Wednesday, March 31, 2010


What can I tell you?  Sometimes you just need a little Dolemite.

This is what a movie trailer should be.  Not only does it make you want to see the movie, it makes you want to see it RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  It also makes you want to tell your friends about it, and figure out ways to work the phrase "Fuckin' up motherfuckers is my game" into everyday conversation.  (Even better in that respect is the follow-up to Dolemite, The Human Tornado, which gave us the timeless catch phrase, "Bitch, are you for real?"  I say it to the cat all the time!)

If a movie like this even got made these days, it would be...wait, what am I saying?  There's no way a movie like this would get made these days.  Not when there are CGI dog movies to crank out.

Well. I've just lost the will to live, and if you watched that horrible trailer, you most likely have as well. You're welcome!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Since my last post went on and on about what a wonderful cat Delmar is, I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about my other feline housemate, Monika.

True, she's no longer here in corporeal form, having passed away several months ago. But she's still here in spirit, much missed but no less beloved. I had only lived in this house for about a month before she died, but as far as I'm concerned, she will always be a part of this place, and always have a home here.

She's been invading my dreams lately, too. They don't specifically focus on her, but whatever is going on in the dream, Monika is always there, a lovely, benign presence, her wide face and dignified mien suggesting a wisdom she never quite chooses to share. She's sweet and loving and unfailingly decent, but always reserved and just a tiny bit remote.

Which is pretty much what she was like in real life. When compared to a crazy force of nature like Delmar, Monika's quiet nature could fade into the background. It was easy to take her for granted, and sometimes I did, but she'd always reassert herself, remind me of why I loved her in the first place. Periodically she'd abandon all dignity and tear about like a kitten, or climb on my shoulder for no apparent reason, or use her patented James Coburn Zen Cool to display her superiority to lesser four-legged beings. (Poor Del was putty in her paws, but Monika could quietly intimidate anyone. She once calmly punched--not scratched or clawed, but punched, using her paw balled into a workable fist--my mom's large dog, who thereafter ran from her in fear.) She was just short of her sixteenth birthday when she died, but in all that time, I never did quite figure her out.

I'm not a spiritual person in any way, and I have no use for New Agey crap or messages from beyond or that sort of thing. Still, I like to think of these dreams as Monika's way of saying hello, letting me know she's still out there in the ether, fuzzy, gray and inscrutable as ever, and eternally awesome.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


He trails me as he always does, following my every move, ready to pounce, to purr, to bite, whatever he has to do to remind me of his presence, whatever will get a reaction. Maybe I'll yell at him, or scoot him away, or pick him up and hug him. Or maybe--his favorite--I'll just sit down and he can leap onto my lap, where he'll curl up, his powerful hind legs kicking at my chest, his teeth nibbling gently on my arm.

Delmar is a very strange cat.

He was born into a litter of adorable, bouncing kittens, most of them fuzzy and gray. They wrestled gently with each other, curled up together at nap time, and followed their mother around, models of obedience. But there was among their number a wiry, unruly little thing, black and white with half his tail missing, always a step or two behind, who seemed lost and out of place and a little bit angry. I could have chosen any of these kittens to take home with me, but of course, there was only one choice.

Oh, but did I choose Delmar, or did he choose me? Sometimes I think he lucked into finding the only person in the world who would not only tolerate his anger, his mood swings, his sometimes irrational behavior, but celebrate it. I've known sweet and loving cats, and cold, indifferent cats, but I've never known any creature, on four legs or two, quite like Del. It's not always easy living with him, but he's taught me to be patient, to accept him on his own terms. And those terms are as basic as the elements: Love me, and I'll love you back.

For he is, curiously, the most loving cat I've ever known. He greets me at the door whenever I come home, his long body stretching to meet me, to hold me, to claim me as his own. Even before I can remove my coat or set down my keys, he demands a hug, and he receives it, his head burrowing into my arm pit, his purr so loud it makes my own body tremble. Then he squirms, and starts to bite. The session is over.

One of my little rituals is to give him a hug anytime I'm heading out the door. In case I don't make it back, I want his last memory of me to be a pleasant one. With most cats, that would be a meaningless act; the feline brain has no short-term memory. But Delmar's no normal cat, and his brain is wired in a different way. He remembers, all right. He knows.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Concert-goers here in Des Moines have had a bounty: Bret Michaels and Black-Eyed Peas have both played here this week, so if you have too much money to spend and no taste whatsoever, it's been good news!

I originally intended to use this post as an excuse to mock skanky, relentlessly auto-tuned Peas chanteuse Fergie, to essentially use her as a metaphor for everything that's wrong with pop culture today...but then the good folks at Reuters came along with a new interview with Pete Wentz, which rekindled my absolute and somewhat inexplicable hatred for Fall Out Boy and, well, there you go.

The thing is, this interview with Wentz--I'd provide a link, but honestly, it's so not worth it--is essentially the same as the one the AP did a month or so ago, and which I duly commented on at this very site. And my point is the same: Who gives a sweet shit?

I mean, it's Pete Fucking Wentz. The guy was in Fall Out Boy, a band so relentlessly mediocre that one of their claims to fame was discovering Panic! At The Disco. Plus, he's married to Ashlee Simpson. The fact that she's back to billing herself as Ashlee Simpson after a brief go-round as Ashlee Simpson-Wentz suggests that even she doesn't care about her husband.

But Reuters does. Evidently. Why else would they publish an interview with a guy who, instead of making crappy music, is now peddling a crappy clothing line. Wow! That puts him up there with Jaclyn Smith and Kathy Ireland, though presumably Wentz considers his clothing line more, you know, edgy. Kind of like that noxious cognac Ludacris slapped his name on.

(Actually, to be honest, I'm surprised I haven't picked up a bottle of Ludacris' cognac. Not because I would expect it to be any good--Lord, no--but simply for ironic novelty value. I once bought a bottle of James Darren's spaghetti sauce, for crying out loud.)

Anyway, the main point of the article seems to be that Wentz is doing fine not making music, which is good, because the citizens of Planet Earth are doing fine not listening to his music. The only odd thing is, there's no mention of an inevitable upcoming project. I mean, he's a self-absorbed, personality-free ex-rock star married to a moderately attractive woman with no talent whatsoever, right?

He's a VH1 reality show waiting to happen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Today's my day off, which means I have more time than usual to write. I figured I'd probably post something about the odd series of dreams I've been having lately, or perhaps some musings on the blatant efforts of the Republican party to exploit the latent racism of the American people, or maybe say a word or two about the passing of actor Robert Culp.

Then I discovered El Brendel was born 110 years ago today, and that was that.

Okay, I can't really explain my El Brendel thing, but I can tell you it started almost exactly thirty years ago. The Science Center in Des Moines used to have an annual all-night science fiction movie festival (the films projected in glorious 16mm in those pre-video days), and in spring of 1980 the line-up included When Worlds Collide, Alien, Starcrash (!), The Day The Earth Stood Still...and Just Imagine.

I knew of Just Imagine from a passing reference in Jeff Rovin's A Pictorial History Of Science Fiction Films--a book that was practically my bible, and man, what a hopeless geek I was--but I didn't really know what it was about. The stills in Rovin's book showed a fantastic futuristic New York City clearly influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but it was barely mentioned at all in the text.

So watching the movie was pretty much a voyage into the unknown. It was about midnight, and all of us in the packed screening room were getting a little punchy. It wouldn't have taken much to entertain us, to make us laugh. But once Just Imagine started, and we realized it was nothing more than a vehicle for a punishingly unfunny comedian nobody had ever heard of, merely sitting through it became one of the cruelest slogs imaginable. It actually hurt to watch.

Naturally, for my brother and me, the fact that we endured this became something of a point of pride. And, in the form of El Brendel, it gave us a new reference standard for unfunny. So, for instance, we might greet the appearance of a new Rob Schneider movie by asking, Is it merely bad, or El Brendel bad?

Rob Schneider, incidentally, is the closest I can come to a contemporary version of Brendel; that is, someone so profoundly, obviously unamusing you can't believe anyone ever put him in front of a movie camera. But Schneider keeps getting work--although at this point, it only seems to be due to his friendship with Adam Sandler--and Brendel, well, evidently somebody used to find him funny.

Because way back when, people seemed to think he was, as the kids say, the shit. His fake Swedish accent and prop bow tie had 'em rolling in the aisles of vaudeville theaters, and he was popular enough that Hollywood came calling. He did character parts for William Wellman, Raoul Walsh and Preston Sturges, had a few leads in the early talkie days, and his own series of two-reelers for Columbia, occasionally teamed up with Shemp Howard.

And in all that time, he was never funny.

I realize fashions change, sensibilities change, things that were once popular are inevitably forgotten. But funny is funny, and I refuse to believe anyone, anywhere, ever ever found this guy even faintly amusing. Still, hey, judge for yourself. Here he is with his wife, Flo Bert, performing a portion of their vaudeville act. This appearance comes from an episode of the fifties show You Asked For It, and I must say, I find that title a bit of a misnomer. Nobody ever asked for El Brendel.

Monday, March 22, 2010


1) Yes, boys and girls, the unusually positive title of this post is yet another quote from Larry King, signifying yet another Random Thoughts entry. I don't claim to understand the rules, self-invented though they may be, I just play by them.

2) Woo-hoo! The utterly emasculated, essentially meaningless health care bill passed. It will be quickly signed into law, but Republicans are vowing all manner of legal challenges and...who cares, really? It's such a messy, complicated piece of work that it's unlikely to make much of a difference in most people's lives. But fine, better that it passed than not, I guess.

A couple things worth mentioning about the whole run-up to the vote, however. First of all, all those deals that had to be cut and language that had to be altered to placate anti-abortion Democrats--um, maybe I'm wrong about this, but abortion is still legal in this country, right? Sure, there are those who find it morally repugnant, but it is the right of every woman to obtain the procedure--why are so many lawmakers so casually willing to circumvent the law?

The other thing is: Democrats, look to the Republicans. This is how it's done. Next time a Republican president nominates a far-right nutjob to a position of great power or tries to slam through some bit of legislation that mocks the founding fathers' intent, you don't have to vote for it. All of you band together and just refuse to play. Stop offering half-hearted objections, then going ahead and voting in favor. Show some spine, for God's sake.

3) Anyone who knows me, even if only through this site, may well be wondering why I didn't write anything about the sudden, terrible death of Alex Chilton. Fact is, when I first heard about it, I was too busy reeling from the shock to say anything more coherent than, "Fuck no!" And even when I tried to organize my thoughts, I really didn't know what to say.

Fortunately, Paul Westerberg offered a lovely tribute to his friend and hero in yesterday's New York Times. I can only add my sincere belief that everyone reading this should run out and buy Rhino's recent Big Star boxed set, as essential a musical purchase as anyone could make. After that, you'll want to hear everything Chilton ever did, and it will all be worthwhile.

4) I spent about two hours Friday night on YouTube, helplessly watching intros and promos for various TV shows from the late seventies. I kept telling myself this was research for an upcoming piece I intend to write, and maybe it is, but about the time I got to this--

--I was horrified by the fact that I actually remembered this show's existence, and only mildly relieved to remember that I never actually watched it. Ask me to name all the U.S. presidents, you'll have a long wait. Ask me what that TV show was that Marc McClure did right after he first played Jimmy Olsen, and the answer's easy: California Fever.

What the hell's wrong with me?

5) Finally, Delmar: He's taken to curling up on my lap and actually staying there for lengthy periods, purring until he falls asleep. Sure, he bites and scratches furiously once he wakes up, but until then, he's almost normal, barely a psychokitty at all these days.

Oh, he still rips my flesh until I bleed sometimes, but old habits die hard...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Yeah,I know: Another clip job. What can I say? Things have been kinda touch-and-go here in the real world, in areas that don't need to be discussed in this space, and, well, who doesn't love music? I know I do! (He said with all the fake enthusiasm he could muster.)

Yesterday, as I threatened to geek out over all things John Williams-related to a friend of mine, she brought me up short by saying, "I think everything he does sounds alike." Well, sure, when he's in full blockbuster mode--even I have to admit his score for Superman is one of the laziest things ever written.

But there's always Star Wars, dammit. The soundtrack for the 1977 original is probably the most-played album I've ever owned in my life. It was a gateway drug to me, to the world of classical music, but also to contemporary film scores. Without it, I'd never have discovered Ennio Morricone, and my life would be meaningless.

But back to John Williams--Star Wars aside, there's his hilarious score for Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, his intentional self-parody for 1941, his atypically jazzy music for Catch Me If You Can...and this, my favorite Williams score, for Brian DePalma's irresistably trashy The Fury. This was another LP I wore out the grooves on.

Speaking of things that can make me geek out: Marshall Crenshaw, ladies and gentlemen!

Finally, it is of course St. Patrick's Day, and I figure I should do something to acknowledge it. Honestly, though, why aren't people of Irish descent loudly complaining about how we celebrate the holiday? Here's how we pay tribute to your culture, Ireland: By wearing green and getting piss drunk. You're welcome.

Anyway, if you must celebrate, you should do so by reading James Joyce's The Dead, nothing less than the greatest story ever written in the English language. Or you could just watch The Swedish Chef, Animal and Beaker sing Danny Boy. This clip from The Muppet Show makes the rounds every year around this time, and no matter how many times I see it, I still laugh. Loudly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


The predictably terrible reviews greeting Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber's incredibly unnecessary sequel to his last major commercial hit, The Phantom Of The Opera, serve as a reminder that there's nothing quite like a bad musical. No form of entertainment demands more from its creators--if they can't build a convincing artifice, if they can't make us believe in a world in which people burst into song, the whole enterprise falls apart and becomes impossible to salvage.

Love Never Dies, of course, is a stage musical, so theoretically it needn't try so hard--the audience is aware it is sitting in a theater, watching performers on a stage, who will most likely react to applause and cheers. We understand going in that they are artificial constructs; they can be well done or poorly done, but we accept what they are. Movies, on the other hand, are (or at least seem) more realistic by nature, so to convince us of the heightened reality the musical form demands, they have to work harder. When the elements gel, you get Love Me Tonight or Meet Me In St. Louis or Singin' In The Rain. When they don't...well, let's take a look.

We'll begin with the gold standard for terrible musicals, 1980's Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John, the withered remains of Gene Kelly and the charisma vacuum Michael Beck. This is a movie that fails to convince from the very first frame, when it tries to convince us that Beck is some kind of brooding artistic type. The plot--involving ancient mythology and a plan to open a roller disco!--is unbelievably stupid, but this scene is the point where the movie goes completely off the rails. It's a basic rule of movie-making: Never turn your leads into cartoon fish. Sure, the only movies dumb enough to do such a thing were this and The Incredible Mr. Limpett, but isn't that enough?

Incidentally, to give you an idea of how misguided Xanadu is, how utterly unaware of the basic mechanics of moviemaking: Why did anyone involved think that a moody, downbeat Jeff Lynne ballad was the perfect accompaniment to scenes of its protagonists cavorting as, you know, cartoon characters? Maybe something lighter and more, I dunno, romantic?

Just because characters can start singing doesn't mean they should. This is the lesson to be learned from the first wave of musicals of the sound era. The thinking was, if audiences were still impressed by a technology that allowed them to hear characters speak on screen, they'd be even more impressed to hear people burst into song. So studios cranked out a lot of movies with gratuitous musical numbers grafted onto stories that were already grotesque hybrids.

Like, say, science fiction comedies starring refugees from the vaudeville stage. Just Imagine, a 1930 vehicle for jaw-droppingly unfunny comedian El Brendel, is elaborately-produced piffle that probably didn't play well at the time, and is utterly unwatchable today. I'll spare you Brendel's big number--you're welcome--and bring you instead Frank Albertson and Margaret White performing that timeless ditty Never Swat A Fly.

Two big problems with this number. First off, even in the context of a largely plotless variety show like Just Imagine, this song comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with anything. It's a cute enough song--if this movie had been made at Warner Brothers, it probably would have become a favorite of Carl Stalling's--but it just goes on and on. And then they start dancing!

Which brings us to the other problem, with this song and the whole movie: Director David Butler pretty much nails down the camera and has the performers do their thing in front of it, showing no imagination or understanding of how to stage and film a production number. Admittedly, this is partly to do with the crudity of early sound recording techniques, but Butler made a number of early musicals at Fox--Sunny Side Up, Delicious--and they're all equally painful. He became a little more proficient later on--his Betty Grable vehicles were indistinguishable from Walter Lang's, and his Doris Day vehicles were about equal to what a declining Michael Curtiz was then cranking out--but he never showed any flair, or even any real talent.

In that sense, he was kind of like Charles Jarrot, the hapless functionary in nominal charge of Ross Hunter's allegedly expensive (but incredibly cheap looking) Lost Horizon. Here are Sally Kellerman and Olivia Hussey, singin' and dancin' to arguably the worst song Burt Bacharach ever wrote.

Finally, the trailer for by far the worst musical of the twenty-first century, which had after all already seen the release of From Justin To Kelly and Joel Schumacher's overripe adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera.

How to make a musical the Rob Marshall way: Keep paying tribute to Bob Fosse, even when it makes no sense to do so, and edit, edit, edit. That way, nobody can even tell that you have no idea what to do with a camera, or how uninspired your choreography is.


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I come home from work and find my neighbor wielding a rake and a hoe, taking care of her lawn. She asks me how my car is running, since her husband did some work on it, and I tell her it's doing fine. We talk awhile, then I go inside, change my clothes and start picking up my own lawn, removing dead branches that have until now been covered with snow, remnants of this long, punishing winter.

Back inside, I head immediately for the basement. With all the snow finally melting, and several days of rain, water is seeping into my basement. I deploy my large, formidable wetvac, sucking up what I can, and sweeping the rest to the drain. The water will be a constant for the next few days, given the forecast and the shape my basement is in. That's fine; I'll take care of it.

A quick meal, some time wasted on the computer, then I decide to wrap up this lazy evening by watching a movie. But before hitting Play, I wait for a minute, turning the volume down on the TV. Traffic is heavy on my busy street, and the pavement is wet, and I love hearing the SWUSH SWUSH SWUSH of the tires. There's something about it I find inexplicably relaxing, and somehow it gives me a measure of comfort.

Then again, I'm finding comfort in the strangest places lately. However cruel this winter has been, it has been consistently reassuring to come back to this battered old house, greet my cat, check my mail, enact familiar rituals, much like I've doing right now. Maybe this will all grow tiresome, but for now, I am content. This doesn't feel like a routine, it feels warm and cozy, something I've wanted but never had before.

It feels like home.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Yeah, it's Academy Awards night. Am I supposed to care?

Because I don't, not even a little. I mean, I've never given a rat's ass about the awards themselves, and I don't think anyone who cares about the art or science of film ever has. But the presentation, the ceremony itself, always used to have some guaranteed camp value, or something, but now it's just this pointless, outdated ritual enacted by the elite for their own amusement, and holy crap, that last part almost sounded like it could have been spit out by a pundit at Fox News, so why don't I stop right now?

But, to continue just a bit longer, is the movie business even worth celebrating these days? Because this week, when Hollywood is presumably trying to put its best foot forward and pretend that it routinely makes stuff that is even halfway watchable, some major studios and one big-time producer announced a series of projects that, uh, well...

Gilligan's Island? Seriously? A remake of Police Academy? A movie version of the vintage arcade game Space Invaders? All three of these terrible ideas come from the vast Time Warner empire, which is about a third of Hollywood right there. Paramount chimed in with the comparatively only mildly terrible notion of reworking Pet Sematary.

But hey, you want everything wrong with the movie business in a nutshell? Consider the fact that Gary Marshall--storied producer of Blansky's Beauties and auteur of The Other Sister--is planning to remake Frank Capra's State Of The Union. The original starred Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn; Marshall hopes to cast Richard Gere and Jessica Biel.

So no, I don't feel like the American movie business deserves any kind of celebration tonight. Hell, I don't even think it deserves saving.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Here's my ritual: Though I set my alarm clock for a certain time each morning, I am always, always always awake at least an hour before it goes off. This allows me time to take a nice, relaxing bath, go for a short walk and, theoretically, have time to write something here.

Of course, I realize I've been lax in that last department lately, and appy polly logies for that, but honestly, as I drifted off to sleep last night, I looked forward to getting up in the morning and getting to it, because I had a swell idea for a new post. But what do you know? I slept until the alarm went off, and there's no time to write.

But hey, in the meantime, there's this, an incredibly uninteresting explanation of why there's no new material here today. Not that this explains why whole weeks can go by without new content appearing here...Let's just say I've been busy. I haven't been, particularly, but it sounds good.

The point is, I'll be writing again soon. Probably.