Thursday, August 31, 2006

Movie: The Illusionist (2006)

Neil Burger’s historical drama looks and sounds extraordinary, thanks to silent movie techniques, brooding cinematography by Dick Pope, and Philip Glass’ hypnotic score. But the greatest of its pleasures is the acting. Burger casts the movie with performers who know how to work in the grand theatrical style without ever winking at the camera or crossing over into camp. Paul Giamatti – is there anyone better right now? I say no – plays a genially corrupt police inspector in a manner that would warm the hearts of Claude Rains and Orson Welles, while Rufus Sewell’s villainous prince doffs his crown to Basil Rathbone. Edward Norton’s contemporary intensity in the title role makes for a splendid contrast.

The story ultimately proves to be slight but satisfying. It’s the lush canvas that’s the draw here. The Illusionist is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word; it has the feel of one of those lesser-known titles that surface on Turner Classic Movies and immediately suck you in.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Glenn Ford and Joseph Stefano, R.I.P.

News of two deaths on the same day. That always hurts.

To an entire generation, Glenn Ford will always be Clark Kent’s father in Superman. That’s how I first knew him. But he had an impressive career before that. The hopeless, hapless Johnny Farrell in Gilda. A detective driven almost to the point of madness in The Big Heat. The schoolteacher in Blackboard Jungle. He was a fixture in westerns, including several directed by Delmer Daves (Jubal, Cowboy, and 3:10 to Yuma, with maybe Ford’s finest performance – and as a villain).

From what I’ve read, I gather there was a sense of disappointment hanging over Ford’s career in that he never capitalized on his box office clout the way many of his ’50s contemporaries did. It’s too bad if that’s the case, because Glenn Ford was the kind of actor we could use more of now. Dependable, unfussy, and always believable as a grown-up.

Joseph Stefano worked in Hollywood for decades, but he’ll ultimately be known for two credits. He wrote the screenplay for Psycho, and he co-created The Outer Limits. That’s more than enough. Limits may not be quite as revered as The Twilight Zone, but it’s the superior show. Largely because it wasn’t as concerned with moralizing. Its only goal was to scare the bejesus out of you, which it did more often than not.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Update: Shame-Faced Podcast


Now that I’ve got your attention ...

I actually would like to talk about sex.

In episode five of the spin-off blog’s podcast, Rosemarie and I look at two classic movies that take the subject of sex seriously. Last Tango in Paris and Carnal Knowledge.

Direct download it here, or get it at iTunes.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Movies: Two-And-A-Half Man

For years I kept a copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide within arm’s reach at all times. Questions about film are constantly being raised here at Chez K, and I’d want answers tout suite. Rosemarie and I actually used to check off the films we’d seen, but that quickly become too time-consuming a project. We’d also update every year, buying each edition as soon as it came out.

But various internet resources soon supplanted Leonard, as we called the book, and we decided to spring for a new volume every other year. Lately even that’s slipped; we’ve been working off the same book for three years now.

We updated to the brand new 2007 guide over the weekend, and one thing hasn’t changed: Leonard respects my taste, but he doesn’t share it. Most of what I like gets two-and-a-half stars.

I first noticed this in 1995, when The Usual Suspects rocked my world. (“Highly praised, but to our minds, too ‘clever’ for its own good.”) It’s played out every year since. If I clutch a movie to my bosom, it might muster three stars, occasionally three-and-a-half. But 2.5 is the likeliest bet. If I’m lucky.

Consider 2004. Leonard has kind things to say about several of my favorite films of that year. Sideways and Before Sunset, for instance, merit three-and-a-half stars, while Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes in with three. (Leonard suggests that Charlie Kaufman’s script may also be too clever. I must be a sucker for that.)

But most of my choices land the dreaded score of 2.5 in the definitive film reference book. Like Bad Education (“Complex, challenging ... somewhat distancing for the viewer, in spite of strong performances”), Cellular (“Not-bad thriller ... entertaining enough, as long as you ignore the many plot holes”), and Collateral (“tosses credibility down the drain during the climax ... still quite watchable”). As for my pick for 2004’s best, Spartan? That features “a leading character who’s so off-putting, in a plot so convoluted,” that it winds up with a measly two.

Last year was a bit better. Two of my five faves, 2046 and The Squid and the Whale, stick that 3.5 landing. But Old Boy (“Production values are top grade for this genre”) and Munich (“less here than meets the eye”) are back at 2.5, while Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang scores a deuce.

Still, Leonard and I did find common ground in 2005. We both admired Wes Craven’s Red Eye, and felt that Nicolas Cage’s Lord of War was sorely underrated. And I won’t say an ill word against a man who begins his book with a list of 50 overlooked films that includes gems like Quai des Orfèvres, Classe tous Risques, Schizopolis, Kontroll and Bubba Ho-Tep.

Of course, this suggests that when my first movie gets made, it may well be enshrined in a future edition of Leonard with a rating of two-and-a-half stars and a review noting that “the script has its moments, but seems entirely too pleased with itself.” And you know what? I think I’ll live with it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Miscellaneous: Today’s Entertainment Weekly Gripe

I wish the magazine would announce that it’s decided to suck full time. It would save me twenty minutes a week. The latest issue features a wonderful article by Karen Valby about life in Utopia, Texas, a town largely isolated from popular culture. (Sadly, it’s not available online). But it also includes a review of the script for the upcoming movie version of Dallas – or should I say a script, because the draft considered is months old and has already been rewritten multiple times. In other words, it’s completely meaningless. As is most of EW lately.

Miscellaneous: Links

Much as I hate to pimp movie trailers, the one for Little Children, directed by Todd Field (In the Bedroom) from a novel by Tom Perrotta (Election), demands to be seen. Jeffrey Wells is right to call it the best preview of the year. It’s like a movie in itself.

I’m a big fan of Culture Pulp, the website of cartoonist/movie critic Mike Russell. In the latest installment, he sits down with two-fifths of the Broken Lizard troupe to talk Beerfest. Here’s the illustrated version, while the full Q&A is a must for Adam Sandler fans, Patrick Swayze partisans, and the intersection of the two. It’s got me ready to track down Stone Cold, starring erstwhile Seahawk Brian Bosworth.

There’s an interesting conversation over at Contemporary Nomad contrasting literary and young adult fiction. Coincidentally, today’s New York Times features an article on YA author Gary Paulsen. He wrote my kid brother’s favorite book, 1987’s Hatchet. Paulsen stopped writing for adults a decade ago because:

“It’s artistically fruitless ... Adults are locked into car payments and divorces and work. They haven’t got time to think fresh. Name the book that made the biggest impression on you. I bet you read it before you hit puberty. In the time I’ve got left, I intend to write artistic books – for kids – because they’re still open to new ideas.”

Friday, August 25, 2006

Book: Hit Parade, by Lawrence Block (2006)

Block has created his share of memorable characters – see Scudder, Matthew. He introduced professional assassin John Keller in the 1990 short story ‘Answers to Soldier.’ To quote the eminently wise James Reasoner, Block “puts words together about as well as anybody in the business.” But he outdid himself with ‘Soldier.’ It is, in its way, damn near perfect, and I couldn’t estimate how many times I’ve read it, trying to figure out how he did it.

You’d think, then, that I’d love the Keller books. The first, Hit Man, was a collection of semi-linked shorts leading off with ‘Soldier.’ As individual pieces the stories are dandy, but they didn’t coalesce into a narrative. Hit List was a novel, and the rare Block that left me cold.

But Block is so good – and ‘Soldier’ so powerful – that I pounced on the third Keller outing. And I’m glad I did. It’s a strange hybrid of the two earlier books, linking shorter tales that this time do come together in a cohesive whole.

The centerpiece, the novella ‘Keller’s Adjustment,’ is a 9/11 story that’s also about Keller’s midlife crisis. The other stories vary in tone from the jet-black farce of ‘Keller the Dog-Killer’ to a bone-chilling coda. It took me a while to warm to Keller in long form, but Hit Parade does the trick. Still, if you want a proper introduction to the man, track down ‘Answers to Soldier.’ You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Movie: Impact (1949)

Here’s a dark little gem that deserves to be better known. The premise: the bored wife of a wealthy older man (Brian Donlevy) convinces her hot-to-trot lover to kill her husband.

Seen it before, right? Not like this, because the plan goes horribly wrong at the outset. That puts the focus on Donlevy, who adopts a vagabond life while allowing his scheming missus Helen Walker to twist in the wind. The story never goes the way you’d expect, right up to the closing scene. All that plus Theremin music, Anna May Wong, and the pride of Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, Ella Raines, in a proto-Princess Leia ‘do.

The smart script was written in part by Jay Dratler. He’s an unsung talent whose credits include Laura, Call Northside 777, and another movie that should have a bigger following, the hysterical 1945 Fred Allen comedy It’s in the Bag!

TV: Roast of William Shatner

I won’t go as far as Variety’s Brian Lowry and say that this dire Comedy Central special is a sign of a crisis in stand-up. I will say that the funniest bits were clips of the guest of honor’s song stylings, and I’d already seen those.

Miscellaneous: Link

The czar of noir Eddie Muller on why Double Indemnity – on DVD today at last – is the most important film in the genre.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Miscellaneous: Links

Ah, YouTube. What did busy bloggers do before you?

While fooling around with OnDemand over the weekend I discovered Harold Rosenbaum, Chartered Accountant Extreme. Here’s Chapter One: Audit of Evil.

Further adventures can be found here.

Matt at recently linked to this piece listing the ten best and ten worst science fiction TV show openings. That got me thinking. What’s the best TV opening of recent memory? Easy. Bruce Campbell’s short-lived series Jack Of All Trades. The episodes never lived up to the song, but a few of them came close.

When watching the credits, Rosemarie would always point out that Jack’s lady friend invented the sports bra.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Movie: Snakes On A Plane (2006)

Come on, people. Where else was I going to be this weekend?

I didn’t do the Thursday night show, which apparently was the way to go. But a good time is still to be had if you know where to sit. The key is to position yourself close to people who will get into the spirit of the thing. Talk back to the screen yourselves if you have to, just to get the party started.

The short review: If you’re inclined to see a movie called Snakes On A Plane, you shan’t be disappointed. If you’re not, don’t bother.

Unlike most people, I had decent expectations going in for one reason: SoaP was directed by David R. Ellis, who made Cellular. Regular readers know the high regard in which that movie is held around Chez K. I still say it’s one of the best movies of 2004.

Ellis knows how to bring it B-movie style. I would have preferred if the ending had gotten a little wilder. I would have sacrificed all the profanity-laden additional dialogue just to hear this line: “Get me a herpetologist!” And I wanted to see the villain who put the titular snakes onto the titular plane get his comeuppance. But that’s what novelizations are for.

Book: Lemons Never Lie, by Richard Stark (1971)

Another no-brainer. It’s Hard Case Crime and my spiritual uncle, Donald E. Westlake, writing the rare Stark caper that’s not about well-known hard case Parker. I wouldn’t mind reading more about this novel’s protagonist, Grofield, an actor who takes his craft so seriously that he refuses to perform before TV or film cameras. For him, it’s only the peculiar alchemy of the stage. But no one gets rich doing summer stock, so to support himself he pulls the occasional complex robbery. Anything for art. Novelist George Pelecanos had some interesting thoughts on the book when he sat in at Sarah Weinman’s Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind recently.

In other Hard Case news, here’s a personal first: I read their next reprint, Pete Hamill’s IRA thriller The Guns of Heaven, in its original publication some two decades ago. Further proof of my advancing years.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sort-Of Related: Samaritan, by Richard Price (2003)/Sea Of Love (1989)

Nobody writes about city life better than Richard Price. I bought a copy of Samaritan when it came out – and then left it in a glass case, to be read in the event of a literary emergency. I finally broke it out the other day, a sticker on the front proclaiming “Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year” like a gold star from some forgotten class.

I have my problems with EW, but the magazine got that one right. The latest of Price’s novels to be set in the fictional New Jersey burg of Dempsy (along with Clockers and Freedomland), the book is about a one-time ne’er-do-well who hits it big in Hollywood and returns home bent on making a difference. His best efforts bring out the worst in somebody. When he’s viciously beaten he refuses to tell the investigating detective, an old friend from childhood, who’s responsible.

The truth comes out in talk, glorious talk. Stories told by the characters, stories within those stories. Samaritan seems to meander along while it’s cutting a savage path to the heart.

Price has also had a stellar screenwriting career. His 1993 book 3 Screenplays is one of the most instructive on the craft of writing for the movies, because it includes the early versions of his scripts. Comparing these drafts to the finished product is a fascinating exercise in what Price calls “the negotiation,” rewriting work to make it appealing to a broad audience while still retaining some of its essence.

The book includes Price’s Oscar-nominated script for The Color of Money, as well as the 1992 remake of Night and the City. (If anybody should have written a movie with that title, it’s Price.) But Sea of Love is perhaps Price’s finest hour as a screenwriter, a thriller in which the suspense is more emotional than psychological.

Al Pacino’s New York detective is the quintessential Price character, a man “floating in the urban night ... looking for things.” When he says to a suspect in a murder case, “Please, talk to me,” he’s not simply after a confession. He’s desperate for some kind of connection.

Price’s script is studded with acutely observed details, wonderful off-hand moments between people, and a reference to Have Gun Will Travel that reduces me to hysterics every time. It’s also got a phrase I quote constantly. At a crime scene a record of the title song is playing, and Pacino immediately suspects a woman because “no one whips out their old 45s on anything but a first date, when you’re doing your whole ‘the wonder of me’ thing.”

It’s also a startlingly well-cast film. John Goodman as Pacino’s partner, Samuel L. Jackson and John Spencer in small roles.

And then, of course, there’s Ellen Barkin. We’ve all got our one big silver screen crush, someone we saw during those tender late adolescent years when key decisions are being made. For me, it’s Ellen Barkin, from Buckaroo Banzai through this movie. Yowza.

I watched Sea of Love again recently, and it’s still razor sharp. But Price’s original script – with an ending that’s subtler and more logical – is even better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Movie: Just Imagine (1930)

The things you find on TV in the dead of night. There amidst the infomercials I discovered, on the Fox Movie Channel, a science fiction musical from the team of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, who gave us “Sweet Georgia Brown.” It’s set in a future when people have numbers instead of names, commuting is done via aircar, and the government dictates marriages. The far-off year of ... 1980. (The notion of an actor being elected president in that year was too much even for musical comedy.)

The plot includes a man from 1930 revived to marvel at the wonders of the modern age, like liquor that comes in pill form. There’s also an expedition to Mars, which in this movie looks like a combination of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, the Emerald City of Oz, and New York’s Avenue B circa 1982. Give them credit on that last one; they were only off by two years.

This is where I’m supposed to say that Just Imagine is a treat, a charming relic from a bygone age. No dice. It was a chore to sit through. Only the sheer oddness of the movie kept me going. Even the songs are a disappointment.

The film’s star is Swedish dialect vaudeville comic El Brendel. I’d never heard of him either. His humor has dated somewhat, in that an electron microscope would be needed to detect it and even then the results would be sent to an independent lab for verification. I honestly don’t know how anyone could have found this guy funny. I know there was a Depression on, but it couldn’t have been as bad as all that.

The movie does look wonderful; the studio made its money back by recycling the footage in Buck Rogers serials and elsewhere.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Movie: Army of Shadows (1969)

I’ll keep this simple. Go, right now, to the Rialto Pictures website. See if this movie will be playing anywhere near you in the coming months. And then move heaven and earth to be there.

I have been waiting to see Jean-Pierre Melville’s French Resistance drama since April 28, when I read Manohla Dargis’ rave review in the New York Times. (That’s also at the Rialto Pictures website. Really, you should have gone there already.) Even if she hadn’t called it a masterpiece, I would have seen it. Melville may be my favorite filmmaker. His crime dramas are precision entertainments that also depict an entire philosophy of masculinity, one that embraces both grand gestures and hard choices. A few years ago Rialto reissued the full cut of Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge. Seeing it in a small theater on a blustery day, the clicking of the projector audible, the film’s autumnal palette matching that of the world outside, remains one of the high points of my movie-going life.

But Army of Shadows may be Melville’s crowning achievement. Never released in the United States until now, it features all the style, the tension, the sheer panache of his thrillers. But this time the stakes are as high as they can be. For every heart-stopping moment there’s a heartbreaking one, in which Melville says profound things about the human condition in the most dire of circumstances. An exchange of coats between two strangers. Or a scene in which a Resistance fighter, on a brief reprieve in London, ducks into a club during an air raid and realizes that the servicemen and women inside won’t stop dancing no matter where the bombs fall. Shades of that Kung Fu Monkey post I linked to the other day.

Shadows is the rare Melville film in which a woman plays a key role. And what a woman – Simone Signoret, keeping her efforts a secret from her own family.

Lino Ventura is hugely impressive in the lead. For years, I only knew the actor for his performance in The Medusa Touch, a godawful horror film that sold itself with a poster showing Richard Burton’s massive, craggy head beneath the word “Telekinesis.” (Anybody who believes in telekinesis, raise my hand.) Medusa is one of those movies cobbled together with international money, which means international casting. Which means there’s a scene explaining why Ventura, a French cop, is investigating cases for Scotland Yard.

But thanks to Rialto, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for Ventura, a one-time Greco/Roman wrestling champion. He’s been featured in three sterling crime dramas re-released by the company: Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, Elevator to the Gallows, and Classe Tous Risques. The first two of those films are now available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. So is Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge, for that matter. Do yourself a favor and watch them now.

If the pattern holds, Army of Shadows will be out in a deluxe edition soon enough. It certainly deserves to be. Let me continue to make this simple: Army of Shadows is not just the best movie I’ve seen this year, it’s the best I’ve seen in ages.

Update: Shame-Faced

Instead of a new post, a golden oldie from this site on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Miscellaneous: Current Events

In times of global upheaval I find myself turning, as I so often do, to the guy who co-wrote Catwoman. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kung Fu Monkey.

Now on to the usual crap I post around here ...

Miscellaneous: Spanking, New

It’s always a sign of desperation when a blogger blogs about blogging. But I am one desperate man. (By the way, blog has now joined smurf on the list of non-profane words that can be used as every part of speech.)

You never know what will bring people to your website. I make one passing reference to the hairstyle of American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler and it drives traffic for weeks.

The all-time winner for me, though, is a link I made back in March to the cover of Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott novel The Scrambled Yeggs. I get at least one hit per day based on that link, sometimes more, and lately the numbers have been going up. Maybe these visitors are hoping for fan fiction that explains why Shell is spanking a woman on the cover. They’d do better to read Prather’s book. Trust me, the scene is hilarious.

Still, I don’t want to lose that traffic. Therefore, I’m posting my own scan of the cover. Of a man spanking a woman. Perhaps I’d better repeat that, to make sure it turns up in all the search engines. An image of a man spanking a woman.

To all you spanktastic newcomers: Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

Miscellaneous: Links A’Plenty

Via Paul Herzberg, a collection of Star Trek inspirational posters. The idea is funnier than the execution, but what an idea.

Paul is now permanently ensconced on my links page. As is author Ray Banks and his spiffily redesigned The Saturday Boy.

I’ve also added the Film Noir Foundation to the roll of honor. Check ‘em all out.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

DVD: Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist

I’m finally starting to get the whole TV-on-DVD thing now that season one of this early Comedy Central hit has come to home video. And it only took eleven years. Squigglevision lives!

You’d think the show would have been rushed out well before now, considering the many top flight comedians who appeared as Dr. Katz’s patients. The first season alone features Dave Attell and Larry Miller, as well as multiple appearances by Ray Romano (who was offered a chance to become a regular but held off because of the slight possibility that CBS might give him his own sitcom). Their material still holds up. Miller on men’s sexual fantasies: “If women knew what we really thought, they would never stop slapping us.”

But the heart of the show was the relationship between Dr. Katz (Jonathan Katz) and his slacker son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin). Although I always loved the scenes where Ben flirted haplessly with his father’s secretary, voiced by Laura Silverman, sister of Sarah and late of HBO’s The Comeback.

The show has a uniquely beguiling effect. The minimal but expressive animation by Tom Snyder, the emphasis on rhythm instead of story (a typical plot: Ben wants to borrow the car), the jazz score, which is also by Snyder. It doesn’t have the feel of a cartoon so much as a great comic strip. The loose, giddy vibe makes it an ideal show to watch before turning off the TV at night.

YouTube has plenty of clips; people have been waiting a long time for this show to hit video. Here’s a good one from a later season: Dave Chappelle on superheroes.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Miscellaneous: Links

A few goodies for you while I keep my nose to the grindstone:

The Chronicle of Higher Education on the 50th anniversary of Peyton Place, a book that transformed the publishing and television industries, not to mention author Grace Metalious’ life.

The Believer offers a terrific interview with Steven Soderbergh. It includes all the questions I would have asked, like “What kind of porn do you watch?” and “What German word would you like to invent?” For the record, Schizopolis should have been as popular as sex, lies and videotape.

The interview comes via GreenCine Daily, which is still running its “Summer Question” series. Site guru David Hudson poses a different query each day to one of the web’s best film bloggers. Great stuff.

Things have come to a pretty pass when I’m linking to commercials. But that’s where you find some of the best acting on television. These Holiday Inn spots owe a lot to The Office, but they have a deadpan charm all their own. The ‘Unicycle’ ad is funnier than any comedy I’ve seen this year.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Movie: Wrong Is Right (1982)

All teenagers watch movies repeatedly. Only while my friends would revisit, say, Porky’s or Hardbodies, I’d follow a different drummer. I’d wander the halls of my high school spewing lines from The King of Comedy (“If they were any stronger, you’d hurt yourself. They’re marvelous, ya daffy bastard. Leave ‘em alone, they’re beautiful!”) and no one knew what the hell I was talking about. I’d defend myself by saying, “I’m like that guy in Diner who keeps quoting Sweet Smell of Success.”

To which my friends would reply: “You’re like that guy in what who keeps quoting who?”

Another of my cable staples was this Richard Brooks black comedy. I didn’t love it unreservedly; there were parts I didn’t like, other parts I didn’t get. But it was clearly about something, and it had a bracing cynicism that, to a kid doing time in a suburban high school, smacked of the real world.

I hadn’t thought about the movie in ages. Then it was singled out for praise in GreenCine’s primer on political films, which prompted me to mention my history with it. The ever-sharp-eyed Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, a true Richard Brooks fan, picked up on that, calling me a defender of the film. I wasn’t sure if that was case, but I owed it to my younger self to find out.

The movie is loosely based on a novel by Charles McCarry, a former CIA officer. Sean Connery stars as a showboating, globe-trotting cable news journalist covering a crisis in the Middle East. The cast is rounded out by plenty of familiar faces (George Grizzard, Henry Silva, Robert Webber, Leslie Nielsen, and a very young Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Is the movie any good? In some sense, no. The production was clearly strapped for cash. The opening minutes are lousy. The bombastic music score made my teeth itch. Brooks’ script is choppy and episodic. At times it’s difficult to tell what exactly is being satirized, while at other times the comedy is all too obvious. Robert (Baa Baa Black Sheep) Conrad plays General Wombat, the only wackily-named character in the film. If you’re going to go that route, have the courage of your convictions and slap everybody with an aptronym, a la Dr. Strangelove.

But if anything, Wrong Is Right is even more compulsively watchable now. Its hell-for-leather plot includes Islamic fundamentalist groups employing suicide bombers, an American president mulling a preemptive war in the Middle East and using “executive privilege” to classify conversations before they’re finished, the whole-scale politicization of foreign policy, everyone blaming the incompetence of the intelligence services, and an insatiable media stirring up a frenzy without any regard for the truth. All of it wrapped up with a disquieting scene set atop the World Trade Center and a climax that’s as black as they come.

It’s hard to believe that this movie was made almost 25 years ago, when the only enemy on the Reagan administration’s radar was the evil empire of the Soviet Union. It’s harder still to fathom that there was a time any of this material could have been played for laughs.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Movie: Miami Vice (2006)

Yes, Michael Mann’s film version of his ‘80s-defining TV series isn’t faithful to the original. There are no pastel linen suits, the characters wear socks, Sonny Crockett doesn’t live on a boat with an alligator, and at no point does he refer to the villains as “huckleberries.” More’s the pity; I have no doubt Colin Farrell could inject some genuine menace into the word.

Yes, the plot is shopworn. Yes, the two ridiculously charismatic leads don’t get a chance to demonstrate any chemistry because they’re constrained by the macho dictates of the script.

But this is a Michael Mann movie. Which means yes, the opening frames whip up an atmosphere of danger, simultaneously intense and inviting, that never relents. And yes, it looks incredible. Mann and his Collateral cinematographer Dion Beebe again use digital technology to capture extraordinary images. A gunfight in darkness, the camera flares like bullets. A shot of a boat racing toward a horizon so solid that you’ll be convinced that the world is flat – and so beautiful that you’d happily sail over the edge.

And yes, there are some of us who would forsake any and all superpowers for the chance to hop into that boat and head for Cuba, mojitos, and Gong Li. Screw flying and controlling the weather.

So in a word, yes.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Movie: Clerks 2 (2006)

A genuinely pleasant surprise. Kevin Smith’s follow up to the movie that put him on the map is, as expected, impressively raunchy and filled with dense, hyperactive talk. But the saga of Dante and Randal ten years later is also sweet in its own twisted way. What’s more, it spells out a message about life and expectations in a service economy that frequently crops up in books and blogs, but is seldom heard in movies. All that and a musical number to boot. Nice work, lunchbox.

I want all the available footage of Rosario Dawson dancing to the Jackson 5 on the DVD. I don’t care if there’s four hours of it. (Then again, we’re talking about Kevin Smith here. Everything goes on his DVDs.) I like how the clean-and-sober Jay sounds like Peppermint Patty’s friend Marcie.

Trevor Fehrman walks off with the movie as the kid who’s into Jesus and the Transformers in equal measure. The other day at the gym some joker put on The Transformers soundtrack. I had to work out while listening to ‘The Touch,’ also known as Dirk Diggler’s would-be breakout hit in Boogie Nights. Considering the amount of pain, there’d better have been commensurate gain, that’s all I can say.

Miscellaneous: The YouTube Relic of the Day

Years ago, I made peace with the fact that I would probably never see Otto Preminger’s Skidoo, so the trailer, via BoingBoing, will have to suffice. The movie’s about ... why not let Sammy Davis, Junior, Frank Gorshin and Dr. Timothy Leary explain?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

TV: I Wanted My MTV

MTV is 25 years old today, placing it well out of its current demographic. Now it knows how the rest of us feel. Play some damn videos already!

We didn’t have cable when the network debuted. It had been up and running for some time before I finally saw it at a friend’s house after school, back in the days when you could score free Showtime by jamming toothpicks into the back of the converter box. Rosemarie had it worse. Queens wasn’t wired for cable until – actually, if recent events are any indication, it may still not be. She had to rely on NBC’s Friday Night Videos to get her music television fix.

VH1 Classic is marking the occasion by rebroadcasting MTV’s first day. Finally a chance to catch up on those Cliff Richard videos you may have missed. But no period ads? I’m disappointed.

I won’t link to ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by the Buggles. That’s too easy. (The second video aired on MTV, for those scoring at home, was ‘You Better Run’ by Pat Benatar.) Instead, here’s my tribute to the network that transformed my youth: the first video that I ever saw on MTV, over at the Petersons’ place. I give you ‘Yellow Pearl,’ by Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.