Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Baby June herself, June Havoc, has passed on at 97...

RIP to her. Your Humble Narrator reached the less impressive but still shocking age of 48 this past Friday. The Wife softened the blow from this appalling & quite unexpected turn of events by taking me to Havana Cafe on Camelback, where I feasted on a pot of seriously succulent sailor's paella. Highly recommended.

Then Sunday night we watched Everybody's Fine, in which widower Robert DeNiro learns that his kids routinely lie to him about how they're doing, out of fear of dissappointing him. The film was marketed as a mild comedy of family dysfunction, but it's really a drama, & despite its smooth, serene pace, it packs more of a punch than might be expected. There's a moment near the end, when DeNiro is shown a painting, that jerks tears fair & square.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


RIP to Robert Culp, who has passed on at 79. I always thought he was underrated. The star of I Spy & Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice & PT 109 & the great Outer Limits episode “Demon with a Glass Hand” had a light, humorous, naturalistic style that I think much more might have been done with.

Monster-of-the-Week: In anticipation of How to Train Your Dragon, opening tomorrow, this week let’s acknowledge a less spectacular Hollywood dragon, the title character from The Flying Serpent (1946).

This 58-minute-long poverty-row programmer, a loose remake of the Bela Lugosi vehicle The Devil Bat, stars the redoubtable George Zucco as the mad scientist & a really unimpressive string-tethered puppet as the winged serpent...

...sicced by Zucco on his enemies. It may be viewed in its entirety, here.

Monday, March 22, 2010


My pal Barry Graham is presenter for a "No Festival Required" screening of Luc Schaedler's film Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet this evening at 6:30 p.m. at ASU West, Lecture Room 110. Alas, I can't attend, but you should, if you're here in the Valley & able. It's free. Details here.

Friday, March 19, 2010


When Brokeback Mountain was initially hyped, a few years back, as the “first gay Western,” observant fans of the genre laughed our asses off. Examples are legion, but for red-hot, thinly-disguised cowpoke yearning, few movies can compete with Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw. Shot in 1941, given a limited release in 1943 and then a wide release in 1946, the film is best known as a debut showcase for Jane Russell. But her role is decorative, if spectacularly so…

The crux of the script by Jules Furthmann, with the uncredited hands of Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks, involves a triangle between Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) and the title character, Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel). Pat is jealous as a schoolgirl—an armed and dangerous schoolgirl—over the shine that Doc takes to Billy. The actors, whether by obliviousness or Herculean self-restraint, play it straight—or, rather, straight-faced—but The Wizard of Oz and All About Eve and Valley of the Dolls and Moulin Rouge notwithstanding, this is just about the gayest thing you’ll ever see.

This splendid curio is on Turner Classic Movies Saturday at 9 a.m. Phoenix time, but you can also watch the movie online, in its entirety, here.

RIP to Fess Parker, who has passed on at 85. He’ll be remembered as Disney’s Davy Crockett & TV’s Daniel Boone, of course, but I’ll always remember his great scene as the pilot wrongly thought mad in Them!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Hope everybody had a great St. Paddy’s. The Wife & I (& Lily) celebrated with corned beef & coleslaw sandwiches from Zax CafĂ© at 24th Ave. & Northern. Yum!

Monster-of-the-Week: In honor of J.D. Hayworth, this week let’s give the nod to a hideous abomination—nothing less than a union of man & horse! It’s the Nuckelavee, a nightmare from the folklore of the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. The beastie, who rises out of the sea to terrorize hapless islanders, has a man-like torso with massive arms & a huge head & a great gaping mouth, all growing right out of the back of a horrible horse body. He’s skinless, with black blood & reeking breath that can kill crops. Plus, he has fins. He makes you wonder if some ancient Orcadian storyteller was trying to scare some particularly tough, unimpressed little kids, & just had to keep wildly embellishing.

Here are several renderings of the Nuckster…

& here he is as Number 66 in the “Monster in My Pocket” series…

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


...here is video of a horse named Colorado being rescued, by helicopter, from a sandbar in the Gila River.

Happy St. Paddy's, from the bottom of my one-eighth-Irish heart! Time to pay a visit to the Crichton Leprechaun...

Monday, March 15, 2010


First it was Rick Santorum, from my home state of Pennsylvania, & now former congressman & Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth from my adopted state of Arizona has also, you know, gone there—assured us that legitimizing same-sex marriage will lead inevitably to animal passion. Specifically, he asserted, in a Florida radio interview, that a Constitutional marriage amendment excluding same-sex hitching is—I'm quoting here—“the only way” to keep men from marrying horses.

In other words, just say neigh to same-sex marriage.

Hayworth asserts—inaccurately—that the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on the matter held that marriage was defined as “simply the establishment of intimacy” (it actually read “the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others”), and that therefore “I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse.” The Wife promptly noted that the ability of Hayworth’s spouse to establish intimacy with a horse’s backside is the only reason he was able to get married.

But I’m above such cheap shots.

I will ask, though—what is it about the concept of consent that conservative Republicans don’t get? Hayworth said that he was using the example to make “an absurd point,” but he doesn’t seem to grasp that the point isn’t absurd, it’s simply nonexistent. He & Santorum both leap from the idea of two consenting adults of the same sex choosing to marry each other to the idea of bestiality, as if a horse could legally give consent. But setting aside a difference that a seven-year-old could understand—that’s still too subtle for J.D.—the question remains: What is it with these guys & the quadrupeds?

Anyway, here’s Malcolm McDowell in bed with his horse in Caligula. Enjoy, J.D.


RIP to Peter Graves, who has passed on at 83. As a kid I endlessly watched Graves as the quintessentially quiet & collected backbone of the Mission: Impossible cast, & I enjoyed his self-spoofing turn in Airplane! & his starring roles in such unintentional comedies as Beginning of the End & Killers From Space. (a condensed version of the latter film may be viewed here, if you're overburdened with free time), & especially the insane 1952 anti-communist screed Red Planet Mars. Just a few weeks ago I watched him play a shady politician in a terrible '70s sci-fi flick called Parts: The Clonus Horror. But his career extended to such substantial films as Stalag 17 & Night of the Hunter.

No one--probably including the self-effacing Graves himself--would mistake him for an actor of great depth or range, yet there was a real charisma behind his stentorian straight-arrow manner, & his laconic, stalwart presence probably did at least as much to make Mission: Impossible a classic as his more flamboyant costars did; it also explains why he had such a long & prolific career. He's one of those show-biz figures one tends to take for granted, then miss when they're gone.

Friday, March 12, 2010


RIP to Corey Haim & Merlin Olsen.

My pal the Midnite Movie Mamacita is hosting a double feature of gruesome ‘80s horrors tonight & tomorrow night at 8 & 10 p.m. at MADCAP Theaters in Tempe—Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead & Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part II.

Raimi’s classic requires no more accolades, but here’s a word for Craven’s laughable 86-minute-long sequel, which I’ve always perversely preferred to his 1977 original The Hills Have Eyes, probably just because I had a blast seeing Part II (no relation, by the way, to The Hills Have Eyes 2, the unpleasant 2007 sequel to the slightly-less-unpleasant 2006 Hills remake) at the Plaza in Erie with my pal Ronnie in 1985. I remember the young hero taunting the murderous mutant Reaper (John Bloom) with insufferable shouts of “The Reaper sucks!” I also remember how drop-jawed we were when the dog—the dog—had a flashback to Part One.

My fondest memory of this absurd movie, though, came at a particularly improbable-seeming moment, when Ronnie pantomimed suspending a huge weight over his head, then losing hold of it so that it crashed to the floor.

“My disbelief,” he explained.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Monster-of-the-Week: Quite a treat Friday night for monster-lovers, as Turner Classic Movies, the greatest TV channel ever, is showing four classic creature features in a row—The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) & the peerless giant-ant movie Them! (1954)

All four are worth watching, but this week let’s honor the Rhedosaur, the titanic (& fictitious) title character of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, remotely based on Ray Bradbury’s sublime Saturday Evening Post story “The Fog Horn.”

Strictly as a movie, it isn’t as good as Them!—it’s a bit slow & stodgy. But the monster itself, animated by stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen, has few equals—Harryhausen endows him with far more personality than most of the human actors. The director, Eugene Lourie, told Harryhausen that he always made his monsters “die like a tenor in an opera,” & this is certainly true of Beast. The local NBC affiliate in my hometown showed the film constantly when I was a kid, & the Rhedosaur’s fiery Waterloo in the roller coaster at Coney Island, at the hand of sharpshooter Lee Van Cleef, always gave me a lump in the throat.

These images give some idea of the Beast’s dynamic beauty…

…but to really appreciate him, you need to see him in action.

One other TCM program note: The monster quadruple-feature is immediately followed by two other intriguing oddities from hypemaster William Castle—his strange 1974 fantasy Shanks, starring Marcel Marceau, & his 1961 gothic Mr. Sardonicus, based on Ray Russell’s short story “Sardonicus.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Just watched The Oscars--a clumsy & elephantine show, but there were highlights. Hosts Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin were truly funny, & though the dance number to the Best Score nominees was superfluous, the performers from The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers were spectacularly acrobatic. Also digressive, but also enjoyable, was this montage tribute to that Oscar-neglected genre the horror movie. About freakin' time.

Also: Why no Farrah Fawcett (or Bea Arthur) in the necrology?

Friday, March 5, 2010


Tim Burton’s movies are always worth seeing at least once—he’s probably as great a maker of whimsical images as the movies have ever produced. But, as I once heard him freely admit in an interview, he wouldn’t know a good script if it bit him. He seems to evaluate a script on the basis of the strange tableaux & bizarre visual jokes it will allow him to create, & not on whether it tells a good story.

So when he lucks into a solid script, like, say, Ed Wood or Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, he can make a near-masterpiece, & when he has an inadequate script, like, say, Sleepy Hollow or Mars Attacks or the 2001 Planet of the Apes, he makes a scramble of great-looking pictures.

I have to admit I wasn’t optimistic about his new Alice in Wonderland, because as congenial as Burton’s gifts would clearly be to the visual side of the material, I had my doubts that what really makes the book wonderful—the sure-footed precision of Lewis Carroll’s comic touch—was within his range. & it appears that it wasn’t. This isn’t Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On its own terms, however—as a wacky fairy-tale heroine saga—I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. This time, Burton’s dazzling imagination & a superb cast overcome a rather banal script.

Said script, by Linda Woolverton, is actually a sequel to the novel. Alice returns to Wonderland as a big girl, allowing the role to be played by leggy Mia Wasikowska, who’s fetching if not afflicted with an overabundance of energy & personality. The White Rabbit lures her back down the Rabbit Hole to help the old gang—The Mad Hatter, Dormouse, March Hare, Cheshire Cat, Dodo, et al—from the tyranny of the Red Queen (who actually has more in common with the Queen of Hearts than with her namesake in Through the Looking Glass). Alice assumes she’s dreaming, like in the old days.

Plenty is wrong, to my mind, about the film. The real-world framing scenes at the beginning & end feel halfhearted & flat, & the way that Woolverton literalizes the book’s nonsense words, like “Frabjous” & “Vorpal,” seems very reductive somehow.

I was also disappointed that Burton gave the landscapes an Avatar/Maxfield Parrish fantasy world look. There’s little in the book to suggest that, in terms of terrain, Wonderland is very different from the bucolic English countryside in which Alice starts out, & this quaintness adds to the bizarre effect of the talking animals & absurd, futile activities. The film’s story is shaped into a fable of female empowerment, commendable in itself, but a lesser vision than Lewis Carroll’s lighthearted existential mindfrig. Worse yet, it gives the movie what the book doesn’t & shouldn’t have—a plot.

The novel has little in the way of rising or developing action—Alice simply meets one curious character or set of characters after another, & what makes these encounters hilarious is that, against the conventional wisdom of children’s fiction, hardly any of them are nice. Almost everyone this polite, sensible little English girl meets is rude or obtuse, or even threatening. She’s not treated as special, like Harry Potter; the Wonderlanders seem, on the whole, uninterested or annoyed by her.

In the film, on the other hand, Alice is very much The Chosen One; for reasons not made clear (not to me, anyway) she’s needed to fight the “Jabberwocky,” here the Red Queen’s monstrous weapon of mass destruction. Again, much as this goes against the grain of the original material, it allows Burton to stage a fine skewed battle scene at the climax, & it’s quite invigorating to see a young woman used as a warrior-heroine without any big deal made about it (this effect is weakened a little in the cheesy you-go-girl final frame scene, though).

What really saves the film, however, is that most of the characters are smashingly realized, both by Burton’s visual panache & by the excellence of the acting. It may even be to the movie’s benefit that Alice isn’t all that vivid here; perhaps it sets off the masterly cast all the better. Johnny Depp, in makeup that resembles Elijah Wood as a zombie & shifting inexplicably from a nattering English accent to a Braveheart-style oratorical Scottish brogue, is fine as the Mad Hatter. Anne Hathaway is the goofy-prim White Queen, Crispin Glover gives an amazingly straightforward villainous performance as the Knave of Hearts, & the voice cast includes, to name a few, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky, Michael Gough as the Dodo, & Stephen Fry, particularly marvelous, as the Cheshire Cat. The real standout, though, is the always reliable Helena Bonham Carter, who manages to be deeply funny yet still injects a bit of sadness into her tirades as the Red Queen.

Burton also shows us the other two monsters against which the hero of “Jabberwocky” is warned, the Bandersnatch (presumably of the Frumious variety) & the Jubjub Bird. I would have thought this a bad idea, but it works—Alice’s encounter with the Bandersnatch, a sort of hyena/bear/cheetah by way of Dr. Seuss, is one of the most satisfying scenes in the film. But then, within in his own realm Burton is as great a visual fantasist as Lewis Carroll’s illustrator John Tenniel, so why shouldn’t he create his own freaky visions of Wonderland’s fauna?

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Baseball at last! The Cactus League is underway all over the Valley today, here’s a schedule in case, like Your Humble Narrator, you’re hoping to play a bit of hooky in the next month.

Monster-of-the-Week: Have you noticed how mimsy all the borogroves have been lately? I’d guess that these conditions are at least partly related to the opening tomorrow of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

In observance, this week let’s pay homage to one of the all-time greats, The Jabberwock, the terrible beast whose defeat is celebrated in “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s epic nonsense poem which appears in 1872's Through the Looking Glass. The creature plays an expanded role in Burton’s film, irksomely referred to there as “The Jabberwocky”—not to be pedantic, but isn’t that the name of the poem, not the monster?—& given powerful voice by none other than Christopher Lee. Here’s the movie’s impressive rendering…

…which nonetheless isn’t as awesome as the incomparable original drawing by John Tenniel from the book, one of the few visual realizations of a literary monster that satisfies the curiousity conjured up by our imaginations…

I gaped at that picture for years as a kid before observing that Tenniel’s Jabberwock wears a waistcoat.

Jack Palance played the Jabberwock in a 1966 TV production…

…& Terry Gilliam dramatized the poem in his splendid 1977 film Jabberwocky, which featured a cool showdown between hero Michael Palin & the beast…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Exhibit A--School photo of George Clooney: