Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Here's Your Humble Narrator's last movie review for the 'Teens, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Greta Gerwig's Little Women...

RIP to Rutle and auxiliary Python Neil Innes, passed on at 75. My pal Dave and I had the good luck to see him perform, solo and acoustic, at some little club here in Phoenix almost twenty years ago; he was superb.

Have a wonderful 2020 everybody!

Friday, December 27, 2019


About 9:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve The Wife and I were nodding in front of the tube when The Kid came out, said that her friend was having a party, could she go? We said sure; I drove the three blocks to her house, then was told I was invited. Her friend’s parents are Mexican, speak very little English, are two of the sweetest folks I’ve met and have been very kind to The Kid (she calls them “Padre” and “Madre”). The Mom is also a heavenly cook; I’ve been to these parties several times, sitting there unbecomingly snarfing her scrumptious carne asada or whatever and smiling sheepishly at her friends and neighbors that I can’t talk to.

But this time we went into the back yard to find at least 50 people and a huge, almost life-sized nativity scene; guys were standing around playing guitars and singing beautiful folky-sounding religious tunes while six older ladies held baby dolls. In between each verse the musicians would stop, and one of the ladies would recite some text, then put her doll down on the Nativity scene, then the song would resume, then stop, and the process would be repeated. Then another song was started, during which each of the ladies in turn paced back and forth in front of the Creche, and in the breaks between verses each lady approached her Baby Jesus, recited another text, and presented Him with something: Two eggs for one, a pair of baby shoes for another, etc.

This ritual is apparently called the “Posada”; ever heard of it? I had not. It was beautiful; I felt very privileged to see it. The hosts' goddaughter, one of the few fluently English-speaking people there, explained it to me, and then said “Be sure to stick around for the food; it’s the best.” So I did, and it was. After the ceremony was over, a rather badass (professional) Mariachi band took over, and I gobbled up fabulous, melt-in-your-mouth beef pot roast and beans. The Kid and her friend were pressed into service waiting the tables and did a good job, but they, and the other kids there around their age, were quite uninterested in the cultural festivities.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Merry Christmas everybody!

Now in theaters:

“Why can’t Hollywood make something original?”

This is one of the more common complaints about the movies; you hear it most often when a remake, or “reboot,” of a classic film or a familiar TV show is announced. The short answer is, of course, why should Hollywood start now? But another answer is that every once in a while, for better or worse, Hollywood does make something original. And the new animated comedy Spies in Disguise is an example.
At least I think it is. I’ve never heard of another spy adventure in which the super-cool hero gets transformed into a pigeon.
Suave, wisecracking super-spy Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith, essentially reprising his Men in Black role) is the bigshot star operative of a secret intelligence agency headquartered under the reflecting pool in D.C. He’s a pure, unflappable, unstoppable winner, who insists he only flies solo, until he runs afoul of a glowering super-villain (Ben Mendelsohn) with a robot hand, who tricks him out of a high-tech weapon and uses a projection of Lance’s own face over his to frame him for the theft of the item. Soon Lance is on the run, with an Internal Affairs team led by a relentless agent (Rashida Jones) in pursuit.
He ends up with only one ally: A boyish young gadget inventor named Walter Dockett (Tom Holland). Walter is a bit like “Q” in the Bond films, except that he’s just a kid, and he’s committed to developing gadgets that are non-lethal, like grenades that explode into clouds of glitter which form into images of sweet little kittens, thus distracting the bad guys with the undeniable force of cuteness.
It need hardly be said, Walter's gizmos are met with skepticism and disdain by the macho Lance. Nonetheless, he and Walter, who has been fired the same day that Lance got in trouble, end up as action-movie buddies and travel the word in search of the bad guy, after Lance is inadvertently changed, by one of Walter’s inventions…into a pigeon.
That’s right, for much of the film Lance is unhappily trapped in the form of a stereoscopically-eyed bluish pigeon. Walter tries to sell Lance on the excellence of a pigeon as a secret agent’s cover—they’re everywhere, after all, in cities all over the world, and nobody pays any attention to them—but Lance, of course, is having none of it. Wild action scenes ensue.
Spies in Disguise is based on a 2009 short film by Lucas Martell with the much better title Pigeon: Impossible. It’s even sillier than ‘60s-era spy spoofs like The Last of the Secret Agents and Matchless. But it works; there were belly laughs from both children and grown-ups all around me in the theater throughout the screening I saw. And I may have contributed a couple of them.
It’s also a visually snappy film, with brilliant, intricately worked out slapstick gags and chases, and characters—like the pigeons—that are funny just to look at. The voice cast works well, with Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled adding amusing bits as the Internal Affairs agent’s entourage. And there’s an unusually strong, funky soundtrack.
About all that limits Spies in Disguise are the same obligatory elements that limit the vast majority of animated kid movies: the misunderstood, orphaned misfit who must overcome adversity; the tough guy who must learn to be part of a team. Despite the movie’s welcome and imaginative eccentricity, this standard template can still be detected at its foundation. So, come to think of it: Why can’t Hollywood make something original?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Merry Christmas Eve everybody! Time for a new beloved holiday special: This evening, December 24, at 8 p.m. Phoenix time on SunSounds of Arizona, you can listen to the one-act radio play "A Brick for St. Nick," written and directed by Your Humble Narrator and produced by Roy Weinberg. I also got to act in it, opposite the majestic Susan St John and a fabulous cast including Gayle Bass, Darryl Poenisch, Julie Peterson, Sophie Stern, Richard M. Roberts and David Gofstein. It's a heartwarming tale of holiday spite and petty revenge. Don't miss it!

Here are the exterior decorations this year at Hacienda del Moorhead…

For many years now Rudolph has faithfully flown from the tree in the front yard; he’s not really meant to be a hanging ornament, but the low wall around the yard prevents me from deploying anything at ground level. This year, however, the lights in his head went out...

Because of the flash on my phone, that pic doesn’t do justice to the macabre effect of a flying reindeer with no head. So the decision was made to give Rudolph his well-earned retirement, and replace him with a fancy new Rudolph…

But I’m wondering if there could be a new Halloween/Christmas crossover in this: Rudolph the Headless Reindeer!

Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, December 20, 2019


Happy Friday everybody! Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, for my reviews of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker...

...and Bombshell...

Have a great weekend everybody!

Friday, December 13, 2019


Happy Friday the 13th everybody! Check out my "Friday Flicks" column on some of the showings of holiday classics around the Valley, including It's a Wonderful Life...

I wasn't able to post it last Friday owing to a technical issue, but if you want you can read last week's column, with reviews of the creepy thriller I See You...

...and the at least equally creepy In Fabric...

Have a great weekend everybody!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Happy December everybody! Check out this month’s issue of Phoenix Magazine for the cover story, “Live Like a Tourist,” composed by Your Humble Narrator.

You can also check out my “Four Corners” column on new-and-newish Valley eateries.
Ford v FerrariDespite its promising stars and director, I admit that I dragged my feet a little when it came to seeing this one. This wasn’t because of the film’s formidable two-and-a-half hour running time. Nor was it because of my lifelong lack of interest in auto racing, and in movies about auto racing.
No, my reluctance where Ford v Ferrari was concerned was more parochial than that. In the rural America where I grew up, a partisan alignment with one automotive company over the others—and in opposition to them—was regarded, at times, almost more like a political affiliation or even a religious denomination than like mere brand loyalty. And I grew up in a Chevy household. My father, far less fanatical than many of his neighbors on such matters, was known in his later years to wear a cap reading “I’D RATHER PUSH A CHEVY THAN DRIVE A FORD.”
Even though I was largely indifferent to cars and car culture, my eventual understanding of Henry Ford—his notorious antisemitism, Hitler’s shout-out to him in Mein Kampf—and of his company—the Pinto scandal of the ‘70s and other safety and environmental shortcuts in the years since—gave me no reason to question my Dad’s wisdom in this matter. And the title Ford v Ferrari suggested that I would be asked to root for Ford.
The movie dramatizes the efforts, in the mid-‘60s, by sports car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race driver and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to develop the Ford GT40, in hopes of defeating Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was a marketing strategy by the young Lee Iacocca (John Bernthal) to jazz up the flagging Ford’s staid middle American image with younger customers. But it became, at least according to the film, a vengeful mission after Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) insulted Ford during an abortive attempt to acquire the Italian company.
I needn’t have worried. The film makes Ford look bad. Henry Ford II is amusingly played by Tracy Letts as a thin-skinned, blustering, blubbering buffoon, perennially in his father’s shadow. And one of his executives, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), is presented here as a toadying, conniving weasel. The company is depicted as at least as much the antagonists to Shelby and Miles as their Ferrari rivals are. As to the degree to which any of this is accurate or fair, your guess is as good as mine and quite possibly better, but since it didn’t ask me to cheer on Ford, my lifelong conditioning was satisfied.
Beyond that, Ford v Ferrari is a well-acted, well-executed racing drama. This is a genre for which I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm. Having admitted that, I can also say that the long-underrated director James Mangold got fine performances from—along with the caricatured Ford execs—Damon, as the unflappably diplomatic Texan Shelby, Bale as the barking, explosive Brit Miles, Caitriona Balfe as the patient Mrs. Miles and Noah Jupe as his adoring little son.
Did the picture really need to be quite so long? I’d say maybe not, but there are probably motor-heads in the audience who wouldn’t want a single gearshift or tire-squeal omitted, and even non-car buffs can enjoy the rich ‘60s period detail and atmosphere. And when we finally get to the Mad-Max-like mayhem of Le Mans, there’s no denying that Mangold’s direction makes it an exciting ride.
RIP to influential Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana, passed on at 80.

Friday, November 29, 2019


Happy Black Friday everybody! Hope everyone had a gluttonously wonderful Turkey Day. Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, of Rian Johnson's Knives Out...

Have a great "Shop Small" weekend everybody!

Friday, November 22, 2019


Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, this week featuring reviews of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood...

...and Martin Scorsese's The Irishman.

The Scorsese flick was of special interest to me, as my Dad was a Teamster, and had seen Jimmy Hoffa speak to his local (and was unimpressed, he said), but I was never able to get him to tell me where the body was.

RIP to Michael J. Pollard, passed on at 80. Out of his vast body of work, I have a favorite moment: When he remarks "You sure are good, Melvin" after Paul LeMat, who is driving, refuses his flask in Melvin and Howard.

Happy Thanksgiving week next week everybody!

For nearly twenty years, it’s been a Thanksgiving tradition in our house, once the massive portions of food have been ingested and we’ve collapsed on the couch, to watch the 2000 film What’s Cooking? It’s an ensemble piece, set on Thanksgiving in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Fairfax, which cuts between four families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds—Vietnamese, Hispanic, African-American and Jewish—as they prepare the big dinner and navigate family drama and revelations. Funny, sweet and poignant, the movie is at least as refreshing and meaningful now as it was when it was made.

What’s Cooking? was directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, a Kenyan-born Brit of Indian descent. Needless to say, cultural diversity is a recurrent theme in her work. This week another film directed by Chadha was released on video: Blinded by the Light...

...an exuberant coming-of-age comedy-drama-musical set in Luton, England.

Based on the youth of writer Sarfraz Manzoor, it’s the story of teenage boy, Javed (Viviek Kalra), in a traditional British-Pakistani family in the ‘80s who was inspired to a career as a writer through his enthusiasm for the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Despite the film’s modest budget, Springsteen allowed the filmmakers to use his music, and Chadha ingeniously turned the Jersey legend’s work into the soundtrack for a Brit adolescence.

I had the chance to chat with Chadha when she visited the Valley recently in connection with the release of Blinded by the Light, and she described the balancing act of her directorial approach:

“I’ve always worked with music a lot in my films; I love music. The challenge here was in making a film about a writer, and making that cinematic. But at the same time I had a big responsibility to Bruce, not only because he gave me carte blanche on his catalog, but also because all those songs mean something to him, and Bruce fans. So my challenge was to direct a movie where I used the music so that it stood up to what the intention was of the songs in the first place, so I didn’t disappoint Bruce, and didn’t disappoint Bruce fans. But at the same there are a lot of people who aren’t Bruce fans, so I had to make sure it wasn’t just about the music.”

Even though she was there to talk about Blinded by the Light, I couldn’t resist asking Chadha about the scene in What’s Cooking? that brings tears to my eyes every year, when we hear a nearly a cappella version of the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t it Be Nice?”; in the movie’s context the lyrics take on an unexpectedly moving, emotional cultural resonance. Said Chadha:

“I found that version, and I really wanted to play it at the end of the movie. Everyone was like, it’s never going to happen. You’re not going to be able to afford a Beach Boys track. You’ll have to get permission from Brian Wilson…so I wrote him a letter, based on what my movie was about, what I was trying to do. I was trying to show different communities in L.A. Movies show people not getting on; I saw people getting on around me in L.A. It was my first time in L.A., and I saw that and I was struck by that. The letter went out as a fax, and everyone was like, you’d better have a Plan B, and blow me down, I think it was like an hour later, not even a day, we got a fax back saying sure, she can use it. It was incredible. It turned out he’s from L.A., and he really liked the sentiment.”

It seems like a Thanksgiving showbiz miracle, but the current Chadha project experienced a similar generosity; notes Chadha: “The way that Brian responded to my letter was similar to the way we got permission from Bruce on Blinded the Light.”

If you’re looking for a pleasant after-dinner Thanksgiving video double feature, What’s Cooking? and Blinded by the Light might just leave you thankful.

Friday, November 15, 2019


Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, with reviews of The Report...

...and The Good Liar...

Last weekend at Scottsdale International Film Festival I got to introduce the American premiere of the Austrian film Cops, about police violence in Vienna, and to moderate the Q&A with its director, Stefan Lukacs, known by his screen name "Istvan." Nice guy; remarkable film. Here's a picture of us together, just in case he becomes internationally famous in the next few years. Which is far from impossible.

Friday, November 1, 2019


Happy Friday everybody! Check out my reviews, online at Phoenix Magazine, of Terminator: Dark Fate...

...and the documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound...

Also, Happy November everybody! Check out my "Four Corners" column on four new and newish restaurants around the Valley.

Hope everybody had a great Halloween; we counted just 13 trick-or-treaters at our door. I wore my wolf hat, and one young Spider-Man, after grabbing his handful of fun size candy, told me I looked scary. I thanked him even though I thought he was just being indulgent to an old man, and his Mom must have sensed this, because she said that no, really, from down the street, I made a rather unnerving silhouette sitting out by my front door. Glad to hear I still can.

Late Saturday evening this past weekend I was approaching the door of a Quik Trip when I glanced up to notice that The Joker was approaching the door from the other direction. By which I mean, not the campy super-villain from Batman comics or the ‘60s-era Batman TV show, but the Joker as played by Joaquin Phoenix in the Todd Phillips movie Joker, now in theaters.

I was momentarily startled; then I remembered it was the weekend before Halloween. I held the door and let the young man enter before me. But there’s no denying that his costume gave me more of a genuine chill than your run of the mill Halloween party hobgoblin.

As a cultural phenomenon, Joker appears not to be in any hurry to go away; four weeks after its opening, it returned to the number one spot at the U.S. box office, unseating another revisionist take on an iconic villain with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Even before its opening, Joker was the subject of anxious controversy for its perceived appeal to alienated young men. There was concern that it could even lead to violence akin to the horrific 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight show of The Dark Knight Rises, by a man who reportedly identified with the character. This shooting killed twelve people and wounded dozens of others.

So far, thankfully, actual violence connected to Joker seems largely not to have materialized. But this doesn’t alter the concern of many social critics that the movie could be seen as validating, even glamorizing, the “incel” (“involuntary celibate”) sensibility and other angry, self-pitying and sometimes violent mindsets held by troubled young loners.

For those who haven’t seen it: The title character of Joker is Arthur Fleck, a young man who lives with his mother in a low-rent apartment in a run-down, monochrome, garbage-strike-stricken ‘70s-era version of Gotham City. Arthur suffers from a condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably and inappropriately. He’s a for-hire clown, work he loves and takes seriously, but which makes him the target of everyone from street thugs to treacherous coworkers. The guy can’t even playfully make faces to amuse a child on the bus without getting scolded by the kid’s mother.

In short, he’s a man more sinned against than sinning; a man who might legitimately wonder if fate somehow simply has it in for him. He suffers mightily and through no real fault of his own, and when he turns to violence initially, it’s in response to being abused by despicable strangers on a subway; for the most part he acts in self-defense. Eventually, as he self-consciously adopts the “Joker” persona, his crimes become more psychotic and calculated, but it isn’t hard to imagine the character’s actions seeming understandable and even justified to isolated, antisocial young men.

When I saw the film, about a week before it opened, what struck me was how powerful Phoenix was in the role, and how curiously unsatisfying the rest of the movie was. I certainly don’t think that Phillips and the other filmmakers had the slightest intention of justifying violence as a response to feeling lonely and persecuted, but by creating a character who suffers to such an improbably unrelieved degree, and so blamelessly, they’ve made a movie that can be read that way. It may not be what the film’s makers had in mind, but apart from showcasing a brilliant piece of acting, it’s hard to say just what they did have in mind, so this dark interpretation has naturally filled the vacuum in Joker’s thematic center.

The real, if grim, value of this movie may be to suggest how widespread this feeling of alienation is in our current angry, hectic, chaotic, social-media-driven lifestyle. Joker may be less a drama and more the description of a symptom: We’re hearing a lot of laughter these days, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy behind it.

RIP to the wonderful John Witherspoon, passed on at 77. I got to spend a couple of days with him in 2001 or 2002, when I worked at the Tempe Improv. Truly a lovely guy. He lamented that it had been so many years since he had seen the TV show Lost in Space and that he wanted to share the show with his kids, so I gave him a couple of VHS tapes I had of it. I’ve often wondered if he ever found time to watch them.

Finally, my beloved Mom would be 100 years old today if she hadn’t left us in 2008; Happy Century Mom! Everybody says they had the Best Mom in the World; my siblings and I actually did. Here she is, sometime in the ‘50s, on the steps of the Presbyterian Church in Vernal, Mississippi, where she and my Dad got married in 1939 (they met earlier that same year at Mardi Gras); that’s my sister Priscilla with them.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Happy Friday everybody! It's Halloween week, so my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, concerns a Saturday morning showing of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein at Alamo Drafthouse...

...and a Sunday afternoon showing of the 1923 silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney, Sr. at the Orpheum Theatre...

Have a great weekend, and Happy Halloween everybody!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Robert Forster passed on last week, at 78; even though his hair had gone gray and thinner, the verve and sharp edge of his acting made him seem at least ten years younger.

Like many actors, the soulfully craggy-faced fellow with the accent that sounded like pure Chicago--though he hailed from Rochester, New York--paid the bills over the years with a great deal of low-rent dreck, often elevating it by his very presence. But his few and far between career highlights were such that they've given him the legacy of a true star.

The son of an elephant trainer for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Forster studied history the University of Rochester, but was lured away from pursuing a career in law when he followed a pretty coed into a theatre audition. His film career started on a high-profile note, when he was poached away from a brief tenure on Broadway to appear opposite Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Roles opposite the likes of Gregory Peck in The Stalking Moon or Anthony Quinn in The Don is Dead followed; so did his lead in Haskell Wexler's 1969 verite classic Medium Cool. Alas, this was followed by two failed TV series in the early '70s, and soon Forster's career was in decline. Despite the occasional starring role in an A-list production like 1979's The Black Hole, by the late '70s and throughout the '80s and early '90s many of Forster's credits were in stuff like Satan's Princess and Maniac Cop III.

Things changed in 1997, when Forster was cast as the stoic bail bondsman Max Cherry in Quentin Tarantino's best movie, his Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown. Cherry assists the title character, played by Pam Grier, in her elaborate scheme to trick the deadly arms dealer for whom she smuggles money in and out of Mexico. Forster's thunderstruck expression when Cherry sees the imperious Jackie emerging from a lockup may be the single most effective portrayal of love at first sight in all of movies.

Max Cherry was the performance for which Forster got his Oscar nomination, and it will probably, and deservedly, be remembered as the signature role of his career. Even so, I have a favorite from the lean part of Forster's career: his star turn as the perplexed police detective Dave Madison in Lewis Teague's 1980 Alligator. Helped by the thoughtful dialogue of John Sayles, Forster turns what could have been a routine lead in a routine creature feature into a sly and even touching character study.

He kept acting for more than twenty years after Jackie Brown, and while the work was steady and probably more lucrative, it was only a little better in terms of quality; there were lots of forgettable supporting parts in action movies, and there were still credits like Dragon Wars and Rise: Blood Hunter. He did well on TV, with roles on Breaking Bad and Karen Sisco and Last Man Standing, and the reboot of Twin Peaks.

As you can likely guess, I'm a fan. Forster had a low-key, unpretentious everyman persona with an underlying tinge of melancholy. At his best, he was deeply lovable. This past weekend I caught up with one of his very last movies, 2018's What They Had, in which he plays a devoutly Catholic husband and father struggling to care for his dementia-afflicted wife (Blythe Danner) at home. It's the kind of role he should have gotten to play more often.

I met Forster once, by the way; more than a decade ago at the Phoenix Film Festival, I introduced a not-very-good crime film in which he appeared, and ran the Q&A with him after the screening. I introduced him so effusively that when he stepped up to shake my hand he gave me a quizzical look, as if he wondered if my enthusiasm was a put-on. It wasn't.

Friday, October 4, 2019


Happy October everybody!

It's the greatest month in the calendar, especially here in Phoenix. Check out my "Four Corners" column for the October issue of Phoenix Magazine, featuring a review of the new Medieval Times in Scottsdale, at which my pal Dave and I recently dined...

Also, happy Friday everybody! Check out my "Friday Flicks" scribblings about Joker...

...and the documentary Where's My Roy Cohn?...

Have a great weekend all!

Friday, September 27, 2019


Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column online at Phoenix Magazine, this week reviewing Judy...

...and the caper comedy Raising Buchanan...

...about a scheme to steal the body of President James Buchanan and hold it for ransom. That tired old plot device again.

Also opening this week:

Abominable--Following last year's peculiar Smallfoot, here's another CGI animated feature about Yetis. This one is peculiar, too.

In this Chinese-American co-production, a teenage Chinese city girl finds a fuzzy, sweet-natured Yeti hiding on the roof of her apartment building; he's escaped from a cruel scientific facility. She feeds him steamed pork buns and plays her violin for him, and then, with the help of two friends from the building, tries to smuggle him back to his home in the mountains, with the forces of the nasty collector hot in pursuit. The movie is of a New-Agey-bent; in the course of the odyssey we learn that the creature is tune with the forces of nature, and when he hums the sound causes flowers to blossom and blueberries to grow enormous.

As is almost invariably the case with wide-release animated features of the last few decades, the obligatory elements in Abominable, the stock villains and the stock character motivations, are highly tedious. This template for has been so successful for so long that it's hard to see it going away anytime soon, but it sure makes these films wearisomely repetitive.

That said, the characterizations of the Yeti and the kids are winning, and the Chinese setting is different and colorful. And this is almost certainly the only film to contain the line "Don't body-shame my yak!"

Finally, if you happen to be here in the Phoenix area, you could check out The House That Dripped Blood at 10 p.m. this evening, September 27, at FilmBar. This 1971 British horror anthology, scripted by Robert Bloch and featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Jon Pertwee and Denholm Elliot, has long been a fave of mine, largely on the basis of the scene near the end in which supremely sultry and statuesque vampiress Ingrid Pitt levitates and...her high-heeled shoes drop off her feet to the floor. I don't know why, but for some reason that detail remains one of the most deliriously sexy moments in movies for me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Since this year’s 50th anniversaries include the Moon Landing, Woodstock and The Brady Bunch, I suppose I shouldn’t expect much hoopla around a silly sci-fi fantasy film hitting the half-century mark. Nonetheless, this month also sees the 50th anniversary of the release of The Valley of Gwangi...

...that special effects spectacle in which cowboys find a hidden valley in Mexico full of leftover dinosaurs.

At the age of 6 or 7, I would surely have told you it was the finest movie ever made. I still love it; I watched it just a week or so ago on Turner Classic Movies, where it’s shown fairly often. My fondness for the film, in part, stems from the fascination I’ve always had for dinosaurs, and for movies of the “creature feature” variety. But in the case of Gwangi, I’m sure it’s also connected to the circumstances in which I saw the film, at a drive-in, with a bunch of relations stuffed into a car on a flawless early-fall Saturday evening in Pennsylvania. While we all gobbled popcorn, the little kids, especially me, sat thunderstruck by the tale, and my older sisters cracked wise about it, while nonetheless admiring Uruguayan actor Gustavo Rojo, one of the handsomer cast members. Even allowing for the refinements of nostalgia, it seems like one of those perfect childhood memories.

Based on an idea by Willis O’Brien, the animator of the original King Kong, Gwangi’s plot follows the Kong template: Sometime around the turn of the century, a group of cowboys from a Wild West show finds its way into a mysterious valley inhabited by surviving prehistoric beasts. They run afoul of a purplish allosaurus, the Valley’s apex predator, known as “Gwangi” to the local gypsies. The cowboys capture Gwangi and bring him to civilization as an attraction; he escapes, and heartache ensues.

The cinematic appeal in all this is that Gwangi and several other monsters are brought to life by the special effects master Ray Harryhausen, the greatest of the stop-motion animators, that Quixotic specialty class of film artists who tortuously shoot one frame at a time of articulated puppets, changing their position the slightest bit between frames to create a skittish, jerky and irresistible sense of motion. As an attempt at a realistic illusion of life, CGI has long since made stop-motion animation obsolete, but for some of us--I suppose it's a cinematic equivalent to being a "vinylhead" among record enthusiasts--stop-motion has a human charm and a low-tech vibrancy that even the finest CGI can’t claim.

The Valley of Gwangi is an example of this. Gwangi was a typical, irritable Harryhausen brute, loaded with loutish personality. At the end [spoiler alert!], the poor creature, dragged against his will to a civilization he wanted no part of, comes to a grim demise in a burning cathedral. The final scene pans across the faces of a crowd watching the church burn with Gwangi trapped inside, then comes to rest on the face of the little boy who went on the expedition, now with tears streaming down his cheeks. That kid stood in for at least one little kid out in the audience.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Happy Friday! Check out my review of Rambo: Last Blood...

...online at Phoenix Magazine. Have a great weekend everybody!

Friday, September 13, 2019


Happy Friday all!

Check out my Friday Flicks column, online at Phoenix Magazine, with reviews of The Goldfinch...

...and Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice...

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 6, 2019


Happy Friday everybody! Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, with reviews of the harrowing documentary One Child Nation...

...the harrowing political thriller Official Secrets...

and It Chapter Two...

Also from the September issue of Phoenix Magazine...

...check out my "Four Corners" column on tasty eats for fall, whenever that longed-for season decides to show up here in the Valley; September is clearly too optimistic...

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


My pal Stan has been unearthing lots of weird old photos recently, and sending them to me; including this freaky series he did in the mid-'80s while I shaved my head and attempted a Nosferatu makeup...

When the head-shaving was about half-done, he also captured one of me as sort of a Miami Vice drug dealer villain (that really was the sort of shirt I routinely wore in those days, however)...

He sent me several others, like this one of Stan (taken by me, I guess?) channeling The Great Waldo Pepper; western Pennsylvania, mid-'80s...

...me, same vintage, apparently trying to look like a henchman from an episode of MacGyver...

...Stan, my nephew Zack and me, southern Ohio, 1984...

...and me displaying all the maturity customarily associated with a 22-year-old, giving some poor mannequin her #MeToo moment...