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?