Thursday, December 31, 2009

The maligned Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge is my lifeline to the "Big City," but it's celebrating its sort-of centennial without party hats and "Auld Lang Syne." The span has an image problem, exacerbated by its portrayal in the movies. On film, the Brooklyn Bridge is host to romances, high drama, and spectacular cataclysm (think the U.S. Godzilla reboot, or Cloverfield), while the Manhattan Bridge inspires...suicides. Think The Lonely Guy, where lonely guys like Steve Martin and Charles Grodin consider taking the plunge; or Luv, where Jack Lemmon does the same; or 1961's Something Wild, where Carroll Baker nearly ends it all, only to meet a stranger fate in the arms of rescuer Ralph Meeker.

I'd think about offing myself, too, if I walked across or biked the bridge on a rainy bad day, as I squeezed my frame along its narrow pathways while the N and D trains rumbled by noisily. On the other hand, the view from the trains is a treat, taking in the Statue of Liberty (and the scene-stealing Brooklyn Bridge) and a nice sliver of Chinatown as it descends into Manhattan. Someone should film that and uplift the bridge's profile.

As we ring in the New Year, may your prospects be Brooklyn Bridge, but remember that those Manhattan Bridge days build character. And the news isn't ever all gloomy: Sergio Leone gave the Manhattan Bridge a shot at immortality with an iconic Water Street view in 1984's Once Upon a Time in America.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Muppets, Michael Jackson make Film Registry

Back in spring I wrote up several titles for a proposed book covering all the movies entered in the National Film Registry. The status of that project is unclear but today add 25 more to the list, bringing the total up to 525. The enshrined run the gamut from The Muppet Movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Once Upon a Time in the West to a number of early cinema selections, the excellent quasi-documentary The Exiles, and the first music video to make the grade, Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The full list:

1) Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
2) The Exiles (1961)
3) Heroes All (1920)
4) Hot Dogs for Gauguin (1972)
5) The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
6) Jezebel (1938)
7) The Jungle (1967)
8) The Lead Shoes (1949)
9) Little Nemo (1911)
10) Mabel’s Blunder (1914)
11) The Mark of Zorro (1940)
12) Mrs. Miniver (1942)
13) The Muppet Movie (1979)
14) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
15) Pillow Talk (1959)
16) Precious Images (1986)
17) Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
18) The Red Book (1994)
19) The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-36)
20) Scratch and Crow (1995)
21) Stark Love (1927)
22) The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
23) A Study in Reds (1932)
24) Thriller (1983)
25) Under Western Stars (1938)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Barbara Steele Day"

An 8 1/2 fan of my web acquaintance has declared today "Barbara Steele Day," in honor of her 72nd birthday. I'll go along with that, except to say that in my horror-loving house every day is "Barbara Steele Day"--so beautiful, so cruel, in a number of classics and cult hits from the 60s to the 80s, from Black Sunday and The Pit and the Pendulum to Piranha and Silent Scream. Truth be told, I'm not much of an 8 1/2 admirer, feeling that it marked Fellini's descent into dull pageantry--but Steele brings her special something to her brief role, which is pictured. (I'm not sure there's an equivalent to her in Nine; then again, how could there be?)

Fans can really Steele themselves tomorrow, as the Chiller channel presents an all-day marathon of episodes of the prime-time version of Dark Shadows, which had a brief run in 1991. Too bad, as it's quite good. I discovered it while channel surfing a week or two ago (I was living overseas back then and was pretty much ignorant of it) and look forward to recording the episodes I missed. Steele had her biggest acting role in years in the show, as the physician attending to Barnabas Collins the vampire (a full-blooded performance by Ben Cross), and hasn't done all that much since. (She's listed as a producer of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but I'm not sure that's accurate; she did, however, win an Emmy with Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis for producing War and Remembrance in the golden age of TV miniseries in the 80s. Joining Steele for this gratifyingly large assignment on the short-lived show were Jean Simmons, Roy Thinnes, Lysette Anthony...and, a big surprise for me, nine-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt, well before Third Rock from the Sun and his current, well-earned It Actor status. Surrounded by such a coven of talent so young no wonder he's turned out as well as he has.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Popdose: Big Christmas Packages

At the movies this holiday season: Not your Grandma's Sherlock Holmes, and an Avatar from the returning King of the World.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Live Design: End of 09

A starry revival of A Little Night Music, a new Mamet, and an Emperor Jones superbly acted by John Douglas Thompson (pictured) round out the year (or my year) in theater.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"TCM Remembers" too soon

TCM's annual remembrance short is much better and more thorough than the one at the Oscars, which always manages to overlook a few folks. This year's is no exception, and managed to fit in Richard Todd before it first aired--but we've lost one Oscar winner and other worthies since then, and my gut tells me there will be other losses through New Year's Eve (there always are this time of year.) Would it, err, kill TCM to put together the final assembly and broadcast it in January?

RIP Brittany Murphy

As I wrote to a Facebook friend, "When you're in Perez Hilton more than on movies or TV there's bound to be trouble." But I never thought it would end so badly for the 32-year-old performer, who should have become a major character actress. I hadn't seen her for a while, and was dismayed to learn that she changed her appearance and had become tabloid fodder, fit for parody on Saturday Night Live. Before the decline was a credible match for Eminem in 8 Mile (pictured), charmingly ditsy as the voice of Luanne on King of the Hill (admirably, a gig she maintained through thick and thin) and more than held up her end of the legendary 1997 revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge on Broadway. Film, TV, theater: There was versatility there that will go sadly untapped. Her 2004 film Uptown Girl was filmed right across the street from me on First Avenue and I saw her come and go; more memorable were her very different roles in films like Clueless, Girl, Interrupted, Spun (as a meth tweaker), Sin City, The Dead Girl, and another memorable voiceover role in Happy Feet. Just a damn shame.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RIP Robin Wood

More people pass away at this time of year than any other, and this year has been no exception. The Canadian film critic authored one of my favorite books, 1986's Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. His book about that turbulent and fertile era is all the more rewarding for its close readings of movies either difficult or dismissed (like Heaven's Gate and Cruising) and low-budget horror films on the fringes of respectability, like Eyes of a Stranger. His insight on these and so many others will be sorely missed.

Popdose: Harry Potter, Hangover on DVD

Round Six for the seemingly endless saga of Harry Potter, and a second helping of The Hangover, both on DVD in time for stocking stuffing.

RIP Dan O'Bannon

In space, no one can hear you scream...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

RIP Jennifer Jones

For all intents and purposes Jones started her film career with a Best Actress Oscar for The Song of Bernadette in 1943; she ended it definitively a little over 30 years later with a dramatic plunge from The Towering Inferno ("poor Bernadette!" my mother gasped.) A third act of philanthropy--and avoidance of strolls down memory lane--followed. In between were four more Oscar nominations, two for films I like, 1946's lurid Duel in the Sun ("Pearl Chavez!") and a personal favorite, 1955's Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, as much for its views of a lost Hong Kong as for her own performance (pictured with co-star William Holden, she played mixed-race parts with as much delicacy, and sensuality, as the scripts allowed her). Other notable parts: 1948's Portrait of Jennie (with another great setting, a wintry Central Park), Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary (1949), William Wyler's Carrie (1952), driving Laurence Olivier to understandable distraction, and John Huston's We Were Strangers (1949), opposite John Garfield, and his curious Beat the Devil (1953). There's ample material there for a TCM tribute, which might excavate her obscure 60s credits The Idol and the eccentric Angel, Angel Down We Go.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Golden Globes, other awards orgs Hurt

We're in the thick of awards season now, with the largely unseen Hurt Locker getting the attention it deserves. As usual some goofy choices (we gave up on the tapped-out Entourage this season, shouldn't the Globes and the Emmys do the same?), some questionable ones (the praise for Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia may be overcooked), and some welcome ones--Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, etc. Guess I better get on the stick and see Nine (pictured), Up in the Air, and so on.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Susan Gordon speaks (and sings)

The former child star is pitching Pennies--The Five Pennies, that is, a film she co-starred in with Danny Kaye in 1959. It's part of this Wednesday's matinee performance of the Off Broadway show Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical, at St. Luke's Theatre. Her appearance will include a recreation of a number from the film.

Well, OK, fine, that's nice...but why do I care about this? Because Susan Gordon is the daughter of filmmaker Bert I. Gordon--the beloved "Mr. B.I.G.," whose drive-in creature features included The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, and Earth vs. the Spider. Susan Gordon appeared in 1958's Attack of the Puppet People, which reversed the format. I can't attend, but if I could I'd definitely ask her about dad, who's 87. And you know I'd be there if she brought the amazing colossal man with her.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Popdose: Singular Men

This week, Colin Firth is Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man for first-time director/fashionista Tom Ford, and Christian McKay (pictured) excels as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Popdose:The Golden Age of Television on DVD

The era of live TV and the original versions of Marty, Days of Wine and Roses, and Patterns returns via a Criterion Collection DVD set of the 1981 PBS series The Golden Age of Television. Was all that glittered really gold?

Room with a view on Broadway

My review of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or the vibrator play is online at the Live Design site. But it may be lurking behind a firewall (where, groan, Variety is retreating) so here it is...

"The Lincoln Center Theater production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play is housed in Broadway’s oldest theatre, the Lyceum. It’s the perfect place for the show, whose period setting—the 1880s, as electricity was being introduced—matches the antique atmosphere of the venue. Progress and its discontents are a theme of the comedy, which focuses on a doctor (four-time Tony nominee Michael Cerveris) who treats neurotic women for “hysteria,” a medical condition at that time. The treatment, which involves electrical stimulation of the delicate regions, proves wildly popular among his clientele—but neither the women, nor the men in their lives, realize the stress-relieving “paroxysms” for what they are. This includes the doctor’s wife (Laura Benanti, a Tony winner for Gypsy, who, dissatisfied with her life after the birth of their first child, secretly uses the equipment on herself—and begins to feel an unexpected surge of affection for her husband’s first male patient (Chandler Williams), a lovelorn artist who, in one of the show’s funniest scenes, endures/enjoys his own tailor-made treatment.

After the excruciatingly whimsical Dead Man’s Cell Phone, I’d disconnected on Ruhl, but this new play matches the style of earlier shows like The Clean House and Eurydice with more heartfelt substance. (And bigger laughs, too, as the actors, especially Maria Dizzia as one of the doctor’s more avid patients, react to the therapy.) Best known for their musical parts Cerveris (in a rare performance with hair) and Benanti are affectingly awkward as the couple, who little comprehend one another’s needs, at a time when people didn’t know or acknowledge that they had needs. Under the confident direction of Les Waters, they and the rest of the cast, including Quincy Tyler Bernstine as the more knowledgeable wet nurse employed by the doctor, give performances that respond nimbly to the shifts in tone in Ruhl’s work.

There are, perhaps, too many gear changes; after a brisk first act the second act dips in pace, though the design team rallies with a lovely coup that ends the show on a romantic note. Until that time this is the most naturalistic production Ruhl has written, with a handsome two-room set, by Annie Smart, that is ideal for drawing room comedy—one is the living room, and the “next” is the operating theatre. David Zinn’s richly detailed costumes, which require much effort to work around for the treatments to take place, are a constant source of pleasure, as is Russell Champa’s dawn-of-electricity illumination; lighting is referred to often in the text, and Champa’s takes full, yet understated, advantage of the opportunity. Jonathan Bell’s evocative original score is a primary recipient of Bray Poor’s fine sound design. Abuzz with humor and heartache, the vibrator play proves a vibrant work."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Design award winners announced

Set designers David Korins and Derek McLane, and lighting designers Clint Ramos and Kevin Adams, are among this year's winners of the Henry Hewes Design Awards. McLane and projection designer Jeff Sugg are feted for their work on the play 33 Variations. Pictured is of course Hair, with Adams' award-winning illumination.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

World ends

I don't watch soaps, but the passing of The Guiding Light and now the 54-year-old As the World Turns affect me. As someone notes in the article, the soaps, born in the Great Depression, are dying out in the Great Recession. It's like the last T-rex collapsing dead at your feet. Judging by the pic, though, it did try to stay relevant.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

RIP Richard Todd

I'd sort of sworn off obits, but the British actor, an Oscar nominee for 1949's The Hasty Heart, has an unusual distinction on his resume. A hero parachutist of the Normandy landings, Todd co-starred in two films about D-Day, D-Day: The Sixth of June and The Longest Day, where he was portrayed by other actors. His best-known role was in another WWII-related film, 1955's The Dam Busters, an influence on Star Wars. Other credits included a stint as Robin Hood for Disney in the 50s, Hitchcock's Stage Fright ( 1950) and King Vidor's noir Lightning Strikes Twice (1951), Raleigh to Bette Davis's Queen Elizabeth I in 1956's The Virgin Queen, Never Let Go (1960) opposite a villainous Peter Sellers, and a memorable turn as a calculating professor-turned-guru in 1967's conservatively counter-cultural The Love-Ins.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

RIP Paul Naschy

I've slowed on posting death notices of late, but I really should say goodbye to the "Spanish Lon Chaney,", a beloved figure in horror movie circles, and one of the handful of performers who might still be considered genuine stars of the genre. But Naschy didn't just act; he was a one-man band, enthusiastically reviving all the classic monsters in uneven but distinctive pictures that kept many a TV-watching insomniac entertained when edited, cropped, and subtitled prints turned up. (Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, which introduced his best-known werewolf character, the cursed Waldemar Daninsky, and Count Dracula's Great Love were in a seeming loop of syndication in the early days of cable.) The psycho thriller Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll and the witchcraft film Horror Rises from the Tomb, with Naschy in a dual role, are worth seeking out on DVD, as is Bloody Terror, a Frankenstein-less werewolf and vampire saga, which U.S. distributor Sam Sherman sorts out in a marvelous commentary track. Naschy clearly enjoyed his rediscovery on disc and was himself a welcome contributor to the medium.

Gods, Monsters, and Showboat

The great James Whale is getting a one-week retrospective at New York's Film Forum starting tomorrow. What fun--the Frankensteins, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and, beyond the macabre, his legendary filming of Showboat (with Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan), The Man in the Iron Mask, and one of the strangest screwball comedies, Remember Last Night?, which really boggled me when I saw it on TCM earlier this year. All this plus Ian McKellen's Oscar-nominated performance as Whale in 1998's Gods and Monsters. It's a Whale of a week (puns and wordplay; my only weakness...).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Beyond the Canon

Now here's a film list I can get behind. A few months ago I was asked to participate in an effort to determine the next 100 best films of all time, beyond the standard 100. This was a compelling undertaking that the indefatigable Iain Stott committed to, and it makes for fascinating reading. The list is here; and here are my choices. 1934's The Black Cat (pictured) made it onto my list and the official one. Now go see some movies.

The horror of Cineaste

A special focus on contemporary horror films is a big part of Cineaste this edition, and I'm pleased to have played a part in bringing it to Frankenstein-ian life. Articles in the magazine are a critique of Saw and "torture porn," a look at the chaste vampirism of Twilight, and my friend and colleague John Calhoun on Let the Right One In and other childhood terrors. Online you'll find an interview with Re-Animator and Stuck director Stuart Gordon, Richard Harland Smith's authoritative viral history of zombie movies post-Night of the Living Dead, and my own roundup of horror movie books. "To avoid fainting, keep's only a magazine...only a magazine..."

Monday, November 30, 2009

The month in theater

From Live Design: Finian's Rainbow and Superior Donuts on Broadway, and The Age of Iron and Wolves at the Window Off. Pictured are Finian's stars Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson.

My Popdose Top 50 list

Here's my Top 50 picks for Popdose. Would it be a different list if Cineaste went in for this sort of thing? Is it really a "best" list, or more of a "favorites" list?

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (pictured)
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
4. Pan's Labyrinth
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
6. Brokeback Mountain
7. Hero
8. Almost Famous
9. Sideways
10. Spider-Man 2
11. The Hurt Locker
12. Casino Royale
13. Let the Right One In
14. Donnie Darko
15. Ghost World
16. 25th Hour
17. Adaptation.
18. Traffic
19. Shaun of the Dead
20. The Devil Wears Prada
21. Zodiac
22. Yi Yi
23. Memento
24. No Country for Old Men
25. Ratatouille
26. Man on Wire
27. In the Realms of the Unreal
28. The Son (Le Fils)
29. High Fidelity
30. The Pianist
31. The Queen
32. Grizzly Man
33. Lost in Translation
34. X-Men
35. Michael Clayton
36. Iraq in Fragments
37. Gosford Park
38. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
39. Gladiator
40. Catch Me if You Can
41. Moulin Rouge!
42. Dogville
43. The Lives of Others
44. I Heart Huckabees
45. The Hidden Blade
46. The Host
47. Volver
48. A Scanner Darkly
49. Elegy
50. Jackass: The Movie

Of that TIFF list, incidentally, I most highly value In the Mood for Love, Tropical Malady, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Elephant, The World, and, from Canada's irrepressible Guy Maddin, the hilarious My Winnipeg and his superb short The Heart of the World.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blind Sided by list broadsides

A Hollywood Elsewhere post on the popularity of The Blind Side drew the following response from filmmaker George Hickenlooper, who is best-known for the short film that became the indie hit Sling Blade (1996): "I know [Blind Side writer-director] John Lee Hancock. Our sons were on the same Pasadena T-Ball team. John is one of the great ignored and underrated Hollywood writer/directors. His films hearken back to the golden age when movies were about telling stories and not narratives littered with characters being quirky and snarky to titillate the postmodern sensibilities of the effete New York literati. The polarity of tastes that has grown between the so called fly-over states and the two coasts is not the consequence of the dumbing down of the Midwest, but rather the infantilization of New York and Los Angeles. Where high art has become confused with the puerile masturbatory self examination of stone dead emotional detachment and characters who no longer mirror real life but are rather created to titillate the cynical sensibilities of critics who have seen too many movies and are no longer emotionally engaged with reality."

Is that the taste of sour grapes being spat out at the critics, in New York and elsewhere, who dismissed Hickenlooper's stone-dead biopic of the emotionally detached Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl? Perhaps. But Hickenlooper is getting at something more nagging than a defense of the journeyman director of The Rookie (Dennis Quaid) and The Alamo, now enjoying his first $100 million-and-counting blockbuster.

Popdose printed its Top 100 movies list last week. A reader, who I think spotted it at The (and who I think I may know from Dave Kehr's blog, harrumphed at the pop, Hollywood-centric nature of the post and proposed a "better" list, from TIFF Cinematheque. This set off a fiery exchange of posts, with me--who works both sides of the street, Hollywood and for lack of a better word "world" cinema--stepping in like Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo to oversee the bitch-slapping. Look: I disagreed with a fair number of the Popdose choices, at least a few of which were prankishly made. But as I said during the exchange the TIFF list also left something to be desired--too parochial, too joyless, and, maybe, too snootily elitist, heavily weighted toward subtitled auteurist fare that's lucky to play two weeks in allegedly cosmopolitan New York.

But they're both fine. It's not a death match; co-existence is possible, and, indeed, necessary. A Hollywood-exclusive diet is too heavy on junkfood. But a "world cinema" one is entirely too rarefied. The Hollywood-only crowd needs guidance to select the best of what else (and there is much else) out there, but trumpeting lists of the usual, almost pre-approved suspects as somehow superior isn't the way to go about it, cinephiles. (Hey, the Popdose list has more of the TIFF films than vice versa.) Everyone needs to sample both flavors--and, when it comes time to make one of these lists, choose from both these menus (and others besides as the movie market continues to fragment). Or just give up this artificial "best" pose and pick favorites, which isn't the same thing but is maybe less predigested and more idiosyncratic.

So let's join hands, sing "Kumbaya," and head off to the movies--maybe a double feature of The Headless Woman and The Blind Side, one a movie I need to see, and the other the first film in years of former gal pal Sandra Bullock that I may actually see at the theater.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bean Off Broadway

Unseen in New York since 1932, Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean has been resurrected by TACT. A review for New York Theater News.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Popdose: Movie cornucopia this Thanksgiving

And on the flipside: Not just DVD reviews of the sequel Angels & Demons and the Criterion release of the excellent Gomorrah, but a countdown of the Top 100 films of the decade, as compiled by our editors. What's on top? Hint, it's not Precious, but the precious...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Popdose: Movie misery this Thanksgiving

This is the dreariest turkey day selection of movies ever--partly because they're lame (a sequel to the so-so teenpic Twilight doesn't get my blood pumping) but mostly because they're so goddamned depressing--Precious (pictured), The Road, etc. Try not to kill yourself after reading this piece.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Popdose: Downhill Racer on DVD

Robert Redford on skis, in Michael Ritchie's debut feature. Does the Criterion disc cross the finish line?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Popdose: Wings of Desire on DVD

Wim Wenders' 1987 hit Wings of Desire has been reissued as a Criterion Collection title, just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of one of its principal locations, the Berlin Wall. Is it a transporting experience?

My own Wall fall story: I was living in Hong Kong when the momentous event occured. I was about to rent a new apartment. The prior tenant of the place (which had a glorious little view of the harbor) was a German woman who was returning to the country in tremendous haste--so fast, she asked me to please take all her furniture. I offered her some money but she said, no, it was OK, I was doing her a favor by letting her leave all the stuff behind. And off she went. The German people got their freedom, and I got free Ikea furniture that I owned for years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The new Prisoner

I'm hoping against hope that the reimagined Prisoner, which starts up on Sunday as a six-hour event, won't be too bad. AMC will always have a black mark in my book for trashing its movie programming but someone there must know something given the quality of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Though I own the Patrick McGoohan original on DVD I haven't really spent much time with the show since I gobbled it up on PBS years ago. But I've certainly read about it since then, not least in Video Watchdog magazine, and I remember it fondly. It was one of those shows that helped me grow up, to look at the world differently.

Not so, says the new No. 2, Ian McKellen. In a New York Times piece, the actor more or less calls the original, well, No. 2. “I thought it was camp, frivolous, something without substance, an entertainment without any weight or bottom to it,” he said. “I thought McGoohan was tremendous. He was terribly good at playing enigmatic, clearly angst-ridden and suffering, edgy and sexy too. It was all designed to intrigue and delight. But what was under the surface? Was there something?” Mr. McKellen added that he “wouldn’t have wanted to play the original, because it would just be playing a caricature, an idea, a symbol.”

But symbols have great power--more than too easily caricatured "reality," which is what I fear this soapier-looking redo, replete with backstory and the actor who played Christ, will amount to. McKellen's a smart guy, and a good blogger, and his emergence as a bankable character actor has been most welcome. (Then again, it seems that all British actors have to do is wait for the offers to come in from across the pond, as they do eventually.) He knows the value of publicity by going a negative; I'm sure Prisoner and TV chat rooms have lit up with his comments. But we'll soon see if he lives up to his hype and shows us what's under the surface.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mad Men and dinosaurs

In the grip of last night's third season finale of Mad Men, I had a dream. I dreamed that the show was excellent--and that I was really happy that there was only scene with dinosaurs. My gripe with the show had been that there was too much focus on dinosaurs, and I was pleased that--finally!--the producers had gotten it down to just one scene. I recall Don Draper and a T-rex hanging out together in a Jurassic Park setting.

What was going on here? Perhaps my sleeping self had somehow wired Mad Men and Primeval. Or maybe I was reacting to the notion that the modes of behavior in the show are extinct (or, like birds, have simply evolved). Perhaps I was nostalgic for a time in my own life when the idea of a workplace as a substitute family was appealing--does anyone think that way now? (Don's Manhattan family, dysfunctional as it is, is a lot more fun than the one collapsing on him upstate.)

Don't know. But I teared up at Don and Peggy's big scene. Television--dramatic art--at its finest. This show, at least, is far from an ice age in quality.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Popdose: DVD knockouts

TKOs this week: Costa-Gavras' Oscar-winning "Z," from Criterion, and a hard-hitting Samuel Fuller box set that includes the DVD debuts of The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The biggest losers

Clearly New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who won tonight, but not by much. The term limits shenanigans cost him, and all the money he threw at the election couldn't buy him a mandate. Expect a typically bumpy third term that tarnishes whatever legacy he's built up, then, I trust, out.

Second biggest loser: Me, for buying the atrocious Lionsgate DVD of an old favorite, John Huston's last film, The Dead (1987). The thing's apparently missing 10 minutes of footage, no surprise, really, given the label's careless handling of catalog releases. But I got burned.


From Dave Kehr's blog:

A brief interruption for a public service announcement. For those of you who may have purchased the new DVD of "The Dead" that apparently dropped a reel of the film, Lionsgate would like to make things right. Here's the release I just received:

It has come to our attention that due to a technical malfunction, the initial DVD shipment of John Huston's THE DEAD contained an incomplete version of the film. We deeply apologize to all our consumers for this unfortunate error and want to offer them an opportunity to replace their current copies with the complete version as soon as it is available to ship the week of November 23rd. We regret this inconvenience, as Lionsgate is committed to providing our consumers the highest quality home entertainment experience.

All consumers who purchased a copy and wish to receive the new complete version should do one of the following:

• EMAIL with their address and a scan/attachment of their receipt
• FAX (310) 222-5562 with their address and copy of their receipt
• MAIL their receipt along with a note including their address to: 20102 S Vermont Ave Torrance, CA 90502

Or please call (800) 650-7099 directly if you have any further questions.

But Lionsgate will not be recalling Bloomberg.

UPDATE: My corrected copy of THE DEAD arrived Dec. 17.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You axed for it!

In a still from Strait-Jacket, Joan Crawford wishes all readers a Happy Halloween.

Let's hear it for 560 State Street

Jay-Z filmed the video for his new single "Empire State of Mind," the hip-hop "Theme from 'New York, New York'," here at the "stash spot" last month. You can see us from :28-:33.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Horror-ween!

Presenting on Popdose: A consumer's guide to horror on DVD, including "The William Castle Film Collection," The Stepfather, Audition, and a new favorite that's bloody good, Trick 'r Treat.

Christopher Lee knighted...

...and Roger Corman's winning an Oscar. Wonders never ceasing.

Popdose: Antichrist

Chaos reigns.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Live Design: Bye Bye Miss Julie

It's a Roundabout world that we live in: the revival of Bye Bye Birdie (pictured) at the restored Henry Miller's, and the Strindberg "revisal" After Miss Julie at the American Airlines.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RIP Joseph Wiseman

I imagine Wiseman preferred the stage to film and TV, but he took time off from the boards long enough to get the Bond series off to a great start, adversary-wise, in the title role of Dr. No (1962, pictured). He's splendidly cool and silky in the part, and has rarely been bettered for onscreen villainy. Other memorable film roles included 1951's Detective Story, recreating a stage success, and an acid-etched portrayal in Sidney Lumet's Bye Bye Braverman (1968)--when he tells his son he hates him, he means it. (The Night They Raided Minsky's, too.) It's hard to believe his only accolade was a Drama Desk Award for his performance in the 1969 show In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but he made the work look so effortless. I was pleased to see him in his final Broadway appearance, in the 2001 play of Judgment at Nuremberg.

RIP Vic Mizzy

One of those days again, with multiple passings to report...Mizzy's TV themes for The Addams Family and Green Acres certainly brightened the tube whenever they came on, and he brought his offbeat sensibility to films for Don Knotts and William Castle's The Night Walker (1964), too. "Two finger snaps and you live in Bel-Air," he remarked of his creepy kooky success.

Popdose: Cheri on DVD

Dangerous Liaisons director Stephen Frears, screenwriter Christopher Hampton, and star Michelle Pfeiffer reteam, this time for an adaptation of Colette. But was Cheri worth getting out of bed for?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who, me?

I see that The Auteurs has named this little slice of the web one of its Best Film Sites. Honored and humbled to be in such great company.

Popdose: Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze makes a 100-minute movie from Maurice Sendak's short, sharp children's classic. Is it really wild, or merely mild? This week at Popdose.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Live Design: The Royal Family

Checking in on a handsome Broadway revival, and another drop-dead gorgeous John Lee Beatty set. Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, and John Glover (who I met afterwards) star.

Lithgow loony again

I don't like Dexter. But I do like John Lithgow playing crazy people, so I'm tuning in for its fourth season. He plays the Trinity Killer, who murders in threes according to a carefully maintained pattern, and has done so for years. He's set to cross paths with Michael C. Hall's serial killer vigilante, who with a wife and kids to support is feeling restive. I find the premise of the show distasteful, dislike the clammy Hall (I wasn't over the moon about him on Six Feet Under, either), and fast-forward through everything involving the negligible supporting characters (except for returning guest star Keith Carradine, who looks great in his tailored suit and brings the right gravitas to his role of a not-so-retired detective tracking Trinity).

But mostly I'm watching for Lithgow, a favorite actor whose Broadway appearances are usually top-notch (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and who often plays eccentric, as on his long-running TV hit 3rd Rock from the Sun. No one plays out-and-out insane like him, though. Blow Out, Twilight Zone: The Movie,Buckaroo Banzai (pictured), Ricochet, Raising Cain, Cliffhanger--I love them all. Thus far he's shown an interesting reserve on Dexter, even when slashing a woman in the tub and forcing another off a ledge, but after all those years away I'm sure he's just picking up the scent again.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

RIP Lance Berry

We never met, but I'll miss my Popdose colleague's passion for film; he was especially keen on science fiction, something we bonded over in our e-mails and online exchanges. A tragedy--gone too soon.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Popdose: An Education

A star is born as Carey Mulligan receives An Education, in a new memoir-based drama penned by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Tutoring her in life and love are Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, and her co-star in last fall's revival of The Seagull, Peter Sarsgaard.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Through the looking glass

The harvest moon has yielded a bumper crop of retrospectives.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music has just kicked off a "Hungarians in Hollywood" festival that runs through Oct. 27. Bela Lugosi as Dracula of course but also an eclectic mix of Hungarian hand-crafted entertainment, including Paper Moon, Gilda, and Blow Out.

Love him or hate him, Elia Kazan made some legendary movies, which Film Forum is celebrating with a three-week retrospective that begins tomorrow. Viva Zapata! is hard to find these days, so it's worth checking out. Also highly recommended: The delightful Baby Doll (with one of the best closing lines in film history, Tennessee Williams at his finest) and the more-valued-by-the-year Wild River, which gets a one-week run.

The folks at Subway Cinema have the skinny on the Film Society of Lincoln Center's latest "Scary Movies" fest, which runs Oct. 12-22. I had a great time at the first one some years back. The original, accept-no-substitutes version of The Stepfather (pictured) is in my DVD review queue for Popdose.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New York Theater News: Hamlet

Jude Law is a not-so-melancholy Dane in the play's (and the actor's) first Broadway appearance since 1995. To be or not to be?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Henry Hewes Design Awards noms announced

Quite a slate of nominees this year, for behind-the-scenes talent that sets the stage so well. Shrek the Musical's set and costume designer, Tim Hatley, is in good company this year.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Live Design: A Steady Rain

The forecast calls for stars on Broadway, as Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman play Chicago cops in A Steady Rain. Plus: A couple of Off Broadway shows, at the Live Design website.