Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Holiday cheer from Spike Lee

As I Tweeted back to Spike: Actually, we tried to see Ali together on Christmas Day 2001 -- but it was sold out. So we're long overdue to spend a holiday with one of his joints. (And this one, I must say, is a flick I'm looking forward to.) Besides, maybe the delay will give him more time for fundraising.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

R.I.P.: J.J. Cale (1938-2013)

Can't say I fully appreciated the artistry of J.J. Cale -- the singer-songwriter who gave us "Cocaine" and "After Midnight" -- until I saw Jorg Bundschuh's fawning but fascinating To Tulsa and Back: On Tour With J.J. Cale at the 2006 Nashville Film Festival. As I noted in my Variety review:
Belying his standoffish reputation, Cale is surprisingly forthcoming — if a tad feisty — during discussions with Bundschuh between gigs. He seems mildly surprised that, after years of various excesses, he made it to 65. But he insists he’s not losing his edge. And he doesn’t want anyone to draw faulty conclusions from his relaxed singing style. “I’m not laid back,” he warns, only half-jokingly.
Well-shot performance sequences — including a duet with Clapton during the latter’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas — are satisfying showcases for Cale’s trademark fusion of blues, jazz and country. Pic is most amusing as Cale and long-time bandmates acknowledge the demands (including early morning radio interviews) of a concert tour. They pointedly note that the night after they performed for 60,000 at the Crossroads Festival, they appeared at a Houston club for an audience of 125. Even so, judging from the concert footage, they played for keeps at both venues.
You can order a DVD of the documentary here. And while you're waiting for it to arrive, you can savor Cale's 1979 Los Angeles session with Leon Russell (hat-tip to OpenSource.com) here.

My week online: Raising Hell, praising Swoopes, previewing The World's End

Photography: Frank Ockenfels/Courtesy AMC

For all you Joe Leydon completists out there -- all three or four of you -- here's what I was up to this week:

Springsteen & I -- My interview with the director of the "crowd-sourced rockumentary," which will be back in theaters Tuesday.

Joe Leydon: Badass Critic -- I have a new title, thanks to the people who made Bad Kids Go to Hell.

Dennis Farina -- R.I.P.

Hell on Wheels -- Anson Mount and Common (above) are back in the saddle again.

The World's End -- I previewed the new Edgar Wright film -- but I couldn't say anything about it.

Longmire -- No, not that Robert Taylor. This Robert Taylor.

QFest -- They're here, they're queer, and they're screening all over the Greater Metropolitan Houston area.

The Attack -- Director Ziad Doueiri talks about the Arab League ban of his film -- and considers the subversive potential of bootleg DVDs.

Swoopes -- I talk to a couple of hot babes -- WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes and ESPN host/correspondent Hannah Storm -- about the movie they made together.

As my dear, departed father might say: Hey, at least it keeps me out of the poolhall.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don't worry, Edgar Wright: I won't spill the beans about The World's End

Went to a private screening of The World's End last night -- real private, in the sense that I was the only person in the theater besides the enthusiastic publicist, who laughed almost as much I did -- and a funny thing happened when I walked into the lobby: I was handed a personal note from my close, personal friend, director Edgar Wright:

To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for coming along to the screening. We would love the audience to experience this film as you do and would really appreciate it if you didn't reveal some of the surprises, twists and actors that do not feature in the trailers. Forgive me for asking, as I know you would never dream of doing such a dastardly thing. Thanks for your co-operation and I hope you enjoy the movie.
Edgar Wright

Well, OK. Mind you, the major plot twist that kicks in after the first half-hour has already been revealed in the trailer, most of the summer-preview feature stories (including my own), and, oh, I dunno, about 30 or 40 trend-spotting articles that have included it among the summer's crop of  "Apocalypse, Wow!" movies. But never mind.

I plan on driving to Austin this weekend to interview Wright, co-star and co-writer Simon Pegg, and the lovely and talented Nick Frost. (And, of course, while I'm there, I'm going to visit The Original Hoffbrau, one of my favorite steakhouses in the whole wide world.) So far be it from me to reveal that Rosebud turns out to be a sled, everybody stabs the victim in the sleeping car, Pegg's character is lying about his mother being alive in the back of the motel, Sean Connery makes a cameo appearance as King Richard, and...

Oh. Wait. Damn. Think I'll quit now while I'm behind.

Just call me Joe Leydon: Badass Critic

They like me! They really like me!

Monday, July 22, 2013

He's gotta have it: Spike Lee needs my money (and yours) to make his movie

Just when I think the movie business can't get any more whack, I hear the director of Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, When the Levees Broke and Clockers feels compelled to use Kickstarter to raise funding for his next flick. This is just so wrong, for so many reasons -- not the least of which being, as Spike Lee himself says in this video while pointing to his list of credits, "This is a mother-fuckin' body of work here." (Hey, if I had credits like that, I'd still have a full-time gig reviewing movies.)

Unfortunately, I don't have  an extra $10,000 lying around, so I won't get to attend a New York Knicks game with Spike. (Which is probably a good thing, since my son, an avid Houston Rockets fan, would never forgive me -- even though, oddly enough, he's an admirer of Spike's Miracle at St. Anna.) But I do feel compelled to cough up a few bucks.

On the other hand: I wonder if he might have raised more money a lot quicker by selling tube socks.

Hail and farewell to a natural-born actor: Dennis Farina

Between his early career as a Chicago cop and his recent gig as Xfinity Internet pitchman, Dennis Farina, character actor par excellence, amassed an impressive resume of distinctive performances in movies (including Get Shorty, Out of Sight and the under-appreciated Sidewalks of New York) and TV dramas (including Law & Order, the cult-fave Crime Story and last year's undeservedly short-lived Luck). He was a personal favorite of mine -- yep, I was a fan as far back as Manhunter -- and I was unabashedly delighted when, during the 1988 New York junket for Midnight Run, I had the opportunity to speak with the gentleman. Dennis Farina passed away today at age 69. To celebrate his life, I offer this reprise of my original '88 interview. 

When Dennis Farina smiles, he's the next-door neighbor you'll invite over for barbecue, or the guy on the next barstool who doesn't remain a stranger very long.

But when Farina frowns, he's someone you wouldn't want to meet in a brightly lit alley, never mind a dark one.

With his craggy features, his dark hair and thick eyebrows, Farina, 45, looks a little like a cartoonist's caricature of a tough customer. Still, there's an ingratiating warmth and good humor to the man in private conversation. In films, plays and TV productions, he has averaged, by his own estimate, ''a 50-50 split'' between good guys and bad guys. At either extreme, he doesn't have much trouble establishing credibility.

In the newly released Midnight Run, Farina turns the art of scene-stealing into grand larceny, playing a quick-tempered mobster who menaces, and occasionally upstages, Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. Before Midnight, Farina was best known as Lt. Mike Torrello of Crime Story, a neon-colored fantasia of pre-Miranda crimebusting and garish early-'60s Americana. Farina was exceptionally well-trained to play the top cop in the recently cancelled TV series: For 18 years, he was a proud member of the Chicago police force, serving as detective for the department's Special Investigative Unit.

Farina first stepped before the cameras in 1980, when a friend got him a small role as a murderous thug in Thief, a stylish thriller directed by Michael Mann (who would later produce Crime Story and, not incidentally, Miami Vice). In the movie, shot on location in Chicago, Farina gunned down James Belushi, and was in turn gunned down by James Caan. Farina enjoyed himself immensely.

 ''I'll never forget it,'' Belushi says. ''Dennis came up to me on the set one day, and says, 'You know, Jim, this is kinda fun. What do I do to make a living off this?' And I gave him the same speech I give everybody: 'Well, first you get an 8-by-10 glossy, and a resume, and find an agent...'"

Farina took Belushi's advice, and found a Chicago casting agent who helped him begin what he calls ''a great part-time job'' as an actor. He soon had some impressive credits on his resume: Stage roles with Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre. Screen roles opposite Chuck Norris in Code of Silence, and Richard Pryor in Jo-Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. The resume is all the more impressive when you consider that, until Thief, Farina had never acted before in any medium. He never even took a drama course while attending St. Michael Central High in his native Chicago.

''Well, there was a high school play,'' Farina recalled during a recent interview. ''But even prior to the rehearsal process,'' he added with a chuckle, ''a friend of mine and I were asked to leave.'' Farina didn't go near a stage again until years later, when, after launching his part-time acting career, he wound up playing a small role in the TV series Chicago Story. His co-star for the 1982 episode was a quietly intense actor-director named John Malkovich, famed for exploits at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre.

''John and I struck up a conversation,'' Farina said, ''and he said, 'Look, I'm doing this play, A Prayer for My Daughter, written by Thomas Babe -- I'd like you to audition for it.' And I said, 'Yeah, OK, sure.''' A few hours later, Farina was at his favorite bar -- not for drinks, but for advice. The bartender, his friend, was a professional actor when he wasn't serving beers. Farina told him of Malkovich's invitation, then posed a pressing question: "How do I audition for a play?"

Fortunately, Farina had a week before auditions, so his friend was able to coach him through basic stage movements. (They rehearsed on the stage of another friend's comedy club.) Fortuitously, Farina was hired as an understudy, then took over a lead role when another actor left the show. On opening night, Farina was on stage at the Steppenwolf. On the morning after, his name was in the papers.

That his good fortune bordered on the miraculous never really fazed him.

"Believe me, I don't want to minimize what's happened to me,'' Farina said. ''But it never really hit me.

"But, again, I was surrounded by these guys who really knew what they were doing... Malkovich was the guy who really took a chance. See, at the time, I had nothing to lose. If I fell on my face, the people in the theater, in the papers, they'd just say, 'This guy's just a cop, he doesn't know what he's doing, forget about him.' But John, and the Steppenwolf company, they would have been the people to suffer.

''I was doing something else, I had a job. If they had said, 'This guy's no good,' well, hey, I'll just go back to work next week.''

Encouraged by his early success, Farina continued to divide his time between the make-believe of acting and the dead-seriousness of police work. He also remained active in Chicago theater, appearing in a production of David Rabe's Streamers that eventually was presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In 1985, Farina took a leave of absence from the Chicago Police Department for a brief Los Angeles sortie to find TV jobs. He renewed his acquaintance with producer Michael Mann, who cast him in two episodes of Miami Vice. Then, in 1986, Farina was forced to make a fateful choice about what he would do with the rest of his life.

''It took a while for me to make up my mind,'' Farina said, ''because I really liked being a policeman. I enjoyed my years on the police department.

"But the decision was finally made for me when Michael Mann asked me to do a part in the movie Manhunter, and at the same time started doing the groundwork for me to do Crime Story. I thought those were two opportunities that I really couldn't pass up.''

So in barely more than five years, Farina moved from untrained amateur to hard-working Chicago stage actor, then from movie bit player to network TV series lead. It's a Cinderella story that could drive some drama school graduates to despair.

Tony Award-winning actress Joan Allen (Burn This), who also appeared in Manhunter, thinks Farina is ''a natural actor . . . very self-confident.'' Director Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop) wanted Farina and no one else for the role of the mob boss in Midnight Run. ''It just struck me, the moment I met him,'' Brest said, ''that he had a sort of star presence. A very powerful presence. And, as you can see in the movie, he held his own with De Niro. He even got in a couple of shots in their scene together.''

Farina accepts these compliments with gratitude and unaffected graciousness. ''I was at ease around De Niro,'' he said, ''because he put me at ease. I walked onto the set, and within 10 seconds, I felt like I had been around that guy for my whole life . . . And Charles Grodin was very helpful, giving me little deadpan looks that only he can do.''

Any major disappointments in his career so far? Well, Farina regrets that Crime Story was axed by NBC. He suspects the show would have found a larger audience in a better, more permanent time slot. ''But I'm pretty philosophical about it. I think, it's over, OK, for two years I was very proud to be a part of it. I thought it was a very good show . . . But, frankly, I'd rather have the show end now, with people clamoring for more, than to go back on.''

Between movie and TV jobs, Farina continues to live in Chicago, "in a neighborhood where all this gentrification is going on.'' (He politely but firmly refuses to talk about his marital status.) He counts among his closest friends, and harshest critics, the policemen he used to work with. He doesn't think he has been affected much by his success as an actor: ''I was 36, 37 years old when I started doing this, so I pretty much think the same way I always have.''

Indeed, he often appears to be keeping his career at arm's length. He doesn't watch himself in movies or TV shows. And he rarely reads his reviews. ''I get my satisfaction just from the doing of the work,'' he said. "And in thinking that I did my best, that I contributed all I could.'' Farina remains modest, and even a little wary, about discussing his accomplishments. "I don't want to get maudlin or anything, but I believe, yeah, there's somebody, like, watching over me or something. I have to believe that. Someone who has taken very good care of me.

"I don't question it, and I don't look into it too much. Because I don't want to, I don't want to analyze it. So I just kind of accept it.''

A choice Dennis Farina moment from Midnight Run:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The human side of Godzilla

According to The Wrap, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston told the assemblage of journalists and fanboys at Comic Con this weekend that he was reluctant to accept a role in the much-hyped Godzilla reboot -- until he viewed director Gareth Edwards' Monsters. "There was a character-driven component you felt for these people [in Monsters] that was great," Cranston said. Well, hell, I could have told you that.

Wait a minute: I already did tell people that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Fruitvale Station

Although he has a real-life story of relatively recent vintage to tell in Fruitvale Station – one that, in light of the Trayvon Martin killing and its frustrating aftermath, is enthrallingly relevant to our times – writer-director Ryan Coogler chooses to begin his exceptionally accomplished debut feature with a storytelling device that recalls, of all things, classic film noir of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Borrowing a page from such fatalistic melodramas as D.O.A., Detour and Double Indemnity, Coogler begins more or less at the end, when his lead character’s fate is irreversibly sealed. Then Coogler proceeds to detail the events that took his protagonist to this point, retracing his steps in such a way that – because we know what awaits him at the end – the journey feels less like a series of arbitrary incidents than a riveting progression toward a tragic inevitability.

For the makers of film noir, this sort of narrative structure served well to enhance the suspense as their anti-heroes were methodically undone by poor judgment, cruel coincidence, or both.

But Coogler has a different aim. 

In the opening minutes of Fruitvale Station, the filmmaker backhands us with eyewitness video of an actual killing that occurred in Oakland, California, during the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009. We see Oscar Grant, one of four young African-American men detained by BART police officers, lying on his stomach, unarmed and handcuffed, when he is shot in the back by a white cop.

Then the cellphone-captured footage gives way to fact-based dramatization, and the narrative jumps back 24 hours, so that Coogler can show us the final, fateful day in the life of a man who has no idea what a terribly unjust quietus awaits him.

And because we know how that day will end, we can’t help responding to each scene that unfolds with varying degrees of pity, fear and helpless, hopeless, slow-burning anger.

Please don’t misunderstand: Fruitvale Station is not a simplistic story about a slaughtered innocent. Coogler is too intelligent and truthful a storyteller to try stoking our outrage by deifying Oscar Grant. Instead, he presents the unfortunate young man as recognizably human and undeniably flawed, unhappy about his past and uncertain about his future.

Played affectingly but unaffectedly by Michael B. Jordan (of TV’s The Wire and Saturday Night Lights), Oscar is a 22-year ex-con who wants to quit his small-time drug dealing — but maybe won’t, or can’t — and occasionally cheats on his lovely Hispanic girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), the mother of his young daughter, even though he appears to genuinely love her.

He’s reflexively helpful to a young woman he meets at the food store where he used to work, to the point of calling his grandmother to give her some cooking tips. But then he runs into his former boss, and the confrontation very nearly turns ugly as Oscar, barely able to contain his fury, learns there’s no way, absolutely no way, that he’s getting his old job back. At that point, you can’t help wondering whether his chronic tardiness wasn’t the only reason he got fired.

At another point, there’s a flashback to Oscar’s prison stretch – specifically, a recollection of a visit from his loving but not infinitely patient mom, Wanda (Octavia Spencer, whose performance is an achingly precise thing of beauty). The conversation starts off amiable, if slightly strained, then erupts into angry recriminations, and ends with Wanda departing in a huff, and a suddenly vulnerable Grant crying out, in vain, for her embrace. (His plea is echoed in a later scene that has the impact of a gut-punch.)

The good news: Oscar and his mother obviously went on to patch things up, because he’s eager to celebrate her birthday — on New Year’s Eve — at a family gathering that is by turns warm-hearted and wryly funny, and occasionally both at the same time.

The bad news: When Oscar says he and Sophina are going over to San Francisco to watch fireworks and party hearty, Wanda worries about his possibly driving while intoxicated – so she makes him promise to go there and come back on the BART.

And so it goes, one seemingly unrelated event interlocking with the next, moving steadily, relentlessly, to the final destination. Coogler plays the role of the unobtrusive observer, so that Fruitvale Station often has the flavor of a cinéma vérité documentary as cinematographer Rachel Morrison nimbly employs a hand-held camera to achieve compellingly persuasively degrees of intimacy and verisimilitude. (Much of the movie was shot in the Bay Area neighborhood where Oscar Grant once lived.)

Only one scene, involving a singularly unfortunate dog, comes across as too suggestive of schematic contrivance, or too obvious in its loaded symbolism. Otherwise, naturalism is the keynote of this low-key stunner. There is a frightful lurch from serendipitous camaraderie to steadily mounting conflict and chaos in the climactic scenes. But the very abruptness of the brutality is part of what makes it all too believable.

And in the end, as the lights come back up and you slowly rise from your seat and head for the lobby, you may find yourself charged with alternating currents of profound sorrow and seething rage as you contemplate this story – and, yes, other stories like it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. isn’t nearly as bad as its near-deafening advance buzz indicated – though, really, what movie could be? – but that doesn’t mean the laughs and gasps are satisfyingly abundant in this loud and clunky sci-fi fantasy action-comedy. As expensive and useless as something you’d buy in a duty-free store, it appears to be the work of filmmakers who saw Men in Black at an impressionable age, slapped themselves on their foreheads, and exclaimed: “Hey! We can do that!” Unfortunately, they can’t – though not for any lack of trying.

Based on a graphic novel – the same sort of source material that, not coincidentally, also inspired MiB R.I.P.D. imagines a secret organization of undead law-enforcers charged with controlling (and, in extreme cases, destroying) human-disguised demons who are said to haunt the entire planet, but appear to congregate primarily in Boston.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Nick Walker, a Beantown police detective who shuffles off this mortal coil after being fatally shot by his corrupt partner during the chaos of a drug raid, and then gets a shot at redemption (or, failing that, rejuvenation) when he’s enlisted by an outfit known as the Rest In Peace Department (R.I.P.D.). He spends most of the movie behaving as someone intent on living down a terrible mistake -- like Green Lantern, perhaps? -- but his humorlessness is, strangely enough, more ingratiating than not.

Mary-Louise Parker is a deadpan delight as Proctor, the R.I.P.D. bureau chief who first recruits, and then commands, Walker. Indeed, her off-center line readings are funny even when the actual lines are not, and there’s something nicely, subtly wacky about the way her character’s coiffure and attire – along with the never-explained (or even acknowledged) presence of a vintage Fresca bottle on her desk – suggest that Proctor met her own demise sometime in the mid-1960s.

Roycephus Pulsifer – who’d really rather you call him Roy, and I’ll gladly comply – died even further back in time; specifically, the Wild West era, give or take a decade, when Roy rode tall as a sheriff before he, too, was waylaid by a treacherous partner and drafted into R.I.P.D. (A running gag – well, more like a plodding joke – involves Roy’s unpleasant memories of seeing his own corpse violated by hungry coyotes.) There’s nothing at all deadpan about Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Roy. Hell, I would venture to say that his performance – basically a feature-length send-up of his Oscar-nominated turn as the cranky-swaggering Rooster Cogburn in True Grit -- could define whatever might be considered the polar opposite of deadpan. Still, much of this shtick is mildly amusing, especially when director Robert Schwentke (Red) and scriptwriters Phil Hay and Matt Mafredi put the silly plot on pause while Bridges’ cantankerous galoot and Parker’s monotone martinet define the contours of a drolly weird love-hate relationship.

The relationship that forms between Roy and Nick – who, naturally, are paired as partners – is rather less interesting, since the bonding comes off as less a parody of buddy-cop movie clichés than a rote rehashing of same. And while it seems modestly clever at first that they appear to onlookers as different entities while they roam among the living – Roy is a drop-dead beautiful woman (Marisa Miller), Nick is an elderly Asian gentleman (James Hong) – the joke remains, like too many other things in R.I.P.D., lazily under-developed.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, the sporadic flashes of oddball lunacy are increasingly overshadowed as the movie progresses by all the big-ticket sound and fury we’ve come to expect (if not dread) in a wanna-be summer blockbuster. The plot has something to do with a plan by demons to rebuild an ancient talisman that could literally unleash hell on earth, and something else to do with the threat posed to Nick’s widow (played – with a thick accent almost as mysterious as the aforementioned Fresca bottle – by Stephanie Szostak) by his former partner (played by Kevin Bacon in such way that a “surprising” plot twist isn’t surprising at all). But the scenario serves mainly as an excuse for a great deal of third-act CGI overkill – which is presented in 3D, by the way, but that doesn’t make it any less tediously repetitious.

Still, as I noted at the outset, R.I.P.D. is by no means a total disaster, and its minor pleasures are sufficiently pleasurable to make it bearable, if not laudable. Put it like this: When a publicist asked for my opinion as I walked out of a preview screening, she seemed pleasantly surprised when I replied, “Well, it didn’t suck.” Evidently, she was expecting something worse. Frankly, so was I.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

And if you thought Sharknado was funny.. Here's Fox News

Wait, what's that you're saying? This wasn't supposed to be funny? Are you sure? I mean, can't you imagine this as the premise for a new SyFy movie? Maybe I need to access my screenwriting software... Or get the Ayslum folks on the phone. (Hat-tip to Crooks and Liars.)

BTW: You do know that SyFy is repeating Sharknado at 7 pm ET/ 6 pm CT Thursday, right?

Monday, July 15, 2013

And now, in the grand tradition of Sharknado... Ghost Shark

And the beauty part it... SyFy is premiering this on my freakin' birthday!!!!

Godzilla is coming! Godzilla is coming!

Gareth Edwards -- the same filmmaker who knocked our socks off with his (partly filmed in Galveston, Texas) Monsters -- is promising to show the folks at Comic Con in San Diego some neat advance footage of his Godzilla reboot for Legendary Pictures. But even if you can't attend the convention, you can track the progress of the Original Gangsta Lizard by clicking here.

And remember: Godzilla is never going down.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Helen Mirren rocks in "stripper shoes"

Not only that: She says she also dyes her hair pink. And nobody better give her any grief about it.

This is what the George Zimmerman trial was all about

This is what happened after George Zimmerman -- even after a police dispatcher explicitly told him not to -- got out of the car. Not unlike the crime scene photos we saw at the start of Spike Lee's Clockers. This is what death looks like in real life. Not like in a torture porn movie. Not like in an action-adventure B-movie. Maybe, just maybe, we need to be reminded every so often.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

OK, tech experts: Seriously, should I be scared about this? Is my blog toast?

Received the following letter from Xinix World, a UK outfit:

Hello Joe
Re: http://www.movingpictureblog.com/

We at Xinix (www.xinix.co.uk) are currently reviewing our linking profile to ensure we adhere to Google's latest guidelines. We have decided that the links from your site are not relevant enough to our business. Therefore can we kindly request that you remove all links to Xinix.co.uk from your site, currently Google Webmaster Tools is showing 6 links from your site to ours.

We understand that many of these links may be spam blog comments or posts, we apologise for this but it was a tactic our previous agency employed.

If you have any issues or questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind Regards

K Miah 
Since getting this alert, I've devoted all of my spare time to scouring this blog, deleting all spam posts I could find -- yes, even the ones from Generic Viagra -- in the hope of making the Xinix World folks happy. (You'll notice that I am not linking to their website.) But what I want to know is this: If I miss one or two (or, heaven forbid, more), what might happen to me? Will I disrupt the space-time continuum? Does Xinix World have the capacity to launch tactical nuclear weapons in my direction? Will Google shut down my freaking blog?!?!?!?!?


North By Northwest

After introducing North By Northwest for a colleague's summer class today, I thought it might be a good idea to post on the blog I maintain for my own film studies students part of a chapter from my out-of-print book. A book, by the way, that a good friend keeps reminding me that I should revise and expand. And, of course, she is correct.

Friday, July 12, 2013

And now, the exciting conclusion of... Sharknado

If you weren't able to experience Sharknado mania first-hand Thursday evening, here's a clip of the eye-popping, mind-frying, shark-ripping climax. Mind you, I don't think this sequence is half as neat as the early scene in which John Heard cold-cocks a shark with a barstool, but what the hell. Thanks anyway, SyFy.

Fuzzy puppets, Lou Diamond Phillips and Imagine Dragons -- oh, my!

Wonder how long it will take for Lou Diamond Phillips to reference this in some way on Longmire?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Machete is back, and Fantastic Fest has got him!

It's official: Machete Kills, Robert Rodriguez's cult-ready sequel to his exuberantly over-the-top Machete (2010) -- will have its world premiere as the opening-night attraction Sept. 19 at Fantastic Fest in Austin.

And Tim League, creative director and co-founder of the world's wildest genre-movie extravaganza, wants you to know that this is a pretty damn big deal.

"Every year we compile our dream targets for opening night film," League says. This year, "Machete Kills was at the top of that list. We are going to pull out all the stops to ensure Robert's world premiere red carpet experience is literally blood red."

The lovely and talented Danny Trejo returns as Machete, a former Mexican Federale turned free-lance ass-kicker, and he's re-joined by Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba, who also appeared in the original 2010 flick. Newcomers to the budding franchise include Antonio Banderas, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Demián Bichir, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., William Sadler, Mel Gibson -- yes, that Mel Gibson -- and promising newcomer Carlos Estevez as the President of the United States.

The plot has something to with... with... aw, hell, just take a look at the freakin' title, for crying out loud. And if that doesn't tell you enough, take a gander at this trailer.

Trailer park: Spike Lee's Oldboy

Judging from this red-band trailer for Old Boy -- Spike Lee's remake of South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's acclaimed 2003 vengeance drama, set to open Oct. 25 at theaters and drive-ins everywhere -- one thing is perfectly clear: Josh Brolin is playing one seriously bad ass. How seriously bad? Well, it looks like he gets the best of Samuel L. Jackson. No, really.

Monday, July 08, 2013

You may only think you know the story behind "Keep Calm and Carry On"

I simply assumed this poster was widely displayed as feel-good, stiff-upper-lip propaganda throughout England during World War II. I was wrong. And the truth actually is a bit more fascinating.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Burton & Taylor -- Together again

Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? Well, why not? They can't fare much worse with critics than Grant Bowler and Lindsay Lohan did. Besides, it looks like Burton & Taylor scriptwriter William Ivory (Made in Dagenham) chose an especially apt and interesting period in the lives of his iconic characters: Their co-starring stint in a revival of Private Lives, Noel Coward's classic stage comedy (one of my personal faves) about a couple who find that they can't live with each other -- but can't live without each other, either. How... ironic.

BTW: Burton & Taylor is scheduled to air as a TV-movie on BBC Four later this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets some sort of theatrical release in the U.S. Maybe -- just maybe -- it will be ready for screening in September at the Toronto Film Festival?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Truffaut Lives!

I've had this poster mounted in a place of honor -- directly above the writing desk in my home office -- for years and years. Today, while experimenting with the camera on my new cellphone, I snapped this shot -- and, as you can see, the flash appears precisely where it should, even though I didn't intend it to. Indeed, I seriously doubt that I could replicate this effect if I tried. Maybe Truffaut is trying to tell me something?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

John Wayne: "The hell I won't!"

It was a simpler time, a more innocent time. The grass was greener, the skies were bluer, friendships were truer. And my kid brother and I would find it so freakin' laugh-out-loud funny to hear John Wayne snarl "The hell I won't!" in McLintock! at the old Nola Theatre in our Ninth Ward neighborhood that we would be able to crack each other up for years afterward just by repeating the line. Those were the days, my friend...