Sunday, July 04, 2004

Video: Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)

Keenan’s Rule #1: Any story can be improved by the addition of a dead body or, at the very least, a bagful of cash gone missing.

I know. Plenty of tales command attention without resorting to cheap thrills. Most legitimate theater is, in the words of Marge Simpson, “about people coming to terms with things.” But I read John Brady’s THE CRAFT OF THE SCREENWRITER at an impressionable age, in which Robert Towne explains that he wrote CHINATOWN as a mystery so that people who were bored by his exploration of Los Angeles history would stick around to find out who killed Hollis Mulwray. What’s good enough for Towne is good enough for everybody. Consider THE HOURS. It has many powerful things to say about alienation and the changing role of women in society. But don’t tell me that the movie wouldn’t have been better if Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep had joined forces in their different eras to solve a murder. A distaff FREQUENCY. Nicole might not have won an Oscar, but she’d have a franchise.

Undead soul-suckers are now on the Rule #1 list. Yes, you can call HO-TEP the movie in which Elvis Presley, who is not dead but is in fact a patient at an East Texas rest home, battles a mummy. But only if you want to be reductive. HO-TEP is actually a serious film about the indignities of old age and the power of seeing your heroes go out the right way: full of passion, soul intact. If anything, the horror stuff is the least satisfying aspect of the movie.

Writer/director Don Coscarelli does a terrific job of preserving Joe R. Lansdale’s voice in his adaptation. And Bruce Campbell makes a kick-ass Elvis. He even does a complete DVD commentary track in character, in which the King blasts the movie’s frequent profanity and offers nuggets of praise. (“He’s sticking up for his buddy here. Hal Wallis would’ve appreciated that.”) I love the idea that Elvis can tell his movies apart: of all his films, he says, “TICKLE ME, more’n anything, was pretty much holiday-geared.”

Book: Earthquake Weather, by Terrill Lee Lankford (2004)

Another case of Rule #1 in action, as Ed Gorman points out. This novel is being marketed as a mystery, but it’s actually a searing look at the business of Hollywood. The protagonist is a ‘creative executive’ for a Joel Silver-like producer who finds himself embroiled in a murder case. He’s beginning to suspect that he’ll never have the high-powered career he craves yet he’s still selling his soul piecemeal, knowing full well that it’s not going for market value. The uncompromising ending is more reminiscent of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST than any crime novel.

TV: Larry King Live

Within hours of Marlon Brando’s death, Larry had assembled an impressive array of guests to honor him: Robert Duvall, Matthew Broderick, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint. This has become standard procedure every time someone of significance passes away, but I find these insta-wakes unsettling. Don’t these friends and colleagues need a day or so to mourn privately first? I feel as if I’m intruding on their grief even as they’re asking me to participate in it. I’ll wait for the Turner Classic Movies tribute to Brando on July 10. More proof that TCM is the best network on cable.

Miscellaneous: Link

... although with this new Friday line-up as well as THE OFFICE, BBC America is running a solid second.