Monday, January 07, 2008


Marcia Nasitir and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., the Reel Geezers
(Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times/Richard Hartog)

Not that anyone is pining away or anything, but I just wanted to let you know that, despite a weekend of working on it, my year-end “Best Of” list, now about a week late by the calendar, is still not quite in shape. It’s creeping up on 5,000 words already and I’m nowhere near finished. (I got sidetracked tonight by the opportunity to expound at length about my number-one pick, a movie I hadn’t yet had a chance to write about in any substantive way.) So, rather than stay up all night knocking out words for words’ sake, to assuredly ever diminishing returns, I thought I’d give myself one more night to let some late entries percolate a bit further and let my mind shake loose the cobwebs brought on by lack of rest before I complete the list and all its attendant fun little accessories. I promise, it’ll be ready for your delectation and aggravation by Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, a little nugget I was going to save for the end of my year-end round-up, but which I will share with you now in lieu of the big project. As may be the case with some of you, one of my favorite TV shows as a kid (and one I eager await from Fox DVD as soon as the legal tangles get straightened out) was Batman. The campy superhero series tends to be anathema to the modern super-fanboy who prefers his Batman dosed with graphic novel seriousness and gravity. I loved Batman Begins too, but I have a real affinity for the TV show, which had the zing of pop art without ever feeling beholden to representing the experience of reading the Batman comic book of the ‘60s. And much of that sensibility can be laid at the feet of its irreverent screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple Jr. Semple, who wrote the screenplays for Pretty Poison, Fathom, Papillon, The Super Cops and The Parallax View, began, with his 1975 script for Three Days of the Condor, an association with producer Dino DeLaurentiis that would span the rest of his professional career. For the Italian he penned the unfairly reviled 1976 remake of King Kong, as well as DeLaurentiis’ ill-advised 1979 remake of Hurricane and 1984’s delightfully daft Sheena: Queen of the Jungle. (Semple also wrote the Thunderball redux Never Say Never Again.)

But surely the highlight of this renewed camp phase of Semple’s career has to be the deceptively dopy, but actually very smart and slyly revisionist take on Flash Gordon (1980). Directed by Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Croupier), the movie is a visual marvel, albeit far too self-consciously stylized for the George Lucas set who preferred their take on cliffhanger serials with a newly inspired realism that helped them forget how creaky the source material often was. But Flash Gordon was and still is a blast, from the virtually glowing sets of Danilo Donati to the unapologetically crunchy, and yet somehow ethereal pop score by Queen, to the great cast of European actors (Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, Peter Wyngarde and Mariangelo Melato, to name just a few) and purposefully cardboard comic pork chops (Sam Jones as Flash and Melody Anderson as Dale Arden) who populated the vast kingdom of Mongo. My wife thinks I’m nuts for loving this movie, but I can’t help flying my freak flag for this one. I showed it to my daughters this weekend, and they put up with it—my five-year-old was particularly intrigued—but they actually seemed to enjoy the episode of the original serial (included on the DVD) more than the gaudy modern version. Harumph! And when my wife sat them down with Star Wars Saturday night, I may have lost them forever to the flibberdegibbit Force, so much did they seem to prefer the adventures of that mewling nudnik Luke Skywalker to those of the Savior of the Universe, Flash Gordon, quarterback, New York Jets.

Anyway, all this is to let you know about a wonderful new feature brought to us courtesy of YouTube, and that is Reel Geezers. This is the brainchild of Semple and friend/producer Marcia Nasitir (The Big Chill, Carrie), two octogenarians who hold forth in a series of snappy, brief (usually about six minutes) video segments on current releases. Their tastes are surprisingly contemporary—surprising, that is, to anyone who tends to believe the American societal line about people becoming dotty, stupid and unproductive in their advanced age. Semple and Nasitir put the lie to that in short order—she’s the sensitive, progressive, liberal one; he’s the cranky, clear-eyed, slightly more conservative one. Reel Geezers isn’t slickly packaged to compete with Ebert and Roeper, which makes it feel all the more immediate. And it’s often funny as hell too—these two lifelong friends have an ease and comfort with each other that makes for some pretty heady and salty interaction. I was clued in to the Geezers by a recent article in the Los Angeles Times which provides a wealth of background color to get you started on your Reel Geezers obsession. (Anne Thompson also wrote about them here.) Now I am hooked, and I am grateful. Reel Geezers is a shot in the arm from one dispossessed demographic (theirs) to a younger, increasingly dispossessed one (anyone else outside that golden 18-25) which never turns into condescension toward the young whippersnappers of Hollywood (you know, the ones who constant condescend to or otherwise overlook those in the Geezers age group). It’s all about the movies, as it turns out, whether you’re eight or 80, whether you think they're right or wrong. And here’s the proof: Reel Geezers on Superbad. Enjoy getting the Geezer habit! (You can reach Semple and Nasitir at


Greg said...

Great stuff Dennis. I love the comedy of the Batman series and the look. I love, love, love the look of all those sixties sci-fi, action-adventure, thriller, comic book type shows.

And if you'd like to defend Flash Gordon to the Cinema Styles audience (which admittedly is pretty much the same audience, less a healthy chunk of the daily visitors you get I'm sure) now's the perfect time. My most recent post is on defending movies no one else likes, and disliking movies everyone else loves. Sorry for this - I'm really not trying to plug or anything, I was just amazed at the timing of coming over here to find you supporting a movie that most others deplore (though not me if you must know - I find it hilariously entertaining especially when Dr.Zarkov explains how he foiled the brain-washing by thinking of a Beatles song).

And I can't wait to see your year end list. I say throw caution to the wind and make Fred Claus your top pick. Surely no one could disagree with that, right?

shahn said...

i loved watching the batman reruns as a kid. i especially loved the laidback way adam west delivered his lines, almost sarcastic which made me a huge fan.

i'm also interested in reading more about the films you show your children and which ones they respond to. how about a regular feature?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post on Flash Gordon. I must admit that when it was released, I was one of the Star-Wars geeks that dissed it (although I do remember thinking Melody Anderson was hot). Now that I have at least a little more cinematic sophistication, and maybe some necessary appreciation of irony, it's time to take another look.

Reel Geezers is great, by the way . .. thanks for pointing them out.

Adam Ross said...


Dennis, I hope you picked up one of the early "Flash Gordon" DVDs this year that included the Uncle Sam-like "Ming Wants YOU" postcard (it's staring at me on my desk right now).

I hadn't made the connection that Semple was responsible for all those beauties you listed (including Sheena!). I only discovered "Pretty Poison" this year, and was happy to find it under my Christmas tree. I still laugh at this exchange between Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins:

"I think my mother's seeing someone."
"A man?"
"Well yeah, she ain't queer"

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan: I'm on my way!

Shahn: That's a great idea. I've talked about it before, in specifics and in general (they love to go to the drive-in), but my wife and I try to be as discriminating as we can be in the face of the mighty marketing forces that come to bear on kids as soon as they become even slightly cognizant. I find that much of their enthusiasm for seeing a movie is fed by my own. If I simply don't mention seeing Underdog or Barnyard, they don't display much interest in it. (Besides, I think by now they're smart enough to figure that anything they miss come along on DVD eventually.)

That said, Adam, my youngest was particularly fascinated by the Hawkmen, and Brian Blessed in particular. She turned to me during the football match (long before "DIIIIIIIVVVVEE!") and said, "Daddy, that guy's got the biggest teeth I've ever seen!" I got the "Saviour of the Universe" DVD edition for my birthday, and yes, I've got that card of which you speak. My wife sat down with us Friday night, and by the time I got to the Alex Ross bonus feature she was thoroughly horrified. But I just think this movie is delightful. And I'll always remember Pauline Kael remarking how she was sure she heard men audibly moan when Ornella Muti first slinks across the screen-- "Come on, Fellini." That must have been me!

Anonymous said...


Haven't seen the new FLASH GORDON DVD set yet, although I have been interested in seeing the feature with Semple, Jr... instead I grabbed the R2 disc with the commentaries with Mike Hodges and Brian Blessed - both thoroughly entertaining and the Blessed commentary should've been ported over (so should the Hodges commentary, but it's a bit too politically pointed apparently).

Interestingly, from what I've gathered from Hodges commentary and interviews with Semple, they really didn't use much of his script -- and there is that credit of 'Adaptation by Micheal Allin'

For the hardcore FG fans, there is also a commentary with Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson that can be downloaded to play with the SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE edition.

Have to admit that I wasn't a huge BATMAN fan as a kid - it wasn't until I was older when I realized that it was INTENDED to be funny.

Greg said...

Whatever happened to "I'm on my way"? Ah, just kidding, don't worry about it. I must now peruse your best of list and comment immediately before work bogs me down again.