Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Saddle Up

Howard Hawk’s 1959 western, Rio Bravo, written by screenwriting pros Leigh Bracket and Jules Furthman, was denigrated upon the time of its release, faulted for its leisure pacing, limited setting, and overall quirkiness. It’s gained a rep as one of the strongest (and strangest) Hollywood westerns as the years have progressed, cited by film mavens like Truffaut, Scorsese and Tarantino, serving as the basis for John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), while the great Hawks liked it enough to basically remake it twice as Rio Lobo (1970) and El Dorado (1967). The casting and character names are transcendentally loony: John T. Chance (John Wayne), Dude (Dean Martin), Colorado (Ricky Nelson), Stumpy (Walter Brennan), and don’t forget Feathers (Angie Dickinson). The action (when it intermittently appears) is staged in crisp Hawksian style, the dialogue crackles with cornpone asides, and the film features one of my all time fave movie moments—Martin, Nelson, and Brennan combining their diverse (Does that term quite cover it?) talents and delivering a jailhouse musical revelry “My Rifle, My Pony, and I”. The newly released DVD (a $40 box) includes a remastered print, commentary from the aforementioned Carpenter and a documentary from critic/historian Richard Schickel--an absolute must for Hawks followers or Western buffs.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wrap It Up

The following TV EYE blurb is reprinted from Providence Monthly Online
Both NBC’s Heroes and ABC’s Lost boasted season finales this past week, with varying results. Heroes, which for a few months this season, seemed more lively and interesting than the often slow moving Lost, botched it’s final episode, with a petered out mini-confrontation in the streets, the hinted at non-death of the villain, and some purple dialogue that seemed to be lifted from comics in their infancy. It remains a bright, easy-to-watch series; with a whiz bang narrative and a surfeit of colorful characters, all of it going a long way towards encouraging viewers to swallow the show’s mythology and it’s absurdities whole. Although the final few episodes were below par, particularly the finale, we hold hope for it’s second season. Lost, which meandered at times this season, brought it home in fine form, culminating in a two-hour, film-like denouement that killed off a major character, sneakily set a few scenes in a gloom-and-doom future, and generally provided both trenchant action, plotting, and a poetic catharsis, and even managed to answer a few of the multiple lingering questions. This season’s culmination single-handedly earns the show its bragging rights as the best dramatic serial on contempo TV, one that is looking more and more like an all-timer.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) is arguably the finest comic book movie so far, managing to hold tight to the actual comic’s origins and intentions, executed with a cinematic flair for texture and misc-en-scene, and packed to the gills with a giddy, humorous brio. His Spider-Man 2 (2004) arrived equally enticing, although it suffered a bit from it’s over reliance on doomy-gloomy love and souped-up comic style danger, by and large it satisfied both the fanboys and the movie masses. Raimi’s latest, Spider-Man 3 sports much more of the same delicious eye-candy and and jolts of celluloid rushes, but it winds down as something of a mish-mash, peopled with an over excess of villains, a weirdly jokey hero-goes-to-the-darkside sidebar, and enough plot contrivances to send you back to Comic Book History 101. Sure, Raimi’s too damn talented drive his franchise into that pure popcorn niche (Spidey 3 has more than it’s share of bravura sequences and indelible pop imagery), but this third installment feels more than a little rote, a touch too designer, more pandering than stimulating. It’s not exactly soulless, much of it is indeed rousingly good diversion, but its blockbuster-for blockbuster elements soak up far too much of the Spidey mojo. For the first time you can see and feel Raimi generating some good old -fashioned flop sweat.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Paradise Lost

Good buddy and pal Darren Hill passed along a DVD screener of Keven McAlester’s You’re Gonna Miss Me , which will most likely get classified as part of that seemingly endless contempo stream of rockumentaries, although it amounts to much, much, more than that. Darren, ex-rocker turned management guy has recently taken on the career of one Roky Erikson, (songwriter and singer for legendary Texas psychedelic wonders The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the man behind the unforgettable garage rock nugget “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, a diagnosed schizophrenic and suspected acid casualty, a self-declared alien (outer space type), and a cult figure generally posited as the American answer to Syd Barrett),and the film is ostensibly the woebegone tale of Roky's travials, it's also a riveting companion to Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb(1994), and a doc as difficult, but much sadder to view. Roky’s mother emerges as a genuinely disturbing and pathetic combination of protector and foil, and the movie essentially treats Erikson’s talents and music peripherally, laying itself out as a dystopian tale of familial dysfunction, a sad and mournful lament for the elusive promise of talent, and yet another version of the Age of Aquarius as paradise lost, dissolute, and rotting. The movie initially gets close-up with the Roky of the present—bloated, intermittently lucid, in full decline, and then allows us to see the Roky of the past—a beautiful, Byronic rock and roll cowboy-poet, thus causing the viewer to contemplate all that came between, however sorry and maddening. A touching and skillful work, and a nightmare bookend to Jeff Feuerzeig’s 2005 The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Watch them both some weekend and then be sure to stay away from sharp objects and half-full pill bottles.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stone Country

The following TV EYE blurb is reprinted from Providence Monthly Online

Tom’s Selleck’s matinee looks and easy charm served him well in the long running Rockford Files knock-off Magnum, PI (1980-88). Yet, his appearances on the big screen (Quiqley Down Under, Mr. Baseball, Her Alibi, among them) never generated the same heat, and his film person always seemed like some strange cross between a low rent Cary Grant or a less goofy Burt Reynolds. Post-Magnum, the best work he’s done has been in a variety of made-for-television full length westerns where he eschews the eye-winking for a less-is-more laconic style, the same one he’s brought to his three outings as small town copper Jesse Stone, a side creation from Spenser author Robert B. Parker. The fourth installment of this intermittent TV procedural, Jesse Stone:Sea Change, airs this Tuesday, the 22nd, on CBS at 8:00. Selleck does a wonderful job playing the worn down Stone, a big city cop who’s taken on the soft (and boring) job of police chief in a seaside New England town, a smart and cynical guy with a gut full of scotch and a head full of darkness. Selleck does world-weary effortlessly, and his Stone actually fits better in the long line of literary disenchanted crime stoppers than with any sort of TV archetype. These television movies flow slowly but diffidently, unfolding in crisp, gray, autumnal settings, propelled only by the main character’s pervading melancholy and his still awakened sense of duty. Selleck’s work as Stone makes for some small scale, smart TV pleasure, and the movies get bonus points for setting crimes in a provincial setting with parochial machinations, devoid of the all too familiar psycho serial killers, CGI body explorations, and MTV styled editing tricks.

Electronic Teardrops

Mucho apologies for being down and out, essentially out of service for the past week. Nah, I wasn't crawling around my living room on all fours or pressing my fevered forehead against the cool base of the toilet during some sorta mid-life bender,nor was I sharing exotic hallucinogens with the natives while planting my bare ass in the warm beach sand on some Island getaway. It was simple computer interruptus, and I spent the week (wotta turnaround for a once confirmed Luddite)sweating profusely, incessantly scratching my testicles, and dreaming electronic teardrops as I ghost typed another urgent pop culture missive to my loyal and steadfast fellow vultures.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lee Marvin's Eyes: not in the heat of violence but in its chill

By MANOHLA DARGIS Published: May 11, 2007
Lee Marvin moved across the screen like a shark coming in for the kill. Long and lean, with shoulders that looked as wide as his hips and hair as silver as a bullet, he seemed built for speed. He roamed across genres, excelling at gangsters and cowboys. Romance was not his thing. He could make you laugh, at times uneasily, but it’s his bad men that stick in your head. They are scary as hell, sometimes seductively so, because their every punch and twist of the knife seems delivered not in the heat of violence but in its chill.
Marvin did much of his greatest work in the 1960s; he was passed over by New Hollywood auteurs who could have immortalized him for succeeding generations. He died in 1987 at 63 of a heart attack. For younger audiences, especially those who believe film history starts with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Marvin may well represent a question mark. (“Who?” a young friend asked.) I can find no DVD box sets of his work, though he shows up in a few John Wayne collections playing second fiddle and comic foil. Several of these titles, notably John Ford’s melancholic western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” (1962), are included in the first-rate series “Lee Marvin: The Coolest Lethal Weapon,” opening today at the Walter Reade Theater, courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
He’s cooler than cool in Don Siegel’s pulpy 1964 classic “The Killers,” where he plays an intellectually curious hit man, and in John Boorman’s masterfully fractured 1967 thriller “Point Blank.” In “The Killers,” the hit man turns detective because he can’t figure out why one of his victims (John Cassavetes) doesn’t run when he has the chance. (Later, when a woman tries to talk him out of killing her, the hit man says, “Lady, I just haven’t got the time.”) The eye-popping cast includes Ronald Reagan wearing a meringue of glossy hair, Angie Dickinson as the prettiest of poisons and a fabulous Clu Gulager. Marvin, who showed up drunk on the first day of production, owns the film up, down and sideways.
Booze played a recurring role for Marvin behind the scenes and on screen: he took his noisy cues from a real biker called Wino Willie for “The Wild One” and brings real hurt to the role of the tragic, alcoholic Ira Hayes, one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers, in John Frankenheimer’s 1960 television drama “The American.” In 1966 he won the best-actor Oscar for his dual roles in the strenuously unfunny western “Cat Ballou,” including that of a hired gun so pickled in alcohol his horse looks soused. (Accepting the statuette, he joked that the horse deserved half the credit.) Yet even this cringingly dated comedy, made when terminal drunks were still good for laughs, can’t disguise his graceful gestural performance, the way he doesn’t so much fall as sway.
He was a remarkable physical specimen. Born in New York in 1924 to an advertising executive and a fashion editor, he knocked around prep schools before joining the Marines. In 1944, the year he turned 20, he was a scout sniper in the Pacific Theater, where, on Saipan, a bullet severed a nerve. He spent 13 months recuperating in a hospital and was awarded the Purple Heart. Decades later, in the last great film he made — Samuel Fuller’s World War II epic, “The Big Red One” (1980) — Marvin’s sergeant leads a group of young soldiers who are around the same age he was when he took on the war for real. Neither the tenderness nor the hate in this performance seem feigned.
After he healed, he apprenticed as a plumber before moving into stage work. He performed on and off Broadway and frequently on television. He first hit the big screen with a small role in a 1951 film, “You’re in the Navy Now,” and soon began specializing in reprobates. Bosley Crowther’s take on him in “The Wild One” in 1953 is worth quoting at length from The New York Times: “And in a second wolf-pack leader, whom Lee Marvin gruesomely portrays as a glandular ‘psycho’ or dope-fiend or something fantastically mad, there is briefly injected into this picture a glimpse of utter monstrosity, loose and enjoying the privilege of hectoring others in a fair society.” I’m not sure about the fair society, given the populace, but fantastically mad is right on.
The Walter Reade series doesn’t include “The Wild One,” perhaps because it’s so familiar, but it’s amazing to watch Marvin holding his own easily against that new force in cinema: Marlon Brando. With his lewd laugh and loose gestures that give him the jangling affect of a marionette without the strings, the grizzle-faced, gravelly-voiced Marvin comes across as the realer and rawer deal. Flanked by his gang of toughs in their matching motorcycle jackets and cute little hats, his plush mouth jutting suggestively, the beautiful Brando looks almost prissy. By comparison, Marvin looks dirty in body and in spirit; he’s rough around the edges and, you imagine, just about everywhere else too.
His character is trying to play it smoother in Fritz Lang’s noir standard “The Big Heat,” which was also released in 1953 and, happily, is in the series. This is the film in which Marvin brutally ups the bad-boyfriend ante by tossing a steaming-hot pot of coffee into the face of his girl (Gloria Grahame), leaving her terribly scarred. Decades earlier, James Cagney was content to push a grapefruit into his moll’s kisser. These days, movie scum feed their prey to the dogs, but there is something still shockingly raw about the fervor that Marvin brings to this scene, as if his character were experiencing sexual pleasure from his violence. Part of this is Lang, a sadist of the screen, but Marvin is the one with the wet lips.
There’s a little softness and a lot of shading in one of his best villains, a gold-hungry gunslinger in Budd Boetticher’s magnificent western “Seven Men From Now.” The first in a series of westerns that Boetticher made with the older Randolph Scott, this near- perfect film gives Marvin plenty of room to prove what he can do, whether he’s taking another man down with brutal psychology or practicing his quick draw. There’s soul in this characterization as well as a hint of the dandy, notably in the green scarf knotted at his neck. Marvin wears similarly silky scarves in both “The Wild One” and “The Comancheros” (1961), a slog of a western that he steals from John Wayne for his 10 showboating minutes onscreen.
Those scarves are lovely flourishes. Maybe he liked the way they looked on him, or maybe he didn’t like his neck. Or maybe this professional tough guy, who lived through World War II and was paid handsomely to keep the fight going on the big screen, wanted to show a side of himself that wasn’t immediately obvious. He twirls his guns with flair in “Seven Men From Now” (off screen, he often handled a gun) and takes on a veritable army without batting an eyelash in Richard Brooks’s entertaining western “The Professionals” (1966). In real life Marvin had been a good guy, but with his hooded eyes and a voice that sounded as if all the gentleness had been scraped from it, he seemed destined for villainy.
He was, certainly. But the best of these are not cartoon creeps or thrill-kill sadists. They are generally complex men, interested, trigger tempered, yes (watch how impatiently he moves through a school for the blind in “The Killers”), but also nimble-witted and at times dry-as-dust funny. In the 1970s, during an infernally long court battle that dragged on for almost the entire decade, he became more famous for being the defendant in the first legal test of palimony (spurring the sale of “Free Lee Marvin” T-shirts) than for any of his contemporary roles. There were still worthy parts and juicy performances, including Michael Ritchie’s venomous satire “Prime Cut” (1972) and, of course, “The Big Red One.” It seems fitting that after 30 years of playing the heavy, the sap, the sneak and the clown, here he was: a hero.
“Lee Marvin: The Coolest Lethal Weapon,” a comprehensive retrospective by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, runs through May 24 at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, Lincoln Center, (212) 496-3809, In connection with the series, the Museum of Television and Radio is showing two dramas in which Marvin appeared, including “The American,” today through Sunday and May 18-20; 25 West 52nd Street, Manhattan, (212) 621-6600,

Friday, May 11, 2007


Cleaning out my garage the other day I came across a series of pieces about television I did for the then Providence Newpaper in 1990. Somehow I musta cajoled editor/whiz Lou Papineau into letting me take the occasional stab at the small screen in between my fevered rave-ups and put-downs of movies and rock and roll. I picked some decent subjects---Michael Mann’s Crime Story, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Married With Children, the miniseries Elvis, and a look back at Perry Mason, but what struck me as I reread these blasts from my own past was a neat device I hung onto each column—a fake quote from a fake book examing television in equally fake academic terms. (I don’t actually remember the pieces all that well, but I do remember the great satisfaction I had coming up with the pusedo-intellectual quotes and the false book titles and the obviously TV-derived author’s names.) Yup, what follows is blatant and unabashed recycling, although I’ve tried to keep it to a minimum. In retrospect, it was yet another of my very obvious thefts from my popcult writing hero, R. Meltzer, although I can and will argue, done purty deftly. Whatdathink?

“Raymond Burr stood squat and solid as Perry Mason, one of the most effective versions of Raymond Chandler’s cherished notion of an updated White Knight. Meting out steely-eyed justice with the wisdom of Solomon and the insight of a psychic, he would turn the scary, blank gaze of his piercing eyes into the trembling psyches of his Los Angeles collection of, snakes, scum and slicksters. Burr’s Mason never altered his monotone, and nothing on his body seemed to move, with the exception of his fat torpid head, a head that rendered fear into the liars and the falsifiers, a Medusa-like fear.” From TV OR NOT TV by Dr. Edward Norton (Medium Cool Press)

“Slob TV, i.e. proletelvision, has long been a staple of American pop life. Before Carroll O’Connor’s archetypal Archie Bunker began braying at the living room ceiling, there was Jackie Gleason’s primordial everyman, that rockin’, sockin’, everyslob, Ralph Kramden; before him there was William Bendix’s Chester Riley (a role originally filled by Gleason), the tongue-tied, hard-hated nice guy slob. Slob TV reached its zenith during the Norman Lear-dominated 1970’s, until the producer-mensch’s own relentless self-imitating drowned the genre in a cascade of samey tameness. That was, until the coming of Married with Children and Al Bundy, the ultimate Slob King.” From Transcendental TV by Prof. C Huxtable (Medium Cool Press)

“Sure, sure, television ain’t chopped liver, but it’s the corner store, the barber shop, the perfect place for the shmuck with bare feet and a t-shirt. The movies are dinner and drinks, a taxi ride, and a nice comfortable overcoat. The guys who make movies live in fear of doing the same thing in television; they don’t give a hoot for boxer shorts and frozen food. Just the fact that they make movies, not television, cuts down the sweat factor, and, even better, they don’t have to worry so much about pleasing your Uncle Louie and Aunt Fannie.” Producer/performer Alan Brady from In Their Own Words (and Gestures)(Medium Cool Press)

“It’s never been exactly clear what makes crime and punishment such a nightly television staple. Secret cops, blind cops, girl cops, kiddie cops, animal cops, beat cops, car cops, helicopter cops, city cops, country cops, nice guy cops, slick cops and sweaty cops have populated television seen the medium first plugged in. Yet Michael Mann gave the genre two of its biggest kicks in the ass. His highly popular Miami Vice came from a simple catch phrase, the now infamous “MTV cops,” and it lent the extremely tired genre a cool boost of electrifying neon, Vietnam-era cops awash in an amoral society. Mann’s other show—the sorely under watched Crime Story---poked at a thoroughly underdone side of cops, shoving a battered flashlight in the vengeful eyes of cops who were as much cowboys as the robbers, making it clear that the good and bad where hatched from the same environs, making Lieutenant Mike Turello (Dennis Farina) and gangster Ray Luca (Anthony Dennison)two sides of the same soiled coin, variations on moral law and disorder.”
Dr. Richard Kimble, Case Studies: Crime on the Box (Medium Cool Press)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Law and Disorder

The following Movie-Movie blurb is reprinted from Providence Monthly Online

If you watched and enjoyed 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, the Brit parody of zombie flics, from the writing team of director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg, you’ll know exactly what your in for with their latest effort, Hot Fuzz. The talented (and amusing) duo have turned the lenses, replete with their brand of deadpan silliness, onto yet another shaggy dog Hollywood genre, the buddy-cop movie, with the results blithely enticing. Pegg plays an annoyingly spot-on and maddeningly successful London copper who gets sent by his disdainful (and cowed) superiors to exile in some quaint countryside village where the biggest crime is either an escaped animal or a drunken villager. One of these tipsy figures (Nick Frost) turns out to the pudgy son of the chief inspector and the exiled bobby’s new partner, plus an earnest student of the kind of law and disorder seen in American movie crowd-pleasers like the Bad Boys or the Lethal Weapons series. Together, the two plunge straight into an attempt to solve a sudden and unexpected killing spree and the movie gets to its reason d’etre--a felicitous spoof of the cop-buddy film; as everything starts blowing up, guns manage to get shot sideways by airborne shooters, the chases are on, and the slo-mo recoil shot rears it’s ugly head. While Hot Fuzz works amicably as a mocking pastiche, Wright and Pegg are onto a bit more than that, and the movie archly peers under the surface of English pastoral life (as Shaun did with London pub culture) and tweaks it with an understated precision.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Counting the Hours

The following TV Eve blurb is reprinted from Providence Monthly Online

With few exceptions (Gunsmoke, The Simpsons, Mary Tyler Moore Show) long lasting television shows neither sustain their creative highs or are deft enough to get outta Dodge before a creative malaise sucks the show dry. The much vaunted and highly popular 24 is currently plodding tepidly through its sixth season (or in 24 parlance, Day 6), and it’s rapidly losing viewership and the all-important Internet buzz. From the show’s inception it’s carried with it a built-in deathtrap, albeit one that has also functioned as the drama’s calling card—the unwavering focus on it’s scrappy, mad dog protagonist Jack Bauer. Neatly embodied by former brat packer Keifer Sutherland, Jack is a so-called CTU Security Agent, a seemingly indestructible one, the Nietzschean Ubermensch Americanized as a kinda MacGyver with rabies. How many times can an audience be expected to watch Jack go wack, grim-faced and tightly coiled, bite his way through jugulars, Houdini himself out of yet another Mexican stand-off, plunge a makeshift sharp object deep into a baddie’s innards, and rejigger the high tech terrorist world with the simple use of GPS, cell phones, computer diagrams, and Chloe, Chloe, Chloe. The season appears to be a mere mirror of what’s gone down before, spending time on another doomsday scenario, a rescue, ruined family ties, and the usual overdose of backroom whispers and salient glances subbing for plot progression among the government types. As 24 woodenly barrels down this year’s all too familiar road one hopes it rights itself next year, perhaps by returning boldly with new supporting cast, new surroundings, a freshly torqued save-the-nation plot, and and a truly twisted, damaged, and whacked-out Jack.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Quick, The Naked, and The Dead

The following column is reprinted from the May 2007 issue of Providence Monthly
By Scott Duhamel

We all know the type. The purist. The cultist. The collector. The aficionado. The maven. The expert. The encyclopedic hipster. The nitcrit. The specialist. The cinephile. The genre snob. Why is it, according to each and all of the above, that it was always better, cooler, smarter, hipper, more subversive, more creative, more dangerous, back in the day when somebuddy was kicking it old school? Is it myth, memory, an upfront seat at the in-club, or simply the assaultive imprint that the first viewing of a movie (or a series of movies) leaves stamped on the brainpan, that propels so many tawkers and know-it-all gawkers (including myself) to continually proclaim “you hadda be there”, or “that was then, this is now”, and (oh yeah) “they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. Simple. Most of the time,a lot of the time, it’s the truth, Ruth. The wonderfully excessive bounty of 1970’s exploitation films, movies that came in a wide assortment of bloody colors and naked skin tones, movies that were crafted both adroitly and heavy-handedly, often with miniscule budgets and shot guerilla style left those of us wide-eyed and lucky enough to be hunkered down against tattered seats and glued to sticky floors in some deteriorating inner city movie palace with sharpest of cinematic memories, gleefully swallowing the kitsch, the camp, and the under-the-surface reflection of American mores in huge, ungodly gulps. Grindhouse, the double feature dually dreamed up and executed by fun-loving auteurs Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino, does it’s best to re-carve out the good old bad days, and it largely succeeds.
Grindhouse is presented and has been conceived as a boldfaced paean to the trashy ‘70’s and it unfolds with scratchy film stock, missing reels, and four downright hilarious trailers for such fictional classics as Machete, Don’t, and (heh-heh) Werewolf Women of the S.S., (helmed by real life horrormeisters like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie). The two features, Rodriquez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof both cruise along at 85 minutes, fueled by equal doses of comic brutality, eye-winking sensationalism, and highfalutin copycatting.
Planet Terror is a zombie carnival with a touch of post-apocalyptic cautionary plotting, basically an excuse to trot a deadpan array of gooey and primitive special effects, video game gun fare, dripping and oozing body parts, and a whole lotta heads getting blown up real, real good. Rose McGowan takes center stage as a tough talking stripper who is also wanna-be stand-up comedian who winds up with a machine gun as a prosthetic leg, aided and abetted by a cranky band of survivors that includes Freddy Rodriquez, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn and Michael Parks, plus some very funny cameos from the likes of big dog Bruce Willis, Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, and co-conspirator Tarantino.
Rodriquez perfectly captures the slo-mo tone of yer basic zombie pic, complete with overripe bits of ironic dialogue, hammerhead editing techniques, squint-your-eyes visuals, and that peculiar overriding sense of dread that are the essence of the zombie movie. Much of the action on display is a bit too repetitive, although one cannot fault the filmmaker for being too ambitious—Planet Terror is a simple homage, not a genre twist up,
and Rodriquez tosses in everything but the kitchen sink with a some palatable, authentic, and faithful enthusiasm.
Death Proof seems like more of the same, but in actuality it’s quite a bit different in both tone and substance. Although the movie is undoubtedly an exercise in genre (a hell-bent road trip flic), it’s just as much a Tarantino outing. Dialogue-filled and peopled with trash-tawking women, Death Proof
takes its time springing into action, and it fearlessly jumbles it’s tone, flitting from arch hipster patter through a touch of secondary humor to a pinch of suspense. Then suddenly, action icon Kurt Russell saddles up into the corner of the frame, and his character, Stuntman Mike, wheels the movie onto the high travelin’ black top. Tarantino then pulls out one of his favorite tricks and abruptly starts and stops one story line in order to bop onto another more amped up one, and the period piece the film seemed to be settling into mutates to a more audacious, rowdy extended set piece, aka car chase heaven.
Tarantino the writer is a wonderfully erudite screenplay author, and the mostly female characters (including Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Sydney Poitier, and Tracie Thoms) in Death Proof go to town dishing the sex speak, elucidating obscure sixties pop hits, ragging each other, and even managing to name check some of the big screen’s most memorable road trips: Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds (the original), and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. All that is just delicious set-up for a rollicking, bravura straight-up automobile duel that fulfills all expectations. It’s fast and furious, brutal and funny, and, like many of the well-oiled exploitation movies that trafficked in revenge, it will leave you rooting on the revengers with primal, delicious indignity. Tarantino has also made his mark as a wizard like casting guy, and his surprise casting here is one Zoe Bell an infamous contemporary stuntwoman from New Zealand who plays one of the gals, whose name is Zoe and who happens, of course to be a stuntwoman. She’s a fresh face with a vibrant personality and her on-the-car stunt stuff puts any comparable CGI effects to complete shame.
Grindhouse is filled with gratuitous violence, tempered with quasi-redeemable characters, and chock full of purely exploitive razzle-dazzle movie-movie pleasure. It’s a hell of a good time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cover to Cover

Covers albums are strange mutant beasts, chock full of miscalculations, pumped up with hubris, accented by hedonistic celebrations of simpler pasts, and, here and there, pick ‘em-choose ‘em, true moments of recorded rock and roll exhilaration—formed from the alchemy produced by the brief occurrence of conception matching up head-to-head with inspiration. (Ya know,the ol' action equaling thought.) Confession. I own (and dig) a batch of these shaggy dogs, a trend which began when I fell head over heels for then rising superstar David Bowie’s Pin-Ups, released in 1973 as a (at the time) hugely perplexing follow-up to the back-to-back smashes Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. My disparate check list includes the following: Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things (’73), The Ramones’ Acid-Eaters (’93), Guns and Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident (’93), Duran Duran’s Thank You (’95), Metallica’s Garage, Inc. (’98), Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades (’00), Cat Powers’ The Covers Record (’00), Tori Amos’ Strange Little Girls (’01), Def Leppard’s Yeah! (’06), and Matthew Sweet and Susana Hoff’s Under the Covers, Vol. 1 (’06).
Rock ‘n roll goddess and recent Hall of Fame inductee Patti Smith joined this weird and wooly club and burrowed far under the covers with her new release, Twelve. Unlike most of the aforementioned collections, Smith’s is surprisingly guileless, and, probably to the disappointments of many long time fans, a record that studiously avoids the titillations of punk. (In other word, don’t go searching for another “Gloria:In Excelsis Deo.”) Instead, Twelve is filled with contemplative, scaled-down, often disorientating covers (a bluegrassy “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, an incantatory “Are You Experienced”, a dirge like “Midnight Rider”), subdued, respectful, largely straightforward readings (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”, “Pastime Paradise”), and covers that emphasize the resifting of political and sociological signifiers rather than overt musical transformations. (“White Rabbit”, “Within You Without You”, “Changing of the Guards”). It seems that Smith is intent on exploring her spiritual proclivities rather than her usual Dionysian ones, although a few cuts rock with focused passion (“Gimmie Shelter”, “Soul Kitchen”) and two actually manage to acutely transform the originals (“Helpless”, “ Everybody Wants To Rule the World”). All in all, a smart album, albeit a highly meditative one, and another nifty entry in the covers album sweepstakes.