Saturday, May 29, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper was a mess. Fights with directors, drugs, booze, insane movies, a stormy personal life that rattled his last days. He was so crazy for a time the country of Australia, historically tolerant of outlaws, more-or-less ejected him for life as the turbulent shoot of 1976's Mad Dog Morgan ended. He was an easy rider who became a conservative convert and appeared with Gary Coleman in the rightie comedy An American Carol.

But he was a glorious, transcendent mess, who lived one of the great soul-seeking lives of the late 20th century, a life that encompassed modern art and photography and much else. He was a cultural omnivore, and he gave back. Not always smartly, and there was collateral damage as that life, and his work, collided with our institutions and mores. A true iconoclast, brilliant and terrible.

This video essay, and this recollection, say more eloquently what I mean to say. Maybe when you have a hard time articulating what you mean to say about someone, that person was indeed a true original, and best to leave it at that. The strange and beautiful menace of the still, from the mold-breaking Blue Velvet (1986), more than stands in for words.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Popdose: Dead letters

The search for signs of life in George A. Romero's cycle continues with a sixth (or second) entry, Survival of the Dead (pictured). Plus DVD dead: Zombieland, Dead Snow, and I Sell the Dead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

As the DVR dwindles

I feel I watch an impossible amount of TV but with 24 reaching its (satisfying) end I realized, as I enacted the solemn ritual of expunging it from my "series manager," that it's definitely shrinking. Last week I removed the pedestrian HBO miniseries The Pacific off the grid, and The Tudors (pictured) will soon be beheaded from Showtime (to be replaced next season by another historical bodice ripper, The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons). I dumped the witless, going-in-circles Entourage last summer, and The Sarah Silverman Program after half of a single third season episode. I think Silverman's awfully cute, but her show is a whimsically scatological disaster. Or was: Comedy Central agreed, and killed it.

With us, though, old shows have a habit of going away slowly. Shows I watch solo, like 24, I watch and erase ASAP--mostly to make way for movies I record off TCM and other cable channels. Lora's quick to get rid of hers, too, those being an HGTV program, Selling New York, and the Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica; the mothership was enough for me. The once-fascinating Nip/Tuck went off in March but I still have half its sixth and final season to slog through; it's a noxious as the Louisiana oil spill but still I must, finding some shows hard habits to break (and it was so good, too, for a couple of seasons). And we still have three year-old episodes of third season Tudors to get through before starting in on Henry VIII's other wives--that's how a toddler, a 10-8 schedule, "quality time," and other evening commitments, like theater, mess up your TV viewing.

So what am I watching? I'll stick with The Simpsons until it goes the way of Law & Order, which I never watched. The ups, like the hilarious surveillance satire, make up for the downs (the American Idol season ender) and you never know which will hit and which will miss. And Larissa, natch, digs the cartoon imagery, particularly "Homey" and "Boy" (Bart).

Missing more than it's hitting is The Office. When the castmembers start directing episodes you know they're bored, and the show, which walked a fine line between silly and inspired, is more often than not just sort of dopey. But as a half-hour comedy it's not in danger of me managing it out of our lives--yet. On the bubble.

Smallville is the kind of show that's easy to watch while cooking dinner, paying bills, etc. But a funny thing happened in its ninth (!) and penultimate season--we actually started sitting down for it, thanks to a strong storyline involving Major Zod (Tudors alums Callum Blue) and his minions. We hope the old warhorse continues to surprise us next season.

That's all we watch on network TV. ABC and CBS don't exist for us, except maybe for news and a Letterman here or there.

On cable, there's still HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, which was classic last time out. It'll be another year or two before Larry and Co. regroup and I'm confident it'll be up to par (Lora finds its comic misanthropy, a tonic for me, almost too painful to bear--but we both think Larry and Cheryl are among TV's best couples).

I have Dexter on the DVR but, speaking of misanthropy, the great season past, with John Lithgow, may have been enough for me. I'll give it a shot, or a stab.

Our mutual favorite, Doctor Who, has been pretty terrific this season. The new Doctor, Matt Smith, is just what the doctor ordered. I think it is the highlight of the viewing year, and like all cable/BBC shows it doesn't wear you down, or wear out, with too many episodes.

Summer brings True Blood, which I'm mixed on, and the unmissable Mad Men. That alone makes up for the other hours that are sometimes misspent...or fast-forwarded through.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Popdose: Robin Hoods

Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett star in Ridley Scott's "untold story" of the legend, as DVD rescues several other tales from obscurity. Were any worth telling?

Drama Desk winners announced

Two ties highlighted this year's awards, as Outstanding Play Revival and Outstanding Actress (Musical) deadlocked. Me? I was most happy to see Alex Timbers' book for Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson win, to see the Tony-ineligible Brighton Beach Memoirs get a bit of recognition, and that the ensemble cast of The Temperamentals had something to celebrate as the show closed. Can't argue with the rest, not doing cartwheels, either; it was that kind of season. The award-winning import Red, which struck gold, is pictured.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cannes winners 2010

Glad to see that "Joe," as the always interesting Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul is colloquially known, won the Palme d'Or for his new film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. But based on this BBC News plot description--"The film centres around a dying man who is visited by the spirit of his late wife and his missing son, who has mutated into an ape"--I suspect its passage through the multiplexes will be brief. Kidding aside, by all accounts this was a mediocre year for the festival, leaving arthouse audiences high and dry, too. Looking forward to Mike Leigh's unPalmed Another Year and one or two others in any event, as Leigh's cast of losing actors drowns their sorrows.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The big green ogre of ludicrously overpriced 3D movies has struck again. Schuker's lead in the Journal: "For the first time, a major Hollywood film will hit the $20 threshold at the box office, as movie-theater owners test the public's ability to absorb ever higher ticket prices. Several theaters will charge $20 per adult ticket to IMAX showings of the animated 3-D family film Shrek Forever After, the fourth Shrek installment from DreamWorks Animation. The theaters include the AMC theater in Manhattan's Kips Bay neighborhood, AMC Loews 34, AMC Loews Lincoln Square and AMC Empire 42nd Street."

I'll give the Lincoln Square venue a pass--it's the only legitimate IMAX screen in Manhattan, with the towering mega-story screen and vertigo-inducing seats. You always pay a premium for that unique experience, if not this much of one. But the rest, hell no. They're faux IMAX presentations.

$20 is a nosebleed price...but my tatty Brooklyn multiplex is hardly a bargain, either, with 3D tickets for Shrek's latest adventure costing $16.50 (a $4 surcharge) and a "mere" $13 for kids and seniors. Outrageous. I remember just a few years back when Ed Koch was railing against $10.50 movies, and look where we are now, thanks to a wheezing technology that once experienced adds little to the show.

So don't pay to see it in 3D. Don't pay to see anything in 3D. Do as I do, and don't return your rental glasses next time. You paid $4 for them for maybe two hours of use, I figure they're yours. Bring them to your next 3D movie...but buy a regular-priced ticket for another movie, and just walk into the 3D one. No one checks tickets, and the same pair of glasses works for any 3D movie.

Or just stop this madness and go see Shrek in regular 2D, which is still possible to do. Hey, I love Shrek, I really do...and I hate to see him tricked out by his corporate masters. Out-hustle the hustlers. You owe it to yourself and your family to leave some food on the table, like Shrek does.

Update: It's just a big mistake, says AMC, retreating. Tickets are $17-$19, practically a bargain, right? Feel good about that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beasts at BAM

How old does a kid have to be for a dad to take her to a dinosaur movie on the big screen? Older than 20 months, I imagine. So my young-at-heart self will have to sit out the Brooklyn Academy of Music's pocket retrospective dedicated to the work of Brooklyn artist Charles R. Knight, which begins tonight. Knight's murals of prehistoric flora and fauna were a major influence on master animator Ray Harryhausen, as seen in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and One Million Years B.C.; they also gave Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien, inspiration for The Lost World and King Kong. The latter has a late show on Sunday; maybe I'll check it out (Kong is one of those movies that can be watched annually, as a ritual to cinema greatness). How dino-crazed was I? So much so that I never really cared about Welch in a bikini loincloth when B.C. turned up on ABC's 4:30 Movie.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I, Pod

I'm not in the habit of listening to podcasts but when I read that this week's Popdose-inspired one was going to be about the just-reviewed Iron Man 2 I decided to listen. Sure enough fellow contributor Rob Smith and the radio show host name-checked me, which I found gratifying. Now, I could actually be on the show, but I don't think listeners want to hear a toddler squalling in the background. So I take what logrolling I can get. Just one thing: I love Ishiro Honda's strange fantasia Attack of the Mushroom People (1964), though it has no blondes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

All a-Twitter

I'm dissatisfied with blogging of late. Nothing wrong with it, but I go days at a stretch without posting, which depresses me. Not much I can do about that for now: My little handful requires plenty of daddy time (gladly given) before she's off to bed, at which time I night-shift freelance work, etc., which leaves little time for blogging. So, a week after telling at least two friends that I considered Twitter "retarded" and "for 16-year-old girls," I'm tweeting, as 10SecondRule. My feed is badged here. The reason is to burn off the surface gist of posts I might write, and if anyone asks for more I'll follow up. Thus far I'm a little retarded at it, but I haven't launched jihads against my enemies, as 16-year-old girls are wont to do. Not yet, anyway. So feel free to follow me around and we'll see where this leads.

Popdose: On #2s

The cast and director of the cellar-dwelling cult hit Troll 2 come out of hiding for a new documentary, Best Worst Movie (pictured), by one of their own, as Iron Man 2 blasts off into the boxoffice stratosphere.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kate mail

"The U.S. Postal Service immortalized one of America’s true cinematic treasures—the only recipient of four Academy Awards for Best Actress—on what would have been her 103rd birthday, May 12. The stamp issued today pays tribute to Katharine Houghton Hepburn, known to many as simply “Kate,” a great actress whose almost 50-year career made her an icon of the silver screen and a trailblazer for independent, progressive women."

The release says Hepburn is the 16th inductee in its "Legends of Hollywood" series. 16th? I would have thought Top 10 for sure, certainly before Lucille Ball (No. 7). Anyway, I'd love to get a Kate in the mail, so send me a letter.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RIP Frank Frazetta

Arbogast on Film said it best. And Ian McDowell at the Mobius forum posted this terrific gallery of images. I still have some of those Creepy and Eerie magazines in my parents' basement; I bought the reprints based on those fantastic covers.

RIP Lena Horne

Some time ago I stopped memorializing artists with whom I had no "personal" connection. Horne is something of an exception to this rule, in that I only recently became acquainted with her work. Growing up she only appeared in one film that I saw (on cable), 1978's The Wiz, where she gives an earnest, gauzy performance as Glinda (it would be her last screen role), appeared on TV, and had a Broadway hit that was before my time as a theatergoer. Not much to go on. Now I realize what a hard climb it was for her, and I can fathom why aspects of her multifaceted career seem unrealized as she went from striver to living legend without sinking in as deeply as other performers. I'm better acquainted with her music, I appreciated her steadying personality in an uneven but interesting Richard Widmark Western, Death of a Gunfighter (1969), and I've seen her two best films, from 1943, Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky. She's incredibly sexy and delightful in each, a major presence...and such was America in the pre-civil rights era that her gifts could not easily be capitalized on. She opened doors that let others through, a huge accomplishment not easily achieved. But I'm not sure we got to know her as well as we might have.

Broadway: The 2009-2010 season ends

Sondheim on Sondheim looms large over a rundown on seven shows that concluded the theater year, including The Addams Family, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences, and Green Day onstage in American Idiot.

Popdose: Michael Caine is Harry Brown

Old, but gold. The 78-year-old actor is gunning for justice as a complete print of the 83-year-old sci-fi landmark Metropolis is released.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bloody entertaining

I went to to the Public last night and caught up with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the bawdy, raunchy, nutso, etc. rock-and-roll history lesson that's evidently triggered a minor sensation, given that a fair amount of repeat groupies were in the audience. (Or maybe it was an audience of historians, happy to see one of our nation builders enshrined in the pop culture vortex.) Shows like this are hard to sustain for a full 90 minutes, but this one crosses the finish line without too much gasping and panting, thanks to a game-for-anything cast that knows exactly how long to stretch a joke, a book that offers genuinely funny situations worth stretching, and very catchy music. (The book, by Alex Timbers, and music, by Michael Friedman, are up for Drama Desk awards.) I particularly loved Donyale Werle's design, which transforms the Newman into a redneck paradise, full of small stuffed animals, KFC boxes, and all kinds of Southern bric-a-brac. It's as cheap as the jokes (lots of gags at the expense of the, umm, "effete" Martin Van Buren and James Monroe) and as effective. The show plays through June 27.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tonys nominations announced

Drama Desks yesterday, Tony nominations today. Fela! and the La Cage aux Folles revival had the biggest hauls, 11 nominations apiece. The chatters erupt. La Cage nominees Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer try to stay above the fray.

Monday, May 03, 2010

RIP Lynn Redgrave

So sad this morning to read of the passing of the actress, after a valiant fight against breast cancer and atop recent family misfortunes. Despite her fair share of accolades she never quite had the same career as her sister Vanessa, but she was always more likable--and I have to say a better stage actress, much less inclined to dominate or impress. (I enjoyed her Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at BAM, was delighted by her Drama Desk-winning turn in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, and last saw her Off Broadway in a religious drama, Grace.) That unpretentious quality sustained her through everything from Shakespeare to The Happy Hooker, and she left an indelible mark in Swinging Sixties culture in Georgy Girl. Her other Oscar nomination came for the marvelous Gods and Monsters, as the thickly accented housekeeper (pictured), a figure that bridges the fact and fiction of James Whale's life. (She spent some time bridging the fact and fiction of her family's life, too, enacting episodes from its storied history onstage in several plays, including the Tony-nominated Shakespeare Round My Father.)

'''Vanessa was the one expected to be the great actress,'' Lynn Redgrave told The Associated Press in 1999. ''It was always, 'Corin's the brain, Vanessa the shining star, oh, and then there's Lynn.''' Nice to have known you, Lynn.

Drama Desk nominations announced

Leading the pack: the revival of Ragtime and The Scottsboro Boys (pictured). Scanning the list, I would have liked to have seen the two lead actors and The Pride itself nominated; easily the most riveting drama of the season past. Still, a lot of worthy work awarded or in contention this year: kudos especially to the casts of Circle Mirror Transformation and The Temperamentals, John Douglas Thompson in The Emperor Jones, Terri White in Finian's Rainbow, and Yank!. I would like to see the Projection and Video category, which I helped inaugurate, return in some form, and do think that if puppets can be on the same line as set design so too could be projection and video. But I'm not a nominator, and I'm no longer a board member...and I see there are a few shows that I can't recall off the top of my head and will have to look up, proof that the committee has cast a typically wide net.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Popdose: Kick-Ass and more

Did you miss me? Well, I'm back, with reviews of Kick-Ass, Clash of the Titans (pictured), and the Korean import The Good, The Bad, The Weird, plus an observation about The Proposal, starring you-know-who.