Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trailer park: A Million Ways to Die in the West

This could be uproariously raunchy fun -- and, not incidentally, a great opportunity for Charlize Theron to showcase her heretofore underutilized flair for comedy. A Blazing Saddles for a new generation, perhaps? On the other hand: Hasn't Quick Draw already blazed that particular trail?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy Anniversary Or: Cancer Can Still Kiss My Irradiated Ass

Four years ago today, I completed radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Last week, I got the results from my latest Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: A measly 0.8. Like the T-shirt says: I fought cancer. Cancer lost. (Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you know who's battling The Big C. And tell them they can win, too.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

You're never too old to be a movie star

From The Daily Dot: "When it comes to drawing up their year-end calendar, Elisabeth Hospital in Essen, Germany, does not play around. Rather than stick to generic images of senior citizens posing with puppies or kitties, or even going down the Calendar Girls route, the folks at Elisabeth decided to recreate scenes from classic movies, casting their residents in starring roles."

You can see the other 11 scenes here. My favorite of the lot? This dashing fellow -- who may be 28 years older than me, but still looks like he can kick my ass.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Justin: This little mug is still a Belieber

OK, sure, things haven't been going all that well lately for Justin Bieber. First, the newest documentary about the teen pop star bombed at the box-office. And now he's been busted for DUI and drag-racing in Miami, greatly upsetting many fans. Still, you have to give the guy this much: He sure takes a nice mug shot. Unlike... well, some other people.

The director of an anti-Obama documentary indicted on campaign fraud charges? Wow, didn't see that coming!

From The Raw Story: "Conservative filmmaker and author Dinesh D’Souza was indicted in federal court on Thursday for allegedly arranging for $20,000 worth of campaign contributions — far above legal limits, Reuters reported.

"The indictment did not name the candidate benefiting from the donations, but the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) accused D’Souza of reimbursing others in August 2012 for making the donations in his name, enabling for them to be falsely reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Taken together, the charges carry possible penalties of up to seven years in prison...

"D’Souza, a former president at King’s College, was fired from the Christian-affiliated university in October 2012 after being spotted traveling with a woman who was not his wife.

"He was also behind the documentary 2016: Obama’s America, which drew surprisingly well at the box office thanks to support from conservatives. While promoting the film, D’Souza accused President Barack Obama of harboring 'Charles Bronson rage, vigilante rage.'”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Life Itself -- Roger Ebert in the role of a lifetime

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I have just now been able to view a downstream of Life Itself – Steve James’ extraordinary documentary about the late, great Roger Ebert – at the same time the film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

I promise to write about the movie in greater detail further down the road, after I have had a chance to think about it more and, in all likelihood, view it again. But please indulge me as I share a few first impressions.

For openers: Roger and I were not bowling buddies, and I would be grossly overestimating the intimacy of our relationship if I said we were extremely close confidants. But our friendship was a long and mutually respectful one. (“I first met my old friend Joe Leydon when he was the film critic of the Houston Post,” he wrote in 2009. “When we see each other at the Toronto Film Festival, we are usually the oldest active critics in the room.”) And we were close enough for me to contact him when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years back, and for him to offer me not only sympathy and encouragement, but also a few good laughs as I underwent radiation treatments.

(Roger always had a great sense of humor – and often made himself the butt of his own jokes. At one point in Life Itself, you can hear him remembering his first reaction to a theater poster for Russ Meyer’s notorious Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! “The poster displayed improbably buxom women,” he says, “and I was inside in a flash.”)

So when I say that Life Itself offered me a welcome opportunity to share quality time with an old friend, well, that’s only because it did. And for that, I am immensely grateful.

I also am grateful for the honesty and balance of James’ film. And no, I am not talking just about the way Life Itself details Roger’s battle with alcoholism, or his sometimes petty, sometimes vitriolic disputes with fellow critic Gene Siskel. (One of the more fascinating things in the documentary is an outtake from a taping session where it appears the wordsmiths might eventually come to blows as first one, then the other, flubs a blurb for an upcoming show.) I am impressed by the way James faces head-on the long-standing, still-raging dispute over whether Ebert and Siskel somehow “cheapened” film criticism with their reliance on quick quips and flexible thumbs.

Of course, I stand firmly on the side of those who will always praise them for raising the profile of indies and documentaries through their coverage of these and other “art house” releases on their nationally syndicated program. But Life Itself gives fair time to the counter-argument posed by the naysayers represented here by Jonathan Rosenbaum (formerly of The Chicago Reader). It’s not really James’ fault that Rosenbaum comes off as a snobbish scold.

Another thing: Life Itself  very often recalls L.P. Hartley’s oft-quoted line – “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” – as it harkens back to a time when film critics like Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris were influential figures in popular culture, when critics actually could play vital roles in helping launch and sustain the careers of great filmmakers. Martin Scorsese (who served as one of the documentary’s producers) is deeply affecting as he speaks in Life Itself about Roger’s early review of his debut feature, Who’s That Knocking at My Door?  His heartfelt words make you appreciate Roger Ebert all the more – but also make you wonder who, if anyone, has the credibility and influence today to launch the next generation of filmmakers.

After seeing Life Itself, I immediately Tweeted: “A smart and moving tribute to an irreplaceable critic and a singular human being.” I’m sure Roger could have phrased it better. (After all, he was Roger Freakin' Ebert.) I wish he were still around to do so. But I guess I’ll just have to settle for reading, and re-reading, all the wonderful words he left us with. And when even that is not enough... well, we'll always have Life Itself.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Funny stuff: Honesty in movie advertising

Some of these are very funny. And I must: More than one is laugh-out-loud, snort-Coke-Zero-out-your-nose hilarious. (Hat tip to The Shiznit.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

If I were voting for Golden Globes...









BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE -- Alexander Payne, Nebraska 


OTHER CATEGORIES --  On advice of my counsel, I invoke the privilege afforded by the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and I respectfully decline to answer any questions.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Buy this Jaguar, or Ben Kinglsey will rip your heart out

Is it just me, or is Sir Ben Kingsley giving off a distinct Sexy Beast vibe in this Jaguar commercial? (Not that there's anything wrong with that, you understand.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Here's looking at you, Chris Christie!

Couldn't help thinking how much the embattled New Jersey governor sounded like Claude Rains during his marathon press conference the other day. The more I hear about Chris Christie's Bridgegate problems, however, I wonder whether he's actually taking his talking points from someone else.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Isn't it time we forgive Geogre Clooney for Batman & Robin?

Ever since I uploaded this 1997 interview onto YouTube more than six years ago, I've noticed a steady stream of nasty, nastier and obscenity-stuffed comments by people who absolutely hated Batman & Robin. And, look, I'm not a major fan of that flick, either. But c'mon people: Can't we let bygones be bygones? It's not like Geogre Clooney hasn't made it up to us. This year alone, he lent strong to Sandra Bullock in Gravity, one of my favorite 2013 films.

And later this year, he'll be front and center in a movie I'm extremely eager to see, after seeing another movie that touches on the same subject.

Also: As I have noted before: If you go to the 2:19 mark on the above YouTube clip, you'll hear Clooney say some nice things about Michael Gough, the late, great Brit actor who played Batman's butler Alfred in four Batmovies. For that reason alone, I'm more than willing to cut Clooney some slack.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Jeff Wells: The sequel Or: The days of whine and poses

Obviously, I have hurt Jeff Wells to the quick by quoting some of his whack-job emails. So he's done what any bully does when someone stands up to him: He's threatened to tell my mommy on me. Unfortunately, since my mother is five decades dead, he has done what I assume he views as the next best thing: He has started complaining to my past and current editors in a huffy email.

But wait, there's more: When I thanked him for this new mother lode of comedy gold, he re-emailed the same people, claiming I was somehow violating a sacred trust by revealing a "personal correspondence." So personal, in fact, that he sent me a copy. The money quote:

It's flat-out slanderous of Joe to publish this. It's foul and icky and depraved of him to expose this information. It will harm my rep as I've never crossed the line by publishing this kind of personal material. I've begged him to please take it down and let bygones be bygones and he hasn't responded. Does Joe still review regional stuff for Variety? I need to appeal to his editor to appeal to him on this matter. Do you know who I can write? Who I can call? He's really gone off the deep end here.

I'm naturally calling Variety on my own and asking [name redacted] if she knows anyone, etc. Please help me on this. This is awful. Do you know Joe? Can you cal him and try to get him to chill out? I've written him seven or eight times over the past hour and he hasn't responded.

Jeff, if you're reading: This post is my response.

Jeff Wells: Threat or menace? Or: Is half a stiffie better than none?

A while back, Jeff Wells felt compelled to tell me that he "keeps bottles of Cialis in the bathroom," and maintains intimate relations with "three girlfriends in LA, another in NYC and another in Berlin." This information was imparted in an email he sent to dispute any suggestion that he might be, well, aging less than gracefully. Today, while answering another of his furious missives, I queried: Are you still taking the Cialis, or have you moved up to hard stuff: Viagra? His response, reprinted here in its entirely, suggests I may have hit a tender spot:

Cialis, asshole. And it feels great to be walking around with half a stiffie, let me tell you. I swear to God, I'd love to take a poke at you. Stay out of my fucking sight at the next film festival we both attend. Look at me cross-eyed just once and I'm going to come over and get within 18 inches and spit right in your face. If you want to take it to the next level after I do that, fine. That'll be your call. But I will give you a slight saliva shower if you so much as look in my direction.

All fine and good, but I have to ask: If he's only getting "half a stiffie" with Cialis, is he really getting his money's worth?

Also: Can one hang an emotionally vivid cowboy hat on half a stiffie?

Finally: When he says he would "love to take a poke" at me, you don't think he meant... well, I mean, I can't picture Jeff as being much of a Lonesome Dove fan, but you never know.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Top 10 of 2013

To begin, as I do every year, with my standard disclaimer: This may be my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2013 – but it’s not necessarily a rundown of the year’s 10 Best Movies. Because, quite frankly, I haven’t seen every single movie released anywhere during the past 12 months. But this most certainly is a list of my favorite films to open in U.S. theaters in 2013.

(To be sure, at least one hasn’t yet opened in a Houston theater – but it will, soon.)

These are, of course, purely arbitrary and totally subjective choices. And I’ll freely admit that, a decade or so hence, I might look back on the following lineup and want to make additions or deletions. At this point in time, however, I can honestly state these are the 2013 releases that impressed me most. And best. So there.

Why is this year’s list different from previous lists? Well, it’s a funny thing: While compiling these titles, I found that they more or less naturally divided themselves into pairs. Kinda-sorta like the animals Noah led onto the ark. Or like my Top 10 list of 2006, which really was a Top 20. If there still were such a thing as the revival house circuit, these would be five terrific double features. 

Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis – The year’s most melancholy and bleakly funny road movies. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, a dutiful son (beautifully played by Will Forte) tries to better understand, or at least bond with, his willfully unknowable father (Bruce Dern) during a long-distance drive that ends in disappointment, followed by a quietly moving moment of grace. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a self-absorbed and (apparently) second-rate early-‘60s folk singer (Oscar Isaac) is repeatedly impeded by his bad decisions and worse attitude, and winds up discovering after a long auto trip that, sometimes, you can’t move far or fast enough to get from where you’re stuck.

American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street – A double dose of adrenaline rushes, explosively funny and exhilaratingly entertaining, and all the more gobsmacking for being based on real-life events. David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a bold and brassy dark comedy about con artists eager to deceive everyone, even themselves, and the fine art of making people believe what they really want to believe, even when they should know better. Martin Scorsese’s marathon Wolf of Wall Street traces the rise (to dizzying heights) and fall (to impermanent and not-so-terrible depths) of a self-made wheeler-dealer, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, in the performance of his career so far), whose insatiable appetites – for more money, more women, more drugs – fuel his frenzied pursuit of success and excess. Some folks have chided Scorsese for not explicitly condemning Belfort’s bad behavior. (Like, we poor dumb lugs watching the film really need to be told: Hey, kids, don’t try this at home.) My gut response to both films: Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Gravity and HoursThe clock ticks, the tension mounts, the audience sweats. Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s Gravity, a thrillingly spectacular existential adventure, focuses on a lost-in-space astronaut (Sandra Bullock, never better) who has no reason to survive, and will do so only if she chooses to. Eric Heisserer’s Hours, a smartly crafted small-budget indie drama, focuses on a desperate father (Paul Walker, exceptionally fine in one of his final roles) who struggles to keep his prematurely born child alive in an evacuated New Orleans hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Great Gatsby and Tim’s Vermeer – Two very different tales of obsession – one deliriously romantic, the other meticulously schematic, both uniquely fascinating. In Baz Luhrman’s audaciously stylized take on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leonardo DiCaprio affectingly plays the flip side of his Wall Street Wolf, a man who pursues wealth only as a means to an end – i.e., to recapture the elusive object of his desire. In Penn & Teller’s documentary Tim’s Vermeer (set to open wide in January after Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and L.A.), a San Antonio inventor named Tim Jenison sets out to prove his theories about 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer by replicating one of the Dutch Master’s masterpieces. Much like Jay Gatsby, he goes to extremes, for a very simple reason: He can.
This is the End and The World’s End – Apocalypse winningly played for laughs, with surprisingly serious undercurrents. For all of its free-wheeling and foul-mouthed hilarity, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End  is the most weirdly sincere religious-themed movie since The Rapture. (And, mind you, I mean that as a compliment.) Meanwhile, Edgar Wright’s The World’s End – the latest gem from the guys who gave us Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead – persuasively insists that life as a delusional, struck-in-the-past under-achiever is preferable to a life as an extraterrestrial-enhanced mutant with all human frailties smoothed away. Or something like that.

Guiltiest Pleasure of 2013: Big Ass Spider!

Best Movie of 2013 That Hasn’t Yet Opened in Theaters: The Retrieval.

Worst Movie of 2013: Movie 43.

I Stand Alone: While fully realizing I am in a tiny minority, I still feel The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was much funnier than its critical reception would indicate. But, hey, I kinda-sorta liked MacGruber, too, so what do I know?