Friday, October 31, 2008

RIP Studs Terkel and William Wharton

Distinguished men of letters both. Terkel's Working , and Wharton's Birdy, are favorites of mine.

Trick or treat

Here it is, the 30th anniversary of John Carpenter's Halloween...and it's already come and gone on TV, aired at the piddling hour of 9:30am on commercial-strewn AMC. So not right. At Popdose today, I suggest other viewing options, including the excellent Let the Right One In and Splinter, which are now in theaters. I figure after we take our little ghoul (to the left) to the BAM Boo! celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, we'll tune into one of the Fox Movie Channel's telecasts of Brian De Palma's terrific Phantom of the Paradise (1974), which is probably as much horror as Lora can stand. But if I were going out, I might take in the evergreen Rosemary's Baby at Film Forum, Werner Herzog's fine remake of Nosferatu, the Vampire at the IFC Theater...and be sure to be at Anthology Film Archives at midnight, where the irrepressible Ken Russell will host a screening of his mad 1971 masterpiece, The Devils, a movie still too hot for Warner Bros. to handle on DVD. (Pictured at right is our own Lion King, my nephew Kyle, the other bundle of joy to arrive in our family this year.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Roger's little rule book"

Funny, and advice worth taking. (It's clearly aimed at starstruck Ben Lyons, who has taken over At the Movies and is quoted without attribution throughout, not that I've watched that show in years.) On the other hand, Ebert's own overly effusive praise has cost him as a critic; you rarely see less than a three-star review in his column, that is, if he stuck it out all the way through. The prohibition on trailers is weird: Though I agree that recommending a movie based on its trailer is ridiculous, I'd say they themselves are often boringly put together, but harmless, and a heckuva better than commercials. I wish more of my brethren observed the no-autographs-and-pictures guidelines; it's enormously embarrassing when a so-called "professional" whips out the cellphone camera and blank piece of paper after a roundtable, a ritual that can be humbling enough without the added fawning (worse, some of the mementos, like signed hats and T-shirts, are known to wind up on eBay). In all I'm satisfied that I've met the mending Ebert's standards--then again no one's tested me with a suite in the Bahamas, and in the present chilly climate for working critics and the world economy no one is likely to, either.

Is there a Doctor in the house?

David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who. A couple of seasons ago I would have said goodbye, good riddance; he bugged us in the part, and he never really had the same vital chemistry with Billie Piper that Christopher Eccleston (our kind of Doctor) enjoyed, even if he did do a good job refereeing the clash of Daleks and Cybermen that ended the second season. But his loosely hinged interpretation grew on us, and he was much better paired with Freema Agyeman and especially Catherine Tate, a kindred spirit. The most excellent episode "Blink" (perfect for Halloween) aired on his watch, and gradually he made the part his own; watching him take leave of it over the four special episodes scheduled for 2009 should be compelling (we hope the Sci-Fi Channel will import them sooner than later). Speculation has begun over who will play the Eleventh Doctor, bearing the trusty sonic screwdriver, as regime change hits in 2010: David Morrissey would fit the Eccleston mode, and John Simm (terrific mimicking Tennant as the Master in the third season) is a strong candidate. (I'm having a harder time seeing James Nesbitt or Rufus Sewell, good actors though they are). Why not Tate, whose character is already part Time Lord? Doctor Who is British, but the 45-year-old role could use some American-style Clintonizing, or Obamaization.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

RIP Gerard Damiano

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Dear God

Mohammad, Messenger of God, the film that sparked the Hanafi Muslim Siege in 1977, is being remade. As if it didn't cause enough trouble the first time around. (Its well-intentioned producer-director, Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad, was killed in an Al-Qaeda bombing in 2005.) I'm really not sure the "first film's core messages" really need "renewing" in a much more squeamish time for Islam, when such messages are easily misconstrued or subverted. I'm no chicken when it comes to attending movies with controversial religious themes--I attended a screening of Godard's Hail Mary (1985) three hours after the theater had been cleared for a bomb threat, and braved throngs of protesters to see The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) on opening night in Chicago--but if history is any guide this is one message I'll receive at home, thanks.

RIP Andrew Johnston

I didn't know the Time Out New York/Us Weekly film and television critic, but sparked to his writing, particularly on Mad Men, which wrapped up its second season on Sunday night. Though there is no compensation in losing anyone at age 40 to cancer, I was pleased to learn that he had seen the final episodes, and that he fought valiantly against his illness.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Boots ankling indie scene

Sorry to hear that Two Boots Pioneer Theater is on the verge of shutting down. While not as venerable as Mondo KIm's video store, it had a similar mission on the New York independent scene, and will be missed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Richard Pilbrow wins Wally Russell Award

The LDI trade show, in full swing this weekend in Las Vegas, is highlighted by today's presentation of the Wally Russell Award to the venerable lighting designer Richard Pilbrow, currently on Broadway with A Tale of Two Cities (pictured). As a former editor of Lighting Dimensions magazine (which has been made over into Live Design), I attended LDI from 1994-2000, and can't imagine a more fitting choice for this prestigious honor than the wise and witty Pilbrow. My feature on the musical's design will appear in the November issue of Live Design.

RIP John Madden

Madden, a longtime Variety staffmember, was a former president of the Drama Desk (1982-1985). He died Sept. 10, at age 76.

Back from the crypt

Tonight, the CW cedes its regular, ho-hum prime time programming and morphs back into WPIX Channel 11, for a return engagement of Chiller Theatre, beloved for its vintage horror movie programming by boys and ghouls of a certain age (including me) in the 70's and 80's (DVD Drive-In has the vital stats archived.) Welll before that, in the 60s, when my parents were regular viewers, the program was hosted by Zacherley an eminence among horror movie hosts--and he's back, too, 90 years young. What should be a tremendously nostalgic night for generations of monster-movie-lovin' New Yorkers kicks off at 8pm, with a screening of the terrific Tarantula (1955)...and, of course, the eruption of the creepy six-fingered hand to start the show. It'll be like Saturday night sleepovers at my grandparents' house all over again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Accept no substitutes

"The Beekman Theatre is back!" enthused a press announcement I received last night. Well, not so fast: The name is back, affixed to the freshly renovated New York Twin on Manhattan's Upper East Side, which reopens Friday after a hiatus. The real Beekman, the one-and-only Beekman, with its exquisite marquee, closed in 2005 and is now a Memorial Sloan-Kettering breast cancer research center.

Here's the skinny:

"After a long absence, the Beekman Theatre, located at 1271 Second Avenue between East 66th and East 67th Street, is reopening on Friday, October 24. The cinema has two screens, each with 435 seats. Programming will be a mix of art and commercial films.

Starting October 24, the theatre will be playing What Just Happened?, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert De Niro, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis and Stanley Tucci. Also playing will be Tell No One, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas, and Elegy, with Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz.

Kevin Smith's R-rated comedy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, opens on October 31. It stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks and was a recent hit at the Toronto Film Festival.

A Christmas Tale, which was an official selection at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals, opens on November 21. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric.

The theatre took its name from the famed East Side cinema that closed a few years ago, one block to the south of the present location. It is being programmed and managed by Jeffrey Jacobs, president of Jacobs Entertainment Inc., the same company that manages and programs the Paris Theatre at 4 West 58th Street."

Talk about burying the lead: The real news is that Jacobs, who surely has better taste than the former, indifferent corporate owners, is running the show. After all, the Twin had already been renamed for the Beekman in its prior incarnation, which shuttered last July. Botton line: If it doesn't have that marquee, and it isn't a roomy standalone venue, it ain't really the Beekman.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The shape of PR to come

I imagine I'll be getting more releases like this in the future. Maybe one day the weekly boxoffice grosses charts will stand alongside weekly YouTube pageview charts in Monday's papers, if newspapers are still being printed then.

"Acclaimed filmmaker Wayne Wang's new film The Princess of Nebraska made its world premiere on YouTube on Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:00am EST. With more than 165,000 views in its first two days, the online launch represents the most successful studio film premiere in YouTube's history. In relation to a theatrical release, the film would have placed around 15th on the box office charts. The free release was launched on YouTube's Screening Room, a new channel dedicated to premium film content:

Magnolia Pictures' Ray Price said, “It’s astounding that over a two day period The Princess of Nebraska became the most widely viewed independent film in the country.”

The Princess of Nebraska is adapted from a collection of short stories by Granta prize-winning author Yiyun Li. It marks the eighth of Wang’s Asian-themed films that explore the bonds of family and Chinese identity in the modern world, making up one of the largest bodies of introspective work in independent film over the last 25 years.

In The Princess of Nebraska, Sasha (Ling Li) is a foreign exchange student who finds herself pregnant. She’s the new generation of China, unmoored to traditions and history. As she says, “In America I learned a new phrase, ‘moving on.’ Tomorrow I can start a new page.” She travels from Nebraska to San Francisco to get an abortion, but in her exploration of the city in the next 24 hours she learns that turning a new page doesn’t necessarily mean turning your back on the past.

Please use the link below to view the trailer:"

UPDATE: And so I watched. Not bad, but it's a movie with YouTube-sized only aspirations.

Monday, October 20, 2008

RIP Rudy Ray Moore

My all-honky movie group once screened the hustlin' multi-hyphenate's Dolemite (1975), with his inimitable brand of very slo-mo kung fu. I'm not sure we knew what hit us. But Moore's stand-up comedy albums were hugely popular beyond the blaxploitation era of the movie, and if you didn't like it, well, to quote the pimpin' Dolemite, "you no-business, born insecure, jock-jawed motha fuckas" could just shove it.

Plays: Horse sense

Revival fever continues on Broadway with Daniel Radcliffe, naked emotionally (and otherwise), in Equus. Plus: To Be or Not To Be: Not to be. And: The captivating Frank Langella in A Man for All Seasons.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Along the campaign trail

A lot of the web-based humor about the presidential election floating into my inbox is silly and sophomoric, but there are exceptions. "Fun with McCain" takes a still image (pictured) from the last debate, one that no one would have paid much attention to in the pre-digital era, and uses it as a satirical springboard, pitched as low as it can go, with some more inspired contributions. It was nice to see the respectable, self-deprecating McCain resurface on David Letterman last Thursday, at least for two or three minutes, but he's been asking for this. "Palin as President" is an inventive collage, updated daily with new point-and-click surprises. It's better than her good-natured but lackluster Saturday Night Live appearances last night. In the interest of fairness and balance, I'd post Obama-Biden funnies, too, but the right is behind the curve on this sort of stuff, which is suitable for bookmarking as campaign souvenirs.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Casualty of war

On Cinemax tonight, the first casualty of war will be ratings, as the channel foolhardily schedules not one but two of last fall's Iraq/war on terror flops, The Kingdom and In the Valley of Elah as they migrate to cable. A deadlier double feature is hard to imagine. Turn to sister channel MMax, and there's no end in sight: The utterly predictable Rendition airs in prime time. Test patterns will grab more viewers. Shock and awe return to the lineup afterwards, as Max goes back to its roots with Zane's Sex Chronicles ("Dirty Laundry") and The Girl with the Sex-Ray Eyes. Pictured is Rendition star Reese Witherspoon, frantically arranging pay-per-view options for the long siege ahead.

Friday, October 17, 2008

RIP Levi Stubbs

One of the Four Tops, the singer was more than just a garden-variety plant as the voice of Audrey II in the film version of Little Shop of Horrors (1986). He was a mean green mother from outer space, and bad.

Popdose: Decider-in-chief

Oliver Stone shows that the presidency has gone to the dogs, as W. opens today. See Popdose for my review.

39 Steps lively

The 39 Steps, which opened at the Roundabout's American Airlines, and is now at the Cort, will relocate to the Helen Hayes come January. I enjoy when Broadway shows roam all over town, which was commonplace in a bygone era but happens infrequently today. (I think the last was Chicago, but its multiple transfers have occurred over 12 years; The 39 Steps opened in January.) By all means go see it, but check first if it's on the move.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

RIP Edie Adams, Neal Hefti

You fall out of the 24/7 news cycle for a while and look what happens. I didn't know who this "Joe the Plumber" was till I turned on CNN; turns out no one really did, as Joe/Sam scurries from the white-hot media glare. But I did know who Adams and Hefti were, and the world is a little less bright without the bounce they brought with the performing skills. Everyone remembers Hefti's contribution to the lost art of TV themes, with Batman (surely a Top Ten in the category) and The Odd Couple among them; less known, but deserving attention, are his flavorful scores for the tough Western Duel at Diablo (a Morricone-level accomplishment, which you can hear playing on a TV in a scene from the original Halloween) and the wicked comedy Lord Love a Duck, both in 1966.

Adams, a Tony winner for Li'l Abner, was a vivacious presence in numerous films and TV shows, from The Apartment (pictured), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World (stuck in the hardware store with Sid Caesar) and The Best Man to Up in Smoke and Tales of the City, and an admirable smiling-through trouper in real life.

TKTS booth re-opens

Ten months after its "debut" in the film I Am Legend (where it's flanked by posters for long-shuttered shows), the new and improved TKTS booth has opened for business in Duffy Square. Stop by at 6:30 tonight for the star-studded gala opening. The addition of credit card purchases and a "Play Only" window are welcome additions to the 35-year-old concept, but whatever you do don't part with your shrinking entertainment dollar for To Be or Not to Be, now stinking up the Friedman/Biltmore.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It ain't so, Joe

This is a pretty gruesome pic, of Joe Pesci's desert demise in Martin Scorsese's Casino--but if you come across the film on the USA Network, don't worry, you'll be spared the gory details. I had to laugh today at the gym, where a fellow patron had the "Cardio Theater" unit mounted on his step machine turned to the channel's telecast of the film this afternoon. (The theory being that if you got fat watching TV, you can get thin watching it, too.) Pesci's horrific demise at the hands of Frank Vincent was edited in such a way to minimize bloodshed and suffering, with Vincent and crew's baseball bats landing acceptably in Joe and his brother's midriffs (rather than over the head)--and the broken bodies being tossed in the holes with their underwear still on, as if the Mafia were that dainty. Left out completely was the agonizing realization that the dying mobsters were still breathing as the earth was shoveled over them. Just as Vincent's dispatch of Pesci can be seen as payback for Pesci's ballpoint butchering of Vincent in Goodfellas, so, too, does this read as the censor's final say on the picture, which had ratings skirmishes in 1995 for its violent content. Seeing this cut, though, made me want to watch the whole, unexpurgated, underrated film again. (Coincidentally, it bows on Blu-Ray today.)

Speaking of Casino Joe, don't you want this in your home? I can't believe it's still available. I know what someone's getting for her birthday...

Oct. 19 update: Tommy/Tony/Joe is long gone, but word has just come in that Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the inspiration for the De Niro character, has died, in Miami Beach, where he resettled. (I didn't know that his lawyer is today Miami's mayor.) Rosenthal was part of an A&E special about the case that aired in conjunction with the release of the movie. At about the same time, on a flight from Kansas City (the epicenter of the trials), my seatmate was a mob lawyer whose clients were some of the guys involved.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On TCM: Newman tribute today

Turner Classic Movies' all-day salute to the late actor is in full swing. Exodus, on right now, is a slog outside of Sal Mineo's scenes (neither Newman nor co-star Eva Marie Saint got along with director Otto Preminger, and it shows in their disinterested performances), but things pick up sharply with Sweet Bird of Youth, the outstanding Hud (pictured), and the rest, except for the curious closer, The Outrage, where Newman plays Toshiro Mifune's Rashomon part, this time as a brown-skinned Mexican. Of note is his acclaimed directorial debut, Rachel, Rachel (2:15 am EST), with one of Joanne Woodward's best roles.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Video stores, dying and reborn

Before Netflix, and before Amazon, I used to frequent video stores. I still visit good ones, mostly to buy former rental DVDs at low, low prices (they are almost always in near-mint condition playback-wise, unlke tapes). But most, even the mom-and-pops, have indifferent selections indistinguishable from Blockbuster's. Face it: They're relics of the 80's just as Netflix (and my entire collection) will be relics of the 90's when it's all available via computer, or wireless implants to the brain, or something.

But the news (in the Arthouse section) that 23-year-old Mondo Kim's is closing is still bittersweet. The store was grungy, and its employees, focused on becoming the next big auteur, reportedly pesky (I spoke their language, so wouldn't know, but I did detect some eye-rolling when a customer reached for the latest Sandra Bullock rather than the arranged-by-director choices elsewhere on the shelves). Still, back in the pre-web day, I hung out there a lot, and have fond memories, of the St. Mark's store and its Bleecker Street location, which closed some time ago, around when Tower Video (sniff) was biting the dust. The First Avenue location seems more like a forestalling of the inevitable than a continuation.

But I'm happy to see that the Lai Ying video store in Chinatown, the next best thing to the long-shuttered movie theaters there, is getting a new lease on life. Even if you don't much care for Asian cinema, the neighborhood shops are fun to walk around in, and I do buy from them. (Do I watch what I buy? Well, maybe someday.) They serve a useful niche for homesick immigrants and incorrigible cinephiles, and serve it well.

Sense in San Francisco

"If only reason would prevail in San Francisco and there were no need to make it at all," I wrote of The Bridge, a 2006 documentary about the "suicide magnet" that is the Golden Gate Bridge. (The film, which is worth seeking out on DVD or on cable if you stomach the despair, was inspired by this 2003 New Yorker article.) I am happy to report that after years of debate a plan has been worked out to place stainless-steel netting beneath the structure. Since 1937, 2,000 people have jumped from the bridge, an invariably fatal plunge (19 have jumped this year). In cash-strapped times the $50 million price is steep, but its value is I think immeasurable. (A still from the film is pictured.)

Popdose: Lies and happiness

This week: Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe talk terrorism in Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, while the unlikely Mike Leigh spreads good cheer in Happy-Go-Lucky.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The revenge of Shrub?

I feel stupid for writing this, and wouldn't if I didn't feel a certain solidarity with other left-leaning worrywarts. But I kind of wish Oliver Stone were releasing his W. biopic after the election, rather than Oct. 17, depriving the Bill O'Reillys of the world of the red meat they like to use to "excite the base." Sarah Palin can't get it up for the listless John McCain by herself.

(Digression: Though it must be said that neither candidate was at their most scintillating earlier tonight. In our 24/7 news cycle whirl I think two televised debates may be enough. I don't bemoan the lack of "specifics"--TVs would click over to HGTV or TCM but quick if either opponent started reciting laundry lists of objectives from would-be plans. But there are ways to sharpen the debate, beyond relying on the usual paeans to Reagan--a great leader largely in memory--and other stump tropes that don't involve pit bull attacks on each other.)

The movie is said to take its shots, with a gallery of well-chosen supporting players as quickly etched caricatures of Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Condi (Thandie Newton), Rummy (Scott Glenn), and the gang, but in the vein of Stone's post-mortem Nixon it's also said to be respectful, even sympathetic, with a firm anchor provided by Josh Brolin (pictured) in the lead. (Brolin's dad James played the Gipper in the base-baiting but ultimately forgettable 2003 miniseries The Reagans). I imagine some of those uplifting qualities come from the pen of Stanley Weiser, who co-wrote Stone's time capsule Wall Street and a fawning Giuliani TV movie. I doubt it will be a flavorless treatment of the subject, like Stone's World Trade Center, but I've never been keen on biopics of living people--with the buck of the "greed is good" era literally stopping with this president, the ending is up in the air, and they agitate pundits. The right has as much use for Bush as the left does at this ebb point, yet they will close ranks against Stone and use the film to turn hearts and minds away from the faltering maverick and onto patriotic "liberal media" appeals as the opportunity arises.

Who knows-- I guess I just don't want spanners being thrown into the works in this delicate time. Then again, if W. plays too nice (the PG-13 rating indicates a certain softness of vision) it may be Democrats who take it out on the director...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Comforting Lies

Body of Lies is neither the best nor the worst film I've seen recently--it's the only one. I haven't been to the flickers since early August, before Larissa was born, which is the longest gap in my moviegoing since before I learned to drive and could get myself to and from mall theaters in hometown New Jersey myself. (City life is a tonic that way. In the Chicago area, Hong Kong, and New York, I've never been more than a short walk or train ride from cinemas. No wonder I disliked San Jose, which obliged me to get behind the wheel.) As it happened, I missed the planned afternoon screening, but Lora was kind enough to sate my craving and let me attend the evening show, at the AMC Lincoln Square. I bought a small popcorn and Coke, settled into my seat, and semi-enjoyed the show (a Popdose review will be up Friday), then returned to my semi-sleeping wife and daughter. Contentment all around.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


A movie called Blindness opened this weekend, but a friend reports that a New York Film Festival audience was struck dumb by today's screening of Four Nights with Anna. Once the very bleak and Eastern European-ish film ended, the pro forma Q&A with the director began...and quickly ended, as there were no questions from what I assume was a depressed crowd. This is a real surprise, given that the filmmaker is veteran Jerzy Skolimowski, returning to the screen for the first time in 17 years. OK, fine, Anna may have been a stifling experience, but nothing to ask about Moonlighting? Deep End? The Lightship? His acting role in White Nights? None of this ringing any bells? Maybe the screening was packed with the no-account 24-year-olds I wrote about a few days ago...whatever, this was the first I've heard of a Film Festival Q&A shutting down abruptly for lack of Qs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Finally, The Seagull

After all that, a review of the actual, now-on-Broadway show (after some dance stuff I had nothing to do with), on the Live Design website. Pictured are stars Peter Sarsgaard and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cultural literacy, pop division

That young whippersnapper I tangled with the other day will probably throw his hands up in despair, but I have to pass along this ongoing thread from Hollywood Elsewhere. Let's leave Kirsten Dunst out of this: She's existed in a plastic bubble of celebrity since girlhood, has been through rehab, and I still sort of like her, even if she's no Anna Paquin (you know Anna would know this stuff). But when a 24-year-old who in the comments section purports to work for Variety acts bad-ass ignorant about not knowing the basics of Star Trek, or the identities of two Oscar winners, or even a TV show pitched at his demographic, I worry about the kind of employees Variety is attracting--unless he sweeps the floors there, but that would insult the floorsweepers. We're not talking The Seagull here, though both the play and Star Trek spotlight guys named Chekhov.

It may be that when I was a kid the culture was more homogenized--cable TV and home video were in their infancy, and you basically had three channels and a few syndicated stations to choose from. We all shared in the same things, then it all splintered in a hundred different ways, so access to the once-ubiquitous Star Trek and Citizen Kane (a staple on New York's Channel 9) faded. (Syndicated stations in New York and Philadelphia, now graveyards for sitcoms and infomercials, fed and enriched my movie habit for years.) Kids today, I don't know where they get the 411 (hip enough for you?)--but all I can say is, my daughter will know who Orson Welles, William Holden, Lee Marvin, and Admiral James T. Kirk were.