Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Chicken and Biscuits" and vampires and werewolves

Just in time to capitalize on the phenomenon that is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse -- which, not incidentally, broke all box-office records for a midnight movie premiere during last night's nationwide screenings -- country music artist Colt Ford has put a little twang into Twilight. You can read all about it here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

You'll believe a Superman can flop

To prepare for the Dallas Theatre Center "revisal" of It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman! -- the 1966 Broadway flop that gets a new lease on life thanks to the DTC's entertaining production -- I tracked down on YouTube the excruciatingly campy 1975 production of the show that aired (in a late-night time slot) on ABC. I figured it couldn't be as bad as I remembered. Great Cesar's Ghost, was I wrong! If you want to see it for yourself -- the ABC fiasco, I mean -- you probably should act quickly: I'm not sure if the folks at DC Comics know it's available on-line. (It's never gotten an authorized release on VHS or DVD.) And if word gets out...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Didn't these people learn anything from Night of the Lepus?

According to the Associated Press, doctors in England have turned in an injured kitty into one of the world's first bionic cats. Yeah, that's right. Go ahead -- mess with Mother Nature. And pretty soon, you get stuck with something like this.

Filmmaker was in the right place at the right time for 9500 Liberty

Years before Arizona passed its draconian measure to broaden the power of police officers to detain suspected illegal aliens, officials in Prince William County, Virginia, thought it would be a nifty idea to adopt an ordinance requiring police officers to question anyone they had "probable cause" to suspect was an undocumented immigrant. The legislation polarized an already divided community, leading to unintended consequences – some local businesses saw their customer base decline when Hispanics, documented or otherwise, left the community – and triggering a grassroots pushback against the law. Korean-born, Houston-raised filmmaker Annabel Park was there at ground zero (along with her partner and co-director, Eric Byler) to cover the situation in 9500 Liberty, the acclaimed documentary opening today in Houston at the Angelika Film Center. Here is the Q&A I had with her for Houston Culture Map.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Death of Newspapers, Part II: The End of Free-Lancing

From California Progress Report, a very distressing story about the decline in demand for free-lance stories by writers already hit hard by newspaper closings and cutbacks. Money quote: "For me, the freelance life is not sustainable... I need a job of some kind to support my journalism habit." And this: “I used to get up to $750 per article and then I could turn around and market the same article to European magazines … Now I am lucky if I get $350 per article and of course, because of the Internet, I can no longer resell any article. On a daily basis I see offers from as little as $5 to $50 for articles! And worse, I know many writers who are submitting because they don’t have a lot of choice.”

Trust me: I feel their pain. Back in the mid '90s, for a year or two following the closing of The Houston Post, it wasn't uncommon for me to sell the same free-lance interview with a Harrison Ford or a Patrick Swayze to two or three different papers. Hell, I managed to market only slightly different versions of a Tom Hanks interview to five different papers -- including the Los Angeles Times -- around the time Apollo 13 was released. Those were the days, my friend, I thought they'd never end. But they did. (For more illustrations like the one above, check out the website of writer Stephen Beale.)

Preview: Red

Helen Mirren with a machine gun? Oh, man, I am so freakin' there Oct. 15!

Attention Christopher Nolan: Take a look at these new and improved Batmobiles

Over at the splendiferously geek-centric site, they've gathered photos of DIY designs for new Batmobiles. I'm not sure if the above model would look all that impressive on screen in 3-D IMAX. But some of the others... (Hat-tip to John Guidry.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Helen Mirren: Still a hottie, and proud of it!

Will you still love her when she's 65? Hell, yeah! (Photo by Juergen Teller -- the lucky dog! -- for New York Magazine.)

R.I.P.: Film festival founder Mary Jane Coleman

Hail and farewell to Mary Jane Coleman, the gracious Southern lady who loved East Tennessee, and decided four decades ago that what the area really needed was a film festival devoted to independent cinema. In 1969, she founded the Sinking Creek Film Celebration in Greeneville, TN -- and lived long enough to see the exposition evolve and expand into the Nashville Film Festival, the oldest continuously running film festival in the South and one of the oldest in the United States. Ms. Coleman passed away Saturday, reportedly from the lingering effects of a stroke she suffered a decade ago.You can read a respectful appreciation of her life and work by Greeneville Sun editor John M. Jones Jr. here, and take a look at her enduring legacy here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Remembering my dad on Father's Day

My father -- third from the left, after me and my son George -- passed away nearly four years ago but, of course, I still think of him most days of the year, and especially today. This is what I wrote on the occasion of his passing in August 2006.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The movie music in those "Pure Michigan" ads

OK, I have to admit: Even though I've seen those ads that promote Michigan tourism for the better part of two years, I've never been able to figure out on my my own what teasingly familiar movie music score is played throughout the spots. The Natural? Nope. Fried Green Tomatoes? Uh-uh. Driving Miss Daisy? Nah. After months of frustration, I decided to cop out today and simply Google for the info. And I'm a wee bit embarrassed to say that, really, I should have guessed the right answer right from the start: Rachel Portman's Oscar-nominated score for The Cider House Rules. D'oh. By he way: Tim Allen is the guy who narrates the spots. I couldn't figure that out on my own, either. Play the above video, and you'll fully appreciate what a dim bulb I am.

TV Alert: Replay

I've seen and reviewed two fine documentaries by filmmaker Loren Mendell -- Bad Boys of Summer, a fascinating look at an all-convict baseball team at San Quentin State Prison, and Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene, an amusing and admiring portrait of the Washington, D.C. talk-show host played by Don Cheadle in Talk to Me -- so I have high hopes for his contribution to the Replay series now in its second season on several sports-centric cable channels nationwide. Mendell's multi-part documentary focuses on the rivalry between two Detroit area high school hockey teams, and the 1999 match-up that ended in near-tragedy. You can view the teaser trailer above, and find out when and where it debuts this week in your area here 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gone are the days

While Googling research for my Ronald Neame obit today. I found this piece I did for the Houston Press back in 2000 as a curtain-raiser for an Alec Guinness retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (One of the films in the series: Neame's The Horse's Mouth, in which Guinness played an aggressively iconoclastic and frequently insufferable artist modeled after poet Dylan Thomas.) And I found myself feeling more than a little melancholy. Because, really, can you imagine any newspaper, alternative weekly or mainstream daily, giving me, or any other critic, this much space today, just ten years later, for a story about a movie retrospective at a museum? 

R.I.P.: Ronald Neame (1911-2010)

Ronald Neame enjoyed a lengthy and productive career in filmmaking by applying the sort of unassuming, old-school professionalism that, alas, often isn't fully appreciated during a professional's lifetime.

The prolific Brit -- who passed away Wednesday in Los Angeles -- began as an assistant camera operator on Blackmail (1929), Alfred Hitchcock'a first talkie, then went on to collaborate with David Lean as cinematographer, producer and/or co-scriptwriter on such '40s classics as Brief Encounter, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. (Quite the renaissance man, he also earned an Oscar nomination for special effects work on 1942's One of Our Aircraft is Missing.) As a director, he was justly proud of his subtly masterful work on Tunes of Glory (1960) with Alec Guinness -- who also played a cantankerous Dylan Thomas-like artist in Neame's The Horse's Mouth -- and deserved more far more credit than he received for such light and bright entertainments as Gambit (a cheeky 1966 caper with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine that, unfortunately, people keep threatening to remake), Prudence and the Pill (1968) and Hopscotch (1980).

It was during an L.A. junket for the latter film that I had one my one and only chance to briefly chat with Neame, whom I found to be a courtly and loquacious gentlemen with a gift for dryly self-deprecating humor. Yes, he agreed, he had a lot to answer for after helping start the "disaster movie" cycle of the '70s with his enormously popular The Poseidon Adventure. But, then again, directing that movie made him financially independent, so he couldn't really find it in his heart to actually apologize for the film. (Of course, he likely was amused more than two decades later when two different sets of filmmakers couldn't do any better -- and, indeed, actually fared much worse -- with their ill-starred remakes of Poseidon as feature and TV-movie projects.)

To give you some idea of Neame's diversity: He directed Maggie Smith's Oscar-winning turn in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Judy Garland's final film performance in I Could Go on Singing (1963), and Albert Finney's portrayal of a singing Dickensian skinflint in Scrooge (1970). He also directed A Man Could Get Killed (1966), a semi-spoofy adventure flick best remembered as the movie that introduced the song "Strangers in the Night," and Meteor (1979), a campy sci-fi drama that pitted Sean Connery and Natalie Wood against a big hunk of rock on a collision course with Earth. He was a true journeyman, and his best movies entertained millions. And many of his not-so-good movies were at the very least diverting. That's the sort of track record that defines old-school professionalism.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

R.I.P.: Peter Brunette

From IndieWire comes the sad news that esteemed film critic and historian Peter Brunette died of a heart attack this morning in Italy while covering the Taormina Film Festival as a contributor for the Hollywood Reporter. I would like to extend my sincere condolences to his family and friends. And I hope neither they nor anyone else will think me rude, or worse, to admit: This is exactly how I would like to go when the time comes. And if Peter saw one final movie last night, I hope it was great one.

Ten years after: High Fidelity

As I noted a decade ago: "It’s got a great beat – and, yes, thanks to a nifty soundtrack of tasty pop classics, you really can dance to it – so I’ll rate High Fidelity a solid 100-plus. Adapted with surprising faithfulness, if not the highest fidelity, from Nick Hornby’s sassy and slangy novel, this is a sharp and smart comedy-drama about growing up, taking stock, letting go, setting course and settling down – the top five challenges facing the overgrown-adolescent lead character played so vibrantly by top-billed John Cusack." I'm not quite sure if enough time has passed for this one to qualify as a oldie but goodie. But it remains a career highlight for Cusack and just about everyone else -- including director Stephen Frears and co-star Jack Black -- involved.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Getting down with Get Low star Robert Duvall

Sometimes, I really love what I do what for a living. Like, when I get to talk to living legends like Robert Duvall about great movies like Get Low.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010

From B-movies to The Big House: Jack Abramoff

What if Aldolf Hitler had been accepted at art school? What if Fidel Castro had made it in the Major Leagues? What if Jack Abramoff had scored as a B-movie producer with Red Scorpion? Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney and I ponder these pressing questions -- well, OK, one of those pressing questions -- as we chat about Casino Jack and the United States of Money in this Houston Culture Map Q&A.

Robert Redford wades into Crude dispute

It may seem like a David-vs.-Goliath-scale match-up, an independent filmmaker pitted against a multinational  corporation. But Robert Redford has stepped in to try and equalize the odds in the ongoing dispute between documentarian Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) and Chevron over Crude.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Review: Marmaduke

The deficiency of fart jokes -- only two, actually -- doubtless will disappoint adolescent boys, and the novelty of Owen Wilson providing a California stoner-style voice for the title character, a humongous Great Dane, wears thin after 15 minutes or so. But Marmaduke still might end up fetching a tidy sum at the summer box office, given the relative lack of live-action, kid-centric fare currently available at megaplexes. Freely adapted from the long-running syndicated comic created by Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming, this uninspired comedy relies heavily on CGI trickery and aptly cast vocal talents for a multitude of gags involving anthropomorphic shenanigans. Clueless "two-leggers" remain totally oblivious as their canines -- and an impudent cat voiced by George Lopez -- freely converse with one another. That's the central gimmick, and helmer Tom Dey (Failure to Launch) milks it for all it's worth, then continues milking, like a dairy farmer desperate to make the mortgage.

You can read the rest of my Variety review here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

R.I.P.: William A. Fraker (1923-2010)

You might not recognize his name, but if you're a movie buff you almost certainly have seen and greatly appreciated the handiwork of William A. Fraker, the multi-Oscar-nominated cinematographer who died of cancer Monday at age 86. Among his most notable credits: Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt, Rancho Deluxe, Aloha Bobby and Rose, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, The Freshman and Tombstone. He also directed the original Monte Walsh (1970), an elegiac Western that paired Lee Marvin and Jeanne Moreau as unlikely romantic leads, and The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981), which, really, shouldn't be held against him. Fraker speaks eloquently and insightfully about his craft -- and about what he learned while working with directors as diverse as Richard Brooks and Roman Polanski -- in this interview conducted for the American Cinematographers Guild magazine after he was honored with the 2000 ACG Lifetime Achievement Award.