Thursday, May 31, 2007


Kids slay the darndest things

By Edward Copeland
Nick Cassavetes deserves a lot of credit as a writer and director for making Alpha Dog seem as fresh as it does, when this account of a true incident involving young, would-be gangsters in California, can't avoid reminding a viewer of countless other explorations into the seedy world of young people out of control. Dating back (at least) to 1979's Over the Edge through 1986's River's Edge and 2003's Better Luck Tomorrow, the territory Alpha Dog covers seems awfully familiar. It's almost like a Larry Clark film, minus the creepy pseudo-pedophilia aspect.

Alpha Dog tells the true story of a spur of the moment kidnapping that goes terribly wrong. Emile Hirsch plays Johnny Truelove, a small-time drug dealer with aspirations of bigger things, no doubt inspired by his connected father (Bruce Willis). When another tough guy Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) comes up short on cash because of a deal that went sour, Johnny and his friends grab Jake's younger half-brother Zach (Anton Yelchin). Only thing is, they grow to like Zach and Zach doesn't mind being steered away from home for awhile, even if by force.

He begins to enjoy the camaraderie, partying and sexual exploration. He especially forms a bond with Johnny's friend Frankie (Justin Timberlake, in a surprisingly effective performance). Unfortunately, because of a vague phone call to one of his father's attorney friends, Johnny begins to fear that he faces prison time for the abduction, even if Zach is willing to say he left on his own.

You can see the inevitability of where this is heading, but it's sad nonetheless, especially when it appears the one person truly most responsible for the madness is the only one who will get off scot-free. The performers all do fairly well. In fact, the young actors come off better than the more seasoned adults in their glorified cameos such as the aforementioned Willis and Sharon Stone as Zach's mother. Stone further has to shoot some scenes under some of the worst fat makeup I've ever seen.

Those scenes present some of the biggest problems with Alpha Dog: It opens and frequently reverts as if it's a documentary telling of the tale, but the switching to scenes depicting action that really no witnesses could have testified to, makes the film have a schizophrenic feeling.

Still, despite that flaw and the sense that we've seen this all before, most of Alpha Dog still works. It's no River's Edge or even Over the Edge, but it certainly could have been worse.

Labels: , ,


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Forget her not

By Edward Copeland
"I think I may be beginning to disappear," Fiona (Julie Christie) laments at one point as Alzheimer's disease begins to dissolve more and more of her synapses. Thankfully, Christie has not followed Fiona's evaporation. Age spots dot her hands and lines crease her face, but time has done little to dull her luminous beauty. Her blue eyes remain as penetrating as ever and the film Away From Her, the writing-directing debut of actress Sarah Polley, proves that the years haven't diminished Christie's talent either.

Based on a short story by Alice Munro, Away From Her tells the story of the disintegration of a marriage by the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. What could have been a maudlin Lifetime-esque enterprise in others' hands, becomes a riveting and moving film essay thanks to Polley's artful treatment and her extraordinary cast, which in addition to Christie includes Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy, Wendy Crewson and Kristen Thomson.

During a dinner, in the early stages of the disease, Fiona becomes stumped for what she was about to say and laments that "Half the time, I wander around, trying to remember something pertinent." Grant (Pinsent) and Fiona, once they realize what lies ahead of them, begin to read about what to expect as the disease takes its toll, as books warn to "never make a person feel guilty for their anger with God" and of the pain that will come with presiding over the deterioration of someone you love, something which sounds to them like a "normal marriage."

Part of what makes Away From Her special is that the 44-year-old marriage between Grant and Fiona hasn't always been perfect. In fact, there has been adultery in the past, committed by Grant when he was a randy college professor back in the 1960s, incidents that even Fiona describes as "things I wish would go away, the things we never talk about." Alzheimer's cruelty takes away many memories of Fiona's life, but the hurt from Grant's past betrayals is one of the last to go.

It is especially painful for Grant when the disease gets to the point that it seems necessary to place Fiona in a care facility that requires the Alzheimer's patients be isolated from their loved ones for 30 days to make their "adjustment" easier. The facility's administrator (Crewson), who seems obsessed with pointing out her building's "natural light" insists on the policy, though even one of her most loyal nurses (a great performance by Thomson) questions the policy, thinking it exists to make things easier for the staff, not the patients or their families.

When Grant drops Fiona off, she tries to reassure him that she's "not all gone, just going" and tells him that he "could have driven away and forsaken me, but you didn't. I thank you for that." Unfortunately, 30 days is all it takes for things to change irreparably, as Fiona develops an attachment to a silent patient named Aubrey (Murphy) to the extent that when Grant can visit, he's stuck mostly just watching her and Aubrey.

Later, when Aubrey goes back home to his wife Marian (Dukakis), Grant tries to convince her to let Aubrey go back since Fiona seems so lost without him. Marian admits her motives for keeping him at home aren't noble either: She can't afford to keep him in the care center without losing their home. "Bad luck is just life," Marian tells him. "You can't beat life." Eventually, Marian allows Grant to pursue a type of seduction, even though she knows his true motives and tells him it would "be easier if you could pretend a little."

The performances are great across the board and as good as Christie is, it's really Pinsent whose quiet portrayal of guilt, grief and gradual loss anchors the film. The film's structure bounces back-and-forth in time, perfectly mirroring the fracturing of memory inside Fiona's mind. There even are moments of humor, such as another patient, a former play-by-play announcer who can't speak any other way, commenting as he passes Grant at a particularly painful moment, "There's a man with a broken heart, broken into a thousand pieces."

Polley's film perfectly captures the hurt and frustration of those affected by Alzheimer's without ever sinking to the easy pushing of emotional buttons. Instead, she allows her film's vivid, multidimensional characters' humanity to always take precedent over the disease.

Labels: ,


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Game, Set, Match

By Josh R
As a general rule, I try not to be unduly impressed by celebrity — or to be more accurate, celebrities. Stripped of the trappings of fame, they’re all just people — and some of them not terribly interesting people, at that. Take movie stars: the object of global adulation, when in encountered in person, may reveal himself to be little more than a short, none-too-bright fellow whose only distinguishing characteristic is a complete lack of insight on any subject not directly pertaining to The Church of Scientology (and I’m being generous when I refer to it as ‘insight’). Wake me up when he makes another movie worth watching.

I’m usually a pretty cool customer when I come into contact with famous faces, but I have my limitations — try as I might to be completely jaded, if I ever ran into Angela Lansbury on the street, I’d probably stop dead in my tracks and dissolve into a blubbering mass of jelly. To my way of thinking, this brilliant star of stage, screen and television is not, and never has been, just people. The first line of her Playbill bio informs us that the actress has “enjoyed a career without precedent.” If any other performer had used this phrase in reference to herself, it might smack of self-aggrandizement. In Ms. Lansbury’s case, it has the ring of plain, unvarnished truth.

If you haven’t already deduced as much, I’m a fan. Not of the binoculars-and-bedroom-shrine type that might merit obtaining a restraining order against … but with almost as little sense of proportion. It’s been a lifelong ambition of mine to see Ms. Lansbury live on Broadway, the site of many of her greatest triumphs. The good news is that, after an absence of more than 20 years from the stage, the legend has come home to roost. The bad news is that Deuce, the rickety vehicle that provides the occasion for her return, isn’t exactly equal to her talents. It’s a good thing Ms. Lansbury has acting muscle to spare, because she’s been given some heavy lifting to do.

Terrence McNally’s conspicuously underwritten new play considers the lives and legacies of a retired doubles tennis team, the fictitious Leona Muller and Margaret ‘Midge’ Barker. Reunited at The U.S. Open Championships, they recall their triumphs and disappointments, both personal and professional, as they watch a match from the stands. Old wounds resurface, new revelations come to light and conflicting versions of their shared history are debated and reconciled as they wait to be honored in a courtside tribute commemorating their careers. As a work of theater, Deuce is amorphous in structure — rather than having a beginning, middle and end, the play seems to consist entirely of meandering chatter, happening in fits and starts and seemingly bound for nowhere in particular. Its various thematic considerations — the plight of the elderly, the crass commercialization of professional sports, the strait-jacketing influence of sexism on the lives and legacies of a generation of pioneers — are picked over and discarded with the cursory capriciousness of an easily distracted child rummaging through his toy chest. The title of the play refers to a tennis term meaning stalemate — the point at which neither opponent has a clear advantage over the other. It’s apt in ways the playwright surely never intended — in the absence of any forward motion, the entire enterprise seems to be stuck in neutral. As a result, a premise with the potential to serve up a succession of scintillating rallies — with dazzling acrobatics worthy of Evert and Navratilova — feels more like an indifferently executed game of shuffleboard.

To be fair, the athletes are game. Even as the playwright veers uncertainly off course, Ms. Lansbury keeps her performance on track. Deuce actually does give her the chance to do some acting — something that the saccharine sleuthing series Murder, She Wrote neglected to do for the entirety of its 11 year run. With a vibrancy that belies her 80-odd years, the actress effortlessly commands the stage with the natural assurance that has always set her apart from the crowd — as a teenager on the MGM lot in the 1940s, she was already a strong enough presence to terrorize the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn in a series of bad-girl roles which capitalized on her insolent pout and precocious manner. Sixty-odd years later, she’s just as canny and crafty a performer as she was stealing scenes as Gaslight’s slatternly housemaid; as one might expect, Leona is the more colorful of the two roles, and Lansbury embellishes McNally’s banal pronouncements with enough wit and spark to make them seem almost fresh. If her co-star, the estimable Marian Seldes, doesn’t fare quite as well in the role of Midge, it’s because the deck seems to be stacked more against her. Lansbury at least has some juicy lines to sink her teeth into — Seldes tries for quiet dignity and self-possession, which is counterproductive in a play that is nothing if not obvious (when McNally writes himself into a corner, he usually resorts to crude sexual humor to blast his way out of it). The interjections of a pair of vapid television commentators, played by Brian Haley and Joanna Adler, contribute little to the proceedings, although they do illustrate the limitations of the McNally’s tennis knowledge — the very notion of a doubles team having achieved the kind of legendary status attributed to them by the playwright is dubious at best. Neither does the presence of Michael Mulheren’s worshipful fan seem particularly necessary — when he instructs the audience to “take a good look” at the two women, since we “will never see their like again,” he’s not telling us anything we don’t already know.

Director Michael Blakemore does what he can to showcase the performances to good advantage, but fails to bring cogency to a text that lacks a sense of purpose. It’s possible that Deuce might have fared somewhat better in more intimate space — as it is, it can’t avoid seeming a bit dwarfed by the dimensions of The Music Box Theatre (Peter Davison’s set, while offering an ingenious representation of a tennis stadium, seems overscaled — the actors look a bit lost on it). Of course, the very presence of Ms. Lansbury required nothing less than the royal treatment, and it’s unlikely she’ll have much difficulty drawing capacity crowds for the remainder of the play’s limited run. She’s giving audiences their money’s worth — even if the play shortchanges them in the process.

Labels: , , , ,


Twin Peaks Tuesdays: Episode 12

By Edward Copeland
Agent Cooper awakes at the Great Northern and immediately begins dictating to Diane about having a dream about a "large, tasteless gumdrop" only to realize that while sleeping he'd accidentally been chewing on one of his ear plugs, designed to keep the world at bay. In an attempt to get back in gear, he decides a little morning exercise is in order and proceeds to do a headstand against the wall, upon which he finally spots Audrey's note and realizes what the Giant meant when he said he forgot something. He also realizes he now has a leg up on Audrey's abductors since he knows she's at One Eyed Jack's.

When Cooper makes it to the sheriff's station, he finds that Lucy is getting ready to take a two-day trip to visit her sister who just had a baby. Hawk also returns from interrogating the old women who live in the house next to the Palmers' old place on Pearl Lakes and admits it took three pots of chamomile tea to get them to say that no gray-haired man named Robertson ever lived there.

Back at the Johnson household, Bobby and Shelly prepare for vegetative Leo's homecoming by trying out some "medical equipment" from a man named Mr. Pinkle (David L. Lander), who appears to be in on their insurance scheme. D.A. Lodwick finally turns up so Judge Sternwood can hold pretrial hearings for Leland in Jacques' murder and the absent Leo for his long list of various crimes. Lodwick doesn't want bail for Leland, but Truman speaks on his behalf and Sternwood releases him on his own recognizance. Later, Lodwick surprises the judge by accusing Leo of Laura's murder on top of his other crimes, though the attorney representing Leo says that trying him in his current medical condition would make a "mockery" of the legal system. After consulting with Truman and Cooper, who says he doubts Leo killed Laura, Sternwood decides to declare Leo incompetent to stand trial and OKs his return home. The judge also asks Coop how long he has been in Twin Peaks. "12 days," the agent replies. The judge tells him to keep his eyes on the woods for they are wondrous and strange.

Donna tries to get her hands on Laura's diary from Harold Smith again, this time offering to share her own stories for his living history project in exchange for being able to read it. Harold compromises, but insists that he has to read Laura's diary to her and that it can't leave his house. During a moment in their talk, Donna snatches Laura's diary from Harold and tries to lure him outside into the open, but once the agoraphobic ventures beyond his doorway, he collapses on the ground in convulsions. Leo isn't the only one getting ready to head home from the hospital, Ed brings home Nadine, still convinced that she's 18 and puzzled by James' presence because she doesn't think she's seen him in any of her high school classes. She briefly panics, wondering where her parents are, but Ed reassures her that they are on a trip. Nadine accepts his story and skips into the kitchen to get some food only to return holding the refrigerator door in her hand. "It just came right off," she says.

The mysterious Japanese man Tojamura invites himself into Ben Horne's office and presents him with a cashier's check for $5 million as an offer to buy in to Ghostwood Estates. Ben is intrigued and keeps the check, but has to hustle Tojamura out as Cooper arrives to pick up the ransom money. Once Dale is gone, Hank sneaks into the office through the back door and Ben orders him to follow Cooper and make sure that Audrey gets back safely and, if possible, the money as well. Hank asks why Cooper won't be bringing her back and Ben says, "Cooper's not coming back."

Frustrated by her inability to get the diary away from Harold alone, Donna enlists Maddie's help. She plans to distract him out of the living room somehow and signal Maddie to run in and whisk the diary away.

At One Eyed Jack's, Jean Renault can barely contain himself and his approaching vengeance on Agent Cooper. Blackie is preoccupied about how they are going to kill Audrey and asks whether or not that won't upset the deal with Ben for taking the brothel/casino off his hands. Jean tries to reassure her and shows that he plans for a fatal heroin overdose to take care of Audrey. Andy, awash in Post-It notes while trying to fill in for Lucy, calls to get the test results from his fertility test and learns that while previous tests showed just a few men in a boat, he now is "a whole damn town!" He shouts the news to Harry who tells Cooper not to even ask as they begin to plot an assault on One Eyed Jack's. Hawk sticks his head in and says there still is no sign of the One-Armed Man, though they found more of the mysterious chemical in his motel room. Truman and Cooper try to rush the deputy out so they can get back to work. Meanwhile, Andy calls what he thinks is the number for Lucy's sister to share the good news only to be horrified when the voice on the other end identifies it as an abortion clinic.

Donna returns to Harold's and shares with him a time from her early teens when she and Laura hung out with older boys and went skinny dipping and that she considers it the "first time she fell in love." Later, she gets Harold to take her into his greenhouse and show off his flowers and she pulls him into a kiss. At the Double R, Maddie gets a coffee to go and runs into James, who she's short with and makes a hasty exit. James, figuring something is up even in his dimwitted head, follows her.

While Coop and Harry prepare to move in on One Eyed Jack's, an owl is watching from the trees and the show has a very nice tracking shock as the lawmen navigate the corridors of the establishment. Cooper heads off one way to try to find Audrey while Truman watches Blackie's office, where he sees Jean Renault kill Blackie.

Unfortunately, Jean sees him as well and squeezes off a shot before vanishing. Cooper bumps into Blackie's sister and forces her to take him to Audrey, where he discovers her near-death state and frees her. As Coop and Truman prepare to flee the scene with Audrey, a guard appears with a gun at the back door and orders them to drop their weapons and turn around. They comply and then hear a groan and a thud only to turn back to see a large knife protruding from the guard's back and Hawk saying, "It's a good thing you two can't keep a secret." As the lawmen and Audrey head off into the woods, Hank calls Ben to report what's happened but soon feels a gun pointed at his head. It's Jean Renault who reaches for Hank's ID, which happens to still be that of DA Lodwick. Back at Harold's, Donna finally distracts Harold long enough to signal Maddie who runs in but has trouble with the bookcase and makes enough noise for Harold to catch on. Maddie and Donna try to escape with the diary but Harold goes mad. "You want to know about secrets?" he says before pulling out a gardening claw and drawing three lines of blood across his cheek.

Labels: ,


Monday, May 28, 2007


Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007)

People always think I'm exaggerating when I say something like "Charles Nelson Reilly taught me to read," but believe me, it was true. Sure, Sesame Street probably played some small role in getting me able to read at 3, but the true teachers were TV Guide and Reilly and other celebrities on the late great game show Match Game. Dumb Dora may have been dumb, but when those stars filled in the blanks, complete with the words spelled out neatly on those little blue cards, I was able to start putting words together.

Of course, Reilly's work in theater, films and television extended far beyond his role as my reading tutor. He won a Tony Award for originating the role of Bud Frump in the great Frank Loesser musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, though he didn't get to repeat the role in the film version. He later earned Tony nominations for playing Cornelius in the original production of Hello, Dolly! and for directing Julie Harris and Charles Durning in a 1997 revival of The Gin Game.

Still, his legacy will probably be greatest to those who remember his frequent television appearances, where he flouted his flamboyance, much in the way Paul Lynde did, and spun stories so interesting that Johnny Carson invited him to sit with him on The Tonight Show more than 95 times.

He also appeared regularly on various shows, as a regular on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and multiple times on Love, American Style.

For many younger viewers (and myself as well), he may be best remembered for playing the title role in the classic X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," a role he repeated on the Chris Carter series Millennium.

His film work was more sparse, including a role with good friend Burt Reynolds in one of the worst sequels (and films) of all time: The Cannonball Run II.

To read the AP obit, click here.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


The Greek gods created a woman

By Edward Copeland
I reluctantly admit that my knowledge of some silent films contains some major gaps. For instance, I'd never seen a single work by German expressionist master G.W. Pabst (in silent or sound for that matter), so I was excited to finally get to see 1929's Pandora's Box in its excellent Criterion Collection edition, which also offered my first glimpse at fabled silent star Louise Brooks, who lived until 1985 but never made a film after 1938.

The most fascinating thing about Criterion's treatment of Pandora's Box is that it offers you not one, not two but FOUR different scores that you can play while you watch the film. There's an orchestral score by Gillian Anderson (not that Gillian Anderson), that attempts to evoke the German movie palaces of time; a score by Dimitar Pentchev composed in the cabaret style of the Weimar-era; a modern orchestral score by Peer Raben, a frequent collaborator of Rainer Werner Fassbinder; and a piano improvisation by Stéphan Oliva. Admittedly, I didn't take the time to watch the film four times with each score (I only watched it completely with the Anderson score), but I did decide to watch one pivotal sequence (the film is divided into eight acts) with each piece of music. It's quite interesting to see how the same images play with different underscoring. With the exception of the piano improvisation, I found each score worked exceedingly well and if I watched the film again in its entirety, I think I'd probably opt for Raben's work this time. (The Criterion set also offers a bonus disc, which I didn't sample, as well as a commentary track by film historians.)

As for the film itself, it is hauntingly beautiful as is much of the work that has survived from that era of German cinema. Pabst condensed the tale of good-time girl Lulu from wide-ranging promiscuity to more focused dalliances with sex and crime on the way to her inevitable comeuppance and Brooks' glow makes the entire enterprise shine. The film was controversial in its time for many reasons, the least of which is its fairly straight-forward lesbian implications. The tale's trajectory isn't likely to surprise, but Pabst's use of the camera keeps you spellbound. My own personal favorite touch is when someone is shot but you only know it for sure because of the little puffs of smoke you see rising over a shoulder. Aside from Brooks, Pandora's Box is populated with many great faces such as Fritz Kortner as the doctor who becomes embroiled with Lulu, Franz Lederer as his weak son and, most especially, Carl Goetz as Lulu's father. His face seemed to have been specifically made for silent cinema. One other interesting note about the DVD: This is the first silent film I've watched that also is subtitled. The title cards are in the original German with English subtitles below.

Labels: ,


Saturday, May 26, 2007


Centennial Tributes: John Wayne

Wayne was never an actor, and because he wasn’t an actor, he had to do everything real. There wasn’t anything in Duke that would allow him to pretend he was something. He couldn’t be French, he couldn’t have an accent, he couldn’t be Olivier. Whatever the actor was called to do in the script, he did it. It wasn’t a question of acting, it was a question of reality.”
Henry Hathaway

By Wagstaff
With more than 150 films to his credit, John Wayne has given us many moments that are genuine. To commemorate the 100th birthday of Marion Morrison, known to all his friends as Duke, I hereby give you a half-dozen of my favorites. The task was difficult — there were so many to choose from. What are some of your favorite John Wayne moments? Drop a comment and tell me what they are.

1. Intro of the Ringo Kid

His reputation precedes him. Everybody on the Overland Stage to Lordsburg that day had heard of the Ringo Kid, but few thought they’d ever meet him. Then, in one of the greatest screen entrances in history, we hear a rifle shot that pulls the team of horses up short. We first see him in the middle of the road, against a Monument Valley backdrop. His tall frame stands solitary and assured. One hand holds a saddle and blanket, the other hand twirls his Winchester. The camera swoops in on the figure beneath the hat, loses focus momentarily, and then sharpens into a closeup of the handsome, friendly face of the Ringo Kid. It’s the one indelible image that made John Wayne a star. After this single shot, Duke runs away with the picture — and that’s saying something, considering that the stagecoach is packed with talent such as Andy Devine, George Bancroft, Claire Trevor, Louise Platt, John Carradine, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill and Thomas Mitchell.
“Figured you’d be in Lordsburg by now,” the marshall says.
“No. Lame horse,” the Kid says.
“Well, it looks like you’ve got another passenger.”
“You’re under arrest, Kid. I’ll take the Winchester.”
“You may need me and this Winchester, Curley.

And indeed they do. That trusty Winchester comes in mighty handy when fending off Apache Indian attacks in the desert, or when taking on the Plummer Boys single handed once the Kid gets to Lordsburg. Ten years and more than 60 B-Westerns and serials had given Duke a lot of practice at this sort of thing. John Ford was once asked why he didn’t put John Wayne in a major role before Stagecoach, even though the two had been good friends for more than ten years. The director replied, “Duke wasn’t ready, he had to develop his skills as an actor … I wanted some pain written on his face to offset the innocence.” When Orson Welles was asked to name his influences, he said “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” Sometimes I think what he really meant was “Stagecoach, Stagecoach and Stagecoach.”

2. “I’m gonna kill ya, Matt”

Thomas Dunson is a hard man. A cattle baron who drives his men past the point of endurance; he tolerates no dissent. In his mind, why should he? He created his empire from scratch, starting with a bull, a couple of calves, and a lot of open Texas grassland. His only companions back then were a crotchety old cook (Walter Brennan) and a young pup of a lad named Matthew Garth. The “Red River D” was his brand. He worked hard for it. He vowed a day would come when he would add an “M” to that “D” and bequeath all that he’d built to Matt. That was all years ago, though. Now Dunson and his group of cowhands are driving a herd of ten thousand cattle up Missouri way, and forging the Chisholm Trail. As the hardships mount on the dusty trail, and the men grow weary, Dunson grows more and more fanatical. He becomes a ruthless tyrant. When he tries to horsewhip a couple of cowboys for desertion, Matt, now all grown up into Montgomery Clift, can no longer take it. He usurps Dunson’s authority at gunpoint and takes the herd. Dunson is to be left behind. Feeling betrayed, dejected and all alone, he’s a man with the look of true hatred in his eyes. With his wounded leg, he stands slumped up against his horse. He fumes silently, his hand clinging to the saddle horn. Matt approaches for a fare-thee-well and Dunson delivers the following lines:
“Cherry was right. You’re soft, you should have let ‘em kill me, ‘cause I’m gonna kill you. I’ll catch up with ya. I don’t know when, but I’ll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me, ‘cause one time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there. I’m gonna kill ya, Matt.

The determination in John Wayne’s eyes says it all — it’s a done deal, a fait accompli. I sure wouldn’t want Mr. Dunson coming after me. In many ways, Red River tells the same story as Mutiny on the Bounty, with Thomas Dunson as Captain Bligh and Matthew Garth as Fletcher Christian. It was the first time Duke worked with Howard Hawks, and in the part of the aging Dunson, Hawks gave him his deepest role yet. John Wayne was only 39 at the time. John Ford, after seeing Red River, cracked to Hawks “I never knew that big son of a bitch could act.”

3. “Yeah, I know about babies”

Sgt. Stryker meets Mary when his squad has ten days leave in Honolulu. She approaches him. He’s too gruff and weary to give her any play at first, but things warm up a little when he finds out her name is Mary, and that they’re both unhappy. She invites him back to her place. “The drinks are cheaper.” The bottle at her place is almost empty, so he gives her a sawbuck to get another. While she’s gone, Stryker discovers Mary’s baby in the next room. He realizes that she needed that sawbuck for more than just booze. When Mary returns he immediately spots the cartons of Pablum she’s bought and begins to open one. Mary is relieved to see him pour the cereal into a bowl for the infant’s dinner.
“So, you know about babies” she says. Stryker’s eyes smile a little, and then he sighs “Yeah, I know about babies.”

Sands of Iwo Jima is the quintessential Marine Corps movie. It sets the paradigm for all subsequent men-training-for-combat films. Sgt. John M. Stryker is your great granddaddy — Mr. Tough Love himself — he’s John fucking Wayne for God’s sake. He is a tough-as-nails papa bear to his men. He licks his dogface grunts into shape for some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific — fights over places like Tarawa and Iwo Jima, two of the most hellish holes during the island hopping campaign. These two particular battles are filmed in an effective and often startling manner. Note how well actual combat footage (some of it quite horrifying) is integrated into the scenes shot on a soundstage. It was seamless for its day. As to Stryker’s men, well, you’ve seen it a thousand times. Rebellious animosity gives way to grudging respect, and finally, to loving memory after Stryker is tragically killed in an act of heroism: offering someone a cigarette. Remember, this is a paradigm movie. That the aforementioned scene with Mary and her baby comes quietly out of nowhere gives us a glimpse into the other side of what our boys were fighting for.

4. Captain Brittles’ Spectacles

There is a wonderfully touching moment in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, the second film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, when Duke’s men line up their horses and present him with a gift. It is a silver watch and chain, and to read the engraving Capt. Nathan Cutting Brittles must put on his spectacles. He fumbles a little, somewhat embarrassed as he removes the specs from his jacket, and then reads the inscription. The words almost choke him up. “To Capt. Brittles — from C Troop … Lest we forget.” The hushed silence while his men listen will break your heart. They’ve just caught a glimmer of their captain’s frailty. John Wayne handles the moment perfectly, and without histrionics. It is said that George Washington once did something similar during the Revolutionary War. In front of his men he put on his spectacles to read something, saying “Forgive me, for my eyes have grown weary in your service.” This naked look at the man touched their hearts, and rallied them to his cause.

5. Kissing Stumpy

Duke was never so easygoing and loose as he was with Howard Hawks. They made five films together. Duke trusted Hawks. He would do things for him that he wouldn’t do for other directors. Exhibit A is from Rio Bravo. John Wayne is Sheriff John T. Chance. Angie Dickinson is Feathers, a sexy Hawksian woman. The two have been flirting for most of the movie, after which it is strongly implied that they’ve gone to bed together. The morning after, John T. leaves the hotel and walks down the street with a spring in his step. His demeanor is so cheerful — it must’ve been quite a night! You can almost hear the song he’s whistling in his head. Oh yeah, the Duke just got some. He goes to the jailhouse to check on Stumpy (Walter Brennan.) A brief exchange ensues. Stumpy complains that he’s underappreciated. “Maybe you’re right, Stumpy” he says. “You’re a treasure. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Just as Duke is about to leave, he sneaks up and playfully kisses the old codger on the top of the head and quickly skips out, his ass getting a swat from Stumpy’s broom. “Go back to being yourself. Leastwise I’m used to that” cries an irritated Stumpy. This is John Wayne at his most whimsical...then he gets to dealing with the bad guys.

Just talking about Rio Bravo makes me want to go on and on. Like about how its dialogue is a blueprint for Quentin Tarantino’s, and provides the underlying structure. Go ahead, ask me about it. Or about how it came at a precious time in the history of the Western. Rio Bravo was made well after the genre’s unabashed pioneer spirit and Manifest Destiny had evolved into adult-themed drama. Yet it came well before a period that strived for revisionism. Rio Bravo exists in a happy stasis somewhere at the middle. It all adds up to maximum entertainment. How good is Rio Bravo and John Wayne in it? Well, to quote John T. talking about Colorado Ryan “I’d say he’s so good, that he doesn’t feel he has to prove it.”

6. Ethan Edwards’ Departure

What can you say about this final moment that hasn’t already been said? We know he’s departing because he’s hardly arrived. Ethan Edwards’ years-long obsessive search is finally over. He has brought little Debbie home. The darkened interior of the homestead is like a picture frame that surrounds the brilliant sunlight streaming through the doorway. Never mind that those beautiful Monument Valley mesas out there are nowhere near Texas. This is mythmaking. Ethan halts outside uncomfortably as everyone else is ushered inside. He stands at the threshold … and here I am indebted to Ronald L. Davis’ book, Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne:
“Then comes a moment of cinematic nostalgia. Wayne raises his left hand, reaches across his chest, and grabs his right arm at the elbow. It is a gesture that Harry Carey, Ollie’s husband, had often used in the movies Duke had seen as a boy in Glendale. Wayne stares at Olive for a couple of seconds, then turns and walks away, as the cabin door closes. ‘Ollie and I had talked about Harry in that stance on occasions,’ Duke remembered. ‘I saw her looking at me, and I just did it. Goddamn tears came to her eyes. I was playing that scene for Ollie Carey.’”

It was a scene that only John Wayne could do. Everything is wordlessly conveyed through the familiar shape of his body. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a purely cinematic moment like this one is worth many times more. It remains Duke’s legacy shot.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Friday, May 25, 2007


Let the Star Wars Blog-a-Thon begin

BLOGGER'S NOTE: The list of posts has been updated as of 9:30 A.M. CDT May 29. The list grows longer and longer. Thanks to everyone who is participating.

I have a confession: the photo above tells you all you need to know about what it would take to get me to join the Dark Side of the Force. The ability to fire lightning from your fingers? Sign me up. I can just imagine the joy it would bring the next time I'm in a theater and some yammering idiot won't shut up or takes a cell phone call. That would be sweet. On that note, let's officially begin the Star Wars blog-a-thon, marking 30 years since the landmark film opened in the United States and the world of cinema was changed forever, for good and ill. Please e-mail me your links (and put Star Wars in the subject line so I don't think it's spam) or leave them in comments on this post. Thanks to everyone who is participating. Look below for links to our contributions here and contributions elsewhere as they come in. Also, Jason at Petulant Ramblings has posted some classic magazine covers related to the films, Andrew James at is opening their blog to anyone who might like to post something and doesn't have a site of their own. The Palm Beach Post also has posted photos and memories of the series' fans. crazycris also has posted a tribute.


Odienator defends the Ewoks
Odienator writes about Lando Calrissian, Homeboy in Outer Space.
I ask, "Where did I get all those wonderful toys?"
I admit I may have overpraised Return of the Jedi.
Does Lucas believe that in space, no one should hear you cum.


Bruce F. Webster talks about Paradise Lost (not the Milton poem)


Pacheco writes that It's Quiet in Space


Alan Lopuszynski writes about his son watching Star Wars for the first time.


Jonathan Burdick picks the best of the Star Wars video games.
Jonathan on the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Jonathan on the best fan videos.


Dan Eisenberg writes about Double Dueling.


Andrew Bemis writes about experiencing the trilogy for the first time on the small screen.


Peter Nellhaus looks at two movies by director Ken Annakin, the inspiration for Anakin Skywalker's first name.


Peter Kirn discusses Wii as lightsaber.
Peter also talks about Star Wars and sound design.
He also provides a video of Darth Vader's Imperial March -- if the dark lord were a DJ.


Noel Vera "interviews" Yoda.
Noel also waxes poetic about Revenge of the Sith.


Adam Carson Keller writes about the best Star Wars film ever.


Jeff suggests the failure of the second trilogy has to do with physical space.
A negative take on Revenge of the Sith.
On George Lucas deleting history.
Jeff also has a poll question to ask.


Adam Ross asks, "Can't we all just enjoy Attack of the Clones?"
Adam also talks about the order he now prefers to watch the six films in.


SamuraiFrog posits that Palpatine created Anakin.


Chris Stangl brings his original Sith review out of mothballs.


Nathaniel R. continues his series of screengrabs from 20 minutes and 7 seconds into films and finds himself on Tatooine.


Scott Eggleston offers Five Lessons for the Micros.


Bob Westal provides an ethical meditation on shooting Greedo first.

gee bobg

Bob Glickstein says that a more important date for him was Aug. 5, 1977.
Bob goes contrarian on The Empire Strikes Back.
He also talks more about being a recovering Star Warsaholic.
Finally, he goes so far as to propose a remake.


Marco Acevedo writes about The Myth That Wouldn't Sit Still.


Justine Elias writes about Princess in Chains: Leia's Jedi Bikini.
Ryland Walker Knight offers an appreciation of Revenge of the Sith.
Robert Humanick talks about the Star Wars Holiday Special.


Catherine Cantieri on the infamous Star Wars holiday special.


Calico Jack gives some Reflections from a Second Generation Fan.


At MSN Movies, Emerson writes about How Star Wars Shook the World.


A close look at the first 90 seconds of Attack of the Clones.
In praise of Revenge of the Sith.
Finding similarities between Sith and 1963's Cleopatra.


Pat Piper discusses how the taint of the second trilogy has colored his viewing of the original three.


The Constructivist provides a brief history of Star Wars blogging at their site.


Remembers Star Wars


Mystery Man writes about the early drafts of Star Wars.


Robert J. Lewis recounts his first viewing.


Rob MacDougall says that Old is the New Hope.


Lucas McNelly asks if he's the only person who doesn't care about Star Wars.


Walter Biggins revisits Kiddie Fare.


Richard's memory of first seeing Star Wars


Repeats an interview with the director who made a series of Star Wars-inspired lozenge commercials in the U.K. a few years back.


OKonheim discusses the prequels and the DVD revolution.


Carl V. has had a week's worth of posts:
1. Invites memories of seeing the original.
2. Talks Star Wars swag.
3. Moments that make you giddy.
4. Looks at various Star Wars art.


RC asks what if Chuck Barris crossed Star Wars with The Dating Game?


He says, "May the (Ambiguous Mental Power) be with you.


Tadhg O'Higgins suggests What Episodes II and III Should Have Been, Part 1 (Episode II).
Part 2


Ben Burtt on Lightsaber Sound Design
Playing Kyma
Layers of Sound
The Wilhelm Scream
The Music of Star Wars Episode III
Star Wars and Sound Design
Skywalker Ranch Tour


The Constructivist offers what he claims to be "The Best Star Wars 30th Anniversary Post Ever."


Emily Blake writes an open letter to George Lucas.


Damian discusses how Star Wars changed movie marketing.


Miss Celania shares her and others' memories of the first time they saw Star Wars.


Annie Frisbie talks Growing Up Star Wars.
Design blogger Matthew McNerney discusses the design of the Star Wars logo.
Megan Gilbert's weekly mix looks to Star Wars.
Todd Howard reflects on how the film ended up inspiring an original ringtone.

Labels: , ,


Yub Nub! Defending the Ewoks

By Odienator
What is it about the Ewoks that turns people against Return of the Jedi? It can't be because they are cute, as the proprietor of this blog described them. Have you looked at an Ewok? They are ugly as hell, with their raggedy clothes and their mismatched fur and faces only an Ewok Mom could love. For my money, R2-D2 is far cuter. It cannot be that.

Is it because they are the results of a drunken night of debauchery and planning at the Kenner Toy factory? Perhaps. I suspect that the majority of the creatures introduced after Lucas struck pay dirt on the marketing deal on Star Wars were created to cash in on gullible kids like me. If you hate the Ewoks because of that, but love other characters, then you are guilty of a hypocrisy matched only by their creator.

If you find them annoying, then I have two words for you: Jar-Jar Binks. Which would you rather have?

The reason I think most people hate the Ewoks is exactly why I love them. They're low-tech creatures in a high tech galaxy far far away. They're not just scraggly looking teddy bears who cuss in what sounds like Russian. They're commentary on the state of our technological world, a back-to-basics approach that Lucas would have been wise to adhere to when he made the "bad" trilogy. I love the Ewoks because they are bootleg as hell. And they know how to party. Lucas should never have cut their little calypso number from the end of Jedi in his revisited version. You know these blue collar primitives knew how to knock back whatever you get shitfaced with on Endor.

The Arrogant Worms have a song that says that Canada has "rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and water." So do the Ewoks. Stormtroopers attacking? Fly by on some beat-up hang glider and drop a load of rocks on 'em. Knock them down with a forest's worth of chopped down trees. Enemies invading your turf? Stick spears in their faces — regardless of whether they have laser guns — and say "Yub Nub!" Then try to cook them.

Lucas and company had the audacity to ask us to believe that rocks and trees and trees and rocks could stop the Imperial Army. The fact that they do leads me to believe that Larry Kasdan was going for something deeper than toy shopping with the Ewoks. Technology is all fine and good, but sometimes a candle works better than a light bulb. Especially if you didn't pay your electric bill.

Labels: , , ,


Where did I get all those wonderful toys?

By Edward Copeland
Some of my memories as to specific dates may be hazy, but Star Wars played such an integral part of my childhood that I feel I can embrace indulgence over concrete accuracy. Surprisingly, I don't really remember the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater, though I do remember the theater itself, a long-gone twin screen in a small suburban mall whose only other major tenant was a cafeteria frequented by Lawrence Welk whenever he was in town. I remember loving the movie, but it hardly was an obsession for me out of the box.

By the time The Empire Strikes Back showed up, I was willing to get my parents to stand in an extremely long line with me so I could watch it opening day. When it got to Return of the Jedi, my Mom just went to a theater when they opened and bought tickets for later in the day. I tried to recapture my youth when The Phantom Menace turned up, buying opening day tickets weeks in advance, but the mediocrity of the later trilogy sapped the magic. Attack of the Clones I got to see early in a press screening. Revenge of the Sith I waited a couple of weekends for before I ventured out to see it. To me, it seemed that what really got me into it were the toys, those wonderful toys.

I remember the first time I saw a Kenner Star Wars figure. A third-grade classmate brought one to class, which means it would have been in the fall of 1977, after the film's opening. It was a Luke Skywalker action figure and had come to him in a plain little cardboard box, as if it were hiding booze, that he'd received in exchange for boxtops or proofs of purchase from some breakfast cereal I've long since forgotten. Soon, I had my mom help me take advantage of the free figure offer. When it arrived, I received Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi, back when the figure had an actual plastic cloak that you could remove. Eventually, one of the arm holes ripped and I bought a new Obi-Wan figure, but by then the cloak was part of the hard-plastic shell of the figure itself. Thus began an obsession with collecting those figures that didn't end until well after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. The action figure line truly was George Lucas' first masterpiece of marketing, from the initial giveaways to the Sears "exclusive" sets and to the release of Boba Fett before The Empire Strikes Back was even close to being released.

I didn't succeed in getting every figure, but damned if I didn't try. I missed out on the first, tall version of Snaggletooth that only came in the exclusive Sears cantina set, but the smaller one was more accurate anyway. Getting Yoda involved lots of phone calls and finally a trip to the other side of town once he was located. When the original run of figures stopped, the only figure I didn't get at all was Han Solo in carbonite. C'est la vie.

Of course, the action figure population explosion required more and more carrying cases in which to house them, beginning with a fairly bare-bones two level case similar to those that housed Hot Wheels before they got fancy with cases shaped like Darth Vader and C-3PO. Of course, that doesn't take into account all the playsets and accessories that came separately that I tried to acquire as well. Curiously, I never owned the large Star Wars figures. For some reason, they didn't appeal to me. There were Land Speeders and X-Wings, TIE Fighters, then Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and, of course, the Millennium Falcon. The Star Destroyer, Boba Fett's Slave I and Jabba's sail barge. Not to mention various Hoth action sets, Ewok villages and of course the biggest of them all, the Death Star, though this photo I found doesn't have the trash compactor set up at the bottom. Then there also were the creatures too big for action figure status. The tauntauns, the patrol dewbacks and Rancor, the Wampa, Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band (before Lucas ruined their great scene in his "special edition." Why did I spend all that vital time during junior high learning the Huttese lyrics to "Lapti Nek?") Last but not least, Jabba the Hutt, accompanied by Salacious Crumb. My obsession and overflowing collection was so large that after The Empire Strikes Back my Dad built me a special table, probably between 8 and 10 feet long and 4-5 feet wide, with storage space underneath and with a surface that was painted half in beige to represent Tatooine, half in white to serve as Hoth.

I also collected Star Wars comics, novel spinoffs, monthly magazines (which still has to be the only reason I knew that Vader was injured in a fight with Obi-Wan over a volcanic pit) and, beginning with The Empire Strikes Back, Topps trading cards. Series 2 was the only one I ever completed. As I grew older and realized what a financial opportunity I had missed by actually opening all these toys and playing with them instead of preserving them for the day something such as eBay would be invented, I started to think of posters. When Star Wars premiered on video around 1982, I spotted a poster of it in the local video store and made my first movie poster purchase. I still have it. The owner sold it to me for $10. Later, at another store I spotted an Empire Strikes Back poster (though it was of the re-release, not the original) and got that for $25, though it was already sealed in plastic. I also got Return of the Jedi for the same price. This same store though had what for me was the Holy Grail: the Revenge of the Jedi teaser poster, before Lucas changed the title deciding that Jedi weren't vengeful. I sunk (ducks head in embarrassment) $200 from my savings for it. The savings had come from some silly little stock playing I had done in junior high (investing in Warner Communications who owned Atari) and Coleco at the height of Colecovision. I still own all four posters. Periodically, I've sought to sell them, but I can never bring myself to do it or to find a sucker who will pay me enough for it. The toys (not the figures) I ended up selling to some kind of toy collector who I'm certain ripped me off, but they weren't in the boxes, so what could I do? The figures I eventually sold when I was in college to a kid in junior high who had become obsessed with the trilogy. I know I could have made more money on them, but somehow I felt better passing them on to someone who was interested in them for the joy they brought him and not as an investment. I also sold the boy one other Star Wars-related item I had. It still worked, but not as well as it did originally; it was a Darth Vader speakerphone. There was something really cool about hearing voices coming from Vader until the static got worse than his breathing in the movies. It also had cool lights that would flash as numbers were dialed. I wonder if it still works.

Labels: , ,


Homeboy in Outer Space

By Odienator
In 1978, when Rio Bravo screenwriter Leigh Brackett turned in her first draft for The Empire Strikes Back, the only brother who had been in a cinematic space ship was O.J. Simpson in Capricorn One. He wound up dead. A year later, Yaphet Kotto joined the Homeboys in Outer Space Club; this time they called it Alien. He wound up dead too. Leaving the earth was an unlucky thing if you had a permanent tan. George Clinton and Parliament landed the Mother Ship on Earth for a reason — it was safer.

Eighty-seven minutes into The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian made his first appearance, greeting his old buddy Han Solo on the landing pad in Cloud City. Lando was a brother, which meant his name must have been short for "Rolando Calrissian," and he was played by a smoother than silk Billy Dee Williams. At the Hudson Mall Twin, where I had seen the aforementioned dead brothers in space features, my cousins and I looked up at the screen and knew two things: Lando was going to be dead before the movie ended, and he was going to offer the Princess some malt liquor. We were wrong about the former; the latter is still open to debate.

Before Billy Dee brought the ultra perm to the cosmos, he endeared himself to women with his suave performance in Diana Ross' Lady Sings the Blues. He was so smooth and sexy that some critics called him the "Black Clark Gable." He continued to endear himself to women by appearing with Miss Ross again in Mahogany, one of the worst movies ever made. His onscreen persona was ladies' man, and we wanted to be as good with the women as he seemed to be. We could never get as lucky as Billy Dee, but he was willing to help us find an alternative: Colt 45. Mr. Williams looked at us from our TV sets during Soul Train and told us that Colt 45 malt liquor "works every time." I was an adult when I realized he was telling me that, after about 10 Colt 45s, a woman would look at me and see him instead.

But I digress. Lando Calrissian is the only human character in the entire Star Wars series who is allowed to acknowledge his horniness. He's not onscreen 30 seconds before he makes a beeline for Princess Leia. He completely forgets about pal Han Solo, whom he hasn’t seen in ages, and starts running his game. "Hello," he says to Leia, "what have we here? I'm Lando Calrissian, the administrator of this facility. And who might you be?" Reading it won't do justice to Lando's delivery. The man is wearing a cape, for God's sake, and it's blowing in the wind like a superhero. If John Williams wrote soul music, there'd be a wah-wah guitar on the soundtrack. When Leia introduces herself, Lando says "Welcome, Leia," then slowly takes her hand and kisses it. It takes an eternity for him to give her hand back; in fact, Han Solo has to retrieve it. As Leia walks away, C-3PO tries to introduce himself, but Lando's too busy watching the Princess leave to care. The Empire Strikes Back is rated PG, but Calrissian's intentions are a hard R.

Later, Billy Dee reminds us of his commercial aspirations. "Would you join me for a little refreshment, Princess?" he asks after a come-on line that puts Anakin's ridiculous "I don't like the sand" come-on speech to shame. Walking into the room, he coos to Leia "you look absolutely beautiful. You truly belong here with us in the clouds." Cloud City even sounds like something that comes in a 40 oz. bottle. Leia remains suspicious of Lando, and with good reason. Said refreshments turn out to be a giant swig of Darth Vader. In a move that made our jaws drop in the theater, Lando sells out our heroes to the enemy. For us, it was almost as big a shock as that OTHER revelation in the movie.

Lando shares his "Hot for Leia" with Jabba the Hutt, but he shares his arc of redemption with Darth Vader. In the first trilogy, they are the characters who do awful deeds yet make up for them with later actions. Lando realizes that, in betraying Han Solo, he has also betrayed a much nobler cause that was on his side. Seeing the error of his ways, he joins a resistance that thankfully doesn't hold a grudge, and becomes one of the heroes of Return of the Jedi.

In Empire, we learn that the Millennium Falcon was once Calrissian's, but was won by Han Solo in a card game (shades of the Western genre to which Star Wars truly belongs). The end of Empire and most of Jedi puts Lando in the driver's seat of his former ship, making his plotline an integral part of the series. As Luke confronts Vader and Han and Leia have fun with my favorite non-human characters in the first trilogy, the Ewoks, Lando leads his squadron to the skies above Endor to destroy the new, improved Death Star. He gets to blow stuff up, bark commands and ooze the kind of cool Sam Jackson's Mace Windu wasn't allowed to exude. He doesn't get the Princess, but he gets to kick serious ass instead.

I've always wondered what would have happened if Lucas had paired Lando and Han Solo together in the Falcon earlier in the series. It would have been fascinating, as they are both rogues and smart-asses, and he would have bested Walter Hill by two years, creating the popular Black guy/White guy partnership that films such as 48 Hrs. would emulate. I would have given anything for him to run a parallel storyline like this in any of the prequels instead of all that boring political nonsense he crammed into them. Han and Lando, the early days. What the "prequels" were missing was the sense of fun brought to the earlier series by characters like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Perhaps Lucas was so mired in his desire to make a statement that he forgot the series was supposed to be fun, even in the darker installments like Empire.

Until Will Smith came along, Lando Calrissian was the most popular Homeboy in Outer Space. If anything, he remains the smoothest ladies man in a galaxy far, far away.

Labels: , , , , ,


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader