Wednesday, March 26, 2008

R.I.P.: Richard Widmark (1914-2008)

Richard Widmark ensured his immortality as a giggling psycho killer (Kiss of Death), a cynical pickpocket (Pickup on South Street), a member of John Ford's version of the U.S. Cavalry (Two Rode Together), a wary but not sufficiently watchful N.Y. cop (Madigan)...

Yeah, sure. But my very favorite Widmark performance is the one he gave as himself at the one and only Telluride Film Festival that I ever attended, back in 1982, when the actor was one of the lifetime-achievement award honorees. Another honoree, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, made a spectacle of himself one evening by announcing, through a translator: "The cinema, she is a whore. First she charge a nickel, now she charge five dollars. When she learns to give it away, she will be free." Widmark was not impressed. In fact, judging by his response the following evening, he was suitably pissed. He told a cheering audience: "I want to name you some pimps. Hitchcock ... Fellini ... Bergman ... Orson Welles ..." So there.

(BTW: After Googling sporadically throughout the afternoon, and not finding any mention of this incident anywhere, I was beginning to worry that I'd only dreamed it. Thank God, once again, for Roger Ebert.)

CORRECTION: My bad – it was indeed, as Griff posts in the comments below, the 1983 Telluride Festival (not the ’82 event) where Richard Widmark laid the verbal smackdown on Andrei Tarkovsky. I should have remembered the date, because that festival was the first I ever attended (though, unfortunately, not the last) at which a far-away real-life event (in this case, the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over Soviet air space) distracted many festivalgoers from the films.

Eastwood is terminated

According to the L.A. Times, Gov. Arnold doesn't make his day.

R.I.P.: Al Copeland (1944-2007)

Today I mourn the visionary who gave the world Popeyes Fried Chicken. Seriously. And tonight, I will celebrate his life by raising a glass of wine -- and, of course, a chicken leg -- in a toast. Love that chicken from Popeyes...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

For your viewing pleasure: Bedazzled

There's a great new advertiser-supported website -- -- where you can view -- for free -- classic and contemporary movies and TV shows. So far, the list of available titles is, well, fairly limited. But you see -- for free -- Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the original 1967 Bedazzled. Cowabunga!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The worst of the worst

Joe Queenan of The Guardian argues that, despite what you may have read elsewhere, The Hottie and The Nottie is not one of the worst movies ever made. Bad as it might be, he says, it's not nearly bad enough to be counted among other titles in his "dark, Bizarro World pantheon" of "phantasmagoric disasters." Money quote: "[T]o qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again -- and again -- and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, 'Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?', the answer needs no further reflection."

More movies, fewer reviews: Take 2

Sean P. Means of The Salt Lake City Tribune weighs in. Money quote: "By forcing a generic product onto your readers, you're giving them a push to go elsewhere. And you've given them one less reason to see your paper as indispensable."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not just older, but hotter

OK, I admit: It's a bit disconcerting to see Jamie Lee Curtis -- yeah, the virginal babysitter of Halloween -- on the cover of AARP Magazine. But you know what? She's still pretty freakin' hot, right?

Advertisement for myself

Hey! I'm going to be a "distinguished panelist" at the 2008 Nashville Film Festival. Gosh... I feel so... so... well, sage.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More movies, fewer reviews

In a really, truly, drearily depressing Hollywood Reporter feature, writer Greg Goldstein notes the latest bad news about movie coverage in major newspapers. Not only are critics being laid off, bought out or reassigned right and left. Now some major dailies -- including the New York Post and the New York Daily News -- are opting not to print even wire-service reviews of certain documentaries, indie flicks and foreign-language imports. And mind you, we're not talking about unheralded obscurities. No, we're talking about films such as the highly acclaimed 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (for which the Daily News ran only on-line reviews). Why the cutback? Because "as more and more indie films have flooded the market (up from 501 in 2006 to 530 last year), they are overwhelming critics," Goldstein writes.

The article also notes that, at some papers, editors are using stringers to help fill the void left by departed (and unreplaced) film critics. In the interest of full disclosure: For three years, I reviewed movies as a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner; more recently, I've strung for the Houston Chronicle. And of course, for the past 18 years or so, I've been a free-lance critic and correspondent for Variety, the showbiz bible. So, of course, I'm kinda-sorta disposed to thinking that using stringers is a simply dandy idea. (And if any other papers want me to review movies for them, hey, I'm available.) But others see this as a less-than-perfect solution. Indeed, Goldstein quotes the lovely and talented Fredell Pogodin, an L.A.-based publicist, as slamming the use of wire-service and stringer critics because, in most cases, readers "don't know enough about a person's voice and what they like for their review to count."

What about on-line critics? "We're not at a point where Internet writers have the credibility of established media with proven records and editors," says ThinkFilm's Mark Urman. So there. Actually, he's right, but still... well, gee whiz...

Sundance for sale

If you have a spare $500 million lying around someplace, you might consider buying The Sundance Channel.

And the winner is...

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) received three of nine awards -- including the top prize, for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking -- at this week's inaugural Cinema Eye Honors in New York. The event -- promoted as the first of its kind to specifically recognize documentaries -- was hosted by IndiePix Films, the Internet-based distributor of independent films, along with award-winning producer AJ Schnack and Thom Powers, documentary programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

R.I.P. Ivan Dixon (1931- 2008)

Holy smokes! Looks like these tragedies really do come in threes. Hail and farewell to Ivan Dixon, who earned his place of honor in the pop-culture pantheon as groundbreaking co-star of Hogan's Heroes and under-rated director of the sub-zero-cool Trouble Man. As an actor, his movie credits ranged from socially conscious drama (A Raisin in the Sun, Nothing But a Man) to funky urban comedy (Car Wash). But he was even more prolific as a director of episodic television, from Get Christie Love! to Quantum Leap.

R.I.P: Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

I am not at all ashamed to admit that, for several years, I kept the above photo on a bulletin board in my home office because... because... well, because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that Arthur C. Clarke and I both used the same freakin' brand of computer. Sweet.

Of course, he produced a lot more with his Kaypro than I ever did with mine (or, truth to tell, with any other computer I've ever owned, or ever will own). Still, it makes me smile just a little to know I had some very, very small connection to an immortal.

SXSW: Bulletproof Salesman

From the makers of Gunner Palace and The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, another fascinating documentary about life (and death) in post-Saddam Iraq.

R.I.P.: Anthony Minghella (1954-2008)

The obituaries are bound to emphasize Anthony Minghella’s biggest, best known films – The English Patient (for which he received an Academy Award as Best Director), Cold Mountain and the lushly perverse Talented Mr. Ripley – but I must admit my preference for his more intimate and affecting works.

Truly, Madly, Deeply, his debut feature as writer-director, is a subtle, precise and quietly endearing supernatural romance, with a bittersweet ending that truly earns your tears. Much of it is extremely funny, and even more of it is warmly charming, thanks in large measure to the delicately balanced lead performances by Alan Rickman and the under-appreciated Juliet Stevenson.

The criminally under-rated Breaking and Entering – Minghella’s most recently released film -- is, as I have written elsewhere, a coolly intelligent and subtly allusive drama that speaks in a quiet yet insistent voice to anyone with the mind to perceive and the heart to sympathize. I strongly suspect -- well, OK, I dearly hope -- that, in the wake of the director’s passing, it will undergo an extensive critical re-evaluation.

And speaking of re-evaluation: Mr. Wonderful, a relatively obscure (if not completely forgotten) romantic comedy Minghella made in 1993, is well worth tracking down. It’s undeniably lightweight, but extremely likable, with splendid performances (by Matt Dillon, Annabelle Sciorra, Vincent D’Onofrio, Mary-Louise Parker and, briefly, William Hurt) that are in perfect sync with the shifting moods and melancholy wit of the screenplay by Amy Schor and
Vicki Polon.

BTW: Jeffrey Wells offers a deeply felt tribute to Minghella -- and acknowledges a personal tragedy -- here. My condolences to Wells and his family, and to Minghella's family and friends. There is nothing more I can say. Death says it all.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Live from SXSW: Stop-Loss

So there I am, during my last night at SXSW, watching Stop-Loss at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. Sitting next to me: A documentarian who's actually spent time in Iraq, shooting... well, documentaries about the Iraq War. At the ten-minute mark, he turns to me and says: "I don't know how much longer I can put up with this." At the 17-minute mark, he says: "OK, I'm leaving. Talk to you later." And he bolts. I wasn't quite so upset by the film.

Calendar boy

Adventures at SXSW

After extending my stay to cover a few more films -- here are my reviews of Crawford and Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- I found myself low on funds here in Austin. So I took a one-night temp job as bouncer in a biker bar. Fortunately, I was able to flash my new tattoo to get myself some badass cred. A couple of drunken rowdies tried to start a fight by saying Jean-Luc Godard was the only true genius of the French New Wave. But they shut up pretty damn fast when I got medieval on them with a pool cue. Deconstruct that, suckas!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Yesterday, after taking care of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Caramel for The Houston Chronicle, I loaded up the car and hit the road for Austin, to sample the cinema at this year's South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. It's now the morning after the opening night film -- 21 (above), which I've reviewed for Variety -- and I have a busy day in store. Will keep you posted -- and, more important, linked -- as I proceed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Election Day in H-Town

Yes, I voted for him. Because, really, how often do you have the opportunity to help make history? But I must admit: I'm unreasonably proud that both contending Democrats spent the night before here in Houston.