Wednesday, June 30, 2010


A pal of mine recently interviewed for a job as a detention monitor at an elementary school. He told me that at this school, the Detention Hall is called the “Responsible Thinking Room.” That has rather a chilling, Orwellian ring to it, no?

Another pal of mine, Elan Head, is surely one of the coolest chicks ever. She’s been to Afghanistan & Haiti & Micronesia & New Zealand, she’s a helicopter pilot, she can ride a motorcycle, & she can cook squab. In other words, she’s as close to a Bond girl as I’m likely to meet—she even has a Bond girl name.

Anyway, she’s finally knuckled under & started a blog; check it out here.

Monday, June 28, 2010


It’s a little embarrassing, approaching the half-century mark, to admit it, but admit it I must: I’m a Trekkie.
Or a Trekker, or whatever term you prefer—I’m a Star Trek fan. I’ve been one most of my life.

At least, I’ve always thought I was a Star Trek fan. I mean, I’ve seen all the episodes of the original series (1966-69) multiple times, & all of the feature films at least once. I own all three seasons of the original series, & also the complete animated series, on DVD. As I write these words, a Gorn bobblehead stands on my desk, his blank reptilian eyes glaring at me.

I once even reviewed a Klingon translation of Much Ado About Nothing for the Detroit Metro Times. No, seriously.

But a tome that recently came across my Gorn-guarded desk has led me to wonder whether I’m really such a Trek fan after all. Not until I leafed through Alva Underwood’s Star Trek Reader’s Reference to the Novels: 1990-1991, Volume 6...

...did I know, for instance, that:

Kirk’s favorite dessert was “brandied chocolate cheesecake topped with Cerian cherries, whipped cream and fudge sauce…

Dr. McCoy “kept an antique Shaker rush-back rocking chair, circa 1980 in his quarters…

Uhura held the record for the 100-yard dash in the Pan-American games of StarDate 2255.

“Turtleheads” is a derogatory term for Klingons.

Spock & I share a birthday! (March 26, by the way, in 1962 for me, and in 2225 for Spock.)

In my defense, I’ll note that, per the title, this book, which runs to nearly two hundred & fifty pages, concerns itself only with that hugely profitable division of the franchise, Star Trek novels, & only those concerning the original series characters, and indeed only those from the two year period noted. The only Trek novel I ever read was from the ‘70s.

But that’s the point. The Trek world is so big that it can produce an encyclopedic volume with a full complement of appendices—the sixth in a series, no less—devoted only to Star Trek novels from a two year period. The book is a publication of Authorhouse (self-published, in other words), & is in no way affiliated with Trek. Except for a generic picture of a nebula on the cover, it’s devoid of illustration. But Ms. Underwood’s prose is well-crafted & readable, the typos are minimal for a self-edited work, & her scholarship seems more thorough than many a graduate student’s thesis could boast. Narrow as the readership for this book is, it’s a good book.

The Gorn bobblehead on my desk agrees, by the way, to judge by his head movement.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks threw a no-hitter against Tampa Bay tonight. He threw 149 pitches & walked eight batters--walked EIGHT batters--at one point walking the bases full. But it was still a no-no.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


I wish the BP spill weren’t still news, but it is, so…

Monster-of-the-Week: …in the oil-drilling industry’s “honor” this week let’s go to the wonderful world of old-time radio theater, & give the nod to the title character of The Thing on the Fourble Board, a 1948 chiller from the acclaimed series Quiet, Please, created by pioneering airwave dramatist Wyllis Cooper:

Probably the show’s most famous episode, The Thing on the Fourble Board was narrated by a character called Porky (series star Ernest Chappell), a roughneck who worked a remote oil derrick. Porky’s account is full of very convincing, authentic-sounding jargon—a “fourble board,” for instance, is a platform on the derrick at the height of four attached lengths of drill pipe. So we believe him when he tells us that his drill once dredged up…well, something from the bowels of the Earth…something Antediluvian…& hungry. Alas, the horror wreaked by The Thing can’t compare to that unleashed by BP’s drilling.

For obvious reasons there are no portraits of The Thing, but you can listen to, or read the script of, the whole show (& other Quiet, Please episodes), here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Several times in the course of Knight and Day, hero Tom Cruise drugs heroine Cameron Diaz or otherwise causes her to lose consciousness.

This happens when the two of them are in a crisis, with the bad guys closing in & the chances of escape unpromising. Then Cameron will black out, & wake to find herself tucked comfortably in her own bed, or maybe in a hammock on a tropical island, Tom having gotten them out of the jam while she was out cold.

How I wished, watching Knight and Day, that somebody would have performed this service for me--just slipped something into my Dr. Pepper to conk me out, & let me wake up refreshed with the end credits of this tedious picture rolling. I would have been perfectly prepared to believe, sight unseen, that Tom & Cameron somehow successfully eluded all the peril and ended up living happily ever after.

Diaz plays June, who meets a fellow called Roy (Cruise) on a flight from Wichita to Boston. She’s attracted to him, but soon realizes that he’s some kind of super-spy government assassin type, that other super-spies are trying to kill him because he has possession of a valuable MacGuffin (a super-battery, not that it matters), & that she’s been caught up in the deadly intrigue.

Wild chases & shootouts through Beantown ensue, followed by wild chases & shootouts in other, more exotic locales. The guiding joke of the action is that while he’s dealing effortlessly with all sorts of violent chaos, Roy keeps calmly dispensing encouragement, reassurance & compliments to June the whole time.

Presumably the theory behind this film--& perhaps also the current Killers, a similarly-premised picture featuring another high-powered Hollywood blond, Katherine Heigl--is that equal parts action thriller & romantic comedy stand to command both the chick-flick & the testosterone audience. It’s not a bad notion, either, but for it to work it would require that it be funny, romantic & exciting. The director, James Mangold, has made some strong pictures in the past, notably Cop Land, but his work here is generic. The abundant & interminable action sequences have neither slapstick panache nor any convincing sense of threat.

For me, there was no romance, either. Since there is scarcely a scene in Knight and Day that doesn’t feel derived from such earlier & better movies as North by Northwest & Silver StreakFoul Play, and since the supporting cast, which features the gifted likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Marc Blucas & Paul Dano, gets almost nothing to do, the whole project inevitably depends on, to resort to a miserably overused word, chemistry between Diaz & Cruise. But I didn’t care whether the two of them ended up together, nor did I feel any strong sense that they cared.

Let me be clear: I’m not what the kids would call a “hater.” It seems clear from his public antics in recent years that Cruise is a wackjob of some sort, but I don’t see how this takes away from the very enjoyable performances he’s given, in Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire & War of the Worlds, anything that lets him play manic & out of his depth. I’ve never found anything particularly objectionable about Diaz, either.

Neither star shines individually here, though. June is supposed to be a frightened-yet-plucky heroine a la Goldie Hawn in Foul Play, but Diaz compares unfavorably to Hawn. As for Cruise, his super-competent, unflappable persona here seems to be intended as a comic version of his action hero role in the Mission Impossible movies. But there are those of us who found the idea of dweeby little Tom Cruise as an action star a laugh riot to begin with. The joke gets no funnier when it’s intentional.

Monday, June 21, 2010


When he was a small boy, my pal Phil, who’s now in his eighties, was taken to see Babe Ruth play in his last season with the Yankees. Phil is one of the only people not now living in New York whose Yankee fandom I can tolerate. So it’s with apologies to Phil, Howie, Rob, Pam & any other Yankee-lovers I know that I must say: GOD, it was great to see this year’s woeful Diamondbacks smack the Boys From NYC around a bit this evening.

A couple more baseball notes: Last week Jim Joyce, whose bad call stole a perfect game a couple of weeks ago from Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers & who subsequently had the grace & guts to admit it, was voted best MLB umpire by the players.

But it occurred to me that there was another notable ump who not only admitted a bad call, but actually reversed it on the field, & who didn’t fare as well: Bernice Gera (1931-1992), the very first female umpire in the history of professional baseball.
The Ernest, PA, native won the right to the job after a three-year legal battle, only to find, in her debut in a minor-league game in Geneva, NY, on June 12, 1972, that her male colleagues wouldn’t talk to her on the field. After she reversed a call, the visiting manager told her that she "should be in the kitchen, peeling potatoes.” She ejected him, then resigned after her sole game. She ended up working in the Community Relations department of the New York Mets.

You can read Gera’s whole story here. I first read about her in an article by the redoubtable Nora Ephron in her fine 1975 collection Crazy Salad, a book of topical essays that’s still entertaining, & still all too relevant, thirty-five years later.

Finally, I just finished Blockade Billy, Stephen King’s new baseball novella, which takes one of the most familiar of the game’s iconic phrases to its logical, sinister conclusion.

It’s nasty little tale—a horror story, really, though not a supernatural one—but King, spinning the yarn in the first-person voice of an old-timer third base coach, infuses the love of the game into every line, as he did with his wonderful 2004 novel The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Blockade Billy doesn’t qualify as a King masterpiece, but it’s a grimly amusing one-sitting read.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Yesterday Barry Graham & I had lunch & then caught up with Jonah Hex, loosely based on the DC Comics “Weird Western” title…

I had missed the screening earlier in the week, & I asked a fellow reviewer about it. He replied, in a masterly bit of faint praise, “Well, it was it better than Wild Wild West.” Certainly true, but unhelpful, as my most recent stubbed toe was better than Wild Wild West.

Actually, Barry & I both quite enjoyed Jonah Hex. I wouldn’t say it’s a classic, but Josh Brolin cuts a baleful figure in the title role, a gruesomely scarred bounty hunter, & he delivers his lines with a growly, dark-souled authority.

John Malkovich takes a nice restful nap through his role as the villain, an embittered Confederate general, but the movie has an effective cartoon/Spaghetti-Western look, & the scenes involving Jonah’s ability to talk to dead people are imaginative.

Megan Fox plays Jonah’s hooker love interest, & even allowing for the fact that she’s corseted, she’s freakishly thin…

RIP to Ronald Neame, director of The Poseidon Adventure, who has passed on just shy of one hundred years old.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Recently I had a strong wish to see a donkey & a howler monkey. This didn’t come out of nowhere: I was in the middle Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel’s strange & compelling short novel, in which the title characters are, respectively, a donkey & a howler monkey.

The book, which heartbreakingly explores the plight of animals by relating it to human evil—to the Holocaust, not to put too fine a point on it—filled me with the desire to get a clear physical sense of the animals it so endearingly describes.

As it happens, the Phoenix Zoo is close enough to The Day Gig that in the morning I can often hear the hootings & crowings of creatures from around the globe. I had been wanting, anyway, to see the new additions to the collection, male & female komodo dragons. So I asked, at the front gate, if they had a list available of all the animals in the collection.

To my astonishment, the lady told me that I was the first person who had ever asked her for this. She then referred me to the nearby ranger station. The ranger there informed me that the Zoo did, indeed, have howler monkeys, displayed on the “Forest of Uco” trail, which features South American fauna. She wasn’t sure about the donkey, but she checked, & sure enough, they had one donkey as well, named Pedro, in the children’s zoo.

It was a hot weekday afternoon and the school year wasn’t over yet, so the Zoo was quiet. Within ten minutes, I was standing in front of the howler monkey cage. The bigger, darker-furred occupant, the male I presume, shuffled off into the shadows upon my arrival, but a smaller, caramel-colored specimen lounged in the spreading fingers of a tree branch, limbs & tail dangling, gazing at me with disinterest. A lovely little primate, but a dimly-visible silhouette behind the mesh, so I soon moved on.

A bit farther down, the path veered off over a little footbridge to the children’s zoo, which seemed to be deserted. Not only were there no children visible, there didn’t seem to be any keepers around. In a barn, however, I found a row of three stables. In the first two were horses, but over the door to the last was a sign that read PEDRO. The beast in question, grayish-brown with a pretty dark-brown cross pattern down his back & over his shoulders, was munching away from a feed trough.

I called him by name, gently, & he turned to look at me with startled dark eyes. He declined to come out & visit, though, returning to his lunch.

On my way to & from these specimens, I saw a splendid anteater cohabiting with a maned wolf, a rhinoceros iguana sunning itself, a jaguar, otters, several varieties of parrot & tortoise, & an outdoor aquarium full of South American freshwater fish including an enormous, piranha-like Pacu. I was running a bit late, but I had enough time to stop by & see the Zoo’s latest pride and joy: Komodo Dragons, enormous carrion-eating reptiles from Indonesia, the world’s largest lizards. The smaller female was demurely resting under a log in her enclosure, but the big male, alone among the animals I saw that day, was in a sociable mood, lumbering around in the sun and striking handsome poses suitable for photographing.

He was quite an impressive presence, with his strong, healthy-looking frame & his confident movement. As he looked at me, his eyes showed no fear, no awe, no sullen revulsion, just a bright, swift appraisal: Was I a threat? Nothing he couldn’t handle. Was I a food source? Probably not, but an interesting idea, no? Seeing him behind glass didn’t carry a guilty pang—there was no sign that he considered himself in captivity.

Even so, I left with the same ambivalence that Zoos usually give me—on the one hand, the high of the almost religious joy that I, like many people, find simply in the presence of animals. On the other, the awareness of how dangerous that feeling is for them, how much suffering & death the human fascination with animals has caused our unfortunate planet-mates, how much better served they’d be if we were just respectfully indifferent to them.

Zoos are bastard patches of nature,” pronounces the mysterious Taxidermist in Beatrice and Virgil. “The animals there are degenerate.” Henry, Martel’s mild-mannered hero, offers a conciliatory reply: “Well, zoos are a compromise, that’s for certain, but so is nature…I see zoos as embassies from the wild, each animal representing its species…

Both judgments are surely true in some measure. Sad to think, though, that our relations with the Animal World are such that the formality of embassies is required.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Apparently BP, in its Emergency Response Plan for the Gulf of Mexico, listed walruses among the species that could be threatened by a spill. Since walruses are, y’know, something of a rarity in the Gulf, it gives the faintest hint that perhaps their plan was simply boilerplate, hastily copied from some other plan.
Then again…

Monster-of-the-Week: …who knows what obscure breed of walrus might lurk in those warm & greasy waters? After all, this week’s honoree is a species of pinniped found in the wondrous zoology of Ray Harryhausen: Walrus Giganticus, a Hyperborean behemoth that menaces Sinbad & his lads in 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger:

You can watch him in waddling action here.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Out on DVD as of last week is Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), the latest large-scale Monty Python project. Python aficionados will recognize from the title that it’s an adaptation of the 1979 feature film Life of Brian, but they may be startled by the form: a classical-style oratorio.

Eric Idle, perhaps the most unabashed & old-school showman among the Pythons, is the guiding force here. He wrote the lyrics, & his longtime collaborator John Du Prez—the two of them created Spamalot—set them to rather grand music, employing a full orchestra, a large chorus & soloists. The result, basically, is to Life of Brian what Handel’s Messiah is to the Life of Christ.

Though the piece premiered in Toronto in 2007 & was mounted in other venues around the world—including the Sydney Opera House!—the DVD documents its performance on October 23rd of last year, at the Royal Albert Hall, if you please, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Monty Python. Du Prez conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, & Idle is one of the soloists, singing the “Baritonish” part, while the other four soloists are first-rate operatic & classical vocalists.

The Royal Albert performance also includes appearances by all the surviving Pythons except for John Cleese: Michael Palin provides the narration (in drag) & reprises his role as the speech-impaired Pilate; Terry Jones sings a number, quite prettily, as a Welsh miner; & Terry Gilliam has a bit that’s too good to give away. Also turning up are such “Associate Pythons” as Carol Cleveland & Neil Innes.

The musical styles vary, from doo-wop to gospel to a full-on unintelligible send-up of Dylan by Idle (subtitles are recommended for the whole show, but especially this number). The finale, it need hardly be said, is a rousing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” & for an encore Palin belts out “The Lumberjack Song,” with Cleveland at his side & Jones, Gilliam & Innes among the Mounties backing him up.

The DVD has some entertaining extras, notably sing-a-long versions of several of the songs, including “Bright Side.” It’s all great fun, & the participation of the other Pythons, along with the wild enthusiasm of the audience, gives it the loose, warm feel of a reunion party.

But it also seemed, to my ear, genuinely musically accomplished. As with Spamalot—I saw the Vegas production with a pal a few years ago—there are times when the music pushes just a little past parody, & becomes truly stirring.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Two worthwhile movies open here this weekend:

La MissionBenjamin Bratt, or “Benjy Bratt” as my late mother-in-law used to refer to him for some reason, has been around movies & TV for more than 20 years now. He had a good run as the younger detective on Law and Order, & he’s pulled bland, space-filling hunky-leading-man duty in chickflicks like Miss Congeniality, Catwoman & The Next Best Thing. He’s a strapping fellow, but I never thought he was an actor of any great range or power.

He rocks his starring role in La Mission, however.

Written & directed by his brother Peter Bratt, & set in the title district in San Francisco, this movie is onto a great subject: machismo, & the bondage in which its inflexible standards can hold families. Benjy plays Che Rivera, a bus driver, single father & gearhead who spends his evenings customizing pimped-out lowriders.

He’s a big, tatted-up tough guy with both prison & alcoholism in his past, but he’s clearly not a bad sort at heart—he’s serious about leading a sober life, & he’s devoted to his teenage son Jesse (movingly played by Jeremy Ray Valdez).

He’s devoted, that is, until he learns that Jesse is gay, & has a secret boyfriend—a rich Anglo kid, no less. Che’s fury is serious—he not only throws the kid out of the house, he beats him up on the street outside the building, in front of their friends & family. Later, he calms down enough to let Jesse come home, but he can’t deal with what he now knows about his son. He can’t even look at him. He cites religious objections, but this is obviously a pretext; his revulsion stems from his idea of masculinity.

Peter Bratt takes his time from here on out, developing the story & exploring the neighborhood & its cultures & subcultures at a leisurely pace. The dialogue has a slightly stiff, didactic functionality at times—it rings a bit like ‘50s-era, Golden Age of Television dialogue—but the vibrancy of the actors & the setting makes it breathe. Jesse Borrego stands out in the strong ensemble cast as Che’s less intense brother, who takes Jesse in, & Erika Alexander (she played the luscious shape-shifting Rakshasa Hidimbi in Peter Brook’s film of The Mahabharata) is touching as the social worker who lives upstairs & who stands up for herself both against Che’s anger & against his almost equally formidable charm.

But the heart of the film is Benjamin Bratt’s performance. Without histrionics, with restraint & subtlety, he makes us feel how unshakable Che’s programming is, despite the agony it causes him. Che’s genuinely scary, precisely because you can see how much he’s suffering. Within the limits of its conventional drama-of-uplift form, & without resorting to cheap melodrama or easy resolutions, La Mission is satisfying drama.

The Karate Kid—The title character of 1984’s The Karate Kid, played by Ralph Macchio, was the son of a single mother who moves from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda, California. Picked on by local bullies from a karate dojo, he is trained in karate by an elderly Okinawan handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), beats the bullies fair & square in an area tournament, & gets the girl.

Directed by John G. Avildsen with the same scrappy naturalistic touch he brought to Rocky, the original Karate Kid was a small movie, little more than a feature-length Afterschool Special, really, but its combination triumph-of-the-underdog & finding-a-father-figure structure made it a box office hit & an enduring favorite of its generation.

Now it’s been remade, on a big budget, with Will Smith’s kid Jaden Smith in the title role, & with the legendary Jackie Chan as the old guy. The story now has our young hero moving with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to Beijing, where he goes through the same basic plot template: he meets a nice girl & gets picked on by local bullies until Chan, as the taciturn handyman in his apartment building, agrees to train him to take them on in a tournament.

Since Chan isn’t Japanese & his martial art is kung fu, not karate, the movie probably should have been called by the perfectly good title The Kung Fu Kid. But aside from that bit of western cultural myopia & a few other minor grumbles, I was very pleasantly surprised by what an agreeable two hours & twenty minutes this movie turned out to be.

Yes, you read right. Two hours & twenty minutes, & that’s one of the other grumbles. This film, presumably aimed at children, is about 20 minutes longer than Citizen Kane. This seems outrageous, but I must admit that I saw The Karate Kid at a screening full of kids, & it seemed to hold them just fine for its entire length. It held me, too.

My last grumble is more irksome: Once again, an American production starring Chan shows that Yank directors don’t understand how to present martial arts. A fight or stunt scene with Jackie Chan should be shot the same way that a dance number with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire or Cyd Charisse was shot back at MGM in the ‘50s: Park the camera on its haunches & let it stare in unblinking wonder, & we’ll do the same. The director here, Harald Zwart, uses the same feverish fast cutting that has taken over American action movies, & the eye-popping astonishment one gets at the best of Chan’s Hong Kong films is muted by the flashy technique.

All is outweighed, though, by the movie’s pleasures. One of these is the starring role given to China. The extensive location work takes the film to the edge of travelogue at times, but director Zwart’s eye on the country serves him well here; & the setting is so unfamiliar that you may find yourself scanning the backgrounds of shots for local detail.

But the best reason to see the film is the rapport between young Smith, who seems to have inherited a freakish amount of his dad’s sly ease & facile access to our empathy, & Chan, who gives his best performance yet in one of his American vehicles. Perhaps because his character is crusty & melancholy & carries a dark secret, Chan doesn’t seem as overeager to please as he has in some of his other Yank productions, & he comes across like what he is, namely one of the world’s great movie stars.

He’s quietly commanding in the training sequences, & he and Smith really engage, neither of them milking the emotion in their scenes, but both of them committing to it. When the old man gives the kid wisdom on getting up when you’re knocked down, or the kid tells the old man that he’s the best friend he ever had, it should be too schmaltzy to work, but between Chan’s wise, soulful face & Smith’s prodigal openness, even these scenes can get to you.

It’s also amusing to see Chan, now in his 50s, starting to slip into a new archetypical role: In innumerable Hong Kong films, the young Chan played the student struggling to master impossible physical challenges while being tormented by an irascible old master. Now he gets to be the old master.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Happy Portugal Day!

Or, Happy—as it is known there—Dia de Camoes. The national holiday is named in honor of Luis de Camoes, that country’s national poet (June 10th, 1580, is the date of his death; his birthday is unknown), a kick-ass sonneteer but most famed as author of The Lusiads (Os Lusiadas).

This rather marvelous work, too little-known outside of Portugal, retells (& whitewashes) the voyage of Vasco de Gama in search of a trade route to India in the manner of a Homeric or Virgilian mythic odyssey.


Monster-of-the-Week: …this week there can surely be no other choice but Adamastor, the terrifying sea-giant that Vasco de Gama & his lads encounter off the southern end of Africa, a personification of the frightful weather at the Cape of Good Hope.

Camoes gives Adamastor a pretty chilling entrance, as he rises up before them:

…when rising through the darken’d air,
Appall’d, we saw a hideous phantom glare;
High and enormous o’er the flood he tower’d,
And ’thwart our way with sullen aspect lower’d
An earthy paleness o’er his cheeks was spread,
Erect uprose his hairs of wither’d red;
Writhing to speak, his sable lips disclose,
Sharp and disjoin’d, his gnashing teeth’s blue rows;
His haggard beard How’d quiv’ring on the wind,
Revenge and horror in his mien combin’d;
His clouded front, by with’ring lightnings scar’d,
The inward anguish of his soul declar’d.
His red eyes, glowing from their dusky caves,
Shot livid fires: far echoing o’er the waves
His voice resounded, as the cavern’d shore
With hollow groan repeats the tempest’s roar.
Cold gliding horrors thrill’d each hero’s breast,
Our bristling hair and tott’ring knees confess’d
Wild dread, the while with visage ghastly wan,
His black lips trembling, thus the fiend began…

(from an 18th-Century English translation)

The beastie goes on to bellow extravagant threats of watery doom to the explorers for having the nerve to sail where the Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, never dared, etc. etc. You get the idea: Portuguese Guys Have Big Brass Ones. Then we get Adamastor’s unhappy backstory: he ended up in this desolate cape because he was tricked by a sea-nymph into embracing it—she made the mountain look to him like another sea-nymph for whom he had a serious lech. Perhaps understandably, he’s been in a bad mood ever since.

Here’s a statue of Adamastor in Lisbon:

The little dude on the lower left is presumably the not-to-be-deterred Vasco de Gama himself.

Maybe it’s time for some 21st-Century epic poet to tell the story of Petroleumastor, Adamastor’s oily cousin, loosed on the Gulf of Mexico to punish the greed & short-sightedness of the Gulf's profaners…

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


So The Wife & I decided for the heck of it to kill a hundred & ten minutes at The Bounty Hunter, the romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler as a gruff, scruffy ex-cop-turned-bounty-hunter and Jennifer Aniston as his ambitious reporter ex, who's ended up with a bench warrant on her & who he takes great pleasure in getting to drag to jail by force.

Those hundred & ten minutes died a slow death.

I like Butler, & I like Aniston--I especially like her commonsensical regular-girl in Office Space--but the absence of buzz between them here is startling, especially when the bustling farce mechanics slow down so that two characters can try to connect. It's like watching a bad date, where the two parties are struggling to stay upbeat for the duration even though they know this isn't going anywhere.

They aren't helped by the colossal inanity & banality of the dialogue. I knew we were in trouble near the beginning of the film, when a cop says to Butler "A bounty hunter, eh? Why don't you get a real job?" & Butler replies--get ready--"Why don't you kiss my ass?" To which I thought--really? That was the zinger they gave him? Whoever wrote that line didn't have pride enough in being a Hollywood screenwriter to spend a few more seconds at the keyboard before settling on "Why don't you kiss my ass?"

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Like just about everybody else who cares one way or another, including umpire Jim Joyce himself, I hate it that Joyce’s blown call at first base stole what would have been a perfect game from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga Wednesday night. I also hate it that baseball commissioner Bud Selig has declined to overrule the call & credit Galarraga as deserved. But I have to say, I like this story anyway—I love that Joyce seemed far more busted-up about it than Galarraga did, & I love the relaxed, good-humored way that Galarraga took it, & I really hope that everybody involved maintains their dignity & gracious sportsmanship the way they have so far. This is the sort of sports story that actually does provide role models.

Also, bitter though it may be now, in the long run Galarraga & Joyce may see that what happened is likely destined to become a Legendary Baseball Moment, & that being part of one of those is, in its way, more precious than a perfect game.

Friday, June 4, 2010


RIP to sultry Rue McClanahan, veteran of everything from sitcoms to soaps to Broadway to tawdry exploitation pictures, departed at 76.

Who would have thought that Betty White would be the last Golden Girl standing?

Here are two movies opening here in the Valley this weekend:

Please Give—It’s been a while since I enjoyed a movie about neurotic Manhattanites as much as this low-key ensemble comedy. Married couple Catherine Keener & Oliver Platt run an antique shop which they supply by swooping down on the bereaved heirs of dead New Yorkers, relieving them of their parents’ furniture & reselling it at a disgraceful markup. She feels guilty about this; he’s smart enough not to. She also gives obsessively to homeless people & makes feeble attempts at volunteering.

Keener & Platt own the apartment next door, but they can’t break through the wall & expand their own place until the long-overdue demise of its current occupant, a nasty ancient lady (wonderful Ann Guilbert). This joyless crone’s needs are tended, in return for absolutely zero gratitude, by one of her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall); the other (Amanda Peet) can’t grasp how her sister can go to so much trouble for the old bitch.

Platt & Peet represent the segment of humanity that’s quite comfortable with the pursuit of their self-interest, while Keener & Hall embody those afflicted with the awful, gnawing sense that they aren’t giving of themselves for others enough, & with an equally persistent sense of futility when they try. These four & few other characters are bounced off each other by writer-director Nicole Holofcener quite amusingly, but with tenderness as well, & a stinging awareness that unabashed selfishness can come across far more attractively than the oppresive unselfishness of the do-gooder.

Splice—Sarah Polley is Elsa & Adrien Brody is Clive, a hipster geneticist couple in the service of big pharma. They surreptitiously make their very own embryo by blending DNA from several species, including human. The result looks, at first, like a baby doll crossed with a kangaroo rat, but she matures, at an accelerated rate, into a rather elegant & fetching specimen…

Elsa quickly forms a parental bond with the spliceling, dubbing her Dren—she arrives at the name the same way Joanie coined it for Potsy on Happy Days. Clive is appalled at the reckless experiment, but goes along with it. They stash Dren in a barn at a remote farmhouse, where they all go through a sped-up dysfunctional family dynamic. Trouble, it need hardly be said, ensues.

Once the plot is motion, it isn’t really too hard to see where this Canadian horror fantasy is heading. But the direction, by Vincenzo Natali, is brisk enough, the special effects, which range from the gruesome to the ethereally erotic, are well-executed, & Brody & Polley, oddly decked out like New Wave swells, work hard to give the silly tale some conviction.

Splice, like The Human Centipede (which plays this weekend at MADCAP Theatres, by the way; info here, & you can read my review here) suggests The Mad Scientist may be making a comeback—even Elsa & Clive’s names, I’d guess, are a reference to Colin Clive & Elsa Lanchester of The Bride of Frankenstein. It also suggests that anxiety over both the moral & practical implications of emerging genetic science is very much on people’s minds.

As I noted yesterday, the Arizona legislature recently passed a bill that banned the sort of experiments depicted in this movie. Laughable though it is on a practical level that this is what Arizona’s lawmakers regard as the most pressing matter with which they need to contend—why not pass legislation forbidding the transformation of lead into gold?—it’s also reactionary on a moral level. I don’t mean to suggest that this sort of science should proceed headlong, without caution & circumspection, but the Arizona bill (Louisiana has one too) suggests the sort of panicked resistance that even the sanest of scientists will face in trying to unlock the potential benefits of gene-juggling.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


The Arizona State legislature passed a bill about a month ago banning human-animal hybrids. Now, there are those who may think that this only adds to the impression so many people have of our state as a seething hotbed of batshit paranoid fantasists, but that’s only because, well, they haven’t seen enough movies. Wait until they get a load of Splice, opening Friday.


Monster-of-the-Week: … both in tribute to the AZ Legislature & in anticipation of Splice, this week’s Freak-of-Honor is The Sayer of the Law, the most eloquent of the animal-men from the 1933 movie Island of Lost Souls, the first & best version of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The Sayer, unforgettably played by Bela Lugosi, leads his fellow unfortunates in reciting the quasi-religious Law set down by mad scientist Moreau (Charles Laughton), who’s obsessed with turning them from critters into humans. His unintentionally ironic responsorial:

Q: What is the Law?

A: Not to go on all fours, that is the Law. Are we not men?

Q: What is the Law?

A: Not to eat meat, that is the Law. Are we not men?

Q: What is the Law?

A: Not to spill blood, that is the Law. Are we not men?

By the end, of course, they’ve learned how to act truly human…

Devo adapted this liturgy for their beloved 1977 “Jocko Homo.” The film has been remade twice, both times using the Wells novel’s title. Richard Basehart played the Sayer in the 1977 version & Ron Perlman played him in the 1996 version—good actors both, but neither as memorable in the part as Lugosi…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Tuesday afternoon I finally caught up with a movie I’d been meaning to see for about a month: this year’s foreign film Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de sus Ojos), from Argentina.

Holy crap. This is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri & directed by Juan Jose Campanella, it’s about the probe, by a judge’s investigator (the sensational Ricardo Darin), into the rape & murder of a young married woman. I won’t give away any details of the story, which is set in the mid-‘70s & told in wistful flashbacks from a quarter-century later, but I will say that it’s a rich, hearty stew of a movie—a crime drama with some Hitchcockian flourishes, a political thriller in the Costa-Gavras vein, a love story & even, at times, a bit of a buddy comedy, with a chilling & deeply satisfying gothic twist at the end.

I highly recommend this one. For folks here in the Valley, it plays at least until this Thursday at Harkins Camelview in Scottsdale; everybody else should keep an eye out for it on video. They don’t make ‘em this good very often.