Saturday, May 31, 2008

Aliens: good news, bad news

The good news: aliens apparently exist.

The bad news: the aliens are other-worldly manifestations of The Punisher.

We can only hope the Punisher aliens blame another planet for the brutal killing of their family. Our sympathies go out to that planet.

Friday, May 30, 2008


The saying goes, 'Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life.' If that's true, Chris Poggiali lifetime workload has barely cracked 10 minutes: in addition to writing for the likes of Fangoria, Shock Cinema and BadAzz MoFo, Chris has even written DVD liner notes and back-cover info for a few of your favorite films (Zombie Holocaust, The Young Erotic Fanny Hill, Diamonds On Her Naked Flesh, Mean Mother, etc.). But if you were lucky enough to read the late-80s fanzine Temple of Schlock ('subs are $3 for 6 [issues], and you have your choice of ham or turkey') then you already know all about Chris (a few issues are available to read in the 'writing' section of his MySpace pictures section). And if you happen to see a graphic novel by the name of Bleed for sale, well that was based on one of Chris' screenplays. Hey Chris, get back to work!

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'When I was 3 years old, my grandmother took me to see Herbie Rides Again at the Main Street Cinema in New Rochelle, NY. I remember the experience vividly, and I’ve been a fan of Disney live-action comedies ever since.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Big Bob Johnson and his Fantastic Speed Circus (1978), a TV movie from Playboy Productions starring Charles Napier, Maud Adams and James Bond III. Purchased from'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'Last year the American Cinematheque did a series of neglected American movies from the 1970s, and some great, great stuff was screened. But not everyone lives in L.A. obviously, and the New York version that was done at the Film Forum wasn’t nearly as strong, so I would schedule something comparable for TCM. My first 3 choices: (1) Frank Perry’s Man on a Swing, (2) Richard Sarafian’s Lolly-Madonna XXX, and (3) a coin-toss between William Graham’s Together Brothers and Jack Starrett’s The Gravy Train.'

FAVORITE MOVIE ENDING: 'When I was in the second grade, I got in trouble for twisting myself up in my desk trying to recreate the final shot of Barry Robins in Bless the Beasts and the Children. I’ll never forget the blood rushing to my head and the (upside down) sight of Mrs. Lambert at the blackboard pointing at me and yelling, “Chris, get up! Stop fooling around and get up!” So that ending immediately comes to mind. But the key word is “favorite,” so I’ll have to say It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'American films I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen? Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). My excuse: I read all of James Cain’s books and burned out on him before I got around to seeing these two adaptations. I haven’t seen the 1981 version of Postman either. I did see Ossessione, though, which brings me to a few international films I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen: The Apu Trilogy and Sansho the Bailiff. No excuse whatsoever. I’ve owned them both for years and just haven’t watched them. Someday.'

Date with an Angel
Only Angels Have Wings -- 'I watched this back-to-back-to-back with I Was a Male War Bride and Monkey Business about 15 years ago. I remember this being the one that didn’t put Cary Grant in drag, or give him a crew cut and stick him opposite Ginger Rogers and a chimpanzee.'
Angels in America
Angel Heart

'For actor, the easy choice would be Jeff Bridges – four nominations, zero wins – but I never do these things the easy way so I’m going with his Fat City co-star, Stacy Keach. End of the Road, The New Centurions, Doc, Luther, The Gravy Train, The Ninth Configuration, Road Games -- take your pick. For actress, I’d give it to Diana Sands for The Landlord. Lee Grant got the Oscar nomination, but Sands’ performance is the one I can’t get out of my head years later. Her final scene is heartbreaking.'

April or May of 1989. I saw Saturday the 14th Strikes Back and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure at the Buffalo Drive-In, a three-screener in Cheektowaga, just outside of Buffalo, New York. The manager tapped into the AM frequency before each feature so he could crack lame jokes and make fun of the movies we were about to watch. By the way, next week marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the very first drive-in theatre, the Camden Drive-In in Camden, New Jersey. I think it only stayed in business for three years. My girlfriend lives a short distance from Shankweiler’s, the very second drive-in theatre (and the oldest one still in business), but we haven't gotten there yet. Every summer I say I’m going to go see something at a drive-in, but I never get my act together -- probably because the drive-ins rarely show anything I want to sit through.'

'For 30 years I’ve been obsessed with horror, action and exploitation movies, specifically from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s, a “wild west” period for movie distribution in the U.S. Even as a 7-year-old who clipped ad mats out of the newspaper, I knew that certain films were destined to play only drive-ins and seedy downtown theaters, so I’ve always thought of these movies as “outlaw cinema.” Japanese monster movies, biker movies, spaghetti westerns, chainsaw massacres, car chase flicks, redneck revenge epics, kung fu, blaxploitation, sexploitation, 3-D – that’s the kind of stuff I live for. The way kids from earlier generations followed the violent exploits of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger, I used to devour everything I could find on Roger Corman, Al Adamson, Herschell Gordon Lewis and other outlaw moviemakers. The confusion that some of the schlockmeisters created back in the day is just mind-boggling. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t e-mail me to see if I can help them locate the real credits for a French sexploitation flick or identify the U.S. distributor of an obscure yakuza movie. Thirty, thirty-five, forty years later, we’re still sorting out the mess.'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'The only critics I trust these days are Dave Kehr and Glenn Erickson. As a teenager, I thought Lawrence Cohn at Variety was the king because he was a legitimate critic who actually got paid to cover all the obscure exploitation movies playing on 42nd Street. That seemed like a dream job to me! Also, I lived for a while in Syracuse, NY, where there were three pretty good movie critics – Douglas Brode, Joan Vadeboncoeur, and Bill DeLapp – plus Steve Puchalski, whose Slimetime fanzine was available in Syracuse University stores and local comic book shops. I was an usher at the old Shoppingtown theaters in Syracuse, so I got to talk to the critics whenever they came by to see a movie. DeLapp was really nice – I think I even gave him copies of my fanzine, Temple of Schlock. I liked Joan because she was a Walter Hill fan and the only critic in the area who caught every Italian horror movie that rolled through town. I still have her reviews of Burial Ground, The Gates of Hell, Guardian of Hell…'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I can’t pick just one, but I’ll try to keep it to a handful. Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Danny Peary’s Cult Movies and Cult Movies 2 (I never got the third volume, for some reason), Harlan Ellison’s Watching, the two-volume American Directors edited by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, anything by William Goldman, and The Total Film-Maker by Jerry Lewis.'

'I see 3-5 movies a week at home, and maybe one movie a month in a theatre.'

'(1) Movies were better when they were written and directed by people with life experience rather than film school or “I-watch-a-lotta-films” experience. (2) The stories behind the making and the marketing of certain movies can be more interesting than the movies themselves. (3) Roger Corman and Jerry Lewis deserve Honorary Academy Awards.'

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The 1080 Times, vol. 1


So I'm living in the past with HD-DVD, why would any self-respecting consumer want to read about this outdated format? I'll tell you why: many of the HD-DVDs I'm planning to write about are not available on Blu-Ray, but when they do arrive on that format it will be the same high definition transfer and will look pretty much identical (the consensus is that the latest movies in HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are hard to distinguish). So HD-DVD and Blu-Ray converts alike should be able to take something informative from these posts.

Since getting player I've watched many HD-DVDs, either from online rental or buying them with a dramatic discount from Amazon. With my capsule reviews I'm assigning them a 1-10 score based on their HD Amaze-ability. These scores won't be entirely based on a movie's transfer, but simply how much the HD image will blow you away.

300 (combo format, $20.95): This was one of the pack-ins with my HD-DVD player, and while I was expecting to be amazed by the picture, like the movie itself it didn't really impress me. The HD 300 looks like...300, exactly as you saw it in the theater or on standard DVD. This is the only CGI-heavy HD-DVD I've watched, but I suspect that digital special effects don't receive too much of an upgrade in HD. There's nothing to complain about here, but I don't think casual viewers will notice much of a difference. Score: 5.

The Bourne Identity
($13.95): The other pack-in disc, The Bourne Identity looks fine but because of its subdued color pallet and dark locations never really shows off the HD format the way you think it would.. But the disc does have impressive extras, showing off the picture-in-picture capabilities by switching to a satellite view of where the action is taking place, with facts about the locations. Score: 6

Flags of Our Fathers ($18.95): The battle scenes definitely enter eye-popping territory, with the amazing shots of battleships filling the Pacific and their beach landings. Natural light always comes through beautifully in HD, and there's plenty of it in the Iwo Jima scenes. This movie also introduced me to a cool HD-DVD feature, where some discs come with a progress bar that pops up when you fast forward or pause (much like how a DVR works). Score: 8

Eastern Promises
(combo format, $17.95): The best of the recent movies I've seen on HD-DVD, in content and picture quality. While a lot of it is shot in dark streets and alleys, there also scenes like the Christmas dinner, which is an true show stopper in HD. The higher resolution also adds to the tattoo imagery, which is a prominent aspect of the plot. Score: 9

The Adventures of Robin Hood ($15.95): Without a doubt, the best example of what the HD format is capable of. I had heard a lot of good things about this disc, and it has to be seen to be believed. While the movie already has legendary Technocolor, in HD it's almost like watching it through a Viewmaster, taking on a near-3D quality in some focuses. Warner Bros also made the right move in porting over all the great extras from the original DVD, making this a must buy for HD-DVD converts (not yet available on Blu-Ray). Score: 10

The Cowboys ($14.95): This probably would have impressed me more if I had seen it before in non-HD. It's a great presentation, but nothing that will blow your socks off. However, there are a couple moments where you think "wow, this is HD," like when we see John Wayne wearing a coat that looks like it was stitched together by a costumer hours before. On a lesser format it would look like an ordinary coat, but in HD it looks recently-pressed with perfect seams -- not the kind of coat a rough rancher would be wearing. Score: 6

Into the Wild ($18.95): I was excited about this one, but it was strangely unspectacular. The Alaska scenes are what you would expect, but they're not as vibrant as I had hoped, maybe due to the lack of bright sunlight in the wilderness. Score: 7

The Road Warrior ($14.95): I had been dying to see this on HD since the early reviews raved about its unexpectedly amazing transfer. This is a personal reference movie for me, since I saw it probably 20 times on VHS and probably half that on the inferior DVD. Having said that: Wow! In HD your eyes start wandering away from the action and into the Australian hills that are now populated with greenery (who knew?). Lots of surprises: when a baddy punches through the window in Max's semi, you can see all the glass shards hurtling toward the screen; a few of the sunsets seem un-Earthly; and all the flames look like they're about to burn through your screen. A dream for Road Warrior lovers, or any action movie fan. Score: 10

Zodiac: Director's Cut ($18.95): This is realistically the best-looking HD-DVD out there, but it's in a different league than Adventures of Robin Hood because it was filmed in HD. This makes the movie look almost too lifelike, with almost no film grain and a quality from some light sources that make you want to jump inside your TV. Zodiac was my favorite movie of 2007 (not the best, but my favorite), so these discs seem to always be in my player. Beyond the fantastic visuals, it's just one of the best DVDs I've come across in the last couple years, mostly because of the outstanding documentaries. Score: 10

Blade Runner: 5-Disc Complete Collector's Edition ($21.95): Remember, while regular DVD consumers had to buy the big, pricey briefcase to obtain the fifth disc (containing Ridley Scott's "work print"), next-gen converts could buy a non-briefcase 5-disc version for roughly half the price. I traded in a few movies I hope to upgrade with HD-DVDs and only paid $1 of my money for it. The HD Blade Runner is everything you've dreamed of but somehow ... it disappointed me a little bit, and I think I know why. Since I already bought this on standard DVD and was amazed by the new transfer on it, the HD version wasn't able to quite blow me away. Nonetheless, this movie looks great on HD. For the first time you can see every layer of Scott's visual feast, with walls of rain, fog and steam clearly visible in each scene, with neon lights reflecting off windows and lights from flying cars bouncing off puddles on the street. Score: 9

*Note: I actually watch my HD-DVDs in 720p, because my clunker TV doesn't do 1080p, and its 1080i setting irritates me. Honestly, I chose The 1080 Times because it sounds better than The 720p Picayune.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A few links of interest

This three four day weekend has me too relaxed. I have a few posts I'd like to finish, and I probably will when I have less free time, so in the meantime I bring you these quality links:

-- There's always something interesting to read at Joe Baltake's the passionate moviegoer, and one post that got me thinking was How "Home Entertainment" Ruined Movies. I had meant to post something on this topic, but I realized it would be all about how I used to watch The Simpsons more before I got the DVDs. Also check out On Killing the Souls of Movie Critics.

-- James Frazier has a great take on a topic I touched on recently, with 30 more skills (and growing) men should master...

-- ... and Paul Clark chimes in on one particular skill every cinephile should master. (The skills list relating to movies has great potential, seems like it could even be a book).

-- Hey, lookie -- Chris Stangl just posted the latest chapter of The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle!

-- Just discovered the great blog So Long, VHS, and there's plenty to chew on over there, such as a look at Indiana Jones imitators and a few delicious VHS cover scans of long-forgotten titles.

-- Moviezzz has a couple new installments of his excellent What Ever Happened to series -- the Stephen Geoffreys profile is a great read.

-- Joseph B has an ambitious piece about Sidney Lumet's career. I was unfamiliar with most of these titles and obviously need to change that about a few of them.

-- Alan at Burbanked can really tell a story, and in the spirit of the Dark Knight, he tells a darned good one: Part 1, Part 2.

Friday, May 23, 2008

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Marilyn Ferdinand

Marilyn Ferdinand should be commended for keeping her house in order, because she just hosted one hell of a dance party. The Invitation to the Dance Blog-a-Thon was a great idea, and the results were even better, as a wide range of interesting posts tapped their toes on the floor. Together with writing companion Roderick Heath, Marilyn populates Ferdy on Films, etc. with unexpected pleasantries, such as her outstanding coverage of the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival or the legendary Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival. Marilyn's reviews are always packed with honest insights and feel like they're written by someone who genuinely wants you to know about the movie.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'Watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. It was an annual ritual, along with watching the telecast of Mary Martin in Peter Pan.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Black Test Car (Kuro no tesuto kaa, 1962), a film by director Yasuzo Masumura recommended by Kimberly Lindbergs at Cinebeats.

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'This is a really hard question because my tastes are so wide-ranging, but I think I’d like to showcase the forgotten funny women of film. Ella Cinders (1926), starring Colleen Moore in a charming performance. A New Leaf (1971), a perfect comedy that Elaine May directed, wrote and starred in. Show People (1928), a great spoof on Hollywood starring Marion Davies, whose potentially great career in comedy was thwarted by her lover, William Randolph Hearst, who didn’t think comedies were dignified enough for her

FAVORITE MOVIE ENDING: 'City Lights. When Virginia Cherrill, newly restored to sight, watches Charlie Chaplin through the shop window and at the last moment goes out to talk to him, the lump in my throat starts to rise. When it dawns on her that he is her benefactor and she says “You?” the tears start to form. When Charlie looks back at her with a smile of pure love, the dam breaks. It’s a perfect scene in every way.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WAHT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'I’m not ashamed I haven’t seen any film, but I think the one more people have urged me to watch that I just can’t seem to is Pulp Fiction. Why not? Tarantino, though a fine writer, seems like such a “guy” thing.'

Date With an Angel
Only Angels Have Wings
Angels in America -- '“American prophet, tonight you become American eye that pierceth dark, American heart hot full for truth.” Truth writ large with elegance, humor, and pain about the desperate days of AIDS and alienation in the Reagan era. I just want to add my favorite quote from this monumental work: “Maybe we are free. To do whatever. Children of the new morning, criminal minds. Selfish and greedy and loveless and blind. Reagan's children. You're scared. So am I. Everybody is in the land of the free. God help us all.”'
Angel Heart

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS OSCAR TO: 'Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon in Robert Altman’s Secret Honor. There is no performance doomed to obscurity more deserving of being remembered than this 90-minute monologue, and not a single awarding organization even nominated him for it.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'In 1973, with a bunch of friends, to see The Last Detail. Somewhere along the line a spider on the windshield was drowned by half a bottle of gin. I’ve always wondered if the movie was good.'

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'Not really, but I’ve been trying to get out to see a lot of Balkan cinema. I find its cynical, hilarious, harrowing take on life and times there irresistible.'

CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'Roger Ebert. I’ve been taking his advice since I was a teenager, and he’s the one critic whose tastes run pretty close to mine, plus he’s an awesome writer and a genuinely nice man.'

'It’s going to sound dumb, but if I ever lost TV Movies, a 1969 compendium of capsule reviews by Leonard Maltin, I’d be extremely upset. It lists a lot of films that are now obscure and/or not available in home viewing formats, comprising a record that can’t be replaced by things like Video Hound and other listing books. It’s also the first film book I ever bought.'


THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES: 'Life’s too short to waste. Choose well, and if that fails, don’t be afraid to walk out. Singing and dancing anywhere for any reason is a good thing to do from time to time. Pay attention to the light in which you’re seen.'

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' popular among box historians

Note: This post is part of the Indiana Jones Blog-a-Thon at Cerebral Mastication.

DENTON, Texas -- Citing "iconic imagery of the industry," the Society for Historical and Informative Teachings of Boxes (or SHIT Box) honored the 1981 film "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with its prestigious Gold Box award. Awarded semi-annually, or whenever they get enough money, the Gold Box recognizes works of art that promote "positive box themes and ideology."

"'Raiders of the Lost Ark' is the rare movie that advanced the public's perception of boxes, and what they are capable of," said SHIT Box President-elect Wesley Cratchman. "How many times has someone entered a crowded supplies closet and said, 'hey it's just like in that one movie'?"

Though very little of the movie concerns boxes, "Raiders" closes with a famous shot of a box containing the Ark of the Covenant being filed away in a warehouse filled with countless other such boxes.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't care much for the rest of the movie," said Muss Wheeler, 91, a self-described "SHIT head" who has spent 50+ years researching boxes and crates. "But when I saw that T-502 being packed away at the end, my eyes lit up."

The life's work of Herman "T" Titmole, the T-502 was the first wooden box to be made in a square shape, as opposed to the triangle and star-shaped boxes of the 19th century. When it premiered at the 1944 Worlds Fair in Tokyo, skeptical box critics decried the design as "lurid," but its inclusion in many Hollywood productions forced the public to take notice. T-502 boxes were soon a staple prop in movies and on television.

But when "Raiders" was released, the T-502 had long since fallen out of public favor, overshadowed by cheaper and less durable cardboard boxes. The whimsical warehouse scene in the movie sparked a brief resurgence in sales of retro wooden boxes.

"We had customers in the Midwest who wanted to turn their barn into an Indiana Jones warehouse, and for awhile it was one of the most popular costumes for shut-ins," said Tuffy Wipple, a former SHIT Box treasurer and box opportunist. "For a few months, it was like the golden age of boxes."

That fleeting feeling of box hysteria was credited to "Raiders," and the fact that a T-502 was chosen to protect a precious religious artifact seemed to invigorate the industry. Cratchman noted that producers could have easily written in a trunk or sack to house the Ark of the Covenant, but clearly saw the aesthetic power of a wooden box.

Accepting the Gold Box, which is actually made of copper, was actor Barrie Holland who played the famous box pusher in the heralded scene. Since his role was uncredited, Holland's pay was a plate of breakfast sausages (a longstanding policy of Steven Spielberg), but the actor says the legacy of his performance has been priceless.

"I can't tell you how many warehouse jobs I've landed because of that role," said Holland, standing at the podium in the prestigious Chaparral Room of the Denton Clarion Inn. "This gold box should look good on the dashboard of my car."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In praise of Mr. Round

Note: This is part of the Indiana Jones Blog-a-thon at Cerebral Mastication.

My childhood years following my introduction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were spent primarily on two activities: watching the movie repeatedly, and encouraging others to do the same. The latter became easier once I started school, since my parents (and even my younger brother) had long become disinterested in re-enacting the final bridge scene with me on any elevated structure (i.e. park bridges, couches, tables). Temple was well regarded with my Catholic school mates, even though only a few of them were allowed to see it. Almost all of them were familiar with the first half of the title, but it was from another movie, which they called Raiders of the Lost Ark. One of them even claimed Temple was a sequel of sorts.

But that's impossible, I thought, because it's called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, not Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom II: Heartburn. This other movie didn't even have Indiana Jones in the title. Nor, I would find, did it have an opening dance number, a raft plunging out of a plane and through the snow, a gross-out dinner, gruesome rituals, a mine cart chase OR A BRIDGE FINALE THAT COULD BE RE-ENACTED ON FURNITURE! So what did it have? The most common answer I would get to this question was "a part where everyone melts." This sounded fun enough but ... no bridge? When I finally saw Raiders a couple of years later, the omission that disappointed me the most was the lack of any characters near my age.

While the aforementioned scenes were my favorite parts of Temple, it was through Short Round that I experienced them. Short Round allowed me to imagine that a kid could do more than go to school. In fact, there existed the possibility of me driving a car, jumping out of a plane, riding elephants, rescuing hundreds of fellow children and beating up some brat with a doll and a jewel hat. At the same time, Temple didn't feel like a kids movie -- so much so that my parents barely let me watch it. These two elements, a heroic kid in the midst of nightmarish evil, combined to make Temple a source of worship for my young mind for years.

So let's take a look at this under-appreciated boy, and some of his finer moments.

At first you think, "Hey, they let kids drive cars in Shanghai?" But no, this ain't no ordinary young Chinese driver. He's friends with Indy, and he may just help him escape danger.

This line is followed by the first appearance of John Williams' wonderfully spirited Short Round theme.
Damn I love this kid, not only is he the sidekick to Indiana Jones, but he has license to sass anyone else.
Just one of multiple Short Round lines that are fun to use while playing poker.
Best part about this scene is how Short Round is paralyzed by fear through it, just standing and watching Indy dispatch this henchman in thrilling fashion.
Amazingly, this line works because of what we've seen before it about Indy and Short Round's relationship.
Short Round may not be as strong as these slave drivers, but dammit if he can climb a ladder faster than them.
This line is great to use on someone suffering from a hangover, or possibly being awakened from a coma.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Turning the page(s)

It's a perfectly hot Sunday morning. The only sounds in the house are coming from my new HD-DVD of Zodiac (more on that this week), and I am able to gaze upon the wonderful librarian-ish character my Chloe Sevigny plays in the movie (wearing a turtleneck, unfashionable glasses and a heart necklace to dinner with Jake Gyllenhall's Robert Graysmith .... ah, Chloe). Where was I? Oh, yeah librarians -- I hear they deal in books, as does the meme Thom Ryan and Bob Turnbull tagged me with. Regrettably, I rarely talk about books because I have pitifully little experience with them as the stinking black sheep of a family of paper lions (including one librarian). Here's the meme rules:

  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Locate the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing…
  5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you
The nearest book to me is actually a source of embarrassment (like most of the few books I own): I want to read No Country for Old Men, and I've liked the 14 pages I've read so far. There it is atop my DVD rack mocking me with the quiet hiss of a captive bolt pistol, and here's what it has to offer from page 123:
I know they's a lot of things in a family history that just plain aint so. Any family. The stories get passed on and the truth gets passed over.
I know I need to read this book, and I even set out to spend a flight to Portland doing just that, but I ended up trying to listen to the boring conversation behind me. Someday I'll finish it, and I might even write a few words about it.

I've tagged the following:

Any blogger who has more than one flavor of ice cream in their freezer (Neopolitan counts as one flavor).

Friday, May 16, 2008


At Broken Projector, Gautam Valluri recounts his advent into world cinema as a weekly affair at a New Delhi film club, which required a two hour bus ride. From those long Sundays, Gautam has developed a wide range of film interests and expertise, which he regularly shares at Broken Projector. In October, Gautam hosted the smash hit Double Bill Blog-a-thon, which elicited plenty of entertaining pairings. If you missed it, don't fear -- a repeat staging is on tap for this year. In addition to posts about the likes of British New Wave (four part series), film techniques and various world cinema, Gautam also gives us a variety of interviews with filmmakers. His Q&A with auteur Ashvin Kumar is an interesting look at one of India's most influential artists.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'My earliest memory and perhaps the first movie experience was going to the Indian black comedy/ silent film Pushpak in the year 1988-89. I must've been aged 3 or 4 and I don't think I remember too much from that outing, but I've watched this great film many times later on in my life on television and I have come to like it very much. The first english film that I've watched has to be The Sound of Music on a VHS cassette (that was borrowed from our cousins) after we had bought our first (and only) VCR in the early 1990s.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'I had bought a rather cheap version of Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman which was priced at half the rate of regular DVDs here. It turned out to be a bad choice as the print was a Pan-and-Scan full screen version with no extra material and an epilogue of un-skippable "coming soon on DVD" advertisements. I like the movie very much and I plan to buy the Artificial Eye DVD release of it sometime in the future and probably rid myself of this one.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'I always had a special place in my heart for the great independent films of the 1960s. It's really interesting to see that there were some independent films released in the years 1959-1960 in France, Britain and America that provided the spark to start the New Wave fires in their respective countries. Amazingly enough, all these "firestarter" films had the same things happening in them: on-location shooting, unorthodox cinematography, improvisational acting, questionable editing and shoe-string budgets. So if I was at Turner Classic Movies, I would programme a hat-trick dosage of The Great Firestarters and the schedule will probably look something like this:

7:00 pm: Shadows (1959/ USA/ 87 min)
Director: John Cassavetes
I consider this the first real independent film of America. Through the course of the film, you can watch it constantly breaking away from the then established Hollywood rules about how a film should be made and that must've been shocking to a lot of people back in 1959. I've read somewhere that somebody once went to Cassavetes after watching this film and praised him on his usage of the hand-held camera in this film to which Cassavetes replied "you stupid bastard, thats because I couldn't afford a tripod!".

9:00 pm: Breathless (1960/ France/ 87 min)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
This is the quintessential film of the French New Wave, famously known for its notorious usage of the jump-cut. Jean-Paul Belmondo is terrific in the lead role, taking improvisation to a new level altogether. Godard on the other hand plays dangerously with the various "rules" of filmmaking and ends up asking a lot of questions. Watching this film will convince a lot of people that films can be made by anyone who has the heart and will to make films.

11:00 pm: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960/ UK/ 89 min)
Director: Karel Reisz
Albert Finney is dashing in this film as the lead character Arthur Seaton as Britain got its first taste of hardcore realism. Widely regarded as the first film to be shot on location and the fore-runner of the British New Wave, this film bravely depicts in stark accuracy everything from extra-marital affairs to working-class violence to unplanned pregnancy to vandalism. I personally rate Albert Finney's performance as one of the all-time greatest in cinema and surely his personal best.

FAVORITE ENDING: 'The final scene of Abbas Kiarostami's magnificient film Taste of Cherry (1997) has disturbed me very much. This great Iranian film is about a man who has dug his own grave and is looking to hire someone to bury him after he commits suicide by consuming sleeping pills. Towards the end of the film we watch the man drive up in the darkness of the night, in midst of heavy rain to the spot where he has dug his grave. He lies down in it and has his eyes wide open in a terrific close up shot of his face. This shot remains for a few minutes before it blacks out but we hear the rain for another few minutes. The film then ends with video footage of the actor, the director and the rest of the cast and crew as they are shooting one of the scenes from the film. I have never fully understood the real meaning behind this unsual ending but I have come to respect it as one of the rare moments when cinema transcended its boundaries and leaked itself into the real world, or something like that.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT IS YOUR EXCUSE: 'This might shock a lot of people but I still haven't seen any of the films from The Godfather trilogy!! The trilogy's reputation is such that I already know what happens in it but I have not watched any of the films so far! I had a lot of chances to watch one of the movies of the trilogy but I held myself back because I plan to watch all 3 of them in an un-interrupted marathon someday. Until that day I'm that rare (and probably the only) film lover who hasn't watched The Godfather!

The Devils
Devil in a Blue Dress
The Devil's Own -- 'Brad Pitt fakes a very convincing Irish accent. Harrison Ford on the other hand, looks extremely clueless.'
Devil's Advocate

WHO WOULD YOU AWARD AN HONORARY BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS TO: 'I would award an Honorary Best Actor Oscar to the late Heath Ledger for his work on Brokeback Mountain. I feel it is one of the most moving performances of our times.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'There are hardly any drive-ins in India, I think there used to be a few in Mumbai but we definitely didn't have any in Hyderabad. There is an open-air theatre in one of the privately owned clubs here which is somewhat like a drive-in. The last time I was there I watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It was a rather unusual experience because we had all these planes flying over us heading towards the airport runway close by and at other times the sound system wasn't that great either.'

'I have a wide range of films that I love and as I had already mentioned earlier, I have a great love for the independent films of the 1960s and the 1970s. But then again I love a lot of films outside this particular era. I never really believe in going by genres because they are not that reliable most of the time. I think its safe to just say that I'm obsessed with films.'

FILM CRITIC YOU TRUST THE MOST: 'Roger Ebert. I read very little from critics because I try not to sound like one in my writing but he's probably the only critic that I've read from on several occassions. I like his principle of "relative criticism" and I think I usually end up liking the films that he likes, especially the new ones.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'It is "My First Movie", a book written by 20 established filmmakers about how they made their first film. I found this in my local bookstore and it was expensive so I've been reading it one chapter at a time over several visits. I've recently finished Ang Lee's section of the book where he explains in detail about the hardhips he had to put up with after film school and before his first feature-film project (which took him nearly 6 years!) and how he finally got to a place where he wanted to be. It was very enlightening to read. My other favorite segment of the book is the one by Kevin Smith- it's hilarious!'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'Over a normal week, I will watch anywhere from 5 to 7 films on cable and about 1 to 3 "good" films on DVD sourced from libraries, friends or bought.'

1. Cinema will save us.
2. If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed. (Stanley Kubrick)
3. Bruce Lee can kick anybody's ass.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Blog Sleep

There are thousands of stories in Print City, this is one of them...

The Front Row district of Print City is notoriously rough, but lately the obituaries have been longer than a director's cut of a Bertolucci film. While the average lifespan is criminally low -- most people don't survive to see their third anniversary -- recently a few heavyweights have gone belly-up before their time. Looking for reading material at the Corner Store (makes for good conversation in the coat-check line), I found some of my favorite racks were gathering dust. Jeb behind the counter is tight with his information, so I paid double for my usual pickled egg. His scoop was that the guy next door left for big-light dreams, one of the few friendly faces Downtown was recently locked out, and another veteran put up the "closed" sign abruptly. Jeb's news didn't surprise me -- if you let things catch you off guard in Front Row, you won't last long -- but the nugget he gave me while I bit into my pickled egg (Jeb's never been one for timing) elevated my right eyebrow, like that elevator at the department store that always stops on the second floor (ladies casual), no matter how many times you hit the button for the fourth (intimates).

"...and Larry's gone."

"He'll be back."

"Not this time..."

I knew any further prodding of Jeb would necessitate a second pickled egg purchase, and I could tell it wasn't one of his better batches. So I walked it alone under the flickering neon light, and even though my new superior at the home office probably had an urgent matter to see me about (probably something about a diaper), instincts told me to stop at my Front Row haunt to take a deeper look into these recent departures. Larry's abrupt disappearance was troubling, as he was a daily read for me -- but the bigger question was who's next? Four's a trend where I come from, and I don't mean a trend like the flavored cigarettes I smelled at the bar last night. With my nose for justice, I felt it was my obligation to find the root of this problem and stop it before another publication was rubbed out.

Just as this thought entered my head, a comment was slipped under my door. I raced to open my door, but the person's shadow had just escaped into the street. The comment was from "Anonymous," and it read "this isn't your game, give up before it's you who gets deleted." Now I knew I was waist-deep in this mess -- and I'm not talking about my garbage disposal disaster from last month. It was time to scare up my sources, namely someone who keeps his ear close to the ground. Moviezzz is just such a source, and he's low to the ground because he shines shoes -- but for an extra large tip he'll give me more than what makes front page news. I hand him the anonymous comment as he cracked open a new can of Kiwi.

"Looks like trouble, but whoever wrote it may have accidentally left you a clue."

"How do you figure?"

"Don't you know someone who's fond of games?"

Moviezzz was right, as usual, and I flipped him an extra dime. Yes, games, as in trivia, as in ol' Johnny Lapper and his famous trivia games. If it wasn't for a generous helping of the shakes, I might have triumphed in Lapper's latest game, but he was wiley enough to fool me. Not this time. It would make sense that someone with such a devious need for attention would resort to knocking off other publishers, but knowing him he won't go down easy. Unlucky for me, Johnny's place was dark -- but I did find an invitation to a dance sticking out of his mailbox.

Classy Marilyn was staging a dance the week away affair, and her place was hopping. It was easy to find Johnny on the dance floor, he might as well have had a custom banner above his head.

"You like games, Johnny boy?"

"Ross, you lost -- that doesn't mean you have to like it. And it also doesn't mean you have to mess up my steps."

"I ain't talkin' mere trivia games, seems you like to dabble in more bloody affairs. Know anything about Larry?"

"Yeah, he disappeared, it happens in this city."

"Strange that you were the first one to report on his absence, how is it that you got the scoop?"

"I don't reveal my sources," Johnny said, poking at his neat J&B. "And I don't let mugs like you waste precious minutes of my evening. Larry was an odd duck -- he never archived, he once went a whole month just talking about the same actor, who does that? Nobody."

"Correction -- now nobody does it, why were you so eager to see him go?"

"I don't have anything to hide, I was here dancing before Larry's last update -- ask anyone here," Johnny said, glancing to a gathering crowd of displeased onlookers. "I'll tell you this: Larry didn't finish his last update, but supposedly the title was 'There Will Be Blood,' and sure enough the garbage men were scrubbing it off the sidewalk the next day. Maybe he knew trouble was coming..."

A juicy answer, but it only meant more questions, good thing I didn't plan on sleeping (until I got tired, anyway). On my way out I saw Marilyn holding a tray of gin gimlets. I grabbed one for the road, and she gave me a glance that said "did you get my dance invitation in the mail?" and I responded with a nod that told her "I got it, but I couldn't find my dance shoes."

Leaving the dance hall, I could feel a break in the case rolling at me like that ball that someone just threw at me from a passing hardtop. Ouch! Who threw that? Picking up the ball ready to throw it back, I noticed it was no ordinary ball. It was a baseball autographed by ... Lee Van Cleef? This peculiar combination could have only come from one place: Dennis Cazzalio's baseball-themed drive-in on the West end of town.

He calls it Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. A strange name, but probably better than my suggestion: Paradise by the Dashboard Light. On the subway ride over, it occurred to me that Johnny wasn't the only one with early news of Larry's departure -- Dennis had also penned a going-away note that read strangely like a eulogy. An effective ploy to draw the blame away from himself, much like how I brought an oversized wreath to the funeral for my brother's hamster. The lot at Dennis' was packed as usual, and tonight he was showing some perverse mishmash of movie and television clips that seemed to require a college kid's attention span to keep up with.

"Not your style, stranger?" Dennis quizzed.

"No, I'm in the mood for something more serious, I've been having trouble focusing ever since someone hit me with a changeup on the Avenue," I said while paging through some newspaper clippings near the snack bar. "How does it feel to sit behind that snack bar?"

"Almost like holding a gun ... only much more powerful."

"Your friends have a high mortality rate, Dennis."

"I've never killed anything -- and especially never a writer. It would be like killing a priest -- a Catholic priest. What do you want? Who are you?"

"Matt Zoller Seitz," I said, trying to catch him off guard.

"Matt's gone."

"Glenn Kenny."

"What's your name? Glenn's gone too!"

"You should know Dennis, better than anyone," I said, in an attempt to bluff the man into a confession. "They were writing until they met you."

"Don't talk about what you don't know," Dennis said as he put his hands on the snack bar and leaned toward me. "I knew Matt, I knew Glenn, and I definitely knew Larry. They're gone now, and someday you and I will be gone as well."

"Larry once told me I could never be like him," I said, facing the facts that I may never solve this case. "Now I understand why."

"So, you found out you're not a shamus after all," Dennis asked.

"Just a writer."

"An ancient race. And other publishers from Downtown will be along, and they'll kill off Front Row."

"The future don't matter to us," I lamented. "Nothing matters now -- not the comments, not the visitors, not the women. I came here to see you. 'Cause I know that now, you'll tell me who's going to be next."

"Not till the point of dying," Dennis said as he slinked into the projection booth to put on the final reel of The Movie Orgy.

I don't think I'll ever know if Dennis was serious with that line. Maybe I don't want to know. Whatever his intentions were, I didn't want to kill the man for the information I needed. At this point it didn't matter, because all I was thinking about was getting home to my new boss. My phone was buzzing with the kind of grunts that only come from a 5-month-old child about to wake up, so I had precious remaining minutes to finish whatever investigation I was still pursuing.

Ahead of me on the street I saw Chris Stangl painting on a fresh canvas. Chris has the rare ability to reproduce his dreams with colors, and perhaps they had something to say about my pursuit.

"Roll the bones, Chris. What do they say tonight? I'm desperate for answers."

"The door to your answer is right in front of you," Chris said without removing his eyes from his art. "Sometimes a name is everything."

I was out of money so I dropped the Lee Van Cleef ball in Chris' collection plate. The advice sounded genuine, so I raced through my mental rolodex of names: Piper (is he tooting a tune leading all the writers out of town?), Ted Pigeon (is the culprit waiting for me by the fountain like so many birds?), Arbogast (is this the reason he hides his identity?) -- all of them seemed suspicious but none deserved a shake down at this time of night. This case was getting cold, but I couldn't help the feeling that I needed to take a final l -- wait, that's it! Final ... Final Girl! The motives were all clear: Stacie Ponder's obsession with the last remaining horror movie heroines had clouded her judgment, and now she must become the literal Final Girl of Front Row. Approaching her digs on Descent Drive, I just hoped I wasn't too late.

Seeing the pile of unopened comments at her door, I knew my fears were real -- it was Wednesday so Stacie was at her new place Downtown for the day. Just my luck, looks like one man is powerless in this city to stop a greater evil. But as I turned down the street heading for my place, an illuminated cat in a doorway caught my eye -- were those shoes sitting next to it? Great, am I going to be the next one to bite the dust?

"What kind of a spy do you think you are, satchel-foot? What are you tailing me for? Cat got your tongue?"

My outbursts are greeted by silence from the doorway, and only succeed in waking up one of Stacie's neighbors.

"Come out, come out, whoever you are. Step out in the light. Let's have a look at ya. (The cat licks its paw.) Who's your boss?"

Just as I was about to turn and run for it, Stacie's irate neighbor turned on her bedroom light, flashing a beam of light into the dark doorway. The light revealed a face unfamiliar to me, but the look on it told me everything I needed to know.


He flashed a coy smile, but before I could cross the street and find out his story, a taxi raced in front of me. And like that, he was gone. Leaping over to where the missing publisher once stood, I saw a single white card was now in his place. There was writing on it ... and it told me exactly what I had been looking for all night. Larry's safe, but there's a lot of publishers who aren't, and one in particular who may be gone by morning. That fight would have to wait for someone else, as the crying I could hear down the street could only be coming from one crib.

There are thousands of stories in Print City, this was one of them ....

Monday, May 12, 2008

You got skills?

Esquire recently listed the 75 Skills Every Man Should Master, and like the magazine itself the list is written for either the prosperous single man, the prosperous man who wishes he was single, the single man who wishes he was prosperous, or the old guy who's seen enough to know better. It's an entertaining list no doubt designed to elicit equal amounts of "yesss", "okayyy" and "what the?!" -- but where's the skill relating to movies? The list touches on music, literature and even poetry, but shouldn't a man who knows how to deliver a eulogy and place at least three different bets on a craps table also have some valuable skill relating to movie knowledge?

I've seen the need for such a skill firsthand: I once knew a guy close to my age who appeared to have a seven figure fortune, with good looks that lit up a room and the ability to charm the pants off said room. He was able to dispense financial advice like someone who was paid for such consultation, and he was enough of an athlete to make a fool of you in just about anything. But in one short conversation his weakness was revealed: I heard him mention how much he liked Van Helsing and invited him to expand on that subject. "Oh I just love the cinematography in it!" I could have said a lot of things to him, but managed to bite my tongue. I don't have to tell you that he was recently indicted on 16 counts of securities fraud (true story).

So what movie-related skill should be added to this list? The music skill is to know one band inside and out, so why not the same for a director? Actually, a better one might be on the theme of the book skill -- "Name a book that matters. The Catcher in the Rye does not matter. Not really. You gotta read."

And as a follow-up question, what's your movie skill? I'd like to believe that my most dependable movie skill is being able to recommend a Sam Peckinpah movie to almost anyone. There are many Wild Bunch people out there, plenty who would respond to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and fewer who would appreciate Junior Bonner or The Ballad of Cable Hogue. When in doubt, I go with The Getaway, and I rarely miscalculate.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

To all the mothers out there...

Happy Mothers day from all us little ones...

....even if we're not always angels

Friday, May 09, 2008


The gentlemen at Kindertrauma have an interesting business plan: readers will never forget their site simply because the nightmares they've had since reading it will likely never end. Aunt John and Uncle Lancifer form a horrifying duo who can tap into your childhood fears and present them to you in shades of pink with the Web's worst puppet looking on. In addition to spotlighting pioneering horror tots and TV traumas, the lads also invite readers to submit their worst nightmares from TV, film or even books. With Traumafessions, adults still chattering their teeth at the thought of Darby O'Gill and the Little People can share their pain with others (if you're shy, don't worry -- they're clearly open-minded). And big ups to Uncle Lancifer for opening my mind to The Thing's infamous merchandise, in what may be my favorite blog post of the year.

EARLIEST MOVIE WATCHING MEMORY: Aunt John: Wearing pajamas and watching Star Wars from the backseat of a station wagon at a drive-in New Jersey when I was four. Uncle Lancifer: My dad was kind enough to take me and my brothers to see Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.

Aunt John: Here Comes Peter Cottontail by Rankin & Bass (it was for the site). Uncle Lancifer: I had to have the two disc special edition of The Mist. I 'm looking forward to watching it in black and white.

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: Aunt John: I have a huge soft spot for the Spelling/Goldberg-produced television movies of the '70s, and would love to force TCM host Robert Osborne to watch Satan's School for Girls, Crowhaven Farm, and Home for the Holidays. Uncle Lancifer: In order to represent Kindertrauma I'd pick The Shining, The Brood and Poltergeist. Heather O'Rourke is kinda our patron saint at this point.

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: Aunt John: Jennifer Connelly with her derriere in the air in Requiem for a Dream. Uncle Lancifer: Decapitations are what get me out of bed in the morning. Having a recently severed head sprout legs and crawl about is pure bliss. I have to go with that classic scene in The Thing.

ARE TODAY'S YOUTH ADEQUATELY TRAUMATIZED BY FILM AND TELEVISION, OR DID IT PEAK IN THE 80S?: Aunt John: I am pretty sure kids of today have their own unique sources of trauma, but I am at a loss for specifics. I'd keep an eye on that Bindi Irwin and her Crocmen though, something ain't right with them. Uncle Lancifer: Kids today are not properly traumatized and this will result in adult brats in the future!

One Night at McCool's
One, Two, Three
The Brave One --Aunt John: Jodie Foster is an Oscar Award winning actress. Why is she making mediocre movies best suited for Lifetime television? Uncle Lancifer: I'm not buying the idea of Foster going on a rampage to avenge her boyfriend. I do buy that she would kill you if you kidnapped her dog.

Aunt John: The reader submitted TRAUMAFESSION about Damien: Omen 2 and Lance's accompanying article about icy deaths really creeps me out. Uncle Lancifer: The hand carved wooden statue of Baby Bop by folk artist Brian Fancy.

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: Aunt John: 1980, Superman II… "Kneel before Zod!" Uncle Lacifer: 1981, double feature of Enter the Dragon and Dead and Buried.

TELEVISION MOVIES ARE FREQUENTLY FEATURED ON YOUR SITE, WHAT'S THE SCARIEST THING ON TV RIGHT NOW: Aunt John: I am shamelessly addicted to watching Paranormal State on A&E. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a scary show, but it's always entertaining when medium Chip Coffey turns up to wrangle the restless spirits. Uncle Lancifer: Intervention for reasons I won't get into.

Aunt John: I can hear Lance calling me insane for not liking something, but I forget what it was.
Uncle Lancifer: We had a serious fight about Sleepaway Camp 3 that's ongoing as far as I'm concerned.

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: Aunt John: Girls On Film by Julie Burchill. Uncle Lancifer: If there was a fire in the house I'd go fetch Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th by Peter M. Brack first, and then I'd wake up Aunt John.

Aunt John: I probably take in at least one new movie a week on top of the countless hours devoted to mindless television watching. Uncle Lancifer: At least one a day or I'll get violently ill.

Aunt John:
1. Always check the backseat of your car for knife-wielding ne'er-do-wells (a.k.a. hiders in the hatch)
2. Never purchase a suburban home built on or near an Indian burial ground
3. Never take on Jennifer Jason Leigh as a roommate. She crazy!
Uncle Lancifer:
1. Meaning is where you find it.
2. Real life wishes it was a movie.
3.If pressed you can untwist a clothes hanger and stab someone in the eye with it.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.