Thursday, September 30, 2010


A few weeks ago, when comedian Robert Schimmel was killed in a car crash, I reflected here that he was the third comic I got to know when I was a publicist for the Tempe Improv that had died, Mitch Hedberg & Richard Jeni being the first two.

Add a fourth: Insult-master Greg Giraldo has passed on at 44 of an overdose, reportedly accidental, of prescription medication.

I spent a couple of days with Giraldo the second or third week I worked at the Improv. He was a fascinating, intelligent conversationalist—quite warm & friendly despite his snarky stage persona—& he was startlingly candid about himself & about other comedians & what I should expect from them. It was very helpful.

In recent years he had become a fixture on the Comedy Central Roasts. He was venomously, toxically nasty, & hilarious. RIP.

RIP likewise to Arthur Penn, director of The Left-Handed Gun, The Miracle Worker, Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant & Little Big Man, among other fierce, rule-breaking films.

In honor of Gloria Stuart, who passed on at 100 this week…

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s recognize one of Monsterdom’s all-time greats, the title character of 1933’s The Invisible Man, whose lady love was played by Stuart...

Scientist Jack Griffin has discovered how to make himself see-thru, but apparently side effects may include turning into a homicidal megalomaniac. If you’ve never seen James Whale’s mischievous film of the H.G. Wells yarn, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of the finest of the Universal horror classics of the '30s, with still-seamless special effects by John Fulton, witty dialogue by Philip Wylie & R.C. Sherriff, & the superbly sinister voice of Claude Rains erupting from under the bandages—it’s hard to forget the moment when he exultantly crows to poor Gloria that “Even the moon is frightened of me, frightened to death!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Tempe’s Madcap Theaters hosts Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo.

Bradley Beesley’s documentary chronicles the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo, held at a stadium inside the State Peniteniary in McAlester, with a particular focus on the female inmates from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, who have been permitted to participate in the Rodeo since 2006. As a piece of filmmaking it’s deft, if straightforward, but what makes it beguiling is Beesley’s non-prurient attitude toward his subject.

Though the ladies to whom he introduces us are, on the whole, quite strikingly attractive, this is no lurid, titillating women-in-prison picture. Beesley seems protective of them, & indeed, these (seemingly) sweet-natured, plaintive-voiced, mutually supportive young women, almost all of whom are locked up on drug-related charges, do inspire sympathy, though of course it’s hard to say how skillfully they may be presenting their most appealing side to the camera.

The 2007 Rodeo serves as the climax, & Beesley captured some hair-raising footage of this curious spectacle. He also gets in some social criticism, pointing out that the state incarcerates women at more than twice the national average. This appears to be less from some Okie aversion to the glass ceiling, & more to the state’s general enthusiasm for imprisoning people. The film offers a quote from State Senator Cal Hobson: “Oklahoma leads America and America leads the free world in incarceration.” It’s unclear whether the Senator is lamenting or boasting.

Monday, September 27, 2010


RIP to the beautiful Gloria Stuart, passed on at 100 years old.

As a charming young thing, the Santa Monica native starred opposite Jimmy Cagney in Here Comes the Navy & Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1935 & Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals & Warner Baxter in John Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island & Shirley Temple in Poor Little Rich Girl, & she was James Whale’s imperiled leading lady in The Invisible Man & The Old Dark House. She was a good union gal, too—a first-year member of the Screen Actors Guild. As an older actress, she had a lovely, wordless bit, dancing with Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year, but she will almost certainly be most remembered as the storyteller in Cameron’s Titanic, for which she became, at 87, the eldest Oscar nominee.

It was also pointed out to me that she has another Oscar distinction: With Kate Winslet, she is one of only two actors ever nominated for playing the same character in the same movie.

Friday, September 24, 2010


The title of Oliver Stone’s new film is Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. For all I know, that may be true—my relationship with Money, to date, hasn’t been intimate enough to say. If so, then maybe Money should consider sitting through this film.

It’s a sequel, of course, to Wall Street, Stone’s 1987 hit. An engaging, fast-moving dramatization of the insider-trading scandals of that decade, it gave Michael Douglas perhaps the best role of his career, as Mephistophelean corporate-raider reptile Gordon Gekko, & his most enduring onscreen line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.

The new film, directed by Stone but written by Allan Loeb & Stephen Schiff, seems to have been occasioned by the irony of the relative quaintness of Gordon’s mischief by comparison to the nihilistic atrocities that brought about 2008’s meltdowns. Set on the eve of that collapse, it follows Shia LeBeouf as Jacob, an up-&-coming trader with a venerable, too-big-to-fail firm. Jacob’s girlfriend is Gordon’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), a typical Oliver Stone paragon: She runs a leftie website & rejects everything her old man stood for.

As for Gordon, he’s long out of prison, a bestselling author & a hit on the lecture circuit—he warns of the coming apocalypse in stand-up one-liners, & the audiences roar with laughter at his dead-on predictions. But while he can afford high-rise digs in Manhattan, he sheepishly confesses “It’s a rental.” He longs to get back into the big-time investment game. Enter Jacob, who wants Gordon for a mentor just like Charlie Sheen did, & barters with him for advice in return for help patching up his relationship with Winnie.

Douglas is jolly fun here, as sardonic & cheerfully febrile as he was in the first film. He can’t do as much with the role, because Stone & the writers can’t quite figure out who they want Gordon to be this time, & their indecision ultimately diffuses the impact of the performance. Still, when Douglas is onscreen Money Never Sleeps is at its widest awake.

Nor is his the only good acting in the picture. The great charm & fascination that Shia LaBeouf clearly holds for many people continues to elude me, I regret to say; his work is heartfelt but one-note, & on the whole, the same goes for Mulligan. There are fine turns by Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach & Susan Sarandon, however, & Frank Langella brings a whiff of genuinely tragic desperation & anger to his role as LaBeouf’s original mentor.

But all of this doesn’t amount to enough, because Stone somehow can’t figure out how to set an exciting pace. The first film rocked & rollicked—except when it stopped dead for Stone’s pieties, of course—while this one glides along sedately, to pretty, lulling melodies by David Byrne & Brian Eno on the soundtrack. The movie isn’t dreadful to watch; there are good moments scattered throughout. But it isn’t compelling or absorbing. It dawdles & mopes its way to a half-hearted non-conclusion.

It’s odd that Stone comes across as flummoxed, almost cowed, by the latest round of financial outrages, since his usual style of hyperbolic rhetoric suits the subject to a degree that even his detractors would have a hard time disputing. But he doesn’t work up much hysteria, oddly. You can almost catch a subtle hint of “What’s the use?” under the movie.

The moral at which the first film arrived was that, in truth, greed, to use exactly the correct word, isn’t good, that it isn’t right, that it doesn’t work. This movie makes the same point on a psychotically bigger scale, but apart from that scale it doesn’t really have anything to add, except a glum, resigned awareness that nobody was listening the first time.

RIP to the legendary/notorious Eddie Fisher, departed at 82.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


For no other reason than that the painting figures in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, opening tomorrow...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week let's give the nod to the Titan Cronus, aka Saturn, as depicted in Goya's grim masterpiece Saturn Devouring His Son (circa 1819)...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Today The Wife celebrated her 50th birthday. In the middle of the afternoon she called to tell me that she had slipped off & gotten a tattoo! Not only that, the image she chose...

...was a monarch butterfly, in honor (*catch in throat*) of my Mom, who particularly loved the creatures.

So in honor of The Wife, allow me to present the second-coolest Big 5-0 that I encountered today: Sammy Davis, Jr. singing the little-known lyrics to probably the greatest TV theme of all time, Hawaii Five-0. Listen to him here.

Monday, September 20, 2010


This weekend Barry Graham & I caught up with Devil, in which five strangers get trapped together in an elevator in a Philadelphia office building.

Through some rather laborious exposition, we are given to understand that one of these shady characters is actually the Devil in human form, looking to torment & then kill the others for their past nastiness. Now & then the lights flicker off, & when they come back on some new grisliness has taken place. While the fire department works to free them, a police detective (Chris Messina) with a tragic past of his own watches the whole gruesome spectacle unfold on the security camera.

The director is John Erick Dowdle, working from a script by Brian Nelson, but the story was concocted by M. Night Shyamalan, who also co-produced, & it carries a heavy charge of his sensibility. Yet perhaps thanks to the collaborators, & also to its comparatively unambitious goals, Devil doesn’t misfire like most of Shyamalan’s post-Sixth Sense efforts have.

It’s possible that the film owes something to the 1983 Dutch thriller The Lift, & the premise is basically the same as that of one of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episodes, “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (&, for that matter, as Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians). The characters are stock figures in the Golden Age of Television mode, but they’re written & played with some heart, & the film is generously restocked with red herrings several times in its brief length. It’s no classic, but I enjoyed this hokum more than I expected to. Also, it has a really striking opening title sequence.

By the way, my post on Easy A (below) was picked up this weekend as a guest review by Jabcat On Movies. The site is worth checking out.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Olive is a smart kid unobtrusively waiting out high school in Ojai, California. Truthful by nature, one day she impulsively tells a friend a fib—that she spent the weekend losing her virginity to an older guy from out of town. This tall tale is overheard by the school religious fanatic, goes viral throughout the campus in minutes, & suddenly Olive is no longer unobtrusive.
The ensuing wackiness makes up the balance of Easy A. Olive, played by the throaty, appealing Scottsdale native Emma Stone of Zombieland & Superbad, suddenly finds herself leered at & whispered about. She also receives an unexpected request—a gay kid (Dan Byrd) asks her to pretend to have sex with him at a party, for a fee, so that he can banish his own reputation long enough to get through graduation & out of town. Soon she’s offering this service, in return for retail gift cards, to all the school’s nerds & fatties & other sexual rejects.

As her fallen reputation rises, she takes to wearing sexier & sexier outfits, with a trademark scarlet “A” on them in honor of Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne. The director, Will Gluck, working from a script by Bert V. Royal, is brisk & clever in illustrating the hive-like modes by which teenagers communicate, & he gets lively performances from his large & high-ticket cast. Along with Stone, there’s Amanda Bynes as the Jesus freak, Thomas Haden Church as the cool English teacher, Lisa Kudrow as his guidance counselor wife, Fred Armisen as a minister & Malcolm McDowell as the principal, who sets an all-too-plausible low bar for his own job success. Best of all are Patricia Clarkson & Stanley Tucci as Olive’s flaky, startlingly direct parents; these two, making the most of Royal’s eccentric dialogue, embezzle a sizable portion of this slight but enjoyable movie for themselves.

That they don’t amble off with the whole thing has a lot to with young Stone, who refuses to play her role too slickly or knowingly. She’s good company, & though the film’s dizzy, chatty tone is stylized, Olive comes across as a real & touchingly unsure person.

If it caught you in the wrong mood, I suppose that Easy A could come across as irksomely arch & cutesy instead of clever. In any case, the storyline takes a bad bounce in the final third, when Olive gets connected (falsely) to a more serious adult scandal. Even in a lightweight teen comedy like this, some graver consequence was probably called for, to keep the film from pure fluffiness. But the subplot here is trumped-up & borderline ugly, & it gives a sour flavor to the movie’s homestretch. On balance, though, Easy A is easy to take.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


In honor of Kevin McCarthy…

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week let’s give the nod to the Pod People, from the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These big parasitical seed pods from space hatch out replacements identical to their human hosts, but devoid of emotion or passion.

Our hero, Dr. Miles Bennell (McCarthy) & his gorgeous girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) are soon the only non-snatched people left in their small California community, & everybody in town is chasing them.

Over the years the movie (based on Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers), has been interpreted as both a Right-Wing allegory of Communist infiltration—in a modern version, I suppose the Body Snatchers would have to be Muslims or Mexicans—& a Left-Wing parable of gradual acquiescence to middle-class conformity. In all likelihood, it’s neither, or rather both: It’s one of those flexible, resonant sci-fi myths on which almost any interpretation can be validly projected (2001 is another of this sort).

The great, probably unintentional irony of the original Body Snatchers is that the characters are such generic ‘50s-style stock figures that there’s really no significant, obvious difference between the before & the after. It always struck me that in that final chase, as Miles & Becky flee, you can read the power of social pressure on Dana Wynter’s ravishing face—all her family & friends & neighbors have made the switch, & the only person who hasn’t is her sweaty, dirty, wild-eyed boyfriend, dragging her along by the arm. It always looked to me like she was looking at him narrowly, wondering if maybe she was on the wrong side.

I also always wondered if the Pod People weren’t maybe a little overoptimistic about the perfect new emotion-free world they were founding. After all, having taken human form, isn’t it possible that they’d find human responses re-asserting themselves? There’s a chilling scene in which a Pod Guy walks into the living room with an unhatched pod & says “Should I put this in with the baby?” His wife replies “Yes, then there’ll be no more crying.”

It’s a terrific, grimly comic moment, but it also implies that she finds the crying irritating. If you checked in with these Pod People after a few months of human-style family & workplace life, I wonder how calm & dispassionate you’d find them.

The film has been remade three times, by the way, & there have been innumerable imitations of & variations on the idea, like The Stepford Wives. But while the 1978 remake, starring Donald Sutherland, is excellent, none of the later movies can boast the original’s tense atmosphere or lean, austere simplicity of style.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Lots of departures these days, alas; the latest is the wonderful character actor Harold Gould, aka "Kid Twist" from The Sting & Rhoda's Dad on Rhoda, among many, many other roles...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


RIP to Kevin McCarthy, departed four years shy of a century old. His career lasted more than 60 years & included scores of movies, among them A Gathering of Eagles, The Best Man, The Misfits & Death of a Salesman—for which he received an Oscar nomination—countless TV appearances & around 20 Broadway productions. But he’s most remembered by far as the half-crazed hero of Don Siegel’s 1956 paranoid classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wildly trying to warn disinterested passersby of the subtle alien invasion in the film’s climactic minutes: “They’re already here! You’re next! You’re next!

McCarthy was one of the first celebrities I ever interviewed, back in he early ‘80s, when his successful touring production of Give ‘em Hell, Harry! headed for Erie. Poor guy—I can still remember the barely-concealed weariness with which he dutifully answered the geeky Body Snatchers questions I asked him after a few perfunctory queries about the show he was actually doing. I think I gained a little ground with him later, when I asked him about starring in Happy Birthday, Wanda June on Broadway, & about his friendship with Kurt Vonnegut.

In his long later years, McCarthy became a familiar character actor in films ranging from The Howling to The Distinguished Gentleman. Let me just say—Kevin McCarthy became the old guy I wish I could become: silver-haired & craggy, rascally & curmudgeonly yet still lovable.

Monday, September 13, 2010


...& RIP to the titanic Claude Chabrol, passed on at 80...

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Oddly plausible brilliance from The Onion, here.

It would probably be a less gruesome spectacle than the D-backs' last two games against the Colorado Rockies, alas…

So fortunately this asshole down in Florida was somehow dissuaded from disgracing his country, this solemn day, & the faith he claims to profess by burning Korans. I wonder if it was because he happened to re-read the scene in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in which the title character burns…

…superstitious books/Found in the temples of that Mahomet…

…& scorns the prophet…

…That suffers flames of fire to burn the writ/Wherein the sum of thy religion rests…

…only to be taken ill a few lines later for this hubris & die.

Yeah, that was probably what changed his mind.

Friday, September 10, 2010


A friend sent me this bit of hilarious yet disturbing political weirdness from Stark County, Ohio; if you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out.

Driving south on I-17 this morning, I passed the Shamrock Farms plant. Has anyone else ever noticed the big white silo with the word WHEY on the side? How I wish there was another one next to it marked CURDS.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


After her pathetic performance in last week’s televised debate, I feel the urge to offer Arizona Governor Jan Brewer some help, so…

Monster-of-the-Week: …I’ve managed to find her an illegal alien who kills by beheading! Yes, the hulking ogre (John Bloom) in The Dark, a 1979 low-budgeter starring William Devane & Cathy Lee Crosby—& directed by John “Bud” Cardos of Kingdom of the Spiders fame—is fond of relieving late-night pedestrians of their noggins…

Of course, this particular alien is from outer space, not south of the border, & the movie doesn’t take place in Arizona. Plus it’s, you know, fictitious. But as a rule, the Guv doesn’t let herself get bogged down in details like that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


All of a sudden, Klingon high culture is in...

An opera in the tongue, created for the Star Trek movies by linguist Mark Okrand, opens Thursday in The Hague. Stateside, a performance of scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet & Much Ado About Nothing in Klingon is slated for September 25 by the Washington Shakespeare Company in Arlington, Virginia, under the direction of the gifted Christopher Henley. I really wish I could see this show—Chris & I appeared in a couple of plays together during my years in D.C., including the U.S. premiere of Vaclav Havel’s Mistake at Scena Theatre. Plus, I wrote this for Detroit Metro Times about the Klingon Much Ado.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Happy Labor Day everyone!

I well remember my awesome sister singing Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid” for my Dad, a lifelong Teamster, when I was a kid. Now she’s a loyal union gal herself, with the SEIU—she’s a nurse at the Pennsylvania Soldiers & Sailors Home—& a contestant in the Union Plus Union Song Contest. I love her classic-style picket-line anthem “We Need the Union.” Do me a favor & vote for it, here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


RIP to the hilarious but ill-starred Robert Schimmel, killed in a car accident at 60.

I got to know him a little when I interviewed him for New Times, & later on my KTAR radio show, & again when I worked as a publicist for the Tempe Improv. I liked him a lot. He had had some horrifying bad luck—the loss of a young son to brain cancer, & a later struggle with cancer himself, plus some self-generated bad luck—& he never became quite as famous as he probably should have. He was enormously respected within the stand-up comedy community for his old-school stage chops, however.

I also always thought he had one of the best speaking voices I ever heard. I never understood why he wasn’t in demand as a voice-over artist. He could have done Shakespeare with that voice.

Schimmel is, by the way, the third comedian I knew from my brief time in that world—Mitch Hedberg & Richard Jeni are the others—to have passed on way too young.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The Wife & I are back from Chase Field, having had the displeasure of seeing the Houston Astros come from behind to defeat our beloved Diamondbacks 6-5, spoiling a fine starting performance on the mound by Joe Saunders & a beautiful three-run homer by Ryan Roberts. Aaargh!

It was a fun time anyway. It was the 12th annual Hispanic Heritage Day, so the ballpark was full of mariachi bands & traditional dancers…

(photo credit: Your Humble Narrator)

Most enjoyable, but alas the craven management of the D-bax asserted that this year’s festivities weren’t a political gesture. Though co-owner Ken Kendrick has again stated his personal opposition to the measure, the organization still doesn’t rate the props that “Los Suns” did earlier this year for their bold anti-SB1070 stand.

Our big score tonight, however, was a Bobblehead of our favorite current Diamondback, catcher Miguel Montero…

(photo credit: The Wife)

Friday, September 3, 2010


Though they were all great, maybe the best of the fake trailers that accompanied 2007's Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse was for an imaginary film called Machete. The star is Danny Trejo, who has been around Hollywood since the early ‘80s, almost always in the role of Really Scary-Looking Bad Guy. Here he’s the Really Scary-Looking Hero. Rodriguez, who directed the trailer, went on to make the full feature, opening today.

It’s based on a script he wrote in the early ‘90s with Trejo in mind for the title role, a Federale who, suffering a horrible tragedy at the hands of a drug lord back home in Mexico, finds himself an illegal day laborer in Texas years later. Machete—the name denotes his weapon of choice—is dragooned into the patsy role of a Manchurian-Candidate-style assassination plot by a sinister Anglo rich dude (Jeff Fahey, who’s first-rate).

Soon the Rich Dude, as well as a nativist state senator (Robert DeNiro), a yahoo vigilante (Don Johnson) & Machete’s old nemesis the drug lord (an exuberantly hammy Steven Seagal), are all trying to kill him, & he’s trying no less diligently to return the favor. Bullets & machete blades fly, as do the body parts of countless henchmen.

That’s pretty big-name cast, you may notice. It doesn’t stop there: Machete also crosses paths with Michelle Rodriguez as a gorgeous roach-coach lady who’s a secret revolutionary, & with Jessica Alba as a gorgeous Immigration officer torn between duty & justice. Then there’s Cheech Marin as a priest with a flexible attitude toward the sanctity of the Confessional, Tom Savini as a wound-up hitman named “Osiris Ampanpour,” & even Lindsay Lohan, who spends a great deal of her screen time with no clothes on, as Rich Dude’s messed-up daughter. Still, all this star power doesn’t overwhelm Trejo, who proves surprisingly warm & sympathetic over the course of the film.

As with Planet Terror, his half of the Grindhouse double feature, Rodriguez impressively captures the invigorating raggedness of a good ‘70s-era exploitation flick, both in style & in the increasingly chaotic storyline. The tone is facetious, but the director’s fury at the anti-immigrant hatred that has boiled over recently is real, & as unabashed as that hatred itself, & it gives the movie a giddy, take-no-prisoners energy that seems to have scared the other side a little.

Here in Arizona, there’s been fretting that Johnson’s character—who shoots a pregnant woman to prevent an “anchor baby”—might be intended as a caricature of Joe Arpiao. It’s quite hilarious to see commentators on the Right who would never admit that there’s so much as an iota of racism in their ranting about “illegals” claim that this sleaze parody is going to start a race war (yet somehow when Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris or Kiefer Sutherland were killing or torturing Muslim terrorists, it wasn’t a call to a religious war).

Assuming you’re in some sympathy with its politics, how much you’ll enjoy this movie depends on how strong your appetite is for bloody lurid schlock, & also on your tolerance for heavy-handed message-mongering. On both counts, mine is pretty high, & watching Rodriguez vent his disgust vented some of mine. I emerged from Machete exhilarated.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


A big Hollywood tizzy! In an interview on director James Cameron sniffed that Piranha 3-Dis exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s.

The comment came when Cameron, who at the beginning of his career partially directed the sequel to the original Piranha, 1981’s Piranha 2: The Spawning (he was fired mid-shoot), was asked by the interviewer if he felt any nostalgia in connection with the release of the 3-D version. “Zero,” he replied.

He may not, but I do. My pal Ron & I saw Piranha 2 in an otherwise empty theatre back in ‘81, & had an absolute blast, & we also fell deeply in love with actress Carole Davis (foreground)...

...who played a fish-victim in that film.

Piranha 3-D producer Mark Canton totally, uhm, rose to the bait of Cameron’s remarks & fired off a lengthy, outraged press release in response: “His comments are ridiculous, self-serving and insulting to those of us who are not caught up in serving his ego and rhetoric,” says Canton, at the beginning of around three pages of dangling-participle-filled indignation. From later on: “Not everyone has the advantage of having endless amounts of money to play in their sandbox and to take ten years using other people’s money to make and market a film...” Then, in case Cameron missed his implication, he adds: “…like you do.” Ouch!

Amusing though Canton’s spluttering is, I have to admit, I sort of agree with him—Cameron seems to be a pompous douche. Does he really think genre filmmakers should abandon 3-D so that it can become more respectable to the mainstream? For that matter, does he really think he’s not a genre filmmaker himself? What caught my eye in the interview (which I would probably not have read, by the way, if I hadn’t received Canton’s statement) was this remark from Cameron: “I think it’s healthy to work in a vacuum as an artist. I think movies are much too self-referential; I think Hollywood is much too self-referential. And I think that you see so many filmmakers that are just riffing on what other filmmakers have done, and riffing on pop-culture—those films will never be timeless.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

This from the man whose Terminator was basically a remake of the “Soldier” episode from Outer Limits? From the man who built the masterly & terrifying spectacle of Titanic around a star-crossed love story out of the Young Adult section at Barnes & Noble? From the man whose Avatar, as has been widely noted, is really just Dances With Wolves in space? Don’t get me wrong—I like The Terminator (a lot), & I like Aliens & Terminator II (pretty well) & I certainly acknowledge that Titanic & Avatar, however stale they may be in dramatic terms, are both grand, unforgettable shows. Cameron’s a prodigiously talented entertainer, no doubt.

But for him to express distaste for the exact cinematic tradition out of which he himself built his career is pretty unbecoming. More than a decade ago he famously called himself the King of the World, but maybe Canton is right—maybe he’s really the King of the Sandbox.

If it’s any consolation to Canton, I had much more fun at Piranha 3-D than I did at Avatar. It has richer characterizations than Avatar, too. Seriously.

Monster-of-the-Week: A few weeks back we gave the nod to the ambulatory stop-motion fish in the original Piranha, so this week, in honor of both Canton & Cameron, let’s recognize the double-secret genetically-engineered mutant uber-piranha of Cameron’s sequel The Spawning.

Not only are these piranha adapted to salt-water—owing to a dash of flying-fish DNA, they can even get airborne!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A couple months back The Wife & I went to see the Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy The Bounty Hunter, which was dreary & dull. Maybe it’s made audiences gun-shy of Aniston—her latest, The Switch, has had a slow few weeks out of the gate at the box-office. But The Wife & I braved this one, too, & it isn’t half bad.

There seems to be something of a backlash against her lately, but I’ve always liked Aniston pretty well. Even if you’re a “hater,” though, you may find The Switch watchable, because although she’s top-billed, she isn’t the star—indeed, her role, which she handles capably, is firmly in the supporting category. The real leading man is Jason Bateman, & the second lead is a little boy named Thomas Robinson, & both are excellent company.

The labored set-up: Aniston is a successful single Manhattan career woman who decides to have a child via artificial insemination; Bateman is her snarky neurotic best pal. She hires a hunk to provide the seed & throws a party for her conception. Bateman, drunk, accidently spills the hunk’s essence in the bathroom, so he replaces it with his own. Duly impregnated, Aniston leaves Manhattan to raise the kid in her hometown. The payoff comes when she returns to Manhattan some years later, reconnects with Bateman, & introduces him to Robinson, who is transparently his progeny. The two instantly bond, but Mom is reconnecting with the hunk, who she still thinks is the biological dad, etc. etc.

The direction is smooth, the dialogue is surprisingly not insipid, & Bateman has an effortless rapport with Aniston, with young Robinson, & with Jeff Goldblum, who’s quite hilarious as his amused boss. The film’s a bit anticlimactic, maybe, but considering the mawkish overbearing endings of so many "romcoms" of the last few years, that’s a nice, uh, switch.