Friday, October 26, 2007

OK, if we're going to out Dumbeldore...

While teaching film history courses at University of Houston and Houston Community College over the past several years, I've occasionally had students ask me -- earnestly, not snickeringly -- if certain movie characters are intended to be interpreted as gay. They fully understand the censorious restraints placed on directors and screenwriters during the bad old days of the Production Code, so they realize that, from the 1930s to at least the mid-'60s, movies had to utilize implications and allusions -- had to be "coded," if you will -- to even hint that the hero's best friend might... might... well, might want to be a tad friendlier. But, you know, maybe a little knowledge really is a dangerous thing?

In any event: The two names that pop up most often during these "Is he or isn't he?" queries: Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten) of Citizen Kane and Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) of Singin' in the Rain. For some odd reason, middle-aged female students seem to be the ones most curious about divining Leland's orientation. But the issue of whether Cosmo is a closet case is a four-quadrant obsession. As students of all ages and genders have repeatedly pointed out to me, Cosmo is the lifelong companion of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), spends an inordinate time at Don's home (at all hours), and expresses nothing but withering sarcasm when speaking of Don's romantic escapades. More tellingly, Cosmo has this to say when judging the attractiveness of a female star: "Yeah, Lina, you looked pretty good for a girl."

My take on this? Well, why the hell not? Anything's possible. And interpreting those characters in that way does indeed add a provocative new dimension to both films (Kane, especially). And, hey, if they were gay, they would have been among the very few non-hetero characters (or at least apparently non-hetero characters) who weren't objects of ridicule in films of the '40s and '50s. (Just compare them to, say, Peter Lorre's effete Joel Cairo.) So, I dunno, wouldn't gay folks be proud to claim them as two of their own?

What do you think? And do you have any names you would add to the list?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Lone Ranger rides again?

After reviving the swashbuckler with his fabulously successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, producer Jerry Bruckheimer may be setting his sights on reintroducing a classic Western hero, The Lone Ranger. Does this mean Johnny Depp -- or Nicolas Cage, star of Bruckheimer's National Treasure franchise -- might be donning the mask? Or will they go with an unknown like they did back in 1981 when... oh, wait, maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea.

It's just like they say in the Michael Clayton ads: The Truth can be adjusted

Now filming in Memphis: Nothing But the Truth, the latest political drama from writer-director Rod Lurie (The Contender, TV's Commander in Chief), who used to be a movie critic until he found more respectable employment.

The flick is based loosely -- evidently, very loosely -- on the misadventures of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than out her source for a story about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. But don't expect of wealth of verisimilitude here. In the parallel universe imagined by Lurie, the fifty-something Miller is a younger and lovelier reporter named Rachel Armstrong, played by the va-va-voom Kate Beckinsale (above). Of course, you won't get any complaints from me about that. But I'm not entirely sure that Vera Farmiga (below) -- cast as a CIA op named Erica Van Doren -- is a suitable replacement for the easy-on-the-eyes Plame.

Still more me on TV

Talkin' 'bout The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Comebacks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

George Clooney times 3

While George Clooney continues to impress moviegoers with his masterful performance in Michael Clayton, I thought it might be a good time to exploit his popularity.... er, I mean, pay tribute to a great actor by dusting off three interviews I taped with him back in 1996-97, during my brief heyday as a Houston TV celebrity.

While discussing From Dusk Till Dawn, his movie breakthrough, he's very funny while talking about co-star Quentin Tarantino (who had directed him in an episode of E.R.). One year later, he's equally enthusiastic about Batman & Robin -- yeah, the film wasn't very good, but that wasn't his fault -- and The Peacemaker (directed by Mimi Leder, another E.R. veteran). If I had to pick a favorite of the three, it would be the middle one, for a reason that won't be readily apparent: My son George, then 10 years old, accompanied me to this taping, and Clooney couldn't have been more charming while briefly chatting with him. ("That's a great first name you got," he told my unabashedly starstruck young'un.)

By the way, you'll notice that, while I have aged considerably since these interviews were taped, Clooney hasn't changed much at all. The dirty dog.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Buy a dog

Great song, great video.

Viva? Nada

Well, my worst suspicions are confirmed: All I have to do is merely think of watching a new TV show that appears interesting, and it's cancelled. Case in point: Viva Laughlin got axed today after all of two episodes. Damn. That's harsh. Even Raines got more exposure than that. Guess I'll have to wait for the DVD boxed-set to get my first look.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A pleasant surprise

Good news: Dan in Real Life is not the rollicking laff riot it's being sold as in coming-attractions trailers. (In fact, one of the sillier scenes in the trailer is, thank goodness, nowhere to be found in the movie itself.) Better news: It is a warm and witty and wonderfully understated comedy from the maker of Pieces of April. Here's my Variety review.

Weekend b.o. report: $15 million for 30 Days

From Fantasy Moguls: More good news for Tyler Perry and George Clooney. From Nikki Finke: Vampires feast, New Line flops -- and The Comebacks lives down to my worst expectations.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Denver honors Norman Jewison (and I get to help)

As previously indicated here -- well, OK, as teasingly indicated -- Norman Jewison will receive the 2007 Mayor’s Career Achievement Award at the 30th Starz Denver Film Festival. But the really big news is that, after actually getting the grand prize, following a special 40th-anniversary screening of the celebrated filmmaker's In the Heat of the Night, he'll be interviewed on stage by... by... well, me. And let's face it, it's all about me, right?

Of course, I'm no Robert Osborne. But I hope I can rise to the occasion.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ultimate Hottie

Entertainment Weekly wants you -- yes, you! -- to choose the Ultimate Female Hottie from a lineup of 25 nominees who have come to prominence during the past decade or so. I, for one, would like to express my deep dismay that a 21st century magazine would sponsor a competition that is so egregiously sexist and degrading to women.... Aw, hell, who am I trying to kid? Salma Hayek (above) gets my vote.

Star Wars: The TV Series?

George Lucas tells the Los Angeles Times that a live-action TV series rooted in the Star Wars mythos is in the early planning stages. But there's a catch: "'The Skywalkers aren't in it, and it's about minor characters,' Lucas said in an interview. 'It has nothing to do with Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or any of those people. It's completely different. But it's a good idea, and it's going to be a lot of fun to do.'"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

From the critic who raved about Knocked Up

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post is shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to find that some critics blurbed in movie advertisements aren’t quite what they appear to be. That is, the “John Doe of ABC” who raves about a new Hollywood blockbuster may really be a John Doe who fills in as weekend weathercaster at an ABC affiliate deep in the heart of Flyover Country. Quelle horreur!

Well, now that Mr. Farhi has gone ahead and spilled the beans – hey, thanks a lot, buddy! – I guess I have to fess up: If you ever see a blurb credited to “Joe Leydon, NBC” on some DVD package in a Wal Mart bargain bin – or, more likely, on the case of a VHS tape gathering dust on a shelf at Blockbuster – that’s only because, between 1995 and '99, I reviewed movies for the NBC affiliate here in Houston. And you know what? Every time I was credited that way in newspaper ads back in the day, I was ridiculously pleased with myself. There, I’ve admitted it. I hope you don’t think any less of me.

Actually, it wasn’t so terribly long ago that the folks in charge of hyping movies wanted to identify me as working for any outlet except the one that, by my reckoning, was (and still is) my most important one: Variety, the showbiz bible. Indeed, it’s been my perception that, up until fairly recently, the hype merchants actively avoided blurbing trade paper reviews. (Things have changed, however.) And, occasionally, this has led to some truly bizarre episodes.

Chief among them: After giving Star Trek: First Contact a rave in Variety back in 1996, I got a phone call from a Paramount rep asking me if I would be reviewing the film for some other outlet as well. When I asked why, she actually blurted out: “We prefer not to run quotes from the trades.” I have to admit: For about three seconds, I considered telling her that I also would be reviewing the film for The Daily Worker. But I restrained myself, because – well, truth to tell, she sounded like she might believe me, and it would be “Joe Leydon, The Daily Worker” in the full-page New York Times ad. Which would have delighted my father, an unrepentant socialist, but might have needlessly pissed off most other aging Lefties.

So I told her that I would be reviewing the film for… yes, you guessed it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Al Gore, Superstar

Variety queries: "Who knew that winning an Oscar was a pathway to the Nobel Peace Prize?"

Truth is, Al Gore has done for for mankind with An Inconvenient Truth than his snarky detractors could ever dream of accomplishing. Indeed, whenever I read bloggers like David Poland dismiss Gore's Oscar-winning documentary as "a boring slideshow by a boring speaker," I have to wonder: Do these boneheads ever wonder how silly they will look 20 or 30 years from now? Don't they ever worry that, when future generations read them, they'll appear as foolish as Alabama racists talking about "nigras" in 1962? Do they freakin' care?

Truth is, folks have made sport of Gore for a long time. And while he has survived, and thrived, since the presidency was swiped from him in 2000, the country hasn't exactly prospered. Cheap-seat jeerers such as Poland might do well to read Bob Herbert's scathing response to those who made fun of Gore's alleged "stiffness" during the 2000 campaign: "Mr. Gore... was mocked unmercifully by the national media. And the mockery had nothing to do with the former vice president’s positions on important policy issues. He was mocked because of his personality. In the race for the highest office in the land, we showed the collective maturity of 3-year-olds.

"Mr. Gore was taken to task for his taste in clothing and for such grievous offenses as sighing or, allegedly, rolling his eyes. It was a given that at a barbecue everyone would rush to be with his opponent.

"We’ve paid a heavy price. The president who got such high marks as a barbecue companion doesn’t seem to know up from down. He’s hurled the nation into a ruinous war that has cost countless lives and spawned a whole new generation of terrorists. He continues to sit idly by as a historic American city, New Orleans, remains wounded and on its knees. He’s blithely steered the nation into a bottomless pit of debt.

"I could go on..."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Retro grit

Eric Harrison offers a sharp and insightful Houston Chronicle piece about the return of irony-free, '70s-style grit to contemporary cinema. Glad to see a savvy writer confirm what I saw coming (or, to be more precise, hoped I saw coming) here and there a couple years back.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

TV viewing tip: Sleuth (1972)

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, you can take another (or a first) look at Joseph L. Mankiewicz's original 1972 version of Sleuth just in time to compare it with Kenneth Branagh's newly released remake. The devilishly clever and impeccably acted mystery -- currently hard to find on DVD -- can be seen at 8 pm EDT Sunday (Oct. 14) on TMC.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Stupid is as stupid does

Occasionally, I wonder why movie stars and other showbiz celebrities complain so stridently about having to endure interviews whenever they're promoting their latest projects. But then I read something like this, and I wonder why they ever grant interviews to anyone, ever. Let's face it: There are people in my racket who are... gee, how can I say this? I mean, the word assholes comes to mind, but it somehow seems inadequate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Read at your own risk

Michael Caine is, hands down, my favorite film actor. And Susan Wloszczyna certainly is one of the better film journalists working right now. But, I'm sorry, both deserve black marks in their copybooks for the spoiler that appears near the end of this USA Today piece about the new Sleuth remake. (If you're ever seen Sleuth on stage, or if you recall the 1972 film adaptation, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.)

First the movie, then the musical, and now... The MTV special!

I'm old enough to recall Sunday evenings when The Ed Sullivan Show would offer live performances of production numbers from then-current Broadway musicals. (Trivia note: Davy Jones, later to star in The Monkees, appeared as the Artful Dodger in an Oliver! excerpt when that show was highlighted on the same 1964 Ed Sullivan telecast that introduced U.S. audiences to The Beatles.) And I vaguely -- very vaguely -- recall seeing a 1964 Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of The Fantasticks when that show was just four years into its legendarily long off-Broadway run. But I can't remember ever seeing a TV presentation of a Broadway musical while that show continued to be a hot ticket on The Great White Way. But that's precisely what MTV will offer this weekend.

Sam Elliott, Flying Cowboy

Sam Elliott -- the subject of a cover-story profile I've written for the December issue of Cowboys & Indians Magazine -- hosted the world premiere launch of the official trailer for The Golden Compass Tuesday evening at the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York. Elliott plays a dashing cowboy figure named Lee Scoresby in the lavish fantasy, which opens Dec. 7 at theaters and drive-ins everywhere. And just in case you missed the Manhattan extravaganza, you can link to the trailer here.

Remembering Reign

Maybe it was because I was sitting in one of my favorite New York pubs, and it occurred to me – a thought unbidden but unavoidable, like a sudden slap to the face – that I had visited this place for the first time years ago with a friend who’s no longer alive. Or maybe it was because the song by The Who roared through the speakers of the high-tech jukebox just as a bolt of lightning illuminated the rainswept streets outside the window near my table. Whatever the reason, tonight I was reminded of Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me, and I remembered: There hasn’t been another movie that I’ve seen this year that had a comparably devastating emotional impact on me. So I have to ask: Why isn’t anyone talking about possible Oscar nominations for this masterwork? I mean, good heavens, what more does a movie have to do to be considered a contender? Or are we really in an age when we forget important things so quickly?

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Duke in 3-D

Writer/researchers Bob Furmanek and Jack Theakston want to the set the record straight regarding "myths" about Hondo. (Thanks to John Guidry for the tip.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

But seriously, folks: Jim Carrey on Burma

From Jim Carrey, by way of Crooks and Liars: “A couple of weeks ago I sent you a message about a hero of mine named Aung San Suu Kyi, a brave lady in Burma who won the Nobel Peace Prize and who has often been compared to Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. After she won 82% of the Parliamentary seats in her country, she was denied the right to govern, and held under house arrest by a military regime that has burned over 3,000 villages, forced million from their homes, raped and tortured thousands, and recruited more child soldiers than any other country in the world. That message got a lot of attention because a lot of you watched it. Now I’d like to ask you to use that power again, by sending your very own email to this address: urging the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon to coordinate a strong response by the United nations Security Council to the situation in Burma. …”

War stories

For the past few years, I have taught a course at the University of Houston -- Social Aspects of Film -- with a syllabus designed to make students more informed and critical viewers as they approach war on film and films on wars. To that end, we've examined the various ways that various wars – ranging from The Great War to The Gulf War, and beyond – have been rendered in cinema. We look at how filmmakers have prepared the nation for global conflicts, boosted morale with celebrations of men (and, occasionally, women) in combat – and, during post-war eras, re-examined attitudes and assumptions while questioning the morality of war.

Naturally, a major chunk of the course is devoted to the Vietnam War -- and, specifically, to the ways Hollywood-produced features of the 1960s and early '70s often alluded to U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, even as Hollywood conspicuously avoiding the production of "combat movies" (in the traditional sense of that term) set in Vietnam. (The exception that proves the rule: John Wayne's The Green Berets.)

So it is with more than pasing interest that I devoured Carrie Rickey's thoughtful article about recent and upcoming movies dealing head-on with the Iraq War. (Thanks to David Poland for the tip.) Some money quotes:

"When it comes to protest films, 'it's traditional to see movies set in a previous war that are implicitly critical of the current one,' notes [film historian Jeanine] Basinger, citing M*A*S*H. Though the 1970 black comedy was set in a Korean War medical unit, its allusions are to Vietnam.

"It's also traditional, she notes, just prior to U.S. involvement in war, to detect a call to arms in films. In the run-up to Iraq, Black Hawk Down and Behind Enemy Lines (both 2001) framed war as a fight for humanitarian values in, respectively, Somalia and Bosnia.

"'The movies that explicitly ask, "Is the war worth it?" - historically, those films come out after the conflict has ended,' says Basinger. The Best Years of Our Lives was released a year after World War II, Men in War after the Korean conflict, Coming Home and The Deer Hunter after Vietnam, and Three Kings after the Persian Gulf War.

"'That these films are coming forward during the progress of a war and questioning it sooner may mean that the general public is rejecting what our leaders are telling us . . . and want to know more about the war,' she suggests.

"During World War II, Hollywood complied with the nonmilitary Office of War Information, which aimed to have movies show an America united behind the war effort. Today there are no such guidelines, 'in contrast to that period,' says Phil Strub, Department of Defense public affairs officer."

BTW: Six years ago, many observers duly noted the flurry of war-related movies that invaded theaters and drive-ins everywhere in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But I often have wondered: Why were these movies already green-lit -- already produced, already in the pipeline -- long before the planes crashed into the Twin Towers? Basinger views these films collectively as "a call to arms." But if so, why was that call made? To put it another way: What was in the air during, say, 1999 and 2000 that made so many producers so eager to make war movies?

The art of movie posters

Louis B. Parks has a fun piece on collectible movie posters in the Sunday edition of The Houston Chronicle. Money quote from Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne: "I think the interest (in art posters) has been triggered by the fact they have replaced masterworks... There was a time when many people could buy traditional artists, like a Renoir. Now the prices are prohibitive. So movie posters have taken up some of that role. Especially the Italian and French posters, because they are so beautiful. The artwork on the Italian posters is so stunningly beautiful, they are artworks in themselves."

Saturday, October 06, 2007


From the folks who gave us Snakes on a Train, more of the same, according to The New York Times. Money quote: “I’m just trying to get my films watched. Other people do tie-ins all the time; they’re just better at being subtle about it. Another studio might make a giant robot movie that ties into the Transformers release and call it Robot Wars. We’ll call ours Transmorphers. ”

Heartbreak ahead for The Heartbreak Kid?

According to Nikki Finke, the mega-hyped comedy will post an opening-weekend gross much lower than anyone predicted. On the other hand, it probably will sell more tickets than Feel the Noise.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Not about movies, strictly speaking, but...

As William Goldman told me a few years back: It's very hard to be a satirist at a time when the real world has loonier stuff than you would ever dare make up.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Received a very gracious letter the other day from Russell Crowe, thanking me for the 3:10 to Yuma piece I wrote for Cowboys & Indians magazine. In the same note, however, he politely pointed out that… that… well, that I had screwed up.

Or, as he diplomatically phrased it, that I had included stuff in the article “that was a little askew.”

Specifically: Based on outdated and/or incorrect information I had obtained elsewhere, I made passing reference “the 100-acre spread [Crowe] maintains five hours from Sydney, along the coastal flats of New South Wales, where he raises Brangus cattle.”

Not quite, I’m embarrassed to admit.

“My property,” Crowe wrote, “is now 1360 acres in the main block – with 180 acres of grain land down the river one way and 360 acres of finishing land down the valley the other way. We aren’t what you would call coastal flats, being some 18 to 20 miles inland from the ocean at about 109’ above sea level. Over time what we do on the farm has been refined. We now run a herd of 500 breeders and bulls, having gone into straight Angus about five years ago. We haven’t achieved full certification yet but we follow an organic regime. This month we are turning off about 250kg of restaurant cuts. It’s not a lot, but it’s all hand raised, home range 150 day grain fed or true home range beef and it tastes great.”

I have received letters reporting errors that have made me angry – at myself, not the sender – and I have read others that have made me laugh. But I must admit: This is the first letter of its kind that has made me hungry.

I apologize profusely for the misinformation, Mr. Crowe. But do you think that, next time I’m in Australia, I could cadge a free meal at your place?

The Fast and The Furious, Part 4

According to the Associated Press, a new sequel will reunite Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, who starred in the original 2001 flick that kicked off the franchise. "The story line of Universal's as-yet-untitled installment is being kept under wraps," Borys Kit reports, "but fast cars are involved." Gee, you think?

Episode 4

Here I am talking about Resident Evil: Extinction and 3:10 to Yuma. Not bad.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good news, bad news for Western fans

The good news: Comanche Moon finally has a definite air date on CBS. The bad news: The six-hour miniseries will be broadcast from 9-11 p.m. ET Dec. 30, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Not exactly the sort of showcase you'd expect for a star-studded prequel to Lonesome Dove.

On the other hand, there's nothing but bad news for loyal viewers of Deadwood.