Friday, May 29, 2009

Good night, Jay Leno

You know, I don't mean this to sound like a dig at Jay Leno, who I've appreciated as a very funny guy ever since the days when I covered him in Houston comedy clubs during the early 1980s. (Of course, I've always been more of a David Letterman fan, but never mind.) But while watching his farewell Tonight Show after 17 years on the air, I couldn't help feeling... well, not immensely moved. And I certainly don't think of his leaving as anywhere near the epochal pop culture event that Johnny Carson's departure was. Sure, I know: Carson was on for 30 years, and had a great deal more time to evolve into an icon. But I also wonder if, because there are so many more viewing choices now, no one will ever again have the stature of a Johnny Carson in our collective pop culture consciousness. Come to think of it, as we proceed apace in the Age of Media Demassification, I don't think Conan O'Brien will ever have a stature equal to Jay's. That's the just the way is now. I'm not saying that's tragic. But in a way, I think it's a little sad that, the more options we have from which to choose, the fewer things we have that bring us together.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Looking back: Do the Right Thing

Can it really be, as IndieWire reminds us, twenty years since Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing rocked the house at the Cannes Film Festival? And two decades since it opened at theaters and drive-ins everywhere during a long, hot summer it was supposed to set ablaze? I can still remember the electricity crackling throughout the Grand Palais during the first Cannes press screening of Lee's singularly audacious movie. And, yes, I can remember some otherwise intelligent people making goofs of themselves at the post-screening press conference, where they seriously pissed off Lee with questions about what they perceived as a shocking lack of on-screen drug abuse by the inner-city, mostly African-American characters. (At the time, I thought of trying to lighten the mood by noting that, hey, they weren't drinking malt liquor either -- but I opted not to run the risk of getting Lee and my fellow journalists on my case.) Here's my original review of the 1989 classic. And my original interview with Lee (along with a sidebar) about the movie that -- surprise, surprise! -- really didn't incite race riots throughout the U.S.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Scriptgirl terminates McG

Scriptgirl continues to provide interesting and sometimes titillating reports on script sales in Hollywood. But sometimes she outdoes herself while also providing... well, for some, it will be comedy. For others? Fantasy fulfillment. (No, not that kind of fantasy fulfillment.)

Review: The Hangover

The trailers and TV spots suggest it's just another beer-and-boobs, party-hearty farce, but The Hangover is surprisingly clever as well as R-rated rowdy. At once raucously free-wheeling and meticulously contrived, it satisfies as a boys-gone-wild laff riot that also clicks as -- no kidding! -- a seriocomic beat-the-clock detective story. You can read my Variety review here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A duo of Duke double-disc DVDs

New in video stores this week: Double-disc DVD editions of two classic Westerns starring John Wayne, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (co-starring James Stewart and Lee Marvin) and Howard HawksEl Dorado (with Robert Mitchum and James Caan). Released as part of Paramount Home Video’s “Centennial Collection” series, each film comes complete with photo galleries, souvenir booklets, optional commentary soundtracks, and behind-the-scenes documentaries. Director-historian Peter Bogdanovich contributes to the commentary tracks of both films – and, on Liberty Valance, shares archival recordings of interviews he did back in the day with Wayne and Ford. And Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy figures into the mix on the El Dorado commentary.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

First word on Terminator Salvation

John Anderson of Variety gives the early verdict: "Darker, grimmer and more stylistically single-minded than its two relatively giddy predecessors, Terminator Salvation boasts the kind of singular vision that distinguished the James Cameron original, the full-throttle kinetics of Speed and an old-fashioned regard for human (and humanoid) heroics. Only pic’s relentlessly doomsday tone -- accessorized by helmer McG’s grimy, gun-metal palette -- might keep auds from flocking like lemmings to the apocalypse... McG, whose segue from music vids to movies resulted in two Charlie’s Angels extravaganzas and the woeful We Are Marshall, exhibits an unexpected flair for the dreadful, abrupt and awesome. What we get here -- which was perhaps missing on the relatively sunny mental landscapes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines -- is a sense of real horror: When humans are snatched up like Cheez-Doodles by skyscraper-sized Go-bots, there’s no slo-mo relief or stalling. Stuff happens as it might were the world actually overtaken by demonic appliances."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great minds think alike

I'm very glad to see that both Roger Ebert and Stephen Holden more or less agree with my take on Management, a slight but likable dramedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn that signals a promising directorial debut for playwright-screenwriter Stephen Belber (Tape). As I noted last fall in my Variety review from the Toronto Film Festival, Management is a low-key romantic comedy that "pivots on a serendipitous encounter between Sue (Aniston), a stressed-for-success sales rep for a company specializing in 'corporate art,' and Mike (Zahn), an aimless guy in his early 30s employed by his taciturn father (Fred Ward) and ailing mother (Margo Martindale) at an Arizona roadside motel where Sue providentially checks in." The movie offers an appealing mix of whimsical quirkiness, straight-faced absurdity and affecting melancholy. Better still, as Holden notes, it "has a generosity of spirit that makes you believe that good people summoning a lot of pluck can make good things happen."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Invisible Girlfriend

This may not mean as much to you as it does to me -- unless, like me, you're a Louisiana native -- but I'm happy to see that after so adroitly conveying the distinctive flavor of New Orleans in Kamp Katrina, their justly acclaimed film about a makeshift community of Hurricane Katrina survivors in a funky N.O. neighborhood, documentarians David Redmon and Ashley Sabin prove every bit as insightful and simpatico while documenting a quixotic Big Easy-bound journey through rural North Louisiana in Invisible Girlfriend, a kinda-sorta sequel to their earlier effort. You can read my Variety review here.

Review: William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet

But seriously, folks: Let's talk about William Shatner. Or, to be more precise, William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet, a surprisingly revealing documentary that suggests the full depths of the Emmy-winning actor's self-awareness and -- no kidding -- artistic aspirations. The movie, which had its world premiere last month at the Nashville Film Festival, focuses on the efforts of famed choreographer Margo Sappington to create a ballet inspired by spoken-word songs from the ironically titled Has Been, the acclaimed collaboration by Shatner and musician-producer Ben Folds. There's a distinctly autobiographical air to these songs -- like "It Hasn't Happened Yet," performed by Shatner in the above clip -- and an unexpected poignancy to the film itself. You can read my Variety review here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This just in: Jesse Ventura bodyslams Dick Cheney

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the tip, the video -- and, of course, the money quote from Jesse Ventura: "I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

Monday, May 11, 2009

They wanted to boldly go where they went before, but...

William Shatner may be miffed that there wasn't a role for him in the new Star Trek movie -- but, honest, it wasn't like the writers didn't try to come up with a way to include Captain Kirk. Really: Check this out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the comedy stylings of Barack Obama...

President Obama rocked the house at the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. I laughed until I was spraying Coke Zero all over my computer monitor. Love his suggestion of a title for Dick Cheney's upcoming autobiography: How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People. And it's great to see he can mock himself as well: "No president in history has ever named three commerce secretaries this quickly." Could this be the warm-up for a post-Presidential career involving stand-up gigs in La Vegas? Stay tuned.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, and you get fat.

From comes a weight watching tip for movie buffs: "Having trouble choosing between Blazing Saddles and Love Story on movie night? If you're trying to lose weight, go for the funny cowboy flick instead of the tearjerker. Why? Because you'll probably snack less. When a group of people in a study watched a sad movie, they ate close to 30 percent more buttered popcorn than when they watched a happy film."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Home sweet home

From Roger Ebert: My home town of Urbana recently did me the honor of dedicating a plaque on the sidewalk in front of my childhood home. At first I felt a little doubtful. Aware of my health adventures, a good friend asked: "What do you make of the timing of this?"I thought it over. "Excellent timing," I said. "I'm still alive."

It was a wonderful day. Friends, neighbors, the mayor, aldermen. The sun shone bright on my old Urbana home. Mrs. Sallie Ormiston, whose family lived across the street, was there. She was amazed that I remembered she taught me how to tell time. How could I forget? I am reminded several times a day. After "6," it stops being after the last number, and starts being before the next.

The day felt so good, indeed, that I think more towns should be encouraged to commemorate the childhood homes of their film critics. To hasten that day, I am commencing a project to immortalize the photos linked to above, which I requested from many critics who are friends of mine.

All American, Canadian and Mexican film critics are urged to join. You need not be currently employed. So many of us are not. You are a film critic in your heart, not in your job description. Send photos of your birthplace to me at:

(From Joe Leydon: Yes, you guessed it: My childhood home figures into the mix.)

Blast from the past: Jodie Foster talks about Home for the Holidays

"People are messy -- they're complicated." So says Jodie Foster, who amusingly expanded upon that insight in Home for the Holidays, the smart and insightful dramedy she directed, and we discussed, back in 1995. Unfortunately, she hasn't directed another movie since. Which is more than a little surprising, really, considering how much she obviously enjoyed directing this one.

Blast from the past: Hugh Grant talks about Notting Hill

The downside of fame? Well, if you’re Hugh Grant, you might find that, at some point after the 1994 Sundance Film Festival premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the movie that launched your international stardom, someone digitally doctored a photo of you so that your face appeared atop the body of a studly and shirtless male model on the cover of a German movie magazine. At least, that’s what I found, while visiting a newsstand during a break at the 1995 Berlin Film Festival. So, of course, I had to buy two copies of the publication, and give one to Grant several weeks later during the L.A. junket for Nine Months (an event that, for very different reasons, proved quite memorable for him). To his credit, he laughed off the outrage, and even agreed to autograph my own copy precisely the way I suggested: “To Joe – Sod off, you wanker! You’ll never have a stomach this flat! Hugh Grant!” Four years later, at the May 1999 London junket for Notting Hill, we were still joking about his Photoshop experience. The upside of fame? Well, Grant admits, it’s nice not to be broke…

The horror. The horror.

Maybe it's just the B-movie horror buff in me, or the old Castle of Frankenstein influence at work, but I just can't help lovin' the fact that the President and the Vice-President of the United States chose to have lunch in a joint with posters for Chamber of Horrors and Mantis in Lace on the wall. Cowabunga.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Lone Ranger rides again

After reviving the swashbuckler with his fabulously successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, producer Jerry Bruckheimer aims to reintroduce a classic Western franchise, The Lone Ranger, with Johnny Depp -- whose maternal grandfather, not incidentally, was Cherokee -- as Tonto, and, reportedly, George Clooney as the guy with the black mask and the silver bullets. Man, I am so there on opening day. My only question is, will they have someone as cool as Jason Robards to ask: "Who is that masked man?"

Blast from the past: Michael Caine talks about Little Voice

Let me just come right out and say it: Michael Caine is, hands down, my favorite film actor. And I am such an unabashed, unashamed fan -- hell, I actually paid first-run admission prices to see The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure -- I'm afraid whenever I interview him that I'm going to come across as some kind of moronically gushy goofus. Fortunately, as you can see in this 1998 interview, Caine is such a gracious and easygoing fellow that he always puts me at ease -- and, better still, gives me great quotes. The tape begins midway through our brief discussion of Get Carter -- which, despite its current status as a classic, was dumped into U.S. release by MGM in 1971 -- and continues as we discuss his fearless performance as a spectacularly sleazy talent agent in Little Voice.

R.I.P.: Dom DeLuise (1933-2009)

There are times in life when I think the only rational response to whatever fresh hell confronts me is to repeat Dom DeLuise's plaintive complaint in Mel Brooks' The Twelve Chairs -- "Oh, God! You're so strict!" DeLuise's trademark style of roly-poly rambunctiousness may have been too over the top for some tastes, but I defy anyone not to smile at his antics in Twelve Chairs and several other Brooks comedies, and in Hot Stuff, DeLuise's one and only effort as a feature film director, the sort of amiably amusing trifle that rarely appears at megaplexs these days. On the occasion of his passing, I hereby celebrate his life by offering this classic short in which man matches wits with machine, and loses. Trust me: I know the feeling.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Roger Ebert: A real man

From The Huffington Post: Rod Lurie waxes eloquent about Roger Ebert. The money quote: "Not long ago I was talking to my teenage kids about what it was that constituted a 'real man.' I'll tell you this -- you can look at all the masculine toughies you want -- the Ben Roethlisbergers, the Russell Crowes, the David Petraeuses -- but if you want to look at what a man should be -- persevering, honest, a person who manifests his intellect into action -- you need look no further than Roger Ebert." Amen.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Blast from the past: Mike Myers talks about Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

I didn't think much of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, but that isn't why I was so surprised when the silly 1997 comedy was a minor hit in theaters and, later, a monster smash on home video. To put it simply: I didn't think many under-30 viewers would "get" the movie's satirical references to '60s spy spoofs. Boy, did I call that one wrong. But, then again, as I learned during the junket for the 1999 sequel, Mike Myers was even more surprised than I was.

(BTW: Just before the interview began in earnest, we chatted briefly about my then-recent trip to Northern Ireland -- where I'd made the singularly stupid mistake of leaving a bag behind in a restaurant. Not the sort of mistake you ever wanted to make back in those days. Not unless you wanted to set off a false alarm for the bomb squad.)

Blast from the past: Will Smith talks about Men in Black

Here's Will Smith during the first incandescent burst of his superstardom -- fresh from the smash success of Independence Day, and revved up for the impending release of Men in Black. And there I am, with my starstruck son hovering just off-camera and hoping I'll remember to get the autograph for him. Which, of course, I do. Let me tell you: I earned some major Daddy Points for this one.

Blast from the past: Tommy Lee Jones talks about Men in Black

I have to admit: It's a little spooky to watch this and realize that, 12 years ago, Tommy Lee Jones and I already were talking about the decline of newspapers. On a happier note: He certainly enjoyed working with Will Smith, didn't he? And yes, at the very end, I am shamelessly cadging an autograph for my son.