Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Year In Review: Movies

I’d already decided not to bother with a ten-best list before I read The Reeler’s devastating two-part takedown of them or learned that end-of-the-year introspection was hazardous to your health.

Why? Because these lists are fundamentally dishonest. Every year I sift through a good two dozen titles and delude myself that I’m ranking them using well-thought-out criteria. The truth is that each year yields a handful of films – in my case, it’s always around five – that stand head and shoulders above the rest. They change position on the list depending on how I feel about the world and my place in it, but their status is secure. Because when they ended, I felt different. More engaged with the world. More alive.

So, in today’s order and with no commentary, the five movies I cannot picture 2005 without:

1. 2046
2. Oldboy
3. Munich
4. The Squid and the Whale
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way ... on with the awards!

There was plenty of competition for the coveted Double Dip Award, given to the filmmaker who had the most productive year. No one packed a better one-two punch than Steven Spielberg. WAR OF THE WORLDS demonstrated how quickly the language of terror becomes a common tongue, while MUNICH showed how we’re still struggling with the language of peace. With OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, Park Chanwook fused Grand Guignol theatrics with an Old Testament sense of justice. But each of them has an entry in my fabled five, so they don’t need any more help.

Consequently, this year’s Double Dip goes to the tandem of writer/producer Luc Besson and director Louis Leterrier for UNLEASHED (aka DANNY THE DOG) and THE TRANSPORTER 2. I’m glad somebody still knows how to make B-movies with energy.

The Manny Farber Termite Award, sponsored by Orkin™ Pest Control. To George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead. Because political commentary always goes better with zombies. (Joe Dante’s ‘Homecoming’ disqualified because it debuted on TV.)

The ‘Quarter To Three’ Award. Given to the movie that I’ll watch to the end whenever I stumble onto it on cable, even though I own the DVD. Winner: The Ice Harvest. KISS KISS BANG BANG ruled ineligible due to fabled five status. One is a perfectly constructed noir, the other noir perfectly deconstructed. Both deserved better fates.

The Future Is Now Award. Memories of Murder is a tragicomic police procedural and a South Korean political allegory. It made its North American debut on television via On Demand before receiving a limited theatrical release. I’ve got my share of problems with the collapse of release windows. But when first-rate foreign films can’t get distribution, this is a viable option.

The Platinum Popcorn Award. Given to the most perfectly constructed piece of entertainment. Winner: Wes Craven’s Red Eye. Expert fun from start to finish. Bonus points for coming in at a sleek 85 minutes and avoiding the bloat of so many other big studio flicks.

The ‘Is He Serious?’ Award. Given to the movie I loved that nobody else seems to care about. Starring Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer, Lord of War takes the up-from-nothing structure of gangster epics and hip-hop only to turn it on its head. The result is a brash and savage parable that sank without a trace.

Unsung Character Actor of the Year. For returning to drama after years as a clown. For coming in late but hot in THE ICE HARVEST, making the word ‘nitwit’ sound profane. For showing us how high the stakes are early on in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. This year’s recipient is Mr. Randy Quaid.

Here’s my hope for 2006: that when a film sounds interesting to people, they won’t wait for the DVD but will go out to the theater to see it. Going to the movies is still the most fun you can have in the dark with strangers. Unless, of course, you live in Canada.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Movie: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

When critics unite to coronate one movie, the contrarian in me is ready to pick nits. Makes life more interesting. But damned if I’m not going to line up with everyone else to praise Ang Lee’s latest, steamrolling its way to Oscar glory.

Annie Proulx’s short story is narrow in focus but epic in scope. Larry McMurtry (with screenwriting partner Diana Ossana) is scrupulously faithful to the source, but somehow manages to put his own distinctive stamp on the material. The film becomes an elegy for a way of life in the American West, one in which loneliness is one of the day’s burdens no matter who it is you’re pining for.

Here’s how good the movie is. I still think highly of it even after Rosemarie, who also liked it, pointed out that it turns into a tragic same-sex version of Same Time Next Year with Alan Alda. And she’s right.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Year In Review: Books

Here we go, in no particular order and with a minimum of commentary. A dozen books that made 2005 for me.

RED JUNGLE, by Kent Harrington
CAVALCADE, by Walter Satterthwait
EMPIRE RISING, by Thomas Kelly
BLONDE LIGHTNING, by Terrill Lee Lankford
DRIVE, by James Sallis

Short story collections that got the job done in wildly different ways: Ed Gorman’s DIFFERENT KINDS OF DEAD and SIMPLIFY by Tod Goldberg.

Everything old is new again: The short fiction and non-fiction of screenwriter Daniel Fuchs, brought together in THE GOLDEN WEST: HOLLYWOOD STORIES. And the first North American publication of Jean-Claude Izzo’s TOTAL CHAOS.

Lawrence Block’s ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING might not have the same impact on those unfamiliar with the character of Matthew Scudder. But as someone who’s read the entire series, it hit me hard. I have no idea what Block’s plans are for Scudder. But this book has the feel of a valedictory, a powerful and graceful way for the character to leave the stage.

Oh, all right, here’s some semblance of order. My bests of the year. In non-fiction, THE TENDER BAR by J. R. Moehringer. In fiction, Jess Walter’s CITIZEN VINCE. And once again, that’s not because of the title.

R.I.P. Vincent Schiavelli

From a career filled with memorable moments, a few of my favorites.

As a toadying alien invader in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: They’re only monkey-boys. We can crush them here on earth, Lord Whorfin!

As Patrick Swayze’s guide to the afterlife in Ghost, spying a cigarette: Ahh, what I wouldn’t give for a drag! Just one drag!

The last words of a deranged children’s show host/assassin in Death to Smoochy: I never saw Venice!

Something tells me the actor did see Venice. He led an interesting life.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Christmas Wish To You

May none of your regional landmarks be imperiled by giant insects.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Book: Tab Hunter Confidential, by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller (2005)

In 2003, Rosemarie and I spent an afternoon listening to Eddie Muller hold forth on the glories of film noir. At the end of the presentation he hinted that his next book would be a collaboration with a Hollywood star. “One with a life worth hearing about, for once.”

He wasn’t kidding. Tab Hunter rose to overnight stardom at the end of the studio era. For the most part, he was cast as a heartthrob for teenage girls – a difficult image for a gay man to live up to. Now Hunter tells all about his personal and professional life with bracing candor.

The book is written with tabloid zing, only fitting for an actor who was regular fodder in gossip pages. Credit for that should probably go to Eddie; I don’t think Tab Hunter would refer to “a 1941 Ford coupe that smoked like Oscar Levant.”

Hunter offers an unsparing look at the working life of an actor. His perspective is certainly unique. He went from having hit records to costarring with Soupy Sales and Judy the Chimp in Birds Do It in only a decade. He did his time in dinner theater, then blazed the trail to career revival through independent film by appearing in John Waters’ POLYESTER.

He feels he never got a fair shake from critics, and he may be right. Consider, for instance, the 1959 Sidney Lumet drama That Kind of Woman. Hunter calls it “a gem, still my favorite of all the films I’ve made.” Here’s what the Leonard Maltin guide says:

excellent performances from all but Hunter, and even he’s better than usual.

Now that’s simply uncalled for.

After reading the book I sought out Gunman’s Walk, another film Hunter is fond of. It’s a sorely underrated western from veteran hands Phil Karlson and Frank Nugent. Hunter’s work as the hot-tempered son of successful rancher Van Heflin is rock-solid. Plus it features TATTLETALES host Bert Convy as an Indian.

Miscellaneous: Link

The New York Times visits St. Malachy’s church, also known as the Actors’ Chapel. Rosemarie and I stopped by there on our walking tour of Dorothy Parker’s New York.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

TV: Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That

It would be hard to make a dull documentary about director Budd Boetticher. He was the kind of larger-than-life character you don’t see much anymore, heading to Mexico to learn bullfighting, threatening to knock Harry Cohn on his ass in front of two hundred extras.

This Turner Classic Movies film, executive produced by Clint Eastwood and written by critic and blogger Dave Kehr, does justice to the man and his work. The westerns he made with Randolph Scott in the 1950s are among the genre’s finest, taut films in which heroes and villains have more in common than they’d care to admit. They also mark one of the most sustained collaborations between a filmmaker and an actor in modern movie history.

TCM aired their first film, 1956’s Seven Men From Now, which debuted on DVD this week. It’s a typically lean, engrossing movie that showcases Boetticher’s eye for talent; a young Lee Marvin dazzles as a quick-witted gunman.

The documentary also offers the engaging spectacle of Eastwood talking with fellow Boetticher fan Quentin Tarantino. My favorite Eastwood observation isn’t in the film but in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly:

What I particularly liked about Boetticher was the way he knew how to make the horse an important part of the picture ... The way Scott always dismounts, waters the horse, inspects the animal for any injuries – real cowboy stuff I appreciate. Boetticher realized how central a horse was to a man’s sense of himself – an extension of himself, without getting too Freudian about it.

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is a great title. So is ALIAS MIKE HERCULES, a TV show Boetticher worked on. It does what any good title should do: it makes me want to know more. Who would think Mike Hercules was a suitable alias? Mike’s not actually Hercules, is he? Sadly, no reference I’ve consulted tells me anything more about the show. If it’s familiar to anyone out there, speak up.

UPDATE: GreenCine has a new article by Sean Axmaker based on interviews with Boetticher.

Miscellaneous: Link

Let another Budd – Schulberg – tell you what’s wrong with the picture business.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book: The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer (2005)

Bars didn’t hold much allure for me when I finally hit the legal drinking age. For that matter, neither did drinking. Blame – or credit – an Irish Catholic upbringing in which both parents had taken the Pioneer’s Pledge. They never said a word on the evils of alcohol; in fact, the subject never came up. To mark my 21st birthday I went to the movies. By then, I’d discovered my own intoxicants.

That early restraint allows me to savor a fine public house now. It’s also led to a fascination with memoirs about drinking life. Like, well, Pete Hamill’s A DRINKING LIFE. And this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Moehringer.

He grew up fatherless in an extended Long Island family, but found an entire company of surrogates in what the Irish would call his local. As he grows up the bar stays the one constant in his life, becoming his sanctuary and perhaps his prison. The book is about manhood, storytelling, community, and how a youth spent in a saloon can be a sobering experience. It’s a keeper, with an epilogue that broke my heart.

Miscellaneous: Spirits Of Another Kind

Proof that I am not attuned to the otherworldly: I went on a tour of haunted Seattle, and our first stop turned out to be my old apartment building. The place is apparently hopping with poltergeists, but I lived an entirely ghost-free existence there for ten years.

Miscellaneous: Links

Via GreenCine Daily, a look at the year’s best in TV that focuses on individual episodes instead of series. And my friend Tony Kay remembers the late genre filmmaker Herbert L. Strock.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Miscellaneous: Our Modern Push-Button Age

Technology is the only area of life where I become openly spiritual. If something works, it will continue to work, long into the foreseeable future. So why change it?

Fortunately, Rosemarie is far more pragmatic than I am. She's wanted to upgrade our home computer for ages. When she landed a major promotion at work, that's how she decided to celebrate. We spent the weekend setting up the new machine, and when I say 'we' I mean 'she.' She even replaced our coal-fired printer.

This marks the first post I've written at a flat-screen monitor using a wireless keyboard and mouse. I feel like I'm living in the not-too-distant future. I expect my robot maid to roll in here and sass me any minute.

The conversion didn't go perfectly. They never do. Turns out if you buy a PC at one store and a printer at another, you should remember to throw in a cable that connects the two. And for want of a code printed on a back-up disc that didn't ship, we can't use software that's already installed on the machine. I can hear it even now, calling out to me.

The biggest disappointment is personal. Switching computers, like moving, is a chance to get rid of clutter. I was all set to purge my roll of bookmarks and make a fresh start, exploring the web in a more efficient fashion.

Then Rosemarie showed me how to transfer the old list. So I'm looking at the same old crap, only faster.

Movie: King Kong (2005)

I'd have positive feelings toward Peter Jackson's film just for ushering the landmark 1933 original onto DVD. But this overstuffed movie is ridiculously entertaining in its own right, and makes a more-than-worthy successor. I even loved the first hour, dismissed by some as slow. It's packed with retro moments that are like gifts from one die-hard movie fan to another.

For all the FX genius on display, the most memorable feature of the remake - what really makes the movie work - is the performance of Naomi Watts. Let's see a computer conjure up a beautiful and talented actress who's also a world-class screamer and who knows how to run like she's being chased.

The hand-wringing over the box office has me baffled. We're talking about a three-hour-plus movie opening on the Wednesday before a non-holiday weekend. Was it supposed to spark a massive outburst of absenteeism? I'd consider it a harbinger if the video game, with the "Play as Kong!" option touted in the ads, outgrosses the film. If that happens, then humanity as a species is circling the drain.

Miscellaneous: Link

In the Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section, A.O. Scott suggests that a system that prevents truly bad movies from being made also stifles truly great ones.

Friday, December 16, 2005

DVD: Went The Day Well? (1942)

Novelist Olen Steinhauer is one of the contributors to the blog Contemporary Nomad. His latest post, inspired by the 1943 Humphrey Bogart film Passage to Marseille, is in part about propaganda, then and now.

You’ll find few more effective examples of the form than this film, now available on video as part of Anchor Bay’s British War Collection. Based on a story by Graham Greene, the movie depicts a Nazi invasion of a remote English town. Characters out of an Ealing comedy – the haughty lady of the manor, dotty shopkeepers – find themselves battling for the future of their country, and sacrifices will be made. What’s most shocking is to view the film in context; at the time of its release, a German occupation of England was very much a possibility. The story is told in flashback after the war’s end, a date several years in the future.

During WWII, it was common for movies to carry positive messages about the fight. English audiences for 1940’s The Sea Hawk saw an additional closing scene in which Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) gave a stirring speech that recast Errol Flynn’s derring-do in a new light. But instances of similar scenes in films made during Korea and Vietnam are few and far between; it remains to be seen if there will be any in movies about the current conflict, although Bruce Willis plans on giving it a shot.

Why did these moments go by the boards? Is it because later conflicts lacked WWII’s clarity of purpose, as Steinhauer suggests? Or because movie audiences became too sophisticated to be preached to? Was it the transfer of ownership of the American film industry from a handful of image-conscious immigrant strivers to multinational corporations solely interested in not offending anyone? Or something else entirely?

I’m just asking.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Movie: Syriana (2005)

Is the movie complicated? Yes, deliberately but not excessively so. Stephen Gaghan’s political thriller isn’t just set in an era of globalization. It takes the concept on as its subject. With so many relationships – between nations, corporations, even individuals – built on shifting sands, any neat definitions offered at the outset would be false. So Gaghan doesn’t bother with them, trusting the audience to work out agendas large and small on the fly. Hard work, but worth it.

He still should have explained the title, though. People were asking about it on the way out of the theater. It’s a think tank term for a reshaped Middle East.

The ensemble cast is great, from Fat Clooney on down. Jeffrey Wright plays the most compelling character, a lawyer whose inspiring, up-from-nothing personal history feeds his sense that he’s better than everyone else – which sets him up to commit crimes on a truly epic scale. Gaghan knows how to write dialogue for power brokers, and Christopher Plummer knows how to deliver it. His casual reference to “the second creepiest party I’ve ever been to” is scarier than both SAW movies put together.

Miscellaneous: Link

It’s not on a par with Christopher Hitchens taking on Mother Teresa, but it’s close: Paul Theroux thinks Bono should stop minding Africa’s business.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Movie: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

If it’s not an official genre, it ought to be: the disco musical. These movies have single-handedly kept yours truly on the straight and narrow, because they serve as vivid reminders of the impact drug abuse can have on careers. What other explanation can there be for someone actually signing off on Xanadu? Or the mind-boggling spectacle that is The Apple?

Why the Sundance Channel of all networks decided to blow the dust off this entry in the form is beyond me. But I’m grateful that they did. It never hurts to be scared straight all over again.

The skeletal, nonsensical plot links two dozen Beatles songs, which makes the movie ahead of its time. It’s a forerunner of jukebox musicals like the all-Abba MAMMA MIA!

Like any movie worth watching, SGT. PEPPER’S raises a host of questions. Such as: Why is Steve Martin doing a Boris Karloff-inflected cover of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”? Am I actually seeing the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and George Burns walking arm in arm toward a giant hamburger while singing “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”? Can cocaine alone be responsible for this, or was PCP involved? If the closing rendition of the title song is so star-studded, why is Connie Stevens there? There had to be some hashish lying around too, right? Carol Channing? If Barry Gibb fought Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, who would win? And more importantly, what would they wear? (Aside: as a band, Aerosmith has appeared in this, WAYNE’S WORLD 2 and BE COOL. Draw your own conclusions.)

The movie did trigger a powerful personal epiphany. It happened when a pair of robotic masseuses began to sing “She’s Leaving Home.” At that moment, I realized that the talent of the Lennon/McCartney collaboration was truly indestructible. Because somehow, the song still worked.

At least the trumpet used in the movie found a good home.

Miscellaneous: Link

Jeffrey Wells on the seasoning of Kevin Costner as an actor. If only some handsome young buck could go on TV and plead the same case ...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

DVD: Varietease (1954)/Teaserama (1955)

The snippets of “retro erotica” available via On Demand piqued my interest in their source, these movies from the good people at Something Weird Video. They’re low-budget recreations of burlesque shows, complete with baggy pants comics, musical interludes and, um, you know ... strippers. Don’t worry, though, folks. It’s all in good bawdy fun. Why, it’s downright wholesome is what it is.

The featured attraction in Varietease, the better of the two movies, is the crème de la crème of the burly-q circuit, the Anatomic Bomb herself, the lovely Lili St. Cyr*. Teaserama offers all the erotic magic of Tempest Storm* folding up a convertible sofa. Which is more than you might think. Curiously, I can’t find any web presence for the ravishing Chris La Chris, who is in both films. Which only goes to prove that people never know what’s good, even when it comes to hoochie-coochie girls.

Another performer who appears in both movies is pin-up goddess Bettie Page*. In fact, Bettie’s presence is the only reason these films are on DVD at all. Each disc also has an arcade reel of Bettie called “Teaser Girl in High Heels” that still features the Deposit Another Coin For The Next Part slides – and which I studied purely as cultural artifacts.

Believe it or not, I mainly watched these films for the comedy. Plenty of great talent sprang out of the burlesque circuit, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from what’s on display here. Still, check out this intro from comic Bobby Shields:

The producer of this show has gone to a great expense to bring to you six of the most lovely dolls direct from Paris. Paris, France. And folks, when these four girls come out, I want you to give them a great hand because these two dolls are beautiful. And ladies and gentlemen, here she is now ...

Come on. That’s funny.

* To be on the safe side, I’m going to say that these links aren’t safe for work. Although if you ask me, any job where these links aren’t safe is not a job worth having.

Miscellaneous: Helpful TV Listing Of The Day

Sci-Fi Channel: The Triangle (Part Three). The team races to prevent a catastrophic disaster while facing insurmountable odds.

Hope I didn’t spoil it for anyone.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Miscellaneous: In The Frame

A brand new installment of my column is now online at Steve Lewis' Mystery*File. It's packed with household tips and holiday gift-giving suggestions. Read it to find out which universally acclaimed classic of world cinema I dismiss as boring. Privately I dismissed it as a highbrow Ed Wood movie, but that seemed a touch harsh to commit to print.

Miscellaneous: Link

At Kung Fu Monkey, John Rogers explains how action scenes are supposed to work.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Books: Hard Case Crime Round-Up

For months, I’ve been snapping up any book that bears the Hard Case Crime logo. I just haven’t been reading them. In the past few weeks, though, I plowed through three in a row.

The Colorado Kid. Stephen King’s book netted the line a ton of publicity and vaulted them onto bestseller lists. It’s an atypical offering in that it’s not at all hard-boiled, in spite of the dedication to The Name Of The Game Is Death author Dan J. Marlowe. I found the first quarter of the book rough going, in that it was folksier than a lemonade stand at an ice cream social, don’t ya know. But the tale eventually took hold. The ending has generated its share of controversy, but it worked for me. You can’t say he didn’t set it up.

The Girl With The Long Green Heart. It’s Lawrence Block, so of course I liked it. This 1965 novel lays out its complex con game so meticulously that I’m now ready to pull it on the right mark. The book teaches a valuable lesson: sometimes the most shocking twist is the one that doesn’t come.

Branded Woman. The rare hard-boiled novel with a woman as protagonist. And what a woman! The Orson Welles film Touch of Evil was based on a book by the Wade Miller team, and I can’t help wishing that Orson had gotten a crack at this 1952 title as well. Tremendous south of the border atmosphere and a great gallery of rogues. This might be my favorite Hard Case book to date.

Conversational Tidbits Gleaned From This Week’s New Yorker

1. The only member of ZZ Top without a beard is named Beard.

2. The New York Times recently hired Matthew Carter, the world’s foremost typeface designer, to complete the alphabet of the face it uses to print its name. The newspaper only had the letters that spell “The New York Times.”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Happy, Uh ... Merry, Um ... Is It January Yet?

It’s that time of year, when religious conservatives claim that there’s a war against Christmas. This time their cause is being abetted by Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson, who has written an entire book on the subject. (By ‘book’ I mean ‘slender volume that makes its entire argument in its overly long title so that like-minded individuals who purchase it will not have to read it.’ This category will receive its own best-seller list in the New York Times beginning in January.) I should confess here that I haven’t been able to take Gibson seriously since Slate’s Jack Shafer branded him “TV’s only albino werewolf.”

The target this year is the retail industry, specifically stores that do not use the word ‘Christmas’ in their advertising. This New York Times editorial points out the irony of this approach: it puts these Christians in favor of the commercialization of a sacred holiday. Did they learn nothing from Charlie Brown?

Granted, sometimes the use of ‘inclusive’ language shades over into the ridiculous. There’s no reason for the city of Boston or Lowe’s stores to refer to ‘holiday trees.’ People aren’t buying them to celebrate Hanukkah.

I have a perfectly good reason for wishing others ‘Happy Holidays’ that has nothing to do with cultural sensitivity: I’m cheap. I want my greeting to cover New Year’s as well. Some of these people I may not see until January. Some of them I hope I never see again. In some cases, that’s my New Year’s resolution.

If we go along with the change, there’s no guarantee that the gesture will be appreciated. When I was growing up in Florida, a friend of mine lived on a cul-de-sac where all the neighbors tried to outdo each other when it came to Christmas decorations. Except for my friend’s parents. Every year they would plant a life-sized Nativity scene in their front lawn, illuminated by a single spotlight. “We want to put the Christ back in Christmas,” my friend’s mother would say.

The light show would draw such crowds that whenever I visited my friend in December I had to hike the last quarter-mile on foot, as if I were going to take down Navarone. As I walked up the driveway to the front door, without fail a passerby would shout, “Your house sucks!”

It’s possible that all of these hecklers were from the area’s admittedly slim population of Jews, Wiccans, and Zoroastrians; it’s not like there was anything better to do at night in that neck of the woods. But statistically, I doubt it.

Still, I try to be a force for good in my time. So if there are some who want me to can the euphemisms and say Christmas when I mean Christmas, I’ll do what I can to oblige. Consider:

“Dude, I’m gonna get so shit-faced at the Christmas party! That new girl in accounting sent me a sexy Christmas card, so when everyone leaves I’m gonna nail her under the Christmas tree. This is gonna be the sweetest Christmas season ever!”

No need to thank me. The act of giving is gift enough.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

TV: Masters of Horror/‘Homecoming’

Joe Dante takes Showtime’s horror anthology series in the truly terrifying direction of current events. The episode veers from sharp satire – this is how I hope Ann Coulter is in real life, but something tells me that it ain’t necessarily so – to surprising lump-in-the-throat moments. The scene in which the flag-draped coffins of American soldiers killed in an Iraq-style conflict burst open so that the dead can vote their leaders out of office is a dizzying pop culture sucker punch, the kind of moment that becomes an instant footnote to history. TV staple Jon Tenney anchors the madness with a heartfelt performance.

The show is racking up plenty of accolades, as well as attention from gloating political blogs. If I were a Republican, I hope I’d find ‘Homecoming’ funny. If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t be so quick to clutch it to my blue-state bosom. The only characters in the film are either zombies or in the G.O.P. That’s it. Democrats have fallen to the level of Hollywood agents in The Player. They’re not even worth mocking anymore.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Miscellaneous: Link

Here's my idea of heaven. Wendell Jamieson watches three great New York films from the Fox Noir Collection - The Dark Corner, Kiss of Death and Where the Sidewalk Ends - then visits their locations. He also throws in a few other titles that are cherce.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Miscellaneous: Links

The Los Angeles Times remembers the extraordinary life and career of the late character actor Marc Lawrence, one of the movies’ great tough guys. The obituary overlooks a favorite credit: Lawrence menacing Bugs Bunny in LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION when the actor was in his nineties.

Slate’s Grady Hendrix considers movies about the Rapture and decides that poor production values are a sin in any religion:

The new “Left Behind” movie disturbs me – not because thousands of people are watching a movie that proclaims non-Christians will burn in hell for all eternity – but rather because thousands of people are watching a movie where Toronto stands in for New York, Chicago, and Israel. Also, Washington, D.C. And Egypt. London, too.

Still, it sounds like Commander in Chief Lou Gossett, Jr. shows President Harrison Ford how to get it done. Ford, after all, didn’t have to slip out of the White House in a hatchback. And you’ve gotta love the goats.