Sunday, December 29, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
This is the city: Los Angeles. The year: 1962. Lenny Bruce, a free-wheeling comic who has brazenly courted controversy, is out carousing with Peter O'Toole, a young Irish actor awaiting the release of the movie that will make him a star. Pills, pot and booze figure into the festivities. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, as Joseph Wambaugh recalls here. (Hat tip to Todd McCarthy.)
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
So I'm putting on my coat and getting ready to leave the theater after seeing Justin Bieber's Believe this afternoon, when I notice a small group of young girls standing around me, looking quite quizzical. One of them -- whom I'd peg as 14, tops -- asks me, smiling but serious: "Are you a believer?" And for a fraction of a second, I think, hey, it's Christmas Day -- maybe I'm about to recruited for some Christian group...
But no: I quickly realized they were Justin Bieber fans, part of the group that had sporadically cheered each time Bieber said (or sang) something they found impressive during the movie we'd just watched.
(Update: I have subsequently been informed that the girl probably asked if I were a Belieber, not a believer. Quite possibly.)
And of course, I am certain -- as certain as the turning of the Earth -- they were downright flabbergasted to see someone of my, ahem, advanced years in attendance at an opening-day screening of a movie about.... well, such a young pop star.
So I politely explained that, yes, I enjoy some of Justin Bieber's music -- but that I was there to review the movie for Variety. And while I was at it, I suggested they look for my review later today on Variety.com. I am not quite as certain about this, but: I think this may have been the first time any of them had ever heard of Variety. On the other hand: I'm sure they'll tell all their friends, and their friends will tell their friends... and I will wind up generating a lot more hits for the Variety website than I did with a far less favorable review I wrote about another movie I saw at that very same theater seven Christmas Days ago.
By the way: This is a pretty nifty music video for "All Around the World," which Bieber performs in Believe. It's got a great Eurodance beat -- the sort of thing I used to dance to, when suffciently inebriated, before my knees went bad on me -- and a cameo appearance by Ludacris.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
A dear friend introduced me to Luce's "Buy a Dog" a few years back. And even though it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, the song has gradually evolved into something much more than a personal favorite -- it's my own private Christmas carol, the one I play over and over again this time of year.
Why? Well, for one thing, it's one of the most purely joyful pop tunes I've ever heard, a great choice for the season to be jolly. And during the time of year when we're eager to express love and friendship through gift-giving, I like to think that the greatest gift any of us can ever receive is hearing someone say: "All your life, I have got your back." Also, I must admit: The final lyric -- "It's a miracle that we're even here and alive!" -- has, for more than one reason, become my personal motto.
Sappy? Maybe. But, hey, I can think of far worse things than dying and finding out that God is really Elvis. And, not coincidentally, that's one of the inviting possibilities offered in "Buy a Dog." The above video evidently was concocted by an admiring fan, not a record-label factotum -- which makes it all the more enjoyable, even for a cat person like myself. Think of it as my Christmas present to you.
Merry Christmas. And remember: It really is a miracle that we're even here and alive."
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
Sunday, December 15, 2013
I scarcely know where to begin. I know I need to write something about my favorite film performances by O'Toole -- Lawrence of Arabia is on the Top 5 list, but so is The Ruling Class and My Favorite Year. And yet, I also should write something about Laughlin's fleeting heyday as a genuine pop-culture icon. (Billy Jack had one of its very first test engagements in New Orleans many years ago -- and I wound up being one of the first critics to praise it, in a review I wrote as a free-lancer for, no kidding, the weekly Catholic newspaper The Clarion Herald.) And how could I not write something about Fontaine and her Hitchcockian double play of Rebecca and Suspicion.
But the hour is late, and I am too weary to do justice to any of these folks right now. And, frankly, I have had enough of death for today.
BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
But wait, there's more. The official HFCS Top 10 of 2013 includes:
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
As I have noted before, his passing seems all the more heart-rending because of its spectacularly bad timing, coming before Walker could measure the response to his career-best performance as an anxious New Orleans father desperately trying to keep his prematurely born daughter alive in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Hours writer-director Eric Heisserer alluded to this terrible twist of fate when he told CNN this week:
"[T]he truth of it is, I'm angry. And I've been angry about this for a while. This movie was a real turning point for Paul. He had gushed to me about the new offers he was getting from people who'd seen his performance in Hours, and his career was finally going in a direction that he was excited about for the first time in many years. I told him at the time that that's what this movie was, that I was just warming him up for bigger and better things. It was a springboard...
"So the fact that this is his swan song, it, I don't know -- it makes me mad. He doesn't get to benefit from all this hard work now."
One of life's greatest tragedies is a promise that will remain forever unfulfilled.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Sometimes, all you have to do is direct one film -- one singular film -- to guarantee your shot at immortality.
Chances are good you've never seen (or even heard about) French filmmaker Edouard Molinaro's only Hollywood-produced effort -- Just the Way You Are, a slight but likable 1984 dramedy best remembered (by the few who remember it at all) as a highlight of Kristy McNichol's short-lived movie career. And it's extremely likely you've never seen most of the many movies he directed in his homeland.
But even if you're the type of moviegoer who avoids subtitles as avidly as Superman keeps his distance from Kryptonite, you've surely heard of, and have likely enjoyed, his all-time most successful French flick: La Cage aux Folles, the enormously popular 1978 international hit that spawned two sequels, a Broadway musical, and a high-grossing Hollywood remake.
Molinaro's La Cage is emblematic of a time in US art-house history when a savvy distributor (in this case, United Artists Classics) might be able to keep a movie planted in theaters long enough to slowly but steadily build a crossover audience, and possibly turn a popular entertainment into a full-fledged pop-culture phenomenon. Indeed, in Houston, La Cage ran long enough at the now-shuttered Greenway 3 Theatre -- the better part of a year, actually -- to build an audience loyal enough to keep coming back to that venue for more alt-film fare for 20-plus years.
Not incidentally, La Cage aux Folles did its bit to make straight moviegoers less uncomfortable with the concept of same-sex marriage, decades before many of those moviegoers were able to accept such unions in real life. Which, of course, is another good reason to pay due respect to Edourad Molinaro, who passed away Saturday at age 85. Many better-known directors have left behind less significant legacies.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
For those of you who have always wanted to bury a film critic -- and you know who you are, so don't be coy about it -- please consider making a donation to the funeral fund for my late colleague and fellow founding member of the Houston Film Critics Society: Eric Harrison, formerly of the L.A. Times and more recently film critic for The Houston Chronicle.
Sunday, December 01, 2013
In Hours, writer-director Eric Heisserer’s suspenseful indie drama, Walker plays Nolan Hayes, a loving husband who rushes his pregnant wife to a New Orleans hospital just before sunrise on Aug. 29, 2005 – just as Hurricane Katrina begins its brutal assault on the Crescent City. Unfortunately, Nolan’s wife dies during childbirth. Even more unfortunately, his prematurely born daughter must remain inside a ventilator for at least 48 hours.
As I wrote in Variety after the drama’s SXSW Film Festival premiere last March: “Hours is practically a one-man show, with Walker alone on camera for lengthy stretches as Nolan passes time talking to his baby, or himself, and dashing hither and yon between battery-cranks while on beat-the-clock explorations and supply runs.” Walker “capably and compellingly rises to the demands of the role,” and “gracefully balances the drama on his shoulders.”
But the thing was, once we got rolling, it was good. It wasn’t until I got home at night, and looking at the next day’s work, what was in store for me, that self-doubt would creep in. But once you get there, and you get into it, it was like, “I’m there. This is OK.” Being away from it was tougher than being in it.