Tuesday, October 25, 2022


Now on VOD...

The Retaliators--Two young women in a van get a flat on a lonely forested road. If you're guessing they don't just get to fix it and be on their way, you're right.

Thus begins this horror tale, like a standard ghouls-in-the-woods nightmare, but the real theme, a la Last House on the Left, is Revenge. When the teenage daughter (Katie Kelly) of a young New Jersey pastor (Michael Lombardi) is murdered, he investigates, and eventually finds himself in a position where he must confront his own commitment to the Christian principle that vengeance is not his.

Co-directed by Samuel Gonzalez, Jr., Bridget Smith and Lombardi from a script by Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare, it's an extremely violent and gory shocker. But speaking as an easily frightened wimp, I must say that somehow I didn't find it very scary. It feels like it's trying too hard to be over-the-top gruesome; I couldn't take it seriously. The splatter is icky but never quite horrific on any deeper level.

The only member of the hardworking cast that I recognized was Brian O'Halloran (Dante from the Clerks movies) in a small role near the beginning, as a jerk who takes a Christmas tree away from a little girl. The hardcore killers and sickos in this movie have so little reality that I had a more visceral response to this guy's minor outrage than to their atrocities.

All that said, it must be admitted that this movie isn't predictable. Maybe because of the multiple hands behind the camera, The Retaliators takes a strange and circuitous route to its Jacobean bloodbaths. Whether it's a trip worth taking is a matter of taste, but at least it isn't a trip we've taken before.

Friday, October 21, 2022


Opening on VOD this weekend and at the Alice Gill-Sheldon Theatre in Sedona on Friday, October 28...

The PEZ Outlaw--The title character of this international thriller is a man named Steve Glew. A Gandalf-bearded former machine-shop rat from Michigan who shares a small horse farm with his soft-spoken wife Kathy, Glew was also a bit of an OCD eccentric who collected oddball cereal boxes. Bored silly with his  job, he got interested in PEZ in the '80s and '90s when he was clued in, at a collector's show, that there were a great many of the candy-pushing dispensers that weren't distributed in the USA.

Beard dyed dark, Glew plays his younger self in flashback re-enactments, as he and his son travel, first, to Slovenia, and come back with duffel bags crammed with contraband PEZ and, owing to a hiccup in PEZ USA's standing with U.S. Customs, are able to import them. Soon he's making regular trips to Europe, from Hungary to PEZ headquarters in Austria, and PEZ peddling is his full-time job.

If the McGuffin being smuggled here was drugs or guns or uranium, the story wouldn't be that different from any globetrotting caper thriller. But it's PEZ, so it's freaking hilarious. Directors Amy Storkel and Brian Storkel cut between Glew and other, uhm, talking heads as they narrate the re-enactments, which are overtly facetious in tone; several scenes are done noir-style, and the plant in Slovenia is presented like Willy Wonka's factory inside. This is funny, but it's possible that a more deadpan, Errol Morris-like approach might have given the film a sharper edge.

Even so, it's wonderful, because of the visual charm of PEZ and the oddity of the collecting fanatics and the implausibility of the story, which is what makes it believable. But above all The PEZ Outlaw is wonderful because Glew seems like a fully, fearlessly self-revealed character onscreen, exasperating and lovable; when the movie takes a poignant turn in its final quarter, the emotion comes naturally.

Sunday, October 16, 2022


As far back as Your Humble Narrator can remember, I've loved PEZ. What's not to love, after all? It's a delicious candy--you may recall that Vern, in Stand By Me, had no doubt that he could subsist on nothing but cherry flavored PEZ for the rest of his life--and it's a toy. It's a toy that gives you candy.

Invented in Austria in the 1920s and originally marketed to adults as a substitute for tobacco, PEZ--the word is a compression of the German pfefferminz, or peppermint--began to sell dispensers with character heads for children in the 1950s and became an international brand. Of the many PEZ dispensers I had as a kid, I particularly prized the Halloweeny skulls and ogres, so I was delighted when The Wife found these Halloween mini-dispensers...

...to hand out for trick-or-treat this year.

As an adult, the first item I ever bid on and won on eBay was an old-school PEZ Easter Bunny with a curiously grave and sober expression; I've always referred to him as "Frowny Bunny," and he still lives on my desk...

This coming Friday, October 21, a documentary called The PEZ Outlaw, chronicling a particularly strange episode in the history of PEZ collecting, debuts on VOD; it's also slated to play at the Alice Gill-Sheldon Theatre in Sedona starting Friday, October 28.

More on that remarkable film in a later post, but with all this PEZ-iness on my mind, the time has come to discuss my monument.

That's right, my monument.

A few years ago, in the depths of the previous Presidential administration, I hit upon an inspiration one day for a piece of public art. Not little piece, a big piece. An epic piece. A monument, carved into the side of a mountain. I'm not saying it would have needed to be on the scale of South Dakota's Mount Rushmore, but maybe one third the size, or one fifth. Maybe poor North Dakota could find a hillside somewhere, and offer an alternative to tourists.

Then one day, haunting a junkshop, I found something that made me revise my grandiose plans. Why allow a modern-day Gutzon Borglum to vandalize another perfectly lovely natural rockface, after all, and spend millions of public dollars and many years, when I could realize my idea on my own, for a few lousy bucks worth of PEZ?

What I had come across, you see, were a few random PEZ dispensers that I didn't know existed, depicting the Presidents of the United States. They were from a "PEZ Education Series" launched about a decade ago, issued in sets of five POTUS Dispensers at a time, starting with Washington and culminating with Obama (Obama's successor, mercifully, has not been officially PEZzed at this writing). So between that original haul and a bit of eBaying, over a few months I was able to obtain:

Franklin Pierce (served 1853-1857); who opposed the Abolitionist movement, signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, enforced the Fugitive Slave Act, made a failed attempt to annex Cuba; the first and to date the only elected incumbent President not re-nominated by his own party...

James Buchanan (1857-1861); who continued Pierce's bungling and opposition to Abolition (despite claiming he was personally opposed to slavery), leading to the Secession of the southern states and making the Civil War inevitable...

Warren Gamaliel Harding (1921-1923); who filled his administration with crooked cronies that were implicated in multiple scandals, most famously the Teapot Dome oil lease affair which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall...

...and our own era's George W. Bush (2001-2009); who ignored security warnings about terrorist attacks before 9/11 and lied us into interminable wasteful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in that tragedy's wake...

My fellow Americans, I give you...


Dismal as they were, any of these four men, and any number of other Presidential hacks and bums and paranoids, would have been preferable to President 45. Decidedly preferable. Harding's offenses, most of them possibly unwitting on his part and only revealed after his untimely death in office, seem particularly quaint by 45's standards.

Thus my MRCT45 Monument stands tall--albeit only about 5 inches tall, and only on my desk--in symbolic tribute to all those who, though they may be inept clowns or moral cowards or shady creeps, still have some consideration, some tiny modicum of regard, some vague sense of responsibility, for their country, for the world, or for any human being other than themselves. It's a (dimly) shining memorial to the barest minimum in human decency.

Just so there's no misunderstanding, I should hasten to note that when I say these guys would be preferable, I mean that they would be preferable, as men. I'm not remotely suggesting, of course, that the social conditions and norms of the times in which they served would be preferable to the social conditions and norms of our times.

The toughest of these dispensers to find, by the way, was W. Bush; perhaps because he was part of the same set as Obama, and I wasn't willing to pay the upwards of $100 that this set goes for online. Finally I hunted him up, along with the other two non-Obama members of that set, presumably from a split-up set on eBay (the fifth dispenser in that box is of the Presidential Seal).

While scrounging to complete my grand vision, I did also accumulate a good bench of other Presidential mediocrities and rascals. I'd still like a Nixon, in case anybody wants to know what to get me for Christmas. But I have scored William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Herbert Hoover (a close also-ran for Harding's spot), Bill Clinton and W. Bush's Dad H. W. Bush...

Compared to 45, I need hardly say, they all seem monument-worthy...

Thursday, October 13, 2022


There are some pretty intriguing selections on the program at the 4th edition of the Peoria Film Festival...

...slated for this weekend at Harkins Arrowhead; check out my short column, online at Phoenix Magazine, for details.

Friday, October 7, 2022


Saddened to hear that Judy Tenuta has passed on.

Oddly enough Your Humble Narrator spent a couple of days with Judy around 2002, when I was a publicist for the Tempe Improv. When I was told that I would be in charge of taking her around to interviews, etc, quite candidly I braced myself for a long couple of days, but she turned out to be a delight, probably the sweetest celebrity I’ve ever met. She was, make no mistake, a handful; manic and chatty, but in an endearing, childlike way, and she was an intelligent conversationalist.

When I picked her up she asked to be taken to a supermarket, so I took her to that venerable old Bashas (now closed) on 7th Avenue and Osborn, and followed her around as she tugged at my sleeve and asked what I thought of her purchases. We had Krispy Kreme donuts together at Arizona Mills, and on the weekend when the Dodge Theatre was opening downtown, I managed to get a live shot of Judy with Brad Perry on Channel 3, promoting her Improv gig by vigorously playing her accordion and singing her immortal song “Party in Your Pants,” from the freakin’ balcony of the Dodge, which I considered the zenith of my achievement as a publicist, but in retrospect Judy’s charismatic appeal may have had a lot to do with it. Anyway, those two days are a very fond memory for me. RIP Love Goddess.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Earlier this week the candidates for Governor of Arizona appeared onstage at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. But they didn't appear together.

Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs and former Fox 10 anchor and 45-endorsed Republican candidate Kari Lake were both presented at a "Town Hall" event, connected to the National Conference of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Hobbs has declined to publicly debate or engage with Lake, which kept the main body of the event dull, but led to a bit of striking political theatre in its opening minutes.

Sitting in one of two armchairs, the moderator, Univision's Leรณn Krauze, announced that he would interview the candidates separately, and that the format, which both sides had agreed to, would not include questions from the audience. Not exactly a town hall, but whatever (I wasn't recording and had no way to take notes, by the way, so I'm relying on memory for these quotes). He cautioned the audience to be respectful of both candidates on pain of expulsion, and then, after some remarks from USHCC bigwigs... there was an uncomfortable pause. Krauze turned to a corner of the front row and said "Ms. Lake, will you go to your agreed-upon area backstage?"

Lake rose from a seat, resplendent in purple, saying that she would like a chance to be onstage with Hobbs. Krauze gently but firmly reminded her that she had agreed to the terms of the event, and would she please go. All wounded innocence, she kept up the resistance for a while. Krauze even offered to let her go first, but of course she wasn't about to let herself be the opening act; she departed, to applause, with an entourage in her wake. The stunt was effective--she painted Hobbs as chicken.

Krauze then left the stage, came back, and repeated his opening speech almost word for word. This time Hobbs came out from the opposite wing, took the seat opposite him and started answering his questions. It was the first time I had ever heard her speak outside of her campaign commercials, and I felt bad for her. She gave sensible mainstream answers about immigration, education, water conservation and abortion rights, but in a diffident, almost apologetic manner. She seemed less like a candidate and more like a nervous staffer pressed into service in a spin room.

Toward the end of her time, Hobbs was asked if her lifetime in Arizona had given her an appreciation of any particular aspect of Hispanic culture here. She seemed caught off guard by the question, and haltingly talked about how much she enjoys spending time with the family of a Hispanic in-law. Listening to her ramble, I was whispering to myself "hard work...strong family...hard work...strong family..." Finally she got there, noting that she admired the community's "family values and hard work," but it was the kind of softball question that an Arizona candidate ought to be able to riff on endlessly (and sincerely) without effort.

After Hobbs was excused to polite applause, Lake was invited out, and swept onstage like she owned the place, while three or four people in the row in front of me gave her a standing ovation. She responded smoothly and confidently to the questions, making frequent direct eye contact with the audience. She was every inch a broadcast veteran, with an impressive command of the rhetorical skills at which Hobbs was at best adequate.

She complained again about Hobbs refusing to debate her, calling her "a coward" and saying that she had also taken a pass on debating her Democratic primary opponent, former Nogales mayor and Obama staffer Marco Lopez, who Lake conceded is a "smart guy"; she said that if Hobbs had debated him he'd be onstage instead of Hobbs, and she fretted that Hobbs had "denied the people of Arizona" this. It didn't seem to occur to Lake that if she was right on this point, Hobbs had clearly chosen the better strategy in her run against Lopez, since she did win the primary.

As to the issues, Lake spoke in a folksy, easygoing way about the usual incendiary Fox News talking points, claiming that she would, for instance, declare an "invasion" at the southern border in "the first hour" of her administration, not only mobilizing the Arizona National Guard but bringing in troops from Texas and Florida. Asked if Joe Biden was the legitimate President of the United States, she shrugged and said "he's sitting in the White House"; Krauze was having none of this attempt to punt and pressed her, so she said that "the election was corrupt" and that no, in her opinion his presidency was illegitimate.

On to the main course: When Krauze asked her, as a "hypothetical which sadly isn't so hypothetical" case, whether a 12-year-old who was raped by a family member should be able to get an abortion, she tried briefly to dodge the question, but when pressed admitted that she thought such a victim should be able to get an abortion "if she wants one." She quickly added that such cases were extremely rare, and went on to say that her opponent believes in late-term abortion up to the point of birth "and after." She did not cite any information as to whether late-term abortions are more or less common than pregnancies caused by rape of the underaged, or suggest how the exceptions she apparently believes in to the abortion ban would be provided for legally.

In terms of presentational polish, there can be no denying that Lake is much the more capable and media-savvy candidate. It's very probable this is indeed the reason that Hobbs prefers not to spar with her face-to-face. But listening to Lake talk, it overwhelmingly seemed to me--and there were clearly many people in that audience who felt differently--that she was both condescendingly phony and, well...guano-esquely unbalanced (politically and socially speaking, that is).

Hobbs may feel that she's no match for Lake in a public forum, and if so she's probably right, and it unfortunately hands Lake a stick with which to beat her. But Hobbs is also quite justified, I think, in feeling that "debating" this person, allowing herself to be heckled and interrupted by a slick, experienced media professional who's also a political nutjob, is unworthy of her time.

At one point, Lake noted that pro-abortion activists all had "the luxury of being born." Listening to Lake for twenty minutes, I admit that I was less certain that being born was a luxury.