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.