Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wimp Out Alert!

In The Dark Knight frenzy has anyone noticed that Mamma Mia, the Abba propelled stage musical turned into summertime popcorn offering more than held is own at the box office? Director Phylidda Lloyd puts her cast of middle age wonders through their paces, and while Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, and Pierce Brosnan appear ready, willing and able, it is the anti-Diva Meryl Streep that dives the deepest into this cool pool of ersatz tomfoolery. As I watched it and followed the dancing fools onscreen, my ever bending mind was overcome with questions. Is this 108 minutes of camp? Or is it CAMP? Outrageously self-mocking? A good-natured crayoned colored jukebox? Meryl Streep’s home movie outtakes? A kitsch-ridden Broadway Show-into-movie roller coaster? An exuberantly magical entertainment shindig? Big screen karaoke? Pierce Brosnan sings the body electric? A Chick Flick with songs? An old-school (think Bandwagon) movie musical? A new-school (think Hairspray) movie musical? Debate it, dig it, or hate it, laff at it, whichever way you go, you’ll be right, and somehow vastly entertained even if you just quite don’t know why.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TV EYE: Strange Lines

Entertainment Weekly cleverly posited The Middleman (ABC Family, Mondays. 10:00 PM) as The Avengers + The Tick+ Reaper, but its eye-winking tone and steady stream of popcult references make this one weird trip, particularly as an original ABC Family Network offering. Straddling a strange line between almost cartoon lightness, overt parody, and self-contained sci-fi universe, with Matt Keesler as the 50’s Boy Scout-like secret agent title character and cutey-pie Natalie Morales as the sparkplug wiseass sidekick, it may indeed generate a cult following before it zaps off to oblivion. Although series creator Javier Grillo-Marxvach is drawing from his own graphic novels (authored along with artist Les McClaine ), he also sports a quite impressive TV batch of credits, including Lost, Medium and Jake 2.0, making this hour of snarky quirkiness all the more interesting.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Defense Sags

Mea culpa. It’s over, no more excuses, no more rationalizing. It hurts too, the end of a love affair combined with the painful release of some long buried admittance. As much as I laughed and truly enjoyed much of the Manny-Being-Manny show (I’ve always been a sucker for baseball flakes), chuckled at the sometime little league base running antics, the space cadet outfield lapses, the mid-game bathroom breaks and cell phone calls, the home run showboating, the yearly Manny spring training watch, the seasonal hair styles, the man child persona, the overt aversion to the rules and regs the less talented majority adhered to, the sweetest of swings, the pinpoint batting vision, the opposite field chops, the seemingly effortless outfield assists, the genuine camaraderie and gamesmanship shared with batting partner Big Papi, I finally have to admit it’s ovaaaaaaaah. Quitting on the team (once again) as they entered in another Yanks-Sox tug-of-war, playing only after the threat of suspension, jump starting trade talks (once again) in the midst of a heated pennant race, the strangely pure unreliability that is at the core of Manny’s being, it’s all too much. I’m sure the Sox can’t or won’t unload him before the trade deadline, and I’m sure Manny will single-handedly win a few pivotal games with his bat as the season rounds the final corners, but I think he has irrevocably damaged this squad’s internal chemistry, and I think his selfishness has finally outgrown his talent and charm. Do I want to see Manny stroking powerful liners in another uniform? No, even the conjured image sickens my stomach.. Do I want to continue rooting for a player who has no concept of team, or loyalty, or the simple instinct for doing the right thing? Finally, resoundingly, painfully, no.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Belgium is Cooler Than You Think

Playwright turned writer-director Marin McDonagh as a 2006 Oscar winner for his short Six Shooter, by this, In Bruges (2008 Universal, $29.98, 107 minutes) his first feature, more than demonstrates that he has the stuff to do more than just occasionally delve into filmmaking. The story of two comically mismatched hit men sent to the Belgium city of the title to enjoy the medieval vibes and cool their heels after a bad shoot in London, the film veers directly into Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarrantino territory, bursting with profanely comic exchanges and peppered with quick doses of the ol’ ultra-violence, all of it bedded down in the thickest layer of deadpan irony. Colin Farrell plays the younger gangster like a feral chipmunk, setting his sights squarely on cold beer and a fetching local drug dealer all the while bemoaning his stay in Bruges as the equivalent to a visit to hell, while Brendan Gleeson is his bear like partner, oozing calm and thoroughly enjoying his touristy twist through the staid little city. Both actors are superb, and quite amusing, although Ralph Fiennes as Big Boss Harry might outdo them, twitching his way across the screen with a burnished internal fury that equals the bullet-headed Ben Kingsley knockout performance in Sexy Beast. Adding to the fun area a couple of coolio minor performances, a cold daddy soundtrack, and one of the most wicked cool cocaine scenes ever put on screen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anthony Mann's Ragged West

Anthony Mann is responsible for some of the finest westerns not made by John Ford or Sam Peckinpah, particularly the 5 quintessential ones (including Bend of The River , The Man From Laramie, and The Naked Spur) he made with Jimmy Stewart in the 50’s. All of his westerns are marked by his utilization of landscape as both mood and character, and for the ragged psyches his principles display, aberrant types that usually only surface briefly as villains in the traditional western. The Furies (1950, Criterion, $39.95, 109 minutes) was his second western, derived from a novel by Niven Busch, the man also responsible for the purple emotions of the infamous Duel in the Sun.A quivering Barbara Stanwyck and a vibrant Walter Huston (in his last screen role) burn up the screen as a high-strung, near wild daughter and father with a relationship that edges towards the uncomfortable. The clouded skies are black with rumblings and the jagged mountain rocks and palatial ranch house provide all the hints you need as backdrops, as this western romps from gothic aria to scissor-tossing revenge tale. Sometimes the West you know ain't exactly the West you knew. For those viewing this underrated near-classic for the first time like myself…Wow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

TV EYE:Aaron Spelling & Eye Candy=Cheesy & Breezy

Aaron Spelling was among the ultimate purveyors of televised eye candy, creating concoctions that were as easy to swallow as they were to gaze upon. Burke’s Law (AmericanLife, Saturday, 9:00PM) is among his first, a comedic cop/mystery show with the ever-dapper Gene Barry as millionaire police captain Amos Burke, a playboy detective who arrived at crime scenes with a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Running from 1963-66 for a total of 81 episodes, this decidedly pre-feminist show boasts the lightest of eye-winking tones accompanying a bevy of curvy beauties and long-legged (Cat Fight Alert) lassies (proving once again the less-is-more popcult rule), alongside a new batch of guest star murder suspects each week, ranging far and wide from The Smothers Brothers to Susan Strasberg to Ricardo Montalbaum, to yeah, Paul Lynde. (My fave so far, has been George Hamilton as a beatnik/performance artist, a YouTube clip for which I searched far and wide to no avail.) Breezy and cheesy, this entertains far more than it deserves to.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Pantheon Western

While High Noon is readily acknowledged as a deserved entry in the Western pantheon, it is usually celebrated for it’s wry political subtext as the ultimate blacklist commentary, without the proper credit going to helmsman Fred Zinneman and his crafting of an extremely lean and austere genre piece. The film equally rests squarely on the stooped shoulders and iconic, hangdog visage of Gary Cooper, an always-spare actor almost gone kabuki in this exquisitely plotted and paced six-gun showdown. Cooper brings a square-jawed man-of-the-west back story to the role that probably couldn’t have been matched by even the likes of Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck, and his minimalist brand of untamed stoicism brands the core of the film like a the last red hot coal left in the campfire. The highlights of High Noon: Ultimate Collectors Edition (1952, Lionsgate, $19.99, 85 minutes, 2 discs)are purty much the same as the last special release in 2002, with most of the commentary devoted to the central political metaphor and not enough spent on the well-oiled and highly effective filmmaking technique the film so ably demonstrates.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Harrelson/Schrader Sleeper

Paul Schrader continues to carve out one acutely weird Hollywood career, functioning as the much acclaimed screenwriter of such big films as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull or as the man behind the camera for American Gigolo or Auto Focus, he’s also responsible for such leftfield efforts like The Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper, Affliction, or last years little seen The Walker (2007, ThinkFilms, $27.98,108 minutes). A hard-to-classify combo that’s part political commentary, part thriller, and part pure character study, it features Woody Harrelson as a male escort (who happens to be gay) specializing in the elder female socialites of Washington DC . Schrader, also a hirsute film crit and essayist, knows how to fashion an assured and stylish film, and he casts well (besides Harrelson, The Walker boasts Ned Beatty, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin), so it’s both a mystery and a shame that an intelligent exercise like this just about leaks out as a DVD sleeper.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hackenbush As Playwright

Our good pallie, Dr. Hackenbush, aka Jimmy Celenza, is strutting his stuff as one of the contributors to the Providence Playwrights Ten-Minute Play Festival, marking the event as purty much a must-look-see if you get outta the house this Thursday or Friday.

Truly Independent Theater needs your support. Check it out:

Providence Playwrights
Ten-Minute Play Festival
July 10-13 at Perishable Theatre

Thursday, July 10 @ 8pm
Friday, July 11 @ 8pm
“Did You Call” by James Celenza
“Man Bites Dog” by Alison DeLisi
“Waiting for W” by David Higgins
“The Black Rapper and the Fat Flapper” by Elizabeth Anne Keiser
Saturday, July 12 @ 8pm
Sunday, July 13 @ 2pm
“Out Calls Only” by David Eliet
“I’m Not Hamlet” by Lawrence Goodman
“For Him” by Ryan Morey
“Asphalt Dreams” by Amanda Weir
For ticket reservations email
Tickets are $10 general admission.
Two tickets for $15 if you see both programs.
Perishable Theatre 95 Empire Street, Downtown Providence

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Unholy Mother of Mercy!

The following column is reprinted from the July issue of Providence Monthly

By Scott Duhamel

Strange coupla weeks for film releases, with a slew of big buck popcorn specials (Indy Jones Goes to Skullsville, Sex, Shoes and the City, Waddling Panda Bear, Hidden Dragon, You Don’t Mess With the Sandler Haircut) that I just find hard to spew on about; a batch of minor league crapola (The Strangers, What Happens in Vegas, Made of Honor) for which it is just about impossible for me to generate commentary; and a few oddball efforts (Stuck, The Foot Fist Way, The Fall) that may not make it to good ole RI by the time this dispatch is scheduled to appear in print; which is usually a reason (self-imposed of course) not to toss off a yet another bit of monthly nitcriticism. Obviously, that kinda snaky, wayward, lead sentence is just a rather roundabout way of saying it’s time to break the last standing rule and educate and inform you dear, regular, infinitely wise readers, about a highly intriguing film entitled The Mother of Tears (made by an equally intriguing filmmaker---Dario Argento) that may or may not be playing in our town (although it is and still should be in nearby Boston), by the time this column hits the streets.

Imagine a comely museum employee named Sarah Mandy (played by the director’s daughter, Asia Argento, a cult-fave actress and herself a director) who, after opening an ancient urn, and watching what may indeed be hell cracking loose as an apparently demonic stripper eviscerates a co-worker to the accompanying sounds of that ole familiar choral chanting and a screeching monkey. Her reaction: “Something strange happened to me tonight.” Uh-huh, even in Italy this kind of occurrence ain’t exactly bowling night. But Sarah’s a sturdy one, and not exactly given to supernatural beliefs, even given the random coincidence that a tidal wave of crime and suicides begins sweeping through Rome. Waitaminute! No wonder Sarah/Asia’s cool, she’s the daughter of Dario, and she’s seen this swirl of flamboyant and deep velvet folderol before---its Argento’s patented landscape, a bravura and retrograde brand of horror contempo cinema sorely lacks. The kind of horror movie could cause the most jaded and recently overwhelmed viewer (think Hostel, think Saw, and try not to think of their countless follow-ups and off-shots) wade back into the deeply hued and overtly reddened waters.

Argento, after beginning his career as a screenwriter (among his first credits was a collaboration with Sergio Leone that resulted in the unforgettable Once Upon a Time in the West), the budding filmmaker eagerly jumped into the Italian genre known as “giallo”, a sort of mystery/thriller hybrid best executed by Mario Brava, making an international splash with the wildly over-the-top The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970). Wearing such obvious (and wildly unmatched) influences on his directorial sleeve as the aforementioned Leone, Alfred Hitchcock, Frederico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman), and simultaneously functioning as a major influence on young, hip American moviebrats like John Carpenter and Brian DePalma, Argento plunged into a long markedly uneven career, highlighted by the sensational Deep Red (1975), and the two films (1977’s Suspira and 1980’s Inferno, both readily acknowledged as horror film standouts) that now stand as the first parts of the trilogy that The Mother of Tears apparently concludes.

What is the trilogy exactly about? Maybe that’s best left for a Da Vinci Code scholar to disassemble. There are three main witches and a batch of other witches and corporeal demonic baddies and an ongoing battle both philosophical and visceral being waged between past and present, good and evil. Argento’s craft (and inherent craftiness) owe one huge debt to Hitchcock and his spellbinding storytelling skills---the truth of the matter is that neither the narrative particulars nor the overall story arc really counts---like Hitchcock, the thrill of his movies, the pulse, the hypnotic beat comes in the elegant set pieces, the sodden atmospherics, the tensile camerawork, the ironically life-affirming dollops of gore. Best of all, the filmmaker, when working at the top of his game, delivers this all with overtly stylish gusto.

Despite all this, it’s easy enough to argue that Argento transcends camp, stops just sort of schlock. Sure The Mother of Tears features flapping necks, entrail neckties, eyeball stabbing, mucho gratuitous nudity, blood-ridden orgies, plus gonzo mayhem and nutso destruction. What other way are you supposed to depict cinematic unspeakable evil? While not as elegant or as capricious as his earlier efforts, The Mother of Tears, still makes it as another filmic Argento fever dream, knee deep in EC comic bloodshed and underworld drapery, yet, never, for a minute, to it pitch’s its tenor toward the unrequited nihilism or scurrilous theater-of- cruelty misfirings that are rampant in what passes for a horror film today. No way. Argento remains a master of mood, high style, and the operatic freak-out, and every hardy filmgoer can always use a good dose of that potent combo.

TV EYE: Dean Winters Wins 6th Man Award

How long is it gonna take before somebuddy takes note of television’s answer to basketball’s sixth man, the wily and chameleon-like Dean Winters. First noticed as Ryan O’Reily, a tough, sharp, and conniving Irish con who was one of the core group on HBO’s Oz, Winters has been all over the TV landscape as of late, bringing it on home each time, as Tommy Gavin’s (Dennis Leary) brother Johnny on Rescue Me, as Charley Dixon, ex-beau to Sarah (Leana Headey) on Terminator:The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as Dennis Duffy, the on-and-off doofus boyfriend of Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on 30 Rock, and just a week ago, as ex-cop Mike Stoat on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, each time adding a different shading, providing the vehicle with some spice, while still managing to blend in seamlessly with whatever tone the series has established. Hats off to him, a young buck who seems to flow effortlessly from comedy into drama, and anywhere in between.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Once a Nun, Not Always a Nun

Rooting for the cult artist can be a frustrating prospect—some of their best material never gets heard by Those That Spend, and if, and when they do break out commercially core fans are usually (and stupidly) pissed off at having to share their personal popcult darlings, while simultaneously the masses grab on to an artist without any clue to the all- important back story. Alejandro Escovedo’s newest (and his 9th solo effort), Real Animal (Back Porch/Manhattan), really could be his break-out album, yet it seems crafted as a sort of look-back-in-reverie soundscape, nodding to a ragged past and self-accepting a lengthy career as a fringe artist. Produced by old-schooler Tony Visconti (T. Rex, David Bowie), the album is by turns raucous and reflective, filled with tales drawn from Escevodo’s days as a member of The Nuns, Rank and File, and True Believers, with real names and places dropped all over the place (evidenced in some of the tiles alone: “Chelsea Hotel ’78”, “Nun’s Song”, “Chip N’ Tony”, “Hollywood Hills”), and one song (“Golden Bear”) delving into the singer/songwriter’s recent tangled dance with hepatitis C. His reworking of Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby” in “Sensitive Boys” is a standout, as is the immediately catchy opening cut “Always a Friend”, and although the Iggy tribute song “Real as an Animal” doesn’t quite match the Stooges sonically, its intentions are well felt. Escevedo’s last release, the well praised John Cale produced The Boxing Mirror, was seen by many as his best work, a combination of influences and sounds drenched in a weary-eyed maturity and resonating with emotive qualities. Real Animal has an equal thrust; yet it’s propelled by earthier throwback rhythms, which, in other words, simply means the 57-year-old Escovedo is displaying that he still knows how to rock

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


My main man, Mark (Fountain of Youth) Cutler posted a vid of himself doing the virgin skydiving thang on his MySpace page yesterday, and while the vid is cool enough (smushed-face,wild-eyes,hair akimbo)the song snippet, "Hovering", a demo that accompanies it, stayed in my head all day and deep into my nighttime dreams, a mid-period Stones throwback with a wistful, aching tone and some simple but evocative imagery, it is also a neat companion piece to one of my fave Raindogs songs, "Up in the Air". (Hey Mark, one question: Is that urban myth about pants pissing before the chute infolds true or false?)