Tuesday, April 26, 2011


There are days that we all remember, days that change everything.  The Kennedy assassination.  The Challenger explosion.  9/11.

And, most sobering of all, the day Ryan Phillippe suggested he may or may not quit acting.

When The New York Post--certainly one of the nation's finest news-gathering organizations--reported a half-assed quote from Phillippe about being so sick of the paparazzi surrounding him twenty-four hours a day that he was thinking of getting out of the acting game, the first thought that crossed the minds of every right-thinking citizen was, "NOOO!  We can't live in a world in which Ryan Phillippe's shimmering star presence no longer illuminates our hearts and movie screens."

Well, okay, maybe that wasn't our first collective thought.  First it was, "Who the hell is Ryan Phillippe again?"  Then, after a quick stop at IMDb, just to confirm that, Flags Of Our Fathers aside, the guy hasn't really been in much of note, we thought, "Wait, paparazzi are stalking this guy?"  Then we went about our business.  Come to think of it, we didn't really care about Phillippe one way or the other.

But if we had, his rep was quick to inform Access Hollywood--a show so distinguished it should have won a string of Peabody awards by now, assuming they're giving out Peabodys for total crap these days--that no, no, Ryan's cool, he doesn't want to quit acting, he's just looking to branch out.  Maybe some producing, directing, that sort of thing.  So, sort of like his one-time director Clint Eastwood, only with zero screen presence and marginal talent.

The point is, despite our momentary panic at the thought of losing this vast talent, our screens will continue to be filled with all the Phillippe we can stand, whatever form it may take.  Breathe easy, America!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


You could feel sorry for him, up to a point.  Life as a giant walking dick couldn't be easy, after all.  He was what he was, and sometimes--again, he couldn't help it--his cream would spurt all over the place.  That was the nature of things for Ambulatory Penis.

No one said he should hide himself away.  But hanging around the playground?  Not only asking kids about his cream, but forcing them to taste it? 

There are rules to society.  Ambulatory Penis found out too late, sobbing uncontrollably as he was hauled off in handcuffs, his only words to the press a hushed, "I'm only as God made me."  Despite the rumors of his dalliance with Fruit Pie The Magician, he was a first-time offender, and the judge was prepared to be lenient.  Still, after all he'd been through, Ambulatory Penis kept babbling at the arraignment about his creamy, creamy filling, and the punishment was harsh: Chemical sterilization. 

His jail time was relatively brief, but as a registered sex offender, he found housing hard to come by.  He was seen rarely in public, his circumsised head hung low in shame.  His enforced flaccid state made him physically unattractive, and when he passed away, his very name was a joke.

Still, some people recall...well, perhaps the details are too painful.  But if they try, they see him as he was, and remember.


They're bad songs, most of them--Macho Man, Hold The Line, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad--but they still get played with alarming frequency, in department stores or waiting rooms or dozens of different places.  They're just sort of there, part of the collective consciousness.

Yet hearing them now, in pristine digital sound, doesn't seem right.  These songs were made to be heard on AM radio.  Specifically, they should be wafting from a transistor radio carried by someone on the bus, or the tinny factory speakers in my brother's Chevette.  I should be moving forward, past endless barren cornfields, the sky overcast, all branches bare.

Where would I be going?  To school, to a movie, simply for a ride?  No matter.  The important thing is, sooner or later, I would be returning to the house where I lived, to the fuel-oil stove and a casserole-based dinner, to the 19" Quasar which was always on, even when nobody was watching, to the sounds of conversation.  Whatever I was doing, eventually I'd go home.

What was I?  Twelve?  At that age, I still seemed to be living the life I always had, the life I assumed would continue.  It seemed as though the warmth and comfort of this particular place would always exist.  Yeah, sure, there was a wider world out there, and some day I'd be hurled into it, but that was so far away it was beyond imagination.  This was my life, my world.

Things changed.  Gradually at first, and I tried to hold tight to the only things I knew.  Soon enough, though, the ground erupted and I fell, consumed by overpowering depression , unable to function in any meaningful way until my late twenties.  Then I got better.  Sort of.  I reentered the world.

Marriage.  Divorce.  Sleepless nights and the occasional doomed relationship.  Another relationship, this one I thought for real, but it ended, too.  My dad died, and my oldest brother, then Mom.  That home I once knew was well and truly gone.  Images from the past would blip into my brain and I'd chase them away, unable to process them.

Through it all, I endured.  I found a path and took it, winding up here, with a house of my own, three cats and a dog.  And Janie, of course, who accepts me for what I am, even when I burst into song for no particular reason.  There are familiar rituals, constant conversation, things to do.  There are ups and downs, but through it all, there is love.

At long, long last, when I walk through the door every night, it feels like coming home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Say, remember that box-office smash and all-time classic movie Get Him To The Greek?  Do you remember seeing it and thinking, "Ah yes, Russell Brand and Jonah Hill.  Now there's a comedy team for the ages"?  Or do you, more likely, remember seeing the ads for it and thinking, "Yeah, maybe I'll catch up with it on cable or something"?

Get Him To The Greek wasn't a flop, but it didn't exactly set the world on fire, either.  And considering that it cost way more than necessary to produce, and a whole lot more to market, you might think that Hollywood studios would be in no hurry to offer ridiculous deals to its two stars.  You would, obviously, be wrong--why else would I be writing this thing?

Thus, the portly, non-photogenic Hill is currently shooting 21 Jump Street, a presumably comedic updating of the painfully earnest Johnny Depp TV series from the late eighties.  This project has been in development forever it seems, and at no time has anyone connected to it bothered asking why the fuck they're bothering with a movie version of a TV show that nobody really remembers.  More to the point, no studio execs have ever bothered asking why they're funneling obscene sums of money into Hill's production company in the first place.  (He's not just bringing his unique brand of anti-charisma to 21 Jump Street as an actor--he's writing and producing the damned thing as well.)

Nothing against Hill, who was reasonably funny in Superbad, but that's just it--his entire career seems to be based on the success of that one movie.  On the basis of that, I can understand giving the guy some gigs as a character actor.  But starring roles?  And his own production company?  Nobody ever gave anything like that to the guys from Porky's, and that movie made a lot more money than Superbad.  But then, that was made when studio execs had some sense of perspective.  (When the sweaty, coked-out mindset of eighties Hollywood seems like model of common sense, things have deteriorated beyond salvation.)

Even more baffling than the ascent of Hill is the treatment given to his one-time co-star, Russell Brand.  When Get Him To The Greek opened, we were deluged with articles treating Brand as a star.  Not as someone on the brink of stardom, but a full-fledged movie star, despite the fact that he hadn't really done anything.  (Yeah, he was a big deal back in England, but so was the guy who played Selwyn Froggitt, and nobody ever put him on the cover of Rolling Stone.)  And sure enough, Brand was soon given the lead in the remake of Arthur, a movie even more deeply unnecessary than a redo of 21 Jump Street.  When that movie was released two weeks ago, Warner Bros. made a half-hearted attempt to inflate the weekend grosses, but to no avail: it's a flop.

Rather than admitting their mistake, or at least pretending the whole thing never happened, Warners is reacting to Brand's lack of success by offering him a production deal of his own, as well as the lead in a comedy in which he'll play an arrogant soccer star who, through tiresome plot mechanics, has to--wait, you've never heard this one before--coach a team of rag-tag youths. 

It's perhaps unfair to single out Hill and Brand as examples of everything wrong with movies today.  The problem isn't with them as performers so much as the mindset of the studio functionaries who keep greenlighting this shit.  There's virtually no way any of the announced vehicles for these two gentlemen could possibly be any good, and audiences have consistently shown indifference to their presences, yet here they are, or others like them, taking up space at the multiplexes with movies nobody wants to see.

Ticket prices keep going up, ticket sales keep going down.  Can't anybody in Hollywood read a graph?

Friday, April 15, 2011


I remember reading an interview with the great director Sidney Lumet, who died this weekend at the age of 86, in which he was asked if he had a particularly identifiable style.

No, he said, because he believed every story had a particular way it needed to be told, and his job as director was to find it.  As example, he cited one of his best-known movies, Network.  Many scenes he chose to shoot in an almost verite style, the better to establish the reality of the world he's presenting.  He realized, however, that certain individual scenes would seem ridiculous if shot in a naturalistic manner.  So these scenes have their own style, whether over-the-top flamboyant, or rich with the shadowy menace of classic noir, or whatever.

The trick was deciding how far to push these individual scenes for maximum impact while not allowing the different styles to clash with each other, to make sure the film stood as its own fully-integrated entity, not just a collection of scenes.  And if you've seen Network, you know Lumet more than met his goals.  You can dislike the movie itself, mostly due to Paddy Chayefsky's declamatory script, but it's impossible to quibble with Lumet's handling of it--purely as a piece of filmmaking, it is absolutely brilliant.

As was so much of what he did--Twelve Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince Of The City, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.  He was incredibly prolific, and he made a few also-rans, as well as a number of outright losers.  (If you have a few spare hours sometime, ask me what I think of The Wiz.)  Good, bad or great, everything he did was the work of a man who above all had the intention of telling you a story.  He was something rarer and more valuable than an artist.  He was a professional.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


It was a year ago today, on what would have been my mom's eighty-second birthday, that I somewhat reluctantly drove down to the Animal Rescue League to see this beagle puppy Tabbatha had told me about.  I had no intention of bringing it home with me, but as we all know, the puppy had other ideas.

And Isabella T. Beagle (there's nothing excessively cutesy about that name, is there?) has brought me more joy in that year than I would have thought possible.  She does this in all the standard dog ways--bouncing, rolling, barking unexpectedly, deploying the big brown soulful eyes to get whatever she wants.

Mostly, though, she's just there when I need her.  I mean, cats are great and all, and for that matter, so are girlfriends, but there are some problems in life that can only be solved by hugging a dog.  And the great thing about Bella is, after a minute or so of hug-time, she starts squirming furiously, as if to say, "OK, sad time's over.  Let's go play."  And she's right, of course--after hugging her, I always feel better, and playing with her always makes me happy.

Which isn't to say she can't be a pain in the ass, because she can.  Janie and the cats would all be perfectly happy if she wasn't around.  On the other hand, there was the time Janie was scared to the point of crying, and Bella gently climbed onto her lap and carefully licked away her tears.  And though Staley--who, incidentally, is one of the greatest cats in the history of the species--doesn't exactly like the dog, the two of them are nuzzling each other even as I write this.

The main thing bout Bella--look, I'm kind of reluctant to bring this up, because it sounds like so much sentimental bullshit, or feel-good semi-mystical hooha, or something.  But it's to do with the day she came into my life.  I'm quite sure Tabbatha wasn't giving any thought to the fact that I was going through my annual Mom's Birthday Sadness when she called to tell me about this adorable puppy.  That was on a Friday night, and I didn't care to head out that night, waiting instead until the next day to take a look--April 10th.

As I drove home with this tiny, helpless beagle snuggled against my side--the last time she'd be so calm in my presence!--the day was suddenly transformed.  No longer would April 10th be a signifier of the loss of the most important person in my life.  It would be a day celebrating a new chapter, a day of joy, of happiness.

Of life.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


I'm no prude, okay?  Nor am I some Bill O'Reilly conservative type, or a fundamen6talist Christian nutjob.  Nonetheless, I must ask: Do we need jokey cameos from Hugh Hefner in a movie aimed at kids?

I'm speaking, of course, of Hop, the new animated/live-action mongrel that is, as the ads proclaim with a certain level of pride, "from the director of Alvin & The Chipmunks," which you may remember as the movie in which semi-beloved characters from an earlier era are reduced to eating shit and conspiring to get their human buddy laid.  So expectations are already low.

Still, this is a movie about the Easter Bunny, which is one of those childhood concepts that ceases to have any significance once you reach the age of, I dunno, seven or so.  So presumably, if you're making a movie about the Easter Bunny, you're setting your sights on really young kids as your target audience.

Now I realize that when millions and millions of dollars are spent on a movie, it has to try to reach as large an audience as possible.  Presumably the filmmakers wanted to provide some sort of entertainment for the adults who are accompanying all those kids.  They could have done this by creating a well-crafted, witty film that would enrapture everybody, the kind of thing Pixar can do without even trying.

Or they could take the most cynical route imaginable and make a bunch of cheap semi-dirty jokes, trot out the likes of Hefner and the deplorable Chelsea Handler, and give audiences a cameo from David Hasselhoff because...wait.  Why would you do any of that?  Even for b-level celebrities, haven't Handler and Hasselhoff long passed their sell-by date?  Would anybody in any audience conceivably welcome their presence?

Probably not, but it's not like the maker of Hop give a sweet shit.  If they did, they would have made a good movie.