Wednesday, April 29, 2009


“I’m ba-a-a-a-ack!”

There’s something about the way Manny Ramirez, at the press conference earlier this year announcing his return to the Dodgers, warped a famous Arnold Schwarzenegger line to his own ends that warms my cockles. It’s gotta rankle the Massachusetts branch of the California governor’s mansion too, but that’s not as good (nor as painful) as the nasty irony that Arnie, in The Terminator, promised “I’ll be back,” and then returned to rain down terror and destruction upon a police division house, just like the beating the Governator is putting on the entire state right now. Manny’s return has been a far more benevolent, self-effacing, dare I say unifying gesture, and he’s settling back into kicking ass with a bat quite nicely. On my way out of town last Sunday afternoon I happily absorbed his contributions to the Dodgers 14-2 shellacking of the Rockies (2 for 4 with a run scored), and he wasn’t even the story—Kemp’s grand slam was, along with the rest of the offensive attack and the much fretted-over pitching (rookie James McDonald was the starter, who only went four and a third before getting backed up by a strong bullpen effort).

I use Manny’s image and line not to equate myself in any way with the shrugging, good-humored slugger, but just because it makes me feel good to see the Dodgers integrating this notorious ne’er-do-well into the big picture and emerging into this early part of the season as a team, not to mention a team (so far) to be reckoned with. And that 14-2 bit of Sunday afternoon breeze blew me out of town toward a great trip of fun, rejuvenation and investigation into the future from which I finally returned yesterday. So yes, I’m ba-a-a-a-ack too, and ready to start up again. But not just yet! But as soon as I finish up with the real world I’ll be checking in (probably no later than tomorrow) with notes on Bea Arthur, bloggers on DVDs, the Earth Day premiere, giant crocodiles, and my own answers to Professor Peabody’s questions. And certainly, if you have not yet submitted your own answers, know that there is so such thing as a due date and that all entries, whenever they are posted, will be happily received. I really enjoyed keeping up with them over my short vacation and hope that we have not yet hit the end of the road on this particular test-taking period.

The lights are back on. The fire has been lit. How was your week?


Friday, April 17, 2009


I know I said I was out for the week, but I'm sorry, I just had to say something...

How badly do you think Matthew Perry is regretting having done 17 Again on this opening day, when he’s reading the reviews, all of which, to one degree or another, by inescapable necessity, must compare him to his 17-year-old self, Zac Efron? Here’s one of the funniest, from Mick LaSalle:

“If you want to illustrate the acid rain that 20 years can pour down onto a human face, just show Zac Efron and then make us believe that life has turned him into Matthew Perry. Oh, that beautiful boy - oh, that lumpy-faced man. What happened? Failure and disappointment? Self-hatred? Grand-scale spiritual error? We're just scratching the surface here. For Efron to turn into Perry in a mere two decades would require something more drastic, like sitting down every morning to a breakfast of hot, steaming toxic waste.”

I liked “Grand-scale spiritual error?” Jeez! Stephanie Zacharek is characteristically more circumspect, but no less humorous:

"In movie terms, the Zac Efron/Matthew Perry dichotomy is a cruel bait and switch. There's something a little punishing about the way the movie practically snaps at us, `You don't expect youthful beauty to last forever, do you?'"

The Mrs. is taking my girls to squeal over Zac tonight. Myself, I'll just sit at home, lick my 48-year-old wounds and reassure myself with the bitter balm that the only reason I haven't had so far to fall myself is that there was never anyone even slightly resembling Zac Efron in my biological past! Salud to low standards admirably maintained!

See you all next week!



For most good, dedicated students, and yes, even for some of the studious young men and women featured floating on a houseboat on Lake Havasu in the latest Girls Gone Wild volume, finals week before Spring Break usually means an increase in the intensity of studies, a sudden spike in the academic mercury that measures just how hot the classroom kitchen gets before putting down the #2 on that last exam and beginning the pleasurable experience of prepping for some well-deserved time off. And so it is with Your Humble Narrator. I had at least four different ideas for posts, all of which will not be making their way onto your screens this week due to my own study week coming to a head like a pustule on the nose of one of Basil Wolverton’s agonizingly detailed portrait subjects. And academic agony is nothing if it cannot to be shared.

After my big test tomorrow I’ll be taking a break from posting for about a week and hitting the Oregon Trail, all paths leading to Eugene and the big premiere of Earth Day happening Wednesday, April 22. (Those of you in the Eugene area this week should be advised, there are some seats available for the 9:00 p.m. showing, but they are increasingly few.)

But while I’m gone it would not be nice if I did not leave you with something to do to while away your Spring Break hours in my absence. So then, it is my pleasure to introduce the newest member of the SLIFR University faculty, a lecturer of prestige and passionate following who may be more familiar to the older members of our congregation than the younger, but who should be no less revered for his age and /or irrelevance to current pop culture. He is the esteemed Professor Peabody who, along with his trusty sidekick Sherman, will guide you through the ins and outs of his Hysterical Historical Wayback Spring Break Film Quiz. There were some amusing complaints of musty references and deliberate obfuscation lingering about the Kingsfield quiz last Christmas from a few frustrated quiz-takers. Those participants, and any others like them, should steel themselves for more of the same, as Professor Peabody is nothing if not cognizant of some of the lesser-known of screen talents, and he’s here to talk about them today.

It is time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy yourselves. Though I will undoubtedly be present in the comments column, I’ll be back with fresh posts staring the week of April 27 (unless something hits me with urgency before then), including word on the upcoming drive-in season, and special plans therein for SLIFR readers, and some other surprises which I hope delight you as much as they have already delighted me. Before you start the quiz, take a moment and watch this special introductory film Professor Peabody has prepared just for you, and then start whacking away. There is, as always, no time limit, and but one simple request—please copy the questions along with your answers in the comments column so readers can more easily understand to what your answers are referring. Have a great spring break!


1) Favorite Biopic

2) Dyan Cannon or Tuesday Weld?

3) Best example of science fiction futurism rendered silly by the event of time catching up to the prediction

4) Annette Funicello & Frankie Avalon or Troy Donahue & Sandra Dee?

5) Favorite Raoul Walsh movie?

6) Sophomore film which represents greatest improvement over the director’s debut

7) Ice Cube or Mos Def?

8) Favorite movie about the music industry

9) Favorite Looney Tunes short (provide link if possible)

10) Director most deserving of respect or upwardly mobile critical reassessment

11) Ruth Gordon or Margaret Hamilton?

12) Best filmed adaptation of a play

13) Buddy Ebsen or Edgar Buchanan?

14) Favorite Jean Renoir movie?

15) Favorite one-word movie title, and why

16) Ernest Thesiger or Basil Rathbone?

17) Summer movies—your highest and lowest expectations

18) Whether or not you’re a parent, what would be your ideal pick as first movie to see with your own child (or niece/nephew)? Why?

19) L.Q. Jones or Strother Martin

20) Movie most recently seen in theaters? On DVD/Blu-ray?

21) Do you see more movies theatrically or at home? Why?

22) Name an award-worthy comic performance that was completely ignored by Oscar and his pals.

23) Zac Efron & Vanessa Hudgens or Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart

24) Name a great (or merely very good) movie that is too painful to watch a second time (Thanks to The Onion A.V. Club)

25) Beyonce Knowles or Jennifer Hudson?

26) Favorite Robert Mitchum movie?

27) Favorite movie featuring a ‘60s musical group that is not either the Beatles or the Monkees

28) Maria Ouspenskaya or Una O’Connor?

29) Favorite Vincent Price movie?

30) Name a movie currently flying under the radar that is deserving of rabid cult status.

31) Irene Ryan or Lucille Benson (or Bea Benaderet)?

32) Single line from a movie that never fails to make your laugh or otherwise cheer you up. (This may be obvious, but the line does not have to come from a comedy.)

33) Elliot Gould or Donald Sutherland?

34) Best performance by a director in an acting role

35) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck movie?

36) Outside of reading film criticism or other literature about the movies, what subject do you enjoy reading about or studying which you would say best enriches or illuminates your understanding and appreciation of life, a life that includes the movies?


See ya when I get back from Oregon (and some of you I'll see there)! Yee-haw!



Glenn Kenny, in introducing his consideration of the love it-or-hate-it Seth Rogen comedy Observe and Report, speculated that this is one of those movies that may be less interesting than the general critical reaction to it. I think Kenny may be right, even though his comment was meant to suggest that the reaction most worthy of attention has been all the palaver about a film unworthy of support from those scrambling (or in some cases not bothering to scramble) to defend it. In fact, the most “interesting” response from critics, as I see it, has been from those writers, some generally levelheaded bearers of good judgment, some not so much, whose basic case against the movie is one predicated on the assumption that those who find it funny are clods whose moral compass has either been shattered outright or, at the very least, demagnetized.

Singled out, but by no means alone as a focus of disgust, is the movie’s alleged “date rape” scene, in which an inebriated, pilled-up Anna Faris, vomit crusted around her mouth, is seen lying motionless under the hard-pumping Seth Rogen, who has a brief moment of moral hesitation over screwing this close-to-unconscious babe-of-his-dreams, only to be berated with hilariously slurred impatience by Faris for breaking the rhythm of the attack. If you’ve seen the R-rated “red band” trailer, you’ve essentially seen this scene in its entirety already and, for that matter, the bulk of Faris’ appearance as well. She’s wonderful in the movie, but coming after The House Bunny, it’s not a role that will whet one’s desire for seeing her take over the big screen. What’s most interesting to me is that it seems that the exposure of some of those most vocally outraged by Observe and Report has been limited to this trailer, and it seems within question that some have even seen that much. Dissenting reports by the likes of Kenny, Stephanie Zacharek, Charles Taylor, Manohla Dargis et al. are one thing—agree or disagree with their conclusions, you at least can be certain that they’ve seen the movie from start to finish. But immediately after seeing O&R, which has been fairly and frequently summarized as Travis Bickle, Mall Cop, I got into what was a potentially heated argument over the movie with someone who had only read a couple of reviews and who professed no desire to see it. The basis of the argument was, “Date rape is not funny.” I couldn’t agree more, and as a result I walked away from the discussion before it really got absurd.

As I have stated here more than often, the subject of rape is one that I don’t take particularly lightly, so I stands to reason that if the scene were something on the order of revolting exploitation in simple service of pushing the comedy envelope, my moral compass not yet having been totally demagnetized, it would not be a scene which would naturally cause me to leap to its defense. The scene is, in fact, a twisted riff on DeNiro’s delusional date with Cybill Shepherd, in which he takes her to a porn movie and she runs out on him, disgusted. The difference is, of course, that Faris’ character not only doesn’t run out, but actively encourages this oafish psychosexual time bomb in his increasingly dangerous delusions largely because her own moral compass, aided by drink and drugs, is carelessly spinning out of control. Jody Hill’s satiric portrait of the deadened denizens of mall culture, of which Faris’ Brandi and Rogen’s Ronnie are but two extreme examples, have been called heartless exaggerations, but to this hayseed they looked pretty familiar. Observe and Report is clearly not a documentary, but it’s hard for me to believe that any one of us couldn’t call up real-life encounters with people who behave an awful lot like Ronnie (anyone remember high school?) and Brandi (anyone taken a stroll through a mall on Saturday night lately?).

The movie may be mean-spirited, but that quality can’t always be counted as a negative, and here I don’t think it should be, because despite its occasional lapses in judgment and tone it is a fiercely funny projection of the logical extremes of the kind of narcissism and delusional anger and reaction to social impotence that are at the center of its characters. And even if one considers these people less characters than caricatures, who ever said that satire had to be fair? One of the reasons it closes on Saturday night is that it often pushes too many buttons, and those whose buttons have been pushed here may have had been considering what the reception, or even the existence, of this movie said about the temperature of our times and our society’s tolerance for cruel and unusual punishment in its comedies. Such worries were put to rest when the weekend box-office figures came out and Observe and Report was trounced not only by Hannah Montana—The Movie, but also by the lingering memory of the landslide of dollars forked over by the general audience to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the huggable Gallant to this movie’s rampaging Goofus.

Observe and Report is by no means perfect—there are many instances, usually involving Celia Weston as Ronnie’s loving drunkard of a mother or Michael Pena’s lisping, slightly sinister second-in-command, in which its peculiar brand of hard-scrabble sincerity overplays its hand and tumbles into shock-value-for-shock-value's-sake territory, as does the movie’s grisly, unexpected vascular conclusion. It’s another riff on Taxi Driver, but Jody Hill turns out not to have the conviction Scorsese had to let Ronnie’s short-term triumph curdle before the end credits. Unlike its 1976 template, which was a tour of urban hell in which the viewer did not remain unscathed, Hill has the multiplex in mind which he sends his audience on its way whistling a (relatively) happy tune. He should have remembered, however, that he’d lost that crowd a long time ago, about 15 minutes into Observe and Report’s journey to cult status. And despite what you may have heard, The Cable Guy remains, at least to this viewer’s eyes, as the ne plus ultra of tonal ineptitude; Hill consciously alters the game plan, whereas Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow simply got swept away by the hurricane force of Jim Carrey and completely lost their bearings.

Lack of perfection be damned-- Observe and Report has fine comic performances to recommend it, including Seth Rogen’s best work ever, coming at a time just after I’d written off ever wanting to see him on screen again; Anna Faris’ luminosity and crack timing (even though the part as written seems unworthy of her); Ray Liotta (as the detective investigating the movie’s central streaker case, he’s the not-scary one); the aforementioned Celia Weston; and Aziz Ansari as the keeper of a hair products kiosk who Ronnie taunts with racist suspicions of terrorist activity-- Ansari got the movie’s biggest laugh, from me at least (“Why would I want to blow up a Chick-fil-A, dude? That shit’s fucking delicious!”) The movie is not pretty, to be sure, and it is at times wobbly, but it is by no means a disgrace. It is, however, a pretty creepy peek into the seeds of a culture that cultivates the kind of impotence which can, if left unchecked, result in all manner of social (and military) atrocity. Whether it is a reflection of these ills or a symptom is, as always, a call left to the viewer who cares to take the time to actually see the movie.


(Kim Voynar has what I would consider the best overall round-up of the virulent reaction to Observe and Report, including a impassioned consideration of the movie’s central controversy, in her piece entitled ”Drunken Sex or Date Rape? A Look at the Issues Raised by Observe and Report.”. It is highly recommended reading, and a far-more considered and complete look at the movie than time and/or intellect has allowed me here. Thanks, Kim, and thanks to Drew McWeeny for the tip.)


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Here are two items courtesy of good friend Larry Aydlette, who these days can be found having fun at the movies and in the record shop, for those who still revere and perhaps obsess over the increasingly lost art of the theatrical one-sheet.

First of all, if you’re on the East Coast, particularly if you’re a Philadelphia citizen, you’ll want to know about a very special exhibit which opens today honoring the sketches and illustrations of Richard Amsel, a 1969 graduate of the school who created some of the most memorable poster art imagery of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as portrait covers for TV Guide and countless other magazines. For the next month, through May 14, Amsel’s work will be celebrated in a retrospective exhibit that will highlight Amsel’s work and call attention to his many influences, which included the art nouveau movement, Klimt, Mucha and, perhaps surprisingly, Walt Disney. According to JoAnn Loviglio, reporting for the Associated Press, “The portraits pay homage to the nostalgia of old Hollywood, often through the groovy lens of the Age of Aquarius, while still managing to look contemporary by today's standards.” Amsel’s designs, which emphasis a style of approach to movie poster art that has been largely sidelined in favor of simple photographic portraits, are instantly recognizable—he was responsible for the designs for standout one-sheets like The Sting, which referenced Saturday Evening Post illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, Murder on the Orient Express, Flash Gordon and, perhaps, most famously, the playful, evocative design of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. Amsel’s last poster was the one he created for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, finished just weeks before his death of AIDS-related complications at the age of 37. Thinking back on the work of Richard Amsel, as well as contemporaries like Bob Peak, is to remember a time when movie one-sheets and poster art, when placed in the hands of men and women like these artists, were more often considered artistic opportunities of their own apart from, but always in graceful support of, the movies themselves. The University of the Arts at Philadelphia’s Richard Amsel collection will provide those who appreciate Amsel’s work that chance to see, through his sketches and illustrations, how the artist’s ideas develop, where he intends to take them, and the process of exploration that occurs in each drawing. If you’re reading this on the East Coast this month, you may not want to miss it.


And here’s another bit of fun in which you don’t have to be an Easterner to take part: there’s a keen site that Larry has pointed me to this morning called Film the Blanks. Put simply (or perhaps mysteriously), the blog’s anonymous proprietor looks at the site as “An ongoing experiment to abstract and/or reduce film posters, some famous, some not so famous but all cool in their own way.” Put competitively, the site is a basically a year-long game in which contestants make guesses as to the identity of famous (and not-so-famous) one-sheets, which are initially presented as abstract versions of themselves, with new clues that bring the posters into more familiar focus as time goes by. Winners of individual poster guesses are tallied and aggregated on the sidebar (the first five correct guesses for every poster are given one point each) toward a year-end prize of some magnitude, the exact nature of which has yet to be revealed. There’s a tough one up for today (the 72nd post), and it may already have five correct guesses. But you should take a gander at the abstract archives for a clue as to the cleverness quotient at play here, and get ready for tomorrow’s new post, which will be available at “15:30 GMT” (figure it out!), with a subsequent clue added to the blank poster one hour later. That’s how it happens every day. And even if you don’t want to play the game, it’s still an excellent diversion to keep production down in your office while you’re gazing at the day’s featured puzzler. Do I smell an addiction brewing? Thanks a lot, Larry!


Monday, April 13, 2009


In a week when we've already shed tears over the tragic loss of a young pitcher, Angels rookie Nick Adenhart at the hand of a drunk driver, now comes sad news of the loss of two other icons in the entertainment world, both of them also gone far too soon. Earlier this afternoon came reports that Marilyn Chambers was found dead yesterday in her Canyon Country, California home. She was 56. Many of my generation of late-blooming baby boomers were introduced to hardcore pornography by seeing Chambers' performance in the Mitchell Brothers' notorious X-rated classic Behind the Green Door (1972). Released the same year as Deep Throat, BTGD rode a brief crest of a wave of cultural chic for porn films, but it didn't necessarily help Chambers' more high-profile efforts. When it was discovered the star of this popular hardcore movie was also the face of Ivory Snow (Chambers had posed for the painting used on the detergent box and her cheery, fresh-scrubbed image here was well-known), she had to forfeit her contract. But just as many probably also knew Chambers for her attempt to carve a niche for herself in the mainstream world of B-movies as the unfortunate victim of a surgical blunder whose appetites cause the outbreak of a horrifying disease which turns its victims into viral vampires in David Cronenberg's Rabid (1977). It was a performance that seemed to promise a new phase in her career, but despite her good reviews for Cronenberg's film that new phase never really came to be. She spent the years in between Rabid and the end of her life cultivating a persona as a torch singer and as an unrepentant participant in one of the more public aspects of the sexual revolution that galvanized this country some 40 years ago. A family friend reports that the cause of Marilyn Chambers' death is as yet unknown.

Mark Fidrych, the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year also known as The Bird, had been living life as a low-profile retiree for many years, a Massachusetts farmer who thrived a world away from the spotlight. But according to reports from the Worcester County district attorney's office, Fidrych was found dead this afternoon around 2:30 p.m., the victim of an apparent accident involving a truck upon which he was working at the time of his death. Those who followed baseball in the '70s, or read the occasional copy of Rolling Stone, knew Fidrych as a happy-go-lucky eccentric, a pitcher of phenomenal talent who lied the life of a rock star. The Bird went 19-9 in his rookie year with a 2.34 ERA, and he spent all five of his major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers, compiling a 29-19 record and a 3.10 ERA. At the time of his passing he was 54 years old.

If the shocking deaths of these two figures, as well as the losses of Nick Adenhart and Natasha Richardson earlier, all beloved in their own ways and living life happily when their own was cut short, can serve for anything, it must be simply to remind us of the tenuousness of the circumstances for all of us. This is not to promote nervousness and paranoia, but simply to recognize that fragility is a quality which is all too clearly a part of what living means. If we can read of the passing of these people and, through our sadness and tears for them and their families, renew our own resolve to try to make sure those around us more clearly know how much they mean to us, then maybe there can be meaning in losses such as these. I will be giving those I love a deeper embrace than usual today and trying to remember never to take their presence for granted. Rest in peace, Marilyn and Mark.


Thursday, April 09, 2009


Bill R., the crusty but benign* genius behind The Kind of Face You Hate, has hit me with another meme, this one all about favorite characters. I believe there was some number restriction involved, but as I often play fast and loose with the rules on these things (the better to make them my own, you see) I disregarded that right off the bat and allowed myself to include anyone I could think of off the top of my head in five minutes, with no help from IMDb or those wonderful Screen World volumes. Here then, with links to IMDb for the endlessly curious, are the screen characters that completely wrap my imagination up, characters found within movies that must be yielded to if they are stumbled upon while channel surfing and followed to the very “The End,” the characters floating freely in and making the biggest impression on my mind at the moment the question was seriously considered. I want to see each and every one of these people right now.

(* Name the movie reference!)

In alphabetical order…

Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully in The X-Files (1993-2002; various directors), The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998; Rob Bowman) and The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008; Chris Carter)

James Cagney as C.R. MacNamara in One Two Three (1961; Billy Wilder)

John Cazale as Fredo Corleone in The Godfather (1972; Francis Ford Coppola) and The Godfather Part II (1974; Francis Ford Coppola)

Shelley Duvall as Millie Lamoreaux in 3 Women (1977; Robert Altman)

Henry Gibson as Haven Hamilton and Barbara Baxley as Lady Pearl in Nashville (1975; Robert Altman)

Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986; David Cronenberg)

Cary Grant as Walter Burns in His Girl Friday (1940; Howard Hawks)

Charles Laughton as Marmaduke Ruggles in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935; Leo McCarey)

Piper Laurie as Margaret White in Carrie (1976; Brian De Palma)

Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003; Quentin Tarantino)

Carole Lombard as Regi Allen in Hands Across the Table (1935; Mitchell Leisen)

Walter Matthau as Lieutenant Garber in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1974; Joseph Sargent)

Joel McCrea (right, with Randolph Scott) as Steve Judd in Ride the High Country (1962; Sam Peckinpah)

Jon Polito as Johnny Caspar in Miller’s Crossing (1990; Joel Coen)

Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws (1975; Steven Spielberg)

Barbara Stanwyck as Jean Harrington in The Lady Eve (1941; Preston Sturges)

Wiley Wiggins as Mitch Kramer in Dazed and Confused (1993; Richard Linklater)


I tag Larry, Lindsay, Mr. Peel and Brian.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009


One evening many years ago (about 15 of 'em, I think), my wife and I were on our honeymoon in London and stumbled into a Piccadilly Circus theater to see Kieslowski’s Blue. In poking around the theater earlier we’d noticed that the management had scheduled a half-hour of “trailers” before the feature, so we contrived to be there early enough to settle in with our popcorn and catch up on what was coming soon to the British film market. Little did we know that in Europe, or at least in the U.K., the term “trailers” doesn’t exclusively mean movie previews; here it meant something quite different—a slew of 30-second TV ads, of which we saw approximately 50 that night before the film. Once we got over the initial annoyance at our misunderstanding (and our haughty superiority about the fact that American movie theaters would never allow themselves to be hijacked by tawdry commercials in this way), we actually began to enjoy a lot of the spots, which were on the whole so much more interesting and daring-- sexually and thematically-- than what we were used to seeing in the U.S., as well as challenging in terms of subject matter—it became a bit of a game for us to try to figure out just exactly what was being sold before the product logo or some other obvious reference made its way onto the screen.

Peet Gelderblom (left) hard at work for Kijkwijzer

And for as much fun as we had watching those relatively inventive spots in that tiny little London cinema, none of the ads we saw, many of which were probably more expensive to produce than Kieslowski’s feature, were even close to as good as what Peet Gelderblom has just come up with. In a new post at his Directorama site, Peet, who when not concocting strips for his brilliant comic series is a well-respected television director in the Netherlands, provides an up-close look at the making of his latest commercial, another in a series of spots he has created for the Dutch movie and game rating system Kijkwijzer. The post features not only a keen look inside the tremendous effort it takes to mount and execute something most of us would probably underestimate in thinking of the effort and talent required to produce, but also a look at the previous, lower-tech commercials Peet has done for Kijkwijzer, brilliant bits of business themselves.

And of course you get to see the new spot too. I will not steal Peet’s thunder by embedding the new ad here, but I cannot resist posting one of the earlier ads, 2D-animated by Peet himself based on clever and hilarious designs created by an illustrator known as Shamrock. (I particularly like the signage symbols for what the MPAA would call “sexual situations.”)

Get yourself over to Directorama right away and see what’s been going on in Peet’s ”Screening Room Rating System Lab.” It’s fairly common that genius often gets overlooked in its moment. Well, I hope that Peet enjoys every bit of praise, applause and hopefully new and even more cleverly complicated work that I suspect he’ll get as a result of this new creative endeavor, and that just this once the genius gets his due on time.



One of the unexpected side benefits of writing a blog, aside from the personal pleasure of meeting and befriending so many terrific people I would never have had the occasion to cross paths with otherwise, has been that it has almost completely eliminated my desire to write huffy letters to the Los Angeles Times. For better or worse, this space is where my peace gets spoken these days. The trade-off from the ego boost of seeing my name in print on Sunday morning next to a exaggerated cartoon of John McCain spitting fire, or the print ad for this coming Friday’s latest forgettable rom-com is, of course, that my brilliant, pithy observations are not subject to anyone else’s scissors—any misspellings, typos, bad grammar or ideas left dangling are entirely my own responsibility, not that of someone trying to fill in exactly the right amount of column inches, submitted zingers be damned.

So I was able to hold my tongue (or my flattened-out typing fingers) last week when I discovered, upon opening my Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar section, that Anna Faris, the fresh, fearless and winning star of the Scary Movie series, Smiley Face and, of course, this year’s The House Bunny, is, rather than someone who is finally getting some recognition for her prodigious comedic talents, in fact quite clearly overrated. In actuality, the Times technically calls out only Faris’ turn in Smiley Face as the overrated piece of work, but the uncredited writer of the three-sentence dismissal in question (who rather presumptuously makes use of the royal “we”) clearly means to pooh-pooh the actress’s work in general and does so with a reductive minimalism worthy of a TV Guide capsule review:

“This googly-eyed blond recently became a comedy It Girl, but after watching this 90-minute goof from 2007 by Gregg Araki we're left as bewildered as her drugged-out character. Between this and (The) House Bunny, we're wondering when playing dumb became the ticket to stardom? Wait, don't answer that.”

One can’t really call this tossed-off observation a review, but the snobbery evident here is precisely why, to borrow an observation made here by writer and SLIFR reader Neil Fulwood a couple of months ago, someone like Amy Adams gets ignored by Oscar for a fairly luminous piece of acting in Enchanted only to be nominated a year later for the thankless role of a dowdy moral umpire in Doubt, grimacing earnestly between two grade-A scenery chewers going about their award-season business. The standard knock on Anna Faris is that she has gained a modicum of fame for little else other than playing variations on a theme of female American vapidity, and that her most vocal supporters are male audiences and critics who couch their movie-star crushes in bouquets of praise for her work. In an interview published this week in New York magazine, Faris confronts this question and appears quite aware of the rather limited range of the roles she’s had so far, but is also given an opportunity (by the undoubtedly star-struck writer Logan Hill) to talk about precisely what she tries to do to make those roles her own, and how she’s working to create opportunities for herself that don’t necessarily depend on everyone else’s expectations. That said, in the interview Faris comes off as one quite comfortable with the work she’s done so far, sans apologies, and without giving any indication that she’s going to chuck her gifts as a comedienne in pursuit of the almighty Little Naked Golden Man. (As for that notion that it’s only the boys who appreciate the actress, Stephanie Zacharek would probably disagree.)

And God help her, Faris is probably about to get showered with more praise (along with co-stars Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta and Michael Pena) for her role in Jody Hill’s Observe and Report which, if you have a tendency to believe folks like David Edelstein, is shaping up to be another feather in this “overrated” star’s dunce cap. As reported in the New York piece, Faris seems quite proud of the fact that her character is central to a gruesome sex scene which reduces star Seth Rogen to straight-man status and made even the enthusiastic audience at the SXSW Festival audibly shocked, uncomfortable, unsure of where the movie was headed… until Faris blurts out a hilarious line (heard in the R-rated trailer) that sets the movie squarely back on the comedy path to hell. She says of playing the vapid narcissist Brandi in Observe and Report, “Being so self-absorbed, narcissistic, and wonderfully delusional… was just a joy.” Sentiments like these are not likely to further tickle the fancy of those, like the blurb writers at the Los Angeles Times, dedicated to keeping the flame of highbrow culture brightly lit in the face of purveyors of dimwitted caricatures like the ones in which Faris traffics.

If Observe and Report is a hit, on the heels of The House Bunny, perhaps she’ll get the chance to produce even more roles for herself, ones that differ from what women typically get offered, especially as they creep past 30. “We’ve seen so many ambitious women in the last ten years of comedy,” says Faris in New York, “and their comedy comes from trying to balance guys and jobs and fashion. I want to play the girl that has zero ambition, the girl who’s stoned, playing video games, wearing the same things for weeks in a row. I want to see what she’s up to: the girl who just says ‘Fuck it.’” Faris knows that looking at such lack of ambition and finding ways to play it to creative heights is not the same as sharing that same lack of interest in playing anything but the same old dumb blonde (or brunette). It’s a shame that writers for papers like the Times are still laboring under the misguided notion that there’s precious little talented required, or much honor for that matter, in doing so. This principle of dedication to portrayals that some might deem unworthy is one under which the actress’s screwball ancestors, from Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck to Barbara Streisand and Jennifer Tilly and Julia Roberts, all operated naturally, while simultaneously making it—the comedy thing-- look easy and breezy. If she’s lucky (and audiences are even luckier), Faris will join those ranks and continue to be overrated for years to come.


Saturday, April 04, 2009


Like any open-minded dad would, I took my daughters to see Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience when it opened last month, and we had a great time. I was easily the oldest person in the crowded El Capitan auditorium, by a good 30 years, and I was also perhaps the only male, other than those gentlemen decked out in El Capitan regalia kindly showing ticketholders to their reserved seats. It was a bit like Beatlemania, what with all the screaming and swooning going on in the audience, and on screen too. Fratelli Jonas, in between 3D concert segments, revert to 2D and are pursued in a very self-consciously Hard Day’s Night manner, by a throng of female teenaged fans thousands strong as they move through Manhattan to promote their new CD. The filmmakers, and even the boys themselves, barely have their hearts in these segments, which come dangerously close to filler; or they would if the audience to which this movie is pitched cared a damn about anything like a substantive look at pop celebrity or the marginalia of fame. They’re too busy screaming, Tiger Beat-ing themselves into a frenzy while mentally and rhythmically crossing their fingers and toes in the hopes of hearing their JoBro favorites.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those high-minded snobs who feel like they must insist on only exposing their kids to the Beatles or Dylan or some other culturally approved musical talent that young ones are likely to experience as inaccessible dinosaurs. (Well, maybe not the Beatles. My girls love the Beatles.) These parents are also likely to believe that there is some way to resist the insidious cultural tide commanded by the Disney brand. I once thought that. But as soon as I heard my girls coming home singing Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers songs without ever having been exposed to them at home, I knew that it was now not a matter of protection and deprivation but instead one of monitoring and evaluating. And in that light, I don’t mind the Jonas Brothers at all. Their stage presence is accomplished, if a bit too self-conscious, and as Chris Willman wisely observed in his review of the 3D Concert Experience movie, “if you have children with any kind of musical aspiration, perhaps you could find better targets for your scorn than kids who write their own songs and--urban myths to the contrary--play instruments.” Willman also points out that parents and others who go out of their way to fret too much about the Jonas Brothers are forgetting that these boys are in effect carrying the torch for precisely the kind of pop and rock music that remains dear to them, and carrying it in the face of a darkening abyss of bland synth pop and faceless R & B that is the antithesis of the Jonas Brotrhers’ homegrown and hook-laden pop sound.

I like Willman’s spirited defense of these youngsters. But even so, something happens in the concert movie that ought to give parents (and anyone else, really) pause and reason to question the judgment of the Jonases, their handlers, or even the Walt Disney Company itself (if one is allowed to do that sort of thing these days). It happens about midway through the movie, before (if I’m not mistaken) the onstage arrival of the sassy, likable Demi Lovato and tiny blonde hurricane Taylor Swift, both of whom acquit themselves admirably and with much melodic energy. All three of the boys haul out giant fire hoses and point them at the audience. This’ll be amusing, I thought. What’s water shooting out into the audience in 3D going to look like? Boy, those kids in the front row are in for quite a soakin’! It was when the first Jonas boy—Joe, was it?—positioned his fire hose at about hip level that alarms started ringing in my head. What the—And they’re they go! The first five or ten rows were blasted with a barrage of water from the—Wait. That’s not water. A shot of the audience then revealed a good percentage of the audience near the stage covered in a white, sticky goo—yes, a white, sticky goo—and loving every minute of it. It appears, despite the G rating of the movie, despite the Jonas Brothers’ very public sporting of purity rings as a pledge of their intent to remain virginal until marriage, despite the family-appropriate reputation of the Disney label (we’re not talking Miramax, or even Touchstone Films of Hollywood Pictures here, but the Disney label, with that familiar signature logo), the Jonas Brothers just high-pressure ejaculated all over their live audience! Who gives a good goddamn about purity rings and pledges if you can get away with splunging upon the faces of teenaged girls on a relatively massive scale?

I have wrestled with the reverberations of this bizarre occurrence for the better part of the month since we all saw the movie—it is an anomaly in the context of the rest of the picture; other than the occasional microphone jutting out into the audience, a de rigeuer stunt for this type of affair, overt sexual referencing (one could hardly call it innuendo) is not the game the movie plays. So what gives? This super-sized unloading went sailing over the heads of my nine and six-year-old, but there were plenty of 11 and 12 and 13 year olds in the audience who probably got exactly what that image was all about; maybe on a subconscious level, but if they’re pubescent, they got it. The whole thing seemed so bizarre that I almost came to believe I had hallucinated the entire episode. Willman certainly never mentions it, at least not in his Huffington Post piece. He makes an excellent case for us musical sophisticates being able to draw a line from the unpretentious pop charm of “Can’t Buy Me Love” and what the Jonases are up to musically, but I don’t ever remember Paul McCartney shooting buckets of jism out of the neck of his bass onto the waiting and appreciative faces of those screaming girls in Ed Sullivan’s audience. Lisa Schwarzbaum did notice, and she was clearly, if too briefly, disturbed by what she saw too. Did nobody else think of this as a big deal? Am I already turning into a paranoid prude of a dad?

Leave it to Trey Parker and Matt Stone to Sum It All Up For You. I hate to think of the Disney label as being home to this kind of gross pandering, which seems damn close to irresponsible behavior on their part. But I must remember, as we all must, that above and beyond their well-known code of family-friendly conduct, Disney is a corporation whose bottom line, as it is for every corporation regardless of the product, is the making of profit, and if this Jonas hosing is the most blatant example of tweaking and selling sexual imagery to immature kids who are exposed earlier and earlier to messages and behaviors which most parents would not actively endorse, it cannot be the only one. (Take an hour and listen to the overproduced girls and boys growing up way too fast on Radio Disney.) This darkly hilarious excerpt from South Park viciously dissects the greed-head impulses underlying the sexual element of the Jonas Brothers phenomenon in a way that flays awfully close to the truth bone, making the laughter it generates the bitterest kind. And until someone can convince me otherwise of the playful innocence of that foamy dousing, the explanation offered by this brilliant two minutes of social (and film) criticism courtesy of two of our most fearless pop culture satirists is what I have to believe is true. Nothing else even remotely makes sense.

The Jonas Brothers incur the wrath of the Big Boss when they decide to ditch those infamous purity rings



Intelligent Vibrations!

Fast and Furious, part four in the high-octane Vin Diesel-Paul Walker action series, is so stripped down and ready for balls-out action that it doesn’t even have time for pesky definite articles. Dump those The's, dude! They’re only holding you down! And the reviews I’ve read, which have made me want to see the movie despite my more sophisticated instincts (Have you read my assessment of Convoy, sir and/or madam?), have suggested that there may be more sheer velocity and smash-bang cutting in this new installment than in the previous three features combined. But did you know about this? Looks like in some theaters, including the Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood, Fast and Furious is ready to get all Tingler on your ass, and then some. D-Box Technologies is unveiling motion-activated seats installed in some high-profile theaters this weekend for showings of Fast and Furious that are designed to make the movie come alive in a very special way. According to Brian Yalung at the Behind the Brand blog:

“The seats are equipped with the company’s Motion technology and powered by D-Box Motion Effects that corresponds to the action taking place onscreen, causing the seats to tilt and shake in perfect synchronization with the onscreen action.
Audience members will feel all the shifts and rumbles of an opening hijacking sequence, however the seats will remain still during the quieter, dialogue-driven scenes. The seats are in motion for about a third of the film, including intelligent vibrations that move along to the soundtrack and stronger movements for the action scenes.”

I like that term “intelligent vibrations,” not at all like, one might assume, the ones generated by Mr. Diesel and Mr. Walker’s vocal cords. So get it straight, kids, this is NOT going to be like sitting on your mom’s washing machine during the spin cycle and watching The Cannonball Run, though I suppose it’s entirely possible that a significant portion of the audience may augment the intelligent vibrations with some involuntary vibrating of their own during quieter scenes involving the sexual dynamics of cast-mates Walker and/or Jordana Brewster and/or Michelle Rodriguez. (Will anyone vibrate at the sight of Vin Diesel?) However it ends up, D-Box sure sounds a lot more fun than installing seat belts in standard theater seats as they did in some urban areas which showed The Gumball Rally back in 1976. (Just how was being strapped into an already uncomfortable seat and having your movement restricted, disallowing any possibility of being able to bolt from your seat and run from the auditorium when the camera got too close to Michael Sarrazin, supposed to make this unpretentious chase comedy more fun or exciting? I ask because I am curious.) Neither Universal Pictures nor D-Box Technologies are openly advising viewers to bring a change of underwear, just in case, but doesn’t that sound like a good idea?



UPDATED April 6, 2009!!!

A few weeks ago, the day after the coronation of Sean Penn, Kate Winslet and Slumdog Millionaire as this year’s Oscar champs, I posted a sort of Oscar palate cleanser in the form of a few smart-ass comments about the much-derided Sam Peckinpah action vehicle Convoy. And then, by sheer coincidence, Convoy ended up featured on the wonderful MGM HD channel just two days later. I made a point to sit down and watch it all the way through, my memory of it being derived from a crappy cropped VHS cassette and a similarly bleary-looking HBO screening I saw nearly 20 years ago, neither of which I made it all the way through. The high-def showing was probably the best chance I’d have to judge the movie on its merits alone, divorced from the notoriety of its cocaine-and-madness-fueled production history and its insistent reputation as the nadir of a once-great director’s career, the penultimate act of an artist desperately slumming for a hit. (My nominee for that honor would go to the film Peckinpah made previously, The Killer Elite.)

I wish I could say that Convoy is a movie misrepresented, like Mandingo, by a critical community blinded by conventional wisdom, one worthy of a complete reappraisal and repositioning within Peckinpah’s oeuvre. Alas, it is not a masterpiece. Many of Convoy’s dialogue scenes are marred by atrocious overdubbing and indifferent staging, and even some of the hand-to-hand action, like the truck-stop fistfight that opens the movie—Peckinpah’s bread and butter a mere decade earlier—are hampered by a deliberate editing scheme that looks pawed over, slapped together, with little regard for fluency. (There is a good joke in there, though, involving Franklin Ajaye as a trucker named Pigpen-- guess what he’s hauling-- who draws first blood in the fight, a broken ketchup bottle which shatters over someone’s head and draws immediate comic commentary on the director’s reputation amongst lazy critics as an indiscriminate letter of blood.) The movie, based on C.W. McCall's novelty top-40 hit, was a huge hit, especially on the drive-in circuit, though Peckinpah’s on-set antics ensured he wouldn’t work again for nearly five years. No, it’s not a maligned work of genius, but it is damned entertaining despite its many glaring flaws, mainly because, in trolling for box-office gold by exploiting the then-popular CB craze, the director manages to pump a goodly amount of nihilistic steam into the idea of a political movement, a trucker’s protest convoy which gains populist momentum without anyone-- least of all its ostensible leader, Rubber Duck (Kris Kristofferson)-- seeming to have any coherent agenda or ability to agree on what it all means. For Rubber Duck, and for Peckinpah, the director desperate to shoot film who increasingly lost his grip on the reality of what to shoot and why, the only act with any meaning at all is the simple act of forward movement.

And forward movement through vividly rendered space is something Convoy does quite well. This is one of those wonderfully tactile films from the ‘70s, like Charley Varrick or Electra Glide in Blue, that seems kinetically, electrically connected to the landscapes on which its dramas take place. The soaking up of the spectacular Panavision vistas, deepened by darkening clouds, a line of trucks skating across the bottom of the frame silhouetted in the dusk, is as dramatic as any action set piece in the movie, many of which are shot and edited with an identifiable precision and poetry that is clearly derived from Peckinpah’s sensibility (this despite testimony to the effect that James Coburn and others were called in to direct shots and sequences when Peckinpah arrived on set too drunk and/or deranged to do the job himself). Convoy is a pedal-to-the-heavy-metal, meat-and-potatoes Hal Needham action flick directed by an artist, or a man still enough of one to elevate even its deadliest, hoariest conceits-- Ernest Borgnine’s mustache-twirling devilry as evil sheriff Dirty Lyle, who rides Rubber Duck’s ass straight to hell; Rubber Duck’s populist-Christ resurrection that occurs five minutes after the movie should have ended; and the entire nostril-flaring presence of Ali McGraw-- into classifiably forgivable sins, so spectacular is the movie’s milieu, its dusty testimony to the desperate beauty of the road, of trucks, of desperate, disillusioned men. Do yourself a favor—keep your eye on that MGM HD schedule, and if it ever comes around again see Convoy in this format. The German DVD I have is a not-even-close second, and the cropped versions of the olden days are simply unacceptable. Until MGM issues a proper domestic DVD (an event with little economic motivation, it would seem), this will remain your best chance to see everything that is up, and down, about this flawed Peckinpah gem.


UPDATE Monday April 6, 2009
As reader Robert Fiore has noted in the comments column below, it was my delight to have discovered this past Saturday morning, and to share with you now, that this post has been honored by none other than Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, who linked to it with his comments on my thoughts (complete with a nice, extended quotation) in elaborating on Convoy and his own first-hand observations on the set. Mr. Wolcott has even come up with a keen Bizarro-world name for this very blog (“Sergio Valente and the Ground Rule Double”)! Now, that’s an honor!

And it’s not the first time the VF columnist has been so kind—the most recent of four of five other such links to this humble outpost came only last week, when Mr. Wolcott linked to my brief discussion of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory’s (and Louis Malle’s) My Dinner with Andre. My most sincere thanks to Mr. Wolcott for his attention and his support, and for the great blog name, which I will use forthwith whenever signing into a hotel incognito.

(You can find other past mentions of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule by Mr. Wolcott right here.)



Over at Scanners, Jim Emerson devoted quite a bit of energy last week alerting the unsuspecting audience for Let the Right One In about a disconcerting development in the release of the film on Blu-ray and DVD. Jim reports:

“BEWARE: If you pre-ordered or bought a DVD/Blu-ray of the gorgeous Swedish vampire picture Let the Right One In -- don't open it! Return it immediately. For reasons that defy business sense (and artistic sense and common sense), on March 10, 2009, Magnolia Home Video/Magnet Releasing put out one of 2008's most acclaimed movies on discs with stripped-down, poorly translated subtitles -- NOT the version released in North American theaters. Last week disappointed and conscientious bloggers from Icons of Fright, and elsewhere were on top of the story, shocked that such a high-profile release would be given such shoddy treatment. The company says the disc is not technically "defective." It does what it's supposed to do, apparently. It just does it badly. Don't buy it. Return it.”

Jim has updated information here, including a condescending response from Magnolia Home Video and a comments section full of indignation and thoughtful questions about why a company could or would opt to use a translation different from that found in the widely accepted and familiar theatrical release. Magnolia has also stated that there will be no exchanges for new discs based on dissatisfaction with the subtitles used on the first pressing, but that when inventories of the current stock are depleted a new edition using the theatrical titles will become available. (Given that the people who really wanted this disc probably ran out and bought it before getting wind of these crappy titles, I’m not holding my breath waiting for that inventory to disappear.) As I commented on Jim’s site, in talking to someone I know conversant in the world of foreign film translations, I gather that in many cases it is not incumbent upon a company, upon releasing a foreign language film, to use the theatrical subtitles, and it may very well be that the rights to use those titles is more expensive than other more cheaply produced translations that may be available. (In its official response, which Jim reproduces in its entirety, the Magnolia spokesman claims that the translation used was more “literal” than the one used in theaters—which, if the screengrabs Jim links to are any indication, apparently means simplified and leached of poetry, allusion and humor—and that they chose a giant, Sesame Street-sized font for reasons of readability, disregarding the high degree of distraction and general ugliness generated by such clunky-looking characters.)

It is also very significant, I think, that on the Magnolia release the default audio is not to the original Swedish audio (with accompanying lame translation), but instead to the English-dubbed version. Just this one decision seems indicative of Magnolia’s indifference to the real market for purchasers of this movie, most of whom probably saw the Swedish version in theatres and who would not have the aversion to subtitles that Magnolia seems to think they would. There is a general hostility shown by Magnolia toward the natural home-theater audience for this film, those folks who would notice the difference between the original translation and the shoddy secondary utilized on the disc and who made their dissatisfaction known, that on one simple level just doesn’t make good business sense. But even worse, it reveals a tin ear for and a blind eye to the qualities that make specialty films like Let the Right One In, the very films Magnolia proudly markets to an audience it hopes and prays is smarter than the average multiplex dweller, stand out from the pack. My thanks to Jim and all those folks at Icons of Fright and for outing this consumer rip-off and letting all know to not let this edition into our film collections.