Sunday, May 31, 2009

My reviews of Drag Me to Hell and Pontypool....

....are now live.

I'm pretty much in line with everyone else on Drag Me to Hell, and I really recommend checking out Pontypool; to say it's the freshest take on zombies I've seen in ages is an understatement.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oliver Stone Meets Charles Manson

Really. Or at least, credible rumors have Stone talking to Vincent Bugliosi, the Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney whose Helter Skelter. remains the best-know account of the Manson murders (though my favorite is Ed Sanders' The Family — he's got the better feel for what the counterculture was really like).

Helter Skelter has been filmed twice for television, but this would be a theatrical film, and if anyone knows how to tap into the bad '60s vibe that helped Spawn the Manson family, it's Oliver Stone; the whole idea smacks of "Natural Born Killers: The Beginning."

But for me the big question is who would play Charlie. The first version of Helter Skelter featured Steve Railsback's career-making (and -breaking) performance as Manson: Making because it rocketed the unknown actor to instant fame, breaking because it typecast him. The second starred Jeremy Davies (Lost), who delivered and equally intense, but oddly less compelling, performance. And off the top of my head I can't think of a likely candidate.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buffy Relaunch Minus Whedon -- Worst Idea Ever!

Yes, Fran Rubel Kazui did recognize that the then-unknown Joss Whedon's spec script about a teenaged cheerleader who learns it's her destiny to protect the world from evil had a unique voice and outlook. Yes, her husband and partner, Kaz Kazui, did assemble the financing that got the 1992 movie, which starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy Summers, made.

But Rubel Kazui, who oversaw the script's development and directed the film, then bled every bit of life and originality out of it, turning Buffy into a not very funny comedy about Valley Girls (remember Valley Girls?) and vampires.
I vividly remember the editorial meeting the day we got word that the still-unknown Whedon had gotten the go-ahead to develop Buffy as a series. The gist of it was, "Jesus, what an awful idea," which given that all we had to go on was the movie was a pretty reasonable response.

So the thought of the Kazuis (in association with Vertigo Entertainment) relaunching the Buffy franchise (read The Hollywood Reporter's article here) with a new film and without any Whedon participation whatsoever (not to mention no Angel, Willow, Xander or Spike) strikes me as an absolute nightmare. Clueless, too, if one is to believe reports that Rubel Kazui wants to make a "darker, event-sized" movie. Darker than what? Did she ever watch the series on which the Kazuis both received executive producer credits by virtue of the fact that their company retained rights to the original screenplay?

Oh well.... at least it can only be bad for 90 minutes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Swine Flu panic, then and now...

So, I'm half-watching a 1976 episode of Barney Miller, a dry comedy set in a Greenwich Village police station... not something I was into when it was new, but I have to say that 30 some-odd years later it holds up pretty well.

Anyway, what catches my full attention: The words "swine flu." The main story threads involve a man who thinks he's a werewolf (the 12th Precinct puts in an awful lot of calls to Bellevue's psych ward) and an older couple robbed by a taxi driver, but the underlying narrative through-line is that everyone at the precinct house is sleep-deprived and on edge because New York is in the grip of swine flu outbreak (later upgraded to an epidemic), half the NYPD is out on sick leave and the Department of Health is sending over a nurse to give everyone emergency shots.

The irony is that I lived here and I'd totally forgotten about the swine flu panic before this one, though I do remember the now-defunct SoHo Weekly News's "NYTB" cover story about some drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis or other. Perspective is everything.

more things change

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation... Not!

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth, just off my own site thanks to, yes, the dreaded technical difficulties.

But I'm finally back, and my review of the hugely disappointing Terminator Salvation is now live.

And not to revel in the misfortunes of others, but I'm glad it's tanking. Terminator 3 isn't a great movie, but it didn't damned near bore me to tears.

And now The Sarah Connor Chronicles is gone too...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sherlock Holmes trailer...

Yeah, it's pretty Lock, Stock and 221B Baker Street... that really shouldn't come as a surprise. Turn Guy Ritchie loose on Sherlock Holmes and that's what you're going to get.

But I'm digging the fact that Jude Law is clearly playing Watson as smart, capable and willing to call Holmes on it when he's being truly impossible -- too few actors have, and that's one of the things I love about James Mason's performance in Murder by Decree.

Sherlock Holmes plus vampires is almost as felicitous a combination as Sherlock Holmes plus Jack the Ripper, and I admit it: I love Robert Downey Jr. So hey, I'm in. See the trailer here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Chat With Dan (Angels & Demons) Brown

Okay, so I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in New Hampshire, interviewing Dan Brown for the extras on the eventual Angels & Demons DVD.

Did you know New Hampshire has the shortest coastline of any US state? Thirty-six hours ago I didn't either, and a couple of hours after that I was the proud owner of a pair of skeletal lawn flamingos — or should that be flamingones (above) — and having lunch on a scrap of that coast at a Portsmouth restaurant recommended by none other than Brown for the excellence of its New England clam chowder. (I'll refrain from trying to reproduce the sounds of disdain my companions made when I asked the difference between the Manhattan and New England varieties). Brown even made a call to make sure the place was open and determine whether we should/could make reservations.

Since I'm allergic to shellfish — anaphylactic shock allergic; I nearly died as a teenager from eating rice that had touched mussels — I couldn't put the chowder to the test. But the connoisseurs in our group pronounced it excellent.

Back to Dan Brown: I'm sure you have ideas about the bestselling author, but in person he was warm, generous with his time and full of enthusiasm about the way historical novels can spur readers to explore the real thing; the genius of typographical artist John Langdon (yes, that's where Brown's swashbuckling symbologist got his surname); and the many virtues of Ron Howard, about whom I have yet to interview anyone who has a bad thing to say.

Granted, an interview is an inherently artificial situation and any sensible celebrity masters the rules of engagement early on.

But trust me, many don't: They answer questions grudgingly, pick their cuticles, roll their eyes, claim that no one who actually makes movies thinks about things like that and generally give the impression that they'd rather be having their fingernails torn out with rusty pliers than be talking to you. Which is why I have fond memories of Jean Claude Van Damme, Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves and Hugh Jackman.

I interviewed Van Damme in his trailer when he was shooting John Woo's first US film, Hard Target, in New Orleans. As I walked through the door, Van Damme jumped up to get me a bottled water from his mini-refrigerator, introduced me to his aging, non-English speaking parents (who looked like the Belgian equivalent of the couple Grant Woods immortalized in his painting American Gothic) and declared his love for Tin Tin, offering his Herge engagement diary as proof; he then settled in for a lengthy interview. Not at all what Van Damme's dismal reputation led me to expect.

I interviewed Bullock and Reeves at press junkets. Bullock, who was pushing 30 and had been kicking around movies and TV for six years without landing that elusive career-making role, was promoting Speed. The buzz — which is wrong as often as it's right — was that she was going to be a star.

Just a few years earlier, my sister had been her manager at an Upper West Side burger joint and vividly remembered Bullock as a sweet-natured, hard-working employee who consistantly managed to be nice to the surliest, most unreasonably demanding customers. The worst thing she ever heard Bullock's coworkers — the usual spiteful, backbiting Manhattan restaurant crew of aspiring/failed actors, singers and dancers — say was that Sandy was too damned cheerful while marrying ketchups at 4AM.

"If you can," my sister said, "say hi to Sandy for me." Truth be told, I wasn't planning to — it seemed sort of unprofessional — but Bullock was so open and approachable that at the end of the interview I did. "Oh my God," she squealed. "Amy is your sister? She's so cool — promise you'll tell her hi right back for me!" Who wouldn't be charmed?

Reeves was fresh off Speed and promoting Johnny Mnemonic, painter Robert Longo's indie version of William Gibson's cyberpunk story. Reeves stood up (he's tall!) when I came into the room, shook my hand and politely introduced himself (as if I didn't know exactly who he was), then waited until I was seated before sitting down himself. His mother would (and should) have been proud.

And that brings us to Jackman: I interviewed him on Friday of Memorial Day weekend 2006 for the extras that would appear on the DVD of Woody Allen's as-yet unreleased Scoop; he was on the last day of a PR blitz for X-Men: The Last Stand and had done every meet-and-greet and photo op you can imagine, up to and including hokey Fleet Week events.

Jackman had to have been dead tired, but you'd never have known it: He was easygoing, gracious, forthcoming and articulate from start to finish. By the time we were done everyone in the room — from the make-up woman to the gruff, no-bull sound guy — adored him.

And the moral of this tale? I haven't quite figured that out yet, but I think it's something along the lines of "manners grease the wheels of society."


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Best movies of the '70s, including... The Jerk?

Yeah, okay: Lists are a dime a dozen. But I read them and I bet you do to, so when I ran across Moviefone's Best Movies of the '70s, I had to look.

For my money, the top ten are pretty tough to argue with, and I'm glad to see a number of genre films on it, including Alien, Halloween and Jaws. But after that it gets dodgy. Steve Martin's The Jerk at number 20, before Network or Dog Day Afternoon? Deliverance at number 36, nine places behind Monty Python's The Life of Brian?

I don't know... what do you think?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Miss FlickChick, Scene Maker...

And now for something completely different... Instead of going to the movies, I went to the launch party for WFUV’s The Alternate Side show at the Mercury Lounge on East Houston Street.

Not my usual beat — at least not these days — and good fun that featured performances by The Postelles, a quartet with a 60s-by-way-of-the-80s sound and Brooklyn-based post-punk band Pela, who put on a hell of a show. It takes balls to cover the Clash's "Guns of Brixton," and they pulled it off.

All in all, a real flashback to the days when I was a dedicated clubber, though back then the only way it would have been light when I left to go home was if I'd been out all night.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The New York Times, I Spit on Your Grave and Me....

I confess. I have the newspaper habit... I have it bad. I've been reading the New York Times since I was in grammar school and I can't quit. And every once in a while I read something that blows my mind, like this superficially innocuous profile of uber-concierge Gunter Kleeman, who caters to the needs of guests at Manhattan's swanky Palace Hotel. Okay, all very well and good... except that back in the day Kleeman was one of the stars of Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave (1978). You know, one of the most reviled exploitation films of all time.

Kleeman even refers to it by name, and Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal fails to follow up.

All I have to say is "Wow."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A List I'm Proud to be on... Scariest People in the World

I just ran across this accidentally... Scariest People in the World. Aside form Sirhan Sirhan (who really seems as though he should be on another list entirely... political assassins, conspiracy theory pawns or some such), I'd say I'm in fairly good company.