Thursday, May 31, 2007

R.I.P.: Jean-Claude Brialy (1933-2007)

From the AP, by way of GreenCine Daily: "French actor Jean-Claude Brialy, an emblematic figure of the New Wave film movement, has died. He was 74.

"Brialy died in his Paris home Wednesday following a long battle with cancer, family friend Michel del Burgo said.

"He was a familiar face in films by legendary French directors including Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who spearheaded the avant-garde New Wave movement in the late 1950s.

"French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Brialy 'incarnated they New Wave and was a presence in a half century of cinema, filling nearly 200 films with his generosity, his humor, his finesse and his light spirit.'"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

'Transformers' swag

Actually, this is pretty dang neat, considering that I was too old to play with the original toys when they first came out. Thank you, Paramount/DreamWorks. Now if only you'd start work on a ThunderCats movie...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007

Man clad in underwear pins leopard

Sometimes, life seems to imitate art. And, sometimes, that art seems to be a Monty Python sketch. Money quote: "This kind of thing doesn't happen every day." No kidding.

R.I.P.: Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007)

If you're not old enough to remember Charles Nelson Reilly as an unpredictably puckish presence on game shows, variety hours and Johnny Carson's couch during the 1970s, you might not understand why so many folks are genuinely sad today after hearing about his death. (On the other hand, you might recognize his voice as that of The Dirty Bubble for SpongeBob SquarePants.) And even if you are old enough -- well, you still might not know that he studied acting alongside Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook, earned Tony Award nominations (and actually won a glittering prize) as a stage actor and director, and starred in an extremely funny and extraordinarily candid one-man show recorded in the 2006 performance film The Life of Reilly.

As I noted in my Variety review of the latter: "There's a suggestion of still-simmering anger when he recalls a brutal brush-off by an NBC talent scout in the early 1950s: 'They don't let queers on television.' Ultimately, however, Life of Reilly is vivid proof that living well, and laughing heartily, can be the best revenge." So maybe, just maybe, someone will finally give this movie -- so well-received on the festival circuit last year -- some theatrical and homevideo exposure?

Friday, May 25, 2007

John Wayne: For better or worse, an American icon

A writer for the London Times -- quoting, among others, yours truly -- takes a slightly more critical view of The Duke.

Here's looking at you, Duke!

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle and Jake Coyle of The Associated Press offer respectful assessments of The Duke on the weekend of the John Wayne Centennial.

Does this mean that 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' sequel is finally, totally a definite no-go?

Paul Newman says he's too old to act anymore. Damn.

Another great filmmaker looks at post-Katrina N.O.

First, there was Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. Now Jonathan Demme (with a little help from Tavis Smiley, pictured above with Demme) examines the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in my home town.

BTW: Be on the lookout for another first-rate documentary, Kamp Katrina, currently on the film festival circuit.

Still smokin'

Here is a link to a recent KHOU-TV story about the debate over rating movies for their nicotine content. Naturally, I'm linking it because it includes an interview with moi. Note the strategic placement of my book over my shoulder....

And speaking of shameless plugs for myself, here's a link to one of my recent appearances as a talking head for MSNBC.

Al Gore, Superstar

From the L.A. Times: "Like an actor polished by constant interviews on a marathon movie junket, vice president turned Hollywood darling Al Gore has mastered the art of (not) answering the most obvious question: Is he running for president in 2008? 'I'm not trying to be coy or glib in any way,' he says coyly during an interview this week in Beverly Hills. 'I have no plans or intentions or expectations of running.'"

If he does throw his hat into the ring, however, Gore likely will attract strong support among movie industry insiders. At least, that's the prediction of longtime Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman.

"They gave the guy an Oscar, after all," Bragman told the L.A. Times, referring to the Best Documentary award given to An Inconvenient Truth. "He's not only adored in Hollywood as a politician but also as a member of the community, as a filmmaker. He can marshal support from all the power players."

A personal note: I briefly chatted with Al Gore last April at the Nashville Film Festival. And, of course, I asked him the really important question: "When do you start work on An Inconvenient Truth II?" He laughed, and replied: "Well, give me time. It took me nearly 30 years to get the first one made!"

UPDATE: Well, maybe it won't take that long for a sequel after all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What's the rumpus?

Over at Hollywood Elsewhere, a minor ruckus has arisen: Some boneheads have dared to question the greatness of Miller's Crossing. Rather than bother to engage the rabble in debate, I'll simply direct one and all to my original review of this masterwork.

Great big green moneymaking machine

Nikki Finke: Looks like it'll be yet another opening weekend for the record books.

Friday, May 18, 2007

100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers

Eat your heart out, American Film Institute! Here's a new countdown that's actually good for a few laughs. Several laughs, actually.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

At long last: 'The Wendell Baker Story'

Two years after I reviewed this engagingly offbeat comedy-drama for Variety at SXSW, The Wendell Baker Story opens Friday in limited release. Go. Enjoy. And savor how funny the Wilson brothers -- Luke, Owen and Andrew -- can be when they're channeling the '70s.

To repeat a Q&A from SXSW '05:

Q: The Wendell Baker Story certainly is family affair. Luke, you wrote it and play the title role, and you co-directed it with your brother Andrew. And you cast your brother Owen as the villain of the piece.

LUKE: Well, he always has me playing nut cases in things he’s written. Or guys who have to go into the hospital for exhaustion. But, really, I just thought Owen could do a good, funny job with that guy. It was one of those characters that could have been a little too broad. But the way Owen did it, it turned out pretty well.

OWEN: [Laughs] Actually, I was surprised by the way the movie turned out. Because the way it was pitched to me was, I was kind of the hero of the movie. And I was a little disappointed, because I didn’t feel I really had the audience on my side.

Q: Luke and Andrew, how did you divide the directing duties?

LUKE: We never really sat down and talked about it. I always thought, well, I like talking to actors, and Andrew's got a good visual sense.

ANDREW: At first, Luke was going to direct it by himself. But the idea of him being in almost every scene and then having to try to direct it – well, it seemed a little bit daunting, and he might need some help… Over time, he just realized it was maybe best to kind of keep it within the family.

OWEN: Actually, I sort of felt like both Luke and Andrew were directing me. Although Andrew was probably talking to me more about my character, I noticed that Luke would be sort of whispering stuff to him. Like, criticism.Q: Owen, how would you compare Andrew and Luke as directors?

OWEN: Andrew seems like he’s more easygoing, whereas Luke can be sort of tightly wound. But Andrew can snap. At one point, I think because of the pressure of making the movie, he did kind of lose it a little bit. It was scary.

LUKE: [Laughs] Yeah, Harry Dean Stanton was looking at Andrew sleeping while we were coming down here on the plane yesterday. And he said, “You know, if he wasn’t so physically powerful, I’d kick his ass.”

Q: Stanton, Kris Kristofferson and Seymour Cassel play residents of the retirement home where Wendell Baker lands a job when he’s released from prison.

ANDREW: It was kind of a nice connection to the movies we liked from the 1970s -- people like Seymour and Harry Dean and Kristofferson were in a lot of those movies that we admire. It was incredible to work with those guys and get to see Harry Dean and Kris Kristofferson in a scene together when they have been in scenes together in some of my favorite movies of all time.

Q: Wendell Baker starts out as a con man, selling fake I.D. cards to illegal aliens. But even when he tries to go straight, he gets into trouble because Neil King, the owner of the retirement home, is scamming money from the old folks -- and trying to implicate Wendell.

LUKE: I always wrote the part of Neil King for Owen without ever really telling him until late in the game. I wrote it simply, because I knew Owen could take it and make it more. And he did just that -- made it a lot more.

OWEN: Actually, I sort of modeled Neil after the way Andrew was on the set.

Q: When you’re shooting a movie in your home state of Texas – specifically, Austin – do you sense a different vibe than you do in Hollywood?

LUKE: One of the big differences you find when you make a movie down here is, you have really tight-knit crews. People don’t seem to be just punching the clock and going through the motions. I mean, it seems like everybody on the crew actually bothers to read the script ahead of time. That’s kind of unusual. And it’s a smaller community, so they all seem to know each other.

OWEN: You always see those T-shirts that say “Keep Austin Weird.” And I think there really is a kind of better appreciation here for eccentric characters. Like the very eccentric characters in this movie.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

John Waters - No Smoking

John Waters doesn't just want to have smoking in movies -- he wants smoking during movies as well.

More me on TV? Smokin'!

Well, I must have done something -- or said something -- right. The folks at MSNBC want me to come back for two interview segments tomorrow (Sunday). I'll be chatting again with the lovely and talented Alex Witt about the ruckus over rating movies for their nicotine content during the half-hour blocks starting at 8:30 and 10 am CDT. (That's 9:30 and 11 am EDT.) Please tune in, and tell all of your friends to tune in, so the network will get an enormous ratings spike and ask me to come back. I need all the opportunities I can get to promote my book and boost sales. Remember: I have a 20-year-old son, and I'm paying for his auto insurance.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More ruthless self-promotion: Me on TV

Start cranking up those VCRs: I'll be on MSNBC -- the world's greatest all-news TV network -- at 10 and 11:20 am EDT (9 and 10:20 am CDT) Saturday, and 9:30 am EDT (8:30 am CDT) Sunday, to talk about the MPAA's recent decision to include cigarette smoking among the unpleasant activities that can affect a movie's rating. I'll also try to steer the conversation toward a cheap plug for my book, even though the MSNBC hosts usually are too clever to let me get away with that sort of thing. (Hey, it's like my son says: You dribble and you shoot, and you hope you score.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Just in time for 'Evan Almighty'

Which God or Goddess are you like? Believe it or not, I'm a budding Buddha. Whoa, dude!

Mighty funny multi-hyphenate

USA Today raves: "It's Judd Apatow's world. We just laugh at it." And mind you: I'm not linking this story just because they quote my Variety review of Apatow's Knocked Up. Well, OK, that's not the only reason.

BTW: Read until the very end of the piece, and you'll see what Apatow had to do with one of the funniest moments during this year's Oscarcast.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The glamorous life of a semi-famous film critic/blogger

Today I am dusting, sweeping and otherwise neatening up my home office, in the hope of (a) bringing order out of chaos, so I can better organize an ongoing research project, and (b) allowing the installer(s) easier access to my computer next week when I switch high-speed Internet service providers. I am disgustingly dirty and sweaty – and, worse, covered with dust. (I had to wash my hands before taking a break to type this.) Indeed, I’m finding huge clumps of dust here, there and everywhere. I fear that, if I did a DNA examination of some clumps, I’d find traces of dearly departed pet cats who joined the Choir Invisible years ago. I am posting this info only so that, if I suddenly am stricken with an inexplicable malady, and I fall into a coma, someone can inform Dr. House and his team where I may have contracted something.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

MILF madness

Brian Alexander of MSNBC rightly praises the appeal of "older" movie actresses -- i.e., hotties over 40 -- in an article with this money quote from Lois Joy Johnson, fashion and beauty director for More magazine: “There is a big secret that women are discovering after 50, which is that you can become more irresistible than ever without even trying." (Which may explain why I thumb through More with the same interest I once brought to ogling Playboy.)

Alexander also notes -- as I did several weeks ago -- that Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly probably weren't kidding when they admitted to lusting in their hearts (and other vital organs) for sexy sixtysomething Helen Mirren during this year's Oscarcast. Hey, they're only human. Who can blame them?

On the other hand: It was a bit jarring to see Alexander refer to Halle Berry as an "older woman." I mean, geez, if she is "older," what does that make me? Antediluvian?

All Wayne, all the time

And the hits just keep on coming: Turner Classic Movies will celebrate the John Wayne Centennial by showing no fewer than 35 of his best movies May 21-26.

Meanwhile, over at Box Office Mojo, Scott Holleran reports from Newport Beach on a major Wayne retrospective and tribute. The money quote: "Seeing the Duke on the big screen—mostly at Edwards Cinemas in Newport Beach's Fashion Island—is an experience: during opening credits, the theater goes silent as a big, rousing score comes through the speakers and, when the movie begins, there's a palpable sense of shared excitement for what's coming; the audience reacts, laughs, and thoroughly enjoys the show. An unmistakable difference between today's audiences and a John Wayne audience: reverence for the motion picture. They're there to see the movie—the action, the story, the hero—not to be blown away by a giant video game."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

R.I.P.: Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr. (1923-2007)

He wasn't just an astronaut in real life -- he also played one on television. (Better still, he also appeared as himself in some first-rate documentaries -- most notably, For All Mankind.) When it came to filming The Right Stuff, of course, he was played by Lance Henriksen. But when it came to actually possessing that rare quality indelibly labeled in Tom Wolfe's non-fiction best-seller, Wally Schirra was the real thing, one truly righteous dude.

Even the French love Le Duke

And that's why, if you're lucky enough to be attending the Cannes Film Festival later this month, you'll have a chance to see special "John Wayne Centenary" tribute screenings of Hondo -- projected in its original 3-D format! -- and Rio Bravo. That's prettty tres magnifique, pilgrims.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

R.I.P.: Dabbs Greer (1917-2007)

Once again, alas, it appears that the grim reapings of celebrities always come in threes. You might not be familiar with the name Dabbs Greer, but trust me: If you've seen more than a dozen movies in your life, you would recognize his face. And if you're a genuine movie buff and/or chronic TV viewer, you doubtless recall many of the fine performances given by this reliable character actor during his astonishingly prolific career. His last film credit of note was 1999's The Green Mile, in which he movingly portrayed a many-years-later version of the lead character played as younger man by Tom Hanks. But he continued to appear in sitcoms and TV dramas until 2003, when he guested on The Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire. Think about it: The guy worked with everyone from Humphrey Bogart -- Greer was an uncredited bit player in 1952's Deadline USA -- to Hilary Duff. Cowabunga.

R.I.P.: Gordon Scott (1927-2007)

This just in from New Orleans-based pop culture maven John Guidry, my reliable source for all things related to Lord Greystoke: Gordon Scott, arguably the best movie Tarzan this side of Johnny Weissmuller, has gone to the great jungle treehouse in the sky. In his honor, take another look at Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (with a pre-007 Sean Connery in a villainous role). And read this unexpectedly affecting story about Scott's post-Tarzan life.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

R.I.P.: Tom Poston (1921-2007)

Throughout a stage, screen and TV career than spanned six decades, Tom Poston delighted millions with his self-effacing buffoonery. In the early ‘60s, producer-director William Castle – of all people! – attempted to elevate the affable comic actor to the rarefied realm of movie stardom by casting him as the lead in two black-and-white B-movies I fondly remember from the Saturday matinees of my misspent youth: Zotz! (1962), an amusing fantasy about a professor who obtains a magical coin capable of allowing its owner the ability to freeze time -- I think I still have a plastic replica of that coin, a trinket handed out to ticketbuyers at the Pitt Theatre in New Orleans one long-ago afternoon -- and The Old Dark House (1963), a tongue-in-cheeky remake of the 1932 James Whale comedy-thriller that would later kinda-sorta inspire The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Both films fizzled at the box-office, however. So, gee whiz, Poston had to content himself with being a splendidly adept, steadily employed and widely beloved supporting player in a variety of venues for the rest of his days. He made his mark, and he will be missed.