Sunday, June 20, 2004

TV: Slasher

It was something of a shock to realize that John Landis, one of the most successful directors of the 1980s, hasn’t had a film in theatrical release since BLUES BROTHERS 2000 six years ago. His follow-up, the dark comedy SUSAN’S PLAN, drifted in limbo before debuting on cable. His last good movie was 1992’s vampire-vs.-wiseguys guilty pleasure INNOCENT BLOOD. OK, so I thought it was good. Any movie that features Anne Parillaud in a frequent state of undress and Don Rickles as a Mob lawyer-turned-bloodsucker will likely win favor in this corner, just so you know.

Landis is back behind the camera for this IFC original documentary, and the change of pace suits him. It helps that he has an engaging subject. Michael Bennett is the slasher of the title, a used car salesman who jets into troubled dealerships with his own personal DJ to conduct massive, carnival-like sales meant to move inventory in a hurry. The film follows Bennett as he takes over a Memphis car lot for a three-day extravaganza in which he has promised to unload 40 cars, the same number the regular staff sold the previous month.

The Nick Nolte-voiced Bennett was born to star in a movie. He hangs out in strip clubs but can’t stop talking about his wife, and even though he’s never more than six inches away from a beer at all times he runs a tight ship. Bennett and his team prove to be efficient salesmen, able to offer one potential buyer life insurance when she admits that concern over her husband’s health is the main obstacle to her buying a truck.

Landis’ affection for Bennett and his disreputable crew is evident in every frame. The director is also able to convey a sense of Memphis solely through music (which he has always used well) and his interviews with customers who come out to the lot, many intent on finding the $88 car that is the centerpiece of every Bennett spectacular. Finding out which lucky buyer will stumble onto that chosen vehicle – and then seeing if even $88 was too much to pay for it – is one of the treats of this loose but energetic movie.

Book: Havana World Series, by Jose Latour (2004)

In 1958, a team of criminals bankrolled by New York mob boss Joe Bonnano sets out to rob the Casino de Capri, glittering jewel of Havana nightlife and home base for gangster Meyer Lansky. Latour’s book works better as a travelogue than a crime drama – the heist itself is fairly routine, the ending anticlimactic – but with details this rich and an atmosphere this intoxicating, that’s not much of a problem.

Music: Britney Spears

The New York Times article on the cancellation of Britney’s Onyx Hotel tour contains several sentences worthy of analysis. Such as:

“... while many other singers could probably retool a show with no dancing and maybe a tall stool and spotlight for the main attraction, Ms. Spears did not have that option.”

Or noting that the entertainment director of Summerfest in Milwaukee “managed to sign up the Steve Miller Band and the Bodeans as a last-minute replacement.” Thus qualifying as the funniest use of the word managed in some time.

Miscellaneous: Link

The Sunday New York Times has a terrific article by Jesse McKinley on how young American playwrights are being workshopped to death.