Saturday, May 29, 2010


One of my favorites has passed on: the great Dennis Hopper. Although I’ve always loved Easy Rider (1969), to which Hopper brought a fine naturalistic touch as director (along with some corny artsy directorial affectations), it’s as an actor that I’ll always treasure him most. From his early work in classics like Rebel Without a Cause, Giant & Gunfight at the OK Corral to his touching turn as Billy the Kid in Easy Rider, his stoner-period phase in Apocalypse Now & Rumble Fish, his sublime comeback performances in Blue Velvet & Hoosiers & his funny, oddly likable villain-for-hire work in stuff like Speed, Waterworld, & Red Rock West, he left behind a seriously rich legacy. RIP; you'll be missed.

RIP also to Art Linkletter, passed on at 97, & to Gary Coleman, passed on too young at 42.

A friend forwarded me the link to this odd but rather excellent blog, which showcases the beauty & artistry of the backgrounds in old cartoon animation.

Yesterday I had lunch at Rincon Peruano Peruvian Restaurant, barely noticeable in a strip mall on South Alma School in Mesa. I had a big plate of Tallarin Saltado de Pollo (chicken with noodles & veggies). Delicious, recommended!

Friday, May 28, 2010


Two years ago HBO’s long-running sitcom Sex and the City was turned into a feature film of nearly two & a half hours length. It was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel, Sex and the City 2, which is within a minute or two of the same length.
I’m not sure why the first film had to be so long, & I’m very sure that the current film didn’t have to be. A few months ago I grumbled about the length of Avatar, but in fairness to James Cameron’s film, it’s an epic about space travel, human identity & the exploitation of an indigenous race. Sex and the City 2, only about twenty minutes shorter, is about four rich women from New York spending a few days on vacation at a luxury hotel in the United Arab Emirates. The dramatic high point of Avatar is the destruction of a whole culture’s ancestral home. The dramatic high point of SATC2 is a dinner date between a married chick & her old boyfriend.

So what’s with the length? My guess is that the writer-producer-director, Michael Patrick King, is trying to create the sense of watching a whole season of the TV show crammed into one sitting, like a viewer laid up with the flu might do with a DVD box set. This approach worked with the first film, sort of, but this one plods, & the complications piled on near the end are unwelcome.

The married woman in question is Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), who hitched her dream man “Mr. Big” (Chris Noth) in the earlier film &, of course, is now starting to squirm & fidget as the reality of married life’s over-familiarity starts to set in. She accepts the invitation of her ever-lascivious friend Samantha (Kim Catrrall) to join her for a PR trip to Abu Dhabi. So do the other two pals in the circle, no-nonsense lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) & harried stay-at-home Mom Charlotte (Kristen Davis).

Much lewd wackiness ensues when they get there, but the “serious” plot strand has Carrie coincidentally running into an earlier boyfriend (John Corbett) & feeling just unsettled enough about her marriage to take him up on dinner.

No one would be likely to mistake the first film’s script for a lost work by Oscar Wilde, but King’s dialogue relies even more heavily on wince-inducing puns this time out (“Lawrence of my labia,” for one of the more sparkling examples). He also ups the ante on celebrity cameos, some of them, like Miley Cyrus & Tim Gunn, playing themselves. Liza Minelli, surprisingly spry, appears early on & performs a full-blown musical number, the centerpiece of a long sequence set at an extravagant gay wedding that might have had Mel Brooks as its planner. This is probably the most agreeable chunk of the film, but it all smells a bit desperate, really—the anxious sweat of a movie with no urgent reason, other than commercial, to exist.

I don’t wish to be ungallant, but it also struck me that all four of the stars, but especially Parker & Cattrall, were less flatteringly photographed this time, too, & far less flatteringly costumed. A couple of Parker’s hats look like rejects from Flash Gordon.

None of this is really the 500-pound gorilla in the room where SATC2, is concerned, however. The degree to which these characters indulge their narcissism & cosmopolitan acquisitiveness, even proudly defend them as if they were virtues, is remarkable even in the first film. It’s magnified quite a few times when it’s played out against the backdrop of a culture in which women enjoy not even one-tenth of the freedoms that Carrie & her friends take for granted. With certain sequences, as when the four stars perform a karaoke version of “I Am Woman” at an Abu Dhabi nightclub & the local women sing along in smiling approval, it’s hard to know whether to feel offended, embarrassed, or touched at the childish gesture of “you go girl” uplift.

A little of all three, maybe. But it’s a bit unsavory the way SATC2 wants to swoon over Abu Dhabi’s opulence & exoticism & luxury on the one hand, & wag its finger at the culture’s oppression of women on the other. This movie wants to have its falafel & eat it too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Out on DVD this week is The Road, last year’s film version of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. You can read my review here.

Monster-of-the-Week: This week’s honoree comes from a cruder post-doomsday vision: The Day the World Ended, Roger Corman’s 1955 melodrama about a handful of survivors of said atomic apocalypse who take refuge in a cabin & squabble with each other when they aren’t being menaced by this bug-eyed mutant creature from the next valley over:

This irritable-looking abomination was created (& played, under the suit) by Corman’s premiere monster-maker, Paul Blaisdell.

A figurine version:

This film, by the way, inspired the strange 1982 Wim Wenders movie The State of Things.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


My old New Times pal Chris Farnsworth... in the Valley Wednesday evening, on tour with his hit novel Blood Oath...

...about a vampiric aide to the President. Chris signs the tome at 7 p.m. at The Poisoned Pen, 4014 North Goldwater in Scottsdale. Be there! Details here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


The Wife & I are back from watching our erratic Diamondbacks take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Nice to see the Maple Leaf flying over Chase Field, & to hear “O, Canada” beautifully sung before the game. The D-bax struck the Blue Jays starter, poor Dana Eveland (formerly, briefly, a Diamondback), for eight runs in the early innings, & that, in combination with a fine performance on the mound by the D-bax starter Edwin Jackson, led to an 8-5 win for the hometown lads.

We also returned with the evening’s ballpark schwag, the Diamondbacks Garden Gnome, already on sentry duty on my bookcase:

(photo credit: The Wife)

Since the passage of the reprehensible SB1070, there has been talk of boycotting the Diamondbacks because of team co-owner Ken Kendrick’s chumminess with Republican causes. I disagree with the idea, on the grounds that while Kendrick certainly is a major donor to Republican douchebags, he’s also clearly stated his opposition to SB1070. I would have greatly preferred it if, like Robert Sarver & “Los Suns,” the D-bax had made some impressive public gesture against the measure, but I still think that boycotting the team (for any reason other than the miserable bullpen pitching) is misguided.

Even so, I hasten to point out that I bought these tickets (& tickets to one other game, in September), long before SB1070 was signed into law. Also, the seats were in the All You Can Eat Section, so even if I supported the boycott, the only way I could make the Diamondbacks suffer economically would be to go to the game & stuff myself with as many hotdogs as possible. I did my best.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The other night I was leafing through an old edition of Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea (La Travailleurs de la Mer) & I came across a picture of the Guernseyman hero, Gilliat, grappling with a monstrous octopus.


Monster-of-the-Week: ...for no other reason than that Saturday is the 125th anniversary of Hugo’s death, & also that they’re kickass pictures, this week let’s give the nod to this eight-armed invertebrate menace. The beautiful third drawing—from which the second appears to have been adapted—is by Hugo himself:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


According to this, a feature version of TV’s The Big Valley is in the works, to feature Jessica Lange in the Barbara Stanwyck part. Is this really what the masses have been clamoring for? Odd, anyway, to think of Jessica Lange in terms of late-period Barbara Stanwyck roles.

Variety also reports that a new Gidget series is in the works. *sigh* They should get Paul Giamatti for Moondoggie; he could win an Emmy…

Monday, May 17, 2010


The Wife, Lily & I are back, after a marvelous couple of days in Palm Springs, where for the fourth year in a row I attended the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival at the Camelot Theatres on Baristo. This is, I think, the most actually entertaining film festival in America.

Highlights this year included:

The Big Night (1951)—Joseph Losey directed this tale of a kid who spends the night of his 18th birthday searching for the brutal sportswriter (Howard St. John) who gave his father (Preston Foster) a humiliating public beating. Sadomasochistic overtones abound, & there’s a painful faux pas encounter between the callow hero & a black blues singer (Mauri Lynn). The script is terrible, but the teenage John Drew Barrymore, billed here as “John Barrymore, Jr.” & a ringer for the young Sean Penn, gives a strong performance.

The Glass Wall (1953)—“Displaced person” Vittorio Gassman—playing a Hungarian!—jumps ship in New York & searches Times Square for the clarinetist (Jerry Paris) who can vouch for his wartime heroism. Vittorio falls in with Gloria Grahame, which for a change is a lucky break for a noir hero. The story ends at the United Nations building, where poor Gassman gets stuck with an embarrassingly didactic speech that no actor could manage, but otherwise his performance is warm & touching, & this melodrama shows that when it comes to American attitudes toward immigration nothing has changed except the nationalities in question. 81-year-old Anne Robinson, who played the clarinetist’s girlfriend, was present for the screening, & as the presenter noted, glad to be talking about any movie other than War of the Worlds.

Bury Me Dead (1947)—The Wife joined me for this lighthearted murder mystery starring June Lockhart, who was also present for the screening, looking spry & stylish in her mid-80s. The print was choppy, but the script, based on a radio play by Irene Winston, is sly & funny, & John Alton’s cinematography is a monochrome tour de force. Also, the cast included the iconic Charles Lane at his waspish best!

New York Confidential (1955)—This expose of “The Syndicate” in the Big Apple has a fantastic cast, led by Broderick Crawford, hilariously splenetic as the bellyaching, Mama’s-boy Big Boss, Anne Bancroft as his disgusted daughter, Richard Conte, smoothly heartless as ever as his triggerman, & the always-excellent J. Carroll Naish as Crawford’s businesslike associate.

The Wife & Lily & I also chowed down at Matchbox Pizza & Sherman’s Deli—from the later, we brought home a couple of groaning sacks of delicious hamantashen—& on the ride home, having seen several signs advertising REALLY GOOD FRESH JERKY, we happened to stop for a potty break at the McDonald’s in Quartzsite, & across the street, sure enough, there was the REALLY GOOD FRESH JERKY store. I stopped in, & we left with some beef & some buffalo jerky. We ate some on the way home, & you know what? It was good, fresh jerky. Really good. Really fresh.

RIP to the great paperback-&-heavy-metal-LP-cover illustrator Frank Frazetta, who has passed on at 82, & who helped to feed the fevered fantasy lives of a couple of generations of geeks, including me…

Thursday, May 13, 2010


RIP to heavy-for-hire John Davis Chandler, passed on at 73, & to the last surviving Ziegfeld Girl, Doris Eaton Travis, passed on at 106.

It took the team’s strikingly unequivocal public stand against SB1070 to make me a Phoenix Suns fan. So in honor of Steve Nash, who played the fourth quarter of Game Four against the Spurs with his right eye swollen shut…

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s give the nod to the title character played by Dean Parkin in The Cyclops, a laughable 1957 epic from the King of Rear Projection, Bert I. Gordon…

This isn’t the greatest movie cyclops, a title which certainly belongs to the thuggish-looking specimen from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

…but the radioactive giant from Gordon’s movie got his twisted mug accidently, like Nash.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


A good mail day:

Item one: Chicago-based jazz singer Solitaire Miles sent me a copy of her new album Born to be Blue.

I had the fun of writing an old-school “liner note” for Solitaire’s website, which may be read here. I gave BTBB a listen this afternoon, & as no particular jazz enthusiast, I must tell you that this collection, which includes songs by Hoagy Carmichael, Mel Torme & Duke Ellington, Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Mercer & others, is a delightful showcase for Solitaire’s fine, precise vocals.

Item two: A friend of mine recently visited the Peabody Museum at Yale, home of my vote for greatest American painting of the 20th Century, Rudolph F. Zallinger’s 1947 fresco secco mural The Age of Reptiles:

Knowing my enthusiasm for this masterpiece, my pal sent me this book:

I've coveted this tome for years but never actually held it in my hands. I can't wait to dig into it in earnest, but I'm especially intrigued at a long article in it on The Age of Reptiles as fine art, because what's always mesmerized me is how this piece of scientific illustration has a bristling, electric atmosphere of mysticism that seemed to me suggestive of an Old Masters religious painting, & this article suggests that Zallinger was consciously under the influence of Cennini & Giotto.

Some details:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


DVD note: The complete run of one of the best shows ever on MTV, Daria (1997-2002), is out today.

An animated spinoff from Mike Judge’s classic Beavis & Butt-head, Daria followed the adventures of its smart, snarky heroine—the embodiment of the sort of chick many of us daydreamed about in our teens, even though there’s a good chance she would have found us as dorky as she did everyone else—through the annoyances of life in an upscale suburban high school. If you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend.

RIP to the great Lena Horne, who has passed on at 92. I’ve long remembered this lovely duet she did with Grover.

Like a lot of other people, I spent part of the weekend watching Betty White, at 88, absolutely nail her hosting duties on Saturday Night Live.
I didn't watch the show until Sunday afternoon, however, because I was at the drive-in.

Last week, you see, my pal Dewey loaned me an excellent DVD, a documentary by Kurt Kuenne called Drive-in Movie Memories, which chronicles the history of that noble icon of Americana. Packed with amazing photos and other archival materials, it left me craving a movie under the stars in the peerless late-spring Arizona cool. The Wife didn’t share my enthusiasm for the idea. Not only could I not talk her into joining me, even if I promised to take her to some chick-flick like The Back-Up Plan, she talked me out of going that weekend.

This past Saturday, however, I was not to be dissuaded. I headed for the Scottsdale 9 on McKellips. Because only a few things in life could be more depressing then going alone to a drive-in, I asked my pal Barry to come along. Barry is from Scotland, and though he’s lived in the U.S. for more than a decade he’d never had this quintessential American experience. I considered it my civic duty to see to it that he did. We saw The Losers, a violent and silly but well-crafted action picture with some funny dialogue and a nice deadpan performance by Jason Patric as the villain.

The movie was near-perfect drive-in fare, but even so, the experience has changed since I was a kid. For one thing, there are showtimes. Since when? Drive-ins used to just start when it got dark, but now they’re slaves to the clock, just like the multiplexes. Seems wrong somehow.

Also, the big clunky speakers which hung in your window, and were prone to unintentional kidnapping by absentminded departing audience members, are long gone; now you hear the movie’s soundtrack through your car radio. A better system, I suppose, but it posed a problem for me. Because of it, I couldn’t take my beat-up Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck, even though it’s much more appropriate for a drive-in, because you can park it pointing away from the screen and sit in the back on lawn chairs.

But alas, the radio in my truck has been out of order for a couple of years. Thus I had to borrow The Wife’s car: a Prius. That’s right, I took a Prius, complete with its low-slung and heavily tinted windshield, to the drive-in. Fortunately, I had taken it to the dealership the morning before for its recall fix, so at least it didn’t accelerate uncontrollably and crash into the screen.

Friday, May 7, 2010


My longtime man-crush Robert Downey, Jr. was pretty much the whole show in the original Iron Man two years ago. His costars, which included such heavy hitters as Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow & Terrence Howard, were largely straight men to his rapid-fire comic prattling. He cut a rather glamorous figure as Iron Man’s alter ego, weapons magnate Tony Stark, & the movie, directed by Jon Favreau, amounted to a major comeback.

Downey’s back for Iron Man 2, as is Favreau, & this time the movie makes a little room for some other performances. Favreau takes an even more mischievous comic approach this time, directing many scenes in a nattering, chattering style not that different from the sort that Vince Vaughn used on his dialogue for Swingers back in 1996—spread over a large & diverse cast, as it is here, it comes across as a sort of 21st-Century-nouveau version of the Preston Sturges idiom. Or the closest we’re likely to get to it these days, anyway. Paltrow, Don Cheadle (replacing Howard), Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, Clark Gregg & Favreau himself each get at least a scene or two in which to get some laughs.

The story this time concerns hubris: Tony has started to believe his own Rock-Star/Messiah hype as Iron Man, & supposes himself invulnerable & capable of maintaining world peace single-handedly. This leaves him open to attack from a new quarter: a Russian ex-con & physicist—not an everyday combo, that—who bears him a grudge, played by Mickey Rourke, & financed in his evildoing by envious rival defense contractor Sam Rockwell.

It’s these two heavies that, appropriately, steal the show. Rourke, tatted-up & looking more like Leona Helmsley than ever, speaks softly & carries two huge electrified cables, which he uses like whips to chastise Iron Guy.

He exudes menace effortlessly. But it’s Rockwell who makes his bespectacled, sheepish worm-that-turns into a gem of comic villainy.

Beyond that, there isn’t a lot to report. Iron Man 2 is a big summer movie, & the obligatory action-explosion scenes bloat it into tediousness at times, but less so, I’d say, than most of its kind. Favreau works, here as in the first film, in clean, straightforward, brightly colored compositions suggestive of comic-book narrative, there’s little of the fast-cutting, jiggly-camera chaos that’s been in vogue in action blockbusters in recent decades.

I thought I even spotted a couple of quick visual homages by Favreau to Eisenstein’s Potemkin in the climactic scenes of Iron Man 2—in the marching feet of a troop of robots down a flight of stairs, & in the broken eyeglasses that Sam Rockwell wears at one point. Maybe it’s the director acknowledging that he’s taking movie action back to basics.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Viva Los Suns! They defeated the Spurs, 110-102, while wearing their Cinco de Mayo/anti-SB1070 protest jerseys. In front of the home crowd, no less.

In other awesomeness, my brother sent me this picture (from the Pittsburgh airport, I think) of a T-Rex chowing down on a very small man:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Happy Cinco de Mayo everybody! I’m not much of a basketball fan, but I have to say that I think it’s pretty awesome that the Phoenix Suns, now facing the Spurs in Round Two of the NBA playoffs, are wearing “Los Suns” jerseys today in solidarity against SB1070 (Scumbag Bill 1070).

In that same spirit…

Monster-of-the-Week: …here’s a special one-day-early edition of MOTW featuring a Mexican monster: Baron Vitelius d’Estera, title character of 1962’s El Baron del Terror, known to us gringos as The Brainiac. This perfectly wonderful South-of-the-Border spookshow stars Abel Salazar in the title role, a 17th-Century Mexican nobleman who is burned at the stake for dabbling in witchcraft. As he dies he vows revenge on the descendants of his persecutors when the comet overhead returns, & he’s as good as his word—he shows up in early 1960s Mexico City, & starts shape-shifting into a hideous ogre with a long snaky forked tongue handy to extract the grey matter of his victims...

Maybe he’s behind the empty skulls of the Arizona State Legislature.

The film is available on DVD; here’s a sample of its mayhem.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Georgy Girl herself, Lynn Redgrave, has passed on, too young at 67.

The Wife & I saw her perform her one-woman show Shakespeare For My Father at the Herberger here in Phoenix back in the ‘90s. It was highly engaging, & included her flawless impression of her older & more celebrated sister Vanessa. RIP.

Today one of my nephews had a short layover in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, & I got to go hang out with him for a few minutes. Great to see him. After he went back through security, I noticed that the little art gallery there was hosting Chuck Jones—An Animated Life, an exhibit of the artwork of the Warner Bros. animation great.

Included are oils, watercolor, pencil & charcoal drawings & animation cels. Most are hilarious studies of Bugs, Daffy, Pepe Le Pew & Wile E. Coyote, but there are also a few “straight” works—a seascape, a couple of still lifes (one from the collection of actress Virginia Mayo) & even a striking nude. It’s a small show, but it’s little-seen work by—I think—an authentic American Master, & it’s worth checking out, especially if you find yourself in Terminal 4. It’s up through May 16, details here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


In light of the vile racist scumbaggery that has just become law here, it's not surprising that my old New Times pal John Dougherty has announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate from Arizona...

John's political sensibility has always seemed to me like the rarest sort: his intelligence & perspective don't dilute his intense & passionate indignation at injustice--rather, they focus it. I can't think of a better way you could show your love for this state than to support the campaign of someone who won't be an embarrassment on the national stage.

RIP to Dorothy Provine, statuesque star of The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, The Bonnie Parker Story, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World & the original That Darn Cat, who has passed on at 75. A pal reminded me today that she had another pop-culture distinction--she caused a small stink back in the '70s when she starred in the first TV ads for Summer's Eve douche.

Here she is, looking rather chic in The Bonnie Parker Story (note how, in the poster, it seems to be more remarkable that she smokes cigars than that she fires a machine gun)...