Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bad boys

Tomorrow, my son and I will be in Fort Worth, at the Armed Forces Bowl, to see my beloved University of Houston Cougars crush Air Force. Tonight, however, two wild and crazy Leydon guys will be loose in the DFW Metroplex. Consider this fair warning to all in the area: Lock up your daughters. And your mothers.

Movies I can't forget (no matter how hard I try)

I still have a few more movies left to watch before I'll feel ready to complete a Top 10 list for 2008. (Yeah, I know: Every year, a new excuse for tardiness.) But I'm more than ready to dishonor the year's Ten Worst Movies. In no particular order -- because, really, they're not worth the effort -- my nominees for the 2008 Hall of Shame are:

Meet the Spartans -- The worst comedy of its kind since Date Movie.

Disaster Movie -- The worst comedy of its kind since Meet the Spartans.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale -- Even with a bigger-than-usual budget, Uwe Boll lives down to expectations.

I Could Never Be Your Woman -- This movie was so bad, it wasn't released -- it escaped. (No, seriously.)

Sex Drive -- Train wreck.

The Day the Earth Stood Still -- "Klaatu barada oh-no!”

Beer for My Horses -- And swill for the audience.

Wicked Lake -- Polluted.

Strange Wilderness -- Actually, more like a wasteland.

Four Christmases -- Ho, ho, ho? No, no, no!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stars on stamps

The U.S. Postal Service will honor two Hollywood stars of yesteryear during 2009 with commemorative stamps: Bob Hope (to be released May 29) and Gary Cooper (Sept. 10).

Happy Looney New Year!

Here's a hat-tip to Leonard Maltin for spreading the good news: The Cartoon Network will kick off 2009 with a New Year's Day marathon of Looney Tunes --a cavalcade of cartoon classics ranging from the 1930s to the '50s. A total of 95 shorts will showcase favorite Looney Tunes celebrities such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, as well as "one-hit wonders" like Owl Jolson from the 1936 short I Love to Singa. Here's the schedule:

6 am EST

The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (Bugs Bunny)
You Ought to be in Pictures (Daffy Duck & Porky Pig)
Daffy Duck in Hollywood (Daffy)
Tortoise Beats Hare (Bugs)
I Love to Singa
Fresh Hare (Bugs)

7 am EST

Wackiki Wabbit (Bugs)
A Corny Concerto (Bugs, Porky & Elmer Fudd)
Porky in Wackyland (Porky)
Bugs Bunny & The Three Bears (Bugs)
Falling Hare (Bugs)
The Mouse-Merized Cat
Gee Whiz-z-z

8 am EST

Tom, Turk and Daffy (Daffy & Porky)
Buckaroo Bugs (Bugs)
Tweetie Pie (Tweetie)
Case of the Missing Hare (Bugs)
An Itch in Time (Elmer)
Hare Tonic (Elmer)

9 am EST

Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (Bugs)
Crowing Pains (Foghorn Leghorn)
Hare Force (Bugs)
Trap Happy Porky (Porky)
Odor-Able Kitty (Pepe Le Pew)
Baby Bottleneck (Porky & Daffy)
Baseball Bugs (Bugs)

10 am EST

The Old Grey Hare (Bugs & Elmer)
Draftee Daffy (Daffy Duck)
Gorilla My Dreams (Bugs)
Porky's Pig Feat (Daffy & Porky)
Sniffles Bells The Cat (Sniffles)
Going! Going! Gosh! (Road Runner)
Bunny Hugged (Bugs)

11 am EST

Racketeer Rabbit (Bugs)
Tick Tock Tuckered (Daffy & Porky)
What's Cookin Doc (Bugs)
Bye, Bye Bluebeard (Porky)
Home Tweet Home (Tweety)
Super Rabbit (Bugs)

12 pm EST

Stage Door Cartoon (Bugs & Elmer)
A Pest in the House (Daffy & Elmer)
Walky Talky Hawky (Foghorn)
Canary Row (Tweety)
Swooner Crooner (Porky)
Nasty Quacks (Daffy)
Hyde and Hare (Bugs)

1 pm EST

Bugs Bunny Rides Again (Bugs)
Back Alley Oproar (Elmer & Sylvester)
Book Revue (Daffy)
For Sentimental Reasons (Pepe Le Pew)
Zipping Along (Road Runner)
Sandy Claws (Tweety)
Little Red Riding Rabbit (Bugs)

2 pm EST

Hair-Raising Hare (Bugs)
Hen House Henery (Foghorn)
The Big Snooze (Bugs & Elmer)
Daffy Duck Slept Hare (Daffy & Porky)
From A to Z-Z-Z-Z (Ralph Phillips)
A Hare Grows in Manhattan (Bugs)
The Honey-Mousers

3 pm EST

Slick Hare (Bugs)
The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (Daffy)
Fast and Furry-ous (Road Runner)
Past Perfumance (Pepe Le Pew)
Feed The Kitty
Scaredy Cat
(Porky & Sylvester)
Rabbit Seasoning (Bugs, Daffy & Elmer)

4 pm EST

High Diving Hare (Bugs)
Dog Pounded (Tweety & Sylvester)
Speedy Gonzales
Rabbit Hood
Long-Haired Hare (Bugs)
Birds Anonymous (Tweety & Sylvester)
Bugs & Thugs (Bugs)

5 pm EST

Broomstick Bunny (Bugs)
The Wearing of the Grin (Porky)
Ready, Set Zoom (Road Runner)
Buccaneer Bunny (Bugs & Yosemite Sam)
Lourve Come Back to Me (Pepe Le Pew)
Devil May Hare (Bugs & Tasmanian Devil)
Operation Rabbit (Bugs & Wile E. Coyote)

6 pm EST

Baby Buggy Bunny (Bugs)
Hyde and Go Tweet (Tweety & Sylvester)
Show Biz Bugs (Bugs & Daffy)
Satan's Waitin' (Tweety & Sylvester)
Ali Baba Bunny (Bugs & Daffy)
Drip Along Daffy (Daffy & Porky)
Bully For Bugs (Bugs)

7 pm EST

One Froggy Evening (Michigan J. Frog)
Duck Amuck (Daffy & Bugs)
Rhapsody Rabbit (Bugs)
What's Opera Doc (Bugs & Elmer)
Rabbit of Seville (Bugs)
Hardevil Hare (Bugs & Marvin the Martian)
Duck Dodgers in the 24 Century (Daffy & Marvin The Martian)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Just like in the movies

If you plan to visit New Orleans within the next few days, you might want to pay a visit to The Clover Grill -- featured prominently in a key scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- before tourists start flocking there in search of Brad Pitt. It's really a delightfully no-frills, old-fashioned Big Easy joint, and it fairly reeks of local color. Indeed, you should drop by after a long night of hearty-partying further up on Bourbon Street. At around 4 am, you're likely to find transvestite hookers at one table, cops at a second, wide-eyed tourists at a third and, whenever I can make it back to my hometown, me -- at the counter, wolfing down breakfast after closing down my favorite blues clubs and guzzling a few grenades. Have fun. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

R.I.P.: Ann Savage (1921-2008)

Veteran actress Ann Savage may have passed away on Christmas Day, but she will forever remain immortal in the hearts of movie buffs for her indelibly acidic portrayal of the ultimate film noir femme fatale: Vera, the hard-bitten hitchhiker who makes a bad situation infinitely worse for a hard-luck loser in Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, arguably the scuzziest great movie ever made. You can hear Savage talking about her role in that classic B-flick here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

R.I.P.: Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)

I made a big mistake several years ago when I tried to match Nick Nolte drink for drink during a luncheon interview. (He walked away from the table; I staggered.) And I made an even bigger mistake during my college years when I tried to keep up with my father during a long night of bar-hopping. But it wasn’t until I interviewed Eartha Kitt at the 1982 Toronto Film Festival that I learned what a wuss I truly am when it comes to serious imbibing.

The sleek and sexy singer-actress was at the festival to promote All By Myself, a biographical documentary about her, and I was invited by a festival press rep to interview her in her swanky hotel suite. So here’s the picture: Eartha Kitt is seated on a plush couch, providing me with a generous view her shapely gams while I sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. Between us is a coffee table where, just as I sit down, a room service attendant places a tray with four filled-to-the-brim brandy snifters. Trouble is, Ms. Kitt doesn’t think the glasses are big enough. The attendant apologizes, and offers to take the tray away and return with bigger, fuller glasses. In that trademark voice of her, that insinuating purr that could drive even Batman batty, Ms. Kitt replies: “Oh. No. We’ll drink these. But they are much too small. Please bring us some more right away.”

The attendant quickly vanishes, leaving Ms. Kitt and I alone to start our conversation. And, yes, to start drinking. Very soon, the room service attendant returns, bearing four considerably larger glasses with considerably more brandy. Ms. Kitt signs the check – and asks for a third round even before we start on the second.

I lost track of how many times the attendant came and went that afternoon. In fact, to be totally honest, I can’t remember much of what Miss Kitt and I chatted about. (Somewhere along the line during the last quarter-century, alas, I misplaced the audio tape of our conversation.) But I do recall that when the festival press rep showed up to usher in another interviewer, he had to physically lift me off the floor, hold me steady as I left the room – I may have kissed Ms. Kitt’s hand on the way out, but I can’t be certain – and direct me to an elevator so I could retreat to my (much smaller) room on another floor of the hotel.

And here’s the really embarrassing part: While greeting her next visitor, Ms. Kitt spoke, laughed and generally comported herself like someone who had spent the previous hour drinking nothing more intoxicating than iced tea. Even though she’d already had a brandy or two before I arrived, and knocked back more than I did while I was there.

I have dined out on this story for years and years. Indeed, by sheer coincidence, I told the tale again just this afternoon at a family gathering, hours before learning of Ms. Kitt’s demise. And now, as I type this, I have within easy reach a glass of wine – sorry, no brandy in the house – with which I plan to toast the great lady who entertained so many of us for so many years. And who taught me an invaluable lesson – one I don’t always heed, I’ll admit – about recognizing my limitations.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not such a wonderful life

It's long been my contention that It's a Wonderful Life is a much darker film than most people acknowledge. But not quite this dark...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Success is only 10,000 hours away

Rachel Abramowitz of the L.A. Times spins a fascinating story about Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling Outliers: The Story of Success and the fascination it holds for folks in the film industry. Highlights include revealing quotes from Dustin Hoffman, who waxes autobiographical (and, at the very end, ruefully philosophical) in his comments regarding Gladwell's provocative "10,000 hours" theory.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Before Valkyrie, there was The Restless Conscience

If the impending release of Valkyrie piques your curiosity about the anti-Hitler resistance in Nazi Germany – and if you’d like to know a little bit more about that clandestine movement before or after you see Bryan Singer’s splendidly acted and uncommonly gripping film – let me whole-heartedly recommend Hava Kohav Beller’s deservedly Oscar-nominated The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Inside Germany, 1933-1945. It will be available on (and elsewhere) in March 2009, and I’ll be writing more about it then. But if you simply can’t wait that long to watch it – and frankly, I don’t see why you should – you can order a DVD of the documentary directly from Ms. Beller’s website. My original 1992 review of the film is here, and my contemporaneous interview with Ms. Beller is here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's a wonderful movie

As much as I unashamedly and unconditionally love It's a Wonderful Life, I don't think I've ever actually seen it on a big movie screen. That is, not until now. Thanks to the folks at the Angelika Film Center here in Houston, I'll have a chance next week to finally watch this classic the way God and Frank Capra intended me to see it. You, too, can check one of the special screenings scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23, and 1:50 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 24 and 25. Gosh, do you think they'll be serving eggnog at the concession stand?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I am watching Law & Order on NBC -- and I just saw a spot for Doubt that makes the movie look like... a holiday-themed comedy. WTF?

Houston crix pick pix, Part 2

The Houston Film Critics Society -- of which I am a member -- has announced its second annual list of year-end accolades. I'm especially pleased by the group's selection of Anne Hathaway as Best Actress for her absolutely fearless performance in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, and Terence Blanchard (a fellow New Orleans homie) as composer of the Best Musical Score for Spike Lee's criminally under-rated Miracle at St. Anna.

BTW: There will be an "official announcement" of the winners during a special program at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Admission is free and open to the public, and there will be a reception afterwards where you can meet.... well, me. And other HFCS members, of course.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

40 years ago

Geez, was I ever really that young? Was my hair ever really that red? And how did I ever pass inspection at my high school's NJROTC program? Well, wait a minute, now that I think about it, I seldom did pass inspection. That's one reason I actively avoided military service. (Of course, the other reason was Vietnam, but let's not go there.)

Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck!

Iraq Shoe Tosser Guy: The Animated Gifs. Scroll down for the best one of all. (Hat-tip to Steve Phelps.)

Very bad, very sad news about Peter Falk

According to court papers filed by his daughter, Peter Falk suffers from Alzheimer's disease and dementia and is no longer competent to run his own life. The news, I must admit, makes me want to me take a second look at one of the actor's more recent films, Checking Out (2005), which now seems, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, uncomfortably prescient. Falk gives a grandly flamboyant yet effectively disciplined performance in the comedy as Morris Applebaum, a retired Shakespearean actor who, on the eve of his 90th birthday, informs his adult children that he plans to take his own life. As I explained in my Variety review when Checking Out was showcased at WorldFest/Houston: Morris' children are "slightly relieved when he tells them that, no, he's not afflicted with some painfully lingering disease, and he's not unduly depressed after the death of his loving wife and long-time co-star. But they're hard-pressed to counter Morris' simple, unshakable logic regarding suicide: He's had a good run so far, so why wait around until he's wasting away in a hospital room or worse?"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are you ready to start getting what you pay for?

James Surowiecki of The New Yorker on the future (or the lack thereof) of newspapers: "The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the [New York] Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product...

"[I]t would not be shocking if, sometime soon, there were big American cities that had no local newspaper; more important, we’re almost sure to see a sharp decline in the volume and variety of content that newspapers collectively produce. For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime — intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on — and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is."

Tacky question

Isn't $76 million, like, more than the combined North American grosses of every movie Guy Ritchie has ever directed? Just wondering.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Day before

Yes, the original still packs a wallop.

R.I.P.: Van Johnson (1916-2008)

Van Johnson enjoyed a long run as an MGM contract player during the heyday of the Hollywood studio system, more or less defining the term “heartthrob” while playing a series of affable boy-next-door types in movies as diverse as A Guy Named Joe (1943) and In the Good Old Summertime (1949). Later, he made an even more memorable impact as an idealistic Naval officer who removes a paranoid Humphrey Bogart from command in The Caine Mutiny, and a glad-handing millionaire car dealer who nearly woos Debbie Reynolds away from Dick Van Dyke in Divorce American Style (1967).

Like many actors of his generation, he aged gracefully while availing himself of the employment opportunities open to Old Hollywood luminaries – a dinner theater gig here, a TV guest spot there – during the ‘70s and ‘80s. (I don’t have to tell you that he guest-starred on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote, do I?) Along the way, he worked for everyone from Frank Capra (State of the Union, 1948) to Woody Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985), and comported himself with the sort of charismatic professionalism that contemporary actors might do well to study and emulate.

Was Van Johnson a great actor? Well, he gave a few great performances. And I’m sure millions of moviegoers over the years would say they had a great time with many of his movies. Chalk up his passing, at age 92, as one more melancholy severing of our ties to a time when movies were magic, and even secondary stars seemed larger the life.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Golden boy

Hugh Jackman as Oscarcast host? Hey, why the hell not? He looks great in a tux. He can sing all of the nominated songs. He's already warmed up by hosting the Tonys. And all the comic-book geeks will tune in to see Wolverine. Genius choice. Really.

R.I.P.: Bettie Page (1923-2008)

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The muddled remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is pretty lousy – you can read my Houston Chronicle review here – but I must I admit that, while enduring a press screening earlier this week, I found myself fascinated each time Kathy Bates appeared on screen as an aggressively authoritative U.S. Secretary of Defense. Throughout this lavish but lumbering “reinvention” (yeah, right) of the 1951 sci-fi classic, Bates’ Sec. Regina Jackson more or less single-handedly commands all branches of the U.S. military (and the combined police departments of, oh, I dunno, maybe three or four states) in an all-out campaign to kill or capture the stolid extraterrestrial (played, stolidly, by Keanu Reeves) who’s threatening to save the Earth by annihilating earthlings. It’s not that Bates gives such a great performance. (Chalk it up as just another grab-the-paycheck turn by another under-employed Oscar-winner.) But I couldn’t help wondering: Why is the Defense Secretary giving all the orders while the unseen President and Vice-President hide out in undisclosed locations?

For that matter, why did another Defense Secretary (played by Jon Voight, another slumming Oscar-winner) have to take charge of defending the planet while an unseen (and, evidently, incompetent) U.S. President remain on the sidelines last year in Transformers? Did the filmmakers responsible for both these popcorn flicks assume that, at this particular point in our country’s history, audiences simply wouldn’t believe that a Chief Executive could really be an efficient Commander in Chief? Is this something else for which we can blame the incredibly unpopular lame duck currently nesting in the White House?

It wasn’t always like this, you understand. As recently as 1996, the charismatic POTUS in Independence Day played by Bill Pullman earned audience cheers with an impassioned call to arms – a rallying oration not unlike the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V – before personally leading the last-ditch fighter-jet assault against alien invaders. But, then again, maybe folks found it easier to believe in a competent Chief Executive twelve years ago. Or ten years ago, when, in Deep Impact, a reassuring African-American prez (Morgan Freeman) kept hope alive even while a humongous meteor bore down on our planet.

All of which makes me wonder: Who’ll be leading the best and brightest of humankind against extraterrestrial terrors in movies made during the Obama Administration? Don’t laugh: Even the most fantastical of popcorn flicks make at least a token effort at credibility. And even the most (seemingly) apolitical of pop-culture trifles often can tell you a lot about the attitudes and assumptions of mass audiences at the time those trifles are pitched at the ticketbuying public.

Looking good

GQ Magazine asks: ""Is it just us or is Jennifer Aniston getting hotter?" Nope, it's not just you.

Friday, December 05, 2008

R.I.P.: Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008)

I can't begin to tell you how bummed I am to hear about the death of Forrest J. Ackerman, whose magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland was, I freely admit, one of my earliest influences as a movie buff. As a literary agent, he helped launch the career of Ray Bradbury, which should be enough to earn him a revered place in pop culture history. But as the publisher of the aforementioned monster mag -- well, let's just say that if you're of a certain age, and you enjoy a certain kind of movie, you know this world is a lesser place without him in it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rolling Stone again

When I first read this piece about a possible remake of Romancing the Stone, I thought: "Too soon!" Then I remembered: We're talking about a movie that's almost a quarter-century old. Sigh.

Nobel Son

The first 20 or so minutes of Nobel Son are borderline unwatchable — the graphic depiction of a jokey-violent thumb severing is only the most egregious of its off-putting elements — and, truth to tell, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the movie offers adequate payback for any moviegoer who refuses to bail out early. If you do stick around, however, you likely will be pleasantly surprised, if not immensely grateful, as genuinely clever substance emerges from the thick fog of frenetically overheated style. You can read my Houston Chroncile review here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Time flies

According to Reuters, the 2009 Berlin Film Festival -- set to unspool Feb. 5-15, 2009 -- "will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a series of films from both sides of the Iron Curtain in the last decade of the Cold War." Think about that for a second. Twentieth anniversary. Twenty years. Two freakin' decades.

All of which leads a 56-year-old fossil like myself to wonder: Just how many of my college students -- hell, how many people who voted in the last U.S. Presidential election -- have no living memory of the Soviet Union? And does this lack of experiential knowledge make them any more or less optimistic than the rest of us when it comes to contemplating the current state of the world?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Four Christmases

Ho, ho, ho? No, no, no! You can read my Houston Chronicle review here.

Talking Paul Newman

The picture quality is pretty dodgy – it was recorded with a Coolpix digital camera by a dear friend and colleague seated in the front row – but I hope you enjoy at least listening to this Paul Newman tribute that Robert Denerstein and I presented on Sunday at the Starz Denver Film Festival. It’s just a couple of white guys sitting around talking, but we appreciated the opportunity to pay homage to the late, great actor, filmmaker and humanitarian. (I’m a little jealous of Denerstein, who has this ingratiating yet authoritative, NPR-ready speaking voice going for him. I, on the other hand, occasionally sound as though I’m still struggling to reach puberty.) There probably are better ways to have done this, but since I am the world’s most maladroit technophobe, even when armed with Windows Movie Maker, I wound up having to post it in seven segments on You Tube. But don’t let that scare you off – none of the segments is longer than 10 minutes, and most are appreciably shorter than that. Here's Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven. Enjoy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stay of execution? blogger Dylan Stableford reports that recent staff layoffs -- repeat, may -- help "a magazine that roughly every single person I’ve talked to in the last two months thought was going to be shuttered: Entertainment Weekly." Just how bad are things at the Time Inc. publication? Stableford writes: "Through September, EW is down 19 percent in ad pages --double the industry's 9.5 percent slide -- according to the Publishers Information Bureau, and down 7 percent in single copy sales during the first half of 2008, according to ABC's Fas-Fax. " Scary stuff, kids. First Premiere, and now...

Second chance to see me on TV

If you missed my fleeting appearance this weekend on At the Movies -- well, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can catch the "Critics Roundup" segment by going here and clicking onto the Quantum of Solace button in the "New This Week" section. Go ahead. Don't make me beg.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bad House

It has nothing to do with the terrific TV series. It's not even a remake of the silly 1986 horror flick starring William Katt. No, this particular House is... Well, look, I get paid to see movies like this. (My Variety review is here.) Unless you can get a similar scam going for yourself, don't bother.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My quantum of At the Movies

OK, I admit: The first time I did a couple of "Critics Roundup" segments for At the Movies, I felt like I'd charted heretofore unplumbed depths of total suckage. Indeed, I feared that, after the taping, a producer would call me and say something like, "Uh, Joe, that really didn't, er, work out, did it? So, well, we're going to, like, edit you out..." But I guess I didn't stink up the joint as badly as I feared. They asked me back to tape a new segment today with hosts Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz and Matt Singer of IFC. We talked about Quantum of Solace -- and you can hear what we had to say this weekend on fine TV stations everywhere.

Australia earns Oprah's seal of approval

Miss Winfrey is raving about the epic romantic drama previewed in the current issue of Cowboys & Indians.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Four more years! Four more years!

The decision-makers at MSNBC announce they have extended Keith Olbermann's contract through 2012. Is this a great country, or what? Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the park.

YouTube does a re-do to be more like Hulu

From the New York Times: "With critical plaudits and advertising dollars flowing to Hulu, the popular online hub for television shows and feature films, YouTube finds itself in the unanticipated position of playing catch-up. On Monday, YouTube will move forward a little, announcing an agreement to show some full-length television shows and films from MGM, the financially troubled 84-year-old film studio."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes, he did!

Segregated schools. “Whites Only” water fountains. Blacks compelled to sit on the back of the bus. TV news bulletins about civil rights workers found buried in shallow graves. Newspaper ads for In the Heat of the Night that used silhouettes, so you couldn't tell a black man was a protagonist.

I am 56 years old and I grew up in the South, in New Orleans, so you know I have living memories of all these things. But do you have any idea how amazed and exuberant – and, yes, how very proud – I am tonight? Can you imagine how much more I love my country than I already did before?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Looking for Trouble, they found it

Documentarians Carl Deal and Tia Lessin were all set to make a movie about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — specifically about National Guardsmen newly returned from Iraq who were readying to restore order in storm-battered New Orleans — when a force of nature named Kimberly River Roberts gate-crashed into their project.

A would-be rapper and self-described "street hustler," Kimberly, a large, handsome African-American woman of 24, aptly described by film critic David Denby as having the "presence of lioness," approached the filmmakers at a Red Cross shelter near the National Guard armory in Alexandria, La. She told them that she and her husband, Scott Roberts, had remained in their Lower Ninth Ward home when Katrina slammed into New Orleans. And that she had captured images of rising waters and mounting panic with her newly purchased camcorder.

Deal and Lessin were amazed by her footage. But they were even more impressed by Kimberly, who ultimately became, along with her husband, the centerpiece of Trouble the Water, an extraordinary documentary about breached levees, broken promises and rebuilt lives. You can read my Houston Chronicle interview with the filmmakers here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Just wondering...

As the numbers of Obamacans increase, I am left to ponder a provocative question. Even if John McCain had run the very same campaign – and, indeed, picked the very same VP candidate – would so many notable Republicans have been so quick to support Barack Obama for President had McCain been running after eight years of Al Gore? Put it another way: Are people like Colin Powell saying “No” to McCain (and “Yes” to Obama), or “Never Again” to (and/or “I’m Sorry” about) George W. Bush?

R.I.P.: John Daly (1937-2008)

OK, I am not going to lie. I have always had tremendous respect for John Daly – producer of such exceptional films as The Last Emperor, Platoon, Salvador and The Terminator. But when I heard of his death Friday, the first thing that I thought about was the guy’s classy gesture at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, when he took pains to seek me out at a reception and thank me – really, a nobody – for raving about one of his lesser known movies, Miracle Mile, when, while I was film critic for The Houston Post, I presented it as my Critic’s Choice at the Houston Film Festival. Maybe, just maybe, because Daly thought just as much of his smaller indie productions as he did of his Oscar contenders and box-office hits.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Little Big Top

By turns amusingly sour and unassumingly sweet, Little Big Top is a lightly likable trifle that benefits greatly from the offbeat casting of vet heavy Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects) as Seymour Smiles, an aging, unemployed circus clown who's fortuitously sidetracked on the road toward self-destruction. You can read my full Variety review here.

Trouble the Water

Talk about being in the wrong place at the right time: Kimberly Rivers Roberts, an aspiring rapper and self-described "street hustler" living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, had just recently purchased a Sony camcorder in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into her city.

Like too many other residents of their predominantly African-American neighborhood, Kimberly and her husband, Scott Roberts, lacked the wherewithal to evacuate, so they stayed put. At first, Kimberly was happy to play the part of "interviewer," pointing her camcorder at relatives and neighbors while asking how they would ride the storm. But then the rains came. Kimberly and Scott, along with a handful of others, wound up warily watching from their attic while waters from breached levees flooded the streets — to the point of submerging stop signs — outside their home. And throughout it all, Kimberly continued to operate her camcorder, instinctively capturing indelible images that are the heart of a powerful new movie aptly titled Trouble the Water.

You can read my entire Houston Chronicle review here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tinker Bell

Do you believe in fairies? Well, the folks who made Tinker Bell sure hope that you (or your kids) do. You can read my Variety review here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anaconda 3: Offspring

A sequel in name only to the notoriously campy Anaconda (1997) and the tragically less funny Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), Anaconda 3: Offspring bids to launch a direct-to-video franchise as a cliche-encrusted action-thriller aimed at undiscriminating genre fans. (A follow-up already has been filmed and is duly promoted on this pic's DVD.) Curiosity-seekers might take a peek, if only to see whether top-billed David Hasselhoff -- like Jon Voight in the original -- is devoured by a rapacious reptile. He isn't, however, which very likely will hurt home video sales. You can read my full Variety review here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Do you Hulu?, an online video site launched less than a year ago, continues to attract an ever-increasing audience with its ever-expanding library of movies and TV shows. Indeed, according to one report, Hulu was the 6th most watched video site on the entire Internet in September, clocking in more than 142 million streams -- ahead of ESPN (128 million streams), CNN (118 million streams) and MTV Networks (97 million streams). How does Hulu do it? In part, by offering totally free streams of great films like Nobody's Fool, Robert Benton's exceptional 1994 comedy-drama starring the late, great Paul Newman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Would Obama or McCain be the better 007?

According to Daniel Craig: “Obama would be the better Bond because -- if he’s true to his word -- he’d be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M... There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain.”

Hope, not fear

I had to stay in line about a half hour before casting my early vote today. It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Robert Davi puts up his Dukes

Looks like Josh Brolin isn’t the only alumnus of The Goonies who’s enjoying a career uptick. Veteran character actor Robert Davi – a memorable Goonies baddie – is about to launch the long-awaited theatrical release of The Dukes, his first effort as a feature filmmaker, after a long tour on the international festival circuit. (I was pleased to present Davi's enjoyable comedy-drama as my Critic’s Choice selection at the 2007 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival.) In addition to directing and co-writing The Dukes, Davi stars (alongside Chazz Palminteri and Peter Bogdanovich) and sings in the movie, which opens in New York Nov. 14, and expands to other markets Nov. 21.

As I wrote in my original Variety review: "Davi neatly balances humor and heart while smoothly moving to a doo-wop beat in The Dukes... a low-key charmer about members of a '50s vocal group who, nearly five decades after their fleeting heyday, contemplate crime to fund a long-sought comeback. With Davi and Chazz Palminteri fronting a first-rate ensemble cast, and a tasty soundtrack of golden oldies, this unpretentious indie dramedy has much to recommend...

"Although George (Palminteri) and Danny (Davi) occasionally join their fellow Dukes for a gig on the nostalgia circuit -- where, due to Danny's temperamental demands, their bookings are becoming increasingly rare -- the two middle-aged cousins rely on steady jobs as cooks in an Italian restaurant run by their Aunt Vee (Miriam Margolyes).

"George thinks it would be a nifty idea to buy a shuttered nitery and turn it into a Doo Wop Club where the Dukes would headline. Unfortunately, neither he nor his fellow crooners -- including the over-eating Armond (Frank D'Amico) and the easily excitable Murph (Elya Baskin) -- have enough money to finance such a scheme.

"Their longtime agent (a well-cast Peter Bogdanovich) tries to help his hapless clients recycle their few big hits in an oldies compilation... But when those plans come to naught, even the initially reluctant Danny is forced to reconsider George's dicey plan to burglarize a dental clinic.

"Working from a script he co-wrote with James Andronica, Davi proves gracefully adept at shifting tones and varying moods, sometimes within a single scene. (Take note of the way he merges knowing satire and affecting pathos while Danny and his fellow Dukes humiliate themselves for a TV commercial director). There's a nicely respectful hint of Big Deal on Madonna Street throughout the scenes in which the amateur criminals plan and execute their latenight break-in to swipe gold used for dental fillings. Crime doesn't pay, of course. But it does provide at least one good laugh (for Danny, at least) in a modestly clever plot twist.

"Best known for playing intimidating badasses in films ranging from The Goonies to License to Kill, Davi gives himself ample opportunity here to appear tender as well as tough, so that Danny remains sympathetically vulnerable as his desperation mounts. The actor is at his best in a quiet scene where Danny's son asks him why he no longer sings. 'Daddy's time passed,' he wistfully replies. 'And now it's tough for him to do that.'"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Remembering Paul Newman

The folks at the Denver Film Festival have graciously invited me to take part in their Nov. 22-23 tribute to the late, great Paul Newman. So I'll be introducing special screenings of The Hustler (7 pm Nov. 22), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (3:45 pm Nov. 23) and Nobody's Fool (6:30 pm Nov. 23) -- and discussing Newman's extraordinary life and work with film critic Robert Denerstein (while, of course, taking questions from the audience) during a 2 pm Nov. 23 program titled "Paul Newman: The Last Movie Star." Be there, or be square.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dead end

Just how bad is Sex Drive? It's a raunched-up, dumbed-down version of The Sure Thing. At its frequent worst, it plays like a ‘80s teen-skewing comedy that John Hughes might have made if Hughes were entirely bereft of taste and talent. You can read my Variety review here.

TV update

Remember: This weekend on At the Movies, I'll be part of the "Critic's Round-Up" discussion of Religulous.


Last year, my Variety colleague Alissa Simon aptly described the Spanish-produced thriller REC as "Night of the Living Dead meets The Blair Witch Project." And, really, you could say pretty much the same about its Americanized remake, Quarantine, a modestly inventive and sporadically exciting horror flick predicated on the idea that whiplash pans, inconstant focusing and other faux cinéma vérité embellishments can refresh even the moldiest of zombie-movie tropes. You can read my Variety review here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A free peek at George Bush's home away from home

Can't wait for Oliver Stone's W.? Then click on Crawford, David Modigliani's surprisingly even-handed and occasionally poignant account of the impact on the citizenry in the small Texas town chosen by George W. Bush to be the site of his co-called “Western White House.” (Yeah, that's right: The place Harold and Kumar dropped into in their last movie.) Filmed over several years, the documentary plays like a rise-and-fall drama populated with colorful, contrasting characters who have profoundly mixed feelings about being used essentially as props in Bush’s political stagecraft.

Life imitates art?

Did someone forget to tell Gerard Butler that RocknRolla already had wrapped?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


David Kehr’s writing about film is so consistently smart, stylish and insightful that it’s all too easy to take for granted his New York Times coverage of classics newly released on DVD. So please let me call your attention to a particularly impressive column – one that intelligently analyzes two wildly disparate movies -- that appeared today in the NYT.

"Locket & Key"

The music of Donna the Buffalo has been labeled as alternative-country, Americana, folk-rock -- and a dozen or so other things. But the group is more than plain ol' country enough for Great American Country. Which is why this video for their terrific new single, "Locket & Key," is set to debut Friday (Oct. 10) on GAC's Edge of Country program. (BTW: The video was co-directed by the great Mary Stuart Masterson and her husband, actor Jeremy Davidson.) But wait, there's more: The more the video is requested, the more GAC will play it. If you like it, you can visit here and ask for more.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Not-so-instant replay

If you missed At the Movies this past weekend, don't despair: You can go to the show's website, click on the tab for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and see the "Critics Round-Up" featuring... well, me. (BTW: I'll be back on the show next week, for a discussion of Religulous.)

Creepy old ads

These really are... creepy.

Willie Nelson in 3-D

Are you ready for The Red-Headed Stranger in 3-D? Stereo Vision Entertainment, Inc. has announced plans to produce Secrets of the Lost San Sabas, a film in which Willie Nelson will play "an Indian guide to afterlife on a 300-year quest for justice. The movie's filled with ghosts and goddesses from the Aztec Nation, along with some of today's most colorful characters, all shot in state-of-the-art, digital 3-D." Cowabunga.