Friday, January 30, 2009

Ciment mixer

Starting today, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presents a good cross-section of American films chosen by Michel Ciment, the editor of the French film magazine Positif. The program is titled "Mavericks and Outsiders: Positif Celebrates American Cinema" but don't expect a lot of laughs and glad tidings from Paris--joie de vivre is decidedly absent. But do expect some quality cinema, largely unsung on its home turf, including one of my favorites, The Honeymoon Killers, Paul Schrader's excellent Blue Collar, the underrated True Confessions, and Barbara Loden's neglected Wanda.

Popdose: Every Which Way With Clint

Or, why the venerated Eastwood doesn't always make my day. Here he is with his two Oscars for Million Dollar Baby.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RIP Roy Somlyo

The Drama Desk expresses great sadness at today’s passing of legendary theatrical and television producer Roy Somlyo following a long illness.

William Wolf, President of the Drama Desk, issued the following statement:

“The Drama Desk mourns the loss of Roy Somlyo, Consulting Producer for the annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony. In addition to being a good friend and a very special person, Roy was of enormous assistance in recent years in helping obtain sponsorship for our annual awards shows and in arranging and editing television productions. His death today is a profound loss both personally and professionally. We salute Roy for his long involvement in the theater and we extend our deepest sympathy to his family.”

Robert R. Blume, Executive Producer of the annual Drama Desk Awards shows since 1999, speaking for Drama Desk Awards producer Lauren Class Schneider, director Jeff Kalpak and Associate Producer Les Schecter, said the following about the loss of their friend and associate:

“All of us who have known and worked closely with Roy Somlyo will miss him terribly. In addition to being a giant in the entertainment industry, Roy was a close friend whose guidance and advice helped raise the annual Drama Desk Awards presentations to new levels and greater exposure since joining the production team in 2004. We will all miss his sense of humor, his vast amount of knowledge and his sound advice based on his decades of experience as a theatrical, film and television producer. Our love, affection and sympathy go out to his family in this time of sadness.”

(Somlyo was a seven-time Emmy nominee and a four-time winner, for three Tony Awards telecasts (1980, 1998 and 1999) and 1982's Night of 100 Stars show--RC)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Miike takes Manhattan

I'm up and down with prolific (over 70 features) Japanese director Takashi Miike, but he'd probably be an interesting guy to spend an afternoon with. And that's what The Japan Society is promising on Feb. 7, with "From Gore to Westerns: An Incisive Afternoon with Takashi Miike," as the director of Audition, The Happiness of the Katakuris, and Sukiyaki Western Django and Ichi the Killer takes the dais for what should be a lively lecture. Despite the ubiquitous sunglasses, he's always seemed like a night guy to me, though.

RIP Charles H. Schneer

John Updike and James Brady, who worked different facets of the literary spectrum, have left us. But they'll get enough ink. Schneer's stop-motion animation spectacles with Ray Harryhausen are long-time favorites of mine, and he gets due credit from this corner for guiding them through prolonged production cycles. The fantastic cinema was fortunate in his shepherding.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The milestone of the night

Broadway's Phantom of the Opera is 21 years old as of tonight's performance. I've done my bit: I saw the show not long after it opened with my family, took my in-laws to see it a year or two back, and cop to liking the 2004 movie, which irons out some of the plot wrinkles and succeeds despite a lackluster lead. Pictured is Howard McGillin, who has played the role more than 2,300 times--that's a lot of renditions of "The Music of the Night." Here's the PR:

"The most successful stage musical of all time, the Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Group, Inc. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, directed by Harold Prince, will reach an unprecedented milestone when it celebrates its Twenty-First Anniversary on Broadway on Monday, January 26, 2009.  On that date, playing its 8,732nd performance at The Majestic Theatre (247 West 44th Street), it will become the first Broadway production ever to have run 21 years.

The longest-running show in Broadway history (a feat it achieved in January 2006 when it surpassed the run of Cats), the musical is the winner of 7 1988 Tony Awards including Best Musical.  Since its Broadway debut on January 26, 1988, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has grossed $715 million, making it the highest-grossing show in Broadway history.  Total New York attendance is at 13 million.  Having since surpassed Cats’ record by a phenomenal 3 years and 1,200 performances, it has now played over 8,700 performances – the only show in Broadway history to do so – and all with no end in sight.

As a major vote of confidence in the future of the Broadway production, last August the producers took the extraordinary step of installing a brand-new Digital Sound System (at an investment of $750,000) to bring the production’s sound design technology into the 21s Century.  The move followed last May’s successful installation of the same new Digital Sound System into the London production.

Its international success – equally staggering – is represented by total worldwide grosses estimated at over $5 billion.  This colossal figure makes PHANTOM the most successful entertainment venture of all time, surpassing not only any other stage production, but also far surpassing the world’s highest-grossing film Titanic (at $1.2 billion) and such other blockbusters as The Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park and Star Wars.  Worldwide attendance is over 80 million people. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber recently confirmed that he has greenlit production on a sequel to the show, Phantom: Love Never Dies.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has always been a record-breaker, with the New York production setting benchmarks that have dominated the industry: for capitalization (a then-spectacular $8 million), total advance (a then-enormous $18 million), total gross and attendance ($715 million and 13 million and counting), total performances (becoming the first and still only show to ever reach 7,500; 8,000; 8,500 and now over 8,700 perfs), and even the number of years before a single ticket  was ever sold at the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square (over 14 years, which is still the record, by a long shot).  And since becoming the longest-running show in Broadway history in 2006, each performance has set a new longevity record. 

The musical has also broken all touring records.  It continues to be the longest continuously-touring show in U.S. history, with the first of its three National Tours having gone out over 20 years ago in May 1989.  The current tour is the longest-running touring production in U.S. history, having recently celebrated its 16th Anniversary on December 13, 2008, and having played over 6,500 performances.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA had its world premiere on October 9, 1986 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, winning every major British theatre award including the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards.  The New York production opened on January 26, 1988 with a then record advance of $18 million.  The musical went on to sweep the 1988 Tony Awards, winning seven, including Best Musical. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA also won seven Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards.  The original London cast recording was the first in British musical history to enter the charts at number one.  It has since gone both gold and platinum in Britain and the U.S. selling over 40 million copies worldwide.

Base on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it.  He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA stars Howard McGillin in the title role with Marni Raab as Christine and Tim Martin Gleason as Raoul.  Having donned the mask over 2,300 times, Mr. McGillin holds the record for having performed the title role more than any other actor in the Broadway production.  The musical also co-stars George Lee Andrews (Monsieur André; Mr. Andrews is the only cast member to have been with the Broadway production for the entire run), David Cryer (Monsieur Firmin), Patricia Phillips (Carlotta), Rebecca Judd (Madame Giry), Evan Harrington (Piangi) and Polly Baird (Meg Giry).  At certain performances, Elizabeth Loyacano plays Christine.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is directed by Harold Prince.  Lyrics are by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) and the book is by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has production design by the late Maria Björnson, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Martin Levan.  Musical staging and choreography is by Gillian Lynne.  Orchestrations are by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The purr-fect idea

Picque's not-unreasonable response to another cold Brooklyn night: Curling up in her mom's coat.

On TCM: Barbarosa

It's a damn shame that Westerns are pretty much tumbleweed city anymore. I have last year's, Appaloosa, waiting to watch on DVD--I think that was the only one to come out of Hollywood last year, not-so-hot on the heels of 2007's 3:10 to Yuma remake. It took me awhile to come around to the uniquely American genre, and I wish a larger audience would, too--just enough of one to get a few good ones in the pipeline, to encourage a more natural flow.

According to the invaluable Overlook Film Encyclopedia on the Western, 1982 wasn't such a barnburner, either, with just seven in release. (1983 coughed up just one, the sci-fi-ish Time Rider). But the brand was good that year, and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, The Grey Fox, and The Man from Snowy River all merit a look. The best, however, was Barbarosa, the American debut of Australia's Fred Schepisi, who proved himself a landscape artist with the picture's incredible vistas of the high deserts of Big Bend National Park, shot by Ian Baker.

You wouldn't know it, though, from indifferent TV and home video prints, which carelessly crop the image. Tonight at 10:15pm, however, Turner Classic Movies corrects this with what should be an eye-filling letterboxed image. I'll be watching for the background. What really counts, though, is what's in the foreground, an engaging and beautiful story about the importance of myth and the catastrophe of its absence--in the form of an ambitious, exciting, and amusing Western, teaming Willie Nelson (at his most iconic) and Gary Busey, with a lovely final role for veteran Gilbert Roland to boot. The film is being aired as part of a cult movies tribute--and you will want to saddle up with fellow Barbarosa mavens once you've seen it.

Popdose: A sort-of Top 10 list for 2008

I should really have done this in summer, giving me more time to see everything I should see (either theatrically, on DVD, or via some "ancillary stream") to do a proper list. But time waits for no man, especially not one with a newborn to Mr. Mom. So here it is, with contributions from other staffers. Oscar-nominated palooka Mickey Rourke is glad I got to see him in The Wrestler, anyway.

Live Design: Flying high Off Broadway

From the pixels of the magazine: The airplane-set Wickets (pictured) comes in for a landing today, but there's two weeks left to take in the moral quandaries of Terre Haute, at 59E59 Theaters.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Razzies (and the other stuff) announced

The Happening really is that bad. Here Mark Wahlberg says, "Wasn't I just an Oscar nominee two years ago?"

As for that other thing...I'm cogitating on an Oscars post for tomorrow, as well as a Top 10 list and other film-in-2008 listage and errata. (Why does it take so long for the Academy to provide a complete list of nominees?) I have just one thing to say: The Reader?

(As it happens, Popdose pipped me to the post on this. I did add some comments to the list. I'm not sure how much more time I wanted to spend on this, frankly--a tepid year yielded lukewarm nominees, and I can feel the telecast's ratings plummeting as I write.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The new Man

The soon-to-be-president doesn't have many role models in the culture. There was Chris Rock (who joked, re: Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, about black presidents only being around for cinematic asteroid strikes) who ascended to the Oval Office at the tail end of the comedy Head of State. President Obama's predecessors on 24 didn't exactly have much time for good governance, and I trust Michelle Obama will be more supportive than the viperish Sherry was to the first President Palmer on the show. Rosalind Cash played the vice president in the half-prescient, half-terrible 1982 satire Wrong is Right, but the position is below his pay grade.

The 1972 film The Man, with James Earl Jones thrust into the presidency, is available only as a bootleg, a strange circumstance for a movie tailor-made for the occasion. The Manwas based on one of Irving Wallace's ripped-from-the-headlines potboilers, written by the esteemed Rod Serling, and directed by the able journeyman Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3), a promising pedigree. I read most of Wallace's books, and the movie popped up from time to time on TV, but it eluded me in either medium, and it seems to have disappeared.

If the clip below is anything to go by, Obama may have his hands full by the time Sasha and Malia are teens. "How the hell do I get out of this First Family?" indeed; the tabloids would have a field day with that! If nothing else, The Man is a useful reminder of a time, not so long ago, when an African-American president was thought only to be possible by accident. How wonderful it was to hear the cheering throughout Brooklyn when Obama was elected; how wonderful it is to welcome him to the White House.

Fellini Day today

For the last few years, today's been the day Oscar nominations have been announced. That's been postponed by another happening in the capitol. But every Jan. 20 is Fellini Day. I got this via Cineaste:

"With all due respect to President Obama...

January 20 is also Fellini Day!

Federico Fellini was born on January 20, 1920. He died October 31, 1993.

The films, writings and drawings of Il Maestro are hotter than ever. Consider the following:

*His 1974 Oscar-winning film, Amarcord, is touring the world in a newly restored print;
*In one of the Top 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2009 (according to the Rope of Silicon website), Rob Marshall (Chicago) is directing an all-star cast in Nine, a film inspired by Fellini's masterpiece, 8 1/2;
*The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences will honor Fellini with an exhibition of his "scribbles" entitled, Fellini Oniricon--The Book of Dreams, through April 19;
*2010 will be the 50th anniversary of Fellini's groundbreaking film, La Dolce Vita.


*Fellini was nominated for 12 Academy Award Oscars;
*Four of his films won Oscars for Best Foreign Film, a record that remains unmatched;
*He won the first two such awards for La Strada (1954 film, award given in 1956) and Nights of Cabiria (1957);
*He also won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1993;
*Other awards include, two Silver Lions, a Palme d'Or, the Grand Prize of the Moscow Intl. Film Festival and the Japanese equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the Praemium Imperiale.

Here's what Fellini said about awards:

"In the myth of the cinema, Oscar is the supreme prize."

Buon Compleanno and Happy Birthday, Signor Fellini!


(Don Young Felliniana Archive
P.O. Box 470041
Fort Worth, TX 76147

Monday, January 19, 2009

RIP Kathleen Byron

Once seen, never forgotten as the most troubled of the nuns in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's great Black Narcissus, Byron also appeared in their 1949 film The Small Back Room, a gem I only recently discovered, and 1946's A Matter of Life and Death, as a spooky "other world" emissary in filmy black-and-white. (It's the opposite of her startling Technicolor appearance in Narcissus, pictured, particularly when her nun abandons her habit for more sensual dress and blood-red lipstick.) It was Ian Christie's commentary track on Matter (newly released to DVD) that reminded me that she played the wife of the now-elderly rescued soldier in the framing scenes of Saving Private Ryan--I guess she'll always be Sister Ruth to me. Byron also appeared in Burn Witch Burn (1962), Twins of Evil (1971), The Elephant Man (1980), and Emma (1996), and lots of TV across the pond.

Toasting Poe

Quoth the Ravens, nevermore, this football season--but Baltimore can celebrate the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe, as the Poe Toaster makes his annual visit to his grave. (It's the 60th anniversary of that tradition.) I may have to dip into his collected works today, and perhaps complement that with a viewing of Roger Corman's The House of Usher or The Masque of the Red Death. The "master of the macabre," the inventor of detective fiction, and the great Romantic poet can also be considered the patron saint of freelance writers, as he was the first of his kind (200 years later the frustrations haven't changed).

Here's "A Dream Within a Dream," which inspired a Britney Spears tour of the same name, proving that Poe is indeed universal (and is not to be confused with "I Have a Dream," from today's other celebrant.) Published 160 years ago, the year of his death, and timeless.

"Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Park City washouts

And speaking of the Sundance Film Festival...a list that proves that as hard as it is to make a first film, it's infinitely more difficult to make a second, even if the debut doesn't disappear in an avalanche of hype and misspent acquisition money and actually makes a dent in the commercial marketplace. (See the No. 1 pick, pictured. Was it really ten years ago?) I've seen a lot of these pictures, some of them quite good (Down to the Bone, May) and not all of them bad--well, I must say that one, The Castle, is bad, and never should have been allowed to leave Australia (the director's sophomore effort, The Dish, is an improvement, but that was in 2000). I would add that The Spitfire Grill (No. 3 on the non-hit parade) has had a half-life as a musical, and that these films still haunt cable, mystifying in-the-know viewers who wonder what all the fuss was about and tantalizing their creators with what might have been.

Film Park Slope resumes

Film Park Slope, the brainchild of House Next Door poohbah Keith Uhlich, is back, with a full slate of programming that kicked off tonight. Probably a good place to meet some of New York's film blogging cognoscenti, those who sensibly forsook Park City for the far greater comforts of Park Slope.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Airport '09

What looks to be a merger of The Birds and Airport '77 doesn't happen everyday, and thank God for it. (But flocking birds are a literal flight risk, and have been blamed for prior accidents.) Fortunately the story seems to have had a happy ending, as it did for Olivia De Havilland and Jack Lemmon in the waterlogged super-jet adventure, and the services of George Kennedy were not required.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zipper Factory closes

I'll miss this funky venue, which survived despite opening right after 9/11 but couldn't make it through a rumored spat over real estate. Too bad: There aren't a lot of reasons to go down to West 37th Street after (or before) dark, and the 37 Arts complex down the block is idling. The producers hope to resurrect the concept but in today's economic doldrums I suspect the Zipper will be tightly fastened for a while.

RIP Ricardo Montalban

I hate days like these. It's too soon in the new year to be memorializing, and I let slip Tom O'Horgan and Claude Berri. Death, take a holiday.

But Montalban was part of our pop cultural fabric: Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island, Khan (the anti-Mr. Rourke, a vivid portrayal on TV full blown and mythic in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), "soft Corinthian leather." We take him for granted; of course he was a star presence, and in on the joke (The Naked Gun) when his courtly suavity became a cliche. The "Montalban School of Acting" parody on SCTV was dead-on. How hard it was, however, for a Mexican performer to get such traction in Hollywood, and how adaptable he proved to be, genre-hopping from musicals to Westerns to dramas, then transitioning to TV. His versatility is on display in Anthony Mann's terrific, documentary-like Border Incident and William Wellman's Battleground, from 1949; John Sturges' Mystery Street (1950); Wellman's good try at John Fante, My Man and I (1952), with he and Shelley Winters as lovers; Japanese in Sayonara (1957); Native American in John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and his Emmy winner, TV's How the West Was Won (1978); and a friend to apes in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and a lively, wheelchair-bound grandpa in two of the Spy Kids movies. He was perfect casting as Antonio Banderas' dad in those.

I recorded Sturges' Right Cross (1950) just today, not intending to watch it in tribute.

Poetry, prose for prez

Toward International Peace through the Arts
Stanley Eugene Tannen, Founder and Director


Monday, January 26, 2009 , 12:30 to 2:00 p.m.
St. Peter's Church
619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street New York City
Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Richard Griffiths,
Marian Seldes, Ronald Rand, Charles Turner,
Frances Sternhagen and other special guests

may include
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“ Concord Hymn”
Vachel Lindsay
“Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight”
Stephen Spender
“I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great”
W. H. Auden
“Musée des Beaux Arts”
Richard Wilbur
“Advice to a Prophet”
Robert Frost
“Mending Wall”
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
“A Prison Evening”
Du Tu Le
“What I Leave to My Son”
Ha Thi Thao
“Our Son’s Profession”
J. G. Mocoancoeng
Walt Whitman
“I Hear America Singing”
Abraham Lincoln
“ Gettysburg Address” and “Second Inaugural Address”
Toni Morrison
from Song of Solomon
Leo Tolstoy
“The Three Hermits”

The TIPA Project brings honor and respect to New York by demonstrating to people throughout the world that our city and nation care deeply about the peoples of all nations and that we can, through an “international conversation” by way of free public programs, the Internet, and other means of worldwide communications, reach out to each other in peace, understanding and goodwill through the sharing of our cherished literary, artistic and cultural heritages.
For further information on The TIPA Project contact Stan Tannen at 212-246-4651.

RIP Patrick McGoohan

The Prisoner was one of those great shows that proved how potent TV could be, one I watched with rapt fascination when it re-aired on I believe PBS in the early 1980s. It's regrettable that McGoohan never turned his keen mind to any other projects in the medium, though The Prisoner and the earlier Secret Agent still ripple in the culture, including his own playful poke at Number Six on The Simpsons. (It'll be interesting, maybe, to see how the upcoming AMC remake of the The Prisoner, with Jim Cavizel and Ian McKellen as Number Six and Number Two, will bring the hall-of-mirrors concept into our era.)

Born in Astoria, Queens, but raised in England and Ireland, which gave him his distinctive, brandy-flavored voice, McGoohan was hard to pin down as a film and TV performer, with gaps in his resume, spurnings (James Bond, Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings cycle and Dumbledore in the Harry Potter pictures), and some quirky judgment calls when he went before the cameras. (His first, and last, Broadway appearance was in 1985's Pack of Lies, for which he received a Drama Desk nomination.)

But there were memorable parts, including 1957's hard-hitting trucker expose Hell Drivers, 1962's All Night Long, a jazz-set Othello, with McGoohan excellent as the Iago figure (look for them on Turner Classic) ;The Quare Fellow (1962), from Brendan Behan's play; his fine Disney pictures, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and The Three Lives of Thomasina (my wife had a cat named Thomasina, from the film); giving a master class on how to handle great chunks of exposition in 1968's Ice Station Zebra; menacing Gene Wilder in Silver Streak (1976), Clint Eastwood in 1979's Escape from Alcatraz, and Mel Gibson in Braveheart (1995), his last big part; and birthing mutants as a different kind of Dr. Ruth in David Cronenberg's classic Scanners (1981). Columbo never had a finer adversary than McGoohan, who appeared four times on various incarnations of the show and won two Emmys. I would like to see the 1970 Elmore Leonard adaptation The Moonshine War, with Richard Widmark and Alan Alda.

For all this I always thought he might have done more, but perhaps McGoohan (a private, few-interviews kind of person, and not the easiest person to work with) preferred spending time on what appears to have been a settled family life. The 80-year-old actor was married 57 years, no little accomplishment.

Popdose: Supercop on DVD

Stroll--or, rather, drop-kick--down memory lane as I review Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in 1992's Supercop, one of his (and their) best pictures, now on DVD in a terrific two-disc package from the folks at Dragon Dynasty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Video killed the video star

I've always looked at YouTube as a copyright graveyard, but whenever I see something that's truly innovative up there I can be persuaded otherwise. Mindful of myriad problems in our interconnected world the company has taken an ax to the anthill over programming that partakes of copyrighted material, a solution that may not be the best choice where new avenues in film criticism are concerned. That's one example of the clash between creativity and copyright happening beyond the cat videos and comedy sketches my friends tend to send my way, in this unsettled new world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Destroy all monster models

Knowing something about felines, I'd say Godzilla is toast, unless he has a big ball of string somewhere on his person...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden glop again

For the record...we watched a bit of the show, switched off the TV to enjoy our dinner, and never returned. I just can't get interested in the Globes. Slumdog Millionaire, a movie contrived to win awards but especially a foreign press honor, did not disappoint (though the movie, not as good as one might hope, sort-of does). More gratifying were Mickey Rourke's win for his poignant palooka in The Wrestler, Kate Winslet's two wins, Sally Hawkins...really not a bad cross-section. I just can't get interested in the Globes...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

MGMHD in Manhattan

Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey has added MGMHD to its lineup (Channel 796 here in Brooklyn). Basically that means a chunk of Turner Classic Movies' finest is now available in HD, along with pictures that don't often air on TCM, like less-than-classic Burt Reynolds movies and Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Some good stuff there, though I wish its site offered monthly, rather than daily, listings. I also noticed that all my premium movie channels (HBO, Max, SHO, Starz, etc.) now have HD equivalents. All good news--now, if only it could somehow be beamed into my consciousness, as the time to watch any of it is scarce.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Popdose: "The Films of Michael Powell"

The release of a splendid two-disc package of A Matter of Life and Death (1946), with Kim Hunter and David Niven, and Age of Consent (1969), the movie debut of Helen Mirren, gives me an opportunity to talk about the great filmmaker behind The Red Shoes (1948) and my personal favorite, Black Narcissus (1947). The conversation continues here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

DGA, WGA, etc.

Directors Guild of America nominees:

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Vant Sant, Milk

Writers Guild of America nominees:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

(Plus: Burn After Reading, Doubt, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Visitor, and The Wrestler)

Hmmm...are we like maybe seeing a pattern here as we make our way to the Academy Awards?

King cover-up

It doesn't bother Ian McKellen, and in a way it doesn't bother me, as I saw it in the flesh, as it were. (He's no Daniel Radcliffe up there, as he would almost certainly agree.) But the fact is he was naked in his mad scene in his King Lear, and PBS is doing the production a disservice by omitting it. (I assume it was filmed clothed, as Lear without the mad scene is like peanut butter without jelly.) The scene is about derangement, not titillation or "wardrobe malfunction," and I would expect the FCC and community standards-bearers to understand artistic nuance. Or am I the mad one? Not that I want to knock ever-bedraggled public television, but it lacks the balls McKellen amply showed onstage.

RIP Ray Dennis Steckler

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? really tests the "Classic" in Turner Classic Movies. (The guys who put up letters on marquees must have dreaded when that one came to town.) Industry recognition via the roll call of the dead at this year's Academy Awards is far from assured. But a one-man band of a filmmaker who called one self-made movie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, and another Rat Phink and Boo-Boo, and who continued to churn them out on his own, deserves a little respect on his passing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Drama Desk: Can Theater Inspire Social Change?

"Can Theater Inspire Social Change?" asks the next Drama Desk panel. Find out on Feb. 2.

MONDAY, FEB 2, FROM 5 P.M. TO 7:30 P.M.
Dinner at 5 p.m., Panel 6:15-7:30 p.m.
at Tony's Di Napoli
147 West 43rd Street

RICHARD FRANKEL, Producer, Hairspray, Gypsy
ELIZABETH McCANN, Producer, Hair, Equus
NILAJA SUN, actress, author, No Child…
CASIMIRO TORRES, actor, The Castle
Moderator: DAVID ROTHENBERG, Any Saturday, WBAI

Drama Desk Members $25, Non-members $45
Pay at door with cash or check

Hitting bottom

Unless McG has substantially improved as a director since the instantly disposable Charlie's Angels pictures, I'm less than thrilled at the announcement that he will helm a--heavy sigh--"origins" story based on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm ticked off that Disney is remaking its first live-action classic in the first place, and this really puts it into Davy Jones' locker for me. I bet the inevitable Johnny Depp--heavier sigh--will be approached to play Nemo. Meanwhile, McG has a fourth, Arnold-free installment of the tapped-out Terminator franchise due May 22. My pulse is racing...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

RIP Pat Hingle

In memorializing Donald E. Westlake I mentioned his fine adaptation of The Grifters. Let me add that the veteran actor, who died at age 84, was absolutely terrifying in the film. It is no small thing to put the fear of God into the indomitable Anjelica Huston, and you could hear a pin drop in the theater when he worked her over with a stocking full of oranges, to cause terrible injury but not lasting damage to one of his assets. (He knew from great pain, as you can read in the Wiki obit.) He was in many films and TV shows; other notable ones include Splendor in the Grass, as Warren Beatty's hypocritical father, and the Dirty Harry entry Sudden Impact, where he makes the pain of a distraught dad credible in potboiler circumstances (he and Clint Eastwood also appeared onscreen in Hang Em High and The Gauntlet.)

He was perfect casting as Commissioner Gordon in the entertaining Batman films of yester-decade. I can imagine him fitting the role of Gooper to a T in the original staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; I saw him onstage just once, as Ben Franklin in the 1996-1997 season revival of 1776, his last Broadway appearance. Larissa just heard him as the narrator of the animated feature The Land Before Time, which was on HBO Family tonight. Speaking of family, it's a shame no one thought to cast him as Nick Nolte's father in a movie; the resemblance is there, physically and spiritually, as Nolte picks up the character actor mantle. Hingle was filmed for an in-the-works documentary about auditioning titled Showing Up--he showed up quite a lot, then successfully fought the rest of the battle.

Me, Mr. Mom

I never much liked the 1983 comedy hit, but more than 25 years later I'm getting a chance to rewrite it--for real. This was Day One of the Larissa and Daddy Show, and it went well, not that I decided to take my baby on a spree or anything. (We stayed indoors and played with this or that toy as I kept half an eye on the films I had recorded on the DVR, including Jodie Foster in the original Freaky Friday and Raquel Welch as the one-and-only Kansas City Bomber --co-starring Jodie Foster as her daughter. Tomorrow will be more ambitious than an inadvertent Jodie-thon.)

Having a baby is the life-changing experience, yet what's most remarkable is the little ways in which it reshapes you. We writhed through the child torture sequences in Slumdog Millionaire; it's always tough to watch kids get brutalized in movies, but when you have your own the violation is suddenly personal. I'm more empathetic to parents whose kids are having meltdowns in public; they should of course do more to prevent the eruption, still, I know the feeling when it happens and there's not much to be done except tough it out. Mundane things take on a new color: It's ecstasy when I finally get Larissa's outfit on in the morning--and agony when her diaper immediately overflows all over it, necessitating another frustrating costume change.

Was it only five months ago I was living an entirely different life? My transition from gadabout continent-to-coast studio apartment dweller to married-with-child settled condo owner has been a lengthy one, and I feel I've definitively turned a corner. I still have my myriad cultural interests but they are now at a certain remove from me, a little off to the side whereas they were once central. When I mentioned this to online acquaintance (and fellow parent) Joel Stein, he said, "Yeah, occasionally you'll feel sad, not because you're seeing fewer films, but because it doesn't matter to you the way you feel it should." I haven't really tested that proposition, yet it feels true.

(And, no, I don't plan to abandon the theater or the multiplex, just reposition them in my life to clear the path for fatherhood. Which is not as impossible to manage as Mr. Mom would have. Men can handle the dishes, the supermarket, and the tidying-up. Just not those damn "one-sies," which are are a bitch to slip on by yourself when your baby can't sit upright. That daily comedy I should put up on YouTube.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

RIP Edmund Purdom

In an alternate reality, the British actor, having replaced Marlon Brando in the 1954 epic The Egyptian, became a sensation and had an illustrious Hollywood career. But things didn't work out that way, so a select few of us recall him as the deranged dean in the 1982 slasher Pieces, cutting up campus cuties with a chainsaw and assembling their bodies in a macabre jigsaw puzzle. He spent his post-Tinseltown years in Rome, as a dubber and an actor in other straight-to-the-grindhouse flicks films like After the Fall of New York, Ator the Invincible, and Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks. In an alternate reality, he might have starred in Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), as he would come to know the milieu of making Italian B-movies as well as anyone. (The Wiki entry on that film suggests that it was based on the star-crossed relationship of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian, who was, after Power's death, one of Purdom's four wives.) I'd like to think that he went about these assignments, which included starring in and more-or-less directing the 1984 slice-and-dicer Don't Open 'Til Christmas, with upper lip stiffened and tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Waltz away with honor

Israel's first animated feature, Waltz with Bashir, has taken the top honor at the National Society of Film Critics shindig. The award couldn't be timelier, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters a new and dreadful phase. Other winners: Sean Penn for Milk, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, and Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky, and a newcomer to the yearly honor roll, Hanna Schygulla for The Edge of Heaven.

Back from the dead

Memorializing Forry Ackerman reminded me of The Monster Times, copies of which have been yellowing in my parents' basement for more than 30 years. It was a clever, tabloid-style publication, the kind superseded by the slicker Fangoria. The durable Fango is behind its resurrection, including new issues with input by its founders--but I'm more interested in browsing the original 1972-1978 run, which is being digitized. Childhood never ends; it just migrates online.

The new Doctor Who

I have underwear older than this guy, but if the incoming creative team thinks 26-year-old Matt Smith is best suited to play the 11th incarnation of the character I'm down with it. He seems to have a good professional rapport with Billie Piper, so I assume Rose will be back. In other Who news, the annual Christmas special has been sighted online; I only hope the Sci-Fi Channel brings all four of David Tennant's final episodes across the pond sooner rather than later.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

RIP Donald E. Westlake

And so it begins...Westlake was the consummate mystery writer, and an author of as many pseudonyms as he had credits. The Parker novels, written under the pen name Richard Stark, are among the most noted, and inspired John Boorman's great Point Blank (1967). My favorite of his books, The Ax, is about the extremes an unemployed white-collar worker will go to find a new position; Costa-Gavras directed a French-language film version in 2005, which I would like to see. (And what of the as-yet-unreleased Ripley Under Ground, also from 2005; Westlake adapting Patricia Highsmith's anti-hero is an intriguing combination, however it turned out.) Westlake was a deserved Oscar nominee for his trenchant adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Grifters (1990); his best original for the screen was his insinuating detonation of the nuclear family, The Stepfather (1987), which I do hope a forthcoming remake will finally bring to DVD. Sadly, Westlake was due to make a personal appearance at New York's Film Forum to discuss Jean-Luc Godard's loose filmization of one of his Stark books, 1966's Made in U.S.A.

Baby and her bumbo

Because you have to start out the new year with something cheery and positive, and because there's no point in having kids if you don't take lots of cute pictures of them. Here's four-month-old Larissa on her fourth and newest chair--a "bumbo," to help her sit upright--playing with the musical toys on her activity mat. Regular programming to resume shortly, but in the meantime enjoy the show.