Wednesday, February 23, 2011


One of my awesome nephews, Zack Orr, has been nominated for an Independent Music Award for Concept Album of the Year for his album Francisco the Man!

Details here.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Authorship of the young-adult novel I Am Number Four is credited to a certain “Pittacus Lore.” If you have a faint suspicion of a pseudonym, bravo to you—the name represents a collaboration between somebody with the barely more probable name of Jobie Hughes, and James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy.

Assuming that the novel is more-or-less faithfully rendered in the film version, opening this weekend, I can only conclude that the authors used up all their creativity on their pen name. There isn’t a non-derivative moment in this sci-fi melodrama blended with maudlin teen romance. Scene after scene, idea after idea seems lifted out of earlier favorites ranging from Superman to Jaws to The X-Files.

Above all, however, I Am Number Four seems to aspire to Twilight. Though the premise is nominally science-fictional rather than supernatural, it’s still aimed directly at the hearts, and pocketbooks, of teenage girls—and maybe of the teenage girls who tend to live on inside a lot of adult women—who want a handsome but gentle protector. At one point the hero even uses his powers to save the heroine from an oncoming car.

Said hero is John (Alex Pettyfer), a strapping high-school kid who, we soon learn, is a native of the planet Lorien, one of nine kids scattered across Earth who survived their home world’s invasion by a race of vicious, fanged, tatted-up skinhead-punk aliens with gill-slits on either side of their noses. John has an equally strapping bodyguard, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), and the two of them lead an itinerant existence, trying to stay one step ahead of the alien assassins, who are trying to kill the survivors off in order.

The story starts with John sensing the death of Number Three. Henri whisks him off to a new hiding place, a small town in Ohio. He quickly falls in love with a local girl (Dianna Agron) and makes a nerdy friend (Callan McAuliffe). But a typical wholesome teen life is not in the cards for John, as the sinister aliens are closing in, and so is a mystery woman (Teresa Palmer). He also soon learns that he can conjure fields of energy from the palms of his glowing hands.

The reason I’m not sorry I sat through I Am Number Four arrived in the last twenty minutes or so of the film. Director D. J. Caruso and the special-effects folk serve up a thoroughly entertaining, action-packed grand finale as the punky aliens, aided by two hideous pet monsters—something like dinosaurs crossed with pit bulls crossed with flying squirrels—launch an all-out attack on John and his pals at the high school.

I Am Number Four’s dialogue is too insipid, and the actors too generic and antiseptic, to give it any authenticity. But it’s slickly made and well-paced; it zips right along, so maybe in twenty or thirty years it will play as a teen-camp artifact, like, say, the Beach Party movies do now.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


George Shearing has passed on at 91. RIP. Here’s his ravishing version of "Summertime."

On a more peculiar musical note: Yesterday I had to go downtown, where among the usual lunatics, the over- or under-medicated zombies & the Bible ranters, was a rarer bird—as I passed an office courtyard near 1st Ave & Washington, I heard someone singing opera in a rather beautiful voice. When I glanced over, I saw that the vocalist was a middle-aged lady dressed entirely in black—with a veil!—standing at the edge of dancing-waters fountain. She had several pieces of luggage in a travel cart.

I listened for a minute or two, & wanted to give her a buck for her song, but she strolled off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from me, & anyway she was cleanly, neatly dressed & the luggage was in good condition, so I couldn’t be sure she wasn’t just an eccentric singer just in town to work the Arizona Opera or something. Who knows, maybe she would have appreciated the tip anyway. In any case, it was an incongruously lovely sound to hear in downtown Phoenix.

RIPs also to producer David F. Friedman, departed at 87, & to actor Len Lesser, departed at 88, whose career ranged from Bonanza to The Monkees to The Outlaw Josey Wales, but who is best known as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld. I had lunch with Lesser in Scottsdale some years ago; you can read my resulting New Times interview here.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! Here’s a creepy vintage card for you:

The Wife & I watched the BAFTA awards on BBC America last night. The sweep by The King’s Speech was predictable; the shocker, for me, was the necrology: both Ingrid Pitt & Tura Satana were included, but Lynn Redgrave, who passed on last May, was omitted! It was awesome to see Christopher Lee get the BAFTA Fellowship award. When he mentioned how honored he was to receive the award from presenter Tim Burton, “one of the great directors of our age,” I felt like I was seeing a daydream from Burton’s childhood.

RIP to that buoyant blacklistee Betty Garrett of On the Town, Neptune’s Daughter & other MGM musicals, known later as Archie Bunker’s neighbor Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family, departed at 91. RIP also to the splendid Kenneth Mars, passed on at 75, familiar from the original Mel Brooks  The Producers, Young Frankenstein & What’s Up, Doc? A riot is an ugly thing, unt I think that it is just about time that we had one!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Friday afternoon I saw the “Hashknife” Pony Express riders complete their 53rd annual mail run into downtown Scottsdale. An impressive sight, even as captured by Your Humble Narrator’s characteristically awful photography skills:

This month my pal the Midnite Movie Mamacita is celebrating her 5th year of booking cool movies & other events around the Valley with a fine slate of offerings; check them out here. Saturday she screens Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange & the Greek Oscar nominee Dogtooth.

Also: Check out Barry Graham’s word-perfect appreciation of Beavis & Butt-head, soon to return to TV with new episodes. Yay!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


This evening marks the opening of one of the more promising cinematic ventures to hit the Valley in a while: Film Bar, self-described as an “an independent movie theater and beer/wine bar featuring independent, foreign, art house, cult and classic film—and more!

The opening weekend at the hip downtown location offers up a variety of intriguing flicks, but for an offbeat Valentine’s date next Monday evening, February 14, Film Bar will host a showing of six short subjects—about an hour’s worth altogether—on the theme of loooove. The bar opens Monday at 5, the theatre at 7:45; the show starts at eight. Admission is free, but donations will benefit, appropriately enough, the American Heart Association.

Try to control your dismay, Gentle Readers, when I inform you that bloggage is likely to be sparse at best here for a spell. Things look to grow hectic for Your Humble Narrator in the coming weeks & months, so while I may post the odd review or link, Monster-of-the-Week & other sparkling features will have to go on indefinite hiatus.

In view of that, let’s make the last one for a while a good one…

Monster-of-the-Week: In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s give the nod to the second of the title characters, played by Jean Marais, in Jean Cocteau’s sublime 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast

At the end of the story, of course, the curse is lifted, the Beast is magically de-Beasted, & we see the handsome Marais shorn of fuzz & fangs. It’s famously claimed that when Greta Garbo saw the film, she remarked “Give me back my Beast!”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I was directed to watch this ad, which played during the Super Bowl. The intimidating stranger is Peter Stormare of Fargo fame. So, he played Hamlet in Ingmar Bergman’s acclaimed late’80s production, & now he’s starred in a Super Bowl commercial. Gee, I wonder which gig was more lucrative?

Sunday, February 6, 2011


RIP to Tura Satana, one of the coolest, most kickass movie chicks ever, departed at an undetermined age. Satana appeared in numerous films & TV shows, but is indelible as Varla in Russ Meyer’s peerless 1965 melodrama Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Super Bowl Sunday, climax of the American Bread & Circuses year, is tomorrow. If, like Your Humble Narrator, you have little interest in the game, but would still like to mark the occasion, let me suggest my favorite football movie, The Best of Times, celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.

This was not a big hit for star Robin Williams, but it’s my favorite of his films, too. He’s wonderfully nutty, yet believable, as a bank manager in Taft, California, who’s convinced that his high school failure to catch a beautifully-thrown pass in The Big Game against Bakersfield years earlier is the root of his lifelong sense of failure & mediocrity.

Through scheming & bullying, he manages to convince his old teammates—including the locally legendary QB, Kurt Russell—& the Bakersfield team to replay the game as middle-aged men. Disgust over this ridiculous project leads to trouble for both men with their wives (Holly Palance & Pamela Reed, respectively).

Directed by Peckinpah editor Roger Spottiswoode, The Best of Times was written by Ron Shelton, more famous for Bull Durham (1988), & other sports comedies. But good as Bull Durham is—& much as I prefer the sport it’s about to football—I still prefer The Best of Times: it’s warmer, more generous, more truly zany, less self-consciously rhapsodic (& therefore, to my mind, more authentically mystical), & above all, more honest about football, & the many ways in which, for all that Shelton clearly loves it, he knows it’s bad for us: physically, socially, culturally & spiritually.

RIP to Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris, passed on too young at 58.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Next Tuesday, February 8, the great, pioneering French sci-fi novelist Jules Verne would turn 183 years old. In his honor…

Monster-of-theWeek: …let’s recognize these enormous pelycosaurs from the bowels of the earth in the splendid 1959 version of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring James Mason.

These were probably the best-ever use of live lizards (unfortunate creatures, no doubt) as prehistoric monsters in a movie. You can see them here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Happy Groundhog Day everyone!

Normally, out here in Phoenix, wishing to cling to the cool season as long as possible, I root for the redoubtable Phil to see his shadow. But the winter has reportedly been so bitter back east that I must hope that my friends & family back there get a bit of an early thaw.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Fascinating to read that in her last years Ayn Rand, who spent her career condemning government aid of almost any kind, deigned to accept government-funded health care for herself.

Ayn Rand, aka Ann O’Connor, poured her daddy-issue-fueled “rugged individualist” fantasies into a series of riotously awful novels that have become fetishes of some American conservatives; signs referring to Atlas Shrugged were seen at the Tea Party rallies. Her breakthrough novel, The Fountainhead, was about studly architect Howard Roark, who dynamites a building project when his design is changed without his consent. When he’s tried for this epic act of adolescent petulance, his impassioned defense is simply that he had to fight for his individual vision at any cost. He’s acquitted.

The book was turned into a sleek & sparkingly glamorous film in 1949, directed by King Vidor from Ayn Rand’s own screenplay, & starring Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal. Though a laugh-riot in its own right, it’s a comparatively well-crafted, engaging laugh-riot. Predictably, Ayn Rand hated it. So my question has always been this: Did it somehow slip her mind to dynamite Warner Brothers Studios?

RIP to comedian David Frye, briefly famous in the ‘70s for his impression of Richard Nixon, passed on at 77, & to composer John Barry, famed for his 007 scores, also departed at 77.