Sunday, September 27, 2009

Georgie T. Clooney, Will You Please Go Away?

Just returned from the Southern California Writers Conference in Irvine with two things essential to any writer’s life: a deepening knowledge and love of both the craft we ply and the people who work in and around it – and a hangover the size of the national debt.

So to entertain those who are tuning for the first time, I’m reposting this letter I felt compelled to write several years ago, after months of recurring dreams featuring the Clooney. For those who’ve read it already, tomorrow I’ll post a trashy, but fun, poem created back in February at the San Diego incarnation of this conference.

To all, I wish a hearty good laugh -- and plenty of Tylenol.

From the Desk of
Melanie Young
(Against Her Better Judgement)

Mr. G. Clooney
Beverly Hills, California

re: Recent Harrassment

June 4, 2007

Dear George,

Well, you won’t leave me alone, so I suppose I must break down and speak to you. Why you won’t let me sleep in peace I don’t know. What my offense has been remains a mystery to me, but since you will keep showing up in your dapper best and conversing with me over a cup of coffee deep in my REM cycle until all hours, I shall behave like the lady my mother tried (unsuccessfully) to raise, and grant you your interview.

I would like to point out here and now that I have no intention of this growing into a more intimate acquaintance. I am that kind of girl, but not with actors – in fact that’s number one on the list. This is no mere prejudice, but the informed voice of experience. High school drama club leaves its scars on us all. Of course dating didn’t stop there, and soon there were larger messes of mascara-stained tissues on the bureau.

After a summer split between the bohemian scenes of the University of Kansas and Disneyworld, I added poets and rock guitarists to the list – oh yes, and lead singers. Just one guy, but he was a doozy. And you know, a girl likely to date that kind of a beast seems to find herself quickly attracted to philosophers, marketing geniuses, social reformers, park rangers, carpenters, sculptors, chemists, swing dancers, cartoonists – well, the list is quite long now, suffice to say. Marriage had officially stopped the list from growing until our recent, unending chats. I hadn’t counted on you, George.

Regardless of the obvious temptations, I will not be throwing myself at you, so you can just forget about that now. Bill Clinton – leader of the free world eventually, but just in the running at the time – showed up in this same fuzzy, dreaming brain while you were no more than a fading, mulletted memory from “The Facts of Life.” Even in my most unguarded, unconscious dream state, Billy didn’t get anything but a warm smile, so you, the other Mr. C., can just keep your tuxedoed, perfect triangle-frame anchored.

Yes, I obviously have a thing for men in power, and no, it’s not going to get you anywhere. Whatever it is I find about you that’s erotic doesn’t seem to require us getting naked. Which is convenient, since I have a hard enough time facing the bathroom mirror at thirty-five, much less any ongoing nightmare visions of my bare, dimpled derrière in motion.

Now, on to the next order of business. My subconscious. What are you doing there? Do you intend to bring friends? Will I have to start considering caterers? What are we talking about? I can’t imagine anything that keeps you coming back at the rate you seem to consider appropriate. One dream would have been titillating. Two might have hinted at your continuing good taste. But month after month, night after night! Just when I think you’ve finally gone on to the starlets who love you so well…I innocently pass into Never Never Land – and must face you ONCE AGAIN – without make-up and before I’ve had a chance to clean the dishes.

What could we possibly have in common? After all, you have your millions, and I have my – dying potted plants. It really is just too damn hot to slog outside and water them all the time. I think the thyme committed suicide last week. Two days just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get as brown as it managed. You wouldn’t know, of course, since gardeners have been taking care of your lawns since you impersonated a lecherous doctor that women couldn’t resist on TV. (You know, they could be family men – the gardeners – who recoil at your wandering Romeo ways. Have you asked? Or better yet – have you noticed any suspicious decline in the health of your herbs?)

It certainly doesn’t leave us much to discuss. You get to have your fifty girlfriends at a time; I get one husband that I’m lucky to have fifty times a year. You wander the corridors of power with your buddies in the Democratic Party leadership; I’m beginning to recognize the homeless guys in Balboa Park by their preferred camping spots. You sparkle at your red carpet galas, receiving goodie bags stuffed with free digital cameras and personalized watches; I only seem to attend functions where earnest female friends try to sell me things I can’t afford or don’t need (I generally just cave and let them have another one at my house – for the swag. Should score the entire Anti-Cellulite Cream package at next week’s soiree).

Oh, George, where does all this leave us? You remain so silent on the subject of commitment, and yet you return faithfully to my dreams week after week, talking warmly of God-only-knows-what, allowing me to bask in the knowledge that it is I who truly stimulate your mind, your wit, your gleaming, white-toothed laugh. You even let me call you “Eyebrow.” Do you think I didn’t notice your recycled jokes as you dashed between reporter-ette bimbos at last year’s Oscars? They couldn’t know what I did – that “The Good German” was a good reason to sit in a theatre alone with my popcorn and you; black and white really does bring out your jawline something fierce. Did you feel you had to apologize for that? Did you stop believing that there really was intelligent life out there somewhere? Have you lost your faith that beauty and brains can still coexist? Is this why you haunt my make-believe kitchen table?

I suppose you’re like any man. We’ll continue to have these little chats, and then one day, you’ll expect me to read your mind, intuit your deepest dreams and drop everything to bask in your love – and needs. Well, George, I’m sorry. I can’t take the time. I’ve already got one man I have to worry about, and he’s fairly firm on his policy of No Visiting Sex Gods between the hours of one and five a.m. So unless you’re planning on divulging anything deeper than your secret to great skin (which really, I wouldn’t mind knowing), I think our relationship is at an impasse.

Still, a good coffee buddy shouldn’t be underrated – as long as you’re okay with decaf. I have got to get some sleep. Have I told you about these recurring dreams of mine?

Til the Restraining Order Comes Through,
Melanie (as if you didn’t know)

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes - The Master of the High School Flick

Ever wonder what happened to John Hughes, the creator of Ferris Bueller and Molly Ringwald's career? Ever think he was a farmer? You never know what Hollywood will drive people to.

Excellent obit below - yes, obit. Sigh. Off to that "big lake" in the sky...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Some Battlestar Love from Television Critics

So, the Emmys officially stink. Not only have they refused to acknowledge the existence of "Battlestar Galactica" (BSG) for years, now they've also decided that writers receiving awards don't need airtime.

There were 4 categories awarded on-air last year; this year, that number will be down to 2. Interesting article on the protest from WGA & writers you might just happen to Seth McFarland, Ronald Moore, Shondra Rhimes, David Shore, and Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse aka "Family Guy," "Battlestar Galactica," "Grey's Anatomy," "House," and "Lost:"

Now, for the good news. The Television Critics Awards named "BSG" as "Program of the Year." Apparently the people who watch television for a living recognize greatness, as opposed to the people who produce television for a living (Academy, etc.) "So say we all!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

L'amour....or film 37

Yes, it’s been forever since I posted a film review, but in all fairness I’ve been writing my own movie. It took a little while – the better part of two years really – but who’s making excuses? It’s done now (well, as ‘done’ as any writing project gets, which means ‘never’), and the script is making the rounds of competitions, none of which I’ll hear about until September. So in the meantime, I’m outlining the next one – and a novel, because who doesn’t feel like that’s a good thing to do in their spare time? – and feeling the need to catch this blog up with where I am…which at the moment is deep in the heart of the French countryside – virtually speaking – with 150+ cyclists, 1000+ journalists, 6 daily “Versus” broadcasts and 1 bike-crazy husband.

Film 37: “Jet Lag” (2002)
So in honor of Le Tour, we watched a French romantic comedy last night. What? “The French don’t laugh,” you say. “Ah, mais oui.” Jerry Lewis, n’est pas? Well, okay, him – and the kind of complete psychological and physical breakdown that 24 hours of travel without sleep will bring you.

Well, not you you. Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno – probably the two French stars most recognizable to American audiences – thanks to Reno’s “The Professional” and Binoche’s turns in everything from the uber-arty ‘Colors’ films (“Blue,” “White,” and “Red”) to epic-smash “The English Patient” to frothy-sweet “Dan in Real Life.” I’ve enjoyed all these films, but was dubious that Binoche had left any original roles left to perform, being one of the busiest actresses of her time.

Then Nancy Fisk (yay, Nancy!) told me I’d missed a big one with this flick, and she was absolutely right. Turns out the French do know something about romance after all, even if Kelly Clarkson doesn’t sing the title track.

Now, to enjoy a French romantic comedy, you must remember a few important pointers:
1) Slapstick is out. Intense dialogue is in.
2) A happy ending is far, far from assured.
3) Romance itself is less assured – and much less obvious – than #2.
4) The food and wine will be taken as seriously as any of the other relationships.
5) Juliette Binoche will probably get naked somewhere along the line.

See? Something for everyone.

The real joy of this film for me wasn’t caused by any of the above (all of which were true). It was more about a relaxed happiness which settled over me from the beginning, as intelligent, modern dialogue and unobtrusive but thoughtful direction gave two great actors the space to engage my emotions and charm my pants off. I loved every moment of Binoche’s tacky, downtrodden hairdresser Rose, especially as she sparred with Reno’s prickly, corporate sell-out Felix.

Happiness is not something I readily associate with French film, so you can see how pleasantly surprised I was. Depth, yes. Greatness, on occasion. Depression – de rigueur. So when I tell you that one of the most uplifting moments involves Rose and Felix drowning their sorrows in great cuisine and crying over a father’s lost love, you won’t be surprised. But I think you will smile.

After all, the great charm of that strange but beautiful nation lies somewhere in the aphorism, “No one hates the French more than they do.” And in the end, no one else can unmask their cynicism and reveal their shaky, but enduring, faith in love better than they can.

Vive la France!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Little - no, large - Ration of Hope

Hello, all. Bet you've been wondering which cliff I've fallen off. Or at least, I hope a few have.

Rest assured, all is well. In fact, I've been busy trying to cross a major finish line. But more of that tomorrow.

For today, I'd just like to share what I can only describe as one of the best moments my life has had to offer so far. For the web savvy, this shall come as no surprise. I'm talking about Saturday night's "Britain's Got Talent" segment, which at this morning's count was well on the way to 15 million hits on YouTube.

Bear in mind, the contestant is the youngest of 9 siblings in a small Scottish village. She's spent her life singing at church and caring for her convalescent mother, who before she died recently, told her daughter to take a risk.

Here it is:

Watch it. I dare you to tell me you didn't care.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lee Marvin - A Commie?

Hey all! If you're up for a mind-bender late tonight, check out "Shack Out on 101" - the Underground Classic over on Turner Classic Movies.

Lee Marvin, tough, true blue Amercian #2 (behind only John Wayne), stars in a 1950s "Commies in our Midst" comedy/thriller. Posing as a doofus slinging burgers on the southern California coast, Marvin's character - Slob - flirts with girls, complains about the nutheads at Muscle Beach and lays plans to overthrow the American government. Keenan Wynn, one of the funniest 50s men, co-stars in what's sure to be a surreal experience.

Barry Gifford, whose novel Wild at Heart was adapted to the screen in 1990 by David Lynch and who co-wrote the screenplay for Lost Highway (1997) with that same director, had this to say about Shack Out on 101: "It's as if William Inge were forced by the government to rewrite some Chekhov play, but set in McCarthy-era America, and he took twenty Valium, washed them down with Old Crow, and dashed it off as the drug grabbed his brain and put him in Palookaville."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day 60: Frolicking through Prehistoric Mindmelts with Garters

(Thought that might grab ya...)

Film 34: “Whirlpool” (1949)
Matinee Muse Unmasked
Written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt
Directed by Otto Preminger

Film 35: “10,000 B.C.” (2008)
B.C. Beefcake
Written by Roland Emmerich and Harald Koser
Directed by Roland Emmerich

Film 36: “The Young Visiters” (2003)
Victorian Class-Vaulting
Written by Patrick Varlow based on a story by Daisy Ashford
Directed by David Yates

Welcome to my first ever 3-for-1 movie review! I figure if I can watch them one after another, you can read about them together…faulty logic if ever I’ve heard it, but it’s my little reality here. Wilkommen!

Spend long enough in“Whirlpool” – between the claustrophobic Otto Preminger touch and Ben Hecht’s love of psychobabble and paranoia – and you’ll wonder why all the fuss over the simple deconstruction of the placid post-war housewife. Why all the fuss, when the job was done in the first few frames – the simple casting of the glamorous and alluring Gene Tierney (“Laura”) in the castrated lead role of Ann Sutton. Even her long tresses are clipped and pressed into mid-50s Lois Lane mold. I don’t need 45 minutes of bad noir rip-off detective work to tell me Tierney’s the victim here.

None of this keeps menacing astrologer/con-man David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) from digging into her brain with the same relish that the evil pseudo-Egyptian slave traders of “10,000 B.C.” whip their pyramid builders. And with the well-developed chests that all its main characters – male and female alike – possess, who can resent the lack of clothing? You want historical depth? Then why are you watching a movie about African mammoth hunters – oh yes, actual mammoth hunters – being enslaved by light-skinned crazy dudes in heavy black eyeliner? This is almost as fun as Jim Broadbent’s insanely insecure Victorian noble wannabe – for entirely different reasons.

Broadbent, one of English cinema’s consistent delights – stars as poor clerk Alfred who just wants to get laid – but not by just any girl…no, for him, it must be Ethel, a young fresh nobility-obsessed flower (Lyndsey Marshall). As if a film spurred by a story written by a 9 year-old – for real and for true – wasn’t dessert enough, onscreen walks (or mutters, more accurately) Hugh Laurie, as Alfred’s formidable rival, the Lord Bernard Clark. Yes, “House” fans. Laurie had a long, fruitful career – as an Englishman – before he faked a Midwestern hard ‘r’ and a limp for his strongest American ratings pull. I must admit, having discovered him in his native land first, that’s where I love him best, and he doesn’t disappoint here (does he ever?). Add in a little naughty Bill Nighy (the fading pop singer in “Love Actually”) for spice, and you’ve got a fast-paced, goofy class comedy.

What do you get when you combine all three?

Nothing normal.

Good times.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 54: A Pookah for Our Generation - Blow-Up Doll Style

Film 34: “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007)

It may say more about me than this film, but I laughed for a hour half straight, beginning at the moment that too-shy-to-be-touched Lars (Ryan Gosling) introduces his new girlfriend Bianca (a blow-up “Real Doll”) to his brother Gus and his wife Karin. After all, it seems to be all anyone – ladies at church, the work receptionist, his family – ever asks him about. “Lars, are you seeing anyone? Don’t you have a girlfriend yet?” Why not? She’s the perfect dinner guest – small appetite, friendly smile and easy-going on the dress code.

Alfred Hitchcock made edge-of-your-seat thrillers decades before special effects could show us the details of any biological terror. He didn’t need them, because as he famously said, and I’m paraphrasing wildly here, “The horror is in the reaction, not the deed.” “Lars and the Real Girl” is that kind of reaction film. At first, we laugh because of how horrified everyone else is at Lars’s sudden delusion. His brother Gus, played with real man skepticism and pain by Paul Schneider, seethes. How the hell is he going to explain this one at the factory? This is a sex toy, not a girlfriend. Can’t his brother be normal and hide her in the bedroom? Why should Lars suddenly be nuts? It’s not funny at all to Gus, and we suspect that he might just pop the thing to prove a point. “Fix it,” he demands of their doctor.

Emily Mortimer, a physically fragile actress, plays Gus’s wife, Karin – and her growing belly as an expectant mother seems to weigh not just her down, but the whole family as the film progresses. At first, she and Gus hope this is a fad that will soon pass, but as she starts having trouble getting out of chairs and getting the nursery ready, Lars is asking Bianca to marry him. Karin and Gus realize, “He’s not going to get better, is he?”

This is the moment that their horror reaction – and our comic one – transcends the goofy plot device. How are they going to cope with a loved brother who can’t cope with reality?

Red-haired Patricia Clarkson, often the wild diva of the indies, instead grounds this moment. Her Doctor Dagmar, the small Far North town's resident GP and psychologist (“She says you have to be both this far north,” quips Karin) shows more sensitivity than twenty trained psychotherapists. She reacts so steadily, so naturally to Lars’s new belief system, that the entire town begins to follow suit. Beautiful comic moments attain poignance: Lars’s co-workers invite Bianca to a party, the church lady gives Bianca flowers and compliments her on “her snappy figure,” and one by one, people in Lars’s life accept her – and him.

Somewhere in there, I began to wonder why this transformation worked so well. Was the writing brilliant, or were the performances? Was it the deft direction, or the subtle scoring?

Answer: Yes. You don’t make a great film out of a bad script, and Nancy Oliver’s nuanced, steadily paced world is brilliant. Characters don’t become real people without excellent acting, and everyone here is pitch perfect. Each performance deserves an Oscar, even the smaller ones – from Lars’s action-figure obsessed cubicle mate (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) to the shy, teddy bear-loving Margo (Kelli Garner), who only wants one date with Lars before he marries Bianca. Crass direction could easily have pushed this delicate drama into the land of the absurd, but Craig Gillespie restrains the camera. No forced close-ups of Lars’s grin, no lingering body shots of Bianca’s anatomically correct body.

In fact, neither Lars, nor the entire crew of the movie, has any intention of sexually exploiting Bianca. This is a consensual, sensitive relationship – between the viewer and the small, lonely world that Lars inhabits. We want him to get better, but we don’t want him to lose the precious innocence that Bianca, his blow-up sex doll, shows us. We move from laughter and discomfort to empathy and understanding. From ridicule to love.

That, my friends, is perfect storytelling, and this is perfect filmmaking.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Day 52: Love in the '70s and the Land of Cholera

Classic romance today – one funny, one earnest. Two fairly funny-looking heroes. And just for fun…a little poetry.

Film 32: “The Goodbye Girl” (1977)

Written by Neil Simon (“Biloxi Blues,” “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park”)
Directed by Herbert Ross (“Footloose,” “Secret of My Success,” “Pennies From Heaven”)

I had to watch the comedy first, of course. Even if it starred Richard Dreyfuss – an actor whose frequent “witty and charming” faces can tire me out, so that I sometimes miss his occasional brilliance.

Neil Simon spent most of the 20th century trying to keep big ideas updated for the modern era – love, patriotism, success. Here he’s drawn two intelligent New Yorkers – single working mom Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and struggling actor Eliot Garfield (Dreyfuss) – and forces them to share an apartment. I’ll leave the love story for the poem. What really works for me in this movie, though, isn’t the relationship; its issues of commitment and balance and trust (post-divorce and pre-2nd marriage) are honestly explored, but little about it now resonates as new insight (though I’m sure it did at the time).

Me being me, I was riveted by McFadden’s exploration of power as she reinvents herself in the wake of her new attraction. This flick really acts as a time capsule of sexual politics in the 1970s. Can McFadden be sexy and vulnerable and still independent? Does emotional intimacy equal weakness? Should it? Does it have to?

The 1970s being what they were, the answers disappoint me. I feel like the heroine gives in too easily to the notion of her own weakness. She feels abandoned every time Garfield leaves for a bagel, and the self-righteous neediness that squirls in grates my 21st century teeth. It’s not terrible – certainly better and less apologetic than Jane Fonda’s Corie Bratter managed a decade before in Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” What actually fascinates me about it is how often “women’s films” revolve around this issue of love versus independence – especially with so many of them being written by men.

Anyway, on to the goofiness.

Modern Romance via “TGG”

Bye bye love…
No, wait.
Hello, sexy.
No, wait again.
Get out of here.
Hang on.
You’re cute.
You’re hairy.
You’re impossible.
You’re a…a…a man. [spit]

Well, actually, I’m an actor….

Film 33: “Love in the Time of Cholera” (2007)

Adapted by Ronald Harwood (“The Piano”) from the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Directed by Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

One of the seminal novels of Magical Realism, on film here for the first time. Producer Scott Steindorf (“Empire Falls”), according to IMDB, courted Marquez for 3 years before obtaining the rights. And I have to say, I’m glad he did.

The off-beat rhythm of Spanish actors speaking English, the goofy Monkees hairdo of Javier Bardem, and the all-arts-flick pacing combined to kill this movie for the critics. Audiences, including me, believed them, as we so often do, and now, per usual, I kick myself for listening.

The movie, had it been filmed in Spanish, might have become florid instead of stilted, magic instead of marooned. Javier Bardem, had he not just won an Oscar for playing a sadistic, steely-eyed killer, might have won us over more quickly as the slump-shouldered, shy lover. But there’s still a lot here to enjoy, provided you’re the type who can enjoy the occasional languid indie film. (Merchant Ivory’s “The Golden Bowl” comes to mind in terms of pacing. No race track, but the car does eventually cross the finish line.)

With the notable exception of Bardem’s aging hero, the movie is gorgeous. (Okay, not ALL of him is unattractive. In fact, some parts are quite the opposite. See poem below.) Old Spanish Colonial buildings from the Columbian location crumble slowly, and rich Edwardian interiors suggest all the pampering a Jane Austen heroine could want or require. And hey, stuff happens, too.

Messenger boy Florentino (Bardem) falls in love with Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) even before he grows a beard, and she reacts to his illicit love letters with appropriate panting. Then mood-killer Daddy-kins (a sinister John Leguizamo) breaks the whole thing up, betting that Fermina can pull richer tail than Florentino.

He’s right. (How annoying.) Doctor Urbino (Benjamin Bratt) wants her, and how. Fermina fights it, but after seeing Florentino again for the first time in a year, and feeling nothing, she accepts Urbino. In a Catholic country without divorce, most men would give up here. Not our Florentino. He decides to wait – for Urbino to die. Then he’ll woo Fermina all over again.

In the meantime, Florentino discovers a new hobby that helps clear his mind of his walking grief. Liev Schreiber makes a too-brief appearance (too brief: not for any cinematic reason, purely personal) at a whorehouse to help our hero along this new path.

What is it? Well, here’s the little ditty that springs to mind.

Clearly Crazy in the Land of Cholera

Bardem buttocks
Old man leer
Waxy mustache and lip sweat –
Irresistible to legions.
Fifty-three virgin years
Waiting for
one woman.
(The other 622,
a pressure valve.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day 51: Eve's Apple in Fairyland - "Legend" (1985)

I suppose it’s the way of all New Year’s resolutions.
January = Discipline.
February = Peevishness.

When people work out as a resolution, I think right about now is when they start trying new sports to ‘keep things fresh.’ Cross-training with kickboxing. Power yoga. Polo.

I don’t have a horse, but I do know Ed Decker. ( And between his haiku movie reviews, and published poems of life behind the Happy Hour counter, Barzilla, I think I could have a solution for the 20 movies waiting in the queue.

Stay tuned.

For today, let’s talk women and evil.

Film 31: The Legend of “Legend” (1985)

Written by William Hjortsberg
Directed by Ridley Scott

Okay, you’ve seen it. (And if you haven’t, you were obviously not part of the Class of ‘89.)

BUT I now own Scott’s “Ultimate Director’s Cut” – and it’s a whole new ballgame. Half an hour longer with a totally different score (the more operatic original by Jerry Goldsmith instead of the funkily awesome Tangerine Dream), and a stronger emphasis on the dark things that go bump in your soul…I am so in!

Before I really get going, a few caveats:
Ø If you don’t like fairy tale or fantasy, you’re probably not gonna get this movie.
Ø I became addicted to this flick in the 9th grade, even before I saw it, after catching a TV “Behind the Scenes” special about it. It’s an essential piece of my adolescence, so I have very little real perspective on how much it might appeal to others. It’s like asking me why “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is one of the best movies ever. No words for why. It just is.
Ø If you comment that this is all just silliness, I will ignore you.

Just to get everyone up to speed, the plot: Princess Lily (crazy beautiful Mia Sara) frolics with Child of the Forest Jack (crazy young Tom Cruise). He adores her and decides to share the forest’s most sacred animals with her – the unicorns. He means for them to watch from afar; she decides they’re far too beautiful not to be pet. She does just that. All hell (here represented by the perfect Tim Curry as Darkness) breaks loose.

Now for the best part – Darkness is himself captivated by Lily’s innocence. Sexually captivated. He does his best to seduce her…plays her beautiful music, sends out a mysterious, masked dancer in a magnificent (and revealing) gown and stays hidden until Lily, dizzy from twirling around the room with this sensual creature, at last opens her arms and invites the dancer in.

My big question: will Lily’s seduction ballet remain one of the sexiest things on film?

Answer: Hoo-yeah.

Even without the off-kilter carousel music, this scene – with Sara panting, trembling and finally embracing the unknown power – rocks the house. Why do you feel so tingly, Lily? Mmm?

And here, let me offer an answer. But first…

Scott’s two cents: he wanted Lily to be a cat. Literally. As soon as she embraced the unknown, she was accepting evil, and so she would transform slowly – as she took each small step to the ‘other’ side – ending up as a silky black hybrid, human/feline, much as Darkness is a modified satyr – half-human/half-horse. Then, at the end, when heroic, unspoilt Jack (who has killed a-plenty by that time, but of course only evil boys and girls) saves and kisses her – boom. Back to lovely, all-human Princess Lily. Budget and technical considerations squashed this idea, and I think we can all sleep a little better for that.

Second, the web. Many geeks out there love this flick as much as I do, bless ‘em, while there are a few who never got it (Colin Jacobson at – I mean you). By and large, positive or negative, they seem to agree with Scott’s interpretation of a modified “Beauty and the Beast” tale. (Scott cites Jean Cocteau’s 1946 French version as his inspiration.)

Am I the only one who sees Adam and Eve all over this?

Two innocents in the forest touch something strictly forbidden. In fact, the woman touches it. The heavens are sent whirling out of whack, and evil seeps into their protected world. She becomes ashamed of her innocence. A Very Naughty Creature tempts her to turn her back on all she knows in favor of adventure and beauty. Murder enters their sphere. And both the man and the woman realize that they’ll never be the same, that no one can be all good or all bad in the real world. We make mistakes, but they don’t have to control us. We have free will.

Sound at all familiar?

I’m sure Scott was trying to pay homage to Cocteau’s tale, but I believe that in the process, he created something very different. “Beauty and the Beast” is about sacrificing the known for the unknown. Leaving the safe harbor of home in favor of the frightening castle and monster. “Legend” suggests the opposite: adventure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and I was a girl just beginning to grow up when I saw this coming-of-age tale…but I have never seen Lily as only “good” or “evil” – much less as redeemed by Jack’s kiss at the end. I’ve drawn strength through the years from the notion that her journey is their journey. They both discover personal might in previously forbidden realms – the brute strength and subtle cunning of both war and sexual power.

When Jack is told he has to become a Champion to save the unicorn, he balks. “But I know nothing of weapons!” One of the film’s delicious morsels is watching him evade ingestion by swamp creature Meg Mucklebones. He flatters and distracts her with her own image in his shield as he unsheathes his sword and tries to find the courage to use it for the first time. (It’s an even longer morsel in this version – yum! Trek trivia: Mucklebones is played by Robert Picardo – the holographic Doctor in “Voyager.” Now that’s range!) There’s no explanation of Jack’s proficiency with the bow and arrow at film’s end, but we don’t care. He’s already drawn blood, and we know he can do it again.

Lily, trapped alone with Darkness in the deepest levels of his lair, faints when he reveals himself. (Again, one of the primo moments of cinema for me is watching Curry step out of the 20-foot mirror.) She wakes up as he swoops in for a kiss. In the extended version, Darkness has already proposed just “taking” her, adding more menace to the moment. She scoots away, rightly terrified, and has just moments to form a survival plan.

Scott, in his commentary, refers to what follows – her talking with Darkness over one seriously creepy dinner table – as Lily’s “manipulation” of the demon. In fact, Scott insists that Lily manipulates more and more throughout the film – that this is evidence of her “evil.” And yet in the beginning of the movie, we see her whine and wheedle free food out of a forest family and a kiss out of Jack – in the midst of her “lily” white innocence. Now that she’s forced to outsmart a ruthless killer to save her life, as well as the rest of the world, she’s manipulating. Right.

Lily knows the only thing she has in her favor is Darkness’s desire for her. This means he’s already placed his pride and his hopes in her hands. When any of us – men included – receive that kind of power over someone else – freely given – we have no choice about its being given. We do choose what to do next. Lily didn’t take this power from Darkness. He gave it to her. The only important question now: how does she use it? She undoes her mistake. She frees the unicorn.

I would go further. I would argue that the world of classical fairie, where Scott has consciously set his tale, is much more complex than ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ (He was gleeful about Gump actor David Bennent’s German accent because it would remind audiences of the Grimm tales’ Black Forest origins – alas, never heard in the end, every line overdubbed at the request of an exec who couldn’t tolerate “Nazis in Fairyland.”) Gump’s original entrance, cut from the U.S. release, reappears here – as a death threat. He and his cute little woodland sprites show up only after the sudden winter rages, and they blame Jack. Jack first has to solve a riddle in exchange for his life before Gump and the others take him on the adventure. Fate is fickle, and temperament even more so.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter to the viewer what the filmmakers or critics have to say about a movie they love. We love it because it speaks to us, and “Legend” continues to speak to me – about the shades of darkness we all need to survive the cruelties of the world.

And I don’t mean black cats.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Films 28-30: Pre-Code Bad Girls Make Out - and Make Good

Oh, hell. I have nothing new to say about these movies. I’ve sat and stewed for over a week, broiling under the pressure of a promised feature. This is it: they’re wonderful, sexy, powerful. Watch them if you can.

Time to move on.

The basics:

Film 28: “The Locked Door” (1929)
Adapted by C. Gardner Sullivan from the novel by Channing Pollock
Directed by George Fitzmaurice

Ann Carter (Barbara Stanwyck) – a victim of attempted rape – marries well in spite of her one mistake in judgment (trusting her boss’s son on a date). When he comes back to seduce her stepdaughter Helen (Betty Bronson), Ann tries everything she can to protect the girl – short of being honest with her husband. Barbara Stanwyck’s first real movie – melodramatic villain (cue the silent Mustached Kidnapper Theme), but the issues of trust and blame are still relevant and controversial.

Favorite scene: the long tracking shot in opening sequence of Twenties urbanites at an endless bar getting blitzed on an illegal “booze cruise”

Film 29: “Ladies of Leisure” (1930)
Adapted by Jo Swerling from the play by David Belasco and Milton Herbert Gropper
Directed by Frank Capra

Yep. That Capra. The man responsible for enshrining Donna Reed as Queen of the Good Girls in “It’s a Wonderful Life” here relishes the double entendrees of professional “party girls” Dot Lamar (Marie Provost) and Kay Arnold (Stanwyck again) – and showing them repeatedly in their undies.

Can serious artist Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves) take his irreverent model Kay seriously?

Of course he can. Even Capra gets bored with the de rigueur social maven girlfriend quickly; we don’t see her after the first 20 minutes of the film. Who wouldn’t rather watch Babs parry and thrust instead with the establishment? Even our hero’s mother Mrs. Strong (Nance O’Neil) stops in to give Kay a long, forgiving kiss on the mouth.

Not your grandmother’s take on morality and sexuality, that’s for sure. HER grandmother was a lot more fun, it seems.

Favorite Quotes:
Dot Lamar, after being teased that a single girl can’t afford to eat too heartily: “Sex appeal has no weight limit!”

Local playboy Bill Standish: “Most men never get to be 18, and most women are over 18 when they’re born.”

Film 30: “Double Harness” (1933)
Adapted by Jane Murfin from the play by Edward Poor Montgomery
Directed by John Cromwell

If you don’t know Ann Harding, this film is a perfect intro. Very rarely seen after the implementation of the heinous 1934 Production Code, Harding always played the most consistently well-educated, sexually independent women of the pre-Code era.

Too old to pretend to be a virgin, too accomplished to play the ingénue, she fascinated her leading men precisely because she wasn’t Ginger Rogers. (Of course, not even Ginger Rogers was really Ginger Rogers. Most of the time, her feet were bleeding as she smiled and hopped alongside Fred Astaire.)

Here Harding plays Joan Colby, a shrewd woman infatuated with John Fletcher – a petulant and caddish William Powell. Joan’s already sleeping with John when she realizes she’s in love with him, but he’s not “the marrying kind.” So she conceives a scheme to push him into wedlock, but immediately regrets it. To assuage her guilt, she pushes him to do well in Daddy’s business. And he’s apparently grateful. Hmmm – okay, so these women weren’t all the way liberated.

But who cares? The normally reserved Harding is sexually obsessed and the always gentlemanly “Thin Man” Powell is a dog. That’s entertainment!

And just in case you’re one of those people who sincerely believe that the 35 years of censorship that followed these movies helped create the wonderful, sassy women of the 1930s and ‘40s (instead of their existence in spite of the censors), I submit an excerpt from an excellent essay on Barbara Stanwyck’s career by Susan Doll on Turner Classic Movies site (

Stanwyck began to specialize in playing social mavericks or working class girls who didn’t always follow the rules of proper behavior in their efforts to get ahead, or to just survive. These were women who had grown weary of financial burden, cynical from constantly dodging the passes of rich men, and hardened from having children out of wedlock.

Yet, these characters had strong hearts and fiery spirits, and audiences could see the suffering beneath the hardened exterior. Her characters may have taken a wrong moral turn, but they remained sympathetic. Depression-era Americans, who were struggling with economic hardships themselves, could relate to the difficult decisions and impossible situations her characters faced.

Over the next few years, Stanwyck played this type of role in such films as Ladies of Leisure (1930), Forbidden (1932), Ten Cents a Dance (1931), and Baby Face (1933), among others. In 1934, after the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code (the Hays Code of censorship), her screen image was altered or expanded to include more traditional female protagonists, because adulteresses, women with illegitimate children, or party girls were no longer acceptable as sympathetic leading ladies. But, the “tough-talking dame” aspect of her screen persona remained.

Well, huh. So much for not having anything to say.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 33: Laugh - or Not - but Learn in "Make 'Em Laugh"

This is just finishing up the last two episodes of the PBS series – on DVD as well.

Film 27: “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America” (2009) (PBS)

Never Give a Sucker An Even Break: The Wiseguys and
Sock it to Me?: Satire and Parody

Two quotes, both from the “Wiseguys” episode, finish up this series for me perfectly:

“I’m not really great at describing why something is funny because there’s nothing more boring than that.” – Judd Apatow

“I’m almost never comfortable. I’m never comfortable, and I think most comedians have this thing where they’re too aware of things. And you know what they always say, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ So what’s the opposite? What’s the opposite? To be aware of every little thing, to notice everything. It’s hell. There’s a kind of hell to that.” – Chris Rock

I chose the first because even in the middle of fantastic gag reels from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life,” and Carol Burnett’s infamous Scarlett O’Hara curtain-rod dress scene, I sometimes found myself wondering whether this was a Ken Burns wanna-be Guide to Comedy – heavy on biography and short on levity.

I chose the second because it explains the first. Before watching this series, I thought I didn’t enjoy comedy that relied on making people uncomfortable (e.g. “The Larry David Show” or Kathy Griffin). Now I realize that all socially relevant comedy does exactly that. Outside the pure nonsense of the Laurel and Hardy “Who’s on First?” routines, which were fashioned during the tense war years, every comic profiled here pushes someone’s button. Some of those buttons don’t bother me; some do. But that has everything to do with me, and very little to do with whether the comedian is intrinsically funny.

“Make ‘Em Laugh” in fact has showed me something great – my own funny button. Or as my uncles always liked to refer to it – the key to the “giggle box.”

Yuck it up, fuzzball.

Tomorrow: Sexual Adventure in 1929 Hollywood - pre-Code, baby!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Battlestar Galactica" and J.R. Ewing

Coming your way this week: Sex in the '30s vs. Violence in the '90s.

But first, in honor of my favorite show just getting better and better as it gets ready to phase out forever, I wanted first to share this excellent article on the death and resurrection of plotlines in TV, based on "Battlestar Galactica."

Excerpt from "Kill Your Television" by Mark Holcomb at Museum of the Moving Image online (

Has there ever been a more death-haunted TV show than Battlestar Galactica? From the culture-annihilating sneak attack on its human colonies in the inaugural 2003 miniseries, to the appallingly routine "deaths" of its ostensibly villainous Cylons, to the various revenge murders, mercy killings, and quasi-suicides of its incidental and crucial characters, BSG is saturated in mortality.Including, now, its own. The gruelingly drawn-out hiatus between the two halves of its final season finally ended with the premiere of new episodes in mid-January, but they marked a bittersweet return. This batch of 10 or so entries is the series' last gasp, and an opportunity for creators Ronald Moore and David Eick to make good on their assertion that the show had a beginning, middle, and end built in from the start. Such concessions—that fictional narratives, like life, operate on a limited timeline and have an unavoidable endpoint—are rare in American TV, and wrapping up BSG's arc once and for all (or revealing the "'Who Shot J.R.' of it all," as Moore recently put it) is a final nose-thumbing step for a series that's thrived on them.That doesn't make the looming prospect of a BSG-less TV landscape any less painful, but it's not like we weren't warned; Moore and Eick have been laying the groundwork for its climax for some time. By Season 4.0, which ended last June with arguably the bleakest cliffhanger in television history, and in the "webisodes" that bridged the gap until Season 4.5 began, a new and intense sense of urgency prevailed...

Full article:

Geek out!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 31: Leslie Anne Downs and Tommy Lee Jones Get Busy in 'The Betsy"

Film 26: “The Betsy” (1978)

Written by Walter Bernstein and William Bast, based on a novel by Harold Robbins
Directed by Daniel Petrie

Every once in a while, a movie will show up in my mailbox that doesn’t seem like it should be there. It has my name on the red Netflix envelope, and when I check my queue online, it shows the questionable film listed. But how did it get there? How tired did I have to be, for instance, to once order a 1930s German musical? Often, I have just sent these back without watching them – an obscure, depressing-sounding French film maybe, or a 3rd-tier rom com that’s averaged 1 star out of 5 after 300 online reviews.

But not now. Now I am disciplined. Now I am checking movies off the list. Now I am watching a very, very young – and surprisingly ripped – Tommy Lee Jones get quite graphically busy with the gorgeous Lesley-Anne Downes to a fairly hysterical ‘70s love theme…

So here’s the plot. Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones), studly race car driver and engineer, is recruited by an ailing but indomitable auto mogul, Loren Hardeman (Sir Laurence Olivier – yes, THE Laurence Olivier), to build an affordable, hyper-fuel-efficient and high-performance sedan for the modern age. No lie. Olivier even has a great line about the industry changing its ways voluntarily before being forced to. Despite being in the midst of 1970s fuel shortages, nobody in the industry, not even his powerful Detroit grandson Loren III (Robert Duvall – playing a powerful jerk, his stock-in-trade), will listen…until Perino comes along. Together, he and the senior Hardeman form a super-secret dream team to develop the car. Why secret? Hey, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean…you know the rest. And yes, people are really out to get them – with guns, explosions and industrial espionage. So far – fast cars and things blowing up, which is all the boys might need.

Of course, I’ve got Olivier, which frankly is enough. But the biggest treat personally was watching Lesley-Anne Downs (here playing Lady Bobby Ayres, Jones’s love interest), star of my all-time sentimental fave “Hanover Street” (1980), in which she loves and loses and loves Harrison Ford at his romantic best; after all, he is wearing a WWII pilot’s uniform. There are a few rare films that have managed to capture intelligent, shining female beauty, like time in a bottle – Michelle Pfeiffer in “Ladyhawke,” Katherine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story” and, for me, Downs in “Hanover Street.” I of course was all a-twitter to see her here, and see her I did.

The 1970s let-it-all-hang-out attitude is in full swing here. What’s refreshing is the director’s willingness to strip Jones as well. But it doesn’t stop the extraneous bedroom scene between Ayres and Perino from being silly. Attractive and professional as they are, neither actor seems fully onboard with the nudity, so that the intensity of their characters’ attraction with their clothes on seems to lessen with each moment that the actors’ bodies are on display for ticket sales. Just in case you weren’t uncomfortable enough, the full-string orchestra swoops in, bursting with soaring violins that promise the deepest of loves, even though the characters have already admitted to hooking up for a weekend special. The tune was so full that I kept expecting Jack Jones to show up with a mike in a corner, crooning “The Love Boat” theme song.

Regardless, this relationship in the rest of the film is handled maturely with some deft writing; I wasn’t shocked to find the legendary Walter Bernstein (responsible for “Fail Safe” and “The Molly Maguires” and blacklisted during the 1950s) sharing a screen credit when I sought out the source of the nuanced, adult interplay between Perino and Ayres – who are both young enough to play post office with dexterity, but old enough to have tossed idealized fantasy aside.

Jones carries some moments – especially the non-verbal ones – extremely well, though he’s far from the polished performer we’re used to seeing now. And Downs outside the boudoir? Far from disappointing, she sparkles. Witty and wizened, she exudes the confidence of a modern woman who is, in all likelihood, much too smart to take any man seriously.

Also done well – a completely nude swimming scene for Jones’s other love interest, the titular Betsy (Kathleen Beller), Hardeman’s smart, insightful great-granddaughter. Perhaps the intention here was also shock value, but Jones and Beller transform that intention with a pair of simple, gentle smiles. The younger woman, though a bit unsure of herself in dialogue, is completely comfortable with her physical beauty, and when ‘discovered’ by Jones, grins – a smile far more reminiscent of a toddler playing peek-a-boo than the beckoning of a seductive siren. He doesn’t make a play for her; she doesn’t pose for him. It’s almost as if Western cinema for one brief moment grew up. Not for long, obviously. (You remember the violins, right?)

I’m not giving much press to the 1930s storyline – Hardeman Senior’s backstory – which takes up roughly 20% of the movie. It gains momentum later in the film, but it really weighs down the beginning, I felt. It belongs mostly to the “unhappy gay son” phase of Hollywood’s coming out, before people with GLBT lives were allowed to thrive on celluloid, so for today’s audiences, it feels quite predictable – even with the juicy incest sideline. (Also a nice addition for fans of Katherine Ross – count me in – from “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid,” who plays Hardeman’s intense daughter-in-law.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this picture – maybe not always for the same reasons the filmmakers intended – but I think that’s a good thing. It’s a little dated, yes; a little overdone, yes; but fun and – with the exception of a few notable moments – a movie for and about grown-ups. And those are rare indeed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Day 30: Happy Friday Funny and an Intergalactic Trek through "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

Happy Friday! I hope it finds you all well and ready to indulge in a little late-night, only slightly naughty humor.

One of Darren and I's more recent habits is DVRing "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" (it's on at 12:35 a.m. here, after Letterman), then watching it over breakfast. It's how we still pretend we're night-owl hipsters. Anyway, we started shooting cereal milk through our noses this week when Ferguson, instead of doing his usual 2 min. teaser stand-up, decided to get a bit creative. I'll warn you now. S&M yodelers and puppets are involved.

Monday: (I thought of Gene all day.)
Wednesday: (for all you '70s easy listening and shark fans)
Thursday: (Completely clean and probably the funniest of them all. Sigh - I dream of Julie. And Amy, you're welcome.)

Can't wait for tonight's! This is what funny is all about, at least to a slightly skewed mind like mine.

But in the meantime, I'm off to get new tires and leaving you in care of...

Film 25: “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008)

Written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy based on characters by George Lucas
Directed by Dave Filoni

After the disaster – in my opinion – that was Episodes One-Three of the once-royal Star Wars universe, I had blissfully low expectations of this animated story – as in Center of the Earth’s Core low. Its PG rating and new look, however, intrigued me, and I found that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay away. So, Tuesday, after a long day of plumbing failure and grown-up, homeowner woes, Darren and I sat down with a couple of drinks and popped this flick into the machine. And I have to admit, we felt a lot better afterward.

“The Empire Strikes Back” it is not. Nor does the film seem to make any pretension to that status. In fact, it just serves as the launching pad for the current Cartoon Network series, and in spite of the rockin’ animation and obviously huge budget, this really feels more like TV than An Epic Movie to me. Considering my disappointment in the more recent franchise efforts at Being Big, though, I think this is a good thing.

The story is thin – almost small – at least in Star Wars terms. Anakin Skywalker, now a full Jedi, and Obi-Wan Kenobi must rescue Jabba the Hut’s child, who has been kidnapped by a rival clan on Tatooine. Jabba’s still a fairly bad dude, but the Jedi feel forced to befriend him to ensure safe passage of their troops through his space. Just to keep things interesting, Yoda dispatches a new Padawan, Ahsoka, for Anakin’s tutelage. That’s it. That would seem to indicate a lot of room for banter and battles, right?

Right. That’s about 85% of this movie’s content. I’m still not sure how they got away with a PG rating on this, since I counted less than 10 minutes of celluloid without guns shooting. If it had been a live action film, it would definitely have received an R rating. But since it’s mostly robots that are being killed, and since even the people who die are cartoons, I suppose the censors couldn’t be bothered. No language worries, but if you’re concerned about your child becoming inured to constant battle violence, this probably isn’t the movie for you. (If your kids are regular Nick or CN watchers, this shouldn’t bother them.) There are new, cool robots, weapons and ships galore – all a lot of fun – but for me, a bit overdone. The first battle scene – though quite cool – lasted 30 minutes. It was almost a case of, “We get it. Lots of clones dying. Lots of droids kaput. Let’s get on with it.”

That leaves the banter. The Lucas world has never been overly witty, but the groaners have long been part of the fun. That feeling of ‘he probably would have really said something that lame’ stays true here, and still, these writers manage to raise the bar on Episodes 1-3’s dialogue by about 300-fold. I loved the idea of Anakin becoming a teacher, especially to someone just as anti-authoritarian as he was. I felt like Ahsoka had big shoes to fill, and she did – especially for someone probably 14 years old and suddenly in battle all day and all night.

The commentary – which, typically, I couldn’t get more than 15 minutes into before becoming so bored I had to switch it off – does reveal that the writers consciously wanted to show the Jedi’s discomfort with suddenly being war leaders, instead of peacekeepers. Thematically, it was what I found myself thinking about most: ‘When did these ultra-zen, passive resistance guys become Achilles and Hercules?’ Pondering that, and seeing Anakin in action, both revealed a great deal more of his inner struggle than anything I saw in the prequels. After all, he’s come of age in an era of violence. Not only does he believe you should fight against evil, he’s spent his entire life doing exactly that – physically. It made me wish that this strand of reasoning had been explored more in the earlier movies, with less time spent on his inexplicable attraction to despotism. I know Lucas made small moves in this direction, and it makes me hanker all the more for What Might Have Been, had he hired real writers to flesh it out sooner. And a director that can get great performances from actors, as Filoni does here. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m now quite attracted to seeing the TV series on Cartoon Network, some of which I’ve already caught but didn’t quite understand, because I hadn’t seen this yet.

I do have the nagging thought that this is fairly problematic material disguised in easily marketable packaging. But I well know (thank you, Jacob) that 6-year old kids will love it without thinking that hard about it. So I suppose it just works on one level for them – good vs. evil – and another for me.

Or maybe I just need to grab a light saber and kick some Trade Federation butt…in the name of peace of course….

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 29: "Veronica Guerin" - Irish Hero, Real Warrior

Once again, it's time for me to post over at Back Seat Producers. I hope you'll click below to keep reading me there...this movie is worth it!

Film 24: “Veronica Guerin” (2003)

Written by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Bravery is shaping up as the theme of the week. And this woman tops them all, hands down. Joel Schumacher (“Lost Boys” and “Batman & Robin”) directs and Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Pearl Harbor”) produces this serious, personal story of a journalist who refuses to let the mobsters of 1996 Dublin beat her into submission…wait. What?

I know. Crazy but true. These two classic Hollywood hams helmed...[Click the link to finish reading at]

Day 28: "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America" - Laugh a Little, Learn a Lot

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been away for a little while. This has little to do with my viewing habits, and a lot to do with Darren and I’s plumbing woes. It’s surprisingly difficult to concentrate on a review while your husband is in the next room hacking away at pipes and listing every curse word he’s ever known. Today I am blessed with peace, so here goes…

Films 22 & 23: “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America” (2009), PBS

Written and Directed by Michael Kantor (documentary about American 20th Century comedy)

I’m counting this as two films, though it’s really a PBS mini-series, chunked out into 1-hour bits. I’m reviewing four of them today, which I figure is the same as two 2-hr movies. These are being broadcast repeatedly this month and next on your local stations, but they’re also available on DVD, which is why I’m including them here. (It’s good to be King.)

In brief:

“Would Ya Hit a Guy with Glasses?: Nerds, Jerks and Oddballs”
The focus here of course is the comedy of the outsider, either desperately trying to fit in, or contented to laugh at the insanity around him. The usual suspects Harold Lloyd and Steve Martin show up, but there’s little new to say about them (even though a lot of time is spent on them). The real revelations for me were the backstories of some male comedians, and the mere existence of some 1950s comediennes – the stylish Jean Carroll and the bawdy, much-censored Belle Barth and Rusty Warren. (I must find their material – apparently still around on LPs.) Considerable time is also devoted here to the evolutions of the personas we know now as Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman, Bob Hope and Jonathan Winters – the most surprising for me being Woody Allen’s old TV tapes – before glasses, dancing and singing, with hair. The most impressive though was Phyllis Diller – a big shock to me – as I learned of her touring with her five kids while her deadbeat husband stayed home and cashed the checks. It gave me pause to realize that what I find dated now was shocking then – a woman onstage talking about crazy in-laws and sexless marriages – threatening every power quota in place. Of course, she had to make herself unattractive for people to listen…

“Honey, I’m Home! Breadwinners and Homemakers”
In short, the sitcom. And specifically, the family sitcom. Before “Friends” replaced the family unit, “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family” rode the rocky waves of changing American interiors. What was really happening behind those closed doors? Even now, as many of my compatriots feast on the insanity of real-life losers via Reality TV, I prefer the sitcom, as it continues to dramatize and make sense of what we’re going through as a culture. That’s where the real value of this episode lay for me – showing the evolution of our reality through our fantasy TV lives. An unexpected bonus: seeing Roseanne Barr speak with intelligence and without defensive bluster.

“Slip on a Banana Peel: The Knockabouts”
Falling down is funny. Maybe studying it isn’t quite so much. Strange, but I found this to be the least entertaining of the series so far, even though it featured some of my favorite comedians: Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. I don’t think slapstick’s appeal is hard to figure out, and so the only real interest here was in discovering some unknown backstories – how Lucille Ball learned pantomime from Jonathan Winters and studied comedy like a science, how Harpo Marx went silent in response to criticism of his voice, and why Buster Keaton never smiled.

“When I’m Bad, I’m Better: The Groundbreakers”
This is the one to watch. Until now, the series has the feel of a documentary without a center, well-intentioned and well-researched, but without much to say. Here’s what it’s all about. George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor, Mort Stahl – all conscientious crusaders against hypocrisy and determined to be heard in ‘free’ America. I especially appreciated the serious treatment of two ground-breaking women – Mae West and Moms Mabley. We’ve probably all heard of the first, but many have likely dismissed her as lightly suggestive or old-fashioned. Most white Americans have probably never heard of Mabley – a woman who worked the black ‘chitlin circuit’ from the 1930s through the 1960s. What few of us who have laughed at their insights have probably realized is how often we were denied them. Both women – and all the comics featured here – paid fines, were imprisoned, lost work, were threatened by the government and had material cut almost every routine – not because the material was just lewd or suggestive, but because it implied criticism – of government, of hypocrisy, of the status quo. Whoopi Goldberg tells a story about being censored for trying to even repeat some of Mabley’s material – twenty years later. By the end of this one, you’ll feel not just enlightened but enriched. There are still warriors for freedom inside America; why else would the authorities care so much about silencing the laughter?

There are two more hours of this series, which I’ll review next week after they air this weekend on my local station. In the meantime, I’m checking out the online companion at - and enjoying it even more than the series. This seems to be where a great deal of the best stories and insights are, going beyond what we already know and into the rarer territory – e.g. interviews with Carol Burnett, Kaye Ballard and Reynaldo Rey on dangerous moments in comedy, etc.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 23: "In America" (2002) - Perfect Rainy Day Movie

Film 21: “In America” (2002)

Written by Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan & Kirsten Sheridan
Directed by Jim Sheridan

It’s raining today in San Diego – a fairly steady, gray rain – not a storm. The wind is cool. I can hear small splashes out my window at the stop sign everytime someone goes by. In short, it’s the perfect time to cuddle up with a great movie and some hot chocolate – and this is the movie for the job.

It’s a smaller story – one of a modern Irish family immigrating to Manhattan. Few stories, even fewer films, manage to show us a family honestly, from all points of view, without prejudice or maudlin background music. This one does. There’s plenty of praise to go around – a screenplay actually written by the family whose story is being told, writer/director Jim Sheridan’s steady, intimate direction, and a cast, though featuring some new faces, that must rank among the profession’s elite.

But as a writer, I’m drawn to story, and I was enthralled by this one. I suspect that’s because even when father Johnny (Paddy Considine) loses his ability to experience either real joy or pain, his daughters Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger) still play silly games with him, never losing faith that he’ll be better someday. And when Christy, perhaps all of 11 years old, gets frazzled and tells her father she’s exhausted from carrying the family around on her back, he listens. He doesn’t know what to do, but he does listen. He tries. Mom Sarah (Samantha Morton) loses faith in just about everything and everyone at various points on their journey, but she never walks away. Nobody here is taking the easy way out. They bruise each other, yes, but they buoy one another, too.

Their isolation in New York helps this along of course. They don’t have anywhere else to go, literally saving each penny that comes their way. But how many films have we seen that not just show, but glory in the small cruelties we inflict on our loved ones? How few there are that show how truly difficult it is to stick together, even when you really want to. This is one of those films – full of people I’d want to know, played by a cast at the top of the game, including the always brilliant Djimon Hounsou, who won several awards for his portrayal here of a short-tempered artist neighbor – and two of those players are younger than 12.

And as a little icing on the cake, little nuggets of cross-cultural wonder: Christy, experiencing her first stateside Halloween, explains to her parents (who can’t understand what she and Ariel plan to do in their required costumes) that Americans don’t ask for help, they demand it: “Trick or Treat!”

This is definitely the latter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day 22: “Greenfingers” and “Ghost in the Shell” – Frolicking Naked through the Literal and Virtual Gardens

Film 19: “Greenfingers” (2000) (UK)
Written and Directed by Joel Hershman

A young, angry Colin Briggs (Clive Owen) finds solace in the greener paths – as a gardener in an open prison. Georgina Woodhouse, a snooty power-maven in the upper class gardening circles (Helen Mirren) mentors his talent and takes his case to the powers-that-be – until he gets too close to her well-protected home. The excellent David Kelly (the Irish rogue from “Waking Ned”) supports Owen’s shut-down, lonely Briggs. A little frolicking in the garden – after all, what are gardens best for? – adds to the charm and comic touch of this little-known film (on our side of the pond anyway). If you’ve ever liked a British comedy, you’ll enjoy this one – as long as you’re okay with brief bum shots of buff men. (It’s not a chick flick, but why not see the shower scenes as a bonus?)

And if you’re a man in the mood for gratuitous nudity, keep reading…

Film 20: “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) (Japan)
Written by Kazunori Ito based on the manga by Masamune Shirow
Directed by Mamoru Oshii

So I’ll admit I hadn’t ever made myself actually watch “Ghost in the Shell” until now. If you live outside the sci-fi/fantasy worlds, you’ll be wondering why this is a big deal. If you travel inside them, as I often do, you’ll be shaking your head at my audacity. Especially if you’re a male cybergeek of a certain age – this film essentially put manga on the world map. I hear it referenced with awe at both sci-fi and movie conventions – a sort of breathless wonder at the purity of the manga form (Japanese comics).

I personally am not a manga girl (I won’t be reviewing the sequels), but it doesn’t take one to see the appeal of “Ghost” – nipples.

Robot nipples, skin-toned nipples, buffed-out, straining nipples; wet ones, arched ones, thrashing ones, falling-to-certain-death ones, even electrified ones…you get the picture. Who couldn’t?

Yes, there’s some pretty cool animation throughout. Tonally, it’s “Blade Runner” animated; the rain never stops falling. And subject-wise, there are some deeper questions being discussed – what makes us human? Is it merely self-awareness? In a futuristic world peopled by humans modified extensively by technology and Cyborgs, this becomes a hot political topic – one worth killing for, covering up (with never-ending expositional speeches) and engaging in gratuitously violent chase scenes. There’s some cool technology – especially the ‘cloaking’ type devices that most of the villains and heroes employ. Funny how only the male ones get to keep their clothes on to use it.

But the beautiful Japanese folk music isn't enough to cover clunky dialogue or add any real meaning to the random wind-swept profile shots. There's way too much backstory being told instead of seen, and the deep introspection of the often-naked female lead evaporates alongside a male scientist’s 14-year old joke, "I wonder if he [the male voice inside a naked, prone female Cyborg body] has a girlfriend?" Just in case you needed guidance to any porn-lite fantasies you weren't already having. At least this first installment features the faces of fully-grown women, versus the follow-ups, which obviously devolve into the normal 12-year old schoolgirl fantasy (somehow retaining the chest of a 22-year old pinup).

All I have to say to those holding out this film as evidence of a deeper sensibility in the sci-fi world is: get over yourselves. You dig the naked chicks.

Nathan Fillion and "Fanboys" News

Hi kids! Later today, I'll be posting reviews for "Greenfingers" (2000) (UK) and "Ghost in the Shell" (1995) (Japan), so stay tuned.

But first, a little news, courtesy of Amy:

Reelz says the movie "Fanboys" will finally be released on Feb 6. A quick look at the site seems to prove that the studios in the end have gotten their way and eliminated the core storyline - that of four pals attempting to sneak a peek at "Star Wars: Episode 1" before one of them dies of terminal cancer - and replaced it with a simple "we are the greatest fanboys ever" joy ride. For those of you not lucky enough to have seen chunks of this movie at previous conventions, this means you'll be seeing the Judd Apatow Wannabe version that the studios felt would be more profitable, instead of the hysterical, endearing original. Kevin Spacey's production company, which bankrolled the shooting, has been fighting for two, maybe three years, to get the original film distributed without studio interference, but it looks like they've lost.

On the good news side, Captain Mal is in another new show on ABC: Yay, Nate!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 20: Films 17 and 18 – On Circus Camels and Jealous Lovers

Okay, two movies behind, and it’s only January. I’m starting to feel like Alice’s rabbit a bit here – late, late for a very important date – and wouldn’t Van Johnson be mad?

Well, he might be, but I hope his spirit takes this classic review in the spirit I’ve intended to convey – one of respect for a kind man and professional actor, just one mired in the conventions of his day.

As for my viewing schedule difficulties, the answer that many of you have been seeking is finally here: yes, this is getting hard. I’m getting heavily reacquainted with the 10:30 p.m. – midnight crowd. But as my favorite many-tentacled movie beasties love to cry out, “Never Give Up! Never Surrender!”

Film 17: “The End of the Affair” (1955)

Adapted by Lenore Coffee (“Young at Heart,” “Evelyn Prentice”) from a novel by Graham Greene
Directed by Edward Dmytryk (“The Caine Mutiny,” “Raintree County”)

Who knew 1999’s excellent, gritty, down in the sheets, jealous and angry “End of the Affair” with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore was a remake? Not I, said the fly. But as so often in Hollywood, it was, and in the original film of the same name (adapted by screenwriting great Lenore Coffee from Graham Greene’s novel), Deborah Kerr and Van Johnson prove that 1955 knew a little bit about desire, too.

What’s fantastic about this movie: Deborah Kerr – always a great actress in Lady’s clothing – gets a chance to play someone unsympathetic – the cheating wife – and she’s heartbreaking. Even with the studio ending.

BUT what’s fascinating about this movie: Van Johnson (Gene Kelly’s All-American pal in “Brigadoon”) – the boyish, red-haired, perky male equivalent of Debbie Reynolds – goes dark. He spends the whole movie looking as if he’s just come off a black-and-white bender, age and sun spots replacing his normally smooth, pancaked, tan perfection. Yes, he scowled in other films, but it was the same scowl from film to film. (One he’d practiced in the mirror, I’d bet.) Here, Johnson blatantly, desperately, amateurishly goes for something deeper, something like raw emotion, something like – dare I say it? – Method acting? It was 1955 after all, and the studio system was shredding even as the stars kept arriving for work. The big B was busy flattening his male competition, shouting and groaning his way through “On the Waterfront” and “Streetcar Named Desire.” Hard-working, make-no-trouble, everyday soldiers like Johnson had to be shaking. Where was his place in this Brave New World?

Now, anybody already ensconced in a profession whose entire skill set shifts overnight is going to be unprepared for the job requirements. Think record album manufacturers when faced with the cassette tape, or land-war generals in 1915 France dealing with the Tommy gun. Johnson clearly feels he’s not quite there, bowing to Kerr in all of their scenes for guidance, allowing his nervousness as an actor to nag at every corner of his performance. And yet, he goes for it. He finds a way through the tape reels and hails of bullets to give us the most underwrought, honestly played role of his career. He’s no Brando, no Kerr, but he does show us – just this once – a little of his soul on film. I think it shows up best in his arguments with Kerr, the lover who resists leaving her husband. He bullies her, cajoles her, bribes her – whatever he thinks might work – and halfway through these delicious arguments, he forgets to pose, to look pretty and even, ever so briefly, to Be Real. He just is – vulnerable and confused and beautiful.

The horrible disaster of this film for me is its legacy – that Johnson never again went for it like he does here. He survived the studio breakdown instead by adopting a healthy dose of self-mockery – so entertaining in “Divorce American Style” – or a mask of staged anger – in all his later war films – that comprise the lions’ share of his subsequent performances. But for the Van Johnson that might have been, I grieve that there is no further evidence than “The End of the Affair.”

Film 18: “The Big Animal” (‘Duze Zwierze’, Poland) (2000)

Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski, based on a story by Kazimierz Orlos
Directed by Jerzy Stuhr

So now I’ve taken all my time on the first review, I’m going to have to give this one short shrift.

That’s probably okay, since the premise is easy to understand. A traveling circus in rural, Communist-era Poland leaves behind a camel, which local childless couple Zygmunt (Jerzy Stuhr, a favorite actor in Poland) and Marysia (Anna Dymna) Sawicki adopt. Funny, right? Not to their neighbors, who want to make money off it, or to the authorities who want it “to be useful.” The Sawickis’ tale of clinging to something beautiful and original in the midst of pressure to conform held me spellbound. This is no grainy, out-of-the-back-of-a-lorry film either. The photography is crisp and lean, and on many occasions, inspired. How many cameramen have managed to make a camel leering out of his stable at a mob behind his ‘parents’ seem human? Can’t think of a single one. Simple and short – at just an hour and 12 minutes – this darkly comedic darling will remind you of Charlie Chaplin’s simple beauty. Very few words required.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Emma Thompson's Big News

Sorry to be behind on the posting, all! I had a full weekend of company - yay, Beth! - and am going to have to try to post tonight after work and a late writers' meeting. The busy life of The Player (as in "I work hard to play...").

In the meantime, be comforted with this: Emma Thompson gave Tavis Smiley, a local L.A. interviewer, a little scoop while she was in town for the Golden Globes. She's working on a new script adaptation of "My Fair Lady" for Universal. She says it's "very theatrical" and has been researching George Bernard Shaw's writings, esp his letters, extensively, trying to write in a lot of his real-life attitude toward women. She says he was quite like Prof. Higgins in his own life. Since she's still writing it, it prob won't see the light of production lights for another two years.

While you're waiting, go see "Last Chance Harvey." I can't wait - going this week - and am SO looking forward to what she calls a "subtle, funny adult romance" - i.e. a movie with a brain. And based on the electricity she and Dustin Hoffman produced in their scenes in "Stranger Than Fiction," it should be brilliant! (If you can't get out to theaters, rent 'STF' - amazing!)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 16: "Hijacking Agatha" - A Little Polish Love (and a bit with the dog)

Film 16: "Hijacking Agatha" (1993)

Written and Directed by Marek Piwowski

Yay! At last, some help!

My darling friend Nancy Fisk stopped by today to watch one of my queue – an obscure little 1993 Polish film, “Hijacking Agatha.” Not many would be this brave, and even braver, Nancy agreed to say a little bit about it! Without further ado, heeeerrree’s Nancy!!!

On “Hijacking Agatha:”
“This is supposed to be a Polish Romeo and Juliet, which it lives up to most of the time. The parallels aren’t exact but they’re there. Tybalt the angry cousin, is the son of a Congressman, Juliet is Agatha, the innocent but horny teenage girl, Romeo is a gypsy named Gypsy, and Friar Laurence is a cop who makes good the escape from the angry parents. What I appreciated about this movie is that Agatha is stunning and Gypsy is someone I would run away with on a moment’s notice. I would run away with Gypsy’s father, who is a dead ringer for Peter Graves, and a charmer with the women himself. You can see where Gypsy gets his charm from.

Where the movie falls down is continuity. We don’t really know why they are in an apartment with newspapers in the window. Or why a camera crew comes there and then leaves for a recording studio. There’s a dog, who appears and disappears as is convenient. And why Agatha doesn’t figure out that her house is bugged and she shouldn’t call home after the first time is beyond us.”

Agreed, agreed! Quite an entertaining way to see into the immediate post-Communist era of Polish culture, and campy enough to sustain interest through the frequent non-sequiters. This includes the bizarro, half-done subtitles, like “That basted!” and “We will see her for her with her.” Probably not a normal Friday night flick, but I know most of you aren’t expecting normal…

Day 15: “As You Like It” – And You Might, You Might Not

Film 15: “As You Like It” (2006)

Adapted By Kenneth Branagh from William Shakespeare’s play
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

So pretty, so colorful, so full of professional performances – why doesn’t it move me more?

First, you ought to know how hard it is for me to say anything negative about Kenneth Branagh – the Northern Irish actor of the Golden Tongue. I took the hour long bus ride four weeks running at college, just to watch Branagh’s freshman effort “Henry V” again and again and sigh. Nobody in this generation can speak it like the Branagh, baby.

Still supremely in control of his instrument whenever he’s onstage, Branagh hits and misses onscreen. 1993’s “Much Ado About Nothing” – one of the funniest straight-forward adaptations ever. 2000’s “Love’s Labours Lost” – 1930’s musical-style – lost on mainstream audiences and certainly studio heads – featured great goofy moments interspersed with bizarrely out-of-tune crescendos.

Here, he sets the gender-bending comedy in feudal Japan – with only a smattering of Japanese actors, all in minor roles. I’ll admit it took me an hour of film to understand that the Irish, English, American and African faces that people the cast are all supposed to be Japanese, versus visitors in the exotic landscape. I imagine the idea was to set the play in a land where ‘banishment’ might be easier to understand, but since the characters still find themselves in a lush, green forest, it’s hard to see any big impact of this move.

But I think what’s harder to access is the languorous pacing, half of it filled with dramatic, woeful music and crying actors. Hard to get onboard with the comedy idea when all the performers seem so melancholic. Branagh does love Shakespeare’s dialogue and has always taken great efforts to make sure we do too. Here he does us that courtesy with long takes, giving us time to process the thick language and double meanings. Unfortunately, it completely ruins any comic timing the film as a whole might have. There are lovely small moments throughout, but the wide, open spaces between them interrupt the overall effort.

If you’re a big fan of this play (admittedly, I’m not), or of Branagh, or supremely gifted actors like Kevin Kline, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alfred Molina, Janet McTeer and Adrian Lester, you should definitely try this out. Make your own judgment. I feel like this is the kind of movie that will produce as many different opinions as it has viewers.

Day 14: "Get Smart" - Don Adams Would Be Proud

Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based on characters by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry

Directed by Peter Segal

Okay, this one is simple. Steve Carrell plays a foreign intelligence savant, Anne Hathaway - a bitter plastic surgery victim, The Rock - a cheesy, uber-tan rock star agent, Alan Arkin - a befuddled but loyal Chief, David Koechner ('Champ' from "Anchorman) and Terry Crews - the wanna-be cool agents, James Caan - a doofus Texan president, and Masi Oka ('Hiro' from "Heroes") and Nate Torrence as Geek Central brains. Throw in "The Tick" Patrick Warburton and Bill Murray cameos, and you'll laugh until next week.

Giggle away...

The "Watchmen" - AT LAST!!!

Finally! Warner Brothers undoubtedly had to give up some big cash for this settlement. The Fox lawyers must be laughing all the way to the bank...and at last, we'll get to see it!

The news story:

For the preview:

Too cool!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Coraline Author Live Online Tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Hey all Neil Gaiman fans!

Heads up that he's going to be on the air live tomorrow at 10 a.m. Pacific time/1 p.m. East Coast for a chat on the new film "Coraline"! You can even call in if you're brave.

Follow to listen:

(For those of you not in the know, "Coraline" is Gaiman's creepiest book - supposedly for kids - but in a very Tim Burton way...who is, of course, directing the animated "Nightmare Before Christmas" fans celebrate as well!)

Thanks to Julie for the link!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 13: “The Italian Job” (2003) – Fun in Mini-Coopers, Venetian Canals and the L.A. Metro

Film 13: “The Italian Job” (2003)

Written by Donna and Wayne Powers, inspired by a 1969 script by Troy Kennedy-Martin
Directed by F. Gary Gray

And now I know why Jason Statham got the lead in “The Bank Job.” In fact, now I know why “The Bank Job” finally found funding after seeking it for years. The success of this film, kids.

Seth Green plays the computer geek (and he kills it of course), but his best scene by far is imitating Handsome Rob (Statham)’s chat-up of a typical blond California girl. Hysterical, and one of many takes that they let Green just go, do his thing. And honestly, that’s all you need to know to want to rent this movie. But wait, there’s more.

Mark Wahlberg is fine here. Nothing too interesting about his character, I thought. Unlike his much-underappreciated and secretive, layered Joshua in "The Truth About Charlie," his Charlie Croker here is the ‘serious one’ who holds everyone together, but how fun is that? Edward Norton ramps it up a bit for Croker’s nemesis Steve – revealing a loser-with-the-ladies side that’s pretty fun in an otherwise callous, heartless villain. (Remind me not to mess with Norton’s toys.)

Mos Def entertains as Left Ear – so named because his penchant for explosives means he can only hear out of one ear. He’s another performer who excels when in a group, given something fun to bounce off. And the cast here does so nicely, obviously comfortable with each other. (They all give a great deal of credit for this to their director Gary Gray in the interviews, whose career has mostly been in videos. Quite the breakout success!)

And of course, there’s The Girl. Here it’s Serious Actress Charlize Theron, who plays Stella. Given to frowns when thinking about dead thief dad John (Donald Sutherland), she spends the rest of her time cracking safes for cops. Her version of Getting Back at Daddy. Kind of a cool job really. But Stella’s hidden – and much more interesting – talent is driving on sidewalks in her Mini-Cooper, which ends up providing us with one of the best chase scenes in recent cinema – through the Metro tunnels of L.A. (actually recreated in detail in a warehouse – no sound stage was big enough). (Bonus for soCal audiences: they actually take the streets that lead to their destination, unlike most films, where local audiences realize that even though the movie says we’re driving along the coast, we’re really inland 30 miles in Pasadena.) Theron’s face lights up with something I can only term ‘glee’ in these scenes, as she sends water and pedestrians flying. And if the Extras are to be believed, it could well be the actress smiling, not the character. How often does an Oscar-winner get to have fun after all? Onscreen, I mean.

Lots of fun – left me wanting to check out the original inspiration: 1969’s “The Italian Job” which goes from Turin, Italy, to London, instead of the Venice-L.A. trek here. This is how to do a remake. As the screenwriters explain in the extras, they didn’t want to redo the same film, just pay homage to it. So they riffed on the original versus rewriting it. Well done.

p.s. Unlike “The Bank Job,” “The Italian Job” managed a PG-13 rating, which strips it of some edge. But you can watch it with the junior high and up crowd, sans the boobies-everywhere paranoia of “BJ.”

SDSU Study Finds Less Than 30% of Film Reviews Written by Women

I thought this was particularly interesting in light of my recent Godfather rant...

Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter article "Thumbs Down" by Randee Dawn - 12/5/08

"A whopping 70% of reviewers of theatrical film releases were men, and each male critic wrote on average 14 reviews -- compared to only nine for the female reviewers. Of the papers that published original reviews, 47% had none written by female critics, staff writers or freelancers. Only 12% had none written by male contributors. "This study really gave us another piece of the puzzle when it comes to talking about the nearly seamless dialogue that occurs among men about movies," notes Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center. "Women reviewers do tend to write about women directors, or about films featuring female protagonists. Since they comprise only 30% of the reviewers, that means films featuring women are less likely to be reviewed -- putting those films at a disadvantage" in the marketplace."

- Thanks to James for the link:

Also in that issue, the 100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood. #1 - no contest of course. But if you'd like to see who else is playing with the boys, here's the link:

Most surprising to me: All top 10 are Presidents, Chairmen or CEOs of studios - including traditional male-stalwarts MTV and Disney. Does this mean we might be seeing more princesses and rock stars with body fat? (I'm not holding my breath....) Angelina Jolie and Tina Fey are the only two actresses on the list besides Oprah, showing the true meaning of Hollywood: money, honey. And for my pal Cassidy (13 years old), Miley Cyrus just squeaked in at #100. Go, Hannah! (so long as I don't have to watch the show...)