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.