Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rourke's drift

Mickey Rourke's wobbly comeback trail is the focus of a good profile in The New York Times; the author, Pat Jordan, lets us know that the actor's stories may have a familiar ring to them as he works the interview circuit hustling The Wrestler, catches him out in a few lies, and tries to make sense of Rourke's unfathomable choices. (Whatever the truth of his boxing career, it destroyed his soft good looks, which are only barely discernible under what looks to be scar tissue and fumbled reconstructive surgery. He's the "before" of Johnny Handsome, permanently, and it's painful to look at him.) On the other hand, it's hard to blame him for turning down a few plum movies, as Jordan does: I can see him in 48 Hrs., Pulp Fiction, Platoon, and Tombstone, but Rain Man? The Silence of the Lambs? Beverly Hills Cop? Top Gun? Even if these scripts started out more his speed I can't picture him comfortably cast in any of them. This kind of can-you-believe-this-guy-turned-that-down incredulity is a staple of profiles of hardluck actors like Rourke; in his case, I think he has enough to answer for without reeling in the ones that got away.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A T-day tradition continues

A nostalgic All That Chat post yesterday reminded me of how much I enjoyed NY Channel 9's "King Kong Thanksgivings", with a triple-header of the original Kong, The Son of Kong, and the offshoot Mighty Joe Young providing the perfect antidote to football. It seemed to have petered out sometime in the 80s, after a 10-year run that enlivened a decade's worth of holidays for me. Fox Movie Channel is showing all the Apes movies and TV shows this weekend, which, while hugely enjoyable in their own right, aren't quite the same thing.

So, in scanning my parents' TV last night, I beat my chest in triumph to discover that the Tri-State area tradition has migrated to the MonstersHD channel, which we don't get on weak-ass Time Warner Cable in Brooklyn. All three movies, plus the limp 1976 remake and a Godzilla picture, were being aired in primetime, and the few minutes of the original Kong I caught looked spiffy in high definition. Too bad the King of New York is without a convenient berth for me, but perhaps TW can be prevailed upon to restore him to his proper place.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bad kids at Lincoln Center

Saying to hell with all that sentimental holiday crap, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is letting kids go wild this weekend, with a "Problem Child" fest from Nov. 28-30. I guess Christina Crawford could be a real brat sometimes, but isn't Mommie Dearest more of a problem adult picture? In any event, the protagonists of The Exorcist (1973 version), Brian De Palma's masterfully choreographed The Fury (with Amy Irving on hand for a Q&A), and the original, accept-no-substitutes versions of The Bad Seed, The Omen and Village of the Damned defy child services and Ritalin. Child hater W.C. Fields would approve of the well-chosen lineup of junor reprobates, which also includes The Innocents and The Other, and the non-supernatural Compulsion and The Children's Hour. Pictured is Larissa, three months old today, in scary baby mode.

RIP John Michael Hayes, Gerald Schoenfeld

Hayes, 89, was a two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter, for Peyton Place (1957) and more indelibly Rear Window (1954)--he added Grace Kelly's character to Cornell Woolrich's original short story. His four-film association with Alfred Hitchcock foundered over money and credit, but To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much endure from the director's golden period in part because of Hayes' deft scripting. Other credits included the stage-to-screen The Matchmaker (1958) and The Children's Hour (1961). His Peyton Place association made him a go-to guy for sex-splashed bestseller translations, so BUtterfield 8 (1960), The Carpetbaggers (1964, plus its Western prequel, 1966's Nevada Smith), and 1965's Where Love Has Gone also flowed from his pen.

Schoenfeld was said to be Broadway's most powerful person, and with a formidable battery of theaters (17 strong in New York) at his disposal it's hard to dispute that. (The theater named in his honor in 2005, the former Plymouth, is currently housing the revival of All My Sons.) Shows he backed included Amadeus, Dreamgirls, Cats, and Sunday in the Park with George. He was 84, and outlived his New York Times obituarist Mel Gussow.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Popdose presents "Our Favorite Singles of the Last 50 Years". Well, no one asked the movie guy for his picks, but they did let me comment on two, which have generated a little commentary of their own. A diverting list for holidays consumption.

Another list: Cahiers du Cinema's Top 100 films. It's in French, but you'll get the gist. No. 1 is pictured.

Everything you wanted to know about the director of 1959's Teenagers from Outer Space, including, "What was Teenagers from Outer Space?" Tom Graeff was a compelling personality beyond his toehold in cultdom.

Science fiction into science fact: Ray guns debut in Iraq. But it's not really a ray gun unless it melts your face.

Michael Crichton rolls over in his grave. Did we learn nothing from Jurassic Park?

League of Independent Theater forms

This came in over the transom:

A team of prominent independent theater artists and producers proudly announce the creation of The League of Independent Theater, Inc. (LIT), a membership-based advocacy group and business league representing New York’s City Off-Off Broadway community.

The mission of LIT is to promote the economic and artistic interests of its members, ensuring that independent theater remains economically viable for its practitioners. The organization will advocate on behalf of the decades-old tradition of Off-Off Broadway theater.

Membership in LIT is open to any artist, company or technician working in theaters of 99 seats or less in New York City who can demonstrate participation in a minimum of three productions. Theater service organizations serving Off-Off Broadway are encouraged to apply.

Says LIT Executive Director John Clancy, an acclaimed director and Off-Off Broadway veteran who co-founded the New York International Fringe Festival: “I haven’t been as enthused and optimistic about an organization since the early days of the Fringe. Our members are entrepreneurs, business-savvy, and wildly creative. Our job is simply to harness that remarkable energy and effect real change in our territory.”

LIT’s priorities include:
1) Achieving substantive, meaningful changes to the Actors’ Equity Showcase Code to respond to the needs of the independent theater community.
2) Advocating for the establishment and preservation of Off-Off Broadway venues and rehearsal spaces, including lobbying for arts-friendly amendments to the building and tax codes and developing industry-enhancing relationships with real estate developers and interests.
3) Increasing funding from grant-giving organizations as well as supporting the campaigns of public officials who actively promote the independent theater community.

LIT is organized to qualify as a 501(c)(6) business league in order to engage in advocacy and lobbying for its members, without the lobbying limits applicable to 501(c)(3) organizations.

LIT’s Executive Director: John Clancy, Executive Artistic Director, Clancy Productions

LIT’s board of directors includes:
Paul Bargetto, Director, East River Commedia
Martin Denton, Executive Director, The New York Theatre Experience, Inc.
Shay Gines, Executive Director, The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation
Michael Goldfried, Director
Robert Honeywell, Co-Artistic Director of Brick Theater
Leonard Jacobs, Theater Critic, New York Press
Abby Marcus, Managing Director, Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company
John Pinckard, Producer
Moira Stone, Actor
Erez Ziv, Co-Founder/Managing Director, Horse Trade Theater Group

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"More like this"

The New York Times has a Sunday Magazine story about Netflix's $1 million contest to improve how it hooks up customers with other titles based on their personal preferences. With almost the maximum 500 movies in my queue I really don't need anymore, thank you very much--it may take me the rest of my life to get through those--but I decided to see how their present recommendations system is doing.

No. 4 in my queue: Tropic Thunder

"More like this": Be Kind Rewind, Pauly Shore is Dead, Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny, Nobody Knows Anything.

Assessment: Two Jack Black flops. If only Pauly Shore were dead (cinematically speaking, of course). And I've never heard of Nobody Knows Anything, a Hollywood farce suggested by William Goldman's Hollywood dictum. But it's in line with Tropic Thunder's spoofery.

Action: No rental. Wag the Dog might be a better suggestion.

No. 17: Snow Angels (pictured)

"More like this": All the Real Girls, Little Children, The Squid and the Whale, Punch-Drunk Love.

Assessment: I'm not getting a Punch-Drunk Love or Squid vibe from my eventual rental. But Little Children, and a prior film of the director's, are in the ballpark.

Action: Closer. David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express would be an interesting juxtaposition but the system may not make that kind of leap.

No. 138: Mikey and Nicky

"More like this": Opening Night, The Cheap Detective, Undisputed, Columbo: Murder, A Self-Portrait

Assessment: John Cassavetes' Opening Night, another "prior film by", is right on the money. (Interesting that these come up first.) But co-star Peter Falk in safer roles doesn't compute. And the prison-set boxing picture Undisputed is just bewildering.

Action: If I hadn't seen it before I would have put Opening Night in my queue. The system was wonky on the others, though.

No. 289: Gypsy (Bette Midler version)

"More like this": A Star is Born (1954), Funny Girl, Isn't She Great, The Five Heartbeats.

Assessment: The two classic musicals, spotlighting two big talents, are appropriate--why not the 1962 Rosalind Russell version, however? A lackluster Midler bio-pic is insufficient; how about The Rose to segue from Mama Rose? The Five Heartbeats is another oddity, as if a racial quota needs to be fulfilled.

Action: Off note.

No. 441: The Wayward Cloud

"More like this": In the Mood for Love, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, What Time is it There?, The Hole

Assessment: If I ever get to this acclaimed Taiwanese drama, these are good recommendations, all but one by the same director. Auteurism in practice.

Action: I'll take I Don't Want to Sleep Alone.

For a million dollars I wouldn't add most of these to my queue based on the present system, but it did come through for me in one instance, or 20 percent of the time. I think movie-watching patterns may defy any computerized categorization. But it's better than Amazon's terminally daft recommendations.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Popdose: Fun and games

In which I invite you to list your filmic favorites letter-by-letter, finally respond to Neil Sarver at The Bleeding Tree with some double feature pairings, and recommend some ho-ho-horror for Christmas.

RIP Irving Gertz

I love Universal's creature features from the 50s, but admit that they're not always as exciting as this poster. (They come closer than a lot of bait-and-switch movies, though.) But the composer, who died last week at age 93, did what he could to help enliven the sci-fi atmosphere, and had numerous credits from other genres on his resume besides. The New York Times obit is a little snide, but somewhat at the Gray Lady must be a monster fan for him to get some ink.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plays: Seventies revivals

Lumbering across the stage of the Belasco, a star-powered mounting of David Mamet's American Buffalo is facing extinction on Sunday. Safe with better reviews, and playing through Jan. 11, is a tense Roundabout staging of David Rabe's Streamers Off Broadway. Brought to you via Live Design magazine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good Filth

I feel a little guilty recommending a film about a self-appointed moral guardian who campaigned against the BBC broadcasting Doctor Who and Magical Mystery Tour, and Monty Python's Flying Circus, but the "Masterpiece Contemporary" production of Filth manages to be good fun. It's a tart, fact-based comedy, in the vein of the madam movie Personal Services, which also starred Julie Walters. The show is unthinkable without Walters' stonily amusing portrayal of Mary Whitehouse, a prim, but genuinely caring, Christian so deeply offended by the Beeb's boundary-stretching tea time programming she mobilizes a grassroots campaign against it, putting her in the crosshairs of BBC director-general Hugh Greene. Just as the movie is too generous toward Whitehouse--who in so militantly rejecting the revolutions of the Sixties as they washed over Britain became a minor celebrity herself, parodied on the programs she railed against, name-checked or referred to in Pink Floyd and Deep Purple songs heard on the soundtrack, and allegedly inspiring Dame Edna Everage--it makes more of a monster of the progressive Greene than is absolutely necessary. He's swinishly portrayed by Hugh Bonneville as an uncaring opportunist: Not only is he deeply loathed by the more traditional writers and documentarians at the BBC (who retaliate by leaking controversial scripts to Whitehouse), but he ignores the firebrands who are giving him the controversy-creating material he craves.

There were more colors to both these adversaries, who "meet" in an outlandish dream sequence as Whitehouse contemplates giving up her crusade. And the film stops well short of Whitehouse's nutter phase, when she took her prejudices to court. But the comedy-etched portrayals by the two performers are in sync with the not-too-serious, not-too-flippant tone taken by writer Amanda Coe and director Andy DeEmmony, and it did get me thinking about the issue from the other side. (It bothers me how much vulgarity has seeped into the so-called "family viewing hour" of 8-9pm.) There is, in addition, a delightful supporting performance by Alun Armstrong as Whitehouse's patience-stretched spouse, Ernest; watch how he quietly breaks the news to Mary that she might reconsider the name of her group, Clean Up National TV, based on its acronym. Filth re-airs late tonight/early Thursday at 1:15am EST on PBS...with a few dirty words blipped out by our own censors.

RIP Clive Barnes

The highest compliment you can pay any professional is to be able to say that he died with his boots on, and so it goes with the New York Post's theater and dabce critic, last spotted on Broadway taking in the revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow in late October. Barnes was at the Post for 30 years, and his was a familiar byline when I was growing up. (Prior to that, he was at the Times, also writing about theater and dance, his great passion.) I frequently saw him on the aisle when I started to write about theater in the mid-90s, and it was good to see a member of the old guard still plying his trade. (More caustic appraisals of his actual aptitude can be found on the All That Chat site. Everyone's a critic.) In a contracting market for print criticism it's hard to imagine any of today's scribes enjoying Barnes' longevity at his desk.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Real World encounters

MTV's The Real World, which bowed in 1992, has reached legal drinking age in terms of numbers of seasons, and is spending its 21st here in Brooklyn. This is another one of those pop phenoms I've never paid much attention to, but over the last two weeks it's been filming at my gym (the Sunday before last, when it was empty, and last night, when it was packed to the rafters after work). The show carries a small, and relatively unobtrusive, unit, just a cameraman, a sound man, someone taking notes, and the star, or stars: A compactly built fellow, and another, similarly proportioned guy hanging with him, neither of them looking transgendered, as one of the real world-ers is this time around. (I can't believe it took this long for the show, which has its progressive side, to go there.) I'm guessing the kid with the telegenic reddish blonde hair is the subject, and the brown-haired boy his water carrier, best friend, lover, clone, co-star, or some combination of all five. (Live with someone in a TV bubble for six months and it gets complicated in the real world.)

From where I was watching--and the other patrons weren't paying too much heed--there wasn't a lot going on besides their exercise routines. No drinking, cursing, or making out, staples of the program. I thought about smacking one of them upside the head with a barbell, or barging in and saying I was a long-lost father who needed a kidney transplant--unless something was being hotly discussed I can't imagine much of this getting airtime otherwise. But I decided to keep it Real, and may have to content myself with a cameo appearance when the show airs early next year.

I Am Curious, Godzilla

Toho Studios is notoriously litigious regarding its biggest export, even cracking down on a Manhattan sushi joint that was advertising a "Godzilla roll." So what did I just see on HGTV a few minutes ago? A clip of Godzilla, with a yellow tail...part of a commercial for [yellow tail] wine. I assume this was a sanctioned use, or else the Oz wine maker will have some explaining to do. But really--is that what Toho thinks is OK for its monster icon? Push alcohol on the shelter crowd? At least the G-shaped sushi had a Japanese accent.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Olivia de Havilland, Stan Lee, and the Sherman Brothers are medalists. The 92-year-old de Havilland adds to her two Oscars.

(No honors for this blogger as he cranks out his 501st post, by the way--which sounds impressive, till I add that my blogging friends turn out 500 communiques before breakfast.)

Bond breaks records, Cashill sits it out. Sorry, James--baby (not babe) to take care of. We'll catch up over Thanksgiving.

Something I'll likely just read about: A Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute to the late critic Manny Farber, ongoing through Nov. 26. Still time to see I Walked with a Zombie, His Girl Friday, and other Farber faves.

The French thriller Tell No One is the biggest foreign-language hit of 2008. Too bad it took two years to cross the pond, and the take is on the low side. But it does show that there's market for genre pictures from other countries, not just prestige titles.

Crummy two-composer score rejected by Academy. Not for reasons of taste or quality, though I would've voted on those grounds. Two + hours of electronic droning equals double trouble. I had the same beef with Batman Begins.

(Reversal of fortune: It's in contention again.)

What I'm screening at my next movie group meeting.

Sneak preview of The Furies:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Popdose: A Life in Bond-age

Expanding on a post here, I take Popdose on a tour of my 007 addiction, from format to format, with a few observations along the way. Always say always, again and again, as Bond 22, Quantum of Solace, opens today. We're golden.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ink on Penn

From Nov. 14-23 Anthology Film Archives is showcasing a retrospective on director Arthur Penn, who regrettably has not made a feature film in 20 years but whose signature credits are indelible. I don't think he pulled off the artily stylized The Left-Handed Gun (1958), with the late Paul Newman (seems weird to write that), or Mickey One (1965), with Warren Beatty as a desperate nightclub comic, but the films are there for the viewing. More to my liking--and, really, if you don't appreciate these, you don't really love movies--are his superbly acted adaptation of the late William Gibson's The Miracle Worker (1962), with the Oscar-winning Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, the ground-breaking Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and the ironic epic Little Big Man (1970). Not far behind is the hippie requiem Alice's Restaurant (1969). Off to the side is the Lillian Hellman-scripted The Chase (1966), with Marlon Brando absorbing much punishment as a Southern sheriff, backed by a rising-star cast including Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. My personal favorite is the profoundly moral mystery Night Moves (1975), one of Gene Hackman's finest hours. ATA has it this Sunday, next Tuesday, and Sunday Nov. 23.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lives in the balance

The sands of time are clearly running out on NBC's venerable Days of Our Lives, which started airing daily not long after I was born. Variety reports that the soap has been picked up for another 18 months, a sharp drop-off from the previous five-year commitment.

Not having watched it, I can't say I'd miss it, but I will miss having soaps around when they eventually die out in daytime. I remember watching the Dark Shadows (sexed-up and brought into the present as HBO's True Blood) at my mother's knee when I was just a tot, and later Another World, Days, and General Hospital, which I absorbed passively when I was growing up. I remember when Another World, my mom's then-favorite, expanded to an epic 90 minutes, back when the genre reigned supreme. And I also remember, for nostalgia's sake, watching its final episode in 1999, where the characters sang to a man-in-suit gorilla that had abducted one of their own--a coffin nail in a format that had adopted gimmick after gimmick to stay alive, if not relevant.

Mom's favorite, still on top of a collapsing heap, is CBS' The Young and the Restless. It's a traditionalist show, one that keeps (reasonably) sober storylines going for months (years) at a time, and has kept abreast of cultural change. (I did watch it for some of my college years.) The same cannot be said for General Hospital, which piled ridiculous plot on top of ridiculous plot after its "Luke and Laura" heyday in the early 80s, and Days, which went full-tilt gonzo in the mid- to-late 90s, inspiring my indignant aunt to write letter after letter protesting ludicrous, supernatural- and sci-fi-tinged storylines that pulled in teenage girls during the school's-out summer but left the older base shaking their heads the rest of the seasons. I take it that both have pulled back from wretched excess, but I imagine it's too late: With little audience left to take them seriously anymore, the soaps, which accompanied pleasant childhood memories for me, are living on borrowed time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Unseen Conquest to air on FMC

I've written about J. Lee Thompson's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the most disturbing of the five Apes films, before. A more violent, and smoother-flowing, pre-release cut is available exclusively on a new Blu-ray set of the films, but if you haven't gone Blu, no need to be blue--this variant will air on the Fox Movie Channel during an Apes-a-thon set for Thanksgiving, according to a post on the Mobius Home Video Forum. FMC's slow-loading online schedule has gone bananas on me; still, I'll be tuning in.

The Maestro at 80

I feel like I'm always burying people here--you're just not dead till you've died on this blog--but today I celebrate a milestone: The 80th birthday of composer Ennio Morricone, who's still going strong, with a score or two in the can and Brian De Palma's prequel to The Untouchables in the works. I have that Oscar-nominated masterpiece on CD, along with the awesome Once Upon a Time in the West and a good collection, Cinema Paradiso: The Classic Film Music of Ennio Morricone, that pulls in that film, The Mission, and numerous others. Video WatchBlog's Tim Lucas has penned a fine appreciation, that is best enjoyed to the accompaniment of Morricone music. Here he is receiving his honorary Oscar at the 2007 ceremony.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

RIP John Daly

The "Dale" in the Hemdale company, co-founded with actor David Hemmings, he had a hand in notable films of every caliber in his heyday and helped get the careers of Oliver Stone (Salvador and Platoon) and James Cameron (The Terminator) off the ground. Platoon and The Last Emperor swept through the 1987 and 1988 Oscar ceremonies, then he drifted into directing on the margins of the indie scene. I haven't seen any of those films, but the Hemdale name in the opening credits usually implied something interesting to follow, and my 80's moviegoing was uplifted by his best-known pictures and a variety of others he produced, including Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Strange Behavior, Vice Squad, The Falcon and the Snowman, The Return of the Living Dead, At Close Range, Best Seller, Miracle Mile, and Vampire's Kiss. Maybe it's not my age, or a hardening of my critical faculties; movies really were better 20 or so years ago.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tearing up Pajamas

Hey, kid, don't get too comfortable in that swing. Manohla Dargis wants a word with you. Much as I like co-stars David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga, I have no desire to see them in the Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which she eviscerates like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. in today's Times. It comes off as sub-Life is Beautiful, if such a thing as possible, and as with the upcoming Valkyrie I'm dubious about being asked to empathize with members of the Third Reich. But scornfully laying out the entire plot to put off viewers is Gestapo tactics, and I imagine the filmmakers and distributor Miramax are furious. I respect Dargis' passion, even when our tastes don't coincide, but all is not fair in love and war. Compare her elephant gun reaction to Joe Morgenstern's deftly wielded scalpel in the Wall Street Journal--he finds some pros as the movie sinks into an abyss of cons. Not that she had to find some merit in the picture, but her shouting comes off as hysterical, and there are more subtle ways to convey disdain for the storyline. Perhaps having to review this and Madagascar 2 in the same week was too much to bear.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Dear customer...

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Cult Camp Classics 4--Historical Epics (The Colossus of Rhodes/Land of the Pharaohs/The Prodigal) have also purchased The Capitalist on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that The Capitalist is now available.

James Stein works for The International Advisory Board. James Stein is auditing war profiteers. James Stein loves his job. James Stein loves his girlfriend. James Stein loves himself. James Stein is horrible in bed. James Stein is horrible at life. James Stein goes postal."

Well, it's possible that folks who ordered the camp historical epics may have also ordered The Capitalist, but they're unlikely to have done so because they ordered the Sergio Leone/Howard Hawks/Lana Turner triptych. Watching Land of the Pharaohs, a big screen picture from the 50s with pyramids and treasure and Joan Collins, isn't necessarily going to put me in the mood for an obscure, no-star satire about a guy named James Stein who's bad in bed. Keep trying, Amazon, but no sale this time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

RIP Michael Crichton

By the early 90s, the novelist and filmmaker was indeed "The Hit Man", but I preferred him more toward the start of his career, when good, sober-minded books like The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man yielded good, sober-minded movies. Later, conservative-cranky potboilers including Rising Sun and Disclosure made for flashy, forgettable films, but such is the career of a "hit man," whose multimillion deals received more awestruck notices than his bestsellers. By then, I wasn't reading him much: The gap between his ideas and his storytelling had grown precipitously over the years, and while the books are harder-edged Jurassic Park and The Lost World are infinitely better experienced on the screen than on the page.

When it was narrower, however, the results were thought-provoking entertainment. He became a filmmaker himself and scored a hit with his first theatrical feature, the delightful Westworld (1973), a pre-Jurassic Park highlighted by Yul Brynner's pre-Terminator android take on his iconic Magnificent Seven gunslinger. (I think it was Westworld, which tickled me at an impressionable age when I had just been to Disney World for the first time, that gave him his foothold in the Western movie pantheon.) He brought his medical training to bear on 1978's creepy Coma, improving on Robin Cook's novel, and giving Genevieve Bujold a memorably plucky heroine part. 1979's The Great Train Robbery was a successful switch to period, and a favorite con-man picture of mine, with Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down deft in the leads.

Too much California sun, or an overactive eye for the ladies (he was married five times), gave 1981's models-in-jeopardy scenario Looker a distinct squint--the ideas-to-execution ratio was really out of whack, zooming toward camp, but it amused me and my high school friends when it reached cable. 1984's Runaway is a watchably silly sci-fi concoction with Gene Simmons commanding killer "robot spiders," exasperating future cop Tom Selleck. These technology-run-amuck scripts lack conviction, and afterwards he was pretty much content to farm out the adaptations to others. A return to his roots, via ER, proved massively successful, and gave the hit man a hit that is only now just winding down. His assassin-in-training days were for me his best and most influential, however, though his fertile mind and prolific pen offered something for everyone.

The Manchurian president

For the last hour, cheers of joy have been erupting throughout Brooklyn. I hear fireworks in the distance. Our president-elect has begun to speak, and we are enjoying his speech--on Fox News, whose commentators have been struck dumb at the utter collapse of the Republican party tonight. Let us toast to the architect of its destruction. I speak not of Barack Obama but the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, who has overseen a dismantling of his brethren so thorough and complete he might be mistaken for an agent of the Democrats.

Unless you've been to the movies recently, you haven't seen much of the decider-in-chief. I basically stopped paying attention to him after the Katrina disaster three years ago. I laugh, then cringe, when David Letterman uses his latest malapropism as the punchline to his great moments in presidential history bit, following the profundities of a Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson. I did not, could not, vote for him. I had to learn to live with the constant embarrassment he represented, as if my country had a chronic gas condition I would rather not talk about. It was a long haul over the last eight years, and the notion of having to put up with four years of Bush-in-drag, Sarah Palin, was too much to bear. The party of Lincoln had lost its mind and the psychosis promised to go national. (John McCain, old, sputtering, a good American enfeebled by partisanship, would sooner rather than later have been a non-person in his own presidency, overrun by events and the radical rightists he invited, vampire-like, into the race, much as the spineless Bush ceded his authority to the dread Dick Cheney.)

But it didn't happen. It all came down to one word: Coattails. Bush left none. And in leaving none, he rendered his party irrelevant. Yes, the Fox fraternity will find its voice, and will likely coalesce around Palin, till even they realize she is a hopeless case, one whose every utterance empowers and mobilizes the opposition. How different it might have been had McCain picked Romney, a stable ticket that might have endured the economic meltdown. But Bush forced the alleged maverick into Palin's caribou embrace. With the party fraying badly over the ruinous Iraq campaign, a host of nagging domestic issues requiring innovation rather than platitudes, and the various presidential missteps, the "base" is basically the fearful, fear-mongering evangelicals, who see this multicultural country--one finally governed by a member of a minority, one that will be non-white in my infant daughter's lifetime--as one big Alaska, waiting for the rapture.

Change will not come quickly, or easily, Socially, the paleo-Palins stlll hold sway on divisive issues. Our president-elect has his hands tied by Bush's errors and the venality of his administration. We all do. But Bush's poor example served as a true catalyst for change. He says he is content to let history judge him, so let the record show that he paved the way for the historic moment that the entire world is rejoicing in, after the understandable dismay fellow nations felt over our conduct post-9/11. Thank you, President George W. Bush: Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Make a little girl happy

And do as she says: Fight the power...and vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008


"We think it makes sense for us to focus on delivering great movie rentals to you by mail and instantly. So, we are going to stop selling previously viewed DVDs," read an e-mail I received today from Netflix. Now, Netflix wasn't the cheapest source of "PVDVDs"--you can get used and new ones for a few bucks, even pennies, on Amazon if you tough it out long enough--but its service was as always impeccable, and you knew that what you were getting was going to play, which you don't always know when you bargain-hunt at neighborhood video stores. I have till the end of the month to stock up. I just hope Netflix, which has been taking a beating recently, doesn't expand into web delivery too hastily, before the bugs are worked out, like the exasperating Blu-ray format. In any case, the notification was signed "Your friends at Netflix." Sheesh--with friends like these...

Fonda, stage right

I'll believe it when I see it--Annette Bening was a no-show last season--but Jane Fonda, a Tony nominee in the early 60s, is set to make her Broadway return in a new play by The Laramie Project's Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations, which bowed at Arena Stage and played the La Jolla Playhouse in April. The L.A. Times review was a bit of a hedge--"a beautifully wrought Lifetime special for philharmonic regulars"--but Fonda, a spiky 70, will at least be more comfortable up there than Julia Roberts or Katie Holmes. Maybe she can warm up by taking over from Estelle Parsons in August: Osage County; given plenty of Fonda family dysfunction to draw from, she'd kill in the part (seriously, if she gets the role of cantankerous Viola Weston in the movie, she'll win her third Oscar). Here she is the 1985 stage-to-screen adaptation Agnes of God.

Help The Civilians mobilize

The Civilians' production Brooklyn at Eye Level is taking shape, and if you're a neighbor with something to say about the Atlantic Yards project they'd like to hear from you. Here's what to do:

"The Civilians want to hear from you. Brooklyn is changing fast. We are creating Brooklyn at Eye Level, a theater show inspired by interviews about the transformation of Brooklyn and the controversial Atlantic Yards Project. If you have something to say about the communities surrounding the proposed project (Downtown, Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights & Park Slope), we want to listen. We want to talk to long-term residents, recent arrivals, players in the Atlantic Yards story, as well as those who work or live in the area. Eager to hear from all perspectives.

If you want to be interviewed send us an email with a little information about yourself to Michael Premo, Project Coordinator: Premo(at)thecivilians(dot)org. For more information: . These interviews will be performed along with original music and dance by Urban Bush Women live at the Brooklyn Lyceum, December 4th – 7th. "

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Nazi superheroes

The no-swastikas poster is careful not to tip its hat, but what Tom Cruise's kill-Hitler movie Valkyrie is clearly suggesting is that these costumed guys, allied against "evil," are historical X-Men. The iconography is comic-book movie marketing, as if these "good" Nazis are equivalent to the Marvel crusaders and Superman, the stars of director Bryan Singer's previous pictures. I don't know if it works or not--the trailer, where Cruise's non-accent sounds more like Berlin, CT, than Berlin, Germany, isn't much more than mundane--but the blurring between superheroes and fascists in the studio mindset is revealing. It's also interesting that Singer, who took on the Third Reich and neo-Nazi tendencies in 1998's Apt Pupil, is mining the territory again for a nostalgic right vs. wrong saga. Stuff that in your stocking for Christmas.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Noises off

Theater die-hards are still debating the consequences of introducing microphones and amplified sound to the stage, a done deal it would seem to me here in the 21st century. But it could come undone if this Federal Communications Commission item is passed. Left to her own limited devices I'm not sure Katie Holmes can grate any more loudly than she does in All My Sons. From PR sent yesterday:

"Actors wear wireless microphones that transmit on frequencies soon to be compromised by consumer devices. Without publishing proposed rules and allowing public discourse, the FCC, pressured by leading technology firms, will vote on this issue on November 4, 2008: Election Day. The FCC’s own engineers’ report demonstrates that the technology in place to prevent interference is ineffective.

The Broadway League has asked the FCC to refrain from voting to approve new devices that will transmit in the “white space” radio spectrum, currently occupied by wireless microphones. Wireless microphones are an essential tool of the live performance industry, used in the daily operations of countless theatres and non-profit performance venues, sports arenas, and concert halls across the country.

These comments were filed in response to the FCC’s announcement that it will vote on an order potentially opening the white spaces to portable internet devices employing spectrum sensing technology intended to prevent interference with wireless microphones. However, a preliminary review of an FCC engineers’ report issued on October 15, 2008 demonstrates repeated failures of spectrum sensing to recognize wireless transmissions. While regulations that include reference to spectrum sensing technology would rely on unproven technology, the FCC may forge ahead and adopt new rules without allowing interested parties any prior opportunity to ensure the Commission took adequate steps to address the needs of all wireless microphone users.

Theatres in urban areas are at particular risk because the complex radio environment is beyond any measure of control. Not only is the quality of the performances at risk, but also the safety of all who work in these venues will be compromised. Accordingly, sound engineers will have no way to locate or report the source of interference should a portable device disrupt a live performance.

The Broadway League believes any action on this issue is premature. However, should the FCC go forward with new regulations at this time, they strongly urge the Commission to recognize incumbent white space users and, at the very minimum, employ basic protections to address the needs of Broadway. The Broadway League has been working with theatres across the country to help get the message to the FCC of the many consequences of a hasty decision. This week it also reached out to the Commission with an ad campaign (see attached) to help bring attention to the serious situation this premature vote creates.

The New York City Council recently adopted a Resolution urging the FCC to open a formal comment period on its engineers’ report before putting the issue to a vote and to allocate sufficient channels for current wireless microphone users.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney echoed the City Council’s sentiments and said, “The FCC should not be trying to rush this decision out the door this way in the closing days of this administration without adequate public comment. This action puts the theatre industry at risk.”

Nina Lannan, chairman of The Broadway League, commented, “Broadway contributes more than $5 billion to the City of New York and generates the equivalent of 44,000 full time jobs. We must be assured that these devices work, not only for Broadway, but also for theatres across America too. Touring Broadway productions help infuse the nation’s economy with over $3 billion annually. “

Tom Viertel, producer, stated, “Our industry relies on clear, consistent wireless microphone transmissions. The Broadway Unions and Guilds have joined forces with us to demand notice and opportunity to be heard before any further FCC proceedings because our jobs and lives are on the line. Many groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters and Sports Technology Alliance, also oppose the FCC’s actions which threaten their ability to conduct businesses and employees’ livelihoods.”