Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It is a sad and beautiful world

A friend found this on her windshield when she returned to her car after shopping. Along with the candy were two packages of hot chocolate. Feel free to pass it on.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Can movies kill?


It’s easy to dismiss NRA vice-president Wayne LaPierre as a moral imbecile – because, well, you know, he is a moral imbecile – but unlike many of my colleagues, I can’t blithely disregard his claim that psychos might be inspired by movie mayhem.

Of course, I find it more than a little ironic that LaPierre specifically referenced American Psycho as an example of Hollywood product capable of bringing out the worst in copycats. Because… Well, here’s something I wrote a few years back in my currently out-of-print book:

The cause-and-effect debate over movie violence has continued unabated since Taxi Driver was linked to a real-life would-be assassin. Mary Harron addressed the controversy – and admitted her ambivalent attitude -- in a New York Times essay she wrote prior to the release of her American Psycho (2000): 

 “Once you accept the idea that the representation of violence is in itself harmful to society, much of the finest world cinema could be banned, from Eisenstein to Kurosawa to Kubrick and Polanski to Coppola and Scorsese. Most genre films would have to go too: film noir, horror, gangster films, Westerns. This form of censorship, taken to its logical conclusion, clearly means the end of art.

“However, it does have a point, because no matter how moral or ironic or satirical a filmmaker might think a work is, he or she can have no control over how a member of the audience will receive it. No sane person could watch Taxi Driver and decide it was a good idea to shoot the President — but an insane person did.

“And who is to say that your audience will always consist of the sane?”

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Flash: Django Unchained screening tickets giveaway

If you want to see Django Unchained this Friday at 6 p.m. in Houston text VENGEANCE to 43KIX (43549) and your zip code. (Example: VENGEANCE 77027) There is no charge to text 43KIX. Message and data rates from your wireless carrier may apply. Rules here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Me on TV: You Better Watch Out!

No, that's not Santa talking movies with Deborah Duncan. It's... well, me. This is 40 and Les Miserables are a couple of the holiday season releases that loom large in our conversation.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Review: Silent Night

For those of you who have always wanted to see a psycho Santa Claus apply an electric cattle prod to a bratty little girl – and you know who you are, so don’t try to be coy about it – there is Silent Night, a kinda-sorta remake of the notorious 1984 slasher movie Silent Night, Deadly Night. You can read my Variety review here. But be forewarned: You know a slasher movie is in trouble when even the psycho killer gets tired of his murder spree, and simply dispatches a victim by beating him to death.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fantastic Fest: "It is a celebration of geekdom at its geekiest"

Produced for public television station KLRU of Austin, All My Friends Are Vampires is a way-cool overview of the phantasmagorical frenzy that is Fantastic Fest, the world's wildest genre-movie exposition. I'm on screen to offer pithy commentary at the 11:30 and 15:00 marks (and off-screen, but still heard, at around 24:10). But, hey, you owe it to yourself -- and to director Mario Troncoso -- to savor the whole dang thing.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, movie fans!


As I have noted elsewhere: It's a melancholy fact of life that if you live long enough, you reach a point when you start to wonder: How many birthdays do I have left? How many Christmases? Independence Days? Thanksgivings?

For better or worse -- though I strongly suspect it's for the better -- I have no way of answering those nagging questions. But I do know this: You can enjoy all the holidays you want, any time of year you desire, at the movies. In honor of the day, here are two guides to notable flicks featuring Thanksgiving gatherings -- one from Time Magazine (including two personal favorites, Judd Apatow's Funny People, pictured above, and Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays) and another from (OK, don't laugh) AARP Magazine (featuring a fave that, oddly enough, I had almost forgotten: Alice's Restaurant).

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. And as I am wont to remind folks on occasions such as this: It's a miracle that we're even here and alive.

Friday, November 09, 2012

It's Take 4 for Houston Cinema Arts Festival

The hits just keep on coming this weekend at the 2012 Houston Cinema Arts Festival. And so, being the shameless gravy trainer that I am,  I have hitched my wagon to it.

A few days ago, I got a chance to interview HCAF artistic director Richard Herskowitz for CultureMap and, as you can see in the above video, KHOU-TV. But wait, there's more: I offer a guide to promising HCAF offerings here, and my own tribute to HCAF special guest Robert Redford here. (Redford -- interviewed here by CultureMap editor Clifford Pugh -- will be honored with the festival's Levantine Cinema Arts Award.)

And don't forget: After the 9:15 pm Saturday screening of the most excellent documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp at the Sundance Cinemas, I will host a Q&A with director Jorge Hinojosa.

Because, really, it's all about me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Four more years! Four more years!


Celebrating the RE-election of Barack Hussein I Smoked Bin Laden's Ass Obama. Let the good times roll, y'all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scary stuff, kids! Talkin' 'bout horror flicks on Great Day Houston

Better late than never, here's a segment devoted to Halloween-appropriate movies, with me and Deborah Duncan, that ran last Wednesday on Great Day Houston.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lena Dunham talks about her "first time"

The lovely and talented Lena Dunham made me laugh out loud with this video in support of President Barack Obama. At least, I laughed until, for the second time in less than a week, I was reminded that I cast my first vote in a Presidential election all the way back in 1972, for George McGovern. God, I feel old. As Vincent Price once said after he realized that, out of all the people in an old movie he was watching on TV, he was the only one still alive: "I put down the drink -- and picked up the bottle."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

R.I.P.: George McGovern (1922-2012)


Two things that immediately popped into my head when I heard the sad news this morning about George McGovern's death.

First, he was the first Presidential candidate I ever voted for -- at a time when this country seemed even more divided and yet, strangely enough, at the same time, somewhat more civil than it is now.

Second: It has been impossible for me to read or hear McGovern's name ever since seeing All the President's Men without thinking of Hal Holbrook in that dimly lit parking garage telling Robert Redford, in the condescending tone of someone explaining the obvious to a none-too-bright child, that McGovern was the liberal Democrat that Richard Nixon and his flunkies wanted to run against in 1972, because he'd be so much easier to beat than Ed Muskie.

I have never ceased to agree with those who've praised George McGovern as a good and honorable man. But I still shudder when I consider how easily and ruthlessly he, and we, were manipulated by his opponent.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coming soon: Zombies Versus Gladiators. No, seriously: Zombies vs. Frickin' Gladiators

As H.L. Mencken once sagely noted: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Wonder what the old boy would make of Amazon.com's announced intention to get into the movie production business with "crowdsourced" projects like... like... well, Zombies Versus Gladiators.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Latest reason I love being a teacher

Tonight, I had a student thank me -- actually thank me -- for screening His Girl Friday during a History of Film class at Houston Community College. But wait, there's more: He also said that he wanted to someday, somehow, make a movie as smartly written as this one. I told him: Good luck. I look forward to reviewing it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Capital film

I suspected -- and admitted I suspected -- I would like Costa-Gavras' Capital before I actually saw it last month at the Toronto Film Festival. And sure enough, the film turned out to be a slick and sensationally entertaining melodrama. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked while gathering production info -- i.e., the cast and crew credits I need to list for a Variety review -- and then something came up, followed by something else. So I didn't get around to giving the movie its due props. Until now.

Seven PsychoCATS (Get it?)

As the owner of three cats, I find this mildly amusing parody absolutely irresistible. But I must admit: The uncensored version is a lot funnier.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Let's see Lelouch's Les Miserables on DVD and Blu-Ray, OK?




Every great once in a while, I am reminded that, contrary to what we might sometimes think, not every great movie is available in the U.S. on DVD. Case in point: Claude Lelouch's Les Miserables (1995), one of my favorite films of all time. As I wrote years ago:

"Claude Lelouch's audacious and exciting epic is neither a film version of the long-running musical nor a traditional adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel. Rather, it is a sweeping and sensationally passionate drama that succeeds brilliantly on its own merits as a celebration of storytelling (and, of course, moviemaking) as inspiration and illumination. A magnificently ravaged Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Henri Fortin, an ordinary man whose life spans an extraordinary period in French history: Born at the turn of the century, he lives long enough to endure the cruelties of the Nazi occupation. Rootless and illiterate, he is introduced to Les Miserables at an early age -- in a silent movie! -- and embraces Jean Valjean as his hero, mentor and alter ego. So much so, in fact, that Henri agrees to help a Jewish family escape from Paris, setting into motion a fateful series of betrayals, reconciliations, reversals of fortune and triumphs of the spirit. There are images in Les Miserables that are as hauntingly beautiful as any in the history of cinema. And there are entire sequences that are nothing short of astonishing. Lelouch is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who remains capable of the grand romantic gestures that made many of us fall in love with movies in the first place."

If anyone at Warner Home Video reads this, take it as a plea: The upcoming film version of the stage musical is bound to be a great big hit, so why not give us a DVD/Blu-Ray of Lelouch's masterwork? Think of it this way: You'll be able to hitch a ride on the gravy train, and sell a whole bunch of units. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

This just in: Barack Obama is a colored person

A Twitter friend posted this with the message: "This is what Republicans see every time the President speaks in front of black folks." You know, I think he may be on to something.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Flashback: Anthony Perkins on making Psycho with Alfred Hitchcock

As Fox Searchlight prepares to launch Hitchcock in this year's Oscar race with a world premiere screening at the AFI Fest, I thought it might be a good time to offer as prelude to the film -- which deals with the making of Psycho, and stars Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense -- this link to an interview I did years ago with Anthony Perkins (played in Hitchcock by James D'Arcy), who had some fascinating things to say about becoming Norman Bates.

Live from Fantastic Fest: It's Red Dawn

And guess what? The long-delayed remake doesn't suck. Seriously. You can read my Variety review here.

Samuel L. Jackson in Wake the F**k Up!!!!

Personally, I think this is Jackson's finest performance since Snakes on a Plane.

R.I.P.: Herbert Lom (1917-2012)

Most people remember Herbert Lom best as the ever-excitable, chronically frustrated Inspector Dreyfus opposite Peter Sellers' indefatigably klutzy Inspector Clouseau in Blake Edwards' Pink Panther movies. But I must confess that my most vivid impression of Lom as a screen actor was formed many decades ago, when, as a wide-eyed kid growing up in New Orleans, I saw the Czech-born, Brit-trained actor in the title role of Hammer Studios' 1962 remake of The Phantom of the Opera.

Lom's sympathetic portrayal of the acid-scarred outcast struck me as so affecting, so sympathetic, that I actually mailed a Christmas card to the guy in care of Universal (the film's U.S. distributor). Can you imagine my surprise and delight when, a few weeks later, I actually received a note signed by Lom himself, thanking me for the card? I was 11 or 12 at the time. It was like getting a personalized acknowledgment from God

Several years later, I was at a Hollywood event of some sort -- frankly, I don't recall precisely what it was -- when I had a fleeting close encounter with one of the guests: Herbert Lom. By that point, I was well into my 30s. But I turned into a kid all over again when I shook Lom's hand -- and gushed a thank-you for his long-ago thank-you card. To his credit, Lom didn't immediately call for aid from security personnel. Instead, he smiled -- indeed, he heartily laughed -- and spent a few minutes conversing with me about Phantom, the Pink Panther movies, and a few other notable films (including The Ladykillers, also with Sellers, and the original Gambit) he had done.

It's to my eternal regret that I never actually got to meet Lom's Phanton co-star, the late, great Michael Gough, another icon from my youth. But on this day when I celebrate the life of a splendid character who showed me such kindness, I marvel once again at the blessings I have received during my long career of getting paid to go to the movies.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Resident Evil: The Bottom of the Barrel

So far, I have received -- oh, I dunno, maybe a zillion retweets for this tongue-in-cheek Tweet: "Isn't it about time in the Resident Evil franchise for Alice to run into Abbott and Costello?" So I guess I'm not the only one who's run out of patience with this long-running sci-fi series. The latest installment -- Resident Evil: Retribution -- arguably is the least coherent and most enervating yet. (You can read my Variety review here.) Maybe the producers really should take a page from the old Universal horror flicks and team Alice with Kate Beckinsale as Selene of the Underworld movies for their next installment. It couldn't hurt.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A trailer for Innocence of Muslims. Yeah, that movie.

I keep waiting for the email or phone call from my editors at Variety: "Hey, Joe, thanks for covering 2016. Now we have another movie for you to review..." Because, hey, controversy is my middle name. Well, actually, Patrick is my middle name, and Michael is my Confirmation name. But controversy is hanging around in there someplace, I think.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Progress report from TIFF: Hello, I must be going


Hey, didn't I just get here? Then how come it's already time to start packing? Alas, it's no longer feasible, for various reasons, for me to stay until the very end of the Toronto Film Festival. I'll have a more detailed wrap-up to offer after I return to my H-Town home base. To tide over my readers (both of you) until then, here are links to my Variety reviews of Men at Lunch, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (pictured above) and The Tortoise, An Incarnation.

Recalling Michael Caine recalling 9/11


From a 2002 interview: Michael Caine is, by his own admission, “a news junkie,” the kind of compulsive who’ll reflexively tune his TV to CNN during any lull in a day’s activities. Which is why, on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, while he sat in his London home office, waiting for word from director Phillip Noyce about the previous evening’s New Jersey sneak preview of The Quiet American, he found himself transfixed by the aftermath of the first assault on the World Trade Center.

Then he saw the second plane’s approach.

“And my first reaction,” Caine recalls, “was, ‘Jesus, that’s quick.’ Because, you see, I thought it was one of those planes like they have in California that drop the powder on the forest fires. I thought that’s what this plane was for. And it had only been about a quarter of an hour or 18 minutes since the other plane had hit the building. So I thought, ‘Wow, They got that plane up there so fast, to drop powder on that fire.’

“But then it went straight into the tower.

“And at first, none of it registered. I felt like, OK, I’m not a moron – actually, I feel I’m quite bright. But I was sitting there, stunned, thinking something like, ‘What happened here? It didn’t drop any of that powder, did it?’ It was only about two seconds, I know, but it seemed to me like half an hour. And then I saw the flames – that big woosh! – come out of the building...”

The rest of the interview can be found here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

TIFF 2012: Ed Burns talks about The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

Veteran actor and indie filmmaker Ed Burns talks about his latest movie -- The Fitzgerald Family Christmas -- and the current state of indie film distribution in this interview I taped with him and long-time producer Aaron Lubin for Variety at the Toronto Film Festival. (Don't worry -- I don't actually appear on camera. In fact, you don't even hear me asking questions. Frankly, you'll just have to take my word that I had anything to do with this.)

Lifting Obama up where he belongs

You do realize, of course, that this instantly iconic image will loom large in each and every future biography and documentary about President Obama, regardless of the outcome of this year's election, right?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

At TIFF: Partying like it's 1999 (with Ice-T)

Have not been to a Toronto Film Festival post-screening party in... well, a long time. But I think I made up for it last night, hanging behind the velvet rope and getting close to the action with Ice-T. The highlight of the evening, of course, was when Ice-T blowtorched his way through an electrifying set just a few feet away from me. And I made an amazing discovery: Sometimes, pretty ladies like to party with older dudes. Let the good times roll, eh?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Live from TIFF 2012: Coke and condoms

Today, I found a bottle of Coca-Cola and a package of condoms in my 2012 Toronto Film Festival goodie bag. I'm grateful for both gifts -- honest! -- but I suspect only one will come in handy this year. BTW: I thought of joking about the goodie bag contents with the young lady -- actually, the very young lady -- who gave me the bag and my press credentials this afternoon. But I didn't, because (a) the volunteers at the TIFF press office are the salt of the earth, and I didn't want to make one of them feel uncomfortable, (b) thinking a creepy old man is coming on to you likely can make a very young woman feel very uncomfortable, and (c) hey, that's how rumors get started.

TIFF 2012 Wanna-See No. 3: Bad 25

Reason No. 1: It's a Spike Lee documentary about the classic Michael Jackson album. Reason No. 2: It's documentary about the classic Michael Jackson album directed by Spike Lee. Any questions?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A moment of Zen about reeling in the years (with Dennis Quaid)

Sign No. 2,347 that I am getting old: Back in the day, when Tough Enough was shooting in Big D while I was working for the Dallas Morning News, I talked with the late, great Warren Oates about his promising young co-star -- Dennis Quaid. This past weekend, I interviewed Vegas co-star Taylor Handley about what it was like to work with a seasoned veteran -- Dennis Quaid.

TIFF 2012 Wanna-See No. 2: Men at Lunch

Reason No. 1: Ever since I first glimpsed the above iconic photograph years ago, I've wondered: Geez, who were those guys? And what were they doing up there? Reason No. 2: Director Seán Ó Cualáin obviously had the same questions on his mind -- and discovered, while making Men at Lunch, that many of these dudes were Irish immigrants. Which, being an Irish immigrant's son, does not surprise me at all.

Monday, September 03, 2012

R.I.P.: Michael Clarke Duncan (1957-2012)

I had the pleasure to speak with Michael Clarke Duncan on a few occasions at junkets and film festivals – most recently two years ago at the Nashville Film Festival, where I served as host for an on-stage Q&A after the premiere of Black, White and Blues, an enjoyable indie dramedy later released in theaters and on DVD under the title Redemption Road. (That’s me on the far right, Duncan on the far left – and director Mario Van Peebles in the white hat – up there.) In person, he always struck me as a gregarious and good-humored fellow with a hearty laugh, an effortless charm and an engagingly self-deprecating sense of humor. And on the screen, I’m not sure that I ever saw him sound a false note, or make a wrong move, whether he was a hulking badass (Daredevil) or a saintly martyr (The Green Mile).

In Nashville, he only half-jokingly noted during our well-attended Q&A that, prior to Redemption Road, he had no desire – no desire at all, thank you very much – to ever wear a cowboy hat. Indeed, he agreed to don one in that film only because director Van Peebles convinced him that it was an essential part of his down-home character’s everyday wardrobe. Once he found one that fit, though, Duncan had to admit: He thought it looked pretty damn cool on him. And guess what? He was right. Check him out here:

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Now that Rev. Sun Myung Moon is gone, will we finally get Inchon on DVD?

With all due respect to the late newspaper mogul and Unification Church leader: Does the passing of  Rev. Sun Myung Moon mean we'll finally get to see the long-delayed DVD release of Inchon, the epic 1982 embarrassment that Moon co-financed, barely distributed -- and then withdrew from release 30 years ago?

(And before anyone asks: Yes, I saw it back in the day -- even wrote about it for The Houston Post, though I'm afraid I can't link to my review -- and, yes, it really was that bad.)

Mind you, I am not going to settle for some slapdash, half-assed release of the version that fleetingly appeared in theaters three decades ago. No, I want the full monty, the original cut of the ill-starred Korean War drama prepared by director Terence Young. (Yes, that Terence Young, the same filmmaker who directed Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the first two James Bond movies.) Not only do I want a special-feature documentary that will explain why Laurence Olivier chose to play Gen. Douglas MacArthur with the mannerisms and makeup of an aging drag queen. I want to see all that footage of the late, great David Janssen as a supporting character -- footage that, according to Hollywood legend, was deleted before Inchon hit theaters so that audiences couldn't tell how long the flick had remained on the shelf after shooting concluded. (Janssen died in 1980.)

Come to think of it, I also want to see the deleted footage of Rex Red -- yes, that Rex Reed -- who reportedly played an itinerant music critic pressed into service as a war correspondent after North Korean soldiers inconveniently move past the 38th Parallel in 1950. Again according to Hollywood legend, Reed was so embarrassed by the movie that he asked to be left on the cutting-room floor. Personally, I find this harder to believe than the Janssen story -- after all, we are talking about Rex Reed, the same dude who co-starred in Myra Breckenridge, and never asked to be deleted from that fiasco -- but who cares? If the footage still exists, let's dredge it up for the DVD. And the Blu-Ray, too, of course.

Mind you, not everyone was ashamed of his involvement in this legendary folly.

Back in 1989, while interviewing Ben Gazzara during the New York junket for Road House -- a movie that looks like freakin' Citizen Kane when compared to Inchon -- I delicately raised the issue of his earning an easy paycheck for appearing in Moon's mega-flop as a US Marine major who takes time out from cheating on his wife (Jacqueline Bisset) with a young South Korean cutie (Karen Kahn) to warn the folks in Seoul about the oncoming North Korean invasion. I half-expected Gazzara to defend his work in this debacle by insisting he did it only so he could afford to keep making no-budget indies with his buddy John Cassavetes. To his credit, though, Gazzara didn't take that easy route. Rather, he laughed heartily, and said, in effect, he wasn't the only whore working in that bordello.

"We didn't know there was Moonie money behind the film until we were six weeks into production,'' Gazzara said. “Actually, though, I guess it must have been fate that I be in that movie. I turned it down three times, until the producer told me Laurence Olivier was gonna be in it, playing Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, why am I being such a purist? If Olivier's in it, why can't I?’

“And when we were filming, I met my wife, Elke. She's from Germany, and she was working as a model (in Korea) at the time. We've been together ever since.”

Proving once again that, yes, even a bad movie -- a really, really bad movie -- can have a happy ending.

Ben Gazzara and Jacqueline Bissett in Inchon

A monent of zen while viewing an existential cat

There are times when I watch a short as clever as this one -- winner of the Golden Kitty Award at the Internet Cat Film Festival hosted by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis -- and I can't help thinking: Next year, or the year after that, I'm probably going to be reviewing the first feature by the same director.

TIFF 2012 Wanna-See No. 1: Capital

Reason 1: It's directed by Costa-Gavras (whose classic Z, by the way, inspired another promising film that will be on view at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival). Reason 2: The tagline -- "We'll keep on robbing the poor to give to the rich" -- is well-nigh irresistible.

Barack Obama: "I Am A Huge Clint Eastwood Fan"

Once again, Barack Obama redefines the term "class act" while maintaining his sangfroid.

(Yeah, I know, it's pretentious to use a French term in this context. But I also know that just annoys the Obama-bashers even more, so I can't resist. It's even more fun than mentioning Journeys with George to a Bush hater.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Yep, it's time again for a brand new Maltin Guide

Coming soon to a bookstore near you (if it isn't there already): The 2013 edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, a blockbuster production in which I play a minor supporting role.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Radio Alert Update Bumped!

The Voice of Russia bumped me this morning to make room for more RNC coverage. I don't know whether to be miffed, or laugh out loud.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Radio Alert: Me on The Voice of Russia, Tuesday morning. Actually, very early Tuesday morning.

I will be on The Voice of Russia sometime around 7:20 am CT Tuesday, to discuss the phenomenon that is 2016: Obama's America. And for all I know, they may also want to talk about The Darkest Hour. I just hope they don't ask me why I'm not such a big fan of Andrei Tarkovsky. Because, geez, I don't want to cause an international incident or anything.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

2016 -- An anti-Obama blockbuster

According to Variety, 2016: Obama's America earned $2.2 million at the boxoffice Friday -- with a higher per-screen average than The Expendables 2 and The Bourne Legacy combined. And I'm sure it's all because my Variety review stirred up so much interest. The only question that remains is, was it a thumb's-up rave, or a thumb's down pan? Or simply less than glowing? My response: It was a fair and balanced critique. I review. You decide.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And this just in: Geezers still go the movies

But seriously,folks: This is great news to receive on my 60th birthday. Thank you, Hollywood Reporter (even if you are only the second best showbiz trade paper in the whole wide world).

Some thoughts on turning 60 (with a shout-out to Lyle Lovett)

On this, my 60th birthday, I cannot help recalling William Holden’s line – well, OK, Paddy Chaveysky’s line, but Holden said it – in Network: “All of a sudden, it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and death is suddenly a perceptible thing to me -- with definable features.”

In other words, I can no longer consider myself middle-aged. Unless, of course, I plan on making it to 120.

On the other hand: I have already fought cancer, and cancer lost. I remain reasonably sentient and, despite arthritic knees, ambulatory. I am still paid to do two things I love to do – writing and teaching – even though it doesn’t look like I’ll ever make the grade as full-time faculty, and I gave up on winning a Pulitzer Prize way back when The Houston Post shut down. I can’t really think of retiring, because I owe too many people too much money. So I will press on, like those damn boats that F. Scott Fitzgerald describes at the end of The Great Gatsby, and continue to enjoy the ride whenever possible, as much as possible.

Besides: Not only do I still get paid to go to the movies, I get paid to talk about movies (to students, who have to listen). Truly, as my immigrant father recognized, this is the land of opportunity.

Looking ahead, I see books yet to write (and/or revise), movies yet to see (and review), students yet to teach, people yet to meet and places yet to go. (But no friends to mourn -- only lives to celebrate.) I once wrote that, if I had any choice in the matter, I would like to shuffle off this mortal coil while in the line of duty – preferably at a film festival, after seeing something absolutely terrific, or at least really, really entertaining. On the other hand, if I wind up being shot by a jealous husband at age 90, well, that wouldn’t be too shabby, either.

There’s another bit of movie dialogue I’m remembering today. From Citizen Kane: “Old age. It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of.”

I’ll drink to that. And to this. Take it away, Lyle Lovett:

In the darkest hour, in the dead of night, 
As the storm clouds gather, and the lightning strikes,
And the thunder rolls, and the cold rain blows,
The future it holds, what God only knows.

And I will rise up, and I will rise up, 
Though I be a dead man, I said yes and amen. 
And I will stand tall, and I will stand tall, 
Until I meet my end, until I meet my end. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trailer watch: Bullet to the Head


It's been nearly 30 years since director Walter Hill changed the rules, raised the bar and set the standard for disparate-duo action flicks with 48 HRS.  Coming next February to a theater or drive-in near you: Bullet to the Head, Hill's latest rock-'em, sock-'em extravaganza, starring Sylvester Stallone as a seasoned hit man and Sung Kang (of the Fast & Furious franchise) as a badass cop who join forces to lay the smackdown on the killers of their respective partners. Sounds promising to me. 

Take 2: More Fantastic Fest coming attractions


Those wild and crazy guys at Fantastic Fest have announced another batch of titles they’ve confirmed for the Sept. 20-27 edition of their annual genre-movie extravaganza in Austin. Among the most attention-grabbing, complete with official FF12 plot synopses:

SINISTER -- A frightening new thriller about a true crime novelist (Ethan Hawke) who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror. 

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING -- Surviving Unisols Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) battle anarchy to build a new order ruled by Unisols without government oversight. To accomplish this, they weed out the weak and constantly test their strongest warriors in brutal, life-and-death combat. (Lundgren and co-star Scott Adkins will be on hand for the FF12 premiere.)
 
LOOPER -- In this futuristic action thriller, time travel will be invented - but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” -- a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) -- is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good -- until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination. (Gordon-Levitt and writer director Rian Johnson will be on hand for the FF12 premiere.)

HERE COMES THE DEVIL -- Fantastic Fest veteran Adrián García Bogliano (Penumbra) returns – really, he’s actually going to be there in Austin -- with his latest supernatural horror. When two children who went missing while exploring a cave are found, it quickly becomes apparent something evil has come home with them.

But wait – there’s more. And you can read all about it here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Attention Kristen Stewart haters: Jodie Foster would like to kick your ass


And I would pay money to watch her do it. For the meantime, I'll settle for sharing her thought-provoking and elegantly written essay on the downside of celebrity and the plight of her Panic Room co-star.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A kinder, gentler ending for The Grey

Would The Grey have been even more popular with critics and audiences had director Joe Carnahan offered a more upbeat, less ambiguous ending? Who knows? But even Carnahan has Tweeted his good-sport appreciation of this, ahem, alternative. (Speaking for myself: I still think this should have been played under the closing credits.)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

What's the Buzz? The Buzz Lady is back -- on the Map

Happy to report that the vivacious Roseann Rogers, my former colleague at Channel 2/KPRC-TV, has rejoined me at CultureMap.com. She'll be contributing videos of celebrity interviews like this one, a chat with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis about The Campaign. Funny stuff. I must admit, though, to a certain amount of puzzlement (if not serious jealousy) as I note that Roseann -- a.k.a. The Buzz Lady -- actually appears younger now than she did back when we worked together in the mid-to-late 1990s. Trust me: Time hasn't been nearly so kind to yours truly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Me! On TV! Wheeeeeee!

Chatting with the lovely and talented Deborah Duncan on Great Day Houston about alt-movie venues in Houston, the late, great Marvin Hamlisch -- and my new column for CultureMap.com. Enjoy.

R.I.P.: Judith Crist (1922-2012)

I used to half-joke that, back when I was in my early teens, the two most prominent film critics in America arguably were Pauline Kael and Judith Crist – meaning that, while I was growing up, I wanted to do a girl’s job.

Unfortunately, I more or less had to give up on making that jest quite a while back – and, no, not because so many people would instantly respond, “Hey, what the hell about Andrew Sarris? Or Stanley Kauffmann?”

The melancholy truth is that, despite her impressive span of glory days in the 1960s and early ‘70s, a period during which she served simultaneously as film critic for New York magazine, TV Guide and The Today Show, thereby ensuring a consistently high profile, Crist – who passed away Tuesday at age 90 – slipped into relative obscurity a long time ago. So much so, in fact, that throughout the last couple of decades, I found myself more often than not having to explain who she was – and what she meant – whenever I made that tongue-in-cheek but not entirely untrue remark about my early influences.

In her prime, Crist was a trailblazer as well an opinion-shaper, earning at least a footnote in the history of American film criticism when she became the first full-time female film critic for a major American newspaper, The New York Herald Tribune, in 1963. After that, as New York Times writer Douglas Martin notes in an appreciative obit that is well worth reading in full:

Her commentary had many homes: The New York Herald Tribune, where she was the first woman to be made a full-time critic for a major American newspaper; New York magazine, where she was the founding film critic; and TV Guide, which most defined her to readers. Her reviews appeared there for 22 years at a time when the magazine blanketed the country, reaching a peak readership of more than 20 million. She was the Today show’s first regular movie critic, a morning fixture on NBC from 1963 to 1973. And she wrote for Saturday Review, Gourmet and Ladies’ Home Journal.

A Harris Poll of moviegoers in the 1960s cited her as their favorite critic. In 1968, Film Quarterly called her “the American critic with the widest impact on the mass audience.” When TV Guide decided to dismiss her in 1983 to replace her column with a computerized movie summary, executives told her they might come crawling back to her in six months to beg her to return. The magazine was deluged with letters, and asked her back three weeks later. She was given a raise and stayed until 1988.


And yet: Tastes change, influence wanes. As early as 1973, she was eased out of her spot at The Today Show and replaced by quipster Gene Shalit. She continued to write – and, at Columbia University, teach – past the turn of the century. By 2009, however, she had fallen so far off the radar that writer-director Gerald Peary opted to not mention her at all in his documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism -- a questionable decision that I did indeed question in my Variety review of the film.

As you likely already have surmised: I was an ardent fan of Crist’s work during my formative years, and continue to be an admirer even as I stagger into my dotage. (While typing this in my home office, I can spot my well-thumbed, personally autographed copy of her book The Private Eye, The Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl on a nearby shelf.) She could launch lethal zingers with the best of them – she once described The Sound of Music as fodder “for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who think their kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of Mary Poppins ” – but I enjoyed her more for the unbridled enthusiasm she brought to praising both serious cinema and what she called “delicious trash.”

Crist -- like Kael, Sarris, Kauffmann and a handful of others -- was a must-read critic during a golden age much beloved by movie buffs, stretching roughly from 1967 to 1980, when there seemed to be so very many must-see movies. Consider, if you will, her Top Ten for 1967:

1. Bonnie and Clyde 2. La Guerre est Finie 3. The Graduate 4. In the Heat of the Night 5. In Cold Blood 6. Ulysses 7. The Battle of Algiers 8. Falstaff 9. Father 10. The President’s Analyst

Worthy choices, all. Movies, much like Crist’s own best work, that have stood the test of time, even if some, like Crist, are no longer as widely recognized as they once were.

Back in 1973, not too long after her ouster from The Today Show, Crist gave a lecture at Loyola University in New Orleans while I was in my final year as a journalism major. I had the opportunity to speak with her – and, yes, get my book autographed -- during a pre-lecture reception, and was greatly charmed by the lady. (I admit it: I laughed out loud, like the most transparent sort of sycophant, when she made a passing reference to her Today Show replacement as “Gene Shallow.” Sorry, Mr. Shalit, I couldn’t resist.) And during the lecture itself…

OK, there’s no way to write this without sounding like ego-tripping, so I’ll try to be brief. On a couple of occasions during her lecture, she paused while trying to remember the name of a specific actor or director. The first time this happened, I impulsively blurted out the name she was fumbling for – and immediately felt embarrassed for being a presumptuous jerk. But, wonder of wonders, Crist merely smiled in my direction, and said, “Thanks.” So I felt emboldened to chime in again when she had a second stumble.

The third time she couldn’t remember a name, I briefly held back – after all, this was her lecture, not mine, and I didn’t want to look like a complete doofus. So Crist turned, looked directly at me in the auditorium audience, smiled once one more and asked, “OK, you know, who is it?” I did know – she was trying to remember Don Siegel, director of Dirty Harry – so I told her. And she thanked me. And I felt the way mortals usually feel after they’ve been of some small service to a deity.

I have dined out on that story for decades, of course. (At least, I have done so while breaking bread with fellow film buffs.) But what I really took to heart that evening was something Crist said when asked about the difference between her reaction to a film as a critic, and an average moviegoer’s response.

“I’m just like you,” Crist told the Loyola University audience. “I’ll see a movie, and think, ‘Yay!’ Or, ‘Ugh!’

“The only difference is, I take that ‘Yay!’ or ‘Ugh!’ – and stretch it out to four or five hundred words.”

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing for the last 40 years or so.

So you see, I was right: I did grow up to a do a girl’s job.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

What if Vertigo had been... shorter?


In recent days, former students, TV interviewers, fellow critics, passing strangers, drunks stumbling out of doorways... They've all wanted to know the same thing: What do I think of Vertigo bumping Citizen Kane out of the No. 1 spot on the Sight & Sound list of the top movies of all time?

My first impulse is to reply: Hey, I didn't get a ballot, so who cares?

On further consideration, however, I have to admit that, while I prefer Orson Welles' enduringly amazing and influential masterpiece, I have always appreciated Vertigo as one of Alfred Hitchcock's all-time greats -- and maybe, just maybe, his most deeply personal film. Indeed, I deemed it worthy of its very own chapter (excerpted here) in my currently out-of-print book (which I hope to expand and update as an e-book just as soon as I find the time to write the updates, and, well, you know, figure out how to upload an e-book). And while looking at that chapter after the announcement of the Sight & Sound list, I felt compelled to attach this addendum:

After multiple viewings of Vertigo over the years, I have come to wonder: What would the reaction have been back in 1958 – indeed, how would critics, academics and movie buffs view it today – if Hitchcock had opted to end this masterwork about ten or 15 minutes before he does? (Assuming that the Production Code would have allowed him to do so.) That is: What if The Master of Suspense had announced “The End” immediately after Ferguson (James Stewart) and Madeleine (Kim Novak) share their fevered embrace in her hotel room, bathed in a greenish light that seems to signal a shared madness, as she finally abandons all trace of her true self and he passionately grasps his last hope for a second chance?

And what if the audience were left to consider that the only way these two characters could possibly enjoy happily-ever-aftering is to maintain interlocking lies – his self-delusion, her selfless deception – forever more?

Would even Alfred Hitchcock have had the audacity to spring something so thoroughly unsettling, if not downright perverse, on us?

Here's a YouTube clip of the aforementioned scene featuring commentary by Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. Something tells me even The Master considered ending his movie with this, uh, stunning climax.

Friday, August 03, 2012

"When you're rich, you want a Republican in office"


Looks like porn movie star Jenna Jameson is swallowing... er, I mean she's coming... oh, hell, looks like she's getting behind Mitt Romney.

On the other hand: The Huffington Post reports that Ron Jeremy remains an Obama supporter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free on Hulu: Two in the Wave

In 1959, critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut – whose incendiary reviews of the Cannes Film Festival had gotten him banned from that fest just one year earlier -- made his first big splash as an auteur at Cannes with his debut feature, The 400 Blows, his profoundly affecting and enduringly influential autobiographical drama.

One year later, Jean-Luc Godard – another outspoken firebrand who railed against the prevailing norms of cinéma de papa in the pages of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema – plunged into feature filmmaking with Breathless, his stylistically audacious and exuberantly fatalistic neo-noir romantic melodrama.

Together, these two friends – destined, perhaps inevitably, to become competitive rivals, then bitter enemies – helped launch La Nouvelle Vague or, if you don’t parlez-vous français, the French New Wave, a loose-knit, deeply committed group of highly individualistic film directors who burst upon the international scene in general and the U.S. art-house circuit in particular during the heady days of the post-Eisenhower Era.

There were other notables in their ranks – including Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda – but it was Truffaut and Godard who, then and now, defined in the minds of most critics, academics and cinephiles the revolutionary vitality of a filmmaking movement influenced in equal measures by Italian Neorealism, Hollywood Classicism and anything-goes youthful audacity. So it is altogether fitting that director Emmanuel Laurent has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the early careers of those two artists in Two in the Wave.

Written and narrated by film critic Antoine de Baecque, who has authored authoritative biographies of both men, this celebratory documentary is an ingeniously conceived and executed collage culled from newspaper and magazine clippings, newsreels and TV interviews and, of course, generous swaths of film clips. You can read more of what I had to say about it durng its 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston debut here. And you see if for yourself up there. Or right here.



Killer sushi? Zombie outbreaks? Violent vigilantes? Must be time for Fantastic Fest



The eighth edition of Fantastic Fest -- the world's wildest genre-movie extravaganza -- is set for Sept. 20-27 in Austin, arguably the only place on the planet weird enough to handle its spectacular excess. And judging from Monday’s announcement of the first titles confirmed for the FF2012 schedule, I'd say festivalgoers are in for the usual smorgasbord of heavy artillery, sexual perversity, edgy sci-fi, scantily clad cuties, flesh-eating zombies and unrestrained ultra-violence.

But wait, there’s more: This year’s line-up also features eccentric animation, with the previously announced opening-night presentation of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, and vicious vigilantism, with the gala premiere of Peter Travis’ Dredd 3D.

For the benefit of those who tuned in late: The latter is an R-rated adaptation of the John Wagner/Carlos Ezquerra comic strip set in a futuristic society where relentless supercops like the eponymous Dredd (played by Karl Urban) serve as judges, juries – and instant executioners. You may recall there was an earlier attempt to bring this source material to the screen. You may also remember that it didn’t turn out too well. This one is supposed to be better. Or, at the very least, bloodier.

Among the other intriguing titles in this first wave of FF2012 offerings:

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES -- When a badly planned bank robbery and a zombie outbreak collide, hilarity allegedly ensues in this  British comedy starring Michelle Ryan (star of the ill-fated Bionic Woman reboot) and Lee Asquith-Coe (soon to be seen in the direct-to-video Strippers vs. Werewolves – you think I’m making that up, don’t you? – and Kathryn Bigelow’s  Zero Dark Thirty).

DEAD SUSHI -- Japanese splatter-action comedy is served up raw when director Noboru Iguchi and karate girl Rina Takeda join forces to take on flying killer sushi monsters.

I DECLARE WAR Here’s the inside skinny from the Fantastic Fest press office:A group of exceptionally creative teens gets sucked into their own private Lord of the Flies scenario when an after-school game of ‘war’ turns into a test of loyalty, strategy and friendship.” Sounds like more fun than a Dungeons & Dragons tournament. And – gasp! – it’s from Canada.

ROOM 237Rodney Ascher’s provocative documentary examines bizarre theories about subtext and symbolism that can be found – if you look really, really hard – in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (which, not incidentally, also will be screened at FF2012).

SECRET CEREMONY – A textbook example of the jaw-dropping weirdness that often resulted back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s when Hollywood studios briefly indulged maverick auteurs by bankrolling eccentric (and, occasionally, incomprehensible) “art films.” In this case, the maverick was the late Joseph Losey (The Servant, Modesty Blaise), and the plot has something to do with a middle-aged prostitute (Elizabeth Taylor – yes, that Elizabeth Taylor) who’s despondent over the drowning death of her daughter, a disturbed young woman (Mia Farrow) in desperate need of a mother figure, and a creepy stepfather (Robert Mitchum) who does his damnedest to facilitate an unhappy ending. If you’ve ever seen this 1968 psychodrama on broadcast TV, you may be in for a few surprises, and no little befuddlement, if you catch it as part of FF2012’s “House of Psychotic Women” sidebar: Like many Universal Pictures releases of its time, it was trimmed of salacious content, and supplemented with newly shot footage (intended to “explain” the confusing goings-on) before being unleashed on unsuspecting viewers. Presumably, FF2012 will be screening the original version exhibited – fleetingly – in theaters.    

WRONG – French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to his 2010 thriller Rubber – a.k.a, “The Killer Tire Movie” – is described as an “absurdist opus” about an everyman who goes to extremes when he awakens one morning to find his beloved dog is missing. Early reports indicate that homicidal wheels do not figure into the plot of this one.
YOUNG GUN IN THE TIME – From South Korean filmmaker Oh Young Doo, director of FF2011 offering Invasion of Alien Bikini, we get a time-travel confection involving sex shops, robot hands and Hawaiian shirts. In short, something for everyone.