Monday, June 29, 2009

Life is a highway...

...and Popdose is going to ride it, all night long. An impeccable mixtape for summer travelers--Tom Cochran's 1991 hit was left by the side of the road, but it includes my contribution, the B-52's "Roam" (from Cosmic Thing, an album released 20 years ago on June 27.)

Bad memories

CBS News had a report last night about an impromptu memorial service held at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station nearby in Brooklyn, commemorating the filming of Michael Jackson's Bad video on its mezzanine level in 1987. I thought it looked familiar when I saw the video over the weekend, but incorrectly pegged it as the Lafayette stop. (Neither is my main stop.)

Hoyt-Schermerhorn has hosted several film shoots, notably the (bad) remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, where it doubled for Times Square, and also The Warriors (1979) and Coming to America and Crocodile Dundee II in 1988. Props to Jacko for shooting in what is still a pretty dingy and underlit stretch of the neighborhood at night, but I assume director Martin Scorsese and writer Richard Price, fresh off 1986's The Color of Money, knew the score.

(And what does Scorsese think of the passing of his one-time star? And where is Tatum O'Neal in all this? She was the one who was out of MJ's life in that hit song, and she was I assume well-acquainted with the departed Farrah Fawcett. After a decent interval passes, if it hasn't passed already in the ravening news cycle, I'm sure she'll have some stories to tell.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Popdose: Afghan Star

It's the American Idol of Afghanistan--which, as you might imagine, poses a few problems for the clerics, particularly when the ladies take the stage. A review of the new documentary, now in release.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

Not to be unkind, but...there are eerie parallels between today's celebrity deaths, though Jackson's actual fame (as opposed to its half-life) crept into the 90s, and Fawcett had no serious brushes with the law. And Jacko's were serious--it was hard for me to square the Jackson 5's cherub with the pathetic figure, bent on claiming Joan Crawford's face, that he became once the music stopped and the self-indulgent madness with kids and money started. Whatever he claimed he brought it on himself, and his death is basically suicide by narcissism. Sorry, but Jackson was no Elvis, and certainly no Lennon. But: I did like some of his music, though the rest has aged badly. I liked that, as a fellow horror movie fan, he gave Vincent Price a job in his senior years. And I did see him on the family welfare Victory tour, and enjoyed watching the famous dance moves live. Tragedy? No. A waste.

RIP Farrah Fawcett

No to be unkind, but let's face it; the actress was pretty much a hot mess from the mid-80s on, what with her turbulent relationship with Ryan O'Neal, various tabloid scandals, gonzo talkshow behavior, a Broadway show that closed in previews, etc. She was famous for being semi-famous, erasing good work in earlier TV movies and making every small, decent part (as in Robert Duvall's The Apostle in 1997, or Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women in 2000) part of a perpetual comeback. But she was a genuine phenomenon back in the 70s, one my prepubescent self was not immune to (though I was always more a Jaclyn Smith kind of guy). She warmed up movies like Logan's Run (1976) and Saturn 3 (1980), of which one critic wrote, "She shows a T and he (Kirk Douglas) shows an A and they both should have behaved themselves," a memorable line. If the self-generated reality TV hoopla around her death got a few fans of hers to the doctor for a checkup, some good was done.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Best Pictures

From Tinseltown comes word that the Academy Awards are turning back the clock and allowing 10 pictures to contend for Best Picture, rather than five, which is how it's been since 1944. This means that audience favorites like The Dark Knight will get a shot, and pictures like WALL-E, scrap-heaped to the so-called "animation ghetto," may crawl their way out. Which will of course goose ratings.

On the plus side, it may also give well-regarded indies and movies that just missed it (like Revolutionary Road) a chance in the limelight. On the downside, it diminishes the prestige of the nomination, and has the potential to add God knows how many more minutes to the telecast. In an off year will there be a top 10 to nominate? (In an on year these days are there really five? 2009 isn't shaping up to be another 1939.) I assume that one reason the number was halved originally was to prevent the less-than-immortal One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937) and One Foot in Heaven (1941) from getting one foot in the door toward Oscar gold.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

20 years ago today...

Batman went into release. I was living in Hong Kong at the time, where it didn't premiere till Chinese New Year 1990. By then, a staggering eight months later, everyone who had an interest (low in that part of Asia) had seen it on tape or laserdisc, and distributors of Hollywood films learned the hard way to strike while the iron was hot and get their wares into the global village promptly. After all the hype it was OK--Tim Burton was clearly hamstrung by the suits, who insisted on ninjas in the belltower in the final scene, the Prince tunes, and that sort of dumbing-down thing. The 1992 sequel Batman Returns, Burton unchained, is much more to my liking, and I prefer both to the huffing-and-puffing pseudo-seriousness of the naturalistic, no-fun Christopher Nolan pictures. Then again I preferred comic book adaptations when they were a rarity and not the mind-numbing, summer-hogging norm.

Popdose: Last Year at Marienbad on DVD

It's arthouse with a capital A as A, X, and M triangulate in Alain Resnais's classic collaboration with Alain Robbe-Grillet, now part of the Criterion Collection. Hmmm...why don't the trees in the garden cast any shadows?

Monday, June 22, 2009

U2 conquers Earth

Where rock concerts are concerned, it's U2's world; we just live in it. Live Design editor David Johnson is live-blogging the rehearsals from Barcelona as this monster gets ready to rock on June 30. It hits Giants Stadium in September. And I thought the one I saw at the movies, in 3D, was impressive. (That would be the Vertigo tour, pictured.)

Phedre live

Emulating the Met and its popular operacasts, the UK's National Theatre has started NT Live, which kicks off here in the New York City area with live telecasts of Jean Racine's Phedre, as adapted by Ted Hughes and directed by Nicholas Hytner. Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper (one of Hytner's History Boys, recently seen in Mamma Mia!) star. Sounds like something worth getting off the couch for.

From the PR:

"In the New York City area, screenings can be seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Director’s Guild Theatre, Cinema Arts Centre, Fairfield University (CT), Monmouth University (NJ) & the Shakespeare Theatre Company (DC).

The broadcast will also be shown on screens across the United States including the Mann Theatre in Hollywood, the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and many more.

The launch of NT Live is Thursday, June 25.

Broadcasts in the New York City area include:
●The Director’s Guild Theatre – Thursday, June 25 at 7:30pm
●Monmouth University, NJ – Thursday, June 25 at 7pm
●Brooklyn Academy of Music – Thursday, July 9 at 7pm
●Film Society of Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater – Monday, July 6 at 4pm and 8pm
●Fairfield University, CT – Saturday, July 11 at 2pm
●Shakespeare Theatre Company (DC) – Monday, June 29 & Monday, July 13 at 7:30pm
●Cinema Arts Centre (Long Island) – Friday, July 24 at 7:30pm

The press release says about Phedre (co-starring Margaret Tyzack): "Consumed by an uncontrollable passion for her young stepson and believing Theseus, her absent husband, to be dead, Phedre (Mirren) confesses her darkest desires and enters the world of nightmare. When Theseus returns, alive and well, Phedre, fearing exposure, accuses her stepson of rape. The result is carnage."

Coincidentally, I just saw Jules Dassin's 1962 take on the tale, a contemporized version featuring the toothsome Melina Mercouri and a miscast Anthony Perkins. An interesting try, prettily filmed in Greece, but this well-reviewed production should be more the thing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Popdose: Pelham 1 2 3

All aboard for a ride on the remake, shot in my hood, with John Travolta.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Asian craziness: The return

The New York Asian Film Festival is back, starting tomorrow, for more madness, monsters, and period spectacles that will likely never see another projector in the U.S. (Well, some might, if they please the festival's giddy crowds.) Who wouldn't want to see The X from Outer Space on his return to the big screen in Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (pictured), following his stint as a commercial pitchman? New Jet Li? Clones? Sexual exploitation? You know you want it, so get over to the NYAFF and get some, through July 5.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BAMcinemaFEST kicks off

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is celebrating a decade of film programming with a two-week festival that begins today, including sneak previews of upcoming indies like In the Loop and Humpday, old favorites like The Royal Tenenbaums and Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (where has she been all my life?), and marathon screenings of...Diana Ross movies? (I don't think I've ever heard her name mentioned in the context of BAM.) The June 27 centerpiece event sounds like a can't miss: Screenings of Metropolis (pictured), accompanied by Irish rock collective 3epkano. The Robot Maria is much more of a BAM denizen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Popdose: Twists of Lemmon

Five movies from Lemmon's ten-year stint at Columbia Pictures get the box set treatment. Under the Yum Yum Tree is a hard sit, but the rest show the actor finding, honing, then straining against a persona. Plus an affectionate documentary.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer of love

Movie love, anyway, as The House Next Door revisits the summer films of 1984. I've already chastised the Housemates for classifying The Bounty as a summer movie; it may be today, by the calendar, but not then, when Memorial Day weekend was still the kickoff. Beyond obvious hits like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, what's next: Dreamscape? Purple Rain? Bachelor Party? The Pope of Greenwich Village? C.H.U.D.? "If there's something strange/In the neighborhood/Who ya gonna call...?"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

25% independent thinking

The latest thumbsucker on the transmogrification of film criticism and the popularity of aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes got me looking at my profile there. It says I agree with the omnipotent Tomatometer, the godhead at the center of the matrix, 75% of the time, meaning I run with the herd that votes "fresh" on Star Trek or The Hangover or "rotten" on the junkers three-quarters of every occasion I go to the movies. The last time I checked, pre-fatherhood, I was at 72%, which I think shows that I'm self-selecting more when I go out and skipping the more marginally reviewed movies that I used to see.

Extrapolating from this, you can say that the movie portion of this site and my other endeavors in criticism is 25% independent, go-my-own-way, he's-a-rebel thinking, which isn't bad. Hey, I've chucked vegetables at not one but two Oscar-nominated Meryl Streep pictures (how can the miserable Ironweed be at 90% fresh?) If my agreement level was too much lower, I'm not sure why I'd bother putting the effort into something I wasn't crazy about to begin with.

I'm no quote whore, not that I've ever been blurbed in a big way. (A quote of mine got on the box of a Canadian movie I reviewed, but it was attributed not to yours truly but to the outlet. Blame Canada.) The rest of the time, I'm just part of the pack mentality, the Borg that goes thumbs up or thumbs down. What I'd really like to see is a rating of reviewers, based on responses to the quality of the writing--and some measure of how many Tomatoes readers click beyond the headlines to the actual articles.

Sir Christopher Lee

Dracula has risen up in the world. I'm happy for the 87-year-old actor, part of my life since early monsterdom, and happier still that he has four movies in the can (including films with Julie Christie, Coiin Farrell, and Doctor Who David Tennant) and two set to go, in a remarkably long-lived career that stretches back to the 40s.

Friday, June 12, 2009

RIP analog TV

The plug has been pulled. Possible outcomes: Landfills reporting a huge uptick in discarded rabbit ears. Millions of dispossessed Americans turning to strengthening ties with family, friends and community. Many more people reading books. This newly empowered literati leading a peaceful revolution against the "vidiocy" brought on by television. A return to a pre-industrial way of life. The attainment of Utopia.

Popdose: Men behaving badly

Well, not Youssou D'Nour, featured in the new doc I Bring What I Love. But he has to make up for the bad boys in The Hangover (pictured) and the Elmore Leonard adaptation Killshot, which has gone straight to DVD. All are reviewed this week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And the winner was...

Geoffrey Rush, who heads back to Australia following the June 14 closing of Exit the King with five New York acting citations under his belt, including Tony and Drama Desk Awards. This courtesy of David Sheward at Backstage, who had the philanthropic/insane notion to collate all this stuff.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The IFC Daily reports that 80-year-old Andrew Sarris was sent packing from the fading-fast New York Observer yesterday, along with a bunch of other staffers. Is Rex Reed hanging on? A world where Rex Reed has a media home and Sarris doesn't is a grim place to contemplate.

(Update: He's now freelancing for the Observer, along with Reed. Borrowed time I think, minus benefits.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

RIP HDNet Movies

RIP from Time Warner Cable's lineup, anyway, due to some sort of backroom wheeling-dealings. Too bad; I'm not often using the upstairs hi-def set these days (it's flush against the baby's room wall and a possible distraction for her, according to the wife though this isn't scientifically proven, I add digressively) but when I could grab a few stray hours I'd enjoy an older movie (I had Howard Hawks' final film, Rio Lobo, in my sights this month) or a premiere like The Girlfriend Experience. This made me feel a little more in the loop given that, with Larissa to tend to, I don't live the days of wine and screenings lifestyle much anymore. Now that all the pay movie channels have gone HD, and I have MGM's good HD channel to fall back on, I won't miss it as much as I would have a year ago. I doubt however that I'll be paying $5 to premiere the likes of The Girlfriend Experience on HD on Demand when I had enjoyed the experience, or Experience, as part of the package.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tonys for Billy(s)

By this time of the year theater watchers are prostrate with award-itis, but the Tonys get us to rally. Despite the best efforts of the sound and cameramen to sabotage the evening on TV the show looked pretty good from my sofa, which this year I was on and off running various errands during the show. (Life with children.) It had to be OK, given the utter predictability of the winners. Except maybe for the Next to Normal writers beating the Billy Elliot juggernaut (which included the showbizzy win for all three performers playing Billy, one of whom is pictured), everything was pretty much in lockstep with expectations. It was fun seeing Elton and Liza rock out with the cast of the Hair revival at the top of the show, and host Neil Patrick Harris cap it with a delightful 11 o'clock number. The one bit of excitement, a Normal/Billy tie for orchestrations, happened in the phantom zone where the design awards and best book of a musical were exiled.

The memories of Broadway 2008-2009 will have to last a little longer than usual this year; there are no summer openings for the first time in some time, so the 2009-2010 season doesn't kick off until October. The acclaimed West End revival of La Cage Aux Folles, from newly minted Tony Lifetime Achievement winner Jerry Herman, caused the only real stir of the evening (backstage) when Harvey Fierstein mentioned the possibility of a Broadway transfer, so (relatively) soon after the show's Tony- and Drama Desk-winning revival in the 2004-2005 season. If it's the best of times, look for it to be making the awards rounds next spring.

Fail rate

No real surprise here: 95% of all blogs wither and die. Their proprietors, realizing that it's easier to use Facebook or Twitter to communicate to friends, or that Internet jillions aren't coming their way, give up on them. I've come across these ghost blogs on various searches; I like the ones that say "I'll be back soon"...and the last entry dates to 2005.

The ones that tend to make it, to the extent that any blog "makes it" in a sea of bits and bytes, are those run by professionals, who know about content, deadlines, and news-gathering. Or do they? I've rarely been as depressed as when I read this, confirming what I fear, that rumor-mongering has replaced journalism in certain sectors, and that no one really gives a damn. It's all about "involving the reader in the process," and maybe, just maybe, getting it right in the very end, after it's passed through several spins of the news cycle. “Getting it right is expensive,” says one of these upstarts. “Getting it first is cheap.” A hateful, contemptuous attitude. May more blogs that subscribe to such a philosophy crash and burn.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Popdose: Drag Me to Hell

Alison Lohman fends off a gypsy curse as director Sam Raimi attempts to reclaim his Evil Dead-period mojo in the new horror movie.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Never forget

I was living in Hong Kong in 1989, a close-range vantage point from which to watch the unfolding horror of the Tiananmen Square massacre--and the quite stirring and beautiful candlelight vigils that sprung up around it. (The photo was taken at a commemorative ceremony held last year in Victoria Park.) Lora reminded me this morning of the staffers at our office who faxed news reports to their mainland friends and relatives, as the Chinese government moved quickly to stamp out news coverage, which it is doing today. But I can't forget wearing a black armband in protest, being subsumed by the vigils, which took over the streets, and hearing the accounts of acquaintances who were there in Beijing as the authorities opened fire. There were rumors that mainland sleeper cells were soon to erupt in Hong Kong, and the incident cast another shadow on the 1997 handover. In time, life returned to normal--that is, a new normal, from which the episode cannot be expunged from the historical record, nor forgotten in our own memories.

RIP David Carradine

As prolific as his father John, the actor will always be remembered for his Emmy-nominated role as Caine (pictured) on TV's Kung Fu (1972-1975), which he continued to play on various spinoffs through the 90s. That cult association assured him a place in the Quentin Tarantino universe, a destiny he admirably fulfilled in the Kill Bill saga. Laying down his arms, he was effective as Woody Guthrie in 1976's beautiful Bound for Glory, though late in what appears to have been an increasingly turbulent life he voiced second thoughts about the film. There was still more to like in an eventful career: Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha (1972), with his then-girlfriend Barbara Hershey; the driver "Frankenstein" in Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000 (1975); a curious choice for Ingmar Bergman in The Serpent's Egg (1977); Cole Younger in Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980), opposite brothers Keith and Robert, in what remains the best telling of that tale; Tom Horn and Paul Gauguin in good TV movies in that period; a tough cop in Larry Cohen's delightful monster-in-Manhattan story Q (1982); a worthy opponent for Chuck Norris in 1983's Lone Wolf McQuade; and, not least, in drag as "Pearl" in the memorably squalid Sonny Boy (1989).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The annual Tonys torment

In a column that could have been written in the Clinton era, the New York Post's Michael Riedel gets exercised over a Tonys telecast (this Sunday) brimming with music but low on drama, with Best Play Revival and other categories booted. Twas ever thus; it used to be that the exiled designers at least got some exposure on PBS, but that hasn't been the case for at least a couple of seasons now. I'm not happy about it, but Blanche, you are in that chair. Perhaps the Obamas, who enjoyed the revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone (pictured) last Saturday, could intervene--or maybe that part could be webcast?

The other part of this annual scourging is happening at All That Chat, where the sanctimony with which the nominations are treated gives way to bitterness over the unfairness of the telecast. Folks, that's showbiz: in exchange for a network berth, you get aging musical numbers stuffed down your throat, like the after-effects of gypsy curses from Drag Me to Hell. Maybe Ovation or a cable network could take it on, but that wouldn't please anyone without access--or, more to the point, the show producers looking to get some national exposure. Ratings-wise the Tonys don't do too bad for summer programming, but they aren't the Oscars, either. If the numbers were up maybe everyone could get the turn they deserve in the winner's circle. But, to quote from another movie, deserve's got nothing to do with it.

Popdose: John Wayne, John Ford, Howard Hawks

Saddle up, pilgrims, for extras-laden DVD editions of Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Hawks' El Dorado, with the Duke riding high.

Monday, June 01, 2009

On TCM: Great Directors

Turner Classic Movies embraces the auteur theory in a big way this month, establishing the primacy of the director every day in June. Whether or not you agree that the director is the true author of a film, there's no arguing that this doesn't give TCM a chance to showcase some great movies this month--and some that I've always wanted to see, some of which are I think new to the lineup. These include Tony Richardson's take on Hamlet (1969), with Nicol Williamson as the great Dane and Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, on June 17; Jules Dassin's Phaedra, with Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins, on June 18, and Blake Edwards' The Carey Treatment (1972), with James Coburn, on June 19. And a whole day of Jacques Tourneur pictures, from various genres, on June 12. I hope it rains.

"Total Eclipse of the Heart," literally

One of the funniest things I've seen on the web in a long time, a kind of parodic extension of the "Pop-Up" craze that was the last big thing in music videos. The same group has done several of these. Director Russell Mulcahy, who went on to Highlander, approves: "Based on one of my early 'great' works. Thank you to all the talent involved for FINALLY correcting the original! This is great!"