Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year-End List Part Four.

Least-liked film of 2013: THE EAST

Friday, December 27, 2013

Year-end list Part Three.

Underachieving films of 2013: WORLD WAR Z, THE LONE RANGER (not as terrible as consensus opinion would have you believe, but a warning unheard by Disney/Bruckheimer that not every story has to be blown out to Colossal status to work as a mass-entertainment movie), ELYSIUM (good, thoughtful first half before chase-and-shoot-and-repeat of the later portion), THE AMAZING BURT WONDERSTONE (the combination of Carell/Buscemi/Carrey/Arkin should have yielded more than a passable timekiller that will be forever repeated on TNT during the mid-2010s), DESPICABLE ME 2, MAN OF STEEL (filled with good casting and some effective scenes, but Zack Snyder's embrace of primitivism and superlong climaxes made for an awkward forced marriage by WB to Christopher Nolan--acting as producer here), PACIFIC RIM (not everything touched by Guillermo Del Toro turns to cinematic gold--although Del Toro's defenders did their best to, Godzilla-style, shriek and stomp over objections to the film when released theatrically).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Film critic Glenn Kenny on THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Glenn Kenny, former film critic for PREMIERE and MSN.com, offers a comprehensive analysis of the latest Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration in these two blog columns:

A couple of excerpts from the above links:
I suppose that in certain quarters, the only thing interesting about a movie, or the launching pad for anything interesting about a conversation or consideration about a  movie, is how the moviemakers feel about their characters. Golly, the Coen brothers sure hate their characters don't they? But that David O. Russell [director/co-writer of the current AMERICAN HUSTLE], he LOVES his characters —characters who, like those in Wolf of Wall Street, are criminals—but they're NICE criminals, they're passionate they're in love, they're cuddly, and Jennifer Lawrence is AWESOME. Gosh, when did the critical class become so a) filled with flowery feeling and b), for lack of a better world, thick? Buñuel wouldn't do well with this crowd at all. "Hey—he's...he's...he's making FUN of us!"

There is a structural similarity to Scorsese's 1990 Goodfellas, but there are crucial differences too. While Goodfellas maintained a nearly breakneck pace throughout, Wolf of Wall Street has a start-stop rhythm. There are breakneck fast-forward voice-over led sequences that give way to long scenes, scenes which a lot of critics have called pointless. For instance, once finance tyro Belfort is making ridiculous money heading up his fake-respectable firm of Stratton Oakmont, the viewer learns that Belfort's father (played brilliantly by Rob Reiner) has a prodigiously bad temper, and was hired to oversee Stratton Oakmont's books. What follows is a conference room scene in which Belfort and his senior staffers are sitting around very earnestly discussing the dwarves that they are looking to hire for some in-house revelry. Because they now inhabit a world in which everything is commodified, their talk is half earnest, half "can't believe we're getting away with this shit" shitty awe, trading observations about how you should never look a dwarf in the eye and how the wee folk gossip among themselves. It's only after several minutes of this that Reiner's character bursts in, fit to pop a blood vessel over a corporate American Express bill just shy of half a million dollars. Can one genuinely not see the point of this scene, or would one just rather not? In any event, from where I sat the banter among these young capitalists was Ionesco out of early Python—and by early Python I mean Swiftian Rage Python. It's important to remember that it's at the very beginning of the movie that a character played by Matthew McConaughey explains that the entire edifice of investment banking is built on a "fugazi," or "fairy dust." Think of all the people who got incredibly angry and genuinely outraged when the current head of the Catholic Church said "How can it not be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Year-End List Part Two.

Best half-hour series killed by HBO this year (tie): ENLIGHTENED and FAMILY TREE.
Half-hour series likely going out in glory as of season's end: PARKS AND RECREATION.
MVP of the year: Amy Adams, who manages almost single-handedly to keep portions of AMERICAN HUSTLE resonant.
Movie Star Cameo of year (multiple actors tie): ANCHORMAN 2.
Most likely to be overpraised performance of year: Jennifer Lawrence in AMERICAN HUSTLE.  Yes, she's fun to watch, but it's closer to SNL-sketch level than what Cathy Moriarty circa 1980-81 would have done with the role.
Most entertaining veteran male actor chewing scenery on cable TV this year: Jon Voight in RAY DONOVAN.

More to come...

Monday, December 16, 2013

RIP Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin.

Filmgoers 50-and-over may still have some memories of the late Tom Laughlin's 70s rise-and-fall as star/auteur/idealist/independent distributor due to the popularity of the first three films in the BILLY JACK series (the first, BORN LOSERS, was released in 1968, but was reissued by American International Pictures after the success of 1971's BILLY JACK).

Billy Jack was a Native American progressive--eager to defend fellow Native Americans and the multicultural Freedom School with words and last-resort karate against villains and corrupt politicians.  The character had a lot of appeal during the latter days of the counterculture (roughly 1971 to 1974), and BILLY JACK plus THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK may still, for some, maintain curiosity value as a snapshot of an era where vigilante liberalism as an answer to Injustice (though Delores Taylor's Freedom School teacher Jean was a relatively peaceful/verbal counterweight to Billy Jack's barefoot-kick problem solving) held almost as much sway in the pop culture marketplace as more conservative vigilantes Dirty Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey.

After THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, Laughlin's career declined. 1975's THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER, a Western pitting Laughlin's title character against post-SUPERFLY Ron O'Neal, was a box-office disappointment.  So Laughlin attempted to play safe by injecting the Billy Jack character into a remake of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (which never received a full theatrical release, though it's now available on DVD and streaming video in a 40-minutes-shorter version).  On paper, it was an interesting concept to place Billy Jack into a landscape where corruption and politicians-owned-by-corporate-interests couldn't be defeated by simple violent action (ironically, Laughlin's "people's initiative" solution to national government malfeasance bears a resemblance to the way that propositions--which can be controlled by corporate interests--get introduced into the California system of state government).  But, even in the shortened 115-minute cut, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON is rather clunky (occasionally livened up by E.G. Marshall as the fraudulent Senator played in 1939 by Claude Rains, plus Sam Wanamaker as a proto-Koch brother) for a work by a director who briefly had his finger on the Youth Market pulse.  The financial failure of BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON effectively ended Laughlin as writer/producer/director/actor, though he attempted another BILLY JACK sequel in the 1980s which was abandoned partway through production.

As a filmmaker, Tom Laughlin's legacy is twofold.  Jane Fonda, quoted in a 1975 profile of Laughlin in ROLLING STONE, described THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK as "crude...simplistic"--then goes on to discuss how she watched people enjoying and learning from it, realizing she was out of touch.  Fonda's more complex and sophisticated message/entertainment films (produced with Bruce Gilbert) such as COMING HOME, THE CHINA SYNDROME and 9 TO 5 seem to be the results of her viewing of THE TRIAL.

And then there's James Cameron.  TITANIC (which I like a little bit more these days than I did on its original 1997 release) and AVATAR both display the Tom Laughlin hallmarks of simple Good Vs. Evil stories, liberal/progressive sentiments (certainly the willingness to examine the vast divide between the venal rich and the comparatively powerless poor) and effective audience manipulation.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Year-End List Part One

First in a series of posts about notable films/TV/books/music of 2013:
Gravitas-filled Event Movies which would have been B-grade actioners/exploitation fare in the 70s/80x:
Best music documentary you probably didn't see this year: A BAND CALLED DEATH
Misfired Brian De Palma thriller you probably didn't see this year: PASSION
Notable reissue of the year: Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's THE SERVANT
Best Richard III in modern times performance: Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood in Season One of HOUSE OF CARDS
Best Overlooked Supporting Male Performance of 2013 (tie): Bob Odenkirk in NEBRASKA and
Paul Giamatti in PARKLAND 
Best Cinematic Mother/Daughter of 2013: Leslie Mann and Emma Watson in THE BLING RING

More to come.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE commenter (in jest) suggests film titled SAVING JACK TORRENCE re THE SHINING.

From the HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE website of Jeffrey Wells, here's commenter "bastard in a basket":

Warner Brothers is currently in production on "Saving Jack Torrence." The film will detail the struggle between Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King regarding the adaptation of The Shining. There will be scenes of Kubrick screaming at King that having the hedge animals come alive in the movie will look stupid. There will be flashbacks to King's own personal battles with alcoholism with Kubrick in modern day screaming at King that explaining too much of Jack's backstory and his drinking problems will ruin the film. Finally, there will be an epilogue about how King can't stop bad mouthing the film 25 years later even though it's considered an all time classic and King gladly took the paycheck when selling the rights. Who will be cast is unknown at this point.

Link to this comment (plus the post about discord re the film SAVING MR. BANKS):

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trying to parse a Presidential-selfie Tweet from a beloved poet.

At the risk of criticism from some for bringing this to people's attention, here's a recent tweet from Los Angeles' poet/comic Rick Lupert:
Ahh Obama's selfie at the Mandela funeral. To think of the fun we could've had if we had camera phones during the black plague.

I'm trying hard to understand the outburst of apparent humor/social comment above regarding a photo taken by the President at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.  Would it have been less offensive/source-of-joke to Mr. Lupert if a White House aide had snapped it with a cameraphone/tablet?  Or is the point meant to be that the solemnity-blended-with-celebration occasion has been just as demeaned by a President-taken selfie as those on the Right were trumpeting with regards to President Obama's shaking of Cuban leader Raul Castro's hand?

Or is this merely a time-juxtaposition joke about taking selfies during the black plague which tipped over into unfunniness when yoked to the Presidential selfie?

Monday, December 9, 2013

The relative utopia of the NYC folk music community in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS.

A quick note regarding the new Joel and Ethan Coen film, which I saw this past weekend at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood:
The folk music "scene" in New York City circa 1961 (i.e., prior to Bob Dylan's arrival and path to ultimate stardom, which was a tide that lifted boats for the folk genre nationwide) isn't idealized (two memorable moments include a scene involving boxes of unsold record albums and Llewyn Davis' Chicago audition for the seen-it-all-ten-times manager/promoter played by F. Murray Abraham), but the Coens' portrayal is notable for the way the members tend to help others--even those they dislike personally (a marked difference from some sectors of some poetry communities, where certain members feel compelled to put fellow poets down--without, I'm guessing, even bothering to read their work--in order to either score brownie points or remind other poets of the Kings/Kingmakers they once were in halcyon days).

See the film, then feel free to return and comment on this post.

Friday, December 6, 2013


About one of our three cats, who had to be euthanized last night after battling fast-growing cancer for the better part of the last two months.  Tinker Bell was eleven years and six months old; Valarie and I inherited her in 2004 from Valarie's father (now deceased) and stepmother-to-be, who were about to move from Palmdale CA to South Carolina.
you're familiar
with the scent of soft cat food
dispensed via small-to-medium syringes
three times a day
plus the two to three doses
of morphine-derived pain medication
given by tiny syringe
you want to maintain daily routines
even though the tongue cancer
makes it almost impossible
to eat regular cat or human food
you wish the last five weeks
of weight loss and mouth pain
and trips to the vet and back
and being lifted up
and held over the kitchen sink
to be fed and watered and relieved
temporarily from ache and pain--
all of this misery--
never had to happen
but nonetheless,
you know you're loved
and make the most
of every chance
to sit next to
and lay on the bed of
your favorite humans
in the entire world

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joe Jonas in NEW YORK vs. David Cassidy in ROLLING STONE: Beneath the Planet of Teenpop.

Joe Jonas: My Life As a Jonas Brother:

Link to 1972 ROLLING STONE article about David Cassidy during his PARTRIDGE FAMILY/solo career height; article titled "Naked Lunch Box":

Glad I didn't give up writing poetry.

Received this opinion years ago from someone who used to live in SoCal and now lives elsewhere in the country:
You're right, it's not a level playing field, and you don't get points for just being there. You've actually got to do something well. Writing well would be a start. I DO remember your chapbook. I still have it, in the piles of several hundred that I dutifully carried with me cross-country when I moved. Terry, it was dull. Very dull. Not bad, but there was little of interest going on there. I don't recall if I had read it yet when I saw you in Redondo, but even if I had, I doubt I would have said much. What was I supposed to say? "Sorry, it bored me to tears." But as I recall, it took me awhile to get around to it, because, even now, I get a ton of chapbooks very month. I've not thrown one away, and I try to read them all, but no, I can't review them, and I really had nothing consequential to say about it, for good or bad. As to my "wisdom would be something of value," Whatever. I don't recall volunteering to be your mentor, and while I've taught poetry in high schools and colleges, I don't recall you being in any of my classes. The sad fact is, Terry, I thought you were a nice guy,and always tried to be friendly to you, but no, I didn't care much for your writing. Would you have preferred that I said that? I can't see what good that would have done. It's not like I walked out of the room when you were on the microphone. Maybe you've gotten better, I don't know.

The happy ending to the story above: a poem of mine made it into a literary journal recently--along with a poem by the writer above (plus his talented spouse).

Since I've been outspoken about the writer in the past (more than once--though with occasional positive words), I'm not expecting any response.

Just happy that I kept writing and learning about writing without being wounded enough by his opinionating to give up poetry altogether.