Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blonde Ambition

Blonde Ambition isn't, strictly speaking, a direct-to-DVD production -- it had a grand total of eight theatrical bookings before taking the fast lane to homevid -- but it's difficult to see how even one of the 16 producers involved with this trifle ever could have expected to draw multitudes to megaplexes with something so slight. The marquee allure of Jessica Simpson may be enough to attract curious buyers and renters, though the actress' relatively demure star turn here will disappoint anyone seeking a smokin' hot reprise of her scantily clad Daisy Duke.

"Next week on No Country for Old Men...."

In the wake of the Lionsgate announcement that Crash will be spun off as a weekly TV series, my Variety colleague Brian Lowry has some clever suggestions regarding the possible transfer of this year's Best Picture nominees from big screen to small screen. To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from Network: Bet they would knock that freakin' karaoke show right off the map!

Far from Park City, Part II

More Sundance and Slamdance reviews: My Mother's Garden, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo -- and, on a cheerier note, Real Time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Now showing at a theater near you: Wendy's and Wal-Mart

More WGA strike collateral damage: According to Advertising Age, a dramatic erosion in the audience for broadcast TV series may lead to an equally dramatic shift in advertising dollars. In other words: You soon may be sitting through ads for Wal-Mart, Wendy's and Kraft Foods when you go to your friendly neighborhood megaplex.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Diane Lane

Diane Lane has been busily promoting Untraceable -- a surprisingly satisfying slice of meat-and-potatoes moviemaking -- and she graciously chatted with me a few days ago so I could do a Q&A for the Houston Chronicle. Here are some of the outtakes:

Q: Were you able to do much preparation to play FBI special agent Jennifer Marsh?

A: Some. During my research, and the time I spent with the Real McCoys over at the FBI, I was able to meet some of the working moms who are very impressive in their profession. I’m so grateful they chose their profession, seeing how much there is a need for cyber-law enforcement. It was daunting, for sure. But I will say that their sense of humor – well, I don’t think that America is ready for the sense of humor that is needed for that job. Because, really, you have to protect your heart while you’re witnessing such heartlessness in trying to be a crimestopper.

Q: Of course, if you’re an actor, there’s another aspect of the digital age to consider: Thanks to technological advances, every movie or TV show you’ve ever made is, for better or worse, permanently preserved.

A: That’s fine and well and good. I’m OK with that. It’s the isolation of images out of context that is irksome to me. Because that’s the difference between a complex, emotional story that involves sensuality and sexuality, and pornography. Once you change or shift or eliminate the context, what have you got? It’s just bumping uglies, you know what I mean?

Q: True enough. If you ever do scenes involving nudity or sensuality, as you have in Unfaithful and A Walk on the Moon – they’re bound to wind up on certain websites.

A: It’s really demoralizing. It actually kind of makes you give up hope about human nature after a certain point. You go, ‘I guess this is what we’re contending with. Are we just going to lie down and take it, or are we going to complain and enforce regulations or rules and penalties, and tracking and tracing?’ But, I mean, you have to be able to find the people who have these sites to begin the process of changing things. And when things are – quote, unquote – untraceable, what do you do then? To me, that’s scary in itself. Whatever it is you’re trying to effectuate, if you can’t locate accountability, you don’t have a starting place.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Meet the Spartans

And so I ran, screaming, into the parking lot, in the wake of the midnight screening of Meet the Spartans, my eyes burning and my ears bleeding...

OK, I'm exaggerating. A little. Truth is, I'm sure there are some circumstances under which I might have enjoyed this film. Like, I could be watching it at home. On DVD. While smoking some killer weed. While Salma Hayek sat in my lap and...

Nah, I have to admit, even that wouldn't help.

R.I.P.: Heath Ledger (1979-2008)

I’ve shied away from posting anything about this tragedy until now because, frankly, I’ve been appalled by some of the stuff that already has appeared on other blogs. (And, no, I don't see any reason to link to any of it.) A lot of folks – including, more often than I’d like to admit, yours truly -- are quick to make unfounded assumptions and offer snap judgments. In this particular situation, though…

All I want to do at this point in time is offer my condolences to the survivors, and express my regret that another promising talent is, in the words of the Neil Diamond song, done too soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Far from Park City

Thanks to the modern miracle of DVDs, I can sample some Slamdance Film Festival offerings without having to trudge through the snow. So far, I have reviewed Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and Circus Rosaire. More to come...

(BTW: While all the A-list Variety critics are in Park City, Meet the Spartans will open Friday without press previews. I don't have to tell you what that means, do I?)

Oscar madness

My first take on today's announcement of Oscar finalists: A few welcome surprises -- including a Best Actor nomination for Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises) and a Best Director nod for Jason Reitman (Juno) -- along with plenty of predictable choices, hardly any of them unworthy, and only one truly disappointing shut-out. (Nothing at all for Knocked Up? Damn.)

I wish there had been a little Academy love for some of my personal-fave long-shots (especially Reign Over Me and Black Snake Moan), but, really there's nothing on this list that annoys me, and quite a few inclusions that delight me. I'm especially happy to see Ellen Page among the Best Actress finalists -- shameless plug: I have an interview with her in the new issue of MovieMaker -- and Tommy Lee Jones getting the attention he deserves for the criminally under-rated In the Valley of Elah. Let's hope neither nominee will have to worry about crossing picket lines when the envelopes are opened Feb. 24.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

For the record

I would like to stipulate, and have recorded for posterity, that I favorably reviewed Step Up and 27 Dresses before I had any idea -- repeat, any idea -- that director Anne Fletcher was this hot. Really. Honest.

And speaking of Denzel....

Long before they paired in American Gangster, Russell Crowe co-starred with Denzel Washington in Brett Leonard's 1995 sci-fi thriller Virtuosity. Both Crowe and I look a lot younger in this clip.

Me and Denzel, Part III

In late 1997, I had the opportunity to talk with Denzel Washington about Fallen. This vintage segment -- newly edited, like all my YouTube clips, by the multitalented Robert Clark -- probably won't land me a job on 60 Minutes, but I do think it demonstrates that I learned a few things about doing TV during my stint at KPRC. (BTW: Note the "Uncle Denzel" reference at the very end. Yes, I told him all about that, and he was amused.)

Me and Denzel, Part II

As my son's birthday approached in 1995, I feared that, even with my free-lace writing work, and my part-time gig at KPRC, I wouldn't have enough cash to throw a celebration worthy of the lad. Fortunately, during the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, the spectacularly wonderful Jami Bernard put me in touch with her editors at the New York Daily News, who assigned me to interview Denzel Washington in conjunction with Devil in a Blue Dress. When I returned to Houston, I told my son that, thanks to his "Uncle Denzel," he would enjoy a first-rate birthday blow-out. And ever since, "Uncle Denzel" is how Washington has been known at Casa Leydon.

(A word on the above clip: Unfortunately, Washington hasn't yet been able to do Othello at Houston's Tony Award-winning Alley Theatre. But, hey, hope springs eternal.)

Me and Denzel, Part I

Back in April 1995, The Houston Post, which had employed me as film critic since August 1982, shut down. And when I couldn't find another newspaper to pay me to watch movies for a living, I feared that I would actually have to find a real job.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid the inevitable for a while when I landed a part-time gig at KPRC-TV, Houston's NBC affiliate, as film critic for the station's weekend morning news show. Talk about earning while you're learning: This segment I did with Denzel Washington (during a junket for Virtuosity) was one of my very first efforts for KPRC as on-the-air interviewer. Fortunately, Washington was too gracious to make me look too green.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Barack Obama: Superstar

What Tina Daunt of the L.A. Times writes specifically about Barack Obama's appeal to Hollywood insiders may also help explain the candidate's ascending superstardom everywhere:

"[I]n a town that for many months has been divided by head and heart, a lot of entertainment industry people who chose [Hillary] Clinton because she was the smart choice, the 'inevitable' Democratic candidate, are going where their hearts have long wanted to take them -- to a place on the Obama bandwagon (and nobody wants to miss the last seat).

"From the beginning, Hollywood has loved Obama's story -- his 'pitch' as they say -- but were wary of his real box office potential. Iowa and now possibly New Hampshire have lifted that uncertainty. The only thing the town likes better than a great story is a winning one."

Monday, January 07, 2008


I've been felled by whatever bug is floating around Houston these days, and haven't spent much time out of bed during the past 24 hours. Will post again when I'm feeling better.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Sometimes, I think it's a sin -- when I feel like I'm winning, when I'm losing again.

In praise of Frank Langella

Throughout nearly four decades of estimable work in film and theater, Frank Langella has remained highly visible at a level somewhere between superstar and journeyman. Early in his film career – specifically, in 1970, when he gave back-to-back, attention-grabbing performances in Frank Perry’s Diary of Mad Housewife and Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs – he appeared poised to break out as a hot-hunk leading man. (After seeing the latter film for the first time, a gay college classmate confided to me: "I'd sure like to see that sailor naked!" So I recommended that he see Housewife. He did. Several times.) Later in the ‘70s, Langella evidenced similarly sexy potential when he starred in a popular Broadway revival of Dracula, then repeated his smoldering portrayal of the bloodthirsty count in an indifferently received film version. For one reason or another, however, the magic didn’t happen, and movie stardom eluded him.

But never mind: Langella has continued to earn awards and dazzle audiences in a remarkably diverse variety of stage roles – I was impressed by his turn as Henry Higgins in a Houston Grand Opera revival of My Fair Lady a few years back – while occasionally making his presence felt (and appreciated) as a supporting player in indie and mainstream movies. His may not be a household name, but it’s nonetheless a name that carries weight with those who have admired his work.

Which is why, as I've written in my Houston Chronicle review of Starting Out in the Evening, when Lauren Ambrose's ambitious grad student first approaches Leonard Schiller (Langella), a literary lion in winter, with equal measures of giddy excitement and respectful deference, it’s easy to image the actor playing Leonard generating the same response in a fan who recalls, say, Langella’s 1975 Tony Award-winning performance -- his Broadway debut! -- in Edward Albee’s Seascape, and who has followed the actor’s career ever since.

An objective observer – like the cynical magazine editor in Starting Out in the Evening, who dismisses Langella's character as a forgotten relic from another era -- might question why anyone would get so excited about encountering a figure so far removed from the A-list. But, as Louis Armstrong once quipped, “There are some people that, if they don’t know, you can’t tell them.”

Houston crix pick pix

The recently formed Houston Film Critics Society – of which I am a member – has announced its very first list of year-end accolades. And while I don’t agree with every selection, hey, I got outvoted in some categories, so I’ll just have get over it, after a reasonable amount of pouting.

But seriously, folks:

BEST PICTURENo Country for Old Men.







BEST SCREENPLAY – Diablo Cody, Juno.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATUREThe King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Dario Marianelli, Atonement.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – "Falling Slowly" from Once.

HFCS president Nick Nicholson (no, I don’t believe that’s his real name, either, but that’s his story, and he’s sticking with it) also announced a special prize for HONORARY TEXANS: Joel and Ethan Coen, co-directors of No Country for Old Men. “We were so impressed with No Country,” Nicholson said, “that we wanted to let the Coen Brothers know they are welcome to shoot in our state any time they want, as long as they don’t let their pit bulls anywhere near us.”

But wait, there’s more: HFCS members also voted to bestow special prizes for OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMA. The winners: Philip Seymour Hoffman, for being so damn good in no fewer than three 2007 movies (Charlie Wilson’s War, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and The Savages); and the late, lamented Greenway 3 Theatre, the revered Houston art-house that closed on New Year’s Eve.

The top ten movies of 2007, voted by HFCS members:

1. No Country for Old Men

2. Juno

3. Atonement

4. Michael Clayton

5. Into the Wild

6. Sweeney Todd

7. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

8. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

9. Charlie Wilson’s War

10. I’m Not There

Another lame excuse

Looks like I won't get to see There Will Be Blood until Monday. And since I can't very well compile my list of 2007's ten best movies without seeing whether this particular movie should be included, well...

Coming soon to a video store near you

Several Academy Award hopefuls will be released on DVD during the next few weeks, to take advantage of all the pre-Oscarcast hoopla. But 3:10 to Yuma -- which hits video stores next week -- is the only one set for a January debut.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Top Ten late again

Sorry: I'm still catching up with a few 2007 movies, so I likely won't have my year-end wrap-up posted until this weekend. Yeah, I know: This tardiness is getting to be a habit with me.

Big Easy eateries

Since a reader asked about restaurants in my home town of New Orleans, I thought I'd do some online checking to see if some of my faves are still open for business. I had heard that Mandina's closed for a while, because of Katrina-caused damage. Looks like they got a great deal on pink paint while doing repairs and restoration. But never mind: If you're in The Big Easy, go. Eat. Enjoy.

And if you're in the French Quarter, be sure to check out my favorite joint in that area: Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar.