Sunday, June 09, 2024



I wish I could say I liked The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch, better than I actually did, because coming to it relatively late (it's been hanging on in theaters for about a month now and is already available at home on video-on-demand services) I was rooting for it for reasons based almost solely on it being one of the two pictures leading into the summer movie season that have themselves been designated fall guys emblematic of the so-far disastrous Hollywood money-making year. But instead of being engaged on a big-budget action-movie level (the way, say, Bullet Train, also directed by Leitch, or the John Wick series, which was directed by Leitch's associate at 87 North Productions, Chad Stahelski, most definitely were), the movie's eagerness to please the crowd left me at a distance; its 126 minutes passed by me with only the occasional ripple of genuine amusement, the way an episode of the TV show The Fall Guy might have, had I ever watched a single episode.

Leitch and company have designed The Fall Guy, all about a top-level stuntman (Ryan Gosling) trying to rekindle a romance with his latest movie's director (Emily Blunt) while trying to stay alive on the job and solve a mystery involving the obnoxious movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, obviously modeled on Tom Cruise) for whom he serves as a stunt double, as a tribute to the Hollywood community of stunt performers. These folks, whom Leitch and company repeatedly point out take their lives in their hands for their craft, have been largely overlooked (at least as far as awards are concerned) when credit is doled out for the effectiveness of these sorts of movies, and other genres where stunt work might be slightly more invisible, or at least low-key. The possibility of a new Oscar category for stunt coordination and performances has been gaining momentum and may well become a reality by the time nominations are handed out in February 2025 for the beleaguered year through which the American moviegoing audience is now living.

The irony is, if such an award materializes, The Fall Guy would not, in any likely sense, be the top contender, or at least the most deserving of that recognition. No, The Fall Guy's partner in scapegoating for Hollywood's current dire straits, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, would be the more obvious choice here, George Miller's film having far better realized how to create, integrate and execute A-level stunt work with a story for which that work feels organic, essential. The Fall Guy, on the other hand, is impressive on the execution level, but it's story is TV-level; it feels like an afterthought, a way to stitch all this impressive effort and talent into something resembling a coherent narrative.

Leitch, as director and (presumably) overseer of the film's team of editors, headed by Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, even undercuts his own action, interrupting the momentum of several big stunt set pieces with expository scenes which deflate any rhythm and thrust that would have naturally have built, had the scenes been allowed to play as complete sequences. (Imagine if Miller had stopped one of the big scenes involving the War Rig's assault on Gastown to show Immortan Joe back at the Citadel growling in worry or anger about whether or not the truck had arrived yet. Or if Staheleski had repeatedly interrupted John Wick's agonizing battle on the 222 steps leading up to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica so we could get glimpses of Ian McShane and Clancy Brown checking their watches and wondering whether Wick was gonna make it in time.)

I understand why people like The Fall Guy;  it pushes a lot of the right buttons, and the audience I saw it with had a good time with it, yet it's not nearly so clever as its lighthearted movie-star badinage would seem to indicate it thinks it is. And in trying so hard to highlight the stunt performers, who it correctly asserts don't get the sort of credit they deserve, and embarrass the Hollywood awards community into their own sort of action, Leitch's movie undercuts its own argument by not providing a solid movie in the great narrative tradition of the well-told blockbusters of old (and the more recent) to back that argument up. As paeans to the pluck, determination and talent of stunt movie performers and crews, at least The Fall Guy (2024) is no The Fall Guy (1981-1986). But in order to really bolster its own tribute to the dangers of being a great stunt man, it would have been helpful to have something else going on beside (or even in addition to) the paper-thin romance that props this new movie up. Maybe if Leitch had tapped more from The Stunt Man (1980; Richard Rush) than Hooper  (1978; Hal Needham), we'd be talking about a new classic instead of another big, middle-of-the-road action movie taking the fall for its studio's lack of faith and its director not being able to keep his eye entirely off the prize.


Friday, June 07, 2024


Most of you won't recognize this man, but today is his 90th birthday and I just wanted to take a moment to tell you about things he's done for me since I met him, sometime in 1978 if I'm not mistaken. His name is Bill Cadbury and he was my professor, leading the film studies department at the University of Oregon at the time I attended and earned my degree in film studies there in from 1977 until 1981. 

Bill's classes were a pretty heady challenge from this kid from a Southern Oregon cow-town, and many was the time I bristled at his embracing of the auteur theory as he introduced me to his own brand of critical thinking, in an attempt to cultivate and encourage our own, as it applied to filmmakers as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Marie Straub, Fritz Lang, Glauber Rocha, Howard Hawks, Luchino Visconti, Werner Herzog, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Altman, Jean Renoir, Josef von Sternberg, Francis Ford Coppola and just about every other filmmaker whom I either knew before entering his classroom or have come to grips with on my own educational journey ever since.

And as I would quickly discover, those classes were no easy A's--  Bill demanded that you really put yourself out there and apply everything you could muster from your experience to come to an understanding of these directors and their films, and those were practices which I certainly like to think have stood me in good stead and someone who occasionally writes about films, but even more importantly as someone who makes his way through a life where thinking for yourself has always been, and has come to be even more so, a very precious skill.

Bill was a stern teacher in that he never let you rest on your presumptions, and I was witness to more than one instance of a student getting the sharp end of the stick from him when they chose to regurgitate familiar platitudes about his objects of study rather than dare to harvest an original thought for themselves. But he was also an extremely welcoming presence as a professor, and his insights about how classic Hollywood films could be art instead of just commodities or nostalgia fixations were eye-opening in the best way. This sometimes intimidating man invited me on several occasions to drop by his office and talk about film and life, and those times are among my most cherished memories of being a college student; they were fun, illuminating conversations, as key to the expansion of my theretofore relatively narrow world and getting crucial exercise in sharpening thought as any class I ever attended, including his.

I recall one afternoon, when I was feeling the pressure of getting my credits together in preparation for graduation, when we sat in his office and talked about Walter Hill-- The Long Riders had just come out, and we were both admirers. During that visit he also described at length his good fortune in coming across the oversized poster (was it a two-sheet?) for Rooster Cogburn-- not a great movie, he was quick to acknowledge (and I was quick to agree), but being a man who admired John Ford there was room in his heart and his critical perspective for John Wayne, and it tickled him that the poster was one in which the title under which the movie was eventually released had been substituted with the legend Rogue River, the Southern Oregon river where the film was shot and on which much of its action takes place. (I have no idea whether or not this was ever a working title for the film, and an Internet search for the poster yielded nothing. But it was pretty clear it didn't matter a damn to Bill or to me as I listened to him wax on enthusiastically about the prize that helped make his office unique.)

During my senior year under his tutelage, as if I was being rewarded (it certainly felt like it), Bill captained near full quarters on Coppola and Altman, and during that period he more than once appealed to my ego by referring to me, in private and in class, as "our resident expert on The Godfather," even consulting me to help resolve the issue of what characters were ported over, backward in time, from the 1940s of the first movie to the 1920s Little Italy section of the second-- the question was regarding whether one character in The Godfather Part II was a young version of Sal Tessio, and my wisdom was accepted when it was determined that the character of Genco, played by Frank Sivero, was causing the confusion, likely due to a presumptive resemblance (it must have been the brow) to what one could imagine a young Abe Vigoda looking like.

And I will always be grateful to him for the intense study afforded to what emerged during this time as my favorite movie, Nashville. Our in-class sessions examining and discussing Altman's masterpiece were a whirlwind of excitement and critical stimulation for me and helped cement Altman as my favorite director. I'll never forget Bill's remarks when we projected the film's harrowing, exhilarating finale in the classroom the day after seeing the entirety of the film collectively in our assigned lecture hall. After Barbara Jean is assassinated and the shocked crowd resuscitates to the strains of Albuquerque's rendition of "It Don't Worry Me," that crowd eventually joining in with her, Bill stopped the projected and proclaimed, "If you can watch that scene and not be moved to tears, you're a stronger person than I am."

I also remember a fellow student daring to bring a copy of Pauline Kael's Reeling, to that classroom discussion, the book which featured the reprint of her controversial rave for the film, and I readied myself for fireworks-- given Bill's endorsement of the auteur theory, it was no surprise that he favored Andrew Sarris and The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 over Kael's writing. But instead, Bill noticed the book, acknowledged it and even discussed Kael's thoughts briefly, and as far as I know that student still passed the class. It was also during this week that Bill afforded me an opportunity that I have never since duplicated-- I was able to attend the 7:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon screenings of Nashville, so scheduled for those students who might not be able to attend the evening screening, as well as that regular 7:00 p.m. evening screening, making this the one and only time I've ever managed to see the same movie three times in one day, and I'm so glad it was this one. 

Bill Cadbury was the best sort of influence on me, both as a student given as much to arguing the interpretations he lent to any given work as to absorbing them, and as the human being I eventually became in the wake of experiencing his classes ad learning to think for myself. I will never forget the challenges, the revelations, the affirmations and the criticism he offered to my work, and I am grateful that he was the furthest thing from a rubber stamp on my academic achievements (or anyone else's) that I could have wished for, even during those time when I might actually have preferred that rubber stamp. He helped provide a very valuable education for me in the art form I have loved ever since I can remember, expanding my knowledge and leading me onto paths where I would discover for myself just why that art form was important, its endless possibilities, and what it could ultimately mean to me, if I'd just keep my mind open.

Thank you, Bill, for opening my mind. Happy birthday!


Thursday, June 06, 2024

ENNIO (2021)

Somewhere near the end of Ennio (2021), the warm and fascinating tribute to the extraordinary Ennio Morricone directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), film composer Nicola Piovani (The Son's Room) rightly deflates Quentin Tarantino's bloviating about Morricone being his favorite composer as hyperbole typical of the director. ("And not just film composer, but composer-- I'm talking Beethoven, Bach, Schubert..." QT would likely have gone on, but you get the sense that those three names probably exhausted his knowledge of classical music.) Yet with Piovani's observation in pocket, Ennio still succeeds in making the case that Morricone, over the six decades of work and 500-plus films for which he wrote the scores, might just be the most innovative, exciting, influential and, yeah, maybe the greatest composer of film music that ever was or will be.

Without ever skimping on the evidence of Morricone's irascibility or inability to suffer fools and their paper-thin ideas, there's much more evidence on hand in Ennio of the man's welcoming presence as teller of his own story and of his particular genius, and not just from the breathless testimony of a grand gallery of talking heads. To see Morricone himself tracing the notes and the themes, extrapolating on ideas and forms and thoughts, all set against the music itself as the ultimate aural illustration, is to come within a faint whistle's distance, or that of a wind-borne refrain of a reverberating harmonica, of insight into the quality of that genius, a proximity hagiographies like this one often fail to approach.

Ennio made me ache to see (and hear) Once Upon a Time in America (1984) again (having missed the long cut during a recent Morricone tribute at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles), to hear his haunting score for Casualties of War (1990), and to regret even more than I have before the two times I had tickets to see Morricone conduct his film music at the Hollywood Bowl-- both engagements were cancelled due to the maestro's ill health. But I also loved the stories of his tussles with filmmakers like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Elio Petri, the tales (and pictures) of his history (going back to grade school) with Sergio Leone, and especially Morricone's emotional recollections of his ow mentors, some of whom never understood their pupil's crescendo of devotion to this less-than-"absolute" music.

Tornatore's documentary made me gasp several times during all these sorts of moments, but never as much as I did during the segment focusing on Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). I find it impossible to watch Jill McBain's arrival on the train at around the half-hour mark of that movie, so empathetically, organically scored to Morricone's sublimely, aching romantic "Jill's Theme," without bursting into tears. And so it happened again watching the sequence here, the familiar images of the film enhanced, embodied by that music, and this time intercut with footage of the superb soprano Edda Dell'Orso, who supplied the gorgeous, soaring vocals to accompany Claudia Cardinale's arrival, actually recording the music I've been so moved by ever since I first saw the film.

For a transcendent moment like this, and seemingly thousands of othrs, I, and we, must always be grateful for what Morricone has brought to our collective dream of moviegoing. Ennio expresses that gratitude by honoring those contributions, and then some. If you've ever been transported by one of his scores, you owe it to yourself to see this excellent documentary.


Wednesday, June 05, 2024



I'm still reeling from the experience of seeing Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga at the SIFF Downtown Theater  (formerly the Seattle Cinerama) in downtown Seattle on Monday afternoon (May 27). Given the disparity of reviews from writers I like I respect (Stephanie Zacharek, Odie Henderson and Owen Gleiberman check in for the negative, while Justin Chang, Robert Daniels, Manohla Dargis and Keith Uhlich rank on the enthusiastic side), I had defiintely adjusted my expectations going in, intrigued at the prospect of a movie that could end up being even more interesting because of the diversity of those reactions.

But you can count me with the yea-sayers on this one. Despite a couple of narrative rough patches, Furiosa is, I think, a perverse, hellacious masterpiece, its roots set in a despoiled garden of Eden, its multiple branches of humanity distended, twisted, gnarled by a relentless Wasteland Armageddon, its inhabitants cosplaying their worst savage instincts in a (yes) furious drive not just to survive, but to survive and dominate and extinguish-- not exactly an unfamiliar scenario given our own current modern geopolitical reality. (Eden and Apocalypse are united near the end in one of the most gasp-inducing images of decay and rebirth I can remember ever seeing, especially in a big action film released by a major studio.

Director/cowriter George Miller has made a brilliant career out of crafting demanding cult entertainment that has somehow wormed its way into the collective moviegoing imagination without ever actually taking the box office by storm. (I would include another masterpiece, Babe: Pig in the City, within that assessment.) The writer-director builds on what he started in 1979, yet even after three great action classics (Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Fury Road) and one dud (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome), he still busy refashioning the familiar and upping the ante on is signature action style into a film that feels of a piece and yet distinct from the others in pacing, in structure, in its overall effect. Ten minutes in, you sense that this is a movie that was never destined to be a crowd-pleasing blockbuster-- it's too profoundly, defiantly weird for that.

Even so, it is a constantly surprising movie too. Charlize Theron's Furiosa in Fury Road was a real original, but Anya Taylor-Joy thrives in her shadow nonetheless. (And so does Ayla Browne, who plays one of two younger incarnations of this soon-to-be-war-rig-driving warrior.) Yet the biggest surprise, performance-wise, is delivered by Chris Hemsworth, whose over-the-top tyrannical posturing as Dementus (here seen in his Red phase) is far more nuanced and strangely moving (at times) than clips you may have seen could ever have suggested. (Similarly, the film is an eye-popping rejoinder to its own CG-heavy trailers-- Miller and company's integration of CG with physical action is sublimely rendered, almost painterly, sometimes imperfect, and not at all weighted toward the sort of absurdly artificial landscapes and physics-defying nonsense of either those trailers or the majority of modern action epics.)

Furiosa's relatively underwhelming box-office performance, duly noted by wags and pundits and other media vulture types, has more to do with Hollywood studios reaping what they have sown, in terms of loading their slates with giant movies that have to make $500 million in order to even come close to making a profit, than the audience somehow sniffing it out and deciding in advance that Miller's grand undertaking was somehow no good. These mega-budgeted, underperforming "sure things" are also being unleashed at a time when, in order to keep up with those soaring costs created by Hollywood's make-or-break strategy, going to the movies has become prohibitively expensive for many people (unless you're Nicole Kidman, I guess). So who can blame audiences when, taking their cue from the studios' incredibly fucked-up business model, they decide to move on the implicit promise that if they just hold tight, they be able to catch Furiosa (or Barbie, or  Oppenheimer) on Max or Netflix in a month or so. So, no worries! (Two days after I originally posted this piece, on May 29, New York magazine film critic Bilge Ebiri agreed in his piece entitled "Movies Like Furiosa Were Never Meant to Save Hollywood.")

And Furiosa really does need to be seen in a theater-- I saw it with a packed house in that magnificent theater in Seattle and it was one of the most overwhelming sonic and visual presentations I've ever been lucky enough to attend, easily the equal of anything available in the best theaters in Hollywood. (Critic Charles Taylor was right-- that screen is a pisser. And my second screening this past Sunday at my lovely Rose Theatre in downtown Port Townsend was a surprisingly potent presentation as well.) I haven't shaken either experience yet, nearly two weeks after that first showing-- only Miller could, or apparently would even care to infuse the end of the world with this much nerve-jangling exhilaration (tempered by a refusal to suggest that this really is anything but the end of the world), and Furiosa sent me out of the theater on the sort of big-budget movie high the likes of which I haven't experienced since, well Mad Max: Fury Road.

But it also ends on an ambivalent emotional note, of the recognition of a wounded soul set out on a journey that cannot possibly hold anything remotely like the promise of redemption or fulfillment, even despite what we may know from the 2015 film that this one leads directly into. I left Furiosa knowing I saw exactly the movie its creators intended, knowing that I would think about it for days (I have), knowing I'd be back to see it again-- I did, with my daughters. Don't wait for this Max. See this Mad Max saga on the biggest screen you can find. And don't put it off-- Furiosa may soon disappear into a Wasteland dust storm of endless, streaming choices where the hope for anything like the overwhelming technical presentation this movie deserves will be as rare as stumbling upon a Citadel filled with fresh water and food, or a giant tanker filled with guzzoline just waiting to be claimed.


Monday, June 03, 2024


To hear the seasoned film critic Rex Reed tell it, Woody Allen's new film Coup de Chance (his 50th) "restor(es) the masterful filmmaker to his deserved position as one of the screen's most profound storytellers." That's a lot to hang on such a slight film, and Reed clearly has more at stake in Allen's supposed reputation as "a master storyteller" than I do-- I've never thought of writer-director of tightly woven works of narrative like Annie Hall or Manhattan as anything of the sort. In the past 30 years Allen has directed exactly three movies-- his 1994 TV-movie adaptation of his early play Don't Drink the Water, 1997's Deconstructing Harry and 2014's Magic in the Moonlight-- which I thought were fully engaged works, and three others, 2009's Whatever Works, 2015's Irrational Man and 2021's Rifkin's Festival, which stood out among a very spotty run over the past three decades as possible career worsts.

Coup de Chance might just be, as Reed suggests, Allen's best movie in years, but not because, at age 87, the acclaimed (and beleaguered) writer-director is doing much of anything differently than he has since about 1978. He's still filtering other directors through his own blinkered lens-- this time it's Claude Chabrol Lite rather than Ingmar Bergman Lite (Interiors) or Federico Fellini Lite (Stardust Memories). But the advantage Coup de Chance  has over the last, say, ten movies Allen has made is that, yes, it's in French and not English (the pretensions of his often mannered and obvious dialogue play a lot better subtitled), and the movie is populated by unfamiliar actors (at least they are unfamiliar to me) rather than the usual crowded cast of 15 or 16 players who are in there just because they want to be in a Woody Allen film. (Few young actors have been clamoring for that cachet of late, and some of the ones who did have spent a lot of time and press columns openly distancing themselves from the director for reasons unrelated to whether or not the raison d'etre behind his indefatigable output has seemed increasingly thin for years now.)

The simple truth is, it's easier to relax into Allen's unflappable rhythms as his camera glides down Parisian avenues and through Parisian parks, in the company of young, beautiful, adulterous lovers, all shot with customary beauty by Vittorio Storaro (The Conformist, Last Tango In Paris, Apocalypse Now) and scored to vintage Nat Adderly recordings, and to accept those impossibly lovely young characters for who they seem to be, if you're not constantly distracted by yet another cameo appearance by a familiar face-- Oh, look, it's Wallace Shawn! And there's Andrew Dice Clay! And here comes Selena Gomez! (And really, what goes does it do to repeatedly hire the world's greatest living cinematographer if you just as repeatedly come up goose eggs in the Crafting Memorable Pictures Department-- Storaro does pretty work here, but an hour after the movie was over I couldn't recall a single distinctly expressive image.)

The story starts off among moneyed Europeans of the sort that would fit right into the favored world of Allen's New York-- a chance meeting between a young woman working in the Parisian art world (Lou de Laage) and an up-and-coming writer (Niels Schneider) who has been in love with her since their university days leads the woman to reconsider her marriage to a possibly shady financier (Melvil Poupaud) and, eventually, an affair with her rather persistent old friend. When the financier begins to come around to the possibility of the couple's indiscretions, he hires a detective to follow them and confirm his suspicions, at which point Allen's debt to Chabrol begins to threaten to create ripples on the film's placid surface.

But it turns out that, no major surprise, Allen doesn't have much taste for the nasty elements of the melodrama of infidelity he's set up. Truth be told, he seems to disdain the simple amour of the lovers' predicament too. In Coup de Chance, as in many of the director's other movies, the temperature of the narrative barely varies as the story tracks from intellectual pursuits to romantic complications to, eventually, crimes of passion. The significance of a lottery ticket, for example, which might be red meat in the hands of a Chabrol, and which is given much weight midway through the picture, is a narrative dead end. Rather than playing a part in what eventually happens to the young lovers, Allen is content to use the ticket simply as a clunky metaphor for his ultimately platitudinous premise, that to be alive on Earth at all, in whatever circumstances, is to have already bucked astronomical odds against the likelihood of simple existence, for which we should all be grateful-- especially presumably, if that existence gets to play out in the impossible beauty of Manhattan or along the Champs-Elysees.

As the film begins to play with the elements of suspense and builds (sort of) to its climax, where Chabrol might have finally gotten things boiling, Allen instead rather insistently prefers a simmer which plays almost like indifference. The "coup de chance" (stroke of luck) he ends his story on is so abrupt, it ends up feeling like the deus ex machina of "a master storyteller" who has lost his interest and just wants to grope his way to the end of the scenario-- there's no evidence that he cares at all about building tension or raising the temperature of his audience, or even how he might start to go about doing such a thing.

Coup de Chance goes down easier than an Allen film has in a while because it has the trappings of Paris and the French language to help tart up the proceedings with a patina of sophistication and disguise the fact that there's really not much going on other than beautiful people in beautiful settings gliding sleepily through the motions. But, given how unsatisfying much of Allen's output has been over the past 30 years, that may be well enough for some. I left the theater glad I saw it, glad that I even had the opportunity to see it, glad that what might end up being the capper to an arguably uneven, but (perhaps just as arguably) extraordinary career at least was entirely a leaking bag of warmed-over goods like Whatever Works, or a deadly botch in the manner of Irrational Man or Rifkin's Festival. If you've ever liked a Woody Allen movie, it's hard to imagine not wanting to see and assess for yourself if Allen's stroke of luck has truly held out to the end. 




As far as I know, I have never seen Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955; Charles Lamont) in its entirety. This is the story of why, despite that seemingly insurmountable fact, it's a movie that has had a huge impact on my life.

When I was but a babe, my mom and dad, like many young marrieds who suddenly found themselves with children back in the early '60s, bough an 8mm Bell & Howell camera-projector combo package with which they set about documenting the adventures of those children-- me and my little sister, Carrie-- as we toddled our way around my grandma's farm, where we all lived until around 1966.

At age three or four I remember a hug level of excitement whenever they would trot out the home movies, but not just because of the chance to see myself and my sister on the big(ish) screen my dad would have to set up as a prelude to our evening's entertainment. No, see, as a part of that Bell & Howell set there were included two 50-foot, approximately four-minute-long 8mm reels from Castle Films included, presumably to get the buyer excited about what their new projector could do before they shot any film of their own. 

One of those was The American In Orbit, which featured lots (well, not lots) of footage of John Glenn, at the time a freshly minted national hero, in his space capsule orbiting the planet, interspersed with lots of animated "simulated footage" to fill out the four-minute running time of this little pseudo-newsreel.

The other was 240 seconds of the wackiest cuts from that Abbott and Costello picture, a typically extreme cutdown issued by Castle Films (and oh, how I would cherish collecting those beauties about 10-11 year later) which excised the rest of the presumably boring shit, quite literally cutting to the chase to create a reel that three-year-old me thought was just peachy.

Every time dear old Mom and Dad brought out the projector I would beg to see that reel, which was retitled by Castle Have Badge, Will Chase. But Dad, not being much of a movie fan and not one who would see much value in his investment in motion pictures beyond recording his kids and his hunting trips, only agreed to about one out of every five desperate pleas to screen the hilarious black-and-white comedy, which I thought was so much more entertaining than watching me cavort in diapers on a playground slide or sitting thorough endlessly dull footage of him and his buddies sitting around a campfire, surrounded by a bunch of shotguns and dead ducks.

And of course his resistance to showing to me whenever I asked only served to create even more of a mystique about the reel. This wasn't like TV, you see-- I couldn't just flip a switch, wait for five minutes for our little black-and-white portable set to warm up, and then get what I wanted. I actually had to put some serious blood, sweat and tears into creating the opportunity where I might get to see it. Which made those times when I actually did get to sit beside the projector and watch this little movie flicker past even more special.

Of course, I loved Have Badge, Will Chase. (I wouldn't know its real title or from whence that little plastic hub of comedy gold originated until I was much older.) And I probably saw it multiple times before my mom and my aunts took me into town to see my very first movie in a theater, Gay Purr-ee (1963), at the glamorous and now gone-baby-gone Marius Theater in none-too-glamorous downtown Lakeview, Oregon.

Which means that this short, severely edited shard of celluloid extracted from Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops was probably the very first movie, in any form, that I, at three years old, ever became obsessed with, thus paving the way for a lifetime of similar and far more intense, personal movie obsessions to come. Thanks, Dad!

One of these days I'm gonna have to see the whole thing!


(This short remembrance was written on May 11, 2024, in remembrance of Roger Corman upon his passing on May 9.)

In 1982, a friend of mine and I hopped in his Ford sedan, packed up his projector and a box full of movies we'd created together and made our way from our dull southern Oregon to Los Angeles, my first visit, to suss out the possibilities of getting work in the movie business. Much of that visit was spent just going to the movies and having fun, of course, but somehow-- oh, the fearless cold-calls of youth!-- we wrangled an audience with producer Mary Ann Fisher at Roger Corman's New World Pictures compound in Venice (which was an at least partially converted lumberyard, as I recall) to show her our stuff.

The screening went well, she liked our movies, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to enthusiastically talk to someone about Hollywood Boulevard, Rock and Roll High School, Piranha, Death Race 2000, Caged Heat and even Amarcord, no matter that the Joe Dante/Allan Arkush/Paul Bartel/Jonathan Demme era at New World had already passed, and no matter than Federico Fellini was nowhere to be found on the lot (!) (Corman raised a lot of eyebrows in the early '70s when he acquired American distribution rights to Amarcord  and Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers.)

At the end of our visit, Fisher surprised my friend and me by dangling the possibility of our coming to work at New World Pictures, for very slim money, of course. Unfortunately, I was still operation under the misperception at the time that the fortunes of myself and my friend were joined at the hip, something that would soon change in a big way. And he certainly wasn't going to leave his girlfriend, or bring her to LA from Oregon, for $150 a week. As for me, I was still too young and immature, even at 21, and certainly not hungry enough to consider going it alone.

So we ended up chalking the whole thing up to experience-- to what end, I was never sure. But that visit was and remains a hugely important memory for me along the road to whatever self-realization I eventually arrived at (if I ever did). And as much as we were excited to be showing our Super-8 films to someone who actually worked in Hollywood (well, in Venice), to top the whole thing off, Fisher briefly interrupted our screening to take a call from Corman and, while we listened, told her boss how she was spending the afternoon, describing our movies to him as having "the kind of feel you like, Roger."

No, I never went to work for Roger Corman and New World Pictures, but as brushes with greatness go, that was a really good one.


It happened a month and a half ago, but now that the engine on the old blog is running again, allow me to link to the report I filed for Ed Gonzalez and Slant  magazine in April on the 15th Annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival . This was my 13th time attending and writing about this festival (I didn’t bother with the virtual versions in 2020 and 2021) and it was one of the strongest lineups I’ve seen. Thanks, Ed, for facilitating my attendance this year and every year. It’s nice to be invited, and it was nice to be back.

Sunday, June 02, 2024


Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it, students? About two-and-a-half years, to be exact, since any missive at all from the SLIFR campus, and even further back than that—sometime in the first couple of months of 2020, when COVID was tightening its grip on the world—for the last SLIFR Movie Quiz. Over the past two and a half years I just kind of assumed that the doors of this musty old institution had been shut forever, and who knows—maybe they should be. But I’ve been missing it just a bit—Facebook has pretty much eclipsed the relevance of the blog and the blogosphere, as we who were cranking posts out almost daily in the early 2000s used to call it, and it’ll never be the same as it was, in terms of finding new voices and connecting to them and passing them on to others. But, to co-opt an even mustier banner, SLIFR will always be my space, and it’s nice to know I can return to it whenever I decide the time is right. And I guess that time is now.

 I don’t know how consistently I’ll be contributing in 2024 and beyond, but you know, when I started Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule back in November 2004 there was never a plan, and I certainly never expected to be hard at it for 17 years. I never wrote for anybody but myself anyway, and I certainly never expected, given my track record with long-term commitment to any project, that I’d last much more than a few months before I lost interest or just wore myself out. So I was just lucky that I managed to linger for a while longer than that and drag a whole bunch of others, most of them smarter than me by a country mile, along for the ride. Now I’m back, and I have questions.

Or more accurately, Dr. Jim McAllister, head of the History department at SLIFR University, has questions. As a faculty member with his own track record of ethical challenge in the arena of rigging outcomes (he did not Pick Flick), we felt it would be a perfect time for him to step in and massage the SLIFR student body  with some pleasurable brain-tingling as a prelude to what promises to be a conversely mind-numbing election season, during which there will undoubtedly be more than enough pompous blather about rigged contests and threats to our constitution (from them, of course, never from us). Stimulation, says McAllister, is better than depression, and we couldn’t agree more. So in that spirit we are proud to present something less despairing to think about as the six months leading up to November begin to dawn: Mr. Jim McAllister’s Politically Significant, Ethically Questionable, Anti-History-Repeating-Itself Spring Term Movie Quiz.

The rules are the same as always—just copy and paste the questions into the comments column (either here or, since this is 2024 and not 2004, on Facebook) and let the answers come naturally. There is no wrong answer, and the more elaborate that answer is, the better. And this time, Mr. McAllister has allowed me to go first, because he feels sure that if I wait to post my answers for another week or two that I’ll get mired into some other responsibilities and end up not offering my completed quiz until August. And his fears are well founded—he knows me better than I’d like to admit.

Okay, get your #2s ready. It’s time to open your Blue Books, knuckle down and get to writing. After a near-four-year hiatus, let the latest SLIFR Movie Quiz begin!


1) Movie that best reflects, describes or embodies the tenor of our times  I won’t be surprised if titles like All the King’s Men and A Face in the Crowd make a strong showing here, but for me, just as it was in 1975, just as it was in 2016, no movie better reflects, describes or embodies the fucked-up strange brew of corruption, racism, malfeasance, boorish sexism, general upending of decorum and tradition—yes, what used to be called a weird sort of effervescent American spirit-- that has marked political discourse in this country for at least the last 60 years than Robert Altman’s Nashville.

2) Favorite Don Siegel movie not starring Clint Eastwood With all due respect to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), it’s gotta be Charley Varrick (1973)--  Siegel’s original Invasion runs a very close second.

3) Your favorite movie theater, now or then I’ve been to many theaters since I started going to them in 1963, many of them some of the most beautiful movie palaces I’ve ever seen, some of them rundown cineplexes, and most of them with top-notch projection and sound. At least compared to the theater I absolutely must pick, the theater where I grew up with the movies, learn to love them, argue with them, absorb them, the theater from where all the cinephilia that has so marked my life originally sprang. It’s being slowly, loving restored for a community that is enthralled by the process but may not, once that restoration is finished, may not know how to properly honor it, and it has now, thanks to those restoration efforts, been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been in my hometown since 1940, and it’s been in my life since 1963. It’s the Alger Theater in downtown Lakeview, Oregon. It’ll never be the best theater in the world, but it’s definitely the best theater in town, and it’s looking better than ever. And I’m so glad it was there for me when I needed it.

4) You’re booking this Friday and Saturday night at that theater—What are the double features for each night? I think it’d have to be a double feature of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Tales from the Crypt (1972) to mark the formative experience I had as a young horror fan seeing both of these movies for the first time at the Alger.

5) Wendy Hiller or Deborah Kerr? In a not-exactly-grudge match between two Powell/Pressburger heavyweights, you might think that Kerr would be the easy winner here on the strength of her strong showing in two indisputable P&P classics, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and Black Narcissus (1947). But purely based on the fact that I recently saw it again, and as it always does it made me swoon like a schoolgirl in full blush, I’m handing this one over to Wendy Hiller and her magnificent turn as a fiancée thwarted by forces of nature (the weather and Roger Livesey) in her attempts to cross a Scottish channel and reunite with her betrothed in I Know Where I’m Going! (1945). Raise your eyebrows if you must, but given that my first exposure to Hiller was in Murder on the Orient Express (1974), where she was anything but sensuous, I think she’s hella sexy in the movie too. And speaking of sexy, don’t even get me started on Kathleen Byron…

6) Last movie seen in a theater/on physical media/by streaming In a theater (and not just any theater): Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024; George Miller); On physical media: The Leopard (1963; Luchino Visconti); Streaming: Uptight (1968; Jules Dassin).

7) Name a young actor in modern films who, either physically or by personality, reminds you of an actor from the age of classic movies Every time I see the young up-and-comer Kathryn Newton (Abigail, Freaky, Blockers) I think to myself, she’s gotta be related to Joan Blondell…

8)  Favorite film of 2014 For me, it didn’t get any better than the Scarlet Johannsen sci-fi one-two punch of Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer) and Lucy (Luc Besson), though Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) came close.

9) Second-favorite Louis Malle film  How about Crackers? I’m kidding. Seriously, if Murmur of the Heart (1971) is my favorite, then I’d have to say that Elevator to the Gallows (1958) would be #2, with Vanya on 42nd Street (1994) somewhere in the vicinity.

10) The Ladykillers (2004 Coen Bros. version)—yes or no? I don’t see why not. The Coens’, in raunchy goof-off mode, bring their patented sensibility to bear on the legacy of the terrific Ealing Studios classic, and while Tom hanks is no Alec Guinness, he isn’t trying to be either and makes his own stamp on the character and the movie. Apparently doomed, sight unseen, to be a smudge mark on the history of a classic movie, it may not be a classic itself but it’s still a lot of fun.

11) Andy Robinson (Scorpio) or Richard Widmark (Tommy Udo)? At the risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic, I love Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947)—his is, to use a lately overused word, an iconic performance, at the very foundation of great portrayals of sadistic psychos in film noir and beyond. And though Andy Robinson’s terrifying performance as Scorpio in Dirty Harry</i> (1971) seems to directly reference Widmark at times (that cackle!), Robinson’s work has affected me far more profoundly than Widmark’s, by virtue of having seen it when I was very young (Dirty Harry was my first R-rated movie, at age 12), but also because Robinson is so preternaturally committed to the role, aware of his precedents but able to create memorable work in his own sphere. When I saw Robinson interviewed by Eddie Muller at this year’s TCM Classic Movies Film Festival before a screening of Dirty Harry, which has never been presented to these eyes more spectacularly, it was one of the top highlights of my 13 years of attending that festival. Did I feel lucky? Yes, Mr. Robinson. Thank you!

12) Best horror movie from the past ten years  Wow. For some reason, I decided to Google “best horror movies 2013-2024” to help try to answer this question and stumbled, after a bunch of false leads, onto IMDb’s presumably comprehensive list of 739 (!!!) horror movies released between those years. I have made it through the first 350 before I  found the first one I’d consider for the honor—not that I’m even close to having seen all 739 and knowing definitively, but a casual glance here reveals there’s a lot of shit out there, folks, even over just a ten-year span. Final tally on the ones I would choose comes to about 19… out of 739. Not a good return on your investment, horror fans. But I do like the list I came up with, which includes, in alphabetical order, Antlers (2021; Scott Cooper), The Babadook (2014; Jennifer Kent), Cult of Chucky (20217; Don Mancini), Crawl (2019; Alexandre Aja), Don’t Breathe (2016; Fede Alvarez), Easter (2016; Nicholas McCarthy, from the anthology film Holidays), Gerald’s Game (2017; Mike Flanagan),  Green Room (2015; Jeremy Saulnier), Happy Death Day (2017; Christopher Landon), 1922 (2017; Zak Hilditch), Pearl (2022; Ti West), The Prodigy (2019; Nicholas McCarthy), The Shallows (2017; Jaume Collett-Serra), Train to Busan (2016; Yeon Sang-ho), Unfriended (2014; Levan Gabriadze), Us (2019; Jordan Peele), The Visit (2015; M. Night Shamalyan), X (2022; Ti West), and the winner, only slightly out of that alphabetical order, The Witch (2015; Robert Eggers). If I’ve missed anything, and I’m sure I probably have, I am counting on all of you to remind me.

13) Upcoming movie release you have the highest hopes for in 2024 Given how luridly effective Ti West’s X (2022) was, and how devastated I was by his follow-up prequel Pearl (also 2022), it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I am most dying to see how he and the mercurial Mia Goth ti (see what I did there?) things up in the upcoming MaXXXine. And my expectations are sky high for Richard Linklater’s Hit Man, which will be playing nowhere near me but will be assigned (like his last terrific movie, Apollo 10½: A Space-Age Childhood) to the Netflix shelf.  But more than anything, even, how could I not be looking forward to Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, be it masterpiece or disaster (or likely somewhere in-between)?

14)  Movie you’re looking forward to this year that would surprise people or make them consider that you might have finally cracked up. 
I think the clear winner here for me is the upcoming Ghost concert doc Rite Here, Rite Now (Alex Ross Perry), chronicling the recent  Los Angeles show by this theatrically perverse power-pop-metal band (equal parts Scorpions, Metallica and Donnie Iris, fueled by lots of amusingly warped Catholic iconography and blasphemously committed lyrics that make Mick Jagger’s sympathy for the devil look tepid in comparison) that Emma and I saw in October 2023. I hear tell they’re doing it up The Song Remains the Same-style too, so who knows what the hell we’re in for. My slight embarrassment over my enthusiasm was immediately washed away the moment I secured the tickets and watched Emma shoot straight through the roof.

15) Favorite AIP one-sheet Oh, my God, Mr. McAllister, give me a break. I grew up ogling the ad campaigns—newspaper pastings and one-sheets—for American International Pictures releases for almost as long as I can remember, and I’ve always loved their lurid dynamic, no matter the genre. What movie-ad kid could forget Blood and Lace (1971) (“Shock After Shock AFTER SHOCK!”)? Or the semi-clad brides of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) (“Mistresses of the Deathmaster”) attacking some poor son of a  bitch and making him their midnight snack, all set against a counterintuitive, decidedly non-nocturnal turquoise background? Or the hard-sell psychedelic hysteria created for Richard Rush’s Psych-Out (1968)? Or Pam Grier lounging in that green dress on the one-sheet for Foxy Brown (1974)? Or the fantastic tableau of destruction created for Destroy All Monsters (1969)? But without making any claims that it’s the best of them all, I’d have to say my favorite AIP poster is for the 1972 release of the Angela Mao kung fu classic Lady Whirlwind, given by Samuel Arkoff and company a new title, Deep Thrust, in order to capitalize on a certain other phenomenon happening in American genre cinema at the time. There’s something so primitively appealing about the bare-bones visual distillation of the experience of this movie on this poster, combined with the usual hyperbolic verbiage (“Mistress of the Death Blow!”), that it stuck with me for 50 years, from the time I first saw a form of it on the movie pages of the Portland (OR) Oregonian to today, only about a year after having finally seen the movie for myself. I love it.

16) Catherine Spaak or Daniela Giordano? Giordano is a captivating screen presence, especially in Mario Bava’s sexy romantic comedy (unusual for him) Four Times That Night (1971). But Catherine Spaak wins my heart for Dario Argento’s Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) but even more for the way she occupies a seat between Vittorio Gassman and Lean-Louis Trintignant in Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (1962).

17)  Favorite film of 1994 The top of my Best Of list for 1994 was headed up by Trois Couleurs: Rouge (Krzysztof Kieslowski), Cobb (Ron Shelton), Quiz Show (Robert Redford), Ed Wood (Tim Burton) and Vanya on 42nd Street (Louis Malle). But if “favorite” can be qualified by number of times seen, then my favorite films of 1994 would have to be Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter (Ready to Wear)(yeah, yeah, yeah…) and Cabin Boy (directed by Adam Resnick, sure, but this is a Chris Elliot film through and through).

18) Second-favorite Wim Wenders film With the top spot firmly gripped by the five-hour director’s cut of his 1991 Until the End of the World (a masterpiece), positioned squarely midway through his great career, it’s worth recognizing that my third and then my second favorite Wim Wenders movie both come from the earlier and then the most recent mile markers of his extraordinary output—at #3, The State of Things (1982), and at #2, Perfect Days (2023), yes, an almost perfect movie.

19) Best performance by an athlete in a non-sports-oriented movie With all due respect to Jim Brown, Bo Svenson and Joe Namath (?), the only pick for me here is Jim Bouton as Terry Lennox, the worst best friend a private dick could ever have, in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973).

20) The cinema’s Best Appearance by A Piece of Fruit Unless I’m forgetting something, for 88 years the answer—maybe the only answer—had to be that half a grapefruit so gently applied to Mae Clarke by Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931)-- until 2019 and Parasite came along...

21) Favorite film of 1974
 Again, good God, Mr. McAllister… I’m so glad the wording is “favorite” and not “best.” Because in a year that saw the release of California Split, Freebie and the Bean, The Conversation, Chinatown, Juggernaut, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Godfather Part II among many others I’m probably forgetting about at the moment, my favorites (a tie—sue me, Mr. McA) are unquestionably Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, two relatively disreputable pictures that have really grown in my estimation and hung with me in ways that continue to surprise me 50 years later.

22) Most would probably agree we are not currently living in a golden age of film criticism. Given that, who, among currently active writers, do you think best carries the torch for the form? For my money, it’s gotta be Justin Chang, who has risen through the ranks, from Variety to the Los Angeles Times and now, where more than one brilliant critic has called home, The New Yorker. And when I say “for my money,” I mean that quite literally—Chang’s presence alongside Richard Brody’s has inspired me to try to wrangle a subscription to this none-too-inexpensive periodical for Father’s Day!

23) Favorite movie theater snack(s) Well, it’s hard to beat a buttered popcorn, especially at the Rose, here in Port Townsend, where a combo of chipotle chorizo and asiago cheese seasonings makes this truly a compulsive snack for the ages. That said (and taking my type-2 diabetes into account), if there’s a candy selection on ice, say, a box of Charleston Chews or Junior Mints or, at the top of the heap, a completely frozen Uno bar (the way we used to gobble ‘em at the Circle JM Drive-in back in my hometown), I’ll go for that almost any time. To drink? A diet Coke or a Minute Maid zero-sugar lemonade, to make my endocrinologist sleep better at night.

24) Marion Lorne or Patricia Collinge? Two of Hitchcock’s dottiest mothers. Patricia Collinge, as Teresa Wright’s emotionally fragile mother in Shadow of a Doubt, engenders a lot of sympathy as she feels the ground crumbling beneath the idealized relationship she has with her brother Charlie (Joseph Cotton), who may be a serial killer. On the other hand, Marion Lorne softened me up for years with her portrayal of Samatha Stephens’ dotty-for-the ages Aunt Clara on Bewitched, so it was a genuine revelation for me to discover her relatively creepy, insinuating relationship with son Robert Walker, who very much is a killer in Strangers on a Train. Lorne’s screen time is short compared to Collinge’s, but she’s the actress I’d rather see in any part, and she’s brilliantly batty here.

25) Recent release you wish you’d seen on a big screen Hmm. Well, if Mr. McAllister will allow me to choose one that I haven’t yet seen but already have no possible chance of seeing projected, it’d have to be Richard Linklater’s upcoming Hit Man, which got leaked to theaters in bigger markets for a week before making its debut on Netflix on June 7.

26) Favorite supporting performance in a Sam Peckinpah film I’ve not allowed myself the luxury of IMDb here—it’s a total off-the-top-of-my-head game, and the winner is Peter Vaughn in Straw Dogs.

27) Strother Martin or L.Q. Jones? These two old salts seem to be joined at the hip in my mind, much the same way they were as scurrilous desert rats haunting Jason Robards in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. But I’d have to give the edge to Strother Martin, not only because of how he ultimately moved me in that film, but because he’s been so indelible in so many other films like McLintock (1963), The Wild Bunch (1969), Fools Parade (1971), Ssssssss (1973), Slap Shot (1977), Hard Times (1975) and, of course, Cool Hand Luke (1967). But then again, L.Q. Jones directed A Boy and His Dog (1975), didn’t he? And I used to say hi to him as he glided down the aisles in his cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirt at the Beachwood Canyon Mayfair Market back in the early ‘90s. Not so with Mr. Martin!

28) Current actor whose star status you find partially or completely mystifying It strikes me that Chris Pratt must either be the luckiest man in Hollywood or have the best, most bloodthirsty agent in town who has a lot of scurrilous info on a lot of industry folks.

29) Reese Witherspoon – Election or Freeway? Reese’s tornado of a turn in Freeway (1996), opposite a never-creepier Kiefer Sutherland, may be the wilder, more go-for-broke turn (and don’t get me wrong-- it’s a great turn), but as Tracy Flick in Election (1999) she is simultaneously obnoxious and sympathetic and a perfect avatar for unrestrained entitlement and hollowed-out achievement, which makes her the perfect antagonist/hero figure for our times. It’s a remarkably sustained balancing act of a performance which is set in brilliant relief when it becomes clearer and clearer that she’s not the only ghoul in Alexander Payne’s deck of acid cards. As good as she was as June Carter, I’d trade that Oscar-winning performance for this one every time.

30) Second-favorite Michael Ritchie film Okay, if #1 is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen, The Bad News Bears (1976), then there’s no way the #2 spot could go to anything but Smile (1975), a satire of Americana that not only stands with The Bad News Bears but also, I think, exists and interacts in close company with Robert Altman’s Nashville, released the same year.

31) Favorite theatrical moviegoing experience of the last three years (2021-2024)

Okay, as Mr. McAllister’s teaching assistant, I’m going to exercise a little license here. The last movie I saw in a theater before the COVID lockdown was Emma. (2020). About a day out of that screening the word came down that movie theaters (and a whole lot of other stuff) would be closing indefinitely. After a lifetime of making them some of my favorite places to be, there were times in that first year of the pandemic when I seriously wondered whether I’d ever step inside a movie theater again. But when things started opening up a little over a year later, with all necessary caution, I soon found the habit again, and consequently I feel like my appreciation for the experience, and my tendency to be a <i>whole</i> lot more picky about where I’d go to see a movie, was heightened. Not every experience has been memorable or special since then, but as I went about remembering for this answer, I realize a whole lot of them were. So here then are my 33 (yes, you read that right) favorite moviegoing experiences since our collective return from our various quarantines, in the order in which they occurred.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (AMC Burbank 16, April 2021) Emma and I saw this 10th anniversary presentation together (I snuck her into a showing of the original release without Patty’s knowledge when she was 11, so this return seemed appropriate), and it is the only time, before or since, that seeing the AMC logo and their endless preshow junk parade brought me to tears. They have since returned to their usual shelf of contempt.

Summer of Soul (El Capitan, Hollywood, June 2021) A solo trip to Hollywood at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning to make sure I saw this in an appropriately magnificent setting, and though the house was near empty, it was well worth the trip.

Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Million Dollar Theater, Downtown Los Angeles, Summer 2021) A dream Saturday afternoon double bill at this storied downtown movie palace attended with my pal and fellow Altman fanatic Anastasia McGee.

No Time to Die (LOOK Cinemas, Glendale, November 2021) Another father-daughter night at the movies with Emma. This screening was memorable for me for the movie, of course, which we both enjoyed a lot more than either expected, but even more so for the father-daughter conversation we had before the show started, the subject of which I will not share here, only to say that it was one of those moments as a parent that completely changed my perspective on the child— no longer a child—who I helped raise.

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (two nights, David Geffen Theater, Academy Museum, February 2022) The first night was with Emma, the second with Patty (I was ticketed to see The Godfather Part III later in the week, but I got sick), and both in the presence of Coppola and Talia Shire. I took Emma to see The Godfather for the first time a few years earlier (at the Million Dollar Theater)—she loved it and had seen it a few times more since, so for he to get to hear Coppola speak beforehand was a real treat.

Coffy (Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, April 2022) One of the best experiences at TCMFF I’ve ever had, in the presence of the goddess herself, who owned the house during her interview with TCM’s Jacqueline Stewart, and alongside equally appreciative pals Bruce Lundy, Odie Henderson and Steven Santos.

RRR (Laemmle Glendale, May 2022) Probably the most unbridled fun I’ve had in a movie theater in the three years this question spans. I don’t think anyone in the packed house I saw it with knew what we were getting into, and it was the most baseball game-like atmosphere I’ve ever seen in a  movie theater too, people reaching over and behind their rows to high-five other viewers after a particularly spectacular stunt or set piece. We stumbled out into the light of a Sunday afternoon, and many of us perfect strangers hung around the lobby just to marvel among ourselves at what we’d just been witness to, truly blindsided for once (no spoilers) by this truly spectacular work of popular art.

Top Gun: Maverick (AMC Media Center 8, June 2022) Please forgive me, but this one requires a bit of backstory:

My mother-in-law and I have been solid moviegoing pals since early on in my relationship with Patty. The first movie we ever saw together in a theater was The Last Boy Scout, way back in 1991– she is and always has been a big action movie fan, and together, sometimes with Patty and friends in tow, it seems like we saw them all. A few of her favorites were The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995), Casino Royale (2006; we saw all the Brosnan and Craig-era Bonds together), Payback (1999) with Mel Gibson and Crimson Tide (1995) starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman— my friend Andy and I took her to see that one at the Cinerama Dome, and her comment afterward (“I liked that one! Lots of manpower!”) has entered into my personal hall of fame of gratifying movie reactions.

In recent years, as she has become more frail and less energetic, and as COVID took its toll on national moviegoing habits our outings kind of tailed off. She didn’t care to see No Time to Die (2021) in a theater (and I was too nervous for her safety to seriously consider it). The last movie I took her to was Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018). She is the self-described Tom Cruise #1 Fan and there was no way she was going to miss that. (She even got to see it in IMAX.) But since then it’s been about four years since she’d seen the inside of a theater, and I figured her indifference to going out to see the latest James Bond was a signal that <i>Fallout</i> was going to be her moviegoing swan song.

Then one day  she pulled me aside and whispered, as if she could barely sound out the words for fear that it might turn out to be just a rumor, “I heard there’s a new Tom Cruise movie coming out— Top Gun 2!” I confirmed it and, on a lark, asked her if she wanted to go. She looked at me, and I swear her eyes twinkled. “Yeah, I think so,” she replied. And that’s all she had to say to me.

I began looking for movie theaters and showtimes as soon as I could, and I figured that my local neighborhood independent cinema, the Laemmle Glendale, would be a good candidate, if they were going to play it (they were, as it turned out)— small theaters, easy access, wheelchair seating. But as time moved on and mask restrictions on public places began dropping (unlike the actual incidences of new COVID cases), I began to get cold feet about the idea of taking Mommy out to a tiny, enclosed movie theater where she would be surrounded by who knows how many unmasked, possibly unvaccinated, possibly contagious popcorn munchers. I briefly considered even taking her to the drive-in— we have taken her in the past— but she’s not nearly ambulatory enough for such a complicated journey, and I’m sure she would have found being confined in the car for the long drive to and from, to say nothing of the long running time of the movie itself, an insurmountable situation.

I was about to give up on the idea altogether and suggest we just wait for home video— a depressing idea, given how infrequently she gets to get out of that house to do anything these days— when a light bulb went off above my head and caused a surely blinding light to reflect off my shiny pate: why not just pick a day and time and rent the theater? Then we could pick the location with the easiest access and solve the big problem of exposure to a possibly heavily populated and contagious auditorium with one easy move.

So I ran the idea past my sisters-in-law to see if they thought it was a good idea or just an ill-advised, cockamamie fantasy, and they were all for it. (I was especially solicitous of the advice of SIL Debbie, a doctor who heads up the infectious diseases program at a big San Francisco hospital who I felt could be trusted to tell me if she thought I should just drop it and keep Mommy at home.) She and Angie offered to split the shockingly affordable theater rental three ways, and so I booked it and began the month-long process of looking forward to the event, and to the surprise on her face when she would finally roll up to the theater and realize it would not be just another Saturday afternoon at the movies, but instead a private screening orchestrated just for her.

In addition to Patty, myself, Emma and Nonie, we invited a couple of our friends, Andy (he of the Crimson Tide outing) and Scott, and we also invited John and Jill, Mommy’s relatives and next-door neighbors, and Ramona and Paul, daughter and son of her recently-deceased best friend of many years. It all came together brilliantly, and it didn’t matter a bit that most of us weren’t really all that interested in seeing Top Gun: Maverick (2022)— what was important was that Mommy was going to get to see it without worrying about catching an awful disease as part of the price of admission. (She even brought her Tom Cruise pillow!)

The movie itself is an improvement on the 1986 original, which isn’t really saying much— it’s still a battleship-load of hooey, but it’s not aggressively obnoxious like its forebearer, and the last 45 minutes or so are exciting enough to make you more forgiving of the paucity of actual beauty in any of the imagery and of the fact that it’s as much a recruitment tool in the post-Trump Ukraine war era as the original was an embodiment of hollow Reagan-era patriotism. Neither movie is overtly political, but they don’t need to be— it’s all about the fetishistic fascination for military hardware, which is something craven political opportunists of both periods can and have appropriated for their own ugly ends.

But like I suggested earlier, who cares what I or any of us thought of the movie. Mommy was the only one who counted today, and she loved it. She said over and over again that she couldn’t believe we had the whole theater to ourselves, and that she was so happy and surprised. (John and Jill surprised us all by hitting the snack bar for popcorn, soda and candies for everybody!) So I’d count this day as a smash hit, one that, in our family annals anyway, far surpasses the box office take for the new Tom Cruise blockbuster. Oh, and by the way, the movie was preceded by a trailer for the next Mission: Impossible epic. Mommy fully endorsed booking our theater for that one as soon as possible. More on that later.

 (Laemmle Glendale, July 2002) Just one of the reasons I came to cherish this little neighborhood theater, just four blocks from my old house in Glendale, was the chance to see a film like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s monumental film on the big screen. The nearly empty house only added to the movie’s startlingly insinuating, hushed effect.

Mad God
 (Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown Los Angeles, June 2022) With my pal Andy, experiencing Phil Tippett’s one-of-a kind wonder at this brilliant shrine to movie geekdom, preceded by a terrific presentation (curated by the theater) on the history of stop-motion animation in the movies.

Fire of Love 
(Rose Theatre, Port Townsend, August 2022) Our first experience at the Rose Theatre in downtown Port Townsend, during our family summer vacation on the Olympic Peninsula. My second screening of the movie, Patty’s first. After it was over we knew I’d found our new home.

In The Mood for Love
 (David Geffen Theater, Academy Museum, September 2022) This was Patty’s introduction to Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece and my first time ever seeing it projected, the perfect setting. To say we were both transported is putting it very mildly indeed.

 (Laemmle Glendale, September 2022) Emma and I saw X here earlier in the year, so of course we were there opening weekend for Ti West’s sequel (the second in his trilogy). We both loved it, but I found it so disturbing, especially the last ten minutes (here’s one where not staying for the duration of the end credits is virtually impossible), that I couldn’t shake it-- I walked around the real world for days after, genuinely haunted by what I’d seen. (So did Martin Scorsese, apparently.)

Millennium Mambo
 (American Cinematheque at the Los Feliz Theater, February 2023) I could not pass up the chance to get absorbed in Hou Hsaio-hsien's awesome movie on the big screen, and the rewards were many.

John Wick: Chapter 4
 (Laemmle Glendale, TCL Chinese IMAX, March 2023) Twice in one week, both times with Emma, both times overwhelming fun.

When Worlds Collide
 (Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, April 2023) Bruce and I saw this fantastic screening, hosted by the great sound designers Ben Burtt and Craig Barron. The movie was really fun, featuring good actors (including the late Barbara Rush, the cutest cutie pie in all of ‘50s cinema), terrific special effects and, courtesy of our hosts, an overwhelmingly effective soundtrack retrofitted with Burtt’s own version of Sensurround (BENSurround, of course) which fulfilled George Pal’s dreams for the movie, as well as shook the shit out of our internal organs and quite literally blew the side doors of the Hollywood Legion Hall where we saw it wide open more than once.

 (American Cinematheque at the Los Feliz Theater, July 2023) My first time seeing Godard’s classic on the big, wide screen. Brilliant.

Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part 1 (AMC Media Center 8, Burbank, August 2023) Whoops, we did it again!

Taste the Blood of Dracula
 and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (New Beverly Cinema, October 2023) Fittingly, this great Hammer double bill, featuring the best print of FMBD I think I’ve ever seen, was the last time I attended the New Beverly Cinema to date. And just by chance, I ran into Michael Torgan, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and we got to spend about a half hour talking outside before the movies began.

Oppenheimer (TCL Chinese Theatre, August 2023) Before it became clear that Universal was going to have to schedule more IMAX screenings, I grabbed the chance to get up at 4:30 on a Sunday morning and make my way onto a blessedly quiet Hollywood Boulevard for a 6:00 a.m. IMAX screening of Christopher Nolan’s soon-to-be-Oscar-winning hit. And that damn theater was packed. As much eerie fun as a movie about the dawning of the end of the world could have possibly been.

Stop Making Sense (two screenings, TCL Chinese Theatre, September 2023) The 40th-anniversary rerelease afforded us two chances to see this masterpiece really big and loud. The second time Patty and I took Emma, but the first time was a pre-rerelease screening timed to the Talking Heads reunion at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was screening the same night. There were folks dancing on the Chinese Theatre’s massive stage for the last two songs, and after the movie was finished we were treated to a live feed from Toronto featuring all four Heads interviewed post-TIFF-screening by Spike Lee.

Farewell, My Concubine
 (Laemmle Glendale, September 2023) Once again, thank you, my favorite neighborhood theater in my old neighborhood.

 (Laemmle Glendale, October 2023) My first time ever seeing this on the big screen. Is it any wonder this theater is about the only thing I miss about Glendale?

 (Ted Mann Theater, Academy Museum, November 2023) I packed a lunch and gave up an entire Saturday to see the uncut 317-minute version of Bertolucci’s harrowing masterpiece (one intermission between the officially segmented two parts) and it was some of the most rewarding time I’ve ever spent in a theater.

Godzilla Minus One
 (AMC Burbank 16, December 2023) Emma, Nonie and I reveled in our first screening of this surprisingly great movie together, and they were only slightly less surprised than I was that, after a nuanced and terrifying story well told, the climax had me in racking sobs. So glad to see it has now cleared the restrictions that have prevented it being screened in the US (in the wake of its Best Special Effects Oscar win later in March) and can be seen streaming and for digital purchase all over the place. But nothing will ever beat seeing it in a theater, especially for the first time.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (All That Money Can Buy) 
(December 2023) This special screening of the recent 4K restoration of this mind-boggling movie was the very first time I’d ever seen in any form, under any title, and I’m so glad it was on the big screen, where it mesmerized me from start to finish.

Ed Wood
 (Nuart Theater, Santa Monica, February 2024) Somehow it worked out that this would be the last movie I would ever see as a citizen of Los Angeles, and it was beyond perfect that I was able to make it across town on a Friday night just before our exhausting move would commence in earnest to see this paean to the creative spirit as it once manifested itself in this moviemaking capital where I spent 37 years of my life.

Perfect Days (The Rose Theatre, Port Townsend, March 2024) And speaking of perfect, it’s hard for me to express right now just how perfect it was that Wim Wenders’ great movie was the first theatrical film I ended up seeing as an official resident of Port Townsend. I just wanted to see a good movie, and instead I saw one that, though it was very much about perceptions of modern Japanese culture and how one man defines and comes to peace with himself amidst that culture, seemed also to speak directly to my soul and where it sits at this crossroads in my life.

The First Omen
 (SEE Film Cinemas, Bremerton, WA, April 2023) It was our first get-out-of-town movie—that was Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire at a Regal in Poulsbo—but this was the first one where Emma and I saw a really good, satisfying movie. It was one of our first steps in making ourselves feel like part of the community of Port Townsend and the surrounding towns. That process continues, thankfully!

Dirty Harry
 (Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, April 2024) I’ve never seen this brutal, troubling, electrifying crime thriller, the first R-rated movie I ever saw (at age 12 in my hometown drive-in), look so fantastic. Add to that the experience of seeing Andy Robinson speak beforehand (described movie, answer #11) and you’ve got an unforgettable experience.

The Beast
 (The Rosebud inside the Rose Theatre, Port Townsend, May 2024) Not unlike my experience with Pearl, this challenging, intricate film, anchored by a brilliant performance from Lea Seydoux, is the scariest thing I've seen in a theater in ages, far outstripping recent highly touted horror offerings in the level of fear it generates and in its own boundary-pushing filmmaking intensity, and it took me nearly a week to shake it off. Actually, I'm not sure I really have even yet.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
(SIFF Downtown-- formerly the Cinerama, May 2024) This theater is as good as advertised, and seeing Furiosa here, my first experience at the theater, was a spectacular introduction.
 one of the most overwhelming sonic and visual presentations I’ve ever been lucky enough to attend. Only George Miller could, or apparently would even care to infuse the end of the world with this much nerve-jangling exhilaration, and it sent me out of the theater on the sort of big-budget movie high the likes of which I haven’t experienced since perhaps Mad Max: Fury Road.

32) Favorite Southern-fried movie sheriff
 With all due respect to Buford T. Justice (aka Jackie Gleason) and J.W. Pepper (aka Clifton James), I’m gonna go dark and choose Ned Beatty, never more sinister and insinuating (especially in his deadpan, where he hides behind assumed good-ol’-boy charms he never forefronts) than as Sheriff J.C. Connors, the murderous lawman set against Burt Reynolds’ Gator McCluskey in Joseph Sargent’s crackling-good White Lightning (1973). And in Connors’s shadow, you might just find the sheriff who greets Reynolds, Jon Voight and Beatty himself near the end of Deliverance (1972), a cynical lawman played by James Dickey, presiding gruffly, sometimes disapprovingly, and even more insinuatingly over John Boorman’s grueling adaptation of Dickey’s own book. I’d bet Beatty took notes on this performance and incorporated them into his own just a year later.

33) Favorite film of 1954 Any year that saw the release of Kiss Me, Deadly, Bad Day at Black Rock, Rear Window, Dam Busters, On the Waterfront, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Seven Samurai, Them!, Johnny Guitar, La Strada and the original Godzilla has to be considered a great year for movies. And the greatest, my most favorite? Take a bow, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story.

34) A 90-foot wall of water or the world tallest building on fire? The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is certainly the OG of the now-50-plus-year-old disaster movie cycle, but of the two I’m inclined to favor the big dog these days-- The Towering Inferno. OG, meet apex, the big movie statement this ‘70s subgenre would never again approach. (That said, I have a great and widely acknowledged fondness for Airport ‘77 which I suspect I will carry with me to my grave.)

35) Second-favorite Agnes Varda movie My favorite is Varda’s sublimely beautiful and understated love letter to her Parisian neighborhood, the 1975 documentary Daguerréotypes. So that leaves second place to be occupied possibly by Vagabond (1985) or perhaps Mur Murs (1981). But really there’s no contest: second place goes to her beautiful and moving feature swansong, Faces Places (2017).

36) Favorite WWII movie made between 1950 and 1975 Again, leaving it all up to the top of my head, the one that made a really huge impression on  me, when I was lucky enough to see on the big Egyptian screen courtesy of the American Cinematheque a few years ago, was Sam Fuller’s Merrill’s Marauders (1962).

37) After the disappointing (against predictions) box-office weekend for The Fall Guy, writer Matt Singer, perplexed by the relative indifference from ticket-buyers toward a film most expected to be a big hit, asked in his piece for Screengrab,  “What the hell do people want from movies?” To focus the question slightly more narrowly, what the hell do you want out of movies? I want a movie to surprise me, to challenge my expectations, to show me facets of a world (our world, its world) that I might never have considered before. Whether or not a movie makes money at the box office is absolutely immaterial to its worth—how many of your favorite films, of my favorite films, were flops at the box office? What I want is a movie that is worth coming out to see, whether it’s an overwhelming sound-and Furiosa epic, or a movie like Perfect Days or The Beast</i>, films that demand something from their audiences and give back rewards (and in the case of  The Beast, nightmares) that could never be anticipated, and for the movies themselves to have more than an opening weekend’s chance to lure the audiences that would most enjoy them in the company of strangers inside a movie house.

38) Ned Sparks or Guy Kibbee? Both have their specific and beloved niches in pre-code Hollywood comedies, but I gotta give the edge to Guy Kibbee, a little less one-note than Sparks, hilarious in Golddiggers of 1933 (1933) and Dames (1934) and downright moving in Central Park (1932).

39) Favorite opening line in a movie There are surely better, wittier, more resonant ones in the storied history of the movies, but for me one of the ones that best sets the tone for what’s to come is seeing Ava Gardner in her lounging gown stumble into the ostensibly posh (no thanks to the Universal production design department) apartment she shares with her increasingly estranged husband Charlton Heston, noting his absence and uttering a perfectly vituperative “GodDAMN it!” After that, the wrath of God in Sensurround seems tame by comparison.

40) Best movie involving radio or a radio broadcast Obvious choices for me might include American Graffiti (1973) for its hauntingly pervasive radio broadcast soundtrack of late ‘50s-early ‘60s pop radio hits, and for that scene with Wolfman Jack broadcasting from that eerily quiet station on the outskirts of town (that scene best reflects my own nascent fascination with radio and radio stations when I was a kid); or maybe, if I stretch the boundaries of the question, Jonathan Demme’s Citizens Band (1977), a beautifully woven tale of identities lost, found and created over the air on CB radio in a small town. I’m even thinking about the intrusive PA radio broadcasts that pervade the hospital camp in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). And there’s Sex and Broadcasting (2014), a terrific documentary about New Jersey’s own WFMU and one man’s effort to keep the station alive in the face of recession, the never-ending threat of commercial media invasion and the challenges of keeping a staff of weirdos (benign and less-than-benign) in line. But the one that really makes the nostalgic case for radio, what it was, what we remember it to be, and what It may never have been, is Woody Allen’s lovely and evocative Radio Days (1987), in which nostalgia achieves a warm, penetrating aesthetic that goes beyond radio and straight into the ways we embellish our memories—“The scene is Rockaway. The time is my childhood. It’s my old neighborhood, and forgive me if I tend to romanticize the past. I mean, it wasn’t always as stormy and rainswept as this. But I remember it that way because that was it at its most beautiful.”

41) Buddy Buddy—yes or no? Absolutely yes.

42) Favorite film of 1934 I tried, but I just cannot choose between Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress and Jean Vigo’s L’Atlante, so they both get top dog honors for their 90th anniversaries.

43) Kay Francis or Miriam Hopkins? Hopkins may have made better movies overall, at least in the early stage of her career-- Design for Living</i> (1933), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Story of Temple Drake (1933)--  but all Kay Francis has to do is approach the camera at the end of Jewel Robbery, the nifty romantic comedy she made with William Powell in 1932, and I’d follow her anywhere. And you know, the movie these two made together in 1932 with that fella Ernst Lubitsch, Trouble In Paradise isn’t exactly chopped liver either.

44) What’s the oddest thing a movie theater employee has ever said to you? Recently a friend and I were watching Challengers at a small theater in a nearby town. We happened to be the only customers for the first Saturday afternoon showing and were enjoying our private screening, but at some point I had to make a quick exit to the little boy’s room. As I left the auditorium and crossed the snack bar toward my goal, the man running the show—literally—looked up from where he was seated near the popcorn machine and asked sincerely, “You want me to pause the movie for you?” I hope he didn’t think me rude, but I had to laugh, especially when I imagine my friend sitting in the auditorium alone and suddenly watching the frame freeze, expecting the old-school melting frame we’d seen so many times in our hometown theater which, of course, this being a DCP, would never come. I thanked him for his concern but told him I’d be in and out very quickly. I sometimes think I’ve heard it all in my 64 years, and then…

45) Is there such a thing as an ideal running time for a movie? Is X too long? Is Y too short? I get the feeling people who are concerned about this issue just want everything to be a neat-and-tidy TV show (or a leisurely paced long-form one) and not let themselves surrender to the particular rhythms any one film might have. So of course I think it’s absurd to try to suggest there’s anything like an ideal running time. The Irishman (2019) is the perfect length at 209 minutes, and so is Central Park (1932) at 58 minutes. So I think the answer is: If a movie is really good, it is as long or short as it needs to be.

46) Favorite Roger Corman movie(s) On the day he died (yesterday), my favorite Roger Corman movies were The Premature Burial (1962), X- The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964)—that’s a hell of an account over two years, and those are only four of the 12 (!!!) movies he made during that short period. But tonight (the day after he died), I’m gonna watch The Wild Angels (1966) again, and maybe The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)  or Bloody Mama (1970) again after that, so anything could happen.