Friday, June 26, 2015

LET SLIP THE DOG OF WAR

Opening this weekend:


MaxThe title character is a Belgian Malinois, which looks like a dark-faced German Shepherd, who suffers from PTSD after deployment to Afghanistan sniffing out Taliban weapons caches for the Marines. He gets adopted by the Texas family of his late handler Kyle, and bonds with Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), a snotty video-game junkie (and bootlegger).

Working with the dog gives Justin a better attitude, and a sassy but truehearted young girlfriend (Mia Xitlali) with a talent for dog training—the house where she lives is full of Chihuahuas, and if she can train them, I say she’s a true whisperer. Unfortunately, one of the handler’s fellow Marines is a low-down dirty crook with a grudge against Max, and now that he’s back stateside he pollutes the dog’s reputation with Justin’s Dad (Thomas Haden Church). Pretty soon Max, Justin and their friends are running for their lives from a bunch of arms-dealer heavies and their attack Rottweilers.

This corny, very old-fashioned boy-and-his-dog tale was co-written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who, back in his memorable1994 directorial debut Fresh, showed us a dog being hanged. The canines here have it rough too, which may be difficult for the many people sensitive to depictions of animal suffering. The (seemingly smaller) segment of the audience sensitive to bad dialogue may have a hard time with the excruciating attempts at adolescent banter and dysfunctional family squabbles.

If you (and your kids) can get past all this, however, Max is quite enjoyable on its own terms—nicely shot by cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, with exciting action scenes, and as well acted as can be expected considering the clumsy, self-conscious dialogue. The standout performer is “Carlos,” who principally played Max—what a beautiful creature, and what soulful, convincing, heart-wrenching performance Yakin and the trainers elicited from him, and from the several other dogs who contributed to the role.

At the less glamorous end of the cast, it gave me a pang to see Lauren Graham, lovely and beguiling star of Gilmore Girls, playing the drearily conventional part of Justin’s Mom. Who would have thought that the delicious Graham would end up second fiddle to a 21st-Century Rin-Tin-Tin?

One other note: At the screening of Max that I attended Kyrsten Sinema, Representative from Arizona’s 9th Congressional District, spoke briefly before the film in support of The Military Working Dog Retirement Act, which she co-sponsored. This seems to me legislation to which almost anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, could lend their support. Except, of course, for meanies who hate dogs.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

THE ID FACTOR

In the movie version of Entourage, now in theatres, Vincent Chase’s directorial debut is Hyde, a modern techno-pop version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So… 

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week’s honoree is the title creature from that fake movie, also played by Vince (Adrian Grenier), seen here in the fake poster...


Sunday, June 21, 2015

STOCKING FEAT

Hope everyone’s had a great Father’s Day. The Kid and The Wife presented me this morning with this lovely bouquet of black socks:


And while we’re in picture mode—at Phoenix ComiCon a few weeks back, guys from the United Federation of Phoenix flagged me down as I was leaving, on the basis of my shirt, and took pictures of me in their impressive reproductions of Star Trek’s transporter and captain’s chair. They said they’d send them to me, and they’ve kept their promise:



UFP hosts David Gerrold, writer of the legendary original series Star Trek episode The Trouble With Tribbles, among other guests, next weekend at LepreCon June 25th-28th.

Friday, June 19, 2015

BRAIN/BIRD

Opening this weekend:


Inside Out This animated feature dramatizes the workings of the human mind by personifying the emotions, in this case those of a 12-year-old girl named Riley. Working in a NASA-like mission control is our heroine is Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), a radiant Tinkerbell-like sprite determined to keep Riley happy; she’s supported by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and frumpy, blue-skinned Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

The team’s job is to create memories, here seen as tiny transparent globes glowing with their emotional coloring—gold for Joy, red for Anger, and so forth. Joy tries hard to keep Sadness from touching Riley’s memories and tingeing them blue, but when Riley moves from Minnesota, where she has a best friend and plays hockey, to San Francisco, Joy finds it harder to suppress Sadness.

Eventually the emotional crises that come with a move during childhood cause Joy and Sadness to get separated from the headquarters, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. The rest of the movie concerns their Bunyan-esque journey through Riley’s personality to take over again in headquarters.

The conceit of this movie isn’t new. It wasn’t new as the premise of the early-‘90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head, and wasn’t even new as one of the funnier segments of Woody Allen’s 1972 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) or the 1970 movie of Norman Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. It goes back through the Good and Evil Angels that appear on the shoulders of cartoon characters, and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, through medieval morality plays to the Psychomachia of the Roman poet Prudentius.

But it’s possible that no one’s ever done this idea quite as well as Inside Out. One’s expectations for Pixar’s features tend to be pretty high, but even so I wasn’t prepared for how deeply imagined this movie is, or how emotionally potent. Or, for that matter, how wise: the theme is emotional gestalt, and the role of sadness in a healthy personality.

I walked out of the theatre feeling like I’d seen a masterpiece, and a few days later this doesn’t feel like an overreaction. It may be the best movie I’ve seen all year. My only concern is that Inside Out is so fast and complex that some of its subtleties may get past smaller children—the gags about abstract thought could leave a college kid studying for a psych final feeling confused. But even so, the movie is so full of color and comedy that kids will likely enjoy it even if they don’t entirely get it.

Opening today at FilmBar Phoenix:



I Am Big BirdWell, maybe it isn’t quite as soul-stirring a line as “I Am Spartacus.” But only maybe. Certainly the title avian has had a longer and happier career than the hapless gladiator.

Subtitled The Caroll Spinney Story, this documentary chronicles the life of the puppeteer who has given soul to the towering, yellow-plumed fowl, the long-beaked, guileless face of Sesame Street. A soft-spoken Bostonian with a narrow, goateed hippie’s face, Spinney has performed both the childlike Big Bird and, for a bit of Hyde to go with that Jekyll, the curmudgeonly Oscar the Grouch for more than forty years.

Directed by Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker and partly funded via Kickstarter, the film is smoothly made if fairly conventional as cinema. It's helped along because Spinney’s life, even before his Sesame Street days, seems to have been unusually well-documented, first by home movies and later, after his marriage to Debra Gilroy in 1979, by home video. It’s the content, however, that makes this the most fascinating show business documentary I’ve seen since, at least, Andrew Leavold’s The Search for Weng Weng.

I’ve been a Sesame Street fan since the show started—I clearly remember watching the first episode, and I watched it religiously for years even though I was too old for it, educationally speaking (I already knew how to read and count). I loved the show simply because it was genuinely funny, and had richer characters than almost any live-action show aimed at kids (or, for the most part, adults) at the time. Oscar was a special favorite of mine from the first.

Even so, I Am Big Bird was full of stuff I didn’t know. It covers everything from Spinney’s difficult relationship with his father to Big Bird’s visits to China to Mitt Romney’s backfired shot at PBS in the 2012 election—probably an attempt, tactically idiotic, to throw red meat to that part of the reactionary Right that hates Sesame Street for being multicultural propaganda (which it certainly is)—to Spinney’s startling near-miss with another historical moment.

But probably nothing in I Am Big Bird is as astounding as the technical explanation of how Big Bird works, and what that has meant, for Spinney and his apprentices, over the years. As a physical acting challenge it makes, say, a DeNiro weight gain or a Christian Bale weight loss look like a walk in the park.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

FOND-LEE REMEMBERED

Christopher Lee was the last of them.


Fans of classic horror movies will know who I mean by “them.” First there was Lugosi, then Karloff, then Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine, and around midcentury came the rise of Vincent Price, and then, more or less starting with the same 1957 movie, came Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Some might exclude Carradine from the list, and some might include, say, Peter Lorre or Lionel Atwill. But essentially I think that these seven guys—Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney Jr., Carradine, Cushing and Lee—represent the true superstars of old-school, classic horror in English-language talkies.

And now they’ve all passed on.

Of course when Lee and Cushing became horror stars, with Hammer’s ’57 Curse of Frankenstein and the following year with Dracula (called Horror of Dracula in the U.S.), they didn’t seem old-school, but rather new-wave, with Hammer’s amped-up gore and cleavage, usually in lurid color. But within a decade or so, Hammer and its stars and style and imitators had been fully admitted to the canon of horror as Boomer-era, Famous Monsters of Filmland-reading fans would recognize it.

Lee, who started as a movie actor shortly after his WWII service (he was an uncredited spear-carrier in Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet) and who even made a couple of movies with Karloff—he played the grave-robber Resurrection Joe in the Karloff chiller Corridors of Blood—never really faded away. Though still probably most remembered for playing Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy and many other scary parts in the Hammer and other British films of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Lee remained relevant as a character actor until his death, at 93, earlier this month, appearing in The Wicker Man and The Man With the Golden Gun and Airport ‘77 and in the title role of the Pakistani biopic Jinnah, and in the Star Wars movies and Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations and Tim Burton’s flicks and TV miniseries and video game voices and so on.

For my birthday this year I got The Christopher Lee Collection, a pretentiously-titled DVD box set featuring four fairly low-rent films Lee made for producer Harry Allen Towers, three of them directed by Spanish sleazemaster Jesus “Jess” Franco. So I recently caught up with Lee in two ‘70s quickies I’d never seen before—The Castle of Fu Manchu and a tawdry historical melodrama called The Bloody Judge. They’re terrible movies, but the star is effortlessly authoritative in both of them.


In 1970’s The Bloody Judge (hilariously retitled Night of the Blood Monster for the U.S. market) Lee plays an actual historical figure, the original “Hanging Judge” George Jeffreys, who notoriously presided over the treason trials after England’s Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Franco’s version of this story is full of quite unsavory violence and sexual exploitation, but there in the middle of it is Lee, trying his best to give a textured performance as the haughty but conscience-haunted Jeffreys. This was his fate throughout much of his long career, and he seemed good-humoredly resigned to it.

Anyway…

Monster-of-the-Week: Obviously Lee should get the nod this week, but which of his roles to choose? For a lot of fans, there would be no contest; many regard him as the greatest screen Dracula of all time. I’m a Lugosi loyalist myself, but there’s no doubt of the sexual charisma and imposing physical threat Lee brought the role, even when, as was most of the time in the Hammer Dracula films, he was ridiculously underused—in 1966’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness he doesn’t even say a word in his beautiful deep rumble, and in several of the others he speaks only a handful of lines.

So let’s acknowledge him, this time, for the title role in Count Dracula


…a low-budget 1970 non-Hammer production, again produced and written by Towers and directed by Franco. It’s not an entirely successful film by a long shot, but it allowed Lee to play the Count as he had long wanted to, in a manner highly faithful to Stoker’s novel.

RIP, sir. You’ll be missed.

Friday, June 12, 2015

THE WORLD IS MORE THAN ENOUGH

RIP to an all time great, Christopher Lee, departed at 93. More on him later, of course.

Opening wide today:



Jurassic WorldNear the beginning of this summer blockbuster, one of the bigwigs at the title theme park complains that the public is no longer impressed by live dinosaurs, that kids don’t see them that differently than they’d see an elephant. It is, after all, twenty-some years since the disastrous events of Jurassic Park the first, so in the timeline of the franchise we’ve all had time to get blasé about giant extinct reptiles.

It’s hard not to sense that behind this is the dilemma of the filmmakers—back in 1993, Jurassic Park gave us CGI/animatronic dinosaur scenes so convincing that, at the time, they seemed almost like documentary footage. Between that and the dazzling showmanship of director Steven Spielberg, the original swept us briskly past logical and logistical gaps and stodgy, banal dramatics.

But two decades and two (enjoyable) sequels later, how to revive the franchise? Both the movie and its characters use the same approach—build a better dinosaur. And by better, of course, they mean more badass.

The premise is that Jurassic World is now up and running, funded by a gushy billionaire (Irrfan Khan), as a major international tourist attraction, with dinosaur petting zoos and boat excursions and a Sea World-style show with a mosasaurus leaping for a hanging shark like a porpoise leaping for a sardine. It also has, for that matter, a Starbucks and a Pandora jeweler and a gallery sponsored by Samsung—this movie has more product placement than Clueless, and to a similarly disingenuous satirical point.

Anyway, in response to the public’s yawn about dinosaurs, the park’s geneticists (led by B. D. Wong from the original film) have created a 50-foot tall genetically-engineered dino-hybrid monster dubbed Indominus Rex. This toothy titan breaks free, kills people and other dinosaurs, sets other creatures free in the wake of his destruction, and generally unleashes pandemonium.

So, how is it? Look, I’m a dinosaur geek, so it’s hopeless asking me for a balanced view of a dinosaur movie. But I remember being intrigued by the choice of the director, Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous feature was the sweet but low-key romantic comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. He seemed like an offbeat choice for a special-effects-bloated spectacle.

He was just the right choice, as it turned out. He has a peculiar sense of humor and, better yet, no significant sense of decorum, and after setting us up with a relatively straight-faced opening quarter, he starts putting funky little spins on notions from King Kong to the Japanese monster flicks to the earlier films in this series, and he gradually lets the movie go crazy. In a good way.

He even gives us a villainous corporate creep (Vincent D'Onofrio) who thinks the velociraptors would make excellent American soldiers. I seem to recall something like that in the Weekly World News years ago.

The showpiece dinosaur scenes have a buoyant exuberance that's really fun. The one in which the two boys, riding in a transparent observation sphere, are bounced around like a pinball between a herd of panicking ankylosaurs is ready made to be a ride in Universal's own theme park.

But Trevorrow's nutty sensibility may be best displayed in the way he handles his leads. Bryce Dallas Howard starts out as a stereotypical lacquered career woman who doesn't show enough interest in her visiting nephews (the boys in the ball). As she spends more time in the company of hunky dinosaur trainer (yes, dinosaur trainer; you read that right) Chris Pratt she accrues glamour until, by the time she's leading a T-Rex with a traffic flare, she's like a de-victimized Fay Wray. It would be retrograde if it weren't for the sense that it's a put-on.

As for Pratt's brawny raptor whisperer, he gets to ride a motorcycle and lead a pack of four voracious female predators. It's been a while since a leading man has had it this good.

Opening today at Harkins Camelview:


The Farewell PartyYehezkel, an inventor and good-heartedly meddlesome neighbor, lives in a Jerusalem retirement home. With the help of a couple of friends from the building—and to his wife’s horror—he develops a Kervorkian-style euthanasia machine and uses it to put a man out of the misery of a protracted terminal illness (with the man’s wholehearted consent). Word gets around among the geriatric community, and pretty soon people are approaching Yehezkel and pals asking for the same service.

This Israeli film, co-directed and written by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, may sound grim, and it certainly has its heartbreakingly poignant moments. But it’s not a downer at all—it has at least as many sly, ironic laughs as it has tears. Although it seems firmly in the right-to-die camp, the film is fully awake to the thorny complexities that come along with this right, and employs them for both comic and dramatic power.

And good grief, is it well acted. Every member of the cast, led by bourekas star Ze’ev Ravach as Yehezkel, is effortlessly vital and convincing, and they have an ensemble chemistry that’s tense and crisp and more sexy than you might expect. There’s no patronization of the aged here. These people aren’t cute oldsters, nor are they tragically venerable—the word for them is cool. I wanted to hang out with them.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

SO REXY IT HURTS

With Jurassic World opening this weekend, check out my list, on Topless Robot, of the best Dinosaur “Cameos.”

Also…

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week let’s acknowledge “Indominus Rex...”



...the genetically-modified hybrid superdinosaur who stars in Jurassic World

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A-LIEN-LIST

In honor of No Festival Required’s screening of the cool documentary Dark Star: H. R. Giger this Saturday…

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s acknowledge Giger’s most famous creation, the deadly but elegant title character from Alien...


 based on his 1976 painting Necronom IV...


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

GIGER RECOUNTER

Playing Saturday, June 6, at No Festival Required:


Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s WorldThe Swiss artist and designer H. R. Giger made his biggest single mark on pop culture as the creator of the title creature in the Alien films. As with much of Giger’s work, the Alien is scary but—to my eye, anyway—not ugly; it has a svelte elegance.

At the beginning of this fascinating documentary, director Belinda Sallin’s camera noses around the quiet grounds of Giger’s rambling, tree-shrouded, cat-guarded old house, set incongruously amidst the sleek modern architecture of Zurich. We’re brought in the door and down the shadowy halls, past freaky murals and heaps of books, to where Giger sits sketching.

Again, the home that Giger pads around does indeed seem “dark,” bizarre and macabre, but not evil. There’s a serene, almost idyllic atmosphere to the place that’s quite appealing.

This effect even applies to the man himself. In the film, completed shortly before his death last year, Giger looks like a real-world version of Tolkien’s Gollum. Written on his round face with sad eyes and small, fretful mouth are both a past that includes tragedy and a life spent transcribing, often via airbrush, the surreal, erotically-charged “biomechanical” visions in his head. He speaks in a low amphibian croak suggesting that he suffered a stroke at some point.

But he’s no recluse. He’s friendly, patient and grateful toward his wife and the many friends and helpers that hang around his home; I found myself wishing I could be among them.

“Hansruedi” Giger was born in Chur in 1940, the son of a pharmacist. His childhood seems to have been happy, although his seminal memories seem to be of his father giving him a human skull or his sister taking him to the Raetian Museum to see a mummy, and he is said to have designed “ghost rides” to entertain neighbor kids.

After art school he gained gradual fame throughout the ‘70s with posters and rock album art—I first became aware of him by his cover for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. His Alien design won him an Oscar in 1980, and he worked on many other films, including Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abortive Dune adaptation (Giger is memorable among the talking heads in last year’s Jodorowsky’s Dune).

Giger’s wife Carmen tells Sallin’s camera that she finds her husband’s paintings erotic, and at an art gallery in Austria, a curator says that he sees a light behind the darkness of Giger’s visions. I see it too. Although the artist expresses a disbelief in—and a distaste for—the idea of an afterlife, there is, in his work, an exalted spiritual radiance under the chilly surface.

Opening today:


EntourageThe adventures of a pretty-boy Hollywood star and the hangers-on who share his glam lifestyle and guide his career is the not the sort of show I would have expected to enjoy. But the HBO series, which ran from 2004 to 2011, and which this feature continues, became a favorite of mine.

It is, I suppose, a guilty pleasure, loaded with snazzy homes and cars and luxury items and, only slightly less objectified, innumerable nude or scantily-clad young women (yet, oddly, many of the show’s most devoted fans that I know are women). It’s so escapist that it doesn’t even show us the drudgery and tedium of actually working on a movie, only the decadent partying and lively studio intrigues that take place before and after a movie is in the can.

What gave Entourage a heart was the cast. Easygoing Adrian Grenier, as easygoing star Vincent Chase, was rarely the focus of the stories, he was the hook on which the acting ensemble hung—Kevin Connelly as Vince’s Jiminy Cricket manager Eric “E” Murphy, Jerry Ferrara as chauffeur Sal “Turtle” Assante and Kevin Dillon as Vince’s older brother, hack actor and self-appointed chef Johnny “Drama” Chase.

There was a raft of well-realized supporting characters, and many real-life celebrities showed more juice playing themselves here than playing characters in their own movies. But the real energy on Entourage came, beyond question, from Jeremy Piven. As Vince’s wound-up agent Ari Gold, Piven strode around unloading insults and invective in his emphatic, declarative voice, while also letting us see Ari’s underlying conscience, his capacity for affection, and his surprisingly fierce if selectively applied sense of integrity. Ari’s manic efforts to unravel the studio-politics messes in which he finds himself were the true hero struggles of Entourage, and the series would have been inert without him.

Piven and the rest seem happy to slip back into their roles in the new film, directed by series creator Doug Ellin. The plot, around which a half-dozen or so subplots revolve, concerns Vince’s directorial debut, the attempt by the imbecilic son (Haley Joel Osment) of a Texan investor (Billy Bob Thornton) to meddle with it, and the efforts of Ari, now a studio head, to prevent this meddling. The film may not do much for the uninitiated, but for fans, it’s probably enough to say that it plays like a sped-up season of the show. Ellin keeps things moving, and for the short running time of Entourage—it clocks in at well under two hours—I was contentedly entertained. It feels like a reunion with old, immature, disreputable, goodhearted friends.

Monday, June 1, 2015

NOIRS, NERDS, STRAYS, STROGANOFF, QUAIL EGGS, CLU GULAGER...

A variety of stuff to catch up on:


This Saturday night I had the honor to be the auctioneer at a charity auction at Phoenix Comicon (my pal Gayle was supposed to do it, but couldn’t, and volunteered me). Various pieces of comic art and memorabilia were auctioned off for the excellent children’s literacy charity Kids Need to Read. I was very intimidated, and I doubt I have a career at Sotheby’s ahead of me, but I got good laughs and several thousand dollars were raised. I’d love to know where these nerds get all this money.

One item which went for more than $200 was a football from the Comicon booth at Super Bowl FanFest in February, which had been signed by a bunch of famous comic book artists (Neal Adams among them). I said “Who’d’ve thought you’d see a roomful of geeks fighting over a football?”

This was not, however, the most startling thing that happened this Saturday. Earlier that day, The Wife and The Kid and I were leaving to go to lunch, and saw an adorable little black-and-white Chihuahua wandering up the sidewalk. The Kid was able to coax her over, and she turned out to be very friendly and sweet, and seems well fed. She had a collar, no tag, and we took her to the Humane Society where they scanned her and determined she didn't have a chip, either.

So, at least for the moment, we have three Chihuahuas at Casa de los Chihuahuas.



The other two, Lily and Eddie, are unimpressed, but coping. We’d like to keep her, although she’s such an affectionate, well-socialized little character that she shows every sign of having been well cared for and loved, and I hate to think what her person or people may be going through.

RIP to Dan Mer, manager of the Tempe Improv during its best years, who passed on in his sleep last weekend. I got to know Dan when I was calendar editor at the Phoenix New Times, and when that paper laid me off in 2001 he immediately offered me a job as his in-house publicist. My thirteen months at the Improv—I left in 2002 for a job with more regular hours—offered me some of the most fascinating and memorable experiences of my working life. Dan could be a demanding boss, but he was brilliant and loyal. I learned a great deal from him and I owe him a great deal.

On a less personal note, last Tuesday I also said farewell to Mesa’s Landmark restaurant, stopping in for one more lunch order of truly delicious stroganoff and one more trip to the famed salad room for a plate of kumquats, hearts of palm, pickled watermelon and, of course, tiny hard-boiled quail eggs. Whoever supplied that venerable eatery, which closed yesterday, with quail eggs must be crying in their beer today (I took a half-pint home with me). I’ll miss it, though it always somehow suggested to me an evangelical’s idea of the afterlife.


Finally, I’m only now getting around to reporting on the 16th Annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, which I attended two weekends ago. Although this year’s schedule included such familiar selections as The Big Clock and On Dangerous Ground, for the true cinematic scavenger, the real highlights of the Noir Festival are the rarely-shown obscurities. This year I saw two such prizes.

 
One was a newly restored Library of Congress print of Joseph Losey’s 1951 American version of M, Fritz Lang’s 1931 German classic about a child murderer for whom both the police and the underworld are hunting. I had long wanted to see this film, and while few would suggest it’s in the same league with Lang’s masterpiece, or that David Wayne’s performance in the lead compares to Peter Lorre’s riveting turn in the original, it’s a fascinating curio, shot in the Bunker Hill section of L.A., with a superb cast of character vets—Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, Luther Adler, Raymond Burr, Steve Brodie, Jim Backus and Norman Lloyd, who was the guest for the Q&A afterwards, vigorous and confident at 100 years old!


The other rarity I saw was Chicago Calling, also from 1951, and also shot in the grittier districts of downtown L.A. This poignant yarn about an alcoholic loser (Dan Duryea), desperately trying to keep the phone that’s about to be removed from his apartment long enough to get an important call he’s expecting from Chicago, barely qualifies as a noir—hardly any violence, and only the pettiest of crimes.

In the course of the story Duryea bonds with a little boy (Gordon Gebert) who offers him the money to pay the bill. Gebert, best known as Janet Leigh’s son in the 1949 Christmas romance Holiday Affair, was the guest at this screening. Now 71, he looks like a million bucks, and had a fantastic adult career as an architect and teacher after attending MIT and Princeton. It was nice to hear a story like this from a child actor.

Still, when you consider that two of this year’s guests were a 100-year-old character actor and a 71-year-old former child actor, it’s wistfully clear that the relentless march of time is starting to make finding guests harder on the Noir Festival organizers.

I also had the good luck to meet another favorite of mine, longtime movie and TV vet Clu Gulager. The actor was there with his son, the talented director John Gulager, talented daughter-in-law Diane Goldner, and charismatic grand-dog Apollo to watch movies, record archival interviews with guests, and soak up well-earned adulation.

It doesn’t rain in Palm Springs very often. But while we were there, the resort town managed a couple of days of gray, drizzly showers.

Such weather was appropriate for the festival, of course, but with The Wife and The Kid, the rain wasn’t as big a hit. What was good noir-ish atmosphere for me was an annoyance for them, raining them out of the Thursday evening street market on Palm Canyon, the highlight of the trip as far as The Wife is concerned, and keeping The Kid out of the hotel’s pool. But we did, at least, manage several sublime meals—scrumptious Italian at Johnny Costa’s, superlative steak and salmon at LG’s Steakhouse and knockout knockwurst and eggs, among other goodies, at Sherman’s Deli.

Naturally, by the time we were headed home Saturday evening, there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.