Tuesday, July 31, 2007

TV EYE-July 07


Big muscles, big head, small talkfest
Henry Rollins is just one of the guys, big muscles, big head and all, you just love or hate. I dug Henry as the lead singer for Black Flag, didn’t like ‘em as much as the main yowler for his own semi-metal band. I found Henry a bit tiresome as a spoken word guy, but I truly dig him as the host of his own quirky talkfest, The Henry Rollins Show (IFC Channel, Fridays at 11:00 PM). Henry,in the midst of his second season as an IFC host, always clad in black, muscles rippling, neck bigger than Kansas, begins the half hour show with some quickie pontificating and Bush-bashing, sometimes ceding a few minutes to Janeane Garofalo, then it’s an interview with the likes of Marilyn Manson, William Shatner, Joan Jett or Christopher Walken, and then a performance from (so far this season) The Stooges, Robyn Hitchcock, Bob Mould, Shane MacGowan, Billy Bragg. As much as a know-it-all that Henry is, his wit and smarts, combined with the rather amusing fact that’s he’s a true blue pop culture fan (and often a fawning one) make his interviews quite fresh and revealing. The show’s thirty minutes fly right by, with Rollins basically occupying the same seat as Mike Meyer’s fictional creation in Wayne’s World, just add in a bigger head, many more muscles, and an actual popcult track record.

Summer Fluff
The USA Network as added yet another crime-solver to it’s entertainment-light pairing of Monk and Psych with Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Western, a spy guy cast away by his government agency in Burn Notice (Thursdays at 10:00 PM). Set amidst the warm saturated colors and hard bodies of oh-so-familiar Miami, Burn Notice is a well-done bit of summer fluff, part MacGyver, part Magnum, a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek drama replete with bikini bottoms in the background and the bruised mock tough guy in the foreground.. Donovan, a GQ-type with a deadpan manner, is both disabled and abetted by ex-IRA member ex-girlfriend (the fetching Gabrielle Anwar), by a slightly over-the-hill ex-spy party boy (done up by cult fave Bruce Campbell), and a nagging Mom (inhabited by Sharon Gless in tough gal mode). Donovan’s burned spy delivers a steady stream voice-over ripostes, all wry eyewinks and spy-vs.-spy pearls of wisdom, and the show glides through it’s appointed time like a sweet summer cocktail, no hassle, no heavy lifting, just a touch of sipping and the resulting contented smile.

Sci-Fi Whimsy
The tag line for the SCIFI Channel’s Eureka (Tuesdays at 9:00 PM, Wednesdays at 12:00 PM), “Small town, big secret”, sums up its whimsical tone adeptly. Starting up its second season, it’s small-scale shaggy dog tale with just the right mix of eye-winking drama and sci-fi humor. Following the well worn premise of the comic outsider, the show follows an everyman sheriff and his comely teen daughter who fall upon a hidden away Smalltown, USA, that is actually a government think tank peopled with science geeks and other geniuses all in the process of inventing invisibility rays and high-tech weaponry, in between chomping down corndogs in an erstwhile Rockwell setting. The straight guy is played by Canadian actor Colin Ferguson, and he does dramedy with panache, aptly sustaining the series’ overall tongue-in-cheek tone, sort of Bradbury-light.

P-e-r-s-o-n-a-l-i-t-y
TNT’s The Closer (Mondays at 9:00 PM) hits its third season in a nice stride—well oiled, easy watchin’, and effortlessly coasting on the acting fumes of Kyra Sedgwick’s buoyant, quirky, occasionally off-putting, and thoroughly hamboned personality. Sedgewick, as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, a southern belle three-quarters toasted serving as a squad leader and all-star interrogator for the LAPD, is a pussy cat on a hot slate roof, all neurotic tics, school marm attired, and honey-suckled-persona disguising a rock-hard cop’s persona, has the making of a TV icon located somewhere Matlock and Columbo. The Closer’s crimes don’t matter, the clues don’t matter, and the denouement is secondary, to Sedgwick-as-Chief Johnson’s interaction with her skeptical-but-competent crew (excellent ensemble cast, highlighted by G.W. Bailey and Anthony John Denison as the rough-edged coppers and Corey Reynolds as the right hand man) and her eventual psychological/verbal showdown with the villain-of-the-week.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Killing Me Softly


You Kill Me is yet another movie variation on the neurotic mobster, and this farce serves up Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hit man for the Polish mob, looking to get straight so he can back to killing people more efficiently. His mob family sends him from their home base in Buffalo off to San Francisco, where he signs up for AA and falls in with a not-so-wild bunch that includes love interest Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson as a gay tollbooth attendant, and Bill Pullman ‘s self-loving real estate guy. The movie attempts to come across as a deadpan comedy, and Kingsley contributes some glorious underplaying, but a few of the farcical points underscore the frame of realism director John Dahl sets up. Dahl’s done good work before within small self-contained movies (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, Rounders), and while this isn’t quite a return to form, it’s a mostly amusing effort, and one than can at least boast that’s it more smart than dumb.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pulp Fiction


Andrew Sarris’ seminal The American Cinema put director Phil Karlson in the “Expressive Esoterica” category, meaning that his 30 year career ran the gamut from populist sleepers (Walking Tall in 1973), Dean Martin’s Bond knockoffs (the Matt Helm movies), one of the few solid Elvis pics (1962’s Kid Galahad), westerns, war movies, and a few crackling B-movie noirs, including 1952’s Kansas City Confidential(MGM/Fox, $20.00, 98 minutes). The ever-wooden John Payne plays a framed ex-con who follows a dusty and dark trail to Mexico, encountering three of Hollywood’s most archetypal heavies in Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef (that’s character acting nirvana, man!), with ex-cop Preston Foster pulling all the strings. Karlson knew how to make a solid cheapie, and the no-nonsense brutality at the heart of this typical noir search–for-the-truth hints at the sorta deterministic existentialism that film scholars swoon over. One way or the other, it’s the type of self-effacing craftsmanship and basic story-telling ability that most of today’s filmmakers couldn't get a focus on even with a steady-cam.
(Since there is no traditional footage from Kansas City Confidential available, don't hesitate to check out this very strange and disquieting Lynchian video concoction featuring footage from the movie of the one and only Jack Elam.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Get Up, Stand Up

From culture vulture Darren Hill, dyed-in-the-wool New Englander (despite his Missouri/Louisiana roots), ex-Red Rocker, ex-Raindog, current kingpin behind Tenpin Management, the home of Paul Westerberg, the New York Dolls, and Roky Erikson.

When my band moved to Boston in 1985, we rented a house in Brookline, MA that was across Comm. Ave. from The Paradise Rock Club. Inevitably, our house became the official after-show party spot - for not only the musicians that played the 'Dise, but also the comedians that performed next door at it's sister comedy club Stitches. At the time, Boston arguably had the richest and most original local scene in the history of stand up comedy and I was lucky enough to witness first hand what would later be known as the "Boston Gold Rush." The film When Standups Stood Out; Directed by Fran Solomita and currently running on Showtime, documents the rise and ultimate demise of this tight knit, no rules, raucous yet smart, blue collar comedy scene centered mostly on Ding Ho (a comedy club in a Cambridge Chinese restaurant) during the late 70's and 80's. This was a magical time and place as Steven Wright, Dennis Leary, Bobcat Goldwait, Paula Poundstone, Lenny Clark, Kevin Meaney, Janine Garofalo (just to name a few) were developing their own unique comedy styles, free from the LA/NY spotlight and it's rules. The film follows these comedians and their camaraderie - from humble beginnings, through the birth and subsequent popularity of comedy-only night clubs, the out of control parties and fraternity-like atmosphere, the advent of heckling, the anointment of Steven Wright as "the chosen one" and his benchmark appearance on The Tonight Show - to the feeding frenzy and competitive jealousy that would follow as these Boston comedians were suddenly catapulted into the national spotlight. "Excess, success, and clashing egos" would eventually bring the brotherhood to it's knees.
(Those of you in the Raindogs "circle" will recognize two of the stars - Mike McDonald and Lauren Dombrowski (now producer of Mad TV).)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Crash and Bang


The Transformers movie is simply a high-priced product that defines mindlessness. Snap, crackle, pop-crank up the volume and cue the special effects. One of my more astute movie-going pals swears up and down that this is pure pro-war (or at least pro-soldiering) propaganda, although I tend to think it ain’t that smart or subversive, it’s simply sculpted, quite specifically, for a coupla generations of vidkids, many of whom are on the constant search for yet another visual version of mass mayhem and fun-and-games destruction. Director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon) is a proven popcorn master who knows exactly how to show ‘em the money on the big screen by staging a crashbang set piece or rock ‘em sock ‘em action every fifteen minutes or so. Transformers is destined to easily turn its big budget pyrotechnics into a mega profit then began a slow slide into oblivion—it registers as no more than a Hasbro cartoon devoid of the weird, archaic charm of the original animated TV series.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Black Ace


The justifiably celebrated and largely successful writer/producer/director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot) made at least three huge box office bombaramas during his exemplary career, yet all three wind up deserving equal critical status right alongside his finest, most popular movies. The three must-sees include 1964’s Kiss Me Stupid(with Dean Martin), an all-out toxic cocktail about fame and sex, 1961’s One, Two, Three(with Jimmy Cagney), a retro screwball comedy that makes the cold war it’s main joke, and 1951’s Ace in the Hole, newly available on DVD(Criterion, $39.95, 111 minutes), a truly vitriolic paean to America’s never ending susceptibility to the magic wand of the media. Kirk Douglas plays a hard drinking, wholly callous and ego-filled reporter down on his luck, reduced to toiling for a backwater daily in New Mexico, who parlays a schlub-stuck-in-a-cave predicament into his own launching pad, delaying the rescue, bribing the small town coppers, and capitalizing on the dire situation every which way but loose, abetted by the cave dweller’s hard-as-nails wifey, played by Jan Sterling (given one of Wilder's alltimers: "I don't go to church, all that kneeling bags my nylons.") with even less redeeming qualities than the hardcore Douglas. I consider Wilder to be among the best who ever sat behind a camera in Hollywood, and also acknowledge his ranking as screenwriting giant, and Ace in the Hole (also once known as The Big Carnival) is without question his most corrosive effort, overflowing with his always trenchant cynicism, and as stark and repellant as mainstream Hollywood has ever been. It’s a brilliant film, and a monstrous one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bukowski Revisited


From Diane M, our logo designer, trying her best to vulture some culture in the oppressive climate of Fort Meyers, FLA.

I just caught a biography of Charles Bukowski on Showtime called
Bukowski: ,
directed by John Dullaghan in 2004,which, if you're a Bukowski fan in any measure, you really need to see. It's fascinating!
It's full of interviews of practically everybody he ever met, publishers, lovers, friends, even celebrities like Sean Penn and Bono, who both openly engage in hero worship onscreen in a rather endearing manner. But the best part is the
wealth of footage of Bukowski himself in action, dating as far back as
the sixties—being interviewed (both drunk and straight), giving
readings (also both drunk and straight), and just being followed
around by the filmmaker. And there's some really astounding stuff in
there—Bukowski reading a poem of his own about a girlfriend that left
him and starting to cry, and an interview with a German guy who states
that when Bukowski speaks of love he means just sex, to which Bukowski
replies, "Love is a dog from hell. It has it's own agonies, it comes
with it's own agonies." There's drunken Bukowski acting up on a
plane, and older Mr. B. crying at his wedding to Linda (when, in the
scene before, he has a fight with her on camera, calling her a whore
and kicking her). He also has several interesting things to say about
the movie, "Barfly", and his disappointment with it and Mickey
Rourke's acting in it. The film is completely mesmerizing, and it
will make you want to pull out all your old Bukowski books and read
them all over again—which, if you'll excuse me, I have to go do right
now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Good, Not Bad or Ugly


Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars-‘64, For a Few Dollars More-‘65, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-‘66), all starring Clint Eastwood as the anti-John Wayne purty much imploded the then already mutating Western, with his operatic staging, pervasive amorality, and the all-encompassing tone of ironic fatalism. The Sergio Leone Anthology (MGM, $89.98) includes all three of these infamous efforts, plus the highly entertaining and sadly overlooked Duck, You Sucker (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite) from 1972, starring Rod Steiger and his over spiced accent as a Mexican baddie and James Coburn and his over saturated accent as an IRA explosives’ expert. Leone messes with space and time as much as the artier Italian filmmaker Antonioni ever did, but his constant use of tight, sweaty, close-ups and the ever hilarious contrast of the cigar-chomping monosyllabic Eastwood and his glazed ham Italian acting counterparts (dubbed, on top of it) puts these so-called spaghetti westerns into a gonzo category all on their own. It’s enough to make you truly sad, knowing full well that the odds of a master confluence like Leone and the Western ever happening again are stacked way too heavily.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jumpin Time


Longtime pallie Mark Cutler, the perpetual whiz kid, has gone and done it again. Besides recording and releasing (by my unscientific count) over 100 songs (a few of which I was invited to co-scribble) in outfits ranging, from The Schemers to the Raindogs to Useful Things to The Dino Club to solo stuffarama, making occasional forays into painting, tossing off the once-in-a-while comic strip he’s now contributed a cut to writer/producer Jimmy Gutterman’s The Sandinista Project, and also self-directed a cool little vid for one of his newest tunes “Jumpin’ Time.” (Hey Marky Mark, did you somehow get the key to reversing the aging process or what?) C’mon, give my fave rocknroll manchild a bit of yer time…

(By the way, keyboard whiz and all-around RI good guy Dickie Reed makes the cut in the August issue of Esquire, in the special section, the 7th Annual What It Feels Like, describing his regained hearing abilities.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Welcome To the Jungle


Filmmaker Werner Herzog’s Aquirre: The Wrath of God (1972) may be one of the finest cinematic excursions into the jungle of all time, and a truly great film. Herzog, who never met an unforgiving landscape he didn’t like, heads back into jungle again with his latest film, Rescue Dawn, trading Aquirre’s Amazon setting for the dangers of Laos, in this bare bones retelling of the tale of American Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, shot down in 1966, captured as a POW, who became an eventual escapee. Herzog’s film adheres to the prison break genre, but it is beset with his usual preoccupations; i.e. the harsh beauty of nature, the inherent surreal-ness of being a stranger in a strange land, and yet another exploration of an impossible dreamer. Dieter is singularly inhabited by one of the big screen’s ablest chameleon’s, Christian Bale, an actor who changes his body type like Nic Cage changes hair pieces, and his fellow fugitive is played to great affect by Steve Zahn, an actor usually chosen for his shaggy dog comedic moves. It’s a harrowing, fascinating piece, and it fits snugly into Herzog’s estimable cannon. In many ways, it may be Herzog's most intriguing entry since he's unabashedly turning in a commercial (heh-heh) film in an established genre with a few name playaaahs. Yet, like Neil Young or Lou Reed, or more to the point, Orson Welles, he simply can't help reverting to his own real deal, his own sense of personal artistry. If you have a scintilla of cinematic savvy, you just know that can never be denied, Jack.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I Wanna Be Your Dog


Reprinted from shakinglikeamountain.com a brand spanking new online musical/literary rag referred to below in the prior posting. Please make the effort to check it out. Also, please, baby, please, check out the Igster here:
I Wanna Be Your Dog


It was during an infamous midnight record sale at the Beacon Shop on North Main St in Providence, Rhode Island, that I put my hard-earned teenage dough down and bought the Velvet’s Loaded and their first (Warhol Banana Cover) album and both Stooges records. All of it knocked me out, and turned me around, both the Velvet’s heady mix of avant sophistication and spooky irony and the Stooges assaulting, virtually infantile propulsion were like nothing I 'd ever heard before.

One song stood out, reached down and grabbed my adolescent testes and lyrically held me in a peculiar, hypnotic sway—strangely enough, it wasn’t the neo-literary songwriting I was slobbering about elsewhere in my ever-growing record collection. It was primitive, and simplistic, yet it seemed to resonate with meaning to me, a song filled to the brim with yearning, but bent over backwards in fury, kicked off by a psychedelic guitar flourish, bounced along by pounding piano keys, fueled by the unmistakable sound of a wah-wah pedal, and ridden by a singer whose half nude, writhing body I'd seen already, doing some sorta monkey stomp in magazine after magazine, with a voice that sounded like a teenage Eric Burdon, or Mick Jagger with added snarl, playing blue collar, dark-side-of town, high-school drop out to Jimbo Morrison’s hazy-eyed leather clad poet.

As years went by and the Stooges transformed to Iggy and the Stooges, then just solo Iggy. I found out his real name was James Osterberg, but that didn’t stop me from latching onto new faves—most of Raw Power, but especially “Search and Destroy,” “Kill City,” “Cry For Love,” “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life,” “China Girl,” ‘Five Foot 1,” “Candy,” “Cold Metal.” But somehow the 3:09 minutes of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” stuck between the similarly themed and equally switchblade-like “1969,” “No Fun,” and “Real Cool Time,” came across as the ultimate male teenage wolf yelp, the unleashing of a monumentally churlish war whoop.

Iggy’s finest lyrics throughout his various line-ups and multiple labels have all followed the blueprint of his very first efforts: sing-songy, teen-like, highly tenebrous declarations of desolation, disconsolation, and self-immolation, often underscored by a savage wit lifted directly from the Beats but squeezed through the broken filters of industrialized Detroit, the false promise of the sixties, and a warped showbiz aura of inveterate nihilism.

As I caught various Iggy tours over the years, this after Iggy was somehow tagged the Godfather of Punk, again and again I noted the resolute demonstration of on-stage ferocity during the performance of this signature number (Iggy as indomitable laser-eyed preacher, festering with the onslaught of a Parkinson-like condition), perhaps even imagined or romanticized by me, sweating and alone, a hard fought few feet from the stage.

One of the highlights of my concert-going career was a hitchhiked trip to New Yawk with a roomy to see Iggy at the Palladium. We heard he'd be joined by the Thin White Duke, David Bowie. The actual sight of the ever effete Bowie banging the keyboards with his long thin fingers as Iggy spit out the lyrics as defiantly and mischievously as evuh, almost made me swoon with a strangely homoerotic fervor (“Now I wanna be your dog”), as fearful and transfixing a feeling I'd ever experienced during a rock performance. All of this without even focusing onto Iggy’s one concession to on-stage accoutrements, his highly special genital endowment, long known to his fans and even Mr. Osterberg himself as “Iggy’s Biggie.” (“Well c’mon!”). Even during some of the raggedy shows I witnessed as the years progressed, Iggy’s world and mine always appeared to right itself as he hurled himself into the song’s excruciatingly primal sonic wave.

And, yep, I’ve spun this song on vinyl, cassette and CD’s repeatedly, during moments of cowpoke drunkenness, teeth-rattling highness, and general personal breaches of temporary madness, stomach-churning defiance, and fingernail-stretching desperation. Hanging out with my retinue of real musician friends and band buddies during my period as a local rock scribe, I urged them all to do countless cool-daddy covers, but never got gone or stupid enough to suggest they take on the sacred “I wanna be your dog” text.

One of my longtime divining rods when it came to romantic connections, was a brief but thorough Iggy tolerance test, and if the girl of the moment couldn’t see Iggy’s essential coolness, pug ugly sexiness, or, quite simply, his position as anointed by me and a few other off-the-wall nitcrits and wacko fans, as an Absolute One-of-a-Kind-Rock-n'-Roll-Original, she was losing points from the start. Still, I never, that I can remember, got down and dirty to the song; it was far too special for that. It was an easy exercise in judgment, right outta the High Fidelity handbook, to divide females and even so-called music fans into three easily defined worlds: the pro-Igster, the anti-Igster, and the who-the-hell-is Igster? I had my own romance with Iggy, mostly hetero, I hoped, but tinged with that weird-assed sexual ambiguity that was at the heart of so many outrĂ© rock and roll gods and goddesses.

During Iggy’s recent reuniting with original stooges Ron and Scott Asheton, he’s come to perform the song twice during his show, once amidst the set, and once during the encore. Seeing him stride into the mic, with that wah-wah refrain filling the open spaces behind him, I see the song, my own strange, hard-to-explain, anthem, from yet another, possibly more mature, perspective.

At my fairly recent 50th birthday, my talented brother Mark guested with my musician pallies and delivered a take that was simultaneously strangled, threatening, and life affirming. When Iggy and the boys currently double up on the song he seems to wrestle maliciously through the first version, stretching it out as an iconic and somewhat ironic stage bit, complete with an audience participation chorus.

The encore version, on the other hand, comes across as decidedly more fierce, streamlined, and brutal, with him, the self-proclaimed “street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm,” the very own “runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb” unleashing it upon a world peopled with suckers and seekers, a child’s ditty fermented into an adult paean, a sly modernist attack-ballad, a cry for self, for love, for a brief moment of blood tingling clarity in a world gone amuck. It’s a magical invocation and a down and dirty invitation, a clarion call for lust, for poetry, an uncomplicated attempt to claw one’s way to a heightened state of consciousness, the kind of rock and roll number spun by a master primitivist that evokes time, space, and a whirligig of memories.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I am a bad blogger

Okay, I admit it. I have been remiss. I haven't chimed in since the Lee Marvin thing. I have no excuses, other than I've been distracted by own projects. me, me, me. Anyway-announcement. Culture Vulture has been added to the growing list of shaking-approved sites. The shaking reference brings me to part two of this mea culpa rant. The first ever issue of shaking like a mountain is on line now. Go. Seek. Please send us comments. Only your fearless leader submitted from this gang of pirates, and no slacker he, got into our debut. Celebrate him. And at the same time, kick yourselves in the asses and get going with some writing. I know you're all music junkies. I know you have literature oozing out of your fingertips.
Now, I promise to do better. Read this thing like the barely sentient being that I am, and occasionally chip in what I have to chip.
See http:www.shakinglikeamountain.com. Let us know if you've been shook (editors@shakinglikeamountain.com).

Friday, July 6, 2007

Ellen Barkin Mon Amour


The following column is reprinted from the July issue of Providence Monthly
EYES WIDE OPEN
By Scott Duhamel


Try as I might I can just can’t whip up much in the way of interest for Steven Soderbergh’s trio of George Clooney/Brad Pitt rat pack caper films, Ocean’s Thirteen being the third and latest. Soderbergh certainly ranks as one of Hollywood’s premier directorial talents as evidenced from his clarion call of a debut, sex, lies, and videotape (1989), through such diverse offerings as Out of Sight (1998), The Limey (1999), Traffic (2000), among others. It’s tough to fault the often bold (‘91’s Kafka, ’96 Schizopolis), or even experimental (‘03’s Full Frontal, 05’s Bubble), filmmaker for taking a deep, warm, bath in the sparkling waters of the Hollywood entertainment whirlpool machine, but something just seems off that such a smart talent could willingly wile away time, energy and huge dollops of greenbacks in the guise of such empty exercises in titillation. I’ve got nothing against male camaraderie, breezy charm, throwaway dialogue and eye winking acting, I even get a kick out of seeing both Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould strut their stuff among the other youthful roosters, but how much investment can one put in patting the backs off Clooney and his fellow rascals as they breeze their way through yet another extended trifle, rife with glossy editing and yet another head-scratching scheme posing as plot?
Besides the somewhat comic inclusion of Al Pacino as the villain-of-the-piece this time around Ocean’s Thirteen does have one element going for it that more than tickles my fancy, the inclusion of the one and only Ellen Barkin as a comic femme fatale. It’s sadly true that many of us who spend inordinate amounts of time with eyes wide open in the dark often develop hard-to-fathom, tough-to-explain, reality dodging crushes on those that parade before us, high and wide on the big screen. I’ve personally felt my heart dance the conga more than a few times while at the movies, worshipping the likes of Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh, Angie Dickinson, Jane Fonda, Jeanne Moreau, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, or Charlotte Rampling. But, there is something about Ms. Barkin that really does it for me-a combination of quirky good looks, a sharp mouth and sharper mind, legs that won’t quit, and a mischievous sense of ironic detachment. It seems that Ocean’s Thirteen is a comeback of sorts for Barkin, after she basically withdrew from movie-making for a while, having followed a quite acceptable marriage to the talented Irishman Gabriel Byrne with an inexplicable one to millionaire Ron Perelman. I don’t think the lovely Ellen has yet turned in a truly career defining role, although her early, pre-Perelman work has many highlights, which we’ll go through below, in a clearly unhinged (but highly lineal) attempt to justify my fervent admiration for the one and only Ellen Barkin.

Diner (1982) Forever memorable as the sweetly confused and conflicted young wife caught in times-they-are-a-changing Baltimore, the lone woman that registers equally in a male dominated (and themed) film, one heartbreaking scene apiece with Mickey Rourke and Daniel Stern.

Tender Mercies (1984) As the long estranged daughter of country singer and hard guy Mac Sledge (Robert Duval) Barkin utilized her pungent mixture of toughness and vulnerability to make her mark in a relatively small but pivotal role.

Eddie and The Cruisers (1983) Although the role, female reporter looking into infamous band’s back history, was about as stereotypical as all get out,
Barkin still manages to infuse it with a sense of intelligence, amidst a whole lotta pensive reaction shots.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984) Director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch strange sci-fi/comic book/pastiche/ parody places our gal Ellen as again the one woman of substance in an all male fantasy, as Penny Priddy the romantic counterpart and accidental heroine to Peter Weller’s surgeon/rock star/space adventurer Buckaroo. Very cool cult entry, with Barkin fully enjoying herself.

Desert Bloom (1986) Ms. Ellen is Aunt Starr, a 50’s hellcat and blonde bombshell around to show her niece Rose (Annabeth Gish) how to live (and not) outside society in the arid air and strangling desert of the Las Vegas bomb testing areas. A neat little flamboyant (but poignant) supporting turn.

Down By Law (1986) Barkin just kicks it her hilarious kick-him-out-of-house scene with Tom Waits, as she tosses his beloved record collection all over the streets of New Orleans while haranguing his hangdog DJ in this top notch Jim Jarmusch offering.

The Big Easy (1987) Perfectly paired with Dennis Quaid, they make a highly combustible romantic duo in this low-key Louisiana cop and robber swampfest, finally grabbing the type of leading role she could do in her sleep.

Siesta (1987) Strange, arty offering from RISD’s own Mary Lambert, with Barkin as a sexy mystery women in red, trying to recollect her recent past in Spain, mixing it up with the likes of Jodie Foster, Grace Jones, Martin Sheen, Julian Sands, Isabella Rosselini, and Gabriel Bryne. A mess, actually, a pretentious mess, but Barkin is sexier than ever.

Johnny Handsome (1989) Finally, another truly appropriate role for our gal, as moll/slut in a gang of thieves alongside cool daddy Lance Henriksen and revenge seeking Mickey Rourke as a deformed bad guy who gets a new face from Doc Forest Whitaker while copper Morgan Freeman attempts to round ‘em up in this truly diverting little cult film from macho man Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs).

Sea of Love (1989) Outside The Big Easy, easily Barkin’s most well known work and biggest box office success, as the murder suspect and femme fatale to Al Pacino’s burnt out New York policeman, an erotic thriller in which Ellen B, simply burned baby, burned.

Switch (1991) Perry King and his shiny white choppers gets dead and comes back as lithe Ellen Barkin in this mostly misshapen Blake Edwards sexual identity comedy which is long on embarrassing silences and short on the heavy laffs, but Barkin goes all out as the man-turned-female doing the shuffle step in the wrong body.

Man Trouble (1992) The teaming of Barkin and Jack Nicholson along would director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) in this romantic comedy falls a little short, even with stellar back-up like Harry Dean Stanton and Beverly D’Angelo. It mostly fizzles instead of sizzles, although it’s nice to see our girl cast as a straight-up contemporary regular romantic lead.

This Boy’s Life (1993) Barkin stands right up with and right alongside Leo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro as a 1950’s mom without a whole mess of choices, all three going toe-to-toe in this evocative coming of age tale, adapted from Tobias Wolfe’s novel. A fine film and a pitch perfect performance.

Wild Bill (1995) Reteamed with Walter Hill, Barkin makes a fine Calamity Jane to Jeff Bridges Wild Bill Hickcock, an earthy, raunchy cowgirl dogged by unfulfilled love, in an un-showy, mature, hardscrabble turn.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Daddy Die Hard


Is Papa Bruce Willis too old to do it up convincingly as a certifiable action hero? Nineteen years after the original Die Hard comes the franchise’s fourth at bat, Live Free or Die Hard, and Brucie Boy is back as the indestructible John McClane, referred to in the movie as “ a Timex watch in a digital world”. The bang-bang movie cues off with a totally wooly plot brimming with improbabilities, peopled with cardboard characters (this go round’s villain, played by Tim Olyphant, is the least memorable one of the series, and Justin Long’s wise-ass sidekick is more insufferable than amusing), all of it just barely held together through Willis’ acidly etched every-cop. Like those men-of-action before him (Bronson, McQueen, Eastwood) Willis is smart enough to sprinkle in plenty of self-effacing humor alongside the brawn and muscle, and it goes a long way when the latest revenge actioner starts rolling out. (As amusing, high-tech, and wham-bam as the crashing, exploding, shooting, and mass slaughter on view may be, without an action icon—or an action figure with an on-screen persona that goes beyond muscles or a huge muscle-head—-the action genre can seem no more than one giant loop of mass destruction.) Nothing with ever match the pure propulsive simplicity of the first dumb bunny Die Hard movie (it was equally moronic and entertaining), but Willis-as-McClane remains an edifying American pastime, like chugging a cold beer while wolfing down a chili-dog.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

School Days


During that lovely, mystical time when midnight movies reigned and every weekend included a stoned-out trip to the local revival house, Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 skewering of the British public school system, If… (Criterion, $40) was a mainstay. My teenaged posse and I saw it many times, reveling in the central performance from a very youthful Malcolm McDowell, cheering the us-against-them theme of rebellion, and remaining transfixed by the movie’s surreal qualities, especially it’s inexplicable switches from black and white to color. The movie easily withstands the test of time, remaining an essential post-studio British film, a vivid evocation of the violence churning through the atmosphere of those times, and a highly lyrical bit of filmmaking featuring a stunning debut from the explosive and dreamy McDowell. (McDowell played the same character, one Mick Travis, in a subsequent Anderson film, 1973’s O Lucky Man, which has yet to be released on DVD.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bar Talk


Overheard Friday Night at the Bar /6-29-07
(Purty much reported as close to verbatim as possible)


"I’m not gonna believe a guy who probably still sniffs his mother’s ass."

"Clemens is a washed-up-millionare-baby-roid-guy-with-a-huge-head and a chub master who couldn’t find the seventh inning even with a box score in his hands."

"My father used to say Narraganset beer was nothing more Cranston rat piss".

"Do you think this place will ever have Karaoke?"

"I gotta move next weekend, do you know anybody who could hook me up with some crank?"

"When she bends over you can see all the way to China."

"They should ban Bob Dylan from that jukebox, every song sounds like a cat caught in the spokes of a bicycle."

"I love Providence cuz it’s like one big local bar where the street dirtballs sit right next to the wannabe models right next to crooked politicians and everybody’s still talking about goddamn Cianci."

"I don’t know whether to drink heavy or hard, or hard and heavy."