Archives: “what price, hollywood?”

Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood

I will talk to you of art
for there is nothing else to talk about
for there is nothing else…

Life is an obscure hobo, bumming a ride on the omnibus of art!
Burn gas buggies and whip your sour cream of circumstance
and hope…

I was planning to post a copy of this, but someone beat me to it. Either way, we’re all the winners here. I seriously think this is one of my top 10 best movies of all time. I don’t know if it’s the awesome script by Charles B. Griffith, the over-the-top performances by Julian Barton (poet Maxwell Brock) and the one-and-only Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), or the so-bad-it’s-like-folk-art special effects. Heck, Maxwell Brock’s opening poem (some quoted above) is worth the price of admission alone.

You just have to love a beatnik horror comedy made at the height of the beat generation. Obviously I’m not the only one out there — there’s even a wiki page for the movie, though it mostly just recounts the plot of the film. It does note that the film is now in the public domain, which I had hear but hadn’t been able to confirm until now.

Back in the nineties a big group of friends and I put on a version of this movie as a play at Winnipeg’s famous Fringe Festival and it was a huge hit. It wasn’t because we were great actors or had high production values; it was the opposite. One of the reasons this film works is because it’s so loose.

At any rate, this movie holds a warm place in my heart. Heck, this web site’s name was inspired by the movie - it was the nickname given to the apartment I lived at the time that we put on the fringe festival play. Enjoy!

(P.S. Don’t miss Bert Convy in one of his earliest roles.)

Burning Bottoms and Broken Flowers

"I'm a stalker in a Taurus"

Well, that’s more like it. Had a fairly productive writing day, though the heat is being applied to my buttocks in higher and higher temperatures. The plan this weekend is to hide off in the bush somewhere and write my ass, well, off. Actually caught myself feeling a slight tinge of confidence about the whole project, though it could just be that chicken satay I ate for lunch playing tricks with my self-esteem…

Mood is back to its vaguely crabby but relatively normal self, which is also nice. I got enough work done today that I rewarded myself with a date with Renée to see a matinee of the new Jim Jarmusch movie Broken Flowers. It’s great. After watching the 75% steaming pile that was Coffee and Cigarettes, it’s nice to have the dead-pan, sardonic Jarmusch back again that we know and love.

Bill Murray gives a performance that could only be summed up as spartan. He strips away any excessive movement or facial expression and distills his performance down to the barest of essentials. It’s like the best use of white space you’ve ever seen in a movie; it’s not what’s being shown as much as what isn’t.

» Burning Bottoms and Broken Flowers continues...

Roger & Me

RogerebertAbout a month ago, I received an email via this site asking me questions about a memoir I had written for Quebec filmmaker Jean-Claude Lauzon. After a quick flurry of emails, I confirmed that it was from Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, who was doing some research on Lauzon for an upcoming article on Lauzon’s masterpiece Léolo.

That in itself was yet another affirmation that the web rocks harder than Kiss Alive. Imagine my nearly-peeing-myself-in-shock surprise when I was looking at his web site today and came across his recent article on Léolo. Not only does he hat-tip me, he also quotes from my article.

I know this is total self-pimpin’, but I don’t care. I’ve been gradually sinking into a mild funk as the writing for The Book progresses (the usual writer’s self-flagellation of I suck, I’m a terrible writer, I’m a fraud, I don’t know my ass from a pomegranate, etc.), and this little pick-me-up comes at an opportune time.

So, thanks Internets, and thanks Roger Ebert, for so completely making my week. I’ll try to not let this idiotic grin plastered all over my face get too obnoxious. If you haven’t seen Léolo yet, run to your local video store / NetFlix account (update: Netflix doesn’t carry it) and rent it. It’s absolutely incredible.

Celebrity Graduation Speeches

I enjoy a good celebrity commencement / graduation speech as much as the next person, and thought it would be good to gather all of the ones I could find into one post. If you know of one I’ve forgotten, please post it and the URL in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

Without further ado:

There’s gotta be more than just these available online - let me know if you find another.

Yet another reason I will never give my money to Future Shop


Sign posted in Future Shop DVD section:



Me: Excuse me, why is Fahrenheit 9/11 “available upon request”?

Future Shop Entertainment Associate: Um, because it has sensitive material.

Me: Sensitive material? Can you be a bit more specific? Does your version have an unpleasant cover or something like that?

FSEA: Um, no… but it has sensitive material in it.

Me: Like what?

FSEA: Well, (long pause) it has violence in it.

Me: (points to House of 1000 Corpses DVD on display): You mean like this?

FSEA: That movie rocks! Er, I mean I think we’re supposed to keep it off of the shelf because people might get offended.

Me: Hm. Are there any other movies that have sensitive material that are available upon request?

FSEA: No, I don’t think so.

Me: So is Future Shop starting to voluntarily pull Fahrenheit 9/11 from its shelves because people might become offended? Seems to be kind of a strange policy, don’t you think?

FSEA: Um… (looks blankly). Do you want to buy something or what?

Me: No, thanks.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternalSunshineI’m sure you’ve probably seen the accolades all over the web (not to mention the movie already), but if you haven’t, go see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s phenomenal: great casting and acting, stupendous sound editing (the best I’ve seen in a movie in ages), and just brilliant direction and script. I walked out of the film feeling drunk and woozy, like I had just eaten a meal so rich, so tasty, and so filling that it went straight to my head. This was easily one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.

I was happy to see actor Mark Ruffalo again - I hadn’t seen him in a movie since I saw You Can Count on Me. Give this guy more high profile roles, Hollywood!

I love movies that have fun, conceptually spot-on web sites, too, and Eternal Sunshine is no exception: besides the official site, there’s also a stylistically perfect Lacuna, Inc. web site that somehow just fits.

Director Michel Gondry is one of those rare artists whose work is just incredibly inspiring. One of my students lent me the double-DVD set of his work (one of the excellent Director’s Series editions), and the amount of imaginative, creative work in it is enough fuel to keep me inspired for weeks.

Next up: The Corporation.

Finally: Towers


So as if to prove just how incredibly un-hip and not-with-it I really am, I finally saw The Two Towers yesterday. Finally. The problem last year at this time was that I just couldn't spare three hours out of my life to watch a movie, no matter how much I had been looking forward to it. 'Tis sad, really.

As expected, it was good. Very good. The battle sequences were just amazing, and Gollum really did live up to the hype; I think this was one of the first times that I almost forgot that I was watching a CGI character. They've still got to work on how crisp CGI work sometimes can be, but on the whole, the seamless integration of reality and computerized effects was really amazing.

With anything this good, however, the flaws become that much more apparent - at least to me, Mr. Picky-Movie-Man. Things I could have lived without (or could have been improved) in TTT:

  1. Legolas "shield-surfing" down the stairwell in the Rohan battle sequence. Just plain dumb.
  2. Gimli the Fall Guy - why is it that short, fat people always play the patsy in movies?
  3. Sam's "we gotta keep going because there's still some good left in the world" speech at the end of the film in Osgiliath. Someone give me some wine to go with that cheese, please.
  4. How the film was building, Building, BUILDING! throughout, and then suddenly within fifteen or twenty minutes all of the various plotlines wrapped themselves up. I was especially annoyed by how the Rohan battle sequence (which was totally ass-kicking) ended with this Monty Python-esque, "Oh, there's the calvary. We won!" abruptness.
  5. How there was almost zero character development. It's telling that we learned more about a role created by a computer in this film than any of the flesh-and-blood main characters.

That said, this was still pretty damn fine filmmaking, and I'm looking forward to see Return of the King sooner rather than later. I'm trying very hard not to read too much about it, so that I don't get pulled into the hype bubble that always seems to follow these eagerly awaited sequels. (Revolutions, anyone?)

Hable con Ella (Talk to Her)

talktoher.jpgThe movie opens and closes in a theatre. In it, female dancers evoke deepset emotions while a man, watching, cries in empathy. Later, two men each tend to women lost to the darkness of coma, quietly sacrificing a part of themselves in service to love. Part way through the film is a strange little film-in-the-film, where a man, destined to slowly shrink into nothingness from a nutritional potion gone wrong, gives himself up to his female lover by crawling into her vagina.

Hable con Ella (Talk to Her) is the movie that writer / director Pedro Almodovar won the best writing Oscar for this year. Here, the feeling is one of composed sadness; Almodovar is known for his wildly flamboyant, sexualized films (Live Flesh, Tie me Up! Tie me Down!), but Hable con Ella almost seems conventional in comparison.

This isn't a bad thing here. Almodovar has never been afraid to allow his stories and characters room to expand into strange and unexpected directions, and that holds true here still. But the ludicrious, which is usually no stranger in Almodovar's work, is kept at bay, allowing his characters to express an emotional depth that has started to become a bit of a theme in his last few films.

Like his previous movie, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother), Hable con Ella is deeply felt, well-acted, and lingers in the mind long afterwards. Highly recommended.

Movie Quickies

The Italian Job

Fluffly, summer fun, if a bit stiff and formulaic. Mark Wahlberg calls in a rather subdued performance, but Mos Def and Jason Statham are pretty good. All told, this is fun in a "completely-forgotten-in-15-minutes" way; in other words, perfect summer fare. I have a real weakness for "plan the heist" movies, to be honest. That said, I don't get why Seth Green keeps getting roles, though I guess whenever a casting director says, "We need a baby-faced geek!", he fits the bill. I can't help but think that he's the movie version of that Much Music guy, Rick "The Temp" Campanelli - a low wattage talent, but at least he tries hard.

The Hulk

Ponderously slow, and a real disappointment. Ang Lee seemed to be a rather strange choice to helm this, and it shows. There's way too much gabbing and pensive, sidelong glances, and not enough clobbering going on; Ang Lee couldn't resist going the existential route, I suppose. Nick Nolte's incoherent street-person character doesn't help, though I guess he did the best with what he had. Jennifer Connelly spends a lot of time looking alternately forlorn and dazed. The entire movie really needs an ample serving of WWE!, and way less Why?. For what it's worth, I thought the Hulk scenes weren't as unconvincing as some people had reported, though it may be still a few years before Hollywood replaces real actors with technology. The ending is MIA, as is Sam Elliot's chin; this is symbolic, methinks.


Eight American kids vie for the National Spelling Bee championship; suspense ensues. This movie kicked ass in so many ways. The secret to making good documentaries, it seems, is to choose the right people to talk to, and director Jeffrey Blitz has done just that. He then follows up great interviews with some impeccable editing, and tastefully subtle transitions. He also does a brilliant job of sowing early seeds of suspense: which one of these kids we are being introduced to will win? Funny, surreal, and entertaining in the way that only reality (true reality, not that made-up TV stuff) can be.

Fear dot com

Okay, this wins the "unintentionally funny" award of the month: Check out the trailer for the new Warner Brothers movie Fear Dot Com. It's too much.

It's sad to see the beautiful Natascha McElhone (who was quite good in John Frankenheimer's Ronin) forced to sprout dreck like, "Every one of these victims died two days to the minute after they logged onto the Fear site!"

It's got Stephen Dorff (one of the more unfortunately named Hollywood actors)! It's got the great Udo Kier! It's got people staring in bewilderment at a Toshiba laptop, and lots of shots of people typing away frantically on keyboards! It's got dire pronouncements like, "Promise me one thing - that you won't visit that site." You know I have to see it.

After life

afterLife.jpgGood lord, if you want to see a movie that is not only achingly beautiful, but also thought-provoking, soulful, and almost balletic in its execution, get your butt off of the couch and rent After Life (called "Wandafuru raifu", or "Wonderful Life" in its native Japan).

I haven't seen a movie this good in a very long time. Wow.

The story follows one week in a "way station somewhere between Heaven and Earth". The recently deceased are given three days to choose one memory from their life (and one memory only) to relive. They're assisted in this evaluation of their life by caseworkers, who slowly help coax out the memory by asking questions, retrieving "video tapes" of the person's life, etc. Once the memory has been chosen, it is recreated and filmed, and then the person moves on to "Heaven" to relive the memory forever.

The movie raises some very deep questions. How can a person summarize an entire lifetime in one memory? What would that memory be for you? What defines our happiness, and how does one reconcile a life of regret?

Because I've watched a ton of movies (from being a short-lived movie reviewer, and also because I worked as a movie rental clerk for quite a while), it's quite hard for me to be emotionally moved by a film - especially the sledgehammer subtlety of movies out of the Hollywood system. One just gets used to sensing the buildup that comes with scenes that could inspire a teary response.

This movie moved me, and moved me deeply. Do yourself a huge favour and rent this one. It's the best thing I've seen in a very, very long time.

Incredibly intimate, personal, and possibly impossible to answer, but if you had to choose one memory to relive for the rest of your life, could you?

Long-winded thoughts on Moulin Rouge

moulinRougeWell, I just finished partaking in the experience that is Moulin Rouge! Wow. What a stumbling spectacle of a movie.

I've realized from watching this film that I'm not a Baz Luhrmann fan. I find his style comes off like pop art statements filtered through the vocabulary of Hollywood action films; all swagger and kinetics and a magician's sense of distraction, and little real substance.

Short Attention Span

Luhrmann seems to have this strange inability to focus his camera on anything without either distorting it somehow (filters, wide angle lenses, etc.), or cutting away so quickly you're not really sure what you saw in the first place. Moulin Rouge (and his earlier film, Romeo + Juliet) are filled with these rapid fire distortions.

You can almost physically feel him attempting to grab you by the collar and shake you into having an experience with his films. I don't like it when someone is obviously trying very hard to move me. It feels manipulative and fake.

You Look Good to Me

One thing about this movie that does bowl you over is its visual splendor. The sets and costumes (and more than a handful of shots) are opulent and beautiful. You can tell art director Ann-Marie Beauchamp poured her heart into every nook and cranny of this film. A fastidious, loving attention to detail is everpresent. This is Paris, but its Paris as imagined by a Las Vegas casino decorator gone wild, and with an endless budget.

An Embarrassment of (Musical) Glitches

ewanMcgregor.jpgI love musicals, and I'm nutty for the old musicals from the golden age of MGM studios, so the sight of Ewan McGregor or Nicole Kidman belting out a saucy number didn't freak me out too much. It's more the strange juxtaposition that Luhrmann forces here between the ribald anachronisms of the can-can and modern music. I knew from the second the movie opened with the title "Paris: 1900" and David Bowie warbled the words to "Nature Boy" (written in the 60's by Eden Abnez) that period accuracy was not the idea here.

The attempts to toss in music that a younger generation could recognize here, however, proves more surreal than successful. The sight of row upon row of top hat-sporting men singing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, or Ewan McGregor bravely warbling Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You proved too silly and incredulous for me. A duet by the leads about halfway through the film (Come What May) is the one exception - it's quite pretty and well-performed - but I found the music more jarring and distracting than good.

Maybe that's just my internal Grandma Simpson screeching, however: "They don't make musicals like they used toooooo!"

Still, if I hear that damn Lady Marmalade again, it'll be too soon. There's a reason why the media has dubbed Christina Aguliera, Mya, Pink, and Lil' Kim the "Four Whores of the Apocalypse". <shudder>

Note to Director: Pacing is your friend

My biggest problem with this movie is the pacing. The movie, as Renée astutely pointed out while we were watching it, is one big rollicking climax from top to bottom. I half expected Luhrmann, having already hit the ceiling with his numerous climactic song and dance numbers, ending the film with the explosion of the Moulin Rouge in a gigantic spray of glitter and feather boas.

One thing is for sure: I've never seen a movie like this before. It's bold, very daring, and features some of the bravest performances by actors in recent years. I mean, can you believe the sight of Jim Broadbent singing Like a Virgin? The visual audacity of this film is truly stunning. At the same time, the plot is gossamer-thin, the characters mere cardboard cutouts, and the music more often than not cringe-worthy, or unintentionally hilarious.

Finally: A Recommendation

Moulin Rouge! is worth a watch just for the costumes and sets alone, but if you want to see a really good modern musical, rent Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy. It has everything: amazing sets, great songs, hilarious dialogue, good acting, and a nicely paced plot.

P.S. Do yourself a favour and check out the Moulin Rouge! Web site - it's really terrific.

Patagonia, Afro-beat, and Extraterrestials

This week's roundup contains one from all three categories, just to everyone started:

Book: In Patagonia

Written by: Bruce Chatwin

inPatagonia.jpgThis is no mere travel book, but a poetic exploration of a land sequestered from the bulk of civilization; a land at the end of the world. Bruce Chatiwn's travels in Patagonia are deeply anecdotal and laconic, following an arc of experience so concise many said there was no way he could have actual been to Patagonia; that he had made it all up. Whether this is the case or not, In Patagonia is filled with a sense of detail like a laser beam. It conjures up wistful travel yearnings and delicious imagery.

Music: Talkatif

Performed by: Antibalas

talkatif.jpgAfro-beat music has always been associated closely with the man that invented it, the late Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti. More recently, the efforts of his son Femi Kuti has expanding on the original's heady mix of horns, funk, and polyrhythmic energy, but it's Brooklyn's Antibalas which has brought a North American flavour to the genre. A 14-member collective, Antibalas seemlessly incorporates a broad variety of New York sounds (jazz, latin, funk, soul) into the Afro-beat basics of horns, driving backbeats, and infectious rhythms. Dance your ass off, and never look back.

Movie: Man Facing Southeast

(Hombre mirando al sudeste)
Directed by: Eliseo Subiela

manSE.jpgA man appears seemingly out of nowhere in an insane asylum, claiming to be from another planet. Every day he stands, facing southeast to, as he says, receive messages from his home planet. While his psychiatrist doesn't believe a word he says, the man slowly begins to have an effect on him, raising the question: is he telling the truth, or is he truly insane? This is the movie that the Kevin Spacey "let's get Kevin a best-actor Oscar" K-Pax wanted to be (and ripped off remade, to boot). Quietly intelligent, moving, emotional, and thought-provoking entertainment.

Born on the Year of Natural Platoon Dumbasses

Oliver StoneOf all the stupid, idiotic hacks that have hosed their crappy, boneheaded movies all over the psyche of the modern movie-goer, none come even remotely close to the pretentious, flatulent blowhardedness of Olive Stone. Is there an event that he WON’T piss his ass-headed conspiracies all over? The only person in Hollywood with more conceit and less talent than this guy is that big-haired buffoon Joe Eszterhas. Good lord, don’t get me started.

The Sweet Smell of Success - 1957

Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick

Written by: Ernest Lehman & Clifford Odets

One Sheet for Sweet Smell of SuccessThis classic film, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, is easily one of the best films of all time. A pretty bold statement, perhaps, until you've actually sat down and soaked in its vicious, chilled vitriol. Burt Lancaster never portrayed calculated maliciousness more convincingly, and baby-faced Tony Curtis literally drips with self-serving viciousness. It is, as Curtis's Sidney Falco proclaims, "a cookie filled with arsenic."

The Sweet Smell of Success is an unflinching exploration of the evil that men are capable of. Lancaster plays J. J. Hunsecker, a newspaper gossip columnist whose poisoned pen can make or break a career, and Curtis's Falco one of his many "press agents". The story follows Hunsecker's attempts to ruin his daughter's marriage to a jazz guitarist by getting Falco to dig up dirt on him. And it is deliciously nasty.

"You're dead, son, " Hunsecker tells Falco at one point, "get yourself buried." Clifford Odet's script for The Sweet Smell of Success is astoundingly good, overflowing with snappy, yet hate-filled one-liners that resonate in the mind long after the film ends. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino based a lot of his dialogue writing style on the rapid-fire delivery heard in this film, and it shows. The banter between any of Tarantino's characters in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs evokes Odet's uncanny sense of timing; they draw from the same polluted source.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer and Chinese trailblazer James Wong Howe (who was the first Chinese man to work in Hollywood in such a high position), The Sweet Smell of Success is as blackhearted and spellbinding now as it was forty years ago. Highly recommended.

Something to make it all better


Much better: This makes me feel much, much better.

"Of course he's the fucking farmer!

The death of inspiration

End of an era: A couple of days ago, I went rummaging through my parent's basement and found the decrepit, dusty PC that I wrote with when I used to be a hackneyed, talentless movie critic. Amazingly, the hard drive still worked, and I managed to pull nearly two years of movie reviews that I wrote dating from 1996-1997.

At the time, I had absolutely zero writing experience. Looking back on the whole debacle, I'm astounded that I got the opportunity I did to learn some things about writing in such a public way. I made a lot of mistakes and said a bunch of idiotic things... but slowly, my writing improved.

It's funny, but I've been thinking about that whole period a lot, as I'm in the midst of prepping a bunch of the reviews I actually feel pretty good about for this site. So, it was with more than a little shock and sadness that I found out that Pauline Kael passed away yesterday.

What can be said about Pauline Kael that hasn't already been said? She was, for all intensive purposes, the most interesting and compelling film writer ever. Even when you disagreed with her (and that happened more often than you would expect), you still couldn't help but shake your head at the staggering intelligence behind her firey writing. Whether she was questioning the amount of actual work Orson Welles contributed to Citizen Kane, thumbing her nose at the whole auteur theory of directorial ownership, or trumpeting the merits of films that others dismissed (such as Bonnie & Clyde, and many of Brian De Palma's earlier works), she was never, never boring, and always jazzily eloquent.

I owe a huge debt to Pauline Kael for inspiring me, astounding me, and keeping me interested and excited about writing for film... and writing in general. If you've never read any of her many movie review collections, I highly recommend For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies, which is an excellent complilation of her best reviews. ...


m e m e n t o: Just got back from seeing this, and I am impressed. Completely innovative and outstandingly put together, considering the difficulties and logistical slippery spots the script presents. Renée and I will probably be mulling this one over for a couple of days, at least. If you haven't heard how this film works, this is a very slight summary:

It's a film noir about a man who suffers from "anterograde memory loss" - he still retains long-term memories, but cannot create any new ones - he lacks short-term recall. The entire film is shot in reverse sequence - we see the climax, and then work backwards from there. I won't spoil the plot - needless to say, it's an admirable writing, directing and acting job, and the way the film deals with the question of memory and truth is outstanding. Lead Guy Pearce is impeccable, and Joe Pantoliano (Ralph Cifaretto from The Sopranos) is excellent. Definitely worth seeing.

In the heat of the night

Actor Carroll O’Connor Dies at 76.

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