip-off about a bunch of woodland creatures being encroached upon by sprawling suburbia who invade a rural house for its bounty of food called Over the Hedge; and another very tired-looking Madagascar clone called Open Season, all about a pet grizzly bear dragged into the wilderness by his buddy, a buck deer, who finds out nature won’t pamper him the way he’s become used to at home (the tagline: Boyz ‘n the Wood!) If that lineup isn’t enough to get you despairing about the future of Hollywood animation, nothing will. The one trailer we saw that actually looked like it might be something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to take my girls to see was the new Curious George feature. It’s been relegated to the frozen tundra days of February, something which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it is that rarity of rarities these days, a traditional hand-drawn cartoon. And I may just go see it, bad reviews or not, just to throw my dollars behind a style that most of the myopics in Hollywood have decided is passé, something I will not be doing any longer for CGI animated features like Chicken Little.


Had I been left to my own devices this weekend, I probably would have opted for any one of the following titles instead, all of which are on my ever-increasing list of must-sees (until I wait too long, of course, and they become automatic additions to my Netflix queue: Pride and Prejudice, Good Night and Good Luck, Zathura, The Squid and the Whale, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Legend of Zorro, Capote, Syriana or Paradise Now.

But the three I want to see most are the three that stand the greatest chance of disappearing altogether in the landslide caused by the big studios looking to secure screens on which to exhibit their seasonal Oscar bait. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse looks to restore some of the horror to the tarnished J-horror genre, which has been dulled by too much familiarity, repetition and Hollywood appropriation (The Grudge, The Ring), and if it’s half as frightening as the director’s earlier nightmare vision, Cure, then it stands to be the best J-horror contribution to our collective goose pimplage in about ten years, even though it’s been sitting on Miramax’s shelf since 2001.

Then there’s Sarah Silverman’s reportedly hilarious comedy concert documentary entitled Jesus Is Magic, which promises to top even her brilliant and disquieting segment in this past summer’s analytical comic doc The Aristocrats. There she spun the titular joke off into a deadpan riff on sexual abuse in show business that ended with her claim of rape at the hands of TV talk show host Joe Franklin. The very title of the new movie, if turned into an acronym, gives you some hint of the raging id of Silverman's clueless Jewish-American princess persona. JISM promises to take even further the envelope-stretching skewering of subject matter even the most emboldened comics are hesitant to approach.

Finally, starting tonight at the Nuart in Los Angeles, a rare opportunity to see Bernardo Bertolucci’s influential 1970 classic The Conformist on the big screen. I just re-encountered Bertolucci’s La Luna last week, after having not seen it since its original release in 1979, and it wasn’t as bad as I recalled. There are sequences in it that are shocking (though its incestuous encounter is not really one of them—by that time the movie has become rather silly) in their cinematic and lyric immediacy. Though I am far less impressed with Jill Clayburgh in 2005 than I was back in her heyday, of which La Luna pretty much marked the beginning of the end, the movie has much more power, no thanks to the obviousness of its Freudian frights, than I remember in first seeing it, when I was, perhaps significantly, a lot closer to the age of its Oedipally confused, heroin-addicted teenage protagonist than I am now. But seeing La Luna again really made my mouth water at the possibility of taking in The Conformist on the big screen, a movie made entirely of the kind of lyric intensity and ravishing beauty that graced La Luna only intermittently. This is as close to a knock-down-the-door, race-across-town-to-the-westside must-see as I can imagine.


I’ve been lax in reporting on the second “Heroic Grace” series of martial arts films now underway at UCLA Film and Television Archive, but it’s my pleasure to provide this link to a rather comprehensive article by Mark Pollard at Kung Fu that details the entire schedule with some pretty good tips on which ones not to miss. The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, an Asian film buff of some repute, says this series isn’t quite as captivating on the whole as the previous one, but says it’s worth looking into if you’ve any love for the great Shaw Brothers-era kung fu classics of King Hu, Chang Cheh and Chung Chang-wha (the restored version of the director’s renowned King Boxer, released in the U.S. as Five Fingers of Death, played on November 17—again, I apologize for not being quicker on the draw here). There are still plenty of reasons on the schedule to get excited that haven’t come around yet, including Chang Cheh’s The New One-Armed Swordsman (1976; Saturday, November 26), Chang Cheh and Bao Xueli’s The Boxer from Shantung (1972; Saturday, December 3), Lau Kar-leung’s Legendary Weapons of China (1982; also Saturday, December 3), and Chang Cheh’s The Five Venoms (1978; Saturday, December 11).

I could probably wait until late December for the official release of Memoirs of a Geisha were it not for the fact that the American Cinematheque is screening it at the beautiful Aero Theater in Santa Monica on December 5. Any excuse to attend the Aero is worth considering, but then there’s the little matter of Ziyi Zhang attending this screening for a Q and A afterward. I see…! Not since the transcendent appearance of Michelle Yeoh at the Los Angeles Comic Book Convention in 1998 have I actually considered going out of my way to set eyes on a transcendent Asian beauty of the cinema, and with my wife’s approval, no less! Hey, Mysterious Adrian Betamax, wanna go?

*** I’ve always imagined that there could be no better gritty ‘70s double feature, no better portrait of Abe Beame-era New York City in mid-collapse than a pairing of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and Dog Day Afternoon. And now the New Beverly Cinema is making my dream come true December 4-6. Merry Christmas!

If you’re like me, you have a soft spot for any movie that wears its exploitation roots on its sleeve. That doesn’t mean the movie is necessarily going to be any good. It’s just that in these days of overinflated Hollywood salaries, egos and budgets, any lack of pretense is to be welcomed, if not outright applauded. So when I heard about the upcoming Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes on a Plane (can you guess the basic plot outline?) I laughed, rolled my eyes, thought “What’s next?” and shelved any real intention of ever seeing it. Then I looked the movie up on IMDb and discovered that it is being directed by David R. Ellis, stunt coordinator-turned-action auteur behind two of my favorite thrillers of the past 10 years, Final Destination 2 and Cellular, and suddenly Snakes on a Plane went straight to the top of my must-see list for 2006. And apparently others are obsessed with the imminent arrival of this particular flight, as this note from Cinematical will attest. Bring on the boas! Prep the pythons! Round up the rattlers!


Even though I’m a day too late, I must not let the Thanksgiving holiday go by without expressing my thanks for:

* My Dear Wife, who indulges and understands my irrational desire to work on this blog even when it means I’m not gonna get enough sleep—I love you more and more each day.

* My Daughters, who couldn’t be more wonderful, who surprise me each day with their capacity for love, empathy and understanding—I’d rather spend time with you guys that almost anyone else.

* My Best Friend, Blaaagh, who can make even a routine, uneventful afternoon seem like gold—Let’s go nuts and get together, oh, I don’t know, three times in 2006, okay?!

* The Friends of SLIFR who make writing this blog a true joy, and who make writing comments even more joyful—you know who you are, but in case you don’t, I’m talking about Blaaagh, Thom McGregor, Virgil Hilts, The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, Peet, PSaga, Murray, Robert (thanks for the great Netflix suggestions-- Blue Sunshine is on its way, and I'm gonna settle in for a screening of Night of the Lepus as soon as I post this), Machine Gun McCain, Brian, Roscoe, 8763 Wonderland, Sharon, Jen, Rachel, Caption Jockey, Jonas, Beege, Craig Phillips, David Hudson, Jeff, Frank, Sal, Kathy, Lanna, Kyle, Dave Robidenza, Birdman, and several others I’m probably forgetting.

* My coworkers, who have made a difficult year more bearable—Some of you who left are coming back, and we’ve got some terrific new leadership, all of which makes me look at 2006 in a much brighter light.

* I don’t have a lot to be thankful for regarding the Dodgers in 2005, but I am grateful that at least there is a new GM in place and that assistant general manager Kim Ng will be around next year. Surprise me in 2006, won’t you, Blue?

* And I’m also thankful to anyone who endeavors to make a good movie in this modern era. It is an endeavor that is way harder than it looks, and when anything even remotely sturdy and original, not to even mention transcendent, comes out of Hollywood, there’s reason to be thankful indeed. 2005 has given us some reasons, if even Hollywood is finally staring down a deconstruction of their age-old paradigm of audience attendance. May the studios truly learn the lesson that if it’s worth it-- if the movies are well-told, well-made and respectful of that audience—they will come.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


All right, everyone knows about the hype. Everyone knows about director Peter Jackson’s desire to be a filmmaker stemming from his exposure to the original 1933 classic. Everyone knows Universal spent close to $200 million on this movie. Everyone knows this movie’s presence in the marketplace is already inescapable—has been for some time-- and it’s not yet Thanksgiving. Every little detail about the production of this movie is available to anyone who needs to know every little detail. And there’s already the inevitable above-it-all tone to the major portion of the Internet coverage of the upcoming release that may not exactly be hoping for failure on Jackson’s part, but is certainly (and not necessarily wrong-headedly) saying, “Come on, 800-pound Oscar-winning gorilla, prove it to me.” But if you can look at this new trailer and resist getting just a teensy bit excited to see what Jackson has in store, then, to paraphrase my old college film professor, William Cadbury, who once tried to imagine a viewer not being devastated over the assassination of Barbara Jean in Nashville, you’re a much stronger person than I am.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Even though I’m approaching my 18th year as a citizen of Los Angeles, California, I’m still an Oregonian by birth and by temperament. I still wear my Oregon Ducks gear proudly (though I have found that they do much better on the football field if I remain ignorant of the standings and don’t follow the games too closely), and I still believe, even after having finally seen the Grand Canyon, the Hawaiian Islands, New York City from the top of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, and London after midnight, that the 300-mile stretch of highway between Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, and Brookings, a few miles north of the California border, runs along perhaps the most beautiful place in the world-- the Oregon Coast. There’s never a doubt, whenever my thoughts turn to my home state, where I feel like I really belong, where I still call home in the deep recesses of my heart.

That said, there is something to be said for this Southern California lifestyle, and for me it can be summed up by one statement, after 18 years-- drive-in movie season lasts all year round! ( I recognize the previous statement as ridiculously reductive and not even close to being absolutely true, but I’ve retained it because hyperbole is like Brylcreem-- a little dab’ll do ya—Ed.) Being an Oregonian, I’ve got plenty of memories of sitting through movies while the summer rain came down, both in sprinkles and showers. And when I moved to Eugene to go to school, I discovered that the drive-in season ran a little bit longer even than the short summer season (late May to early September) I was used to at the Circle JM Drive-in in my hometown of Lakeview. A strange fact, that, considering the amount of rainfall that Eugene typically registered in a calendar year, but nonetheless, the five drive-ins that were in operation there in 1977 (the Motor Vue, the North End, the Eugene, the West 11th and the Cascade) ran either very extended seasons or, in the case of the Eugene, were year-round operations.


In fact, Blaaagh and I decided to endure a Dirty Harry triple feature at the Eugene Drive-in during a particularly cold snap in January of 1980—my recollection is that we were the only citizens who made that particular decision that particular night, but even if my memory is tricking me on this count, I’d still wager the lot’s car count was well under 10. We were in my 1968 VW Bug, which, as ‘60s-model Bugs tended to, had a heater that would operate only when the engine was running, and we realized it was not gonna be practical to idle that little sewing machine for approximately six hours. Our only option was to bring as many blankets and pillows as would fit in the car, because in order to keep the windshield from completely fogging up, we would have to keep the passenger windows cracked slightly, inviting all that biting Willamette Valley air inside.

Well, about 20 minutes into the first movie we decided that this was not an option for survival. Blaaagh, being much more experienced with big-city drive-ins than I (he being from Portland and all), noticed that at the base of the speaker pole was an electrical outlet, which meant that the possibility existed the drive-in might have a heater for rent which we could plug into the pole and set inside the car, rendering ourselves relatively toasty. One inquiry to the very underpopulated snack bar later, Blaaagh came back to the car holding a very rickety, very UL-reject-looking contraption that bore more resemblance to a spelunking tool, or perhaps the very first Easy-Bake Oven of the Industrial Revolution, than a device to deliver salvation from creeping hypothermia to our various extremities. But hum with electricity and heat it did, and we made it through the rest of Dirty Harry in relative comfort, making sure not to bump our toes or ankles on its white-hot housing or let any stray hot dog wrappers or napkins come anywhere near its glowing, occasionally sparking, coils.

It was during the opening minutes of Magnum Force, if memory serves me, when the snow began to fall. It fell well past Magnum Force and into The Enforcer, by which time we were practically hoping to get snowed in, so the story would have a really great ending. But this was, remember, Eugene, renowned for its rain, but relatively unfamiliar with blizzards. The snowfall was never anything more than very light—there were no drifts in the drive-in lot when the projector went dark, just a very picturesque dusting which would probably last for only a few hours past daybreak. But when the white flakes began to stick on the windshield of my Bug during the second movie, all Blaaagh and I could do was laugh at our good fortune and take it as a sign that the memory of this night at the drive-in would be sealed for us forever as a great one. It was like the perfect capper, turning what was previously just a ridiculous whim—seeing a triple feature at a drive-in during an Oregon winter—into a ridiculously giddy stunt of almost no significance except to the lucky two who got to experience it together.


Seeing a movie at a drive-in during a Southern California autumn and winter has a distinctly different appeal. Sure, for those whose blood runs a little thinner than what percolates through the average Oregonian’s bloodstream (and who would consider living through the aforementioned triple feature a sure symptom of madness), going outdoors for your October-November-December drive-in fix usually means just making sure to bring a big jacket or a blanket, whether you’re sitting indoors or spreading the chairs out in front of the car under the big night sky. But for many, it’s an opportunity to extend the joys and the sensibility of summer well past the official repeal of Daylight Savings Time, and even in October, unless it’s particularly cold, you’ll see lots of people at drive-ins in Southern California dressing accordingly—that is, in the shorts and T-shirts that are the preferred evening wear of the ozoner cognoscenti.

October 22 was the night I managed to coordinate the biggest turnout yet of friends and coworkers to descend on the Mission Tiki-- we got six cars and about 15 people out to see Doom and Serenity, on paper a pretty good drive-in double feature. Or so we thought. Whenever I get one of these drive-in caravans together, those who are going to come cast votes for what double feature sounds best—majority doesn’t necessarily rule, as anyone is perfectly free to see anything they want, of course, but the idea is to get as big a group as possible on one lot so as to maximize the opportunity for socializing before, during, and even after the program is concluded. My pal Steve cast his vote for Doom/Serenity right away, and some of those participating, including drive-in party veteran Paul, cast their votes early along with him. And for a while it looked like there was gonna be a pretty even split between those who wanted their drive-in gore and sci-fi and those who wanted to take advantage of a pretty felicitous pairing-- Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit and Corpse Bride. My instinct was to go for the animation, but I was willing to be flexible. So was PSaga, who was the first one to say so in an e-mail to everyone. From there on, the previously militant Wallace & Gromit contingent decided to migrate, not without some pretty audible grumbling, over to screen #3 to see just what the Rock, playing the marine sergeant leader of a ragtag band of interstellar monster killers, was cookin’. (Just as a side note, Steve, who got the ball rolling on Doom to begin with, pulled an 11th-hour turnaround and decided not to attend, sealing his reputation as a villain with at least 50% of those who did show up.)

We all had a great time milling about the snack bar, telling stories of drive-in experiences past and marveling at the cleanliness of the whole drive-in and the cool tiki patterns on the snack bar walls that had recently been painted. Manager Jeff Thurman says those patterns are already due for an overhaul, and plans for a lighting and décor design to make the snack bar look more like the Tiki Room at Disneyland will soon be implemented. Jeff also took PSaga, Rachel, Kimberly and I up to the projection booth for a tour of the mighty Technalight-equipped marvels that shine so brightly from the center of the Mission Tiki’s lot. It was great to see everyone’s enthusiasm as Jeff regaled us with some of the technical details of 35mm film projection and demonstrated how the sound is transmitted from the projector to the low-wattage FM transmitters that send it out to your car radio. I always worry about taking too much advantage of Jeff’s hospitality when it comes to bringing people through for tours, but he never fails to make everyone feel welcome. The World Series was playing on a small TV in the corner of the room and, Houston Astros fan that he is, I’m pretty sure he would rather have listened to that while prepping the evening’s entertainment than talk to yet another group of wide-eyed drive-in fans. But he never made us feel like we were intruding on his time or attention, and he started the evening off on a very special note for Kimberly, Rachel and PSaga. Thanks again, Jeff!

Doom was, no great surprise, utter crap, and as such made for pretty good Mystery Science Theater-type fare for those of us who were willing and able (Fintan, miffed at being forced to sit through such unmitigated poo-poo, retreated inside his car and was followed by Rachel, who presumably spent most of the first feature with her neck craned back at screen #2, where Wallace & Gromit could be seen shining brightly in the night.) PSaga was waiting very audibly for costar Karl Urban to take his shirt off, a moment that, alas, never came. And Jonas took especially delighted note of the erect nipples visible through the sweaters of a couple of female bit players near the beginning of the movie. But he, and several of us boys, would end up frustrated by the refusal of icy token female cast member Rosamund Pike to doff her medical gear a la Sigourney Weaver in Alien. She did turn out, however, to be perhaps the worst, most unconvincing screamer in the history of horror/science fiction films, which endeared her to us almost as much as gratuitous full frontal nudity on her part would have. (Yeah, right—Ed.) The biggest audience reaction, however, came when the Rock burst through a none-too-sturdy papier-mâché wall and shouted, to no one in particular, “Semper Fi, motherfucker!” I’ll be darned if that wasn’t enough to send most of us, deadened by the repetitive, staccato editing and overripe acting by then, into a heady release of uncontrollable laughter, and I know I wasn’t the only one who spontaneously stood up out of my camping chair to salute. Serenity was far more involving, and as such there was a lot less yapping and horsing around while it unspooled. I got a bit of a scare midway through it, however, when the sound from the speakers in my car started popping with distortion. A little investigation revealed that one of our party, who had returned early to the car with some others rather than take the tour of the projection booth offered by manager Jeff Thurman, had inserted the keys in order to hear the movie, but had turned the ignition to the right, rather than setting it to the left in “accessory” mode. As a result, I ended up having to run my engine for the last half-hour or so of Serenity in order to ensure that we’d be able to pull out of the lot under our own power. But even though it was momentarily unnerving it was never much of a concern, as I always carry jumper cables and was surrounded by five other cars that were familiar to me. Just another drive-in adventure, and one that was far more exciting than anything in Doom, believe me.


The following weekend Blaaagh was in town, and we’d planned from quite a while back to make the Mission Tiki the centerpiece of the Saturday night portion of his visit. The perfect icing on this particular piece of cake was delivered by Jeff the previous weekend, when he revealed to me that the MT would indeed be playing Saw II with extra special co-hit The Devil’s Rejects. Whoo-hoo! I’d had a chance this past summer to see this one in Portland but just didn’t feel up to it, and now what I would retroactively rationalize as my stalwart sense of delayed gratification would see a pay-off in the form of just about the perfect drive-in double feature for my buddy and me. We got out to the Mission Tiki early the evening of October 29 so we could roam around the perimeter of the lot and take some pictures of the new marquee, which was supposed to be completed by that weekend-- it was up and looking good, but still sans letters to spell out the names of the current attractions. We hooked up with Jeff early and found out that he was experiencing some pretty severe staff problems—three snack bar employees were out due to a death in the family, and one of the cashiers at the box office had fallen ill. Yet to our eye he was handling the difficult situation with relative calm and ease, and he still made time to show Blaaagh around the projection booth. While they talked upstairs, I made my way down to the snack bar to meet up with a guest I had invited on behalf of the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society. I didn’t have to wait long before I saw popular local radio talk show host Larry Mantle, along with his wife and their four-year-old son, come through the main snack bar entrance. Larry and his wife were, as expected, extremely friendly and very excited to be at the Mission Tiki, and even though they got caught in a pretty heavy crush at the snack bar caused by the sudden depletion of the staff, they remained good-humored and we whiled away the time waiting for hot dogs waxing enthusiastic about what was going on here and at the other drive-ins in the area. Only Larry's son was distraught-- it turned out that he was worried that, by being stranded in the snack bar, he would end up missing the beginning of Wallace & Gromit and his chance to take Jeff's projection booth tour. Three hot dogs and as many minutes later, we were all headed upstairs to Jeff's booth. The movie had, indeed, started, but we had forgotten that, in addition to the trailers, there was an 11-minute animated short starring the Madagascar penguins attached to the Wallace & Gromit feature-- the perfect time-stretcher that would allow the Mantles their glimpse into the Mission Tiki's control center. They were fascinated by what Jeff had to show them, none more so than Larry's son, whom Jeff scooped up, brought to the projector and held up so he could see the beam of light shooting through the window and extending all the way out to the screen where his movie would be playing.

Patty and Paloma take a break from the snack bar crush on Halloween weekend at the Mission Tiki...

while Adrian makes sure everybody gets their dog and corn while they're still hot...

With minutes to spare before the Madagascar short concluded, we hustled the Mantles downstairs and toward their car, said good-bye and made plans to keep in further contact. Jeff, Blaaagh and I hung out at the bottom of the stairs and talked for a few more minutes, at which point Blaaagh and I made our way toward screen #3, where Saw II had already been underway for about ten minutes. Since I'd seen the movie just a few days before, I brought my pal up-to-date on the action thus far and we settled in for a horror double bill the likes of which we hadn't seen together, especially at a drive-in, since around 1987, when we saw Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two at one of our favorite old haunts, the now-vaporized Winnetka Six Drive-in in the north part of the San Fernando Valley. At the end of Saw II we decided that we'd stay and see what we missed the first time when the movie repeated at around 11:00 p.m. and headed back for a little men's room-type relief. And on the way through the snack bar I ran into Frank Huttinger, film buyer for the De Anza Corporation, whom I'd met and talked with extensively at the Van Buren Drive-in in July. Frank, Blaaagh and I grabbed a chair at one of the tables there in the lobby and spent the first 15 or 20 minutes of The Devil's Rejects talking abut the great plans in store for the Mission Tiki in the coming months, which was enough to get me really excited, and enough to get Blaaagh thinking about buying a plane ticket for a return visit sometime in May. Frank is a very friendly guy, very enthusiastic about the Mission Tiki and all the De Anza drive-ins, and I think he's also really appreciative of the efforts, even as a fledging organization, of the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society to stir up interest not just in his drive-ins, but in rekindling the whole experience of going to the drive-in and keeping it top-of-the-mind for parents, kids and couples as a great first-choice entertainment option. Of course, the effort and dollars De Anza itself is putting into these lots to make going to the drive-in special again is the main force that has turned their business around, and it's exciting to imagine even greater heights of success might be in store for the drive-ins, and for SoCal DIMS, in the summer of 2006.

The Devil's Rejects was a reasonably clever, if relentlessly disgusting, homage to the kinds of '70s horror fare Blaaagh and I routinely saw in these venues when we were wet-behind-the-ears college kids. The list of the cameos-- P.J. Soles, Ken Foree, Geoffrey Lewis, Priscilla Barnes, Michael Berryman, Tom Towles, Deborah van Valkenburgh, Ginger Lynn Allen, Mary Woronov and Steve Railsback, among many others, would have been enough to keep us happy just playing Spot Our Favorite Genre Star. The whole premise of director Rob Zombie's gruesome comedy is built around a simple twist of perception-- a motley band of serial killers, led by William Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie (the director's wife) and Roger Corman stock player Sid Haig, reprising his role as the murderous Captain Spaulding from Zombie's previous House of 1000 Corpses, all on the run from an increasingly demented sheriff (William Forsythe, in prime sky's-the-limit mode), ultimately find themselves in much the same position as many of their own victims when the sheriff snaps and reveals himself to be perhaps even more deranged than his prey. The finale, with the killers making a slow-motion suicidal run at a heavily armed road blockade, all scored to Lynryd Skynrd's "Freebird," is as perversely funny and excessive as anything I've seen this year and puts a happy cap on a movie that contains more than its fair share of morally dubious shenanigans (God knows how much further the unrated cut, now out on DVD, goes, but I think perhaps the theatrical version will do just fine for me, in this case). And to put a hilarious cherry on top of the blood-soaked finish, as the credits started to roll, Jeff pops on the radio with a little raised-eyebrow editorial: "My, wasn't that tasty! And speaking of tasty, don't forget to make a last run at our delicious snack bar offerings, because the snack bar will close in approximately 20 minutes." If he didn't know it before (and I suspect he did), Blaaagh knew with that little audio flourish that Jeff's Mission Tiki Drive-in was indeed as good as I had been advertising here for months, the cream of the crop, ground zero for excellence in drive-in moviegoing in Southern California. And he knows, just like I do, that it's only gonna get better out there in Montclair as the days start to get longer...


* The Southern California Drive-in Movie Society will be out in force at the Mission Tiki this Saturday night to celebrate the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Jeff and all our outdoor movie-loving friends, and there's three other screens with titles like Zathura, The Legend of Zorro, Chicken Little, Flightplan, Jarhead and Derailed. So even if Harry's not your thing, there oughta be something out there that is up your alley. If so, come on out and join us. Sal, Kathy, Lanna, Chris, Kyle and I will all be out manning the tables, accepting sign-ups for society memberships and e-mail listings, and just taking the opportunity to chat with everyone to whom drive-in movies still mean so much. If you haven't yet done so, come on out and see what Jeff's Technalight marvels can do with a movie like Harry Potter, the type of movie I once would never have considered seeing at a drive-in, but now would gladly check out at the Mission Tiki, because the presentation is just that good. Speaking of Technalight, the amazingly brilliant illumination system featured on all of the Mission Tiki's projectors is now installed on all three projectors at the Van Buren Cinema 3 Drive-in in Riverside. The movies, and the future, are indeed looking much brighter at the Van Buren these days! And there may be some good news to report about Technalight and another Southern California drive-in to report soon-- when it becomes a sure thing, I'll let you know.

* Finally, drive-in fans (fanatics) are known for their obsessive love, and if you're of a certain age you may remember this toy, which Blaaagh reminded me of in an e-mail earlier this week. He also directed me to this site where (for a fee, of course) you can watch the original TV commercial for this delightful little item-- and you can actually see what's on the bill at this link too! Well, of course, eBay has one that is up for bid right now, but I have a feeling it's gonna go for a touch more than a less-than-mint condition item like this really should. But if you're interested, it could make some drive-in nut that you love a lot very happy this Christmas.

That's all from the drive-in for now. I hope to see you this Saturday night and fill you in a little bit more about what the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society has cooking for 2006. Until then, Support Your Local Drive-in!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


The new issue of Entertainment Weekly, their Holiday Movie Preview, features a splashy article on director Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake. Buried within that article is a paragraph that, after enduring so much knee-jerk genuflection at the altar of digital effects and digital cinema by a certain high-profile director of a certain greatest postmodern art film ever,* was pure tonic to discover. Let me share it with you:

“Creating a believable, photorealistic Kong was just the beginning of the challenge for Jackson’s army of effects experts. Unlike Lord of the Rings, which used various locations all over New Zealand, Jackson decided that his Kong, like the original, would be filmed mainly on soundstages. Skull Island, Kong’s jungly home, was created almost entirely in miniatures; there are twice as many miniature shots in Kong as in all three Rings movies combined. At one point during postproduction, George Lucas dropped by the set for a hush-hush visit. Alex Funke, supervising director of visual effects photography, proudly showed off his miniatures department’s handiwork, which was meticulously crafted down to the tiniest piece of plastic jungle foliage. “George said, ‘Of course, we could do all that digitally,’” Funke says. “We said, ‘Yes, of course you could. So?’”

Alex Funke, you are my hero.

* Incidentally, if you buy any of this incredible load of post-coital rationalization, then you probably also believe that Our Poor Creatively Shackled Empire Builder will actually begin making some of these avant-garde experimental films he’s claimed for nearly 30 years now that he’s always wanted to do, instead of continuing to tinker with his great postmodern art film until he can’t chew his own food anymore. (A 3-D version of “Episode IV” is slated for 2007—how very avant-garde and experimental!)

P.S. Today marks one year since I made the inaugural post on Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. I wanted to say thank you to all of you who have been so encouraging and helpful to me with this project, and for your enthusiasm, and your constructive criticism too. I wasn’t sure if I could sustain something like this, but the adventure and the fun of it has really taken hold of me. I sincerely hope this blog is as much fun to read as it is to write. I look forward to even more fun and more creative challenges in the years ahead.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


The following is the final installment of a four-part article gathering up the answers to Professor Wagstaff’s Summer of 42 (Questions, That Is) Movie Quiz. You can find parts one, two and three posted below this article by scrolling down.)

33) Favorite Movie About High School

The movie most mentioned in this category was, hands down, Dazed and Confused, but that’s not at all to imply that it was some across-the-board choice. In fact, this category probably teased out the most diverse range of responses of almost any question in this quiz. Benaiah and I both wholeheartedly threw our support behind Richard Linklater’s movie—I think it’s the best movie about high school, the ‘70s and about small-town life I’ve ever seen—but Thom McG was more circumspect: “(My favorite high school movie) has not been made yet. Dazed and Confused was wonderful, but I couldn’t relate—all those drugs and classic rock tunes…” Jen was more definitive about what went wrong for her with the movie-- “When I saw Dazed and Confused, at first I laughed my ass off… then it just dissolved into a recognition fest— ‘I had that purse. Mary had those shoes. That girl in Algebra wore that exact same poncho all through junior year…’

So what high school movie did it for Jen? No, not Fast Times at Ridgemont High, though it does rate a mention for her (it was the out-and-out pick for Blaagh and Robert). Turn back the clock with us now to 1987, when a little film by up-and-coming director Phil Joanou, whose star never quite rose to the heights that were expected of him, hit multiplexes and disappeared in what seemed like the same instant: Three O’Clock High, starring Casey Siemaszko as a nerdy high school newspaper reporter who accidentally bumps into bully Richard Tyson and spends the entirety of the movie watching the clock as his 3:00 p.m. after-school date with Tyson’s fists draws nearer and nearer. (Should we inquire with which character Jen identified?)

After these three, the choices get even more interesting. PSaga cites Terry Zwigoff’s inspired rendering of Daniel Clowes’ comic book Ghost World as number one, because “this is what high school was like for me, except (the movie is) way more cool.” (Should we inquire with which character PSaga most identified?), whereas for Beege, closed-off men trying to recapture high school in Beautiful Girls fills the bill.

I like the rowdy triumvirate proposed by Rodger Rebel Without a Cause), Machine Gun (High School Confidential) and Caption Jockey (Rock and Roll High School-- oh, that Riff Randall…), though I must take issue (and this will not surprise him) with Murray’s choice of Porky’s. At last, a movie comedy I can hold over my favorite cousin’s head in the same way he dangles This is Spinal Tap over mine. I remember visiting him and his wife on the weekend after Porky’s came out, and the two of them being very excited to take me to see this hilarious movie. I don’t recall if I’d heard much about it one way or the other, but I do remember not being very enthusiastic about seeing it. Even so, we all went (they’d seen it the weekend before), and after about ten minutes I realized it was, to put it most kindly, not going to be my cup of tea. The next 80 minutes were fairly excruciating, alternating boredom with utter distaste and a kind of numb confusion in observing that this offal being dumped in front of them was being received by the audience as if it was fresh, funny stuff. Murray, I love ya and all, but I have a feeling we’re just never gonna see eye-to-eye on comedies (have you gotten around to The Big Lebowski yet?).

Virgil touches the sublime with his choice—the fumbling adoration from afar that informs John Gordon Sinclair’s every waking high school moment as he pines for lovely soccer-playing Dee Hepburn in Gregory’s Girl, from director Bill Forsyth. Virg, we’ve often wondered what happened to Forsyth after the disastrously received Being Human (1993). Were you aware that his only credit since then came in 1999 and was a sequel to Gregory’s Girl, entitled Gregory’s Two Girls? Does anyone know what happened to Bill Forsyth? How can someone with such a singular vision—the director of That Sinking Feeling, Local Hero, Comfort and Joy and Housekeeping-- comedies like no other’s—just up and disappear?

And the Mysterious Adrian Betamax offers up the most provocative, not to mention obscure, title in this category, a little morsel entitled Fucking Amal, the movie directed by Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodyson just before he would make a small splash in america and on the festival circuit with Tillsammans (Together) and Lilja 4-Ever.

But my wife and I had wondered, before I posted the questions to the quiz, if anyone would think that Gus van Sant’s controversial post-Columbine meditation Elephant was worth a mention, and sure enough, Novotny did. It’s an interesting choice, in light of the relative lightness of the other picks, but also because no other American participating (I’m making an assumption, based on some of his comments, that Novotny is perhaps European, though I don’t think he’s ever said for sure) seemed to consider it. (I wonder what the general feeling in the group would be about Elephant in general.) Personally, I thought it worked better and was more resonant with me than I was prepared to allow, given some of the preconceptions I had about it, based mostly on my dread at the prospect of actually seeing it. But as the middle part of Van Sant’s long-take trilogy of death contemplation, I felt it fell short of its precursor, the brilliantly absorptive and experimental Gerry, which had imagery that was so hypnotic and transfixing that giving yourself over to it began to feel a little like giving yourself over to slow, creeping, seductive death. That sense of the inevitability of death that informs Gerry also informs Elephant (as I would expect it would van Sant’s completing piece of the trilogy, Last Days, which I have yet to see). But where Gerry has an almost mystical detachment, Elephant’s detachment, though pointed (roaming the halls with Harris Savides’ camera accurately approximates that zombified sense of place and purpose that is an exclusively spectral quality of high school), remains a little diagrammatic, what with the multiple vantage points and repeated perspectives on the same events. Van Sant’s style in Elephant creates awful dread—we know what lies at the end of the hall through those library doors, we just never know if, this time, we’re gonna get there or take a last-minute swerve away to “safety”— but the imagery, and its inevitability—didn’t expand in my consciousness the way Gerry’s did. Perhaps that’s a result of the subject matter— could a movie attempting to deal with Columbine, even glancingly, avoid being somehow suffocating? And after Columbine, and Elephant, are the old Fast Times/Porky’s models even meaningful anymore as anything other than nostalgia?

34) The movie you'd most like to be subjected to a DVD commentary, and the person or persons (living or dead) who you'd like to hear talking on it

Out of all 42 of the Professor's questions, the answers to this one were the answers I was most looking forward to reading, and they did not disappoint.

Beege led off imagining the tales that might be told by the cast and crew of Gone with the Wind, and Blaagh concurred: "Imagine Gable, Leigh, DeHavilland, McDaniel, Howard, Ward Bond, buttinski Evelyn Keyes, not to mention the directors three, yakking away over the various scenes. They'd have to have multiple commentaries, like the Lord of the Rings movies. Ah, if only!"

Continuing this early-established theme of Commentaries from Beyond the Grave, Virgil Hilts proposes a similar multi-speaker commentary forCitizen Kane. Virgil envisions a round table composed of writer-director-star Orson Welles, who could comment on various famous set pieces, and perhaps even the significance of "Rosebud," that is if he could get in a word edgewise from fellow participant William Randolph Hearst, who would undoubtedly be shouting Welles down at every opportunity with charges of misrepresentation and slander regarding the conception of the Kane character and what it says about himself. Down the panel would sit screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, long thought to be a much more significant contributor to the Kane dynasty, who would have his hands full pointing out his own contributions above the din, and of course getting Welles' back when Hearst lets his indignation get out of control. But Welles and Hearst might join a somewhat united front in attacking the final member of the commentary track, film critic Pauline Kael, whose essay "Raising Kane" famously (or infamously) laid a good portion of the credit for what was right about Kane, a movie she terms a pop epic and "the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened" at Mankiewicz's feet and had few kind words at all for Hearst (at least words that he would consider kind). Kael might have some interesting observations about the film's lasting impact and its cultural significance to offer, that is assuming she could be heard above the din created by the other three panelists. Nice call, Virgil!

Commentaries from Beyond the Grave continue with Jen imagining a dream double feature of Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard with a solo Billy Wilder at the microphone. (Next best thing-- Jen, have you read Cameron Crowe's book-length series of interviews with Wilder? If you have, it'll just make you want your DVD commentary wish to come true even more than ever.) Robert votes for a combo of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann brought back to talk about Torn Curtain, with Herrmann presumably offering up much criticism of the movie's score, which was written by John Addison. Murray wants to hear General George S. Patton, Jr. on George C. Scott as Patton. (Perhaps he might have something to say about teenagers who go to the drive-in and make out while watching movies like Patton, though I’d imagine he’d have stronger words for those kids who had the opportunity to make out while watching it, but instead chose to watch the movie, and those strong words might begin something like, “Son, you’re just the kind of focused, no-nonsense recruit the Army is looking for…”)

And to close out this subcategory, I thought that this might be a perfect time for Jesus Christ Himself to sit down in front of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and put an end to the controversy once and for all. Did Satan really look and sound like a Eurotrash transsexual? Just how conflicted was Pontius Pilate? And seeing as it was He who lived and died this particular story, not Jim Caviezel, would Christ find Gibson’s fixation on His (pictorially sumptuous and lurid) agonies honorable and defensible? If Christ took a look at the frequency with which Gibson himself has chosen roles in which he could be spectacularly martyred, would He feel a little uncomfortable with the parallels being drawn between Himself and the director’s own “bravery” at bringing this gore-soaked vision to the screen? Would He rather have had Gibson give a little more weight to His teachings, if only to lend the horror a bit more theological context? Or would He simply say, taking a cue from the director and our current president, “Hey, this is the way it was—you folks who don’t, for whatever reason, like the movie, well, you’re either with Me or against Me?” Would Christ Himself insist that rejecting The Passion was tantamount to rejecting Him? And while we’re at it, what is going on with this Anne Rice character?

Living auteurs that were called upon to offer their points of view included Hsiao-hsien Hou, who could make Novotny happy if he’d only speak on the commentary track for a Cafe Lumiere disc; Walter Hill, who Machine Gun McCain wishes would lay down a track and talk about Streets of Fire; Quentin Tarantino, along with cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and John Travolta, to fulfill Benaiah’s wish for the ultimate Pulp Fiction DVD, “providing QT didn’t pontificate too much—I want to hear about it all”; and David Lynch, who Thom McG wishes would provide just a smidgen of insight into Mulholland Drive (“Anybody else, I’d be afraid they’d overexplain, but not Lynchy”).

Finally, some thoughts about DVD commentaries in lieu of special requests:

“I think these all already exist—or there’s already too many!” – The Mysterious Adrian Betamax

“I’m not really into audio commentaries. Most of them are really boring and annoying, no? (However,) if Thom got her wish on Mulholland Drive, I might change my mind.” – PSaga

35) Favorite Animated Movie Disney gets its nods here, of course—Blaaagh cites 101 Dalmatians and Thom McG likes Beauty and the Beast. And Pixar stands tall too—Beege likes anything from the Pixar line, though she takes time to note that she “avoids Disney-type movies on principle,” which should make raising her near two-year-old daughter interesting; and Jen stands behind Toy Story and Toy Story 2 all the way to Al’s Toy Barn and back.

The Japanese were amply represented by three picks: Akira (Benaiah), Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) (PSaga) and Perfect Blue (Novotny).

The only animated movie to be picked by more than one person was South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which was the cup of blasphemy preferred by Rodger, Caption Jockey and myself.

Murray, proving that anything goes if it means spending time with the grandkids, picks Don Bluth’s original The Land Before Time, and though he didn’t say so, I’d bet Murray has spent some quality time in the company of the endless sequels in this series too. And Virgil Hilts has nothing but praise and awe, and rightfully so, to bestow upon Nick Park’s second Wallace & Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers.

But the happiest choice for me in this category has to be Machine Gun McCain’s selection of Tex Avery’s immortal I Love to Singa. The story of Owl Jolson, the son of classical-loving parents who just wants to sing jazz, is one of Avery’s early masterpieces, rivaled only in my affection by Avery’s Rock-a-bye Bear, and it can be glimpsed briefly in Joe Dante’s excellent Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

36) Most overly familiar dialogue phrase used in screenwriting, usually to connote coolness of a character or, more often, the screenwriter (Example: “Do the math!”)

“I hate it when people say ‘I love you’ in movies.” (Benaiah) (Man, your ivories must be ground flat from all the teeth-gritting you’ve had to do in your life watching movies, huh? – Ed.)

“We need to talk.” (Blaagh)

“Dude!” (Murray)

“Motherfucker!” (Beege)

“’Yes!’ when it’s uttered by some kid who pumps his arm in triumph—to quote a great songwriter, beat on the brat!” (Thom McGregor)

“You know the drill.” (Dennis)

“I’ve never liked the use of the phrase, ‘Are you deaf.’” (Virgil Hilts) (Take that, Neidermeyer! – Ed.)

“I’m too old for this shit!” (Jen)

“Hug it out!” (Robert) (Is this from Entourage? – Ed.)

“Any character reciting a nursery rhyme in an ironic or detached tone.” (Machine Gun McCain)

“I will not mock my brethren in the screenwriting trade, even though they deserve it.” (Rodger)

37) Favorite Howard Hawks Movie

We lead off with a frothy head of steam put forth by the reliably miffed Mysterious Adrian Betamax, who cries foul yet again over my purposefully frustrating queries:

"One of the all-time greatest directors, and you have to make me choose! I have a real big soft spot for Only Angels Have Wings, but I'd put at least five others right alongside it. Bonus response: Favorite SILENT Howard Hawks film: A Girl in Every Port (1928) with a very young Victor McLaglen and Louise Brooks.”

Blaaagh hedges his choice like the M.A.B., but since he listed his back-up choices, so will I here: Bringing Up Baby (Jen likes it too), The Big Sleep, Ball of Fire (Yea! – Ed.), and The Thing From Another World (also Virgil’s choice).

Red River is Hawks of choice for Thom McG, Machine Gun McCain and Benaiah; Sharon and Dennis dig the rapid-fire interplay of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday; for Novotny, it can’t be anything except Rio Bravo; Murray jumps ahead about a decade and chooses Rio’s “sequel,” El Dorado; and Rodger picks one of the great gangster movies of all time, Scarface (“X” marks the spot, Rodger – Ed.)

All this on display, and Robert remains unimnpressed: “Actually, I’m not a Howard Hawks fan.” (Okay, how about the Atlanta Hawks? Or Howard Beale? -- Ed.)

And Beege has a confession to make: “I have no idea who Howard Hawks is.” (Beege, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t find His Girl Friday an absolute riot—do check it out sometime! – Ed.)

39) Favorite Kung Fu Film

Whoo-hoo! Thirty-nine questions in, and finally the Mysterious Adrian Betamax looks like he’s finally gonna go
all Scanners on us:

“Oh, man!!!! Again, a list would have helped, but who could even compile such a list? I just don't know. Here's some that are springing to mind: The Shaw Brothers' Executioners of Shaolin (even though it doesn't satisfy all the way through), Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, and probably some Jet Li or Jackie Chan movies excited me in the distant past. There are some great ones I can't think of, but it's your fault, evil quizmaster!”

Unfortunately, for fans of exploding heads and airborne cerebral gristle, the M.A.B. got it under control and finished the rest of this quiz—I just talked to him yesterday, and he’s completely over this whole having-to-choose-a-favorite-martial-arts-movie-without-a-20,000-title-list-to reference dilemma.

Other glories that bubbled to the top: Blaagh and Rodger go for Bruce Lee’s first big hit, Fists of Fury, while Caption Jockey makes the unassailable choice of Enter the Dragon; the Lone Wolf and Cub series gets an appreciative nod from Virgil Hilts; I kinda went the M.A.B. route and got overwhelmed with an alarming number of candidates that kept popping up in my head, so I decided to go with the first one I ever saw, Five Fingers of Death; Murray was seduced by House of Flying Daggers; King Hu’s superb Come Drink with Me heads Machine Gun McCain’s list; Thom McG picks my favorite Jackie Chan movie, the incomparable Project A Part 2; and Robert hits a bull’s-eye by dragging one of my personal favorites out of the shadows, the delightful spaghetti western-martials arts hybrid La dove non batte il sole, known stateside to drive-in fans of a certain age as The Stranger and the Gunfighter, starring the masterful veteran martial arts performer Lieh Lo and Leone icon Lee Van Cleef. Hey, Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video, the Sabata trilogy is on DVD, for crying out loud—what’s the holdup on The Stranger and the Gunfighter?

40) In the spirit of Freddy vs. Jason, devise a fantasy smackdown matchup between two movie characters, fictional or drawn from life

Benaiah: “Walter Sobchak vs Frank Ricard. The laughs would just keep coming. Alternatively, Sanjuro Kuwabatake vs. William Munny for sheer badassness. I also would love Paul Giamatti in Sideways vs. Woody Allen in Manhattan for laughable non-badassness.”

Beege: “Ouiser Boudreaux from Steel Magnolias and freaking ANYBODY else!”

The Mysterious Adrian Betamax: “>Eraserhead baby vs. The Man from Laramie.”

Novotny: “Humphrey Bogart vs. Sterling Hayden

Blaaagh: “Vera Drake versus Cynthia Rose Purley in a Battle of the Blubbering British Babes— ‘Take that, sweetheart! Boo-hoo-hoo!’ ‘I will end you, dear! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo!’”

Murray: “John Rambo vs. The Terminator.”

Thom McG: “Michael Bay vs. Henry Jaglom. Whether the weapons be explosions or pretentious words, the effect will be the same-- bludgeoning to death. Let the worst man win.”

Virgil Hilts: “The Sharks and Jets are dropped into Walter Hill’s The Warriors-- the Lizzies take ‘em all out in one minute!”

Rodger: “Shane vs.the Man with No Name.”

Machine Gun McCain: “Ethan Edwards vs. Frank.”

PSaga: “Annie Hall’s brother Duane vs. Lula’s Cousin Dell.”

Robert: “Susan Tyrell (Aunt Cheryl) in Night Warning (aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) vs. Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees) in Friday the 13th.”

41) Fantasy Drive-in Double Feature

Here’s some ideas for the Mission Tiki for next summer:

Beege and Murray think a Lord of the Rings triple feature would be a dream come true, though Beege admits “that’s a long-ass time to sit in your car.”

Perhaps more realistically, Blaaagh imagines rolling up for a late-‘70s nature-gone-wild program par excellence headlined by director John Frankenheimer’s freako eco-thriller Prophecy (or as it is known on the USA Network, apparently, Prophecy: The Monster Movie), plus co-hit The Bees, directed by Alfredo Zacarias-- no, I don’t know who he is either, but he does have an El Santo Mexican wrestler movie on his screenwriting resume. The Bees really is worth a look, if you ever get the chance—it makes The Swarm look positively sober in comparison. Remember, they prey… on human flesh!

I went for straight-ahead ‘70s drive-in classics: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Van. Ah, Leatherface and Stuart Getz on the same bill… Hey, I think I just thought of another great fantasy smackdown!

Rodger imagines taking his Chevy van out for a espionage-alicious two-fer from James Coburn, America’s playboy answer to James Bond-- Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

Put a Roger Corman duo of Rock All Night and Carnival Rock on the big outdoor screen, turn the pole speaker up to 11, and Machine Gun McCain’s there, daddy-o! (As a matter of fact, I think I would be too!)

Joe Bob Briggs himself would probably have a hard time resisting Robert’s proposed hot-potato drive-in double feature, and I know I would too. There’d undoubtedly be a laurel and hearty welcome awaiting you at the boxoffice on “Guilty of Being White Night” at Robert’s drive-in when the feature du nuit is Lee Marvin, Richard Burton and O.J. Simpson in the truly wretched potboiler The Klansman, plus James Mason, Perry King and Ken Norton as a man who gets boiled in a pot in the not-really-so-bad-as-all that Mandingo.

But the winner of the Most Intriguing Drive-in Double Feature Award goes to Benaiah for his proposed anti-exploitation bill of L’Avventura and Hiroshima, Mon Amour-- “I would love to see the wide shots of Italy (and Monica Vitti) and then follow it up with the quiet beauty and passion of Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” I love this idea, although I’d make sure to park in the first three or four rows in order to make sure I’d be able to read the subtitles on that big drive-in screen. Would this venue increase the alienation factor of the two movies or balance it by the mere fact that you’re watching the movies outdoors?

42) Funniest… movie… ever!

What better way to end this adventure with Professor Wagstaff’s Summer of 42 (Movie Questions, That is) Movie Quiz (did anybody notice it’s not exactly summer anymore?) than with a roster of movies that make us smile, that cheer us up, that make it easier to go on when the going-on just doesn’t seem that easy. Here, then, are the movies that make the SLIFR crowd laugh like hopped-up hyenas…

The Big Lebowski (Benaiah, Dennis)
Blazing Saddles (Beege, Dennis)
Caddyshack (Robert)
Duck Soup (Caption Jockey)
The Heartbreak Kid (Machine Gun McCain)
Love and Death (Caption Jockey)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Beege)
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (Blaaagh)
Raising Arizona (Virgil Hilts, Thom McGregor)
Son-In-Law (Murray)
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Dennis, PSaga)
Sullivan’s Travels (Rodger)
Twentieth Century (The Mysterious Adrian Betamax)
Young Frankenstein (Sharon, Jen)

Okay, pencils down, blue books closed. That’s it! Take a breather, go get a drink of water, a cup of coffee, whatever, and meet back in here in a little over a month. Professor Wagstaff will have a Christmas Vacation quiz waiting for you, so I hope your brains are properly rested! Thanks, everybody, for taking part and making this so much fun for me and for everybody who took the time to go through all your terrific, thoughtful and often hilarious responses. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!