Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Matt Helm: Back again for the first time

There was a time in my life when I pounced upon and devoured each new hardboiled novel by Donald Hamilton about licensed-to-kill secret agent Matt Helm like a hungry lion upon an unwary antelope. The '60s spy-spoofy extravaganzas starring Dean Martin as Helm were greatly disappointing -- if not downright enraging -- as wrong-headed adaptations of Hamilton's ultra-gritty paperbacks. And I can barely remember anything about the short-lived '70s TV series that reconstituted Helm as a private eye played by Tony Franciosa. So I'm very glad to hear from my Variety colleague Michael Fleming that one of the heaviest of Hollywood's heavy hitters may finally bring Matt Helm to the screen with all the straight-shooting seriousness that the character deserves.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

And in my other life, I'm a cowboy

I had a rootin’-tootin good time this weekend in Bandera, Texas, where they observed the National Day of the American Cowboy with songs and celebration, trick roping and quick drawing, and an induction of honorees for the new Texas Heroes Hall of Honor at the Frontier Times Museum. It was an altogether great excuse for me to goof off with some great and gracious people.

Shatner does Palin

And now, fresh from the triumph of his Gonzo Ballet, William Shatner reads Sarah Palin's farewell speech. No, really.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans

As I write in Variety: Although it feels overlong at 70 minutes, The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans remains too lightly entertaining to really overstay its welcome. Not unlike Roger Nygard's Trekkies (1999), which took a similarly nonjudgmental approach while gawking at Star Trek fanatics, helmer Eddie Chung's lightweight doc invites auds to laugh with, not at, eager participants at annual conventions devoted to Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski, aptly described here as "the first cult film of the Internet Age."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Submitted for your approval...

Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros. are teaming for a new feature-film version of The Twilight Zone. I'll offer the collaborators two pieces of advice: First, don't let John Landis have anything to do with the project. Second, emphasize clever writing rather than state-of-the-art f/x. Like they did in this classic episode.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Robert Redford: Cradle robber

Robert Redford -- the 72-year-old actor, Oscar-winning director and Sundance Film Festival grand kahuna -- has married his longtime main squeeze, 51-year-old German abstract artist Sibylle Szaggars. She is kinda hot, isn't she?

Back in the Valley

A big-screen version of The Big Valley -- the popular 1965-69 TV Western starring Barbara Stanwyck as the proud matriarch of a 1870s ranching family -- is set to start production next April on location in Michigan and New Mexico. But, really, who can they get to fill Miss Stanwyck's boots? Helen Mirren? Meryl Streep? Judi Dench?

Here comes Russell Cottontail...

Russell Brand -- the sardonically debauched rock star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- as The Easter Bunny? Well, maybe if they're thinking of this Easter Bunny.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"An early clue to the new direction?"

When I came across this London Times piece about the serious attention being paid by fund managers, CEOs and analysts to How Teenagers Consume Media, an anecdotal report by a precocious 15-year-old, I couldn't help thinking of the priceless scene in A Hard Day's Night where George Harrison's sardonic witticisms badly rattle a trend-conscious TV producer. On the other hand, maybe the kid's right: After all, if a geezer like myself is Twittering, perhaps we've already reached the point where such activity is "strictly for the elderly." Ouch.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Beaver shoot

I'm very glad to hear that Jodie Foster finally is going to direct another movie -- she hasn't helmed one since 1995's Home for the Holidays, which we talk about in this '95 interview -- and I think she and Mel Gibson, who co-starred in Maverick, might once again make for an interesting on-screen match-up. But the title of this new project... Well, geez, were they actually looking for a way to inspire a lot of rude jokes, or what? I mean, I can just see the headlines: "Foster's Beaver Attracts Mel Gibson." Or, "Gibson Attached to Jodie Foster's Beaver." Or... No, sorry, I just don't want to go there.

Review: The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger

The title might indicate a three-hander in which screen time and plot emphases are perfectly apportioned, but The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger turns out to be a star vehicle for top-billed Dean Cain, if only by dint of his stealing every scene that isn't bolted to the floor. With all due credit to co-stars James Tupper (Men in Trees) and Allison Hossack (Reaper), who acquit themselves with engaging proficiency, Cain is the main reason this seriocomic Hallmark Channel offering easily transcends the familiarity of its retro Western plot mechanics and makes an agreeable impression from wire to wire. You can read the rest of my Variety review here.

Another ride for The Duke?

Everybody knows that John Wayne's last movie was The Shootist, right? Well, maybe not. Maybe the real curtain-closer for The Duke's career is a science-fiction Western -- no kidding! -- called Thunder Riders of the Golden West.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Hope you get to enjoy a safe and sensational holiday weekend, pilgrims! I'm going to be spending the next few days sipping Merlot, eating junk food, watching DVD movies, Tivoed TV shows and Astros baseball games, and generally veging out while recharging my batteries at Casa Leydon. God bless America, y'all!

R.I.P.: Karl Malden (1912-2009)

As Robert Berkvist of the New York Times astutely notes, Karl Malden "was perhaps the ideal Everyman. He realized early on that he lacked the physical attributes of a leading man; he often joked about his blunt features, particularly his crooked, bulbous nose, which he had broken several times while playing basketball in school. But he was, he once said, determined 'to be No. 1 in the No. 2 parts I was destined to get.'"

In achieving that goal, A.O. Scott adds, Malden "defined what it meant to be a character actor" as he "specialized in being uneasy, playing men who are variously worried, angry, disappointed and defeated. Like many other actors who distinguish themselves in supporting roles and whose charisma consists of a kind of intensified ordinariness, he has often been referred to as an everyman. That doesn’t seem quite right, though. In his best movie roles, mainly in films directed by Eliza Kazan" -- including A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he earned an Oscar as, naturally, Best Supporting Actor -- "Mr. Malden is specifically the other man, the guy defined partly by his lack of certain attributes abundantly present in the protagonist. The other man is never ruthless, or dangerous, or dashing, or cool. His regret may be that he could never have been a contender, but he makes up for it with a stoical sincerity that is all the more affecting for being so easy to discount."

Like many other character actors who have garnered fame and acclaim in movies, Malden didn't achieve full-blown stardom until he turned to television -- as a hard-boiled but good-hearted veteran cop in The Streets of San Francisco (where he served, on camera and off, as a mentor to co-star Michael Douglas), a blunt-spoken steel-mill worker and family man in the unjustly overlooked Skag, and, of course, the sharp-dressed pitchman for traveler's checks and credit cards you should never leave home without. But no matter the size of the role, or the medium in which he played it, Malden invariably came across as effortlessly and absolutely convincing. Even when he went over the top in two '60s spy-guy extravaganzas -- Murderer's Row (1966), which cast him as a wild-eyed Dr. Evil type opposite Dean Martin's Matt Helm, and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), where he played the embezzling underling of a zealously right-wing Texas zillionaire thwarted by Michael Caine's Harry Palmer -- he somehow managed to maintain a modicum of credibility. That, too, is a hallmark of a natural-born character actor.

R.I.P.: Harve Presnell (1933-2009)

My immense ego expanded several centimeters a few years back when Harve Presnell -- out of the blue, apparently prompted by a mutual acquaintance -- phoned me to ask how he might do a bit more to promote an indie movie in which he played a key role. To be honest, I don't remember much else about the conversation -- indeed, I'm not entirely sure the movie was Escanaba in da Moonlight, although I think it was -- but I do recall being ineffably thrilled while listening to the booming voice at the other end of the line. (Very early in the conversation, he told me -- warned me, actually -- not to refer to him as Mr. Presnell, so I didn't.) It was the mellifluous baritone of Rotten Luck Willie from Paint Your Wagon -- the dude who knew all about the wind called Mariah -- and Johnny Brown, who promised he'd never say no to The Unsinkable Molly Brown. And, yes, it was the authoritative tone of Wade Gustafson, the wealthy businessman who made the big mistake of trusting his weaselly son-in-law in Fargo. I treasure memories like that. And I salute those who give me -- who give all of us, really -- so many movie moments to remember.