Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My best-of-year list for 2008 films.

Ensemble cast of the year: BURN AFTER READING
Underachievers of the year (spotlighting films/filmmakers/actors who ought to be doing better work): MAMMA MIA!, GRAN TORINO, DEATH RACE, CASSANDRA'S DREAM, RIGHTEOUS KILL, DECEPTION, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, HAMLET 2, HANCOCK, SEVEN POUNDS, STEP BROTHERS
Sort-of-guilty pleasures of the year: RAMBO, HELL RIDE
Best performance likely to be overlooked this year--Vera Farmiga in Rod Lurie's NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (a film whose distributor--Yari Film Group--went into bankruptcy; perhaps it will still find some sort of theatrical distribution before going to DVD/pay cable).
DVD releases of the year: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS, Universal/MGM's Alfred Hitchcock reissues, Criterion's TWO LANE BLACKTOP and BOTTLE ROCKET

Feel free to comment with agreements or dissenting views.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two interesting POVs on recent Beatles news.

1. John Lennon recently joined the list of celebrities doing posthumous commercials. Steve Marinucci, who runs the website, has a take on this development:

2. Allan Koznin, who has covered The Fab Four in the past (as well as having written a book about them), recently wrote an op-ed piece for THE NEW YORK TIMES on the snail's-pace (or sometimes wrongheaded) business decisions made by Apple Corps--namely the procrastinating on CD remasters/mp3 releases of Beatles albums:

My favorite revelation of the Koznin article: Apple passed on a 40th anniversary reissue of THE WHITE ALBUM, but agreed to issue an expensive "White Album" commemorative ballpoint pen instead.

SALON's Glenn Greenwald on David Gregory's brand of "tough" journalism.

No need to comment. Just read Glenn Greenwald's SALON column on David Gregory, MEET THE PRESS and the current fighting between Israel and Palestine's Hamas:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ben Lyons--is he the superstupid future of film criticism?

Searching my distant memory, there are a couple of things I recall from Pauline Kael's "The Current Cinema" columns of THE NEW YORKER.

One--She wrote about a NY PBS station's shoddy treatment of silent films broadcast (i.e. not showing them at the proper speed). Ms. Kael talked to station management and received an answer like "So we'll do this for you and the three people that care."

Two--Ms. Kael quoted Frank Yablans (a producer who was an ace marketer of not-always-classic films like SILVER STREAK, CONGO and the legendary MOMMIE DEAREST) as saying that film critics needed to be replaced every few years. Presumably Yablans meant that critics/reviewers who stay on the job too long wouldn't be as receptive to below-average current product as the go-along/get-along types who need to write favorable copy and get those Movie Star interviews for their employers.

Yablans probably would have loved someone like Ben Lyons in the 70s/80s.

Ben Lyons, son of the famed mediocrite Jeffrey Lyons (who once co-hosted a post-Siskel/Ebert SNEAK PREVIEWS with Michael Medved), cheerfully gives Disney/ABC the kind of knowledge-challenged down-with-all-things-current-as-long-as-they're-mainstream wet kisses each week on AT THE MOVIES.

Thanks to Jeffrey Wells of HOLLYWOOD-ELSEWHERE for posting this link to a LOS ANGELES TIMES article critical of Lyons the younger:,0,5374132,full.story

If one were to actually complain to a Disney exec about the hiring of woefully underqualified Ben Lyons (in terms of glib careerism, Lyons outpaces even Richard Roeper), what would the response be?

Perhaps this: "So what? You're one of the ten people who cares."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau to release yet another Greatest Hits album--through Wal-Mart.

This probably won't get the MSNBC coverage that Barack Obama's invitation of Rick Warren to give the January 20th invocational prayer did, but here it is--Bruce Springsteen and ubermanager Jon Landau (likely with some prodding from Sony Music) will release a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND GREATEST HITS 12-song collection exclusively through Wal-Mart on January 13th [this compilation has different songs than the mid-90s GREATEST HITS]. Two weeks after that, Springsteen's new studio album WORKING ON A DREAM will "drop" in physical and online outlets everywhere.

Here's the announcement as printed on ROLLING STONE's website:

Is this merely a cold-blooded business decision (i.e. Sony giving Wal-Mart exclusivity over AC/DC's BLACK ICE) or an ostensibly Obama-like attempt to have dialogue with tightfisted reactionaries in hopes of a millimeter of change in their business practices? Or a blend of both?

Sidebar: For those who have long memories, about a year ago Don Henley was justifying the Wal-Mart exclusive release of the last Eagles album THE LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN by claiming that Wal-Mart was beginning to "go green."

What will Bruce and Jon say, if anything, about this deal with Wal-Mart?

Nothing personal--just business?

Or nothing at all?

UPDATE (1/13/09): THE BOSTON HERALD has an article about the release of the Wal-Mart only GREATEST HITS:

UPDATE (1/23/09): In this BILLBOARD article about the in-progress DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN deluxe reissue, Jon Landau finally addresses/justifies the Wal-Mart only GREATEST HITS album:

UPDATE (1/29/09): In a Jon Pareles profile piece set to be published in Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES, Bruce himself reconsiders the decision to release the album through Wal-Mart--and actually thanks fans for their disagreement/discussion:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Los Angeles poet E.C. "Carlye" Archibeque explains "definable" poetry for you.

Though currently inactive on the scene, veteran L.A. poet Carlye Archibeque speaks for a fair portion of today's Los Angeles poetry "community."
Here's a portion of an essay she wrote for POETIC DIVERSITY a few years back:
It is my opinion that poetry is definable and that good poetry is not created in a void. I think there are good poets and bad poets. I know this can be an unpopular opinion, but anyone who knows me knows I really don’t care about being popular. If it’s any consolation to those who find my opinion harsh, I am guilty of writing bad poetry and things I consider “not poetry” too, I just have the good sense not to send it away to publishers or read it to my audience because poetry you read for an audience and seek to have published should not be about your therapy issues, unless of course you have crafted your issues into poetry. Poetry is two-fold for me: on one hand it is a way to put your feelings and thoughts into words that sound good to you or may help you work thorough a difficult time in your life; on the other it is a carefully thought out and constructed set of words that relate your thoughts and feelings on a universal level and while one is for public consumption, the other is certainly not. Just my opinion. So the $64 poetry question is why do you write poetry? Do you write because you have things you want to say and are looking for an audience and poetry is generally free to read and write? Or, do you write because you consider it a craft in which you strive discuss feelings, thoughts and opinions in a way that transcends self-indulgence and becomes something universal? Are you a poet or a poet wanna be? I’m not saying that journaling thoughts and feelings is bad or that a little self-indulgence isn’t called for sometimes. I do believe that the state of poetry is threatened on a daily basis by mediocrity. By that I don’t mean threatened by styles of poetry like slam, page, performance and the like, I mean by works within these styles that are not striving to be the best they can be made by poets who don’t have enough respect for the craft of poetry. I wish more people would start believing that poetry matters, that it is an art form and that it needs skill to create.

If you want to read the essay in its entirety, here's the link:

My take on the above is that certain poets in Los Angeles desire at the very least to be arbiters/gatekeepers of notions of "quality" that tend to be received from others (workshopping, MFA programs) rather than thought-out for themselves. It's a valuable balm that salves the egowounds resulting from local, state or national rejection and/or underrecognition.

Sometimes, these self-appointed arbiters get some local attention and a few followers. Then, for one reason or another, they fade from the scene.

And there will always be someone to replace them. And there will always be people who will follow them like sheep, with little thought as to testing or questioning the soundness of the arbiters' holy opinions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

VP-elect Joe Biden protects a member of the political brotherhood.

Found the following note about Joe Biden's LARRY KING LIVE appearance on HOLLYWOOD-ELSEWHERE:

Of course, Biden thinks throwing shoes at soon-to-be-ex President George Butch Jr. is "uncalled for"; Biden helped make the Iraq War possible.

Nikki Finke on delay of SAG strike authorization vote.

Whether or not the Screen Actors Guild "vote yes for strike authorization re the AMPTP contract" contingent or the actor/producer contingent (including George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Danny DeVito--thinking more of their production deals than of rank-and-file actors) urging members to vote no (and wait three years for the next negotiating period) wins out is an open question at this time.

Here's Nikki Finke with her opinion of the delay in the strike authorization vote--and why she thinks it may be a good thing:

Regardless of who wins or doesn't win the issue of the current SAG contract, the switch of TV episode reruns to websites (aka New Media) from over-the-airwaves broadcasts is a big deal and actors deserve proper residual compensation. To my mind, regardless of the AMPTP propaganda (sometimes transmitted by Patrick Goldstein of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES), it's a lot better that SAG and the producers get this worked out now than waiting another three years--when there will be other AMPTP-created reasons not to deal with the New Media issue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ron Howard: despite FROST/NIXON, he tilts right.

I saw FROST/NIXON last week and pronounce it Ron Howard's WAG THE DOG--a deftly made and relative low-budget/schedule film that entertains, enlightens and provides a chance for Howard to do something with gravitas, prestige and awards-season potential between making THE DA VINCI CODE and the forthcoming ANGELS AND DEMONS.

But, to be honest, Howard (who voted for Nixon in 72 and supported Obama this year) is conservative and his earlier films show it.

Exhibit A: Witness the scenes where Kathleen Quinlan's mom had a meltdown over the teen daughter's mild liberalism in APOLLO 13.

Exhibit B: Witness the dumb subplot (that marred an otherwise good film) where Paddy Considine's workers'-rights "radical" and residents of a NYC poor-people's "Hooverville" were maligned as malcontents in CINDERELLA MAN.

Having pointed out the above, it's safe to hypothesize that the character in FROST/NIXON that Howard had the most sympathy for is Kevin Bacon's Nixon acolyte/camp follower.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jay Leno going to prime time: everything old is new again.

Jay Leno, who will now get to take his play-down-to-the-proles version of THE TONIGHT SHOW to prime time, isn't the first host of the show to score a prime-time gig on NBC. Both Steve Allen and Jack Paar went the same route in the 50s and 60s--and if I recall correctly, Paar's prime-time show was much the same as his late-night one.

But neither Parr nor Allen were asked to do an hour show for five nights a week in prime time.

Obviously, Ben Silverman (who for every OFFICE or 30 ROCK comes up with nongenius ideas for "edgy" retoolings of KNIGHT RIDER and THE BIONIC WOMAN) isn't going to walk the plank. So, one can expect NBC to gut their prime-time schedule as much as possible (even past the 16 hours remaining when Leno debuts next year) with more superstupid reality shows and extra helpings of DATELINE NBC.

Perhaps the silver lining in this cloud will be possessed by Conan O'Brien. Free of the spectre of Jay being direct competition on either Fox or ABC, maybe Conan can develop an 11:35 p.m. talk show that can be truly Conanesque [i.e. incorporate more of the LATE NIGHT than he thought possible, say, a week ago] and move the tired late-night format into a new era.

At least until Viacom sends David Letterman to early retirement and likely blesses Jon Stewart with the CBS 11:35 p.m. slot.

G. Murray Thomas' reply to my original post about poetry decade 98-08.

[Note: this came from the Cobalt Poets list, where my recent post about changes in Los Angeles poetry was forwarded.]
In my opinion, 1998 was a highwater mark in L.A. poetry. There was an energy and excitement in the poetry scene which has, to a large part, dissipated. My analogy is that in 1998 the poetry scene was an adolescent, full of energy and believing that anything was possible. Since then, we have matured a bit, and realized, for better and worse, our limitations. Most readings today (and maybe this is what Terry means by "Chamber music", I'm really not sure) have settled into an identity. Even witht he big ones like Da Poetry Lounge, you pretty much know what you're going to get when you walk in the door. This does create a certain comfort level, but at the expense of innovation. It also means the each reading has developed its own taste in poetry, which may lead poets to feel they are being excluded if they dont' fit that taste.On the other hand (and I have had this discussion with Terry before) it is easy to see any insistence on quality as exclusiveness. Especially since quality in poetry can be a very subjective standard. What gets wildly cheered at Da Poetry Lounge would not fly at the Ruskin, and vice versa. So the key becomes finding the reading whose taste fits your poetry. However, as readings become fewer, and more set in their taste, this can become more difficult.I think part of what's missing is new blood, especially on the level of hosting. In 1998 new readings were popping up all over the place. Not just new readings, b ut ambitious readings. What new readings I do see are usually on the order of -- another coffeehouse, another open reading.Still, I do believe the scene in 2008 still contains a variety of readings accomdating a wide variety of taste in poetry.G. Murray Thomas

Friday, December 5, 2008

COMMIE GIRL Rebecca Schoenkopf out as editor of LA CITY BEAT.

A stain on alternative journalism has been removed: Rebecca Schoenkopf (who once charmingly told a reader who wrote a complaining letter "f--- you") is no longer editor of LA CITY BEAT, the alternaweekly which underwent an in-your-face-with-slick-magazine-cover makeover last summer.

Schoenkopf (formerly COMMIE GIRL columnist for OC WEEKLY) started her tenure at the paper with a loud fart of an article about how the Los Angeles County Museum of Art should be destroyed because the then-current Chicano art exhibit wasn't sufficiently with-it. And the smirkiness kept coming.....

To Schoenkopf's credit, she brought some talented ex-OC WEEKLY writers (notably Steve Lowery and Jim Washburn) to CITY BEAT. But the general "we're SO better than you right-wing boneheads" bratty 'tude of the pre-Mike Lacey era OC WEEKLY {excepting then-writers such as Victor Infante and Jaimes Palacio) apparently didn't play too well in Los Angeles. And when Schoenkopf's ex-boss Will Swaim was tapped to run CITY BEAT....the results are summarized by Kevin Roderick of LA OBSERVED:

Now CITY BEAT looks like it will mutate into what Kit Rachlis' (who runs the old-folks home for former LA WEEKLY writers called LOS ANGELES magazine) version of the LA WEEKLY between the late 80s/early 90s minus the occasional spasms of quirkiness (not-so-fondly remembering John Powers writing about a truffle and an attempted seduction and Helen Knode rhapsodizing about being in a bathtub with a Frenchman)--essentially MOR liberalism.

Which is more than can be expected from the current LA WEEKLY (which ran off Marc Cooper recently), which tilts center/right now (and has Jill "I Still Heart Richard Riordan" Stewart as an editor).

One nervously awaits Mike Lacey bringing Rick "The Finger" Barrs back to L.A. Then the humiliation of the WEEKLY (currently celebrating its 30th anniversary with an issue that brings back and/or namechecks most of its former writers) will be complete.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Britney Spears' punishment for acting out: resuming the career that caused her to act out.

I didn't bother to watch the Britney Spears MTV documentary on Sunday where she allegedly moaned about being imprisoned in an overly-controlled lifestyle.

And it appears that manager Larry Rudolph and father Jamie Spears are excessively concerned with returning Britney to the era where she made a lot of money for a lot of people--Britney's personal health and welfare (and apparently by extension, the current raising of her and Kevin Federline's sons) being acceptable collateral damage.

Here's the LOS ANGELES TIMES' take on Britney and the "comeback" album CIRCUS--
First, Elizabeth Snead's DISH RAG blog entry:
Ann Powers reviews CIRCUS:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Current and former Los Angeles poets looking back at the previous decade.

1998 was the year I became active in Los Angeles poetry. It was a time when poetry readings came in a selection of rock-and-roll, hip-hop, folk-radical agitprop or chamber music. And, on occasion, readings could blend all of the above.

2008 is a year where Los Angeles poetry is mostly chamber music (with occasional exceptions such as Fairfax's Da Poetry Lounge and the Wednesday night readings at the Unurban Cafe) that can, at its soporific worst, remind one of the sound of water being poured into a glass.

Recently, the Onyx Cafe, an everyone-can-participate Los Feliz reading dead since 1998, staged a reunion at the Echoplex in Echo Park. A documentary film may surface someday of the reunion.

Ex-L.A. poet Larry Jaffe, who co-hosted Poetic License with the late Donn Deedon, was a beneficiary of the Onyx's legacy. Here's a link to his latest project--UNPROTECTED POETRY 10 YEARS AFTER:

Rick Lupert, a veteran of the local scene, has finally acted on a suggestion I (among others) made to him years ago and reissued his second book--I AM MY OWN ORANGE COUNTY--consisting of poetry written between 1990-97. More information on the book can be found here:

Reissues are all well and good for reminding the public of work done in the past. And 10th anniversary celebrations are a valuable opportunity for seeing now-mostly-retired poets make rare reappearances and for poetry hosts (such as Ron Dvorkin, who recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as host of the Barnes and Noble reading in Encino) to make note of their longevity in a changing scene.

After the celebrations are over, questions remain:
What kind of poetry scene will we be looking back on in 2018?
Inclusive or ultraexclusive?

Maureen Dowd on Pasadena newspaper's reporters--from India.

It had to happen sometime: a newspaper called PASADENA NOW has outsourced its reporting staff to India--where the scribes are paid much much lower than their American cousins.

Maureen Dowd tells the story in a recent NEW YORK TIMES column: