Thursday, December 27, 2007

Summer '08: Clashes for cash?

John Horn of the L.A. Times already is looking ahead to handicap the Summer '08 race for box-office supremacy. And to mix our sporting metaphors: He sees some heavyweight match-ups on at least six weekends.

National Film Registry taps 25

The good news: John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, Irving Rapper's Now Voyager, Peter Yates' Bullitt, Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men, Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future, Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel and Jules Dassin's Naked City are among the 25 new titles added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

The bad news: "Even as Americans fill the movie theaters to see the latest releases, few are aware that up to half the films produced in this country before 1950 — and as much as 90 percent of those made before 1920 — are lost forever," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in announcing the selections.

Celebrating the Bette Davis centennial

From the Associated Press: "A face that will tease you, and please you and perhaps unease you is coming to the post office next year..."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kiss and tell

Pity poor Lindsay Lohan. In return for a reportedly hefty payment, one of her ex-lovers has revealed to a London tabloid many of the juicy details about their sex life. Extreme sports enthusiast and el supremo skank Riley Giles refers to Lindsay as a "nymphomaniac," a term customarily used by losers when they get kicked to the curb by women who enjoy sex as much as they do, and claims: "She’s wild in bed. We’d have sex a couple of times in the day and then go to it through the night ... We once did it four times in a row straight. That was crazy. Lindsay was insatiable. She’d demand sex again and again. We’d go at it for hours. She’d have worn out most guys.”

So let me see if I have this straight: According to Mr. Stud Muffin here, any woman who wants to have sex six times during the course of a single day is a "nymphomaniac." And because he can, at age 24, rise to this sort of challenge, that makes him some sort of fantastically resilient cocksman. That's about the gist of it, Riley?

Geez, I'm glad this guy never met some of the women I knew when I was back in college. He might have had to give his interview from a hospital bed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another art house bites the dust

Houston's Greenway Theatre, which has offered alternative film fare for more than a generation, and once served as the annual site for WorldFest Houston, is slated to close on New Year's Eve. The three-screen multiplex is one of two art houses operated in the city by Landmark Theatres. The other, the River Oaks 3, also is on the endangered list, despite ongoing efforts by local preservationists. It is my coolly considered and entirely objective decision that this really, really sucks.

And yet...

I have to admit: Every year I'm given a free-admission pass to the theater, but I can't remember the last time I actually saw a movie there. The Greenway Theatre, I fear, is one of those local landmarks that can all too easily slip off your radar. You know the sort of places I'm talking about: You feel like they've always been around. And you take them for granted because you think they always will be around. But then you wake up one morning -- in this case, Christmas Day, for cryin' out loud! -- and you learn that, pretty soon, yet another one will be gone, baby, gone.

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 10

Let joy reign supreme! And Merry Christmas to one and all!

Chronicling movies

Eric Harrison of The Houston Chronicle gets the story behind the story of The Great Debaters, which I review here. But wait, there's more: Eric also interviews artist-filmmaker (and former University of Houston student) Julian Schnabel, director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Monday, December 24, 2007

R.I.P. Michael Kidd: 1915-2007

It happens almost every year, alas: A major showbiz figure (or two, or three) will die during the final days of December, long after most newspapers and magazines have printed (or pre-printed) year-end wrap ups, and the bad news about great talent(s) is insufficiently noted. All the more reason to make the effort to take the time and honor Broadway and Hollywood choreographer Michael Kidd, the man who tuned "Lonesome Polecats" into lithe terpsichoreans. As the Associated Press notes:

"To moviegoers, Kidd was best known for the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in which a bunch of earthy backwoodsmen (some of them really stage dancers) prance exuberantly with their prospective brides.

"He also directed dances for Danny Kaye in Knock on Wood, took Fred Astaire out of his top hat to play a private eye in a Mickey Spillane spoof in The Band Wagon, and taught Marlon Brando how to hoof for Guys and Dolls."

In addition to directing for stage and television, Kidd worked sporadically as an actor -- most memorably, in Michael Ritchie's 1975 cult-fave Smile, masterfully playing Tommy French -- a sly, sardonic beauty pageant choreographer ("No, dear, if you kick and bend at the same time, you're going to knock yourself out!") whose inspirational speeches to comely teen-age contestants are somehow all the more effectively uplifting for being transparently (to the audience, at least) bogus.

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 9

And just in time for Christmas Eve...

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 8

Have a White Christmas with The Man in Black...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Season's Greetings

Had lunch today with my brother to celebrate the holiday. And I have to give him props: He's always so busy this time of year, but, God bless him, he made time to see me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 5

Dino has the yule blues...

R.I. P.: John Harkness (1954-2007)

Canadian film critic John Harkness and I crossed paths many times over the past quarter-century during my annual trek to his Toronto turf for the world’s greatest film festival. And while I would not presume to describe us as close friends, I must say I always enjoyed our spirited conversations – during which, more often than not, John did most of the talking, and made by far the funnier wisecracks (which, of course, I would later repeat and claim as my own) – even as he gleefully trashed a movie I meekly admitted to half-liking. He was an excellent writer with a devoted following. Indeed, I remember one of my film history students appearing extremely impressed when I told her I knew the author of her favorite book, John’s The Academy Awards Handbook. Later, when I told John about this, he smiled wickedly and inquired: “So, did that help you get laid?” That it most certainly did not seemed to genuinely disappoint him.

BTW: Quite inadvertently, John once taught me an invaluable lesson about how little we sometimes know, and how much we may assume, about colleagues with whom we share professional relationships. Anyone who has ever covered a major film festival can tell you that, while you’re immersed in the day-to-day, morning-to-midnight grind, you tend to narrow your focus to the point of ignoring, or simply forgetting, the outside world. (While at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, I caught a TV news report about the escalation of demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Shortly afterwards, I ran into a very well-known film critic – whom I will not name, because he’s no longer with us – and I remarked: “Isn’t it amazing what’s going on in China right now?” The film critic, who obviously had not been paying attention to world news, responded with a stricken expression and an anxious query: “There’s a new Chinese movie here? When was it screened? Where?”) One year at Toronto, John and I were hanging with a few people in a hotel bar, discussing some movie or another, when I made a passing reference to my son (who was, if memory serves me correctly, about eight or nine at the time). John gave me a quizzical look, then said: “You know, Joe, you and I have known each other for years – but this is the first time you ever mentioned having a son.” At first, I was shocked: Surely John was mistaken, surely I had mentioned someone as important to me as my child many times before. But it hit me: No, I probably hadn’t. Because while I’m at a film festival, talking with colleagues I see only at film festivals -- well, all we usually talk about is movies. That, and where’s the best place to get a quick meal between screenings.

If you totaled all the time I spent with John over the years at various festivals – or with any one of a few other colleagues I never see in any other context -- it might add up to more hours I’ve spent with blood relatives over the same period. And, yes, there’s something ineffably deceptive about spending long periods in close quarters alongside people with similar interests: You start to think that you actually know these people. But you don’t. Such is life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 4

Well, she ain't the Virgin Mary, but....

It's a scenario for (a) Juno II, (b) Knocked Up Again, or (c) a remake of Poor White Trash

What would the tabloids do without the Spears girls? Go back to running stories about Bat Boy? My favorite part of the article: "Jamie Lynn plans to raise the baby in her home state of Louisiana — 'so it can have a normal family life.'" Speaking as a Louisiana native, I can only say: Well, normal is a relative term...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wichita Lineman

Oddly enough, whenever I hear this song, I am reminded of the final moments of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. And I find myself thinking: Here is someone who feels that he is not worthy of being loved. But, hey, let's face it: That isn't something any of us wants to think about too long, right?

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 3

OK, you had to know this one was coming, right?

Monday, December 17, 2007

No more entries, please! We have a winner!

Arriving just in time to qualify as The Freaky-Deakiest Movie Swag of 2007....

(Pretty dang clever, actually, though I might have preferred a jug of Sunny D.)

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 2

No Christmas carol list would be complete without it.

R.I.P.: Floyd Red Cloud Westerman

Leukemia has claimed the life of Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Native American activist, actor and country/folk singer best known for his roles in Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves (as Sioux leader Ten Bears) and TV's Walker, Texas Ranger (as Uncle Ray Firewalker).

Westerman, who passed away Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, was born on Aug. 17, 1936, on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. A man of many impressive talents and passionate interests, he was a respected musician who worked with such artists as Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt, and toured the world with Sting during the 1990s to raise money to preserve rain forests. He remained active in show business until just a few months ago, when he completed work in another Kevin Costner film, the forthcoming Swing Vote.

Kevin Abourezk of Reznet describes Westerman as man who provided a "lyrical and plainspoken voice for the oppressed," and reports: "In his final years, [Westerman] had begun work on a six-part documentary called Exterminate Them: America's War on Indian Nations. With the help of his niece [Gwen Westerman Griffin], he had completed the first part, California Story, and had begun work on the second installment, Great Plains Story. Westerman Griffin said she doesn't plan to let her uncle's death end efforts to complete the documentary. Nor does she plan to let his relentless efforts to improve the lives of Native people die with him. 'It's going to take a lot of us to fill in the void that this one man is going to leave,' she said. 'It's going to take so many of us to carry on his work.'"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

R.I.P.: Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007)

At a time of year when his classic "Same Old Lang Syne" is a radio staple, it's all the more tragic to hear that singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg has passed away at the ridiculously young age of 56. He was never what you would call a superstar -- truthfully, never someone who immediately sprang to mind when the discussion centered on defining musical talents of the '70s and '80s -- but his music always appealed to me, and millions of others, and I can't remember ever wanting to change the station when one of his songs came on my car radio. Indeed, I can remember singing along with some of the tunes -- late at night, especially, when melancholy claims dominion on my soul. To pay him the highest compliment I can think of: He left this world a better place than it might have been if he'd never been in it.

The ten carols of Christmas: No. 1

Rejoice and be glad.

Hey, Will Smith really is legend

The Box-Office King's latest effort rules the Top Ten chart this weekend. And Alvin and the Chipmunks looks pretty damn impressive in the No. 2 position. Looks like I'm not the only one who was feeling nostalgic about Alvin and the gang.

Dumped in the heart of Texas

According to People magazine, Blonde Ambition, a starring vehicle for the lovely and talented Jessica Simpson, is coming soon.... to a video store near you. Strictly speaking, however, it won't be a straight-to-DVD release, because the comedy (which co-stars Luke Wilson) will open Dec. 21 for an extremely limited theatrical run. How limited? Elizabeth Wolfe, a spokeswoman for both Nu Image/Millennium Films, the film's production company, and First Look Distribution, which will distribute the comedy, tells People:

"It is being released in this crowded marketplace in eight theaters in Texas. The reason we chose Texas is the two stars are from Texas: Jessica Simpson and Luke Wilson. As an independent studio, we, as a rule, don't have major wide releases. It's a very common release practice for independent studios."

Hey, when it comes to positive spin, Dana Perino has nothing on this lady.

It seems to me that... Oh, sorry, have to answer the phone. I think it's my Variety editor with a review assignment.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Graduation Day

The last time I received a diploma, Richard Nixon was in the White House. More than 33 years later, I am, as of today, a Master of Arts, thanks to my incredibly patient mentors at the University of Houston's School of Communication. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the park. Feel free to have a glass or two of Beaujolais Nouveau in my name, if not on my bill, and share wine kisses with the one(s) you love.

Of course, all of you lesser mortals now will have to address me as "Master Leydon." (Well, OK, at least for the next day or two.) And just to please me, the college's latest celebrity alumnus, the mighty UH Cougars will smite the lowly TCU Hornfrogs in the Dec. 28 Texas Bowl. Go Coogs!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

He is legend

A provocative piece in today's L.A. Times suggests that Will Smith has become "Hollywood's biggest post-racial movie star." Money quote: "At a time when the world is growing more multicultural by the minute, movie studios cling to the notion that black performers cannot sell as many overseas movie tickets as their white counterparts. But Smith is shattering that perception..." Which doubtless will make the producers of I am Legend -- opening Friday at theaters and drive-ins everywhere -- very, very happy

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And while Santa Claus gets all the attention....

What is another holiday-centric icon up to these days?

Oh, Mama!

Cinematical has posted some exclusive photos from the upcoming film version of the ABBA musical Mama Mia with, among others, Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (above). Looks like it might be fun, but.... Well, is it just me, or does the plot sound like it was recycled from 1968's Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell?

10 X 2

Film critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel of Time magazine have posted their selections for the Top 10 of 2007. I might quibble over a few titles that are conspicuous by their absence, but I must say I'm pleasantly surprised by the titles that do appear (especially on Schickel's list).

Ho, ho, horror!

It's quickly becoming a Christmas tradition for me: Midnight mass, opening presents, getting a bit of shuteye before.... before.... I go see the first public showing of a horror movie that hasn't been press screened. Can you guess where I'll be on Dec. 25? Don't misunderstand: I hope to be pleasantly surprised by Aliens vs. Predator -- Requiem. Contrary to what some of you suspect, critics really don't enjoy writing scathing reviews, because that entails having to sit through a crummy movie. And, trust me, I'm pretty whack, but I'm not that masochistic. On the other hand, I must admit: I'd be looking forward to this flick with a lot more enthusiasm if they'd figured out a way to drop a certain superhero into the mix.

Uma and Al in Oslo

Uma Thurman waxes euphoric about the Nobel Peace Prize-winning star of this year's Oscar-winning documentary: "He seems to be flourishing and following his calling. It's just the most enviable thing in the world, like watching a beautiful racehorse run."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hat trick

Sam Elliott tells the Kansas City Star that the "Tom Mix-style hat" he wears in The Golden Compass, which opens Friday at theaters and drive-ins everywhere, didn't come from the wardrobe department. Rather, it's his very own chapeau, a gift he received 35 years ago after making a series of beer commercials.

"I have never worn it since. But I took it with me when we started doing the wardrobe fitting for Golden Compass. We tried on several hats. I got the hat out of the car and everybody said that's the hat. With Western characters, it all starts with the hat," Elliott says.

George Clooney stalls for Julia Roberts

Hat tip to that hep cat Garth Jowett for this one.

Jack Nicholson got his ass kicked by a girl

That and other shocking revelations in this weekend's Parade magazine, by way of The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Remembering Alvin (and Lee)

Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to next week's release of Alvin and the Chipmunks -- if only because, way, way back during the Antediluvian Period, when I was 10, I was a major fan of The Alvin Show, a TV cartoon series that aired Wednesday nights on CBS. But to give you some idea just how truly whack my childhood was: I would watch The Alvin Show each week right after the CBS affiliate in my hometown of New Orleans aired reruns of M Squad, quite possibly the most violent series in the history of television, featuring Lee Marvin as a pre-Miranda hardboiled cop and the coolest theme song I can remember from that era. Did I watch both shows? You bet. And, oddly enough, my sainted mother never saw anything wrong with this.

The slow fade of film critics

Matt Eagan of The Hartford Courant offers an intelligent, insightful and... and... oh, hell, just plain goddamn depressing piece about the seemingly irreversible decline in the number of film critics -- and fine arts critics -- at newspapers across the United States. Among the money quotes:

"The era of the newspaper film critic, the era of newspaper criticism, seems to be coming to a rapid and unceremonious end. As recently as a decade ago, no self-respecting mid-sized daily newspaper would have dreamed of publishing without a film critic.These days only major cities have them and those that remain (other than [Roger] Ebert) have seen their influence wane."

Every so often, I am asked by a young writer how he or she can get a job as a professional film critic -- that is, how he or she can get paid to write film reviews for a daily newspaper. And I must admit: Increasingly, I am tempted to respond: "Well, you can't. Not anymore. You're better off starting your own website. Pretty soon, the Internet is the only place you'll find serious film critcism." On the other hand, maybe I should just direct them to Eagan's article.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mama's Boy

In certain primitive cultures, it is common for the aged or infirm to be abandoned in the wilderness, or atop ice floes, and left to fend for themselves. On Friday, Warner Bros. emulated that approach to disposing of the inconvenient with its conspicuously unpublicized regional release of Mama’s Boy, which I review here. This strenuously unfunny comedy is just aggressively quirky enough to attract a small but fervent cult. But here's the catch: I'm willing to bet such a cult would be comprised primarily of emotionally stunted slackers who have far too much in common with the lead character played by Jon Heder.

Bad-ass Bible tales

If the producers of Christian-skewing movies ever want to reach a wider mainstream audience, perhaps they should consider filming these Biblical stories of ass-kicking and bloodletting. (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No 1 on the DVD wish list: Les Miserables

Every great once in a while, I am reminded that, contrary to what we might sometimes think, not every great movie is available in the U.S. on DVD. Case in point: Claude Lelouch's Les Miserables (1995), one of my favorite films of all time. As I wrote on a few years back:

"Claude Lelouch's audacious and exciting epic is neither a film version of the long-running musical nor a traditional adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel. Rather, it is a sweeping and sensationally passionate drama that succeeds brilliantly on its own merits as a celebration of storytelling (and, of course, moviemaking) as inspiration and illumination. A magnificently ravaged Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Henri Fortin, an ordinary man whose life spans an extraordinary period in French history: Born at the turn of the century, he lives long enough to endure the cruelties of the Nazi occupation. Rootless and illiterate, he is introduced to Les Miserables at an early age -- in a silent movie! -- and embraces Jean Valjean as his hero, mentor and alter ego. So much so, in fact, that Henri agrees to help a Jewish family escape from Paris, setting into motion a fateful series of betrayals, reconciliations, reversals of fortune and triumphs of the spirit. There are images in Les Miserables that are as hauntingly beautiful as any in the history of cinema. And there are entire sequences that are nothing short of astonishing. Lelouch is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who remains capable of the grand romantic gestures that made many of us fall in love with movies in the first place."

If anyone at Warner Home Video reads this, take it as a plea: Give me a DVD, please.