Thursday, August 31, 2006
Also from NYT: Joseph Stefano, scriptwriter of Psycho -- both the original, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Anthony Perkins, and the redundant remake -- and co-creator of TV's The Outer Limits, died last week at age 84.
But wait, there's more: Indiewire gets the scoop on what films will be showing this weekend at the 2006 Telluride Film Festival. Meanwhile, over at Slate: Bryan Curtis offers an amusing and insightful take on "our strange fascination with box-office numbers." And the ever-essential Green Cine Daily measures early response to Brian de Palma's The Black Dahlia at the Venice Film Festival.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
So how come the scene now lies on the cutting-room floor? Kaufman surmises that Coulter refused to sign a release that would allow its inclusion in the theatrical-release version of the doc because Franken makes her look so ridiculous during the exchange. And, I must admit, it's easy to buy that scenario, considering that Coulter is... well, as David Letterman warned us, an evil, crazy bitch. But let's get real here, folks: Why would Coulter start worrying about her image at this late date? Isn't she, after all, someone who has based her entire career on the notion that there's no such thing as bad publicity? Under normal circumstances, I would not pass by an opportunity to dis this harpy. But could it be that maybe, just maybe, Steve Roberts is the one who refused to sign a release? (Trust me: He comes off as a major jerk while cavalierly dismissing the late Sen. Paul Wellstone -- an idol of fellow Minnesotan Al Franklin -- as an "unimportant" politico.) Or maybe the Connecticut Forum folks decided they didn't want their paid-admission event being sampled by outsiders.
In any event, whoever caused the scene to be clipped is living in a fool's paradise. Why? Because ever since last march, when Al Franken: God Spoke began its tour through the festival circuit, publicists have sent DVD screeners of the film -- complete with the now-deleted scene -- to critics and journalists all across this great land of ours. (I've watched my copy twice since reviewing the film at SXSW.) Just how long do you think it will be before the excised footage makes its way to YouTube.com? Let's see: If it's Tuesday night now, maybe by Wednesday....?
FOLLOW UP: OK, so maybe Coulter really is the weenie here. All the more reason for someone to leak the missing footage to YouTube.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Michael Douglas brings his trademark clenched intensity to the lead role of Pete Garrison, a veteran Secret Service agent who’s still steamed because he wasn’t able to keep Ronald Reagan out of the line of fire back in 1981. Not surprisingly, he’s obsessed with being the best human shield he can be, so that no Commander in Chief will ever again bite the bullet on his watch. For all his dedication, however, Garrison isn’t exactly a paragon of professionalism – he’s having an affair with the very lovely First Lady (Kim Basinger), which strikes me as, at the very least, a bad career move. Worse, his inappropriate mixing of pleasure with business makes him an easy mark for bad guys who want to frame him as an attention-diverting fall guy during a hunt for would-be Presidential assassins. Bad news: Garrison is perceived as a prime suspect by the equally intense David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland, still radiating his 24 vibe), one of the Secret Service’s top investigators. Worse news: Breckinridge, formerly Garrison’s best buddy, has more than ample reason (or so he believes) to nail our beleaguered hero for something, anything, everything.
I’m going to go way out on a limb here and assume you won’t be surprised to learn that Garrison manages to avoid arrest, so that he can single-handedly set out to clear his name while, oh, I dunno, maybe a thousand or so cops, feds, Secret Service agents and National Guardsmen try to track him down. (OK, I’m exaggerating. A little.) The Sentinel – adapted by scriptwriter George Nolfi from a novel by Gerard Petievich – is a fairly formulaic hunter-becomes-hunted-becomes-hunter-again scenario, complete with high-speed pursuits, hairbreadth escapes and beat-the-clock showdowns. But suspense is sustained with undeniable skill, and the slick proficiency of the entire enterprise is mightily impressive. Credit the game efforts of a splendid cast – Eva Longoria, Martin Donovan and David Rasche figure prominently among the supporting players – and the confident direction of Clark Johnson (S.W.A.T.), an actor-turned-filmmaker who obviously understands that even a by-the-numbers project can add up to something special if you calculate smartly enough.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Off-stage, the sad-eyed singer-songwriter comes off as far more reserved, if not downright melancholy, as he candidly discusses his ambivalence about the music industry, and recalls an unhappy childhood spent neglected by distant parents. Without ever pushing too hard, director Boyer pointedly suggests that Sutherland's own mixed feelings about his famous father, Donald Sutherland, may have led him to view DeLuca as something of a kindred spirit. Indeed, Sutherland virtually admits as much during interview sequences shot in moody black-and-white.
Even so, as I noted in my original Variety review, the rockumentary is appreciably livelier when it is more colorful, literally as well as figuratively, while detailing the difficulties faced by any unknown band -- even one backed by a widely recognized film and TV star -- during its first international tour. I Trust You to Kill Me (also the title of the group's first CD) is consistently amusing, and occasionally hilarious, as it follows DeLuca and bandmates Ryan Carman (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and Greg Velasquez (percussion) through a series of demanding gigs in small clubs scattered throughout London, Dublin, Reykjavic and Berlin. A highlight is their performance of "Soul," by far the best cut on their debut release, which nearly blasts the paint off the stage in a Berlin basement club.
At every stop, Sutherland exploits his celebrity as star of the worldwide TV phenom 24, craftily granting timely interviews that will enable him to plug the band. And whenever that proves inadequate, he's not ashamed to simply patrol the streets outside a club and give away tickets to amazed passers-by who can't believe they're seeing who they're seeing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie -- and the music. So much so, in fact, that I bought the CD, and paid to see Rocco DeLuca and the Burden perform live here in Houston a few months ago. (That's me in the above photo with the band's rabbit roadie, who also appears in the documentary.) And now it looks like I'll be able to see I Trust You to Kill Me again. The movie will kick off its theatrical run Sept. 8 in New York, followed by bookings in Los Angeles (Sept. 15) and San Francisco (Sept. 29). After that, presumably, it will be opening at theaters and drive-ins everywhere. Until it reaches your neck of the woods, here's a trailer to whet your appetite.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
Wexler, a Democrat (and occasional Stephen Colbert guest) serving his fifth term as representative for Florida’s 19th District, largely comes across as principled but calculating, compassionate yet cautious. (A singular exception: In Episode 2, he boldly breaks with his party’s risk-averse leaders to support a detailed alternative to Republican-supported “Social Security reform.”) Not surprisingly, he prioritizes the interests of his constituents, sometimes – as in Episode 5, when he devotes his full attention to Hurricane Wilma’s assault on Florida – to the exasperation of staffers more concerned about Iraq and Plamegate. But even as Wexler grapples with complexities and compromises, he recedes to the background during long stretches of The Hill as director Meeropol renders the interactions of Wexler’s staffers as the stuff of a Washington, D.C.-based dramedy.
If you want to learn more, take a gander at my Variety review. Or, better still, make a special effort to peruse The Hill.
And then there's this to consider: Warren Oates, my favorite character actor of all time, was just three months short of his 54th birthday when he freakin' died!
Sheesh. Never mind bringing me a drink. Let me have the whole damn bottle, please.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Gee, maybe this also explains why Eight-Legged Freaks emptied out theaters quicker than someone yelling "Fire!"
As I say in my Variety review: This extraordinary cinema-verite epic is charged by alternating currents of profound sorrow, galvanizing outrage and defiant resolve as it vividly renders the worst natural disaster in US history as a perfect storm of catastrophic weather, human error, socioeconomic inequity and bureaucratic dysfunction.
Many heartrending images here -- the trashed homes, the widespread flooding, the rescues from rooftops, the discovery of human remains -- are painfully familiar after hundreds of hours of TV newscasts. But Lee takes pains to explain the stories behind the stories, to unearth revealing details under-reported in other accounts, and to identify individuals among the faceless masses of unfortunates. While doing so, he rarely imposes himself upon his material: He is heard only occasionally as an off-camera voice prompting dozens of interviewees. It's almost as though he felt humbled by the import of what he was covering, and felt compelled to temper his dynamism to serve his compelling story. (Which may explain, by the way, why it's a "Spike Lee Film," not a "Spike Lee Joint.")
Among the familiar figures giving testimony: New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, personable and passionate even when he seems slightly out of his depth (and very funny when he describes taking a shower aboard Air Force One); entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, who persuasively argues the federal government was slow to respond to New Orleans' plight because of the city's unimportant (i.e., mostly poor and black) citizenry; New Orleans-born musician Wynton Marsalis, who offers pithy history lessons about the city's racial and musical heritages; and actor Sean Penn, who volunteered for rescue missions in flooded neighborhoods, but concedes he waded through water up to his chest only after a local clergymen did so first.
(Also on hand: Kanye West, who admits that he fully expected reprisals after his impulsively impolite rant -- "George Bush doesn't care about black people!" -- during a prime-time NBC telecast dedicated to raising funds for Katrina survivors. Oddly enough, Lee neglects to mention that West's remarks were deleted by NBC when the live telecast was rerun in the West Coast time zone. In Houston, I remember rushing out to Best Buy immediately after the show to buy two West CDs, figuring -- wrongly, thank God -- that his albums would be banned from many outlets because of attacks from right-wing pressure groups.)
But the real "stars" of When the Levees Broke are the New Orleanians who witnessed, reported and/or endured the devastation. Radio talk show host (and former N.O. TV news superstar) Garland Robinette pointedly reminds viewers: "People think we got hit by a hurricane. But we got missed by a hurricane." (The flooding, he explains, resulted when water broke through under-financed and poorly maintained levees.) And Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, a Lower Ninth Ward resident, provides an intermittent running commentary -- like a one-woman Greek chorus -- that ranges from profanely funny to frankly terrified. (Like many Katrina survivors, she admits to suffering from a kind of post-traumatic disorder.)
As its full title indicates, When the Levees Broke is fairly evenly divided into four equally enthralling segments. (I can't wait to see the outtakes on the DVD.) Act I recounts events leading to the storm's arrival, emphasizing the seeming inability of President Bush (among others) to fully comprehend the potential for devastation of almost Biblical proportions. Viewed with 20/20 hindsight, FEMA director Mike Brown appears positively foolhardy while blithely expressing can-do optimism on the eve of Katrina's arrival.
Brown comes off even worse in Act II, as the documentary details the ineptitude and inadequacies of the emergency response by FEMA and other agencies. CNN newscaster Soledad O'Brien can barely contain her disbelief when she questions how Brown could have remained so unaware, for so long, while thousands of desperate New Orleanians sought shelter at the city's Superdome and Convention Center. (In an on-camera interview, O'Brien says of Brown, without a trace of irony: "He seemed to have no intelligence.") Other Bush Administration officials (and Bush himself) are depicted as shockingly indifferent (initially, at least) to the post-Katrina plight of a largely (but by no means entirely) African-American population.
Throughout Act III, When the Levees Broke focuses on the wide dispersal of New Orleanians left homeless in the wake of Katrina -- some are given one-way tickets to cities as far away as Utah -- and the heart-wrenching impact on those who return home to claim ruined homes and identify dead bodies. (Long-time Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard, who composed the documentary's evocative score, is among the returnees.) Some folks vow to remain in the city, and boldly defy real-estate developers who want to exploit the tragedy. Others, however, acknowledge that resettlement in other cities has made them all the more aware of the many failings in education, crime prevention and other social services that were endemic to New Orleans long before Katrina hit the city.
Act IV tentatively suggests a glimmer of hope for the future of New Orleans, even as many interviewees worry that the rebuilt city will be much smaller and conspicuously whiter. Notes of foreboding are sounded in interviews (some filmed as recently as two months ago) with experts who question whether the levee system is now, or ever can be, sufficient to protect the city. But the scrappy nature of surviving long-time residents is at once amusing and inspiring. In the documentary's most hilarious scene, a beer-swilling, blunt-talking Nawlins gal stands outside her FEMA trailer and proudly announces that, after long delays, she finally has indoor plumbing. Lee asks: "When do you think you'll get electricity?" Without missing a beat, she responds: "Whenever I decide to give somebody a blowjob, I guess."
By the way: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a New Orleans native. I should also add that if I have offended anyone with my remarks about the Bush Administration's response to the devastation of New Orleans -- well, as Edward R. Murrow once said in a completely different context, I'm not the least bit sorry.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
Before bad-ass rappers and black-hatted country boys began to strut their stuff in image-enhancing music videos, there was Lee Marvin, in Richard Brooks' aptly titled The Professionals (1966), playing Henry Fardan, a steely-eyed tactician who's so glacially cool that, throughout most of a long ride across the blazing Mexican desert, he keeps his shirt buttoned up to the neck.
And before Arnold Schwarzenegger cut a relentless path of destruction through Los Angeles in The Terminator, there was Lee Marvin, offering the definitive portrait of an obsessed man of violence who will let nothing -- not even, apparently, his own mortality -- impede his implacable force of vengeful will in John Boorman's classic Point Blank (1967).
Mortality finally caught up with Lee Marvin 19 years ago this month when he died at age 63. But he remains immortal on film and videocassette -- and in cable-TV retrospectives like the Sunday marathon on Turner Classic Movies -- where he can be seen time and again as a ferocious force of nature barely contained, ever ready to erupt. Lean and leathery, he was an actor who could threaten with a beaming smile, who could deliver a death sentence with a casual shrug.
In The Killers (1964), he gave one of his greatest performances as Charlie Strom, a soft-spoken hit man who brutally interrogates a sultry femme fatale (Angie Dickinson) with the insinuating murmur of a considerate lover. Late in the film, after Marvin realizes he's been betrayed by Dickinson and (no kidding) Ronald Reagan, he holds the treacherous pair at gunpoint. Dickinson frantically begins to explain why Marvin was set up, why she helped another hit man lie in wait for him. But Marvin, fatally wounded, cuts her short. With the weary impatience of someone who has lived too long and killed too often, he shakes his head slightly and says: ''Lady, I just haven't got the time.''
Blam! Blam! End of conversation.
Marvin began his film career as a kind of general-purpose psychopath, embodying an evil so mindless and malevolent that his defeat or demise would guarantee audience cheers. M Squad, one of the most violent shows in the history of TV, nudged him slightly toward more heroic roles -- though, truth to tell, it was difficult to see much difference between his mayhem as a movie villain and his crimefighting as a prime-time cop. But it was not until his Oscar-winning comic turn in Cat Ballou (1965) that Marvin was embraced as a leading man by moviegoers. Or, to be more precise, he was warily accepted, much the same way you might accept as a house pet a mountain lion that supposedly has been domesticated.
He was lots of fun as a drunken gunfighter (and the drunk's deadlier brother) in Cat Ballou, particularly when he stumbled into the funeral for the very man he was hired to protect. (Seeing a row of lit candles, he smiled a goofy grin and proceeded to sing: ''Happy birthday to you . . .'') But then the time came for the comical drunk to sober up and strap on his six guns. When he did, nobody was laughing.
After he became a star, alas, Marvin occasionally was guilty of lazy, obviously alcohol-influenced performances. In such turkeys as The Klansman (1975), with Richard Burton (and, no kidding, O.J. Simpson), and Avalanche Express (1979), with Robert Shaw, he behaved on screen very much like someone who felt rudely interrupted from a more important off-screen task (i.e., drinking his co-stars under a table). In later years, however, Marvin seemed to snap out of his self-indulgent slump, with performances ranging from the no-frills professionalism of his Royal Canadian Mountie in Death Hunt (1981) to the elegant bravado of his vaguely sinister businessman in Gorky Park (1983). In Death Hunt, Marvin has a great moment where he tries to talk fugitive Charles Bronson into surrendering -- while Bronson holds a shotgun just inches away from Marvin's starkly chiseled face. Marvin, not surprisingly, manages to maintain his cool during the tense situation.
But if he's cool in Death Hunt, he's practically sub-zero in Gorky Park, suave and self-assured in the face of what he views as the clumsy investigative efforts of a Moscow police detective (William Hurt). After completing the movie, Marvin complained to an interviewer (well, OK, he bitched to me) about a scene where Hurt keeps raising his voice during their conversation about a murder case. Marvin thought Hurt was trying to upstage him. But even if he was, the scene works even better that way: There's Hurt, struggling to come on macho and masterful even as he knows he's on thin ice; and there's Marvin, who's too contemptuously smug to feel the need to raise his voice.
Marvin's authoritative underplaying served him well in a variety of heroic parts -- especially as the commanding officers in The Dirty Dozen (1967), Robert Aldrich's revisionist yet rousing World War II adventure, and The Big Red One (1979), Samuel Fuller's autobiographical drama of wartime service in Europe. (Marvin, an ex-Marine, could be quite persuasive as a military man.) At his frequent best, he could convey a moral dimension without seeming preachy, and an impatience with stupidity without being short-tempered. In The Professionals, Ralph Bellamy -- who hires Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Stride for a dangerous rescue mission -- asks if Marvin has "any objections to working with a Negro'' (Strode). Marvin waits a few seconds before speaking, but his expression is easy to read: ''What the hell kind of damn fool question is that?'' When Marvin finally does speak, he pointedly ignores Bellamy's query -- there are more important matters to discuss.
Yes indeed, Lee Marvin could be tough. (In Point Blank, he made movie history of sorts by being the first star to -- ouch! -- slug another man in the groin.) Yet he could also be affectingly poignant as the broken-down baseball player in Ship of Fools (1965). And he was nothing less than brilliant as Hickey, Eugene O'Neill's haunted and haunting traveling salesman, in John Frankenheimer's under-rated film version of The Iceman Cometh (1973). At the very end of Iceman, Hickey must drop the veneer of loquacious charisma, must end his self-deluding efforts to dispel the pipedreams of his cronies, to unleash a volcanic rage that horrifies even Hickey himself. Marvin roars the words -- ''You know what you can do with your pipedreams now, you damned bitch!" -- then recoils in pain, despair, self-disgust. For once, the self-possessed control freak has let down his guard, and the demons have been set loose. And it suits O'Neill's drama perfectly. Or, as critic Stanley Kauffmann put it: ''Marvin was born to play Hickey.''
Maybe. Or maybe, more likely, Lee Marvin was born to just give everyone, himself included, a damn good time at the movies. ''I would like to entertain an audience,'' he told me during a 1981 interview. ''I've done the heavy films, the truthful ones. And once in a while, they get too depressing for an audience.''
(An ironic sidebar: During our conversation, I kidded him about "shooting President Reagan" back in 1964's The Killing. "Yeah," responded with a wolfish grin, "but he wasn't President yet when I shot him." The very next day, John Hinckley tried to gatecrash into history by taking aim at the Commander in Chief.)
For all his independence, on screen and off, Marvin confessed to a nostalgia for the old, autocratic days of Hollywood, when only moguls in charge of studios were to be taken seriously.
''It took a lot of thinking away from you,'' Marvin said. ''You didn't have to twist and turn at night, wondering what line you were going to say the next day. Because they'd already written it. You just came to work, kept your mouth shut, got your job done and went home -- with a check.''
There was a comforting simplicity in all that, Marvin said. The sort of simplicity a true professional could appreciate.
Working from a brazenly absurd yet tediously unamusing script by Eric Forsberg, fraternal auteurs identified only as The Mallachi Brothers offer an unappetizing smorgasbord of stiff performances, klutzy continuity, transparently fake gore and slapdash special effects. Worse, the vidpic is so numbingly dull throughout its first two-thirds that most viewers won’t even bother to hit the pause button during refrigerator raids or bathroom breaks.
The plot involves an unfortunate Mexican beauty (Ryanne Ruiz) who’s been smacked with a Mayan curse that causes her to chronically upchuck snakes. Her attentive husband (Alby Castro) smuggles her across the border into Texas, where they stowaway aboard a train bound for Los Angeles (where, apparently, it’s much easier to find a top-notch Mayan curse dispeller). During the journey, however, the regurgitated snakes just keep getting bigger and bigger, hungrier and hungrier, much to the increasing discomfort of the other passengers. Nothing good comes of this.
In the event you want to know more, my Variety review is available here. As for myself, I can't help wondering whether the Minutemen might try to use SOAT for fundraiser screenings. I mean, gee whiz, what better tool could they use to demonstrate the dangers of an unprotected U.S.-Mexico border?
Samuel L. Jackson gets to do those honors in SOAP. And judging from the way his outburst is less-than-seamlessly edited into the action, it’s easy to believe the rumors that this scene – along with the above-mentioned naughty bits, and many of the more graphically violent snake attacks – were after-the-fact additions aimed at upping the ante from PG-13 to R. But so what? The rough edges -- much like the predictable plotting, the shameless stereotypes and the deliberately cheesy special effects – are part of the down-and-dirty, blast-from-the-past fun.
Jackson blowtorches his way through the film with his trademark aplomb as Special Agent Flynn, an FBI operative charged with protecting a murder witness (Nathan Phillips) from the paid assassins of a sadistic crimelord during a Honolulu-to-Los Angeles redeye flight. Unfortunately, the crimelord has his minions slip into the baggage hold and plant – well, shoot, go back and look at the title, OK? Besides, you don’t need no stinkin’ plot synopsis: Writers John Heffernan and David Loucka haven’t written a script, they’ve merely provided bulletpoints, enabling director David Ellis to methodically tick items off a list of clichés. The flight crew includes a stewardess (Julianna Margulies) who’s taking her “last flight” before early retirement? Check. A mother with a tiny baby is threatened (but, of course, not killed) by a snake? Ditto. Two small children are endangered by a humongous cobra? Got it. An untrained civilian must take control of the cockpit when the pilots are incapacitated? Done.
Rather than try to transcend his pulpy material, or gussy it up with flash and filigree, Ellis prefers to do it Old School style: He puts the pedal to the metal and keeps his movie moving faster than the speed of thought. Is Snakes on a Plane laughable? Quite often. (To indicate a snake’s p.o.v., the director employs what David Letterman might call a Reptile-Cam approach: He wraps the lens in what appears to be greenish cellophane.) Is it entertaining? More than enough to qualify as a guilty pleasure that greatly amuses by living down to its hype.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Now I know what you’re thinking: An intro such as that usually is prelude to a respectful obituary. But take heart: A.C. Lyles is alive and well and, no kidding, serving as technical adviser for producer David Milcher’s HBO series Deadwood. But wait, there’s more: After toiling for seven decades at Paramount, the eternally youthful Lyles currently is preparing an oral history of the studio. You can read all about it in Anne Thompson’s fascinating Risky Business column this week. And in the off-chance that Mr. Lyles himself might be reading this: I can think of at least one middle-aged blogger who’d gladly accept a gig as research assistant and/or wordsmith-for-hire on your project.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
It’s important to remember that, throughout his life, Hitchcock never tired of manipulating our ambivalent responses to violent death. In doing so, he shamelessly pandered to our baser instincts, implicating us in the machinations of his characters by exploiting our voyeuristic impulses. Thanks to him, we really want James Stewart to be right when thinks he witnessed a murder in Rear Window (1954). We really want Farley Granger’s slatternly estranged wife to get what’s coming to her in Strangers on a Train (1951). And we really, really want Anthony Perkins to dispose of that car with the bloody corpse inside the trunk in the swamp behind the Bates Motel in Psycho (1960).
As early as Blackmail (1929), his first talking picture, Hitchcock was indulging in devious sleight-of-hand to make moviegoers share the guilty pleasure – and the not-so-pleasurable guilt – of being, in essence, accomplices to crime. A reckless young woman abandons her policeman boyfriend for a night on the town with a seductive artist. The artist lures her into his apartment – truth to tell, he doesn’t have to do much to convince her – and tries to rape her. She responds by stabbing him to death, then taking flight. The next morning, however, she’s so conscience-stricken that, at the breakfast table, she jumps at each mention of cutlery. Hitchcock intensifies the tension by playing tricks with the soundtrack, so that we, like the young woman, recognize only one word -- knife – amid an otherwise barely audible murmur.
A few years later, in Sabotage (1936), Hitchcock mercilessly sustained a sequence of almost unbearable suspense by following a little boy aboard a bus as he unwittingly transports a package containing a bomb. Just when we’re almost ready to assume that, hey, Hitch really had us going there for a few minutes – ka-boom! The bomb explodes, the boy is killed – and his older sister (Sylvia Sidney) is sufficiently motivated to stick a large knife into the saboteur (Oscar Homolka) who just happens to be her husband.
But rest assured: She doesn’t do it nearly fast enough to satiate the audience’s bloodlust.
Do we blame Hitchcock for bringing out the worst in us? Quite the contrary: We’re greatly amused, and grateful, for being so effectively worked over. And yet, when you remember the haughtily droll host who quipped his way through countless interviews, promotional shorts and wrap-around segments for his long-running TV series, you may find yourself reading something like contempt in his insolent smirk. Something like the regard of a seasoned prostitute for her most eager customers.
Still, diehard Hitchcockians (and I count myself among that number) will want to set aside several hours this weekend to watch the Encore Mystery cable network during its ongoing marathon of Hitchcock classics, timed to celebrate the master’s Aug. 13, 1899 birth date. The lineup runs the gamut from his early British career (The Lady Vanishes) to his final Hollywood production (the criminally under-rated Family Plot), and includes masterworks as Psycho, Vertigo, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt — and, best of all, my all-time Hitchcock fave, Notorious. Enjoy.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
The immediate reason for these musings: Last spring, I saw Wim Wenders’ Don't Come Knocking at the Greenway 3 in my home base of Houston. After the first five or so minutes, I turned to my companion and whispered: “We’re in good hands.” She nodded in agreement. And you know what? The movie only got better after that. Sam Shepard (who also wrote the script) is excellent in the lead role of Howard Spence, an aging Western movie star who goes AWOL from his latest comeback vehicle. Driven by discontent (and, possibly, a vague desire to rediscover himself), he visits his long-estranged mother (Eva Marie Saint, who’s even more wonderful here than she was in Superman Returns) in Elko, Nevada. She surprises him with news of a child he fathered years earlier during a location shoot in Butte, Montana. So heads back to “the scene of the crime,” to seek reconciliation with a former lover (Jessica Lange, Shepard's off-screen longtime companion) and the adult son (Gabriel Mann) he has never known.
I know: Sounds corny and predictable. But it isn’t. The movie is by turns funny and affecting, wistful and wrenching, my favorite so far in 2006. The actors -- including Tim Roth, Fairuza Balk and the radiant Sarah Polley – are excellent. (Look for Oscar-winner George Kennedy in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge cameo as a beleaguered film director.) And the cinematography by Franz Lusting is nothing short of extraordinary: The gaudy casinos of Elko and the dreary cityscapes of Butte look almost magical.
Unfortunately, Don’t Come Knocking -- Shepard's second collaboration with Wenders, after the extraordinary Paris, Texas (1984) -- flopped resoundingly during its fleeting theatrical release. So badly, in fact, that it really came as no surprise when Wenders – who hasn’t made such an accessible film since the classic Wings of Desire (1987) – recently announced that he was leaving the United States and moving back to his native Germany. But now Don’t Come Knocking has a second chance to reach receptive audiences, thanks to the modern miracle of DVD. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry – don’t let this horseman pass you by.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
My father was born in County Sligo, Ireland. When he was very young, his father felt compelled to leave his family and move to the United States, lest he run afoul of authorities because of his support for the IRA (an organization my father supported a great deal more than he probably should have). When the family farm went bust, my father decided – at age 16 – to start working aboard merchant ships. He served in the British Merchant Marine during WWII, and was aboard a convoy ship carrying troops and supplies on D-Day – a fact he never shared with me until long after the release of Saving Private Ryan. Oddly enough, he was much more willing to talk about why he wound up serving in the Korean War after moving to the United States: He got drunk one night, wrapped a car (not his own) around a tree, and was told by a judge that he would serve hard time unless he immediately enlisted. (While in the Army, he often told me, he witnessed the early integration of the Armed Services – and smoked an inordinate amount of marijuana.)
My father was a merchant seaman – and a proud member of the National Maritime Union – for more than 30 years. He remained an unrepentant Old School Leftie throughout his entire life – during the Vietnam War, he offered to buy me a plane ticket to Canada if I were drafted – and he always took great delight in knowing that his eldest child somehow managed to sustain the scam of getting paid to go to the movies. As for his own cinematic preferences: He thought David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago was the greatest movie ever made. After he fell in love with my stepmother-to-be, and she moved back to Liverpool during the latter 1960s because she found it impossible to endure the sultry summers of my native New Orleans, he spent an inordinate amount of time moping around the house while listening to the ultra-schmaltzy “Laura’s Theme” on the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. Thank God they got back together; he ultimately opted to live, and eventually die, in Liverpool. Even Maurice Jarre, composer of the Oscar-winning Zhivago score, sympathized with me when I told him years later how much his music had begun to grate on me during my dad’s deep blue funk.
My father also once told me that he really, really enjoyed William Wyler’s The Collector (1965) “because the guy got away with it in the end.” (I’m not sure I want to know why this pleased him so much, but I must agree: Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar have never been better.) And I think he was never prouder of me than when I was able to take him to a supper club performance of his favorite comic, Red Skelton, which I reviewed at The Blue Room in New Orleans.
But my fondest movie memory that I associate with my father involves, of all things, Last Tango in Paris. As we left the theater after seeing Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial 1973 drama, he turned to me and said, only half-jokingly: “Joseph, a lot of women who see this movie tonight with their husbands – they’re gonna go home and hide the butter.”
My father was a rebel in ways too numerous to mention, and I would like to think I inherited some of his feisty spirit. During the late 1950s and early ’60, he often would bring some of his shipmates home for family meals at our Ninth Ward home in New Orleans. (Don’t worry – the house survived Katrina.) You must understand that many of these shipmates were Panamanian, and were, well, shall we say darker-complexioned than many of our neighbors. It’s not that my father was unaware of what was and wasn’t considered socially acceptable behavior during the Bad Old Days of segregation. Quite the contrary: He knew he was pissing off some folks, and he didn’t care. (Neither did my dear departed mom, God bless her.) Some people talk the talk. My father walked the walk. As Hamlet said: He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.