Friday, April 28, 2017


The masterly Jonathan Demme has departed, at 73.

His last fiction feature, 2015’s Ricki and the Flash, was a misfire, alas, but here in the Valley, Harkins Theatres hosts a well-deserved retrospective tribute this week, featuring four of the best of Demme’s direct, humane, sophisticated yet accessible films: His classic thriller Silence of the Lambs (1991), his fine courtroom drama Philadelphia (1993), his brilliant, genre-bending comedy-melodrama Something Wild (1986) and my own favorite, Married to the Mob (1988).

If you’ve never seen this buoyantly nutty comedy, in which the Long Island mob widow Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to “divorce” herself and her son from her extended gangster “family,” I highly recommend. It features a terrific cast led by Dean Stockwell (who got an Oscar nomination) as the smitten boss Tony “The Tiger” Russo, Matthew Modine as Pfeiffer’s G-man love interest, the young Alec Baldwin as Frankie “The Cucumber” de Marco, and the marvelous Mercedes Ruehl as Tony’s heartbroken and hilariously terrifying wife Connie. It also features what I think is Pfeiffer’s best, or at least most endearing, performance.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


My friend and New Times colleague Dewey Webb passed on yesterday, at 64. New Times gave me the privilege of writing his obit.

In Dewey’s honor… 

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s acknowledge a monster from one of his favorite filmmakers, gimmick-master William Castle: the title character from 1959’s The Tingler

Scientist Vincent Price discovers that the multi-legged creepy-crawly forms on the human spine and awakens during moments of terror, thus causing the “tingle.” Screaming is the only defense against it, so Price is eventually able to remove a live specimen from the body of a mute woman who died of fright. But he doesn’t take proper biohazard precautions, to his misfortune… 

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Out this week on DVD...

...from The Sprocket Vault is The Mysterious Airman, a serial from 1928 about industrial intrigue between aircraft companies. The 10-Chapter tale from the Weiss Brothers, featuring fights and chases and cliffhangers and lots of cool Waco 10 airplanes, is of interest to both silent film and aviation buffs. My pal, film historian Richard M. Roberts, provided the audio commentary, and I may also be heard, briefly, doing an announcer voice during the commentary for Chapter 9, part of which is missing. This amounts to the best performing gig I've had in quite a few years.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Kudos to the observant and resourceful employees of the McDonald's in Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, who spotted and detained the "Facebook Killer." That's the McDonald's three or four miles from the house I grew up in, the McDonald's at which I ate in grade and high school. Strange to see it on the news.

With the "Phoenix Lights" thriller Phoenix Forgotten opening this weekend, check out my story on the New Times blog showcasing freaky flying saucer flicks. And...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's acknowledge one of Paul Blaisdell's unforgettable saucer men...

...from 1957's Invasion of the Saucer Men, number two on the list.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Opening this weekend:

ColossalManhattanite Gloria (Anne Hathaway) isn't a bad sort, but she's gotten into the habit of drinking and partying and neglecting her boyfriend. When he pretty justifiably gets fed up and dumps her and kicks her out of the apartment, she moves back to her small hometown upstate, gets a job in a bar owned by her old classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and starts trying, vaguely, to regroup her life.

While this is happening, on the other side of the world, a horned, glowering, Godzilla-sized monster suddenly materializes, seemingly out of nowhere, in downtown Seoul, South Korea. The beast appears every day or so at the same time, behaving sometimes destructively, sometimes just peculiarly, and then vanishes just as inexplicably. The locals are terrified, and the world's sense of reality is shaken, yet back in the upstate New York bar, things settle back into routine soon enough.

How these two story strands very specifically connect, and how it leads to a second titan appearing in the streets of Seoul, is the subject of Nacho Vigalondo's brilliant, off-the-wall exploration of the psychological underpinnings of the giant monster movie. In many films of this sort, the subtext is environmental or social, but here it's rooted in petty personal weaknesses and acrimonies that seem entirely convincing. It's about the micro of human resentfulness, expressed in the macro of rampaging colossi.

This is the most imaginative use of the giant-monster form since the Korean movie The Host, back in 2006. In some ways Colossal also resembles the sort of surrealist-lite comedies that started showing up more than a decade ago, like Being John Malkovich and Cold Souls. But Vigalondo gives it a fairly rigorous internal consistency. About the only lapse in believability that the movie asks us to overlook is the idea that if this was happening, Seoul, or at least that part of Seoul, wouldn't be evacuated, that shops and restaurants would still be open and the streets would still be teeming with people. Otherwise, the movie ison its own terms, of coursequite logical.

It owes much of its authentic feel to the acting. Sudeikis, always reliable, brings an impressively subtle tension to Oscar, and Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell add warmth as his buddies. At first these guys seem meant only to give us easy-going small town banter, but Vigalondo gradually takes even this side of the material into uncomfortable, unsentimental realms.

The real force in Colossal, however, is Hathaway's funny yet stingingly honest underplaying as the intelligent, sheepish, emotionally bedraggled Gloria. It may be her best performance.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Check out my rundown, on the New Times blog, of Korean giant monsters. It's in anticipation of Nacho Vigalondo's fascinatingly weird movie Colossal, opening here tomorrow...


Monster-of-the-Week: ...the nod goes to this titan...

...from that film.

Friday, April 7, 2017


Opening this week:

Smurfs: The Lost VillageThe third entry in Sony's Smurf series focuses on Smurfette, the lone female among the tiny blue-skinned residents of Smurf Village. The first two films in this series, from 2011 and 2013, were both directed by Raja Gosnell and mixed animation with live action. The Lost Village is all animated, and eschews any visits to the human world. The plot concerns the discovery of a previously unknown neighboring Smurf village, and the quest by Smurfette and some of her friends to warn its inhabitants of a threat from the sinister wizard Gargamel and his much more observant cat Azreal.

In case you've managed to remain unfamiliar with the elfin race created in the late '50s by the Belgian cartoonist Pierre "Peyo" Culliford, the Smurfs (originally "Les Schtroumpfs") are named according to their defining characteristic, as in Brainy Smurf, Clumsy Smurf, Nosey Smurf, Paranoid Smurf, etc. Only Smurfette lacks a signature trait. She has a rather Manichaean backstory, having been created by Gargamel as an agent against the Smurfs, then won over to the side of light by exposure to their relentless niceness. But she feels incomplete without her very own adjective.

The movie's acknowledgement of the presumption, longstanding in the narrative traditions of our culture, that Smurfette's gender is sufficient by itself to define her, is potentially interesting. But nothing much is done with it, beyond acknowledgement, and otherwise this is a pretty by-the-numbers animated kid flick. It's watchable enough, but about the most that can be said for it is that it's inoffensive.

Demi Lovato replaces the earlier film's Katy Perry as the voice of Smurfette, while Rainn Wilson does his usual droll work as the voice of Gargamel, replacing the live-action version of Hank Azaria. Mandy Patinkin replaces the late Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, while the leader of the newly discovered village is voiced by Julia Roberts. Strange to think that the Pretty Woman herself is ready for matriarch roles.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Since the title character of the Jim Jarmusch film Paterson (out on DVD and Blu-ray this week) and his wife go to see the great 1932 shocker Island of Lost Souls...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week let's honor this fellow...

...played by Tetsu Komai, from that film.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Happy April everybody! I hope everybody had a great April Fool's Day, although that holiday seems a bit gratuitous these days.

Check out the April issue of Phoenix Magazine...

...featuring my article on the Coen Brothers movie Raising Arizona which, believe it or not, turns 30 years old this month. It's on page 236, or here.