Sunday, October 31, 2004

DVD: Eyes Without A Face (1960)

Titles mean everything in show business. As THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS, Georges Franju’s graceful chiller was double-billed with THE MANSTER. As LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, it gets the full Criterion treatment. And deserves it, because you won’t find better Halloween entertainment.

Franju takes the most lurid horror movie premise – a surgeon kidnaps young women, removes the skin from their faces, and grafts it onto the daughter he accidentally disfigured – and infuses it with elegiac beauty. He then tosses that poetry out the window for a gruesome O.R. sequence right out of EXTREME MAKEOVER that culminates in one of the most disturbing shots in cinema. Edith Scob drifts wraithlike through her father’s home, her ruined face concealed beneath an angelic mask. It’s a Cocteau film directed by Hitchcock with an injection of Hershell Gordon Lewis, and it’s consistently riveting.

The DVD is all treats and no tricks. In a 1982 interview from what looks like the Gallic version of “Creature Feature,” Franju explains that he was told to make a horror movie with no blood, which would upset French censors; no animal torture, to appease English censors; and no mad scientists, so as not to stir up any bad memories for the Germans. There’s a feature on the film’s screenwriters, the team of Boileau-Narcejac, whose novels have been the basis for so many legendary thrillers (DIABOLIQUE, VERTIGO).

But the real treasure is Franju’s 1949 short “Blood of the Beasts,” an expressionistic look at the abattoirs of Paris. It combines dreamlike imagery with staggeringly graphic footage of animals being butchered, in a way that prefigures Franju’s approach to EYES WITHOUT A FACE. It’s a haunting piece of filmmaking that many will find deeply disturbing – so naturally, I’m thrilled that it’s available to the public again.

Friday, October 29, 2004

DVD: Barry Lyndon (1975)

It’s strange how a movie can be a Best Picture nominee and the winner of four Oscars yet still end up somewhat forgotten. This epic Stanley Kubrick costume drama is perhaps the least-known of his films. But those who love it do so passionately. In the space of a week, I read about it on Matt Clayfield’s Esoteric Rabbit blog and talked to a fan who considers it not just Kubrick’s finest film, but the best ever made. I know when the universe is sending me signals, so I revisited the movie.

Even its detractors acknowledge its sumptuous beauty. The 18th century European settings are meticulously recreated. Kubrick designed the film after paintings of the period, and his vision is realized with the aid of John Alcott’s stunning photography.

But strong visuals are a given in a Kubrick film. What registers most strongly now is what a perfect match William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is with Kubrick’s chilly, omniscient directorial style. The darkly satiric tone, the sense of characters bobbing like corks on currents of destiny, all of it catnip to the master. Kubrick also makes excellent use of narration, delivered flawlessly by Michael Hordern.

I can’t call the movie perfect, though. Ryan O’Neal remains a cipher in the lead role of the Irish social climber; Ron O’Neal (SUPERFLY) would have brought more to the part. And while the movie’s 184 minute running time is essential to its effect, there are traces of the bloat that would cripple Kubrick’s later work. It’s worth noting that the director’s best films are fleet and muscular. THE KILLING is 83 minutes long, PATHS OF GLORY is 86, while DR. STRANGELOVE – which, for the record, is my choice for the best film ever made – clocks in at an amazing 93.

Miscellaneous: Links

Lee Goldberg explains how, thanks to sex toys, attempts to halt runaway production are doomed. David Mamet offers a few of his favorite movie moments. And from the New York Times, a scenario in which January 20, 2005 could see the swearing in of ... Acting President John Edwards?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Classics I Somehow Missed: Band of Outsiders (1964)

Jean-Luc Godard is one of those world-class filmmakers whose movies leave me indifferent. I’ve admired much of what I’ve seen, but nothing has bowled me over. Maybe it’s because he adopted the tropes of B-movies without harnessing their crazed storytelling energy, unlike his disciple Quentin Tarantino (who named his production company after this film). Or maybe the central theme of Godard’s work – the reflexive belief that cinema is life, and life is cinema – isn’t all that profound. Or perhaps it’s because the medium and the culture at large have finally caught up to him. Every work of art seems to quote from others and fold in on itself now.

That said, I enjoyed this movie. It’s a relaxed, laid-back affair about a young woman (Anna Karina) and her relationship with two would-be thugs (Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur). The Criterion DVD offers a terrific ‘visual glossary’ that explains many of Godard’s references. And the sequence where the three leads dance the Madison is one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen.

DVD: The Reckoning (2004)

A movie trailer is a kind of promise: at some point, this will be in a theater. When the film gets only a token release – or worse, goes straight to video – I make a point of tracking it down. I’m never surprised when I see the final product.

Paul Bettany plays a disgraced priest in 1380 England who hits the road and falls in with a band of players led by Willem Dafoe. They arrive in a town grieving over the murder of a young child, and decide to stage a play based on his death. When they learn that the official story isn’t the truth, they set out to investigate. (Pounding on stable door. “Actors, ma’am. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”)

The solution to the mystery is obvious from the start, so there’s zero suspense. The greater crime is the film’s waste of a fine cast. You land Brian Cox and give him nothing to do?

Miscellaneous: Links

Arts and Letters Daily is full of goodies. First, a piece I missed earlier in the week on the past and future of Asian cinema. There was another article, but I can’t remember what it was. And Low Culture tees off on Fight Club: The Game, out years too late.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Book: High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby (1995)

I seem to have gone off crime fiction lately. Maybe I’m burned out, or maybe it’s going around. Lee Goldberg describes a similar malaise.

So when I had a break in my non-fiction reading, I picked up Hornby’s novel for what must be the sixth time. It’s the only book I’ve ever forced on friends. For many years I was convinced I was going to turn out like Rob Fleming, obsessed with pop culture, forever making lists, and unable to make any real world commitments. (Those of you who believe I in fact have turned out like Rob can keep your strong opinions to yourself.) It is, in its own way, a perfect piece of writing. Even the extended ending works. It’s only fitting for a guy like Rob to experience his epiphany in stages, like cuts on a great album.

The John Cusack movie version is terrific, but it can’t improve on Hornby’s original.

Movie: The Pirate Movie (1982)

In my high school days, this musical had an inexplicable cult following. It stars Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins, who at no point challenge Fred and Ginger, and a passel of Australians who were never heard from again. It features countless movie parodies, shameless mugging, and hoary old gags at which even Benny Hill would turn up his nose.

But some of the songs are good. At least the Gilbert & Sullivan ones are. The film is actually an ill-advised update of “The Pirates of Penzance,” which would be released as a film starring Kevin Kline one year later.

The closing credits note, “Additional lyrics to Gilbert & Sullivan songs by Trevor Farrant.” Not as bad, perhaps, as the legendary line from the 1929 version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (“By William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”), but it’s up there. Mr. Farrant’s lyrics include topical references to STAR WARS and Bo Derek. Here’s a taste of his work, from the revised “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”

“To groovin’ with the Doobies in my Malibu white-souling tones
Man, I’m older than the Beatles but I’m younger than the Rolling Stones.”

W. S. Gilbert must be turning in his grave. I’ll bet Jim Broadbent, who played Gilbert in TOPSY-TURVY, doesn’t feel too well, either.

Miscellaneous: Links

Bill Crider provides this link to all the dirt you could want on the B-Movie Hall of Fame. And courtesy of Jaime Weinman, here’s a look at what the future holds from the vaults of Warner Home Video. Prepare to salivate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Movie: Friday Night Lights (2004)

In HOOSIERS, Barbara Hershey warns high school basketball coach Gene Hackman about the impact success will have on his players. They will be treated, fleetingly, like gods. Hackman responds, “You know, most people would kill to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.”

It’s a powerful sentiment, and the heart of the sports movie. Which is why this sterling adaptation of H. G. Bissinger’s non-fiction book about Texas high school football feels like a rebuke to the entire genre. It says that hard work doesn’t inevitably lead to victory, and that disappointment is always lurking, even in triumph.

Peter Berg’s previous outings as a director (the overwrought black comedy VERY BAD THINGS and the quirky action flick THE RUNDOWN) were mismatches of material and ambition. But he’s right at home with the scope of this movie, which doesn’t focus on any one character but instead tells the story of an entire season. The approach is almost impressionistic. Only hints of the complex home life of brooding QB Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) are provided: a mother ill with an unnamed disease, a fractured family. The truth of the character plays out on the young actor’s face.

The acting across the board is first rate, with Billy Bob Thornton first among equals as Coach Gary Gaines. There’s an odd frisson watching his scenes with Black, seeing the two stars of SLING BLADE reunited. Derek Luke continues to dazzle, playing the team’s top offensive weapon suddenly laid low by injury. The cast gives full life to the town of Odessa, a place where football is seen as the only ticket out yet even the winners never leave.

Bissinger’s book is revered as a sports classic, and he may have lucked into another one. Last year he signed to write a baseball book that documents the strategy of a three-game series from the perspective of a manager. His choice? St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa.

Miscellaneous: Link

The B-Movie Hall of Fame inducts its new members. Who’s in there already if Sonny Chiba is only getting in now?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: The Tall T (1957)

One of the great psychological westerns from the team of director Budd Boetticher and actor Randolph Scott. Burt Kennedy scripted from a story by Elmore Leonard.

Scott plays a lifelong cowboy struggling to make a go of it as a rancher. He’s taken hostage when the daughter of a local copper baron is kidnapped by the loathsome Richard Boone. Boone’s character is fascinating, an aging desperado who’s afraid of the young guns he’s taken up with, one of them played by Henry Silva. Scott has far more in common with Boone than he’d care to admit, and their scenes together have a bristling intensity.

Running time: 78 minutes. This movie is as lean as they come.

TV: Diary of a Political Tourist

Alexandra Pelosi’s first HBO documentary, “Journeys With George,” was a skin-deep look at then-Governor Bush on the campaign trail in 2000. It did offer an unguarded glimpse of a candidate who usually stayed fiercely on message, and that made it worth watching.

Her follow-up film takes in the entire Democratic primary season from Iowa through the convention. Pelosi has what seems like almost unlimited access; it probably helps that her mother Nancy is the House minority leader.

The movie is as superficial as its predecessor but lacks its focus. Pelosi has nothing interesting to say about the process, and she blurts out any thought that crosses her mind. But she does capture a few moments with the candidates that make this a must-see for political junkies. Like Florida Senator Bob Graham (oh, that’s right, he ran for President) saying that he wants to be reincarnated so he can try his luck as a country/western singer, and John Kerry getting an earful from an Iowa voter over his comment that “even the Italians” could beat the lowly Iraqi army. Pelosi also returns to the White House to see the President, and I have to say that the man’s charisma practically bursts off the screen.

Pelosi was a panelist last night on Tina Brown’s mesmerizingly awful TOPIC A on CNBC. Has SNL taken on this show yet? Or are Tina’s ratings so low it’s not worth the effort? Amy Poehler could nail Tina’s “Jesus, is that a camera?” look.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

TV: Creature Features

Halloween is coming up fast, so I’ve had horror movies on the brain. Specifically the way I saw all too many of those movies – the Creature Feature. It’s a unique pleasure that’s been denied to an entire generation of film fans.

Growing up in New York, I’d spend every Saturday night watching “Chiller Theater” on WPIX. I’d run home in the dark from seven o’clock mass to catch the opening, because that was the best part of the show. It haunts my dreams to this day: a six-fingered hand rising out of the muck next to a lone dead tree, accompanied by bone-chilling music. You can watch the intro at this website devoted to the show.

And get a load of that line-up of titles, many of which I vividly remember. STANLEY terrified me even though, as Leonard Maltin points out, it’s “WILLARD with snakes.” (Although Michael Weldon, in his PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM, calls it “BEN with snakes.” Hmm.) I got in trouble with Sister Maureen for doing my imitation of the killer from THE TWISTED BRAIN in the schoolyard.

Moving to Florida was traumatic for a number of reasons, but I got over the loss of “Chiller Theater” when I discovered “Creature Features” on Tampa’s Channel 44. The show’s “massacre of scareimonies” was Dr. Paul Bearer, who’d introduce the movie and do silly comedy bits before and after the commercials. The show aired Saturday afternoons, when my friends would be lying on the beach. I’d be at home, watching Dr. Paul’s “horrible old movie.” I don’t regret my decision. Too much sun is bad for you. The results can be scarier than anything on Dr. Paul’s show.

Most of the films I watched back then are available on video now. You can see them any time you like, without commercials. But watching them in that format added to the experience, made me feel more connected to them. Those local shows are gone now, and I think the world is a little poorer for it.

Cable Catch-up: Deep in My Heart (1954)

Jose Ferrer always struck me as an odd talent. He was theatrical in the mode of actors like John Barrymore, but in a way that suggested a self-mocking awareness of the camera. It’s a style that seems ahead of its time.

In this early Stanley Donen film, unearthed as part of TCM’s month-long tribute to musicals, Ferrer plays Sigmund Romberg. He’s the famous composer of THE STUDENT PRINCE and MAYTIME, not that I knew that before I saw the movie. The great-man-of-music genre may not produce classics, but the films prove surprisingly easy to watch. (Witness my reaction to this year’s DE-LOVELY.) Cyd Charisse has a spellbinding and sexy dance number, and Ann Miller gets to bring down the house. (I missed Gene and Fred Kelly’s only joint film appearance.) But the high point is Ferrer, who pitches his latest show by performing every single role himself. The fact that at this stage of his life, Jose looked exactly like his son Miguel (now on CROSSING JORDAN) only adds to the fun.

Friday, October 22, 2004

TV: The Office Special

THE OFFICE is the only TV series I own on DVD. Nothing in any other medium has been able to capture the feel of the modern workplace in such excruciating detail. The grudging accommodations you make for your coworkers, the way petty events can overwhelm your day simply because they’re the only interesting things happening. There have been many “bosses from hell,” but Ricky Gervais’ David Brent is so singular and so finely observed that I feel like I’ve actually put in time with the wanker.

Season two closed on such a note of melancholy that I knew it would never stand as the series finale. This special, airing throughout the weekend on BBC America, is as cringingly funny as any episode of the show while still providing a happy ending that feels earned. There’s even a ray of hope for Brent.

Gervais and co-creator Stephen Merchant insist that this marks the end of THE OFFICE. The seed is planted for a 28UP-style reunion a few years’ hence, but I take them at their word. So the entire run of what is arguably the funniest show ever is only eight hours long. You could watch it all in a day. All you’d have to do is call out sick from work.

Sports: The World Series

New York sports rules are unforgiving. I’m a Mets fan, which means I hate the Yankees. Which means I root for the Red Sox. That made the ’86 World Series tough, especially because I was living in Boston in the time.

In the NLCS, I started out rooting for Houston. In 40+ years of existence, they’ve never made it to the Series. And I was a big fan of their universally reviled jerseys from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But once the Red Sox clinched, I changed my mind. A team from Massachusetts versus a team from Texas in the run-up to the election? There are enough labored sports metaphors in politics as it is.

Stephen King, who’s co-writing a book on the Red Sox season, was wise enough to put an escalator clause in his contract giving him a bonus if the team goes all the way. He doesn’t need the money. I still hope he gets it.

Miscellaneous: Link

What can you buy for a penny on eBay?

Miscellaneous: Quote of the Day

“Hollywood is a cold-blooded motherfucker. It’s easier to bone the President’s wife than to get a movie made. So I say God bless these cats.”

- The late Ray Charles on his upcoming biopic

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Operation Travolta: Sandra Bullock

This is the rare case where the operation – intended to revive an actor’s career with the right role – may fail because the patient doesn’t feel it’s necessary. Purely in box office terms, she may be right.

Bullock began in TV, filling in for Nancy McKeon in the sitcom version of WORKING GIRL and playing the Bionic Woman 2.0 in a backdoor pilot. Her plucky, girl-next-door charm moved her into features quickly, where she was often the best thing in the movie. (DEMOLITION MAN, anyone?)

The one-two punch of SPEED and WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING made her a star. She followed up with a series of lackluster films like THE NET, IN LOVE AND WAR and SPEED’s misbegotten sequel.

Bullock began producing many of her own movies with 1998’s HOPE FLOATS. She also became her own worst enemy, showing a taste for middle-of-the-road fare that generates modest hits like TWO WEEKS NOTICE (note the dropped apostrophe) but nothing with real staying power. MISS CONGENIALITY became a smash by playing to her gift for physical comedy. It’s a fun movie, but nothing to build a career on.

To her eternal credit, Bullock also produced a movie I love dearly, GUN SHY (2000). Disney released it in only five cities before dumping it on home video. I’m one of the few people who saw it theatrically, along with Slate critic David Edelstein, who called it “a classic, a unique blend of SOPRANOS and PRIZZI’S HONOR-style black comedy and screwball romance.” Liam Neeson gives an inspired comic performance – although oddly, his scenes with Bullock seem superfluous. She has also returned to TV, producing the sitcom GEORGE LOPEZ.

Bullock’s forays into drama haven’t worked because of poor scripts. 28 DAYS is a truly awful film about alcoholism that undermines its intent with a case of the cutes, something that plagues many of her movies. In the half-baked Leopold and Loeb pastiche MURDER BY NUMBERS, she plays a tough detective with the kind of tortured backstory that would be better explained in a handout than the rote scenes she’s given to play.

Unlike many contemporary actors, Bullock hasn’t crossed over to work with independent filmmakers. And she has yet to play a role that taps into her sexuality. Let’s face it, she’s a beautiful woman. Meg Ryan’s recent movies IN THE CUT and AGAINST THE ROPES may not have turned out the way she wanted, but at least they show a willingness to play with how she’s perceived. Bullock, for now, remains trapped by her good-girl image.

A sequel to MISS CONGENIALITY is due next year. Also in the works are two films where Bullock plays writers. She’ll appear as Harper Lee in a movie about Truman Capote, and is slated to star in a biopic about PEYTON PLACE author Grace Metalious. That’s an intriguing idea for a movie, but then so was Bette Midler as Jacqueline Susann in ISN’T SHE GREAT, and look how that turned out. Personally, I’d feel a lot better if I knew Sandra had gotten in touch with Kimberly Peirce or MONSTER director Patty Jenkins. She’s got the chops to be a great dramatic actress as well as a comedienne, if only she’d let her hair down.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Movie: Message from Space (1978)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... hang on. Scratch that.

Twenty-six years ago in Japan, a new business was born: the STAR WARS knockoff. Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema is screening an assortment of them as midnight shows, including this wonder from Kinji Fukasaku, who would go on to direct the controversial BATTLE ROYALE.

There’s a villain in the Darth Vader mold. Only he has to listen to his mother, a dead ringer for H. R. PUFNSTUF’s Witchiepoo. There’s a cute robot a la R2D2. Only he belongs to an alcoholic ex-general who dresses like an intergalactic pimp and is played by Vic Morrow. The Luke Skywalker stand-in (Philip Casnoff) wears rainbow suspenders and talks like John Travolta in a bold attempt at a trifecta, ripping off George Lucas, MORK & MINDY and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in one fell swoop. And to my recollection, none of Lucas’ heroes were chosen by glowing space walnuts.

MESSAGE slavishly imitates the STAR WARS structure, yet somehow finds room for gonzo eruptions of creativity all its own. The set and costume designs, for example, are amateurish but strangely beautiful. Watching this movie is like stumbling onto a work of outsider art, like Henry Darger with an FX budget.

Miscellaneous: Links

What happens when an English newspaper encourages its readers to write to Americans about the upcoming election? Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily, you can find out.

GreenCine Daily offers’s list of the fifty best science-fiction and fantasy films. And THE LAST STARFIGHTER becomes a musical. Can MESSAGE FROM SPACE be far behind? I hope not. Because I’ve written a libretto that’ll knock you on your ass.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

DVD: The Five Obstructions (2004)

Lars von Trier is the closest we have to a real life James Bond villain. He’s reclusive, with Zentropa headquarters serving as his lair. He’s got the requisite accent. And his Dogme 95 manifesto has all the hallmarks of a criminal master plan, even if it proved to be the intellectual equivalent of a fraternity prank.

His target in OBSTRUCTIONS isn’t cinema audiences or his fellow filmmakers, but one man. von Trier challenges his mentor Jørgen Leth to remake his influential 1967 short ‘The Perfect Human’ five times under restrictions that von Trier dictates by whim. One version must have no shot longer than twelve frames, another is to be filmed in Leth’s idea of the most miserable place on earth.

Leth follows through, turning each obstacle to his advantage. The result is a spellbinding exploration of the creative impulse, specifically how it flourishes under restrictions. But the movie is also a study of a perverse friendship. von Trier conceived of the exercise as a way of urging Leth out of an emotional and creative depression. The circumstances are a bit hazy; I wouldn’t have minded hearing more about it in the course of the movie. And by the end von Trier manages to turn the focus of the project back to himself. But believe it or not, his heart is in the right place.

The DVD includes an uncut version of Leth’s original 13-minute short. It’s a fascinating relic of its time ... but I’m not sure I get it.

Magazine: The New Yorker, 10/18 issue

Two weeks from Election Day, I offer this quote from political consultant and one-time Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, which appears in Paul Slansky’s back page quiz:

“If I came to you with twenty-five of your closest friends carrying a black box with red buttons on it and said, ‘We have all looked for the best person to take care of this box, and we’ve decided that the only one who can protect it is you – if anything happens to it, if you lose it, the entire planet blows up,’ most of us, I mean, two hundred and eighty million of us, would say, ‘No! I don’t want the goddam box anywhere near me! Take it away!’ Yet every four years a bunch of seven or eight guys come out screaming, ‘Give me the fuckin’ box!’”

Monday, October 18, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: Judex (1916)

Louis Feuillade’s silent movie serial has it all. Tortured backstories. Secret identities. Forbidden love. And kidnapping after kidnapping after kidnapping. I’m pretty sure there was one in all twelve episodes.

Feuillade’s LES VAMPIRES has a more dreamlike intensity and a memorable villain in Irma Vep. But JUDEX offers an abundance of narrative rewards. Each episode is self-contained, but fits into a larger story about three families and the tragic history that binds them together. Plus Musidora, the actress who played Irma Vep, shows up to practice more skullduggery.

I watched all six hours, doled out over the course of three weeks by Turner Classic Movies. It’s not the ideal way to screen a serial. I’d prefer to see one installment per week, the way it was meant to be seen. But I’d have to buy the DVD to do that.

Book: Potshot, by Robert B. Parker (2001)

On our last trip to New York, Rosemarie and I were on our own for dinner one night. We prowled the streets around Union Square looking at restaurants. Rosemarie asked me what I wanted, and after some thought I said, “A hamburger, medium well, with blue cheese. And a beer.”

She looked at me, then used her PDA to find a place offering such a repast within walking distance. (L’Express, if you’re interested. A little noisy, but it did the job. And it’s open all night.)

Sometimes you get a craving for a very specific taste. It happens to me with Parker’s books. The mood comes over me, and I have to check in with Spenser. In this outing, he’s hired to clean up the Arizona town of the title. He rounds up Hawk and a few other tough guys he’s met in previous books to do the job. “It’ll be like THE BIG CHILL,” as Spenser puts it.

It’s fashionable in some circles to knock Parker, this series in particular. A sameness has set in, critics will say. He’s not as good as he used to be. Susan Silverman is actively annoying.

All that may be true. And I don’t care. Parker writes with an ease that other novelists would envy. And his books satisfy, like a good burger cooked to order, chased with a cold beer.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Movie: Team America: World Police (2004)

The Trey Parker/Matt Stone puppet smackdown joins this year’s already lengthy list of major disappointments. I didn’t like this movie for a simple reason: it’s not funny.

I’m a big fan of SOUTH PARK, but even fans have to admit that the show is wildly erratic. Some episodes don’t have enough material to last 22 minutes, so sustaining a story for the length of a feature poses a challenge for the boys. ORGAZMO, CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL and BaseKETBALL (which they only starred in) have their moments but run out of gas long before the end. Only the SOUTH PARK movie, which I revere, works, for a reason that I’ll get to.

Let’s dispense with the politics up front. Parker and Stone are asserting that TEAM AMERICA is more a send-up of movies that current events. I’d take that line, too, if my satire was as unfocused as theirs is.

Some critics have taken them to task for not aiming at the right, which is both foolish and wrong. Foolish because there’s no such thing as equal opportunity satire, and wrong because the movie’s entire premise is an attack on shoot-first-ask-questions later foreign policy. Just not an amusing one. Team America takes out global landmarks while battling the evildoers. It’s not that funny the first time, less so with each repetition.

Parker and Stone squander far too much time on the minor phenomenon of actors speaking out on political issues. And they aim at the wrong target: sure, the actors have outsized egos, but it’s the network pinheads who put them on the air. Alec Baldwin and his ilk deserve to be mocked. They also deserve better jokes than Parker and Stone come up with.

Suppose we buy Parker and Stone’s claim that TEAM AMERICA is a parody of action movies, specifically Jerry Bruckhemier’s. That was the project’s genesis, long before the war on terror gave it additional relevance. Mel Brooks has said that you have to love the thing you mock. That’s why SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT was a triumph. Parker and Stone clearly love musicals and poking holes in their conventions. It’s equally clear that they detest the genre they’re sending up here, so their barbs aren’t specific enough to draw blood. Combine this with their political point of view – which boils down to “Everybody shut the hell up” – and the result is a movie fueled entirely by bile and negative energy. Which is a chore to sit through.

There are a few good laughs, most of them playing off the limitations of an all-marionette cast. I find both puppet sex and puppet vomiting to be very funny. The movie’s sets are insanely detailed and shot by Bill Pope with a sheen that would earn Bruckheimer’s approval. And I liked their take on Kim Jong-Il, a combination of Cartman and Dr. No. Make sure you stay through the credits to hear his final song, which gets to the bottom of some unanswered questions.

Friday, October 15, 2004

TV: Crossfire

I missed it. The pop culture-meets-politics story of the day and I turned it off. I caught the start of the show and heard that Jon Stewart would be the guest. But I hate CROSSFIRE. And once I saw that Robert Novak wasn't cohosting, I figured I wouldn't be missing much. (Because of Novak's still unclear role in the Valerie Plame scandal, he's the focus of the semi-regular DAILY SHOW feature 'Douchebag for Liberty.')

Little did I know that Stewart would take CROSSFIRE's hosts and the media to task for their failure to do their jobs this election season. Or that he'd call Tucker Carlson a "dick." Live. On his own show. On CNN.

Ah, well. A transcript of the magic is here.

Cable Catch-Up: Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)

Traditionally, “once upon a time” implies that you’re about to hear a story. But damned if I could find one in this movie. I had an easier time piecing together HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR.

The sad truth is that while I love the idea of Robert Rodriguez – a one-man band who shoots, chops and scores his own flicks, as the credits on this one say – I have never enjoyed one of his movies. He comes from the Pixie Stix school of filmmaking, bouncing off the walls with unfocused energy. But I am a huge fan of REBEL WITH A CREW, his book on the making of EL MARIACHI.

Two actors manage to register amidst the mayhem: Johnny Depp, overacting as a renegade CIA agent, and Ruben Blades, who underplays as if he’s in a Michael Mann movie.

TV: The Academy Awards

Word is out that Chris Rock has been chosen to host. It’s an inspired idea, because of the very real risk that it will backfire. Rock was a presenter the year Elia Kazan received his honorary Oscar. He noted the irony that Kazan would be introduced by Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro – “because you know how they feel about rats.” Not the funniest line ever, but just about the only one to acknowledge the controversy. You could feel the air go out of the room after he said it. To have him host the Oscars in the year of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 is tempting fate. It’s sure to make great TV.

Miscellaneous: Link

Defamer steered me toward the new blog Query Letters I Love. Here’s a sample:

“Two die-hard BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA fans are on a quest to recover Kurt Russell’s tank-top after being outbid at an online auction.”

I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’d see that in a heartbeat.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

DVD: Pieces of April (2003)

I avoided this one for a while because the plot raised every schmaltz alarm. A wayward daughter prepares Thanksgiving dinner for her dying mother and her family. Stuffing? I’m staying!

But writer/director Peter Hedges steers clear of sentiment, investing his energy in the characters. Katie Holmes’ April comes across as selfish and genuinely unpleasant to deal with, which gives her incremental transformation weight. Patricia Clarkson deservedly received an Oscar nod for her performance; the scene where she lashes out at her ‘good’ daughter (Alison Pill) over her singing is heartbreaking. But it’s Oliver Platt who scores most strongly as the largely reactive husband and father, doing what he can to hold his family together.

The first few DV features were difficult to watch on television. The limitations of shooting on video were all too apparent on the screen. But this is the latest such film to look just fine at home.

Book: Persuader, by Lee Child (2003)

I read Child’s 1998 novel KILLING FLOOR in paperback. I liked the Jack Reacher character and loved the plot mechanics, but the book was fatally overlong. Since then, Child has become a name to conjure with among thriller writers – and his books have gotten shorter. I welcomed the chance to take a look at his more recent work for my column in Mystery*File.

Reacher, an ex-MP now drifting from job to job, gets recruited for an off-the-books DEA sting. The book’s lean, with nary a wasted word. And Reacher remains a potent lead. Here he is in action:

“I caught him with a wild left in the throat. It was a solid punch, and a lucky one. But not for him. It crushed his larynx. He went down on the floor again and suffocated. It was reasonably quick. About a minute and a half. There was nothing I could do for him. I’m not a doctor.”

Cold, baby. That’s just cold.

I’ll be reading another one soon.

Miscellaneous: Links

I’ve about had my fill of TV shows ending up on the big screen. But here’s a movie I can completely get behind: Michael Mann writing, producing and directing a feature film version of his series MIAMI VICE, with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Crockett and Tubbs.

And I may have to concoct a reason to go back to New York in December if this is going on. Double features? I must be dreaming. Thanks to Aaron at Out of Focus.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Life’s Too Short: Jersey Girl (2004)

Like the new subject heading? I’ll use it anytime I a.) walk out of; b.) fast forward through; or c.) skip to the end of a movie. In this inaugural outing, b.) applies

I had hopes for Kevin Smith once. CLERKS was a cri de coeur from the dead end job set. CHASING AMY represented a genuine attempt to plumb male sexual insecurity. I couldn’t stand DOGMA, but I admired Smith’s willingness to wrestle with his theological beliefs onscreen. You’ve got to give him credit for treating the tenets of Catholicism as if they were the path to Jedi knighthood.

JAY AND SILENT BOB ENGAGE IN LIMP SELF-REFERENTIAL BUFFOONERY seemed like a huge step backward. JERSEY GIRL continues that trend.

It’s Smith’s attempt at a “grown-up” movie. Sadly, Smith’s idea of a grown-up seems to be Nora Ephron. He employs her sledgehammer approach to music and her embrace of clichéd story developments. His innovation is to infuse those clichés with crassness, which makes them even harder to swallow.

This is the second Bennifer movie, but J. Lo bows out early on. Which means we’re saddled with Affleck for the whole picture. Smith has been able to bring out the best in the actor – CHASING AMY remains a high point for both of them – but here he gives him nothing to work with. Affleck is never believable as a once-high powered publicist on the skids, because Smith’s version of the PR world seems utterly false.

A bigger problem is pacing. Half an hour in, I was still waiting for the movie to get started. People have died, jobs have been lost, lives have been irrevocably altered, but it still feels like the film is spinning its wheels. Never a good sign.

Smith has said that his model for this movie was Cameron Crowe’s JERRY MAGUIRE, and it shows. You can feel him straining for the heartfelt quality that Crowe achieved so effortlessly. At least he worked with a good cinematographer this time out in Vilmos Zsigmond. The images looked crisp and supple as I zipped through them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

DVD: Trekkies 2 (2004)

Not many documentaries spawn sequels, but I suppose a look at Star Trek fandom comes with a built-in audience. Paramount released it directly to home video. I’ve missed the last several Trek films, I’ve only seen a handful of ‘Next Generation’ episodes, and I’ve never watched any of the series that followed. Yet somehow I’ve managed to catch both TREKKIES films. Which proves that the fans are more interesting than the world that inspires them.

Several of those profiled in the first film are revisited, including Barbara Adams (briefly notorious for wearing her Starfleet uniform while serving on the Whitewater jury) and Gabriel Koerner, who has gone from hyper-intense 14-year-old geek to married special effects designer. The film also looks at Trek fandom around the world. I love the two scantily-clad Brazilian women lounging by a pool who say they can never dress in costume because they’re too shy. There’s also a visit to the first-ever Trek convention in the Balkans which is surprisingly moving.

Both TREKKIES films raise the question of how much is too much, showing wild excesses in behavior (sealing off every window in your apartment save one so you can rebuild it to look like the Enterprise) only to come down on the side of the fans because they’re not hurting anyone. What’s interesting is hearing the fans themselves try to determine where the line is. (More than a few of them didn’t like the first movie, saying it focused too much on the extremes.) Here’s my suggestion: when you start blowing thousands of dollars of your own money on a Trek fan film, two of which are included on the DVD, it may be time to shift your affection to something less expensive. The TV version of LOGAN’S RUN, for instance.

It turns out John Kerry wrote a letter to the post office endorsing a Trek stamp. Why hasn’t this come up in the debates?

Interesting Microsoft Word factoid: not only does it regard Starfleet as correctly spelled, it automatically capitalizes it.

TV: Shadowing The Third Man

TCM marked the centenary of Graham Greene’s birth with multiple airings of this documentary about the making of the legendary thriller. Director Frederick Baker opts for a pointlessly arty approach and overwritten narration. But it’s great to see a still-spry Guy Hamilton, the assistant director on THE THIRD MAN who would go on to helm several James Bond movies, prowling around the original Vienna locations.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Movie: I ♥ Huckabees (2004)

First off, a big thank you to the boys at Low Culture for providing the necessary HTML. You’re doing the Lord’s work over there, fellas.

2004 has been a litmus test year at the cinema. You can’t pass judgment on the hot-button movies without giving away something about yourself. It started with your feelings on Jesus, then George W. Bush. With David O. Russell’s latest, we’ve moved on to the Buddha. As somebody who constantly gripes about the lack of serious movies, I’d like to say: enough is enough. I’m not the one on trial here.

Russell’s metaphysical farce is about an environmentalist (Jason Schwartzmann) and his doppelganger, an up-and-comer at the WalMart-like chain of the title, seeking answers to life’s big questions with the aid of “existential detectives.” Russell deserves a huge amount of credit for tackling the subject matter in the first place, particularly in the daring form of screwball comedy. It’s a genre that Russell has demonstrated a flair for in the past (FLIRTING WITH DISASTER), and things get off to a rousing start. But in short order the ideas overwhelm the characters and the spindly narrative without managing to cohere into a whole. The philosophy embraced at the movie’s close seems a touch naïve. (What did I tell you? I can’t talk about this flick without baring my soul. Or revealing that I don’t have one.) Russell maintains a high energy level, so I wasn’t bored. But I was never engaged, either.

HUCKABEES feels like a pixilated Hal Hartley movie with a higher-profile cast. The actors bring their A-games, in particular Jude Law and the never-better Mark Wahlberg. Dustin Hoffman plays the fifth (and oldest) Beatle, and Russell draws good work from Lily Tomlin, a performer I have never warmed to, as Hoffman’s wife and partner in crime.

How you respond to the movie depends on whether you agree with Russell’s assessment of the Law character. Is Brad Stand a bad person because he’s handsome, superficial, and trying to do some small amount of good while looking out for Number One? My answer is: no. Hell, I aspire to be Brad Stand. He’s the only person in this fascinating mess of a movie I actually liked. Guess it’s back into the meditation tree for me, where my spirit guide David Mamet will tell me where all these ethereal types can stick it.

R.I.P. Christopher Reeve

Reeve’s legacy will undoubtedly be his accomplishments as an advocate in the wake of his accident. He was an enormously inspiring figure.

But let’s not overlook his work as an actor. His performance as Superman – and, more importantly, as Clark Kent – was a deftly measured blend of heroism and light comedy. Whoever steps into his bright red boots has a lot to live up to.

I’d also like to mention his work in DEATHTRAP (1982). Rosemarie has a great story about seeing a Broadway production of Ira Levin’s play on an outing with the Rosary Society. Farley Granger played the lead, and when he kissed the young male protégé who just helped him murder his wife full on the lips, a number of the ladies headed up the aisles. The Sidney Lumet film adaptation comes off now as a pale imitation of SLEUTH. But to a then-thirteen year old boy only beginning to take movies seriously, it seemed like the height of sophistication. Reeve’s canny, against-type performance was a big reason for its impact. He’ll always be a favorite of mine because of it.

Miscellaneous: Link

I don’t care what this guy says. This TV commercial creeps the bejesus out of me.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Classics I Somehow Missed: Cabaret (1972)

Maybe I should come up with a new name for this feature. This is the second time I caught up with a legendary movie I felt I should have seen, only to come away disappointed.

CABARET may have the most complicated provenance in film history. We begin with short stories by Christopher Isherwood. John van Druten turned them into the play I AM A CAMERA, which itself was filmed in 1955. That play became the basis for the stage musical CABARET, featuring songs by Kander and Ebb and a book by Joe Masteroff. Bob Fosse, along with Kander, Ebb and screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, radically revised the play before filming it, and that interpretation influenced the recent revival spearheaded by director Sam Mendes.

Whew! Are we all clear on that? For an excellent look at the many iterations of CABARET on stage, I recommend this post by the redoubtable Jaime Weinman.

I can only imagine how audiences received the film in 1972, and I can only be honest about how I saw it some thirty years on. What was once shocking now plays as staid and predictable. The songs are strong, but using them as a counterpoint to the escalating political crisis in ‘30s Berlin doesn’t hold up. Fosse’s editing makes the point with hammer blows. The most effective number is the simplest: the Nazi youth anthem ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ taken up by a crowd at a beer garden, in a chilling reversal of the ‘La Marseillaise’ scene in CASABLANCA.

Joel Grey’s master of ceremonies still glitters darkly, but Michael York’s Brian is a cipher throughout. And then there’s Liza. Her entire career is based on her Oscar-winning work in this movie; not only does she still sing Sally Bowles’ songs in concert, she’s now doing numbers from the play that didn’t survive into the film. Her performance is at times amateurish, which is distracting in some scenes but in others enhances Sally’s penchant for self-dramatization. She commands the screen when she sings, though, especially during ‘Mein Herr.’

Liza’s awkwardness has had a long-term negative effect on the play. The thinking behind the Mendes revival has been that the actress playing Sally doesn’t need to be a trained singer or dancer, because the character is deluded. As a result, the role has become a way station for faded starlets and sitcom vets on hiatus, much like Rizzo in the revival of GREASE. This approach has never made sense to me. Sally is the headliner at the cabaret, no matter how run-down it is. And if there’s one thing Liza can do, it’s sing.

Miscellaneous: Link

David Thomson talks about the power of the two-shot as used in this year’s election debates. Personally, I prefer C-Span’s split screen. Which made Tuesday’s vice-presidential face-off look like the least sexy DePalma movie ever.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Movie: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Early this summer, Jared Hess’ Sundance favorite turned up at my neighborhood theater. I figured I’d get to it eventually, but other movies – and, you know, life – took precedence. I was all set to place it in my Netflix queue.

Only the movie never went away. It became the smash indie hit of the year, thanks in part to MTV’s promotional efforts. Every Friday I’d pass the theater and Jon Heder’s face would still be snarling out at me from the poster. When October rolled around with NAPOLEON showing no signs of leaving, I threw in the towel. Genuine phee-noms are rare. You have to check them out when they come along.

The movie’s a deadpan comedy with no huge laughs but a strange, lived-in vibe of recognition. Every high school has a kid like Napoleon, who’s obsessed with martial arts and drawing, who invariably lives on the wrong side of the tracks, who’s so used to being picked on that he responds to innocent questions with belligerence. I know that kid almost too well. (Not that said kid was me. For one thing, I can’t draw.) I’ve never seen a movie about him before. Heder never slips in his characterization, wearing the armor of Napoleon’s surliness from start to finish.

The scenes with Napoleon’s neutered man-child of a brother (Aaron Ruell) belong in a different movie. But Hess makes excellent use of Jon Gries as Uncle Rico. And Tina Majorino, the little girl from WATERWORLD, has moved into teen roles without losing her preternatural calm or her flawless timing.

The theater was packed with repeat viewers when I saw the movie, many of them boys around Napoleon’s age. I’m sure some of them are laughing at him and not with him, but I’m going to look on the bright side for once. For whatever reason, they’ve embraced a movie that celebrates an outcast and gives him a hard-won happy ending. Good for them.

Miscellaneous: Links

More goodies from the Kissinger transcripts. Jack Valenti asks the good doctor to help Kirk Douglas get a visa for China, then gives him pointers on speaking at a dinner for Robert Evans. Many thanks to Slate’s Press Box guru Jack Shafer for pointing me toward these.

I could say something about the passing of Rodney Dangerfield, the last of the old-school comedians. But why not let Rodney do the talking himself?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Miscellaneous: ‘There’s a Mr. Sinatra on Line Two’

Sure, John F. Kennedy knew how to cash in on that Hollywood magic. Bill Clinton, too. And from the looks of things, John Kerry isn’t doing too badly when it comes to tapping into this business of show. But for my money, nobody did it better than Henry Kissinger. He’s not exactly your leading man type. And he was never top-billed. But in rubbing elbows with the stars, he became something of a star himself.

Thanks to a National Security Archive FOIA request, transcripts of over 3,500 phone calls Kissinger had while he was Secretary of State have been declassified. He talks to Nixon, to world leaders, to the biggest names in journalism.

He also talks to celebrities. Naturally, these are the phone calls that I’m interested in.

Here’s Dr. K in 1973, advising Liza Minnelli on her upcoming trip to Israel. Please note that the transcriber misspells her name. Considering that ‘Liza with a Z’ debuted the previous year, there is no acceptable excuse.

Kissinger also stays on top of Danny Kaye’s UNICEF work, and has smoke blown up a certain delicate orifice by the very best in the form of Lew Wasserman. He talks with Ben Bradlee about Woodward and Bernstein just weeks after ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN hits theaters. (Love that Liv Ullmann reference.) He goes to see JAWS on July 17, 1975. No word on what he thought of the movie.

I was a little disappointed that I could only find one conversation between Kissinger and super-producer/force of life Robert Evans. It’s not even an interesting one. There are juicier exchanges between the two in Evans’ memoir, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE.

My personal favorite is this chat between the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Board. Frank asks Kissinger, “Do you want me to straighten out Angola for you?” Kissinger says he could use a few of Frank’s “enforcers.” I tell ya, they’re a pair of jokers, and both of them are wild.

The most disturbing thing about their conversation? Frank asks after Kissinger’s wife Nancy. The next few lines have been redacted.

We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Miscellaneous: Links

James Wolcott offers this dispatch from the ‘New York is Book Country’ festival. It contains several reminders of why New York is the greatest city on earth. And Verlyn Klinkenborg of the New York Times remembers all of the late Janet Leigh’s performance in PSYCHO, not just the shower scene.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Cable Catch-Up: Judex (1916)

Dilemma solved. Opting for Feuillade’s serial was the only logical choice. Night one’s installments featured a caped crimefighter living in an underground lair equipped with the latest technological advances, an Enron-style corporate scandal, mysterious benefactors, a phony kidnapping, and the Licorice Kid. The saga continues next Sunday. What’s amazing is how many of Feuillade’s stylistic innovations still retain their power. My favorite: the ‘letters of fire’ that Judex uses to communicate with his prisoners.

DVD: Risky Business (1983)

The sophistication of this movie, which is ostensibly directed at teenagers, continues to impress. I wonder what Paul Brickman is up to now; his only other directing credit is 1990’s underrated MEN DON’T LEAVE.

Normally I’d never make such a blasphemous suggestion, but Brickman and Cruise should reunite for a sequel to this movie. Watching it again, I realized that I would relish the chance to catch up with Joel Goodsen in his forties, with children and a suburban manse of his own.

Miscellaneous: Celebrity Politics

Amidst the hubbub about the first Bush/Kerry debate, some show biz contributions to our national dialogue may have gone unnoticed. Therefore, as a public service, I offer the following from this New York Times article:

During preparation for the debate, Bob Shrum, Mr. Kerry’s top strategist, had a telephone conversation with the singer Cher, to thank her for holding a fundraiser for Mr. Kerry. Cher took the opportunity to advise Mr. Shrum to pull Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman, off the air.

“He’s too heavy,” the sturdy Mr. Lockhart, with chagrin, quoted Cher as saying. “You need thinner people on TV.”

Miscellaneous: Links

If you missed it in the comments, it turns out that The State has an official website. It includes the entire text of the Details article I mentioned yesterday, as well as news on a possible DVD release of the show. Thanks to Romy for pointing it out.

Over at Esoteric Rabbit, Matt posts the full transcript of his interview with director Philip Noyce, faux pas and technical glitches included.

This New York Times magazine piece on the success of Nonesuch records has two intriguing quotes. The first, from Emmylou Harris:

“Nonesuch is piracy-proof. Their audience actually enjoys buying a record. When I got into music in my teens, the album was a thing in itself. It was a whole piece of work that had a reason to flow the way it did. You weren’t interested in just one or two songs. Nonesuch is still in the business of supporting album artists.”

It’s an interesting notion, turning ageism on its head and using it as a business plan. David Byrne goes even further, calling Nonesuch’s approach the only solution for the record industry’s woes:

“(A label) is a curatorial effort, a filter. The people who are at the head of it want you to trust their judgment, so that if you like one artist you’ll get to know others. A certain kind of relationship gets established, and it’s based on trust.”

Byrne may be onto something. In a crowded marketplace, taste matters. Miramax established itself in the film business using this strategy, and something similar is playing out in the crime fiction world with smaller labels like Hard Case Crime.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

TV: MTV’s Golden Age of Comedy

According to reports, the early frontrunner to succeed Craig Kilborn in CBS’ 12:35 AM slot is Michael Ian Black. The thinking at the network is that Kilborn’s exit gives them a chance to cultivate a new late night star, the way NBC developed Conan O’Brien over the years. I caught a little of Black’s guest hosting stint this week, and he seemed right at home. Of course, I didn’t see him undertake the crucial test of any talk show host: interviewing a guest you have no interest in. (“So, your new movie is about ... what again?”)

Black was on the NBC series ED (produced by David Letterman) and is best known as one of VH-1’s pop culture pundits on shows like I LOVE THE ‘90s. He was also one of the eleven members of The State, an improv troupe that had its own series on MTV from 1994-95. It was hands down the best sketch comedy show on U.S. television since the heyday of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. (One of Black’s bits is a personal favorite, but it defies description. I can only give you the signature line of dialogue: “Two hundred ... and forty dollars ... worth of pudding.”) Naturally, MTV bounced the show around its schedule and aired new episodes without promoting them, so the show never caught on. The troupe attempted to jump ship to CBS, which ultimately aired ‘The State’s 43rd Anniversary Special’ to low numbers. I remember a terrific article about the writing of the special and its disappointing reception in one of those magazines I read only when I’m waiting to get my hair cut. Details, maybe. A compilation of The State’s sketches was released on VHS. There’s no sign of a DVD appearance.

Members of the troupe continue to perform together. Many of them turn up in 2001’s WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, a hilarious and subversive parody of early-‘80s teen movies that features an inspired comic performance from LAW & ORDER: SVU star Christopher Meloni. A few State members had a hand in the early days of the pre-Jon Stewart THE DAILY SHOW. Others including Black created the short-lived VIVA VARIETY! Thomas Lennon, perhaps the group’s most visible member, is the mastermind behind Comedy Central’s cult hit RENO 911!, in which he plays Lt. Jim Dangle. Along with fellow ex-Stater Robert Ben Garant, he’s written the screenplays for the upcoming English-language remake of Luc Besson’s TAXI and the new Herbie, The Love Bug movie. (What’s with all the cars? I suppose if a KNIGHT RIDER movie is in the offing, these two will get the call.)

It’s quite a flowering of talent that will only become more impressive if Black ends up with his own late-night show. And it underscores the importance of MTV as an incubator of comedy. In the early days of the go-go ‘90s, the network not only discovered The State but gave series to then-unknowns like Ben Stiller and Jon Stewart. (Stewart hosted YOU WROTE IT, YOU WATCH IT, featuring vignettes sent in by viewers that were acted out by members of The State.) Much of today’s comic sensibility grows out of a handful of TV shows that almost nobody watched.

It’s a role MTV seems completely disinterested in now. Although their promotional skills have improved a thousand-fold. Now I always know when a new episode of Ashlee Simpson’s show is set to air.

Friday, October 01, 2004

TV: Sundays at 9PM

I watch so little TV that I almost never run into timeslot conflicts. But for the next three Sundays, I’m facing a big one.

Turner Classic Movies’ broadcast of Louis Feuillade’s 12-part crime serial JUDEX (1916) in its entirety vs. fresh episodes of THE WIRE on HBO. (Oh, all right: and VH-1’s THE SURREAL LIFE at 10PM. I’m only human.)

Thanks to TCM, I was able to enjoy all of Feuillade’s LES VAMPIRES a few years ago, an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. THE WIRE is repeated a few times a week, and thanks to digital cable I can now order it up on demand at no charge. But there’s something about catching those episodes as soon as they air ...

I’m going to have to ponder this one for a while. Or until at Sunday at 9, at any rate.

Miscellaneous: Links

And the sexiest film star of all time is ... Keira Knightley? Let me guess: this poll was conducted via the Internet.

Plus James Toback files a Dispatches column for Hollywood Elsewhere that's as brazen as you might expect. Who else would call Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum "a sexually dessicated fool?"