Friday, September 27, 2013


In connection with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, opening today, is my list, on Topless Robot, of the Top 20 Bizarre Anthropomorphic Food Characters.

Also opening in the Valley today, at Harkins Camelview in Scottsdale, is Inequality for All. Like An Inconvenient Truth or last year’s Electoral Dysfunction, it’s a folksy, easy-to-take, indeed highly enjoyable documentary about a blood-boiling subject—climate change in the case of Truth, voter suppression in the case of Dysfunction, and income inequality in the case of the current film.

Inequality for All follows Robert Reich, Clinton-administration Labor Secretary (he also served in the Ford and Carter administrations) as he scoots around in his Mini Cooper, stopping to give lectures to rapt UC Berkeley students, discussing this country’s preposterous income gap on TV talk shows, and basically spouting off to anyone who will listen about the desperate need to shore up the middle class. “Trickle down” must be replaced, he insists, with a “middle out” model. The director, Jacob Kornbluth, also shows us interviews with the people Reich is talking about—people trying to raise families while working 70-hour weeks, with less than a hundred bucks in the bank.

Reich has always been a charming fellow, leading with self-conscious jokes about his diminutive stature before explaining economic concepts in ways that even a thickhead like me can grasp (sort of). He’s an unassuming, unpretentious populist, and he gives the impression of genuinely giving a shit. None of the ideas he presents here are controversial to anyone except, on one end, maybe an Ayn Rand goon, and on the other end those lefties who think he’s far too tame, that it’s time to reintroduce the guillotine.

Thus the ripest comedy in Inequality for All comes from hearing moderate, centrist little Robert Reich branded a communist and a Marxist by the Fox News clowns. There are those of us who might wish him a bit more incendiary on his subject, a bit closer to the radical they describe. But if he was less apologetic and unthreatening he’d probably lose his most useful ability—explaining to us wage slaves how we help keep ourselves enslaved. The trouble, as usual with this sort of movie, is—who will see it, that doesn’t already agree with it?

Thursday, September 26, 2013


TCM is showing the 1960 George Pal favorite The Time Machine tomorrow at 5 p.m. (Phoenix time), so…

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s give the nod to any specimen of those futuristic working stiffs the Morlocks, the subterranean descendents, in the vision of H. G. Wells, of today’s wage slaves, now devolved into subhuman bestiality, living to serve, but also to dine upon, those future one-percenters the Eloi. Talk about “Eat the Rich.”

Here’s one from the film, contrasted with Yvette Mimieux for maximum hideousness:

Friday, September 20, 2013


Opening this weekend:

The Wizard of Oz—For many Americans of my generation, The Wizard of Oz was an annual event, usually shown on TV on Easter Sunday. Many of us watch it now unconsciously mouthing the dialogue and lyrics along with the actors. But seeing it blown up for the IMAX screen—as it will be, for a one-week release opening September 20—brings new meaning to the familiar “See it again for the first time.”

I’ve seen the film dozens of times over the years, but I was struck by how many details from MGM’s extravagant 1939 fantasy based on L. Frank Baum’s novel I had never caught before: The crowned crane and the toucan in the background of the scene with the talking trees, the bric-a-brac in Professor Marvel’s carriage, the costumes on the Munchkins. The performances of Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Burt Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton—it was the finest hour for almost all of them—remain joyous, as do the sometimes darkly comic songs of Harold Arlen, but the real winner in this new version is Toto. On the IMAX screen, he’s the size of a Shetland pony, and his expressive performance gets across. He’s no longer just a fuzzy little smudge, like he was on our black-and-white TV screens half a century ago.

Thanks For Sharing—This comedy-drama follows three Manhattan guys at different stages of recovery from sex addiction: a veteran contractor, Mike (Tim Robbins) whose lifestyle revolves around 12-Step meetings, his younger “sponsee” Adam (Mark Ruffalo), a hotshot businessman who’s been faithfully “working the program,” and Adam’s sponsee Neil (Josh Gad) a young wreck of an ER doctor who hasn’t even really admitted he has a problem. Other characters are woven into the story, like Adam’s new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) from whom he’s hidden his addiction, Mike’s son (Patrick Fugit), a former drug abuser, and a young woman (Alecia Moore, aka Pink), new to the program, with whom Neil bonds.

Carol Kane contributes a funny but disturbing turn as Neil’s Mom, and Joely Richardson is quietly powerful as Mike’s battle-hardened wife. It’s a smallish role, but in her unshowy way Richardson gives maybe the best performance in the film.

While there’s little consensus in the real-life psychological and medical fields as to what constitutes sex addiction, or if it even exists, the movie, the directorial debut of the gifted screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right, Keeping the Faith), seems to take at face value the 12-Step Model as the answer to it. Whether you agree with this or not, Blumberg does get across the desperation with which these men are containing themselves, and the added difficulty they face in getting others to accept their destructive behavior as pathological rather than just a character flaw—horniness crossed with reckless self-indulgence.

Blumberg makes good, rueful comedy out of the unavoidable ubiquity of sexual stimulation in modern culture, and he gets fine performances from his cast. As the droll, self-loathing Neil, young Gad, in particular, steals much of the flick from his accomplished co-stars.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


This week…

Monster-of-the-Week: …our honoree is Adamastor, the furious sea giant encountered by Vasco de Gama in Camoes’ great Portuguese national epic The Lusiads. Adamastor has been a Monster-of-the-Week before, on Portugal day in June of 2010, and I sent a link of that item to a friend visiting Lisbon on business, because it included a picture of a statute of the titan in that city. She went for a walk, wandered down a random street and by sheer chance found him! She sent this pic of him to me…

…along with a pic from behind, of the view Adamastor commands…

With that to look at all day, why should he be in such a bad mood?

Saturday, September 14, 2013


The editors of the September issue of Phoenix Magazine (“The Man Issue”)…

…missed the boat by not using Your Humble Narrator’s mug as the rugged face of Phoenix manhood on the cover. Despite this lapse in judgment, you may wish to check out the issue, including my profile of Phoenix Fire Marshal—and former undercover police detective—Jack Ballentine. It’s on Page 30, or here.

Friday, September 13, 2013


In my characteristically snide review of One Direction: This Is Us—you can read it here—something I neglected to mention is that The Kid laughed and laughed at the behind-the-scenes antics of the title boy band. I should also have mentioned that, in the years I’ve been taking her to movies, This Is Us is, if memory serves, the first movie she’s ever requested to be taken to a second time.

All of this probably serves as a more relevant review of the film for the target demographic than my initial one. Anyway, in response to the flick’s unexpectedly strong showing at the box office, opening today is One Direction: This Is Us—Extended Fan Cut. Because it’s also in 3D, the title’s been succinctly abbreviated to 3D 1D: Fan Cut. It features about 20 minutes of additional footage, and four additional songs.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


This month—last Sunday, actually—marks the 47th anniversary of probably my all-time favorite TV show, Star Trek (the original series), as well as the 40th anniversary of the underrated Saturday morning Star Trek animated series from the early ‘70s. So…

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week the nod goes to this charming sea beast...

…from the episode "The Ambergris Element."

Friday, September 6, 2013


At the beginning of Riddick the title character, the interplanetary tough guy played by Vin Diesel—he originated in 2000’s Pitch Black—has been left in a bloody heap by his enemies on a desolate desert planet. No problem. He quickly resets his injured leg with the help of a crevasse—I mentioned he was tough, right?

The hellish world is inhabited by monsters, including some huge scorpion/earwig thingies that remain dormant, like spadefoot toads, until they get wet. He engages in combat with several of the beasties, armed only with whatever comes to hand. He quickly figures out how to survive in the caves and rock formations. He even domesticates one of the planet’s handsome wild-dog-like creatures—you can guess where this strand leads.

Pretty soon Riddick notices a rainstorm approaching, and realizes that he has to go, so he sends out a distress call. Being a wanted man, his call summons two spaceship-loads of scurvy gnarly mercenaries, all of whom want to capture and/or kill him. Riddick plays cat and mouse with them, heavy on the cat, as the rains get nearer.

Here’s a partial inventory of Riddick’s contents: Flying monsters, crawling monsters, slimy eels, automatic weapons, long-range sniper rifles, swords, huge animal traps, explosions, guys with grungy facial hair, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Katee Sackhoff, nudity, Katee Sackhoff nudity, parleys, infighting, snarling invective, repeated pummelings, a man in chains, elaborate vows of vengeance effortlessly delivered upon, flying jet-cycles, and even a long-absent old favorite: causing a woman to reconsider her lesbianism! I think it’s safe to call Riddick a guy movie.

In spite or maybe because of its predictability, occasional ugliness and defiantly imbecilic dialogue, it’s funny for most of its length, partly because writer-director David Twohy maintains an edge of self-parody. At least I hope he didn’t mean this dialogue seriously. It’s also because, like a lot of guy movies, Riddick, for all its violence and supposed nihilism, is deeply sentimental—until about midpoint it could, I suppose, be called a boy and his dog story.

This side of the material is where Vin Diesel’s true appeal comes in. There’s always been an improbable warmth and soulfulness lurking beneath his basso growl and his post-apocalyptic look—and, in this movie, his glowing eyes. It came through when he voiced the title character in that excellent 1999 animated film The Iron Giant, and it comes through in Riddick, too. In spite of his corny badass pose, Diesel’s Riddick comes across like a sweetie, a mensch.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


With Riddick opening tomorrow…

Monster-of-the-Week: …the nod goes to this winged otherworldly pest from that Diesel-powered vehicle…

More about Riddick here soon.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Happy September everybody!

The Wife, The Kid and I managed to squeeze a quick hectic visit Back East into August; allow me to bore you with a few pics from it:

Here we are with a messed-up new pal at historic Waldameer Park in Erie, Pa…

Here we are partying with various combinations of family…

We saw the Erie Seawolves beat the Trenton Thunder in dramatic fashion, but the best part, as far as The Kid was concerned, was that it was “Bark at the Park” night at Jerry Uht Park…

Here’s The Kid at the stone lighthouse in Barcelona, New York…

Here we are overlooking the picturesque Cuyahoga River, outside Sokolowski’s University Inn in Cleveland…

Here we are bowling at Greengarden Lanes in Erie…

A splendid time.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


It’s a crowded movie weekend here in the Valley for those looking for something more challenging than One Direction: This Is Us.

At Harkins Shea is Inch’Allah, a drama from last year about Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), a young French-Canadian Doctor working for the Red Crescent in Palestine. Chloe lives in Jerusalem but crosses over every day to a West Bank clinic to care for young Palestinian mothers. She gets caught between her loyalty to her Israeli friend Ava (Sivan Levy), a soldier who works the checkpoint, and her pregnant Palestinian friend Rand (Sabrina Ouazani).

These three actresses—but especially the alert, open-eyed Brochu—are simply about as good as it gets. Their performances are so free of mannerism that we could almost be watching a documentary, yet they also give us subtle, textured characterization and high drama. They’re superb, and writer-director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette brings off both intimate and near-epic effects with equal finesse.

But I won’t mislead you—Inch’Allah (or “God Willing”) is a tough sell. It makes the intransigent spite and fury of the conflict horrifyingly coherent. It shows us children dying, three in all, none graphically but all three with an overwhelming, soul-crushing sense of catastrophe. And despite the title it offers no particular hope for the future, and certainly no hope that some well-intentioned foreigner can help the situation. It’s that rarity in modern movies—a full-on, maddening, heartbreaking tragedy, extremely well-done. Consider yourself warned.

Meanwhile, over at Harkins Camelview is Short Term 12, an American indie drama set in a foster care home. I missed the screening on this one, but it looks less depressing than Inch’allah, anyway.