Wednesday, May 30, 2007


It’s Howard Hawks' birthday today. He would have been 113. If you haven’t seen most or any of the following movies, do yourself a favor—clear out the TiVo, make room at the top of your Netflix queue and start the incredible journey. (Some of these are not yet on DVD, but if you have Turner Classic Movies, keep your eyes peeled):

The Road to Glory (1926)
Fig Leaves (1926)
The Cradle Snatchers (1927)
Paid to Love (1927)
A Girl in Every Port (1928)
Fazil (1928)
The Air Circus (1928)
Trent's Last Case (1929)
The Dawn Patrol (1930)
The Criminal Code (1931)
Scarface (1932)
The Crowd Roars (1932)
Tiger Shark (1932)
Today We Live (1933)
The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933) (uncredited director;
completed by W.S. Van Dyke)
Viva Villa! (1934) (Co-screenwriter and uncredited director; completed by Jack Conway)
Twentieth Century (1934)
Barbary Coast (1935)
Ceiling Zero (1936)
The Road to Glory (1936)
Come and Get It (1936)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Outlaw (1940) (uncredited director; completed by Howard Hughes)
Sergeant York (1941)
Ball of Fire (1941)
Air Force (1943)
Corvette K-225 (1943) (film credited to Richard Rosson;
co-screenwriter, producer and supervising director)
To Have and Have Not (1944)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Red River (1948)
A Song is Born (1948)(remake of Ball of Fire)
I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
film credited to Christian Nyby; co-screenwriter, producer
and supervising director)
The Big Sky (1952)
O. Henry's Full House (1952) (episode: "The Ransom of Red Chief")
Monkey Business (1952)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Hatari! (1962)
Man's Favorite Sport? (1963)
Red Line 7000 (1965)
El Dorado (1967)
Rio Lobo (1970)

The Dawn Patrol, The Criminal Code, Come and Get It, Twentieth Century and, of course, Scarface (now on DVD) are all terrific movies. But just look at that period from 1936 to 1948, starting with Come and Get It and ending with Red River. Not counting the uncredited jobs, has any other great director ever had a 12-year streak like that one? Maybe Ford. Maybe Bunuel. Maybe Altman. Maybe Godard. When a baseball player goes on a streak like that, one of the things said about him is that he’s “unconscious.” But there’s nothing unconscious or automatic about any of the movies Hawks made in this period. And he still had The Big Sky, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hatari!, El Dorado and, most importantly, Rio Bravo still in his deck.

The forum question: Is Howard Hawks the greatest director ever?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


VOTE HERE to get Russell Martin on this year's National League All-Star Team!

And yes, even the Giants announcers had to admit it...

UPDATE 5/30/07 11:21 p.m.: And if that's not enough, when asked about the "weak" Dodger offense after today's game, the second shutout in as many days of the Washington Nationals during which Martin crushed a two-run homer over the center field fence, the soft-spoken catcher had this to say:

"If you say it like that, yeah, I'm part of that offense, so I take it a little personally... The most (home runs) I've ever hit are 15, but I've got the power to hit home runs. It's an approach. I'm sure I could hit more, but my average (.303) would drop more. It's just hitting them when you need to."

Great catcher. Increasingly good hitter. And smart too. The man deserves to be an All-Star just for that quote.

Monday, May 28, 2007


“The title means ‘I remember’ in the dialect of Rimini, the seaside town of his youth, but these are memories of memories, transformed by affection and fantasy and much improved in the telling. Here he gathers the legends of his youth, where all the characters are at once larger and smaller than life—flamboyant players on their own stages.”

- Roger Ebert on Federico Fellini’s Amarcord

This is a day chosen for remembrance, but my remembrances are certainly not restricted to it. It is simply one of many days-- all days, in fact— that are infused with the spirit of people now gone, some of whom I loved, some of whom I never met, yet all of whom somehow affected my life in a positive way. I seek out quiet, I close my eyes, and I know at some point all of you will drift through my periphery— my son Charlie; Bruce’s dad Mike; my grandparents, Rina, Nonie, Louis, Dee, and faded images (stolen mostly from equally faded photographs) of Grandpa Les, who I barely knew; Matt’s beloved Jennifer; Robert Altman; and even Jim’s dad, whose name I do not know. There are days when I feel like all the stress of the moment crowds out any other concern. But it isn't really so. Each opportunity to take a breath affords the opportunity to reconnect in some small, fleeting way with what you’ve all given to me and to those closest to you. And so it shall continue.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


There was no better place to see Grindhouse this past April than at the drive-in! (Photo courtesy of Akira Hanabusa)

Three years ago I had pretty much given up drive-in movie theaters to my increasingly musty memory, convinced that there was only one lot in town—the Vineland, way out in the City of Industry. Then my nephew came to town for a week of summer movie fun and his mom said he wanted to see a movie at the drive-in. I told her I’d take him, naturally assuming we’d be headed to the Vineland. But a quick look on Drive-ins.Com revealed that there was one drive-in in the nearby area that I’d never been to, and locals were dropping comments on the drive-in site about how great it was and how it just had a new high-powered illumination system installed. There was also mention of a open call for ground-floor membership in a new drive-in movie appreciation society. I signed up immediately, and then my nephew went out to see this drive-in for ourselves. The drive in was, of course, the Mission Tiki Drive-in in beautiful downtown Montclair, CA, and that night was the start of a rekindling of a love affair with the drive-in that, on the crest of the summer of 2007, is still going strong.

And of course, that little club I joined in July of 2005 was the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society. There were eight people present for that initial meeting in the snack bar of the Mission Tiki. By the time we next got together, at the Van Buren Drive-in in Riverside later that month, two had been pared away and a core group of fanatics had emerged. We started out simply as a fan club—we all traded stories of our favorite drive-in experiences that first night, and one member, Kathy Beyers, an avid drive-in historian, showed off a prodigious photo album full of great shots of drive-ins active and deceased from all over the world. But none of us really had much of an idea that it would ever be more than that. Three years later, SoCalDIMS (as it will be referred to hereafter) has its own Web site, designed by founding member and defacto SoCalDIMS lightning rod Sal Gomez, and an e-mail membership roster boasting at least 300 names, addresses and e-mail addresses.

The club has also established a fruitful association with the DeAnza Corporation, owners and operators of the Mission Tiki, the Van Buren and the Rubidoux Drive-ins here in Southern California, and several others in such far-flung locales as San Diego, Tucson, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia. SoCalDIMS was instrumental in helping conceive and promote last summer’s ginormous allday-all night 50th Anniversary Party for the Mission Tiki, and Sal’s heavy-duty footwork ended up securing a half-hour of prime airtime during KCET’s September 2006 pledge drive for a program devoted entirely to the Mission Tiki and drive-in nostalgia hosted by popular TV personality Huell Howser. And through a bit of dogged determination, SoCalDIMS established a relationship with Juan Gonzalez, the manager of the Vineland, and helped him convince Pacific Theaters, which owns the drive-in, to install Technalight on all four of their screens, the last ones in the Greater SoCal area to not be so brightly illuminated.

And who knows what’s coming up for 2007? One thing that we’ve decided to do is get out of the snack bar. For the past two years, we’ve established a monthly presence at a drive-in and set up camp near the refreshment counter, talking to folks, listening to drive-in stories, making friends and establishing connections. But this summer we decided that we wanted to be out on the lot too. From now through the foreseeable future, SoCalDIMS “meetings” will take the form of tailgate parties that’ll take place right there on the lot. The good folks at the Mission Tiki facilitated our very first tailgater in April—the weather was a little drizzly, but nobody cared because the movie we were there to see was Grindhouse and it was great fun gathering about 40 or so drive-in fans together a couple of hours before the movie for fun, food and heavy anticipation of the evening’s entertainment. Someone even brought along his full-size propane grill and did up dogs and burgers right there under the screen!* Opinion was divided on Grindhouse itself—I should say, everyone seemed to love Planet Terror and be utterly put off by Death Proof, whereas I thought Planet Terror was loads of fun that was one-upped by the formal and thematic triumph of Death Proof. But that didn’t dampen the evening. Nor did the fact that everyone left after Grindhouse, leaving me alone as the sole survivor to witness the evening’s second (third?) feature, the grisly but forgettable The Hills Have Eyes 2. The get-together was a rousing success from the standpoint of getting a bunch of drive-in fans together to enjoy a movie that couldn’t have been a better fit for the whole experience. That night Sal and I decided that this party atmosphere was the perfect format for all our future SoCalDIMS meetings.

Which brings me to this weekend, when the next SoCalDIMS Drive-in Movie Tailgater will get under way, this time at DeAnza’s charming three-screener, the Rubidoux, a little further out in Riverside, but well worth the trip. Ex-Tiki projectionist and SoCalDIMS friend extraordinaire Jeff Thurman is threading the reels at the Rubidoux these days, and there’s simply no one better at what he does than Jeff. He’ll make sure that the evening’s feature, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, will be shown off in all its spectacular visual glory through the magic of Technalight on their big Scope-capable main screen, and that’s where SoCalDIMS will be parked this coming Saturday night, May 26.

If you’re in the Southern California area and would like to join us under the stars and the SoCalDIMS banner Saturday night, say no more! You’re in! Just show up at the Rubidoux (here’s how to get there) and look for the SoCalDIMS banner. A word to the wise, however: We have made arrangements through the management for early admittance to anyone who identifies themselves with SoCalDIMS.

But here’s the caveat: though it was previously announced that we would be allowed us through the gates early-- 6:00 p.m.-- in order to get ourselves situated before the big crowds start coming in, we’re gonna have to get there a bit earlier. Sal and I were out at the Rubidoux last weekend for Shrek the Third (I don’t wanna talk about it), and we found out just how early folks that regularly go to the Rubidoux get in line for opening weekend of a blockbuster release. How early, you ask? REALLY EARLY! By 6:30 p.m. the front section of the lot showing Shrek was nearly full-- remember, these lots are not nearly as big as the ones at the Mission Tiki-- and the show didn't start until 8:20 p.m.!

We've since communicated with management again, and they suggest that if you're planning on attending May 26th with SoCalDIMS, you should be at the front gate, parked in the auxiliary parking lot, NO LATER THAN 5:30 p.m. This will ensure that everyone will be there and ready to enter the lot by 6:00 pm. sharp. The reason this is important is that the box-office will be opening very shortly afterward to accommodate the gigantic crowd expected for all three screens that night (Pirates, Shrek & Spider-Man) and they don't want traffic backing up onto Mission Blvd.

You are most definitely invited to come out with SoCalDIMS at the Rubidoux this coming Saturday night. Just remember-- you must be there and ready to go inside by 5:30 p.m., otherwise not only may you not get parked together with our main group, but you may not get in, period.


There’s also a whole lot going on this summer on the drive-in front besides SoCalDIMS. All four area drive-ins—the Vineland, the Mission Tiki, the Rubidoux and the Van Buren (home of the world’s best drive-in snack bar) are going full steam with a full slate of summer movie entertainment as only they can feature it. Yet there’s a new game in tgown as well—the first new drive-in in Orange County, and in all of Southern California, for that matter, in several decades. It has all the familiar drive-in trappings, yet it’s not exactly traditional—what it is, is inflatable. Yes, folks, welcome the Star-Vu Drive-in, and it premiered last weekend with Shrek the Third to packed lots and rave reviews from drive-in starved folks in and around the Costa Mesa area, where the drive-in has set up camp—on one of the parking lots at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Sal, SoCalDIMS founding member Christ Utley and I were invited to the preview party last Thursday night. I couldn’t make it, but Chris and Sal did, and despite some initial reservations, both were duly impressed. Sal filed this report for SoCalDIMS:

“On May 17th members of the local media as well as drive-in aficionados were treated to a preview of a new concept in drive-in movies.

In one section of the parking lot on the Orange County Fairgrounds, a group of baby boomers have given birth to the NEW Star Vu Drive-In. Mary Jean Duran, Jeff Teller & Bob Deutsch (forgive me if I missed someone) decided that Orange County had long been without the drive-in experience. They have now changed that for the foreseeable future. Not since the last drive-in in the O.C. was demolished over 10 years ago has there been a drive-in to cater to local families and those from other neighboring cities. The closest they could come was the Vineland Drive-In in the City of Industry or the Mission Tiki in Montclair.

The Star Vu Drive-In is located near the main entrance of the O.C. Fairgrounds. The Westside Grill, Snack Shack, as well as the restroom building are all existing structures that have existed since the fairgrounds were upgraded several years ago. The Westside Grill building also houses the projection booth. Here is a short video clip that was shot with a small digital camera on preview night. It will give you an idea on the set up for this drive-in.

Several members of the media and their families were in attendance and the management of the drive-in spared no expense. The Snack Shack served up hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, soft drinks, bottled water, finger pastries and a large celebratory cake that was cut and served to all the evenings guests. Oh, and did I mention this was all complimentary?

Pre-show entertainment was provided by a DJ with his own light show. Elvis also made and appearance to help kickoff the inaugural season, and in conjunction with the evening’s screening of Shrek 2, Austin Powers was in attendance to spread around some good MOJO for a long and profitable life as SoCal’s newest drive-in.

A post-viewing critique: This drive-in is a work in progress and the owners fully admit it. They were very open to suggestions, and I am sure if you attended last night or this weekend’s showings you will begin to see changes in ticket-taking procedures, parking assignments and other infrastructure details that dedicated drive-in theaters may not need to deal with.

The one suggestion I have is that the larger SUV/Truck parking may need to be assigned, because the sight lines may not be the best for these larger vehicles. What I mean is, the screen, although large enough, does not sit tall enough to provide a clear view if you are sitting in a high profile vehicle and happen to be parked behind another high profile vehicle. These larger cars may need to be staggered as the rows grow from two to three to four deep.

As far as picture brightness is concerned, some of us have been spoiled with the wonderful Technalight presentations we’ve become accustomed to at the Vineland, Mission Tiki, Van Buren and the Rubidoux. And although the Star Vu does have a fantastic state-of-the-art projection system, the 7,000-watt lamphouse is really going to need to work to overcome the outside lighting that will bleed onto that inflatable screen.

Yet, I still I cannot stress enough how much we need to support this venture. With the soaring cost of land in major urban areas and the loss of enough open land, this type of drive-in model may be the norm for future drive-ins in metropolitan areas for years to come.”

Thanks to Sal for filing the report from the Star Vu. It’s good to have the input from a dedicated drive-in fan to balance the generalized TV and newspaper reports that highlighted this newsworthy opening.

UPDATE 5/23/07: Here's Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman on the Star Vu: "A Drive-In Grows in the O.C."


I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to clue all drive-in fans in on an upcoming film (still in production) that should be a pretty comprehensive and worthwhile treatment of the state of drive-in theaters in America. Filmmaker April Wright has been on a journey throughout the country shooting drive-ins, the ones that are dead and gone as well as the ones that are thriving, for a new documentary she’s directing entitled Going Attractions: The Rise and Fall of the Drive-in as an American Icon. The title sounds somewhat grim and pessimistic, but Wright’s movie promises to celebrate the memory and the renewed interest in the drive-in as well as its checkered history. She even corralled me for almost an hour during last year’s 50th Anniversary Tiki Invasion for an long interview, pieces of which might just make it into the final product. Of course I’ll keep you abreast of all new developments on this project, and I continue to wish April good fortune in the production of this movie.


And speaking of fascinating developments, Shawn Levy, film critic for the Portland Oregonian (and SLIFR friend and supporter) has been following a story since February that bodes well for Oregon drive-in fans (a membership in which I count myself)—owners of the Clinton Street arthouse in Portland have apparently bought up the entirety of a drive-in in Oceanside, California—projectors, snack bar, everything—and moved it up to Portland with the plans of rebuilding it on an as-yet-unspecified site and programming it much as they do the Clinton Street—indie fare, arthouse hits and cult movies. Now THAT sounds like a road trip to me! (Eh, Blaaagh?) It’s been a while since I’ve read any updated material on this story, so I’ll try to find out where the project stands (a lot can happen in four months) and file a follow-up in the near future.


And if we're mentioning Oregon drive-ins, I must note that it’s been a while since I’ve been to the 99W, Brian Francis’s lovely little drive-in on the outskirts of Newberg, Oregon. So when I stumbled across this great cartoon from Oregon writer-blogger M.E. Russell, not only was I delighted, but I was also shocked—I was there at the 99W that summer for the very double feature he attended! (Join me now in a chorus of “It’s a Small World,” won’t you? No?) Russell captures the experience exceptionally well and with good-natured humor. Here’s hoping the 99W lasts for many more years— it, and owner Brian Francis, are among the really good guys.


EASTBOUND AND DOWN!!! Finally, just because it’s drive-in season all around the rest of the country now (in Southern California, it’s always drive-in season), here’s two links you need to click on right away to get you in the mood. First, check out SLIFR favorite Wagstaff’s outstanding tribute to one of the great drive-in movies, Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit, over at Edward Copeland on Film.

And if you’ve got several hours to spend idly paging through a great collection of ads and other drive-in-oriented delights, please check in with Charles Bruss’s newly updated Drive-In Thru Wisconsin Web site, a thoroughly cheerful and entertaining tribute to the drive-ins of Mr. Bruss’s region that will convince you that drive-in fever knows no geographical restriction.

(Thanks to Mr. Bruss for the great original Smokey newspaper ad!)


Have a great drive-in summer, wherever you may be! And if you’re in or near Riverside County this Saturday night, come on over to the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, bring a bucket of chicken, have some potato salad, some chips, and shoot the shit with us for a while. Who knows? It might even be more fun than the movie!

* UPDATE 5/23/07 9:39 p.m. A couple of items: First, I got an e-mail this morning from the management of the Rubidoux requesting that anyone who does join us for our little outdoor soiree please refrain from grilling at this event. They are anticipating sell-outs all around and are concerned about danger to other patrons. Second, you may have to enjoy this tailgate party without me, because about a half-hour ago somebody rear-ended me on the freeway on my way to work. Luckily, my rear fender and taillight took the brunt of the hit, and neither my daughter or I were injured. But the drive-in wagon may be in the hospital for this one. I'll keep you informed!

UPDATE 5/27/07 9:07 p.m.: Well, as expected, my little driving misadventure ensured that I would not be attending last night's SoCalDIMS tailgater at the Rubidoux Drive-in. But I almost feel like I was there due to this excellent report (complete with video) filed by stalwart SoCalDIMS siren Sal Gomez. Sal, you've definitely sailed the high seas for this one and made me regret even more that I couldn't be there. True, we'll always have Grindhouse. But there's always June too!

Friday, May 18, 2007


Apparently this one has been around for a couple of months. But, to paraphrase an ancient and specious NBC tag line, if I haven’t seen it, then it’s new to me. (And you too!) This comes by way of the incomparable Kim Morgan-- an exceedingly amusing video created by blogger Alonso Moseley designed to tease your sensibility a wee bit-- 100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers. (Does that name Alonso Moseley sound familiar? Check his profile.) No better way to kick off the weekend than this video, says me. Can you name 'em all? (And yes, I know that frame grab-- courtesy of YouTube, mind you-- may look provocative, but it's really only George Kennedy getting ready to witness the greatest egg-eatin' extravaganza of all time in Cool Hand Luke.)

(Thanks, Kim, and, of course, Alonso!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Not being as savvy with the Internets as some of you, this one may be old news. But even so, I must share.

Tonight my wife was treating herself to the 2006 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, a year-end collection of excellent short pieces edited by Dave Eggers and featuring work from Rick Moody, Kurt Vonnegut, Julia Sweeney, Tom Downey, Haruki Murakami and many other talented writers. The first section of the book, before it moves on to the longer shorter pieces, is devoted to a series of “Best American” lists.

From The Onion comes the Best American Fake Headlines: “Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity with New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory,” “Rest of U2 Perfectly Fine with Africans Starving,” “Cost of Living Now Outweighs Benefits."

From the Edge Foundation, Best American Answers to the Question, “What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?” Physicist Carlo Rovelli’s answer: “I am convinced, but cannot prove, that time does not exist.” And then there’s psychologist Susan Blackmore: “It is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will.”

And how about Best First Sentences of Novels of 2005? Here's one:

“Three years, nine months and 24 days after winning the Academy Award for producing the best picture of the year, Charlie Berns was sitting on a folding chair in a second-floor room at the Brentwood Unitarian Church listening to a woman with smeared lipstick and a bad postnasal drip tell him, and the other 13 people in the room, that she had just charged $1,496 worth of cashmere sweaters on a VISA card she had received in the mail and failed to destroy.” (From Peter Lefcourt's The Manhattan Beach Project.)

Finally, a brilliantly absurd excerpt from The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman in which he details the Best American Things to Know About Hoboes: “They had their own flag, which was identical to the flag of Barbados (this was either a coincidence or a deliberate effort to confuse).”

The piece even includes a list of 700 great hobo names. Number one? Stewbuilder Dennis!

But for my wife, quiet reading gave way to nauseating hilarity when she came across the entry entitled, “Best American Things to Know About Chuck Norris,” derived from the indispensable Web site Chuck Norris Facts. I cannot in good conscience spoil the best of the best for you; you must click and discover these nuggets of wisdom for yourself. Besides, there’s something about the aggregate, undeniable truthiness of these facts that tends to snowball, upon encountering a bunch of them in a row, into wheezing, gasping cries for help muffled by explosive laughter. If it’s been a hard day—if it is currently a hard day—you owe yourself a morsel or two from the bank of knowledge about the icon Chuck Norris that you likely have gone ignorant about until now.

I can’t resist. Here’s one of my favorites: “Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.”

Okay, here’s another: “Chuck Norris destroyed the Periodic Table of Elements because Chuck Norris only recognizes the element of surprise.”

Damn it. All right, this is the last one: “The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Chuck Norris has been there. In that case, the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.”

Stop me before I quote again! Just click!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Paul Clark of Silly Hats Only recently read my giddy assessment of Steven Spielberg's 1941 and approached me rather gingerly in the comments column of that post with the news that he was about to finish an article singling 1941 out as one of Spielberg's worst movies. After cursing him out like Yosemite Sam enjoying the afterburn of a dynamite cigar ("Next you’ll be telling me there’s something wrong with The Boys from Brazil!"), I swore I'd keep an eye out for the article and link to it in the spirit of goodwill and free expression of ideas and all that. Well, I'm a couple days late in spotlighting it, but Paul's piece, entitled "When Good Directors Go Bad: 1941" is up and running at Screengrab. Here's a taste:

"The film seems curiously torn between lampooning gung-ho militarism and honoring those who fought for the American way of life. On the one hand, the film’s portrayals of American servicemen aren’t especially flattering, with our soldiers, sailors, and flyboys coming off alternately as crazed paranoiacs and strutting dopes who mostly want to drink and get laid. On the other, the motley crew of civilians who are forced to defend their homeland are bumbling, but they also manage to get the job done their way.

Another problem is the scattershot storytelling. While Spielberg has always excelled at large-scale filmmaking, he tends to be best when his films have a clear narrative through-line. Unfortunately, 1941 has too many plots for him to handle. Spielberg’s best films spotlight either a single hero or a small group of protagonists, but with dozens of major roles to juggle, he is unable to focus on anyone for very long and ends up giving short shrift to everybody. The result is a film that feels less like a war comedy than a cross between the ramshackle anarchy of late-70s comedy and the star-studded bloat of
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and its ilk."

Ouch! Believe me, I certainly know that my view of the movie is not how most people feel about it. And it's nice to see Paul approach 1941 as a movie instead of a crime against humanity. (Why, I might even buy a sliver of the "against humanity" part, but the movie is no more a crime now than it was in 1979.) But if you're me, Paul makes a lot of points to spark argument here, in the spirit of goodwill and free expression of ideas and all that, of course, and I'll definitely respond to his piece under the Screengrab post. If you're not me (yes, I'm talking to you!), you're likely to shout "Yes!", crack open a beverage and relax into a very good piece about a movie that still resides in that love-it-or-hate-it zone nearly 30 years after its release. Either way, Paul's writing and Paul's blog are excellent places to make a habit, and I hope you do so soon. Give the man a little "rat-tat-tat" salute a la General "Mad Dog" Maddox and read up on yet another very good writer making his home on the Web.

By the way, Paul, what do you think of The Boys from Brazil?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wayback: THE 1970s-- THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE STRANGE at the American Cinematheque

As if Quentin Tarantino’s recent Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007 wasn’t enough, the American Cinematheque is ready to shine a little more light on that much-hashed-over golden age of American movies, the ‘70s. But what makes this series stand out is how programmers Grant Moninger, Gwen Deglise and Chris D. simultaneously respect the canon of masterpieces of the era, but also how they allow themselves to dig deep around the disreputable, tarnished underbelly of what was happening in American movies at the time. “Hollywood” had finally shed the studio system as it had been understood for so many years, and was busily embracing a relaxed attitude toward censorship and pushing the limits of the new freedom to depict sex, violence and coarse, realistic language it had begun recently enjoying. Studios were handing over money to filmmakers, some of whom were busily coloring outside the lines, often ignoring the new rules in pursuit of some new truth that had never found cinematic expression, and some of whom were simply marching in step to the studio’s increasingly desperate attempts to cater to the newly powerful youth market and uncover the next Easy Rider. And some filmmakers were given enough rope to hang themselves with self-indulgent projects that would either prove to be debilitating to their careers or devastating to their studios.

A lot of the movies that came from this period are recognized classics--The Last Picture Show, The Conversation, Shampoo, Chinatown are all going to get the chance to shine on the big screen this month at the either the Egyptian in Hollywood or the Aero in Santa Monica. But what’s exciting is the opportunity presented this month to adventurous filmgoers to revisit some of the tacky, energetic, disaffected, lowbrow, ambitious, pretentious, misunderstood gems, several of which stand ripe and waiting for rediscovery. It is for good reason that the series has been called The Seventies: The Good, the Bad and the Strange-- because many of these movies, some of which haven’t been screened in 20 or 30 years, are good, bad, and strange, and often simultaneously. The series actually began May 4, so please forgive me because the tardiness of this post means that I’ve missed then chance to send out a heads-up about screenings of Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens, Richard Brooks’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Lamont Johnson’s Lipstick, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time, Herbert B. Leonard’s Going Home, John Cassavetes’s Husbands, Frank Perry’s Play It As It Lays and Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love. Just those titles alone would be worth noting.

But The Good, The Bad and the Strange goes much deeper than even the mention of those movies would suggest. What follows is the remaining schedule for the Egyptian and Aero Theaters. I’ve decided to follow the format for my April post about the Grindhouse Fest and keep my comments to a minimum (except where enthusiasm takes over, of course), emphasizing instead the terrific poster art that was so often a part of anticipating and enjoying these movies when they originally screened, many without much fanfare or critical respect, some 30-35 years ago. Take a look (and I mean really take a look) at what the Cinematheque has in store for lucky Los Angelenos in the coming month.


May 11 (Egyptian)
Two brilliant satires of suburbia, and two of my favorite movies, that are rarely seen on the big screen—Albert Brooks’ Real Life (1979) and Michael Ritchie’s Smile (1975). The Cinematheque notes claim that Smile is not on DVD, but it actually is— has plenty of new and used copies. But that’s no good reason to miss this screening.

May 11 (Aero)
It may be time to remember just how powerful this movie can be on the big screen after years of shrunken video screenings-- Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978).


May 12 (Egyptian)
A new 35-mm print of George Schaffer’s glossy soap opera Doctors’ Wives (1971) starring Richard Crenna, Dyan Cannon, Gene Hackman, Janice Rule and Carroll O’Connor, to be followed by another new print of the rarely-seen adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine (1978), directed by Jack Haley Jr. and starring John Phillip Law, David Hemmings, Robert Ryan and (again!) Dyan Cannon.

May 12 (Aero)
Two of the era’s most representative films-- Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970).


May 13 (Egyptian)
Paul Schrader’s first directorial effort, Blue Collar (1978), a brutal, angry look at the life of three working men on a Detroit car production line starring Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Pryor, along with Doc (1971), director Frank Perry’s underseen, undervalued deconstruction of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday mythos, starring Harris Yulin, Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway.

May 13 (Aero) KIM MORGAN ALERT!!! (and not the last one either!)
This is an ultra-rare chance to see the great American road movie, Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) on the great, big, wide screen. A brilliant exercise in existential propulsion and the haunted atmosphere of the endless asphalt, Two-Lane Blacktop captures the dispirited aimlessness of the early ’70s better than any other movie. As I wrote to a friend recently regarding the movie, it locates strange beauty in the malaise of characters who set themselves adrift on the roads of Vietnam-era America without even so much as the mission Billy and Captain America state during Easy Rider-- to find the country itself. The Driver and the Mechanic have found the country already, and they spend the duration of the movie trying to keep moving past it toward… something else. Thankfully, Two-Lane Blacktop was beholden to no genre expectations other than the deafening rumble of a tricked-up 454 Chevy with the pedal to the metal. This movie on its own would be reason enough to head over to the Aero, but it just happens to be playing alongside Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter (1974), which makes this double bill the single best chance to revel in the grizzled character-actor persona of Warren Oates, bona fide movie star. If only it weren’t showing on Mothers Day!


May 16 (Aero)
Now here’s a double feature made for Mother’s Day! Angie Dickinson is the unbeatable Big Bad Mama (1974), and she shares the screen with Margaret (Pretty Maids All in a Row) Markov and Pam (Coffy, Foxy and Jackie Brown) Grier in a twisted remake of The Defiant Ones from director Eddie Romero, Black Mama, White Mama (1972). Calling Oedipus Rex!

May 17 (Aero)
Some of you may want to take this opportunity to revisit two of Hal Ashby’s finest-- Shampoo (1975) and Coming Home (1978).

May 17 (Egyptian)
But there’s no way I can possibly miss what is, along with Two-Lane Blacktop, the highlight of the entire series—a very rare big-screen showing of Richard Fleischer’s controversial and much-maligned adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s sex and slavery opus, Mandingo (1975). On the occasion of Fleischer’s death last year, I directed my readers to a couple of unexpected takes on the film that run counter to perception of the film as a disaster or some sort of racist wallow. The reality is, Mandingo was a dose of full-boil realism on the subject of slavery, and a look at it today reveals a seriousness of intent that went unnoticed at the time of its release. The program notes published by the Cinematheque provide an excellent introduction to the movie:

”Enormously controversial (and profitable) when it was released, this is a superb, explosive study of slavery and the sexual hypocrisy that helped prop it up. The film remains a much more unflinching, realistic alternative to the comparatively sanitized point of view found in the popular TV mini-series, Roots (which was televised two years later). James Mason is unforgettably creepy as the ruthless, ailing slave-owner, with Ken Norton, Susan George, Perry King and Brenda Sykes as the interracial couples swirling about the plantation. Fleischer's treatment is matter-of-fact, in-your-face and unpretentious. Beautifully shot and undeserving of its pariah reputation, the authentic location and production design add to the disturbing ambience. Maurice Jarre supplies the superb score with songs by Muddy Waters. Rarely screened since its original release, Mandingo is long overdue for serious reappraisal.”
Mandingo screens alongside another of Fleischer’s overlooked gems, the brisk and brutal gangland thriller The Don is Dead (1973).

(For a look at my experience seeing Mandingo as a 15-year-old when it was originally released, click here and page down toward the end.)


May 18 (Egyptian)
A Peter Bogdanovich double feature-- The Last Picture Show (1971) returns alongside one of the director’s best and most enjoyable movies, Saint Jack (1979), starring Ben Gazarra, Denholm Elliot, Joss Ackland and George Lazenby.

May 18 (Aero)
Across town, it’s Bogdanovich contemporary William Friedkin’s night to shine. The French Connection (1971) leads off the night, followed by another underrated gem, The Brinks Job (1978).


May 19 (Egyptian)
Do you know where you’re going to? Perhaps to this great Diana Ross double bill—Sidney J. Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Berry Gordy’s eye-popping, eye-rolling Mahogany. (How about that re-release one-sheet?)

May 19 (Aero) KIM MORGAN ALERT!!!! According to Chris D., this is “A once in a lifetime chance to see a totally lost and truly great film.” He describes The Dion Brothers (1974), starring Fredric Forrest and Stacy Keach, as “a brutal and hysterical masterpiece… Wild, madcap, totally out of control, sidesplitting and terrifying” with a “great script, an early effort from Terrence Malick and Bill Kerby.” And it’s directed by action ace Jack Starrett, who also directed the second feature (and here’s where Kim comes in), Race with the Devil (1975), a full-throttle car chase/horror thriller starring Warren Oates and Peter Fonda as vacationing pals who set out with their wives (Loretta Swit, Lara Parker) on a RV cruise and end up running for their lives from a murderous bunch of Satanists. Not to be missed!


May 20 (Egyptian)
Private eyes with a twist. Albert Finney in Stephen Frears directorial debut, Gumshoe (1971), also starring Billie Whitelaw and Frank Finlay, followed by Roland Kibbee’s The Midnight Man (1974) starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Quarry and Harris Yulin.

May 20 (Aero)
Two from director William A. Graham—the underrated Together Brothers. (1974), in which an inner-city gang has to solve a murder and protect the only witness—a five-year-old boy—and Cry for Me, Billy (1972), a odd western starring Cliff Potts, Harry Dean Stanton and James Gammon.


May 23 (Egyptian)
The very rarely-seen JFK conspiracy thriller Executive Action, with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, and starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Will Geer, gets teamed with one of the best political conspiracies thrillers ever, Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974), starring Warren Beatty, Paula Prentiss and Hume Cronyn.

May 23 (Aero)
Two with Richard Benjamin!!! Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), starring RB and Carrie Snodgress, screens with one of my wife’s favorites, the clever and twisty murder-on-a-cruise-ship mystery The Last of Sheila, directed by Herbert Ross, featuring RB, Raquel Welch, James Mason, Ian McShane and the ubiquitous Dyan Cannon.


May 24 (Egyptian)
George C. Scott is featured in two terrific performances—his Oscar-nominated turn in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller and co-starring Diana Rigg, and in Richard Fleischer’s adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s The New Centurions as a stoic veteran police officer guiding rookie Stacy Keach through the grinding pace of police work.

May 24 (Aero)
Watch out! It’s a Bruce Dern-Karen Black double bill! (Wow, how times really have changed, eh?) The Aero kicks the night off with Alfred Hitchcock’s final picture, Family Plot (1976), and Drive, He Said (1971), directed by Jack Nicholson. As described by Chris D., “it stands as one of the best sports-related movies ever made and captures the true feeling of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s college experience. And it just so happens, it was shot on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Oregon.


May 25 (Egyptian)
This is being billed by the AC as the “Politically Incorrect Cops” double feature, and for good reason. Nasty as hell, Richard Rush’s Freebie and the Bean (1974) is a goofy and genuinely weird buddy picture with ridiculously tasteless action and generous doses of brutality draped over nifty work by James Caan and Alan Arkin. Richard Rush is scheduled to appear to discuss the movie—that should be one spirited Q&A. More straightforwardly gripping is Milton Katselas’s bleak and tough Report to the Commissioner (1975) featuring Michael Moriarty and Yaphet Kotto.

May 25 (Aero)
I raved about it last October after rediscovering it on DVD, and now here’s a chance to see it big and wide—Richard Mulligan’s eerie and devastating adaptation of Tom Tryon’s best-selling novel The Other 91972). This movie will scare you. And it’s doubled with Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man (1973), as ethnographically odd and fascinating a thriller as has ever been made. I didn’t see the remake, but somehow I feel confident in saying that this is the version to see.


May 26 (Egyptian)
Billed as “Confessional Best-Sellers” double feature night, this one ought to be a real, perverse treat. First, it’s Otto Preminger’s nasty and funny Such Good Friends (1971) starring (it’s true) Dyan Cannon, as well as a screenplay by Elaine May (under a pseudonym), David Shaber and an uncredited Joan Didion. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. And they really don’t make ‘em like Ernest Lehman’s film version of the once-thought-unfilmable Portnoy’s Complaint (1972). This one is a rare treasure for connoisseurs of legendary cinematic folly—no one I know has ever seen it because it’s been out of circulation for so long, and it didn’t really stay around too long to begin with, after having been savaged by reviewers and dismissed by audiences. So if ever a movie were ripe for rediscovery, I would think Portnoy’s Complaint would be a likely candidate, even if it’s rediscovered to be as bad as its reputation suggests it is.

May 26 (Aero)
There’s an old-fashioned Saturday matinee over at the Aero that I sure to appeal to a certain nostalgic mindset—Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson try to rekindle some of that Poppins-esque charm in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

Then in the evening, the Aero ends its portion of the series with a teaming that will satisfy fans of venerated 70s classics. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, two of the best movies of perhaps the best year in all of ‘70s American cinema—1974—get to shine in a brilliant showcase at the Aero, a real gem of a venue. You may need a stiff drink afterward, but it promises to be a brilliantly paranoid and black-hearted night at the movies.


May 31 (Egyptian)
The Seventies: The Good, the Bad and the Strange wraps up here at the Egyptian with a compelling and rare opportunity to see Robert Altman’s Three Women in its big-screen, wide-screen glory, coupled with John Boorman’s neglected early feature Leo the Last (1970), which tells the story of an Italian nobleman (Marcello Mastroianni) beaten down by circumstances who takes up residence in a black ghetto in London.


What a great opportunity to remember all facets of ‘70s cinema we Los Angeles film buffs have had in the last three months. I only wish I could see as many of these movies as I actually want to see. But that would be gluttony, wouldn’t it? Perhaps. I just hope that this series, and the Grindhouse Fest, did well enough that we’ll be offered yet more great programs like this on which to pig out in the very near future.

A word or two on the upcoming tributes to Barbara Stanwyck in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007


In 51 Birch Street, the curtain is pulled back on the 50-year history of a suburban marriage, uncovering a multilayered mystery comprised of the day-to-day details of two people whose interior lives were unexpected, heartbreaking, and then unexpected again. This is not Blue Velvet, where a dive under the hissing summer lawns reveals the squirming beetles and worms of the suburban subconscious. The mystery that pulls us in through the doors of the unassuming, well-groomed house at 51 Birch Street is altogether more mundane, yet never less than universal in the implications derived from its specificity, and leads us, and the filmmaker, down paths we might never have known existed had our glance fallen slightly left or right of where it ultimately lands.

Filmmaker Doug Brock, a 50-ish documentary filmmaker who earns a living in between projects shooting wedding videos, finds himself doing the same for his parents’ 50th anniversary party. Mina and Mike Brock have raised three children in the house—two daughters and Doug, the youngest—and although the marriage is not outwardly expressive, Doug and his sisters have always assumed their parents had a quite typically stable and reciprocally understanding relationship. Doug’s relationship with his father is a fairly closed-off one—the son expressed little patience with the interests and hobbies of his mechanical engineer father, who often retreated into office work, or projects in the basement, rather than spending time getting to know his kids. Yet Doug’s relationship with his mother is strong, and the one-on-one interviews he conducts with her are filled with humor, mutual respect and love. When Doug’s mother unexpectedly dies not long after that 50th anniversary, the filmmaker and his siblings are understandably devastated, yet little is said of father Mike’s reaction, which seems curiously muted.

Three months later, Mike drops a bombshell—he’s selling the house at 51 Birch Street, moving to Florida and, oh, yes, getting married to a woman he once worked with some 35 years earlier. The Block children try to remain supportive even as they attempt to sort through their confusion over their father’s behavior, which seems more animated and alive in the afterglow of his remarriage than it ever was before. During the process of the move, some 40 years worth of journals written by Mina are uncovered, journals which on the surface indicate an interior life Doug never suspected for his mother, journals which may reveal more than he really wants to know about the reality of the emotional battle at the heart of his parents’ marriage.

51 Birch Street succeeds as first-rate investigate journalism of an extremely personal nature because it doesn’t dodge the moral quandary Block finds himself in. Has he got a right to read his mother’s journals? How much of what he finds and reads is acceptable to share in a film, even one that might serve to illuminate her character in a way she strove to achieve, through years of psychotherapy and social activism and experimentation, for herself? Did she know, as seems to be apparent, about his father’s perhaps adulterous relationship with the woman who is now his wife? And will what Doug finds out about how his mother really felt about his father, and details of his father’s behavior toward her, help him to connect with his father or build yet another wall between them?

The glory of the journey Block takes himself, and takes us on, in 51 Birch Street is in the discovery of the various realities of that relationship, which are themselves fraught with further unexpected revelations that deepen the movie’s central theme of a child’s need to know his or her parents. The movie is beautifully shot through with pain and ambiguity, as seen in each and every close-up of the seemingly renewed Mike, and in a doubling pair of shots—his mother, seen from the bottom of a short flight of stairs, who objects to being filmed from a low angle and comically barricades herself in the bathroom; and later, a shot from the same angle of Kitty, Doug’s new stepmother, packing some things away and tossing other things out. Block’s camera is extraordinarily perceptive and sensitive to each of the main players in the story— Mina, Mike, Kitty, sisters Ellen and Karen, and even Mina’s closest friend Natasha, are each given space on camera to live and breathe and tell aspects of their story simply through their careworn faces and their ease (or lack thereof) at being subjects for Block's camera. And the movie, which has been extraordinarily perceptive throughout, deepens as Block begins the frightening navigation through those journals, parsing out to us only those moments which productively illustrate what his mother was going through in a marriage that was not at all what it seemed to the children.

51 Birch Street, in its exploration and divulgement of the partial contents of these diaries, has come under fire from some reviewers for being self-serving and narcissistic at best—Block has been accused of using his parents’ personal history as a crass form of public therapy—to craven and manipulative at worst—invasion of privacy as the basis for amoral nonfiction titillation. And if one were to hear of Block using his mother’s journals as a tool for his discovery of his parents' inner lives without experiencing the sincerity and sensitivity he brings to framing the entirety of the film—if the act of reportage based on these journals is taken completely out of context—then there might be some truth to those charges. However, Block’s investigation is of a woman whom he comes to somewhat painfully realize was never truly known by anyone, least of all her husband. When he bluntly asks Natasha if she thinks his mother would want him to read the journals (and share them, to some extent, with us), she thinks for a moment, her features tightened in pained ambivalence, then blurts out, “Yes.” It’s a surprising moment, because the movie seems to be building, at that point, toward some sort of recognition of the boundaries of secrecy restricting Block's investigation. But Natasha rather shockingly reminds him (and us) of the special bond he shared with his mother and insists that this woman, who wanted so desperately to be known, would most have wanted to be known by her son. It’s a sort of approval granted by proxy, and Block never does use it as an excuse to turn the movie into an opportunity to glorify his mother by painting a complete picture from her pained autobiographical essence. He reads silently, tells us what he thinks we need to know to illuminate our understanding, and keeps the rest to himself. Some things truly are best left to family.

Block’s spectacular achievement here is rendered completely on a small scale, but it’s within that small scale that the detail and resonance of the cold war that his parents experienced holds its power. Just when you think you’ve gained an understanding of one of the main characters, 51 Birch Street makes you see that you really haven’t, and that people are capable of truly profound wrinkles of character. By the time the movie sets on its final course—Block’s attempt to reach a level of communication and understanding with his heretofore closed-off father—it takes on the powerful quality of a universal story, one told through tears shed over a lost past and the promise of a new future. This is a breathtaking piece of nonfiction filmmaking, a work of art, a film that would be worthwhile for every family to see.

And if you missed it during its theatrical run (it played successfully nationwide for seven months, though its appearance here in Los Angeles was shamefully brief), you’re going to get your chance tonight. The documentary, which by all rights should have been among the five nominated for the Academy Award this year (it makes the artistic achievement of An Inconvenient Truth, for all of its sincere global implications and glorification of Al Gore, look pretty meek indeed), will get its American broadcast premiere tonight on Cinemax at 7:00 p.m. EST/4:00 p.m. PST.

(For further scheduled screenings, click here. For a look at the trailer, click here. And after you’ve seen the movie, check out the detailed Web site.)

Doug Block even has a blog entitled Around the Block, well worth checking out as a source for further information on 51 Birch Street, but also as an avenue for investigating the processes and art of making contemporary documentary films.

And if Cinemax is beyond your reach as a cable or digital TV subscriber, fret not. Block promises the DVD release of 51 Birch Street, scheduled for August 14, will have lots of incidental material, including reactions of the Block family to the film itself.


Speaking of documentaries, it’s a good month for catching up on a couple that I desperately wanted to see last fall but missed, and if you missed them too, then we can catch them together and have a little talk further on down the road. Monday night the wonderful IFC TV Channel began a month-long rotation of Eric Steel’s haunted, agonizingly lyrical documentary about the attraction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge for despairing suicide jumpers entitled The Bridge. If you missed it tonight, IFC has a schedule of further showings, which include May 17 at 4:25 a.m. EST/1:25 a.m. PST and again on June 1 at 2:15 a.m. EST/11:15 p.m. PST. I had to stop midstream with The Bridge in order to write this post, but I’ll be returning to it before I go to sleep tonight, though I’m honestly a bit nervous as to how this ethereal, insinuating film might lodge itself in my own dreamscape. And I’ll be curious to ruminate on one of the big discussions raised in the movie’s shadow—that of how suicide is discussed in this country, and whether a person with suicidal tendencies should see The Bridge. (Jim Emerson held a couple of fascinating forums on the film and these subjects last fall on his blog, Scanners.)

Also, I’m looking forward to the DVD release tomorrow of the wrenching documentary Deliver Us from Evil, an unflinching look at the devastation wrought by a Catholic priest who also happens to be an unrepentant pedophile.

Please let me know if you’ve seen any of these films, or what you think of them when you finally do see them. I’d love to hear about and discuss with you how your reactions rattle and resonate with my own.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Rie Rasmussen towers over Jamel Debbouze in Luc Besson's visually striking Angel-A

Well, it looks like Spider-Man 3 broke all sorts of box office records this past weekend—highest grossing Friday opening for a $250 million-third-installment-comic-book-movie-by-a-movie-studio-residing-
and-breakfast-cereals ever!—and somehow I still don’t give an arachnid’s ass about seeing it. Of course I eventually will see Spider-Man 3—it is a Sam Raimi movie, after all, however bloated and overstuffed with characters and plotlines it may or may not be. But the Spider-Man franchise has, with the exception of the second movie (a lithe and moving piece of heavy lifting that did just right most of the things the first movie dampened and flubbed), always been a bit of a shrug for me. I was a big fan of the comic book series when I was growing up—I came of comic-reading age just as the Spider-Man series was reaching its first crest of popularity in the mid and late ‘60s. So by all rights I should have lapped up the big screen version, and I did spend several years imagining how much fun a movie version in CGI age could be. But I’m not an obsessive fanboy either, at least to the degree that I spent hours and hours picking over what the first movie did wrong in terms of whether or not it was faithful to the comic book or not.

Indeed, Raimi’s first movie was pretty accurate to my memory of the origin story of Spider-Man. My objections to the movie derived largely from its casting choices and then what Raimi chose to do with his cast. I made very little sense to me to make the effort to astutely cast the goblin-like Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and then encase him in a generic-looking outfit so that the actor is hidden during the moments when he could best pull out all the stops and enjoy his on-screen villainy. I loved J. K. Simmons as J.J. Jameson, and I even thought Tobey Maguire, though a little doughier than the way he was visualized by Steve Ditko in the original comic books, captured the essence of Peter Parker—wide-eyed nerd who cannot comfortably embrace his newfound powers—quite well. But Kirsten Dunst is not my idea of the fun-lovin’, sassy, slightly tart, more than slightly buxom, and quite redheaded Mary Jane Watson. She’s just too bland. And the new movie continues this trend of miscasting Parker’s girlfriends by introducing Bryce Dallas Howard as the comely, good-hearted Gwen Stacy. There’s barely anything that distinguishes Dunst from Howard for me. They both seem like the same nice, dull woman. And as I’m sitting here typing this now, I’m having a hard time recalling what either of them even look like. Hasn’t any of the army of casting folk on the Spider-Man movies ever heard of Rachel McAdams or Mandy Moore?

I remain unimpressed with Spider-Man 3’s numbers—there are just too many other movies I have to catch up on, like Sarah Polley’s Away from Here, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Alain Resnais’ Private Fears in Public Places and even Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling in Fracture, all of which are in line to be bumped off lots of screens by the time Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (yet another shrug, I’m afraid) swallows up all the multiplex space in about three weeks.

But I’m no summer season snob. There are big summer releases I’m looking forward to. For my superhero fix, I’ll go with the underdog (and no, I’m not talking about Disney’s live-action Underdog, coming in August). I’m referring to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I quite liked the smaller-scaled, unpretentious Fantastic Four-- and, yes, I know, almost no one else did—so I look forward to this next chapter in the hopes that it doesn’t get infected with the same kind of elephantiasis that is so common for movies like on the second (or third) go-round.

I’ve also got very high hopes for two raucous comedies, both of them featuring Freaks and Geeks alumnus Seth Rogen—Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and what looks to be a hilarious high school nerds out on the town farce, Superbad, co-written by Rogen and featuring the actor in a supporting role. I was also convinced by seeing its trailer that 28 Weeks Later, a sequel to Danny Boyle’s disturbing viral zombie thriller, might be more than just another Fox Atomic-Hills Have Eyes 2-type knockoff. And I’m more than a little curious (with a little of the usual suspicion mixed in, of course) about Luc Besson’s Angel A, as well as Andrew Fleming’s updating of Nancy Drew, William Friedkin’s Bug, Bruce Evans’ Mr. Brooks, Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!, Jonathan King’s Black Sheep, John Dahl’s You Kill Me, Len Wiseman’s Live Free or Die Hard, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen, Johnnie To’s Election and Triad Election, Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn and, of course, David Silverman’s The Simpsons Movie. But I’m placing my biggest bet on Paul Greengrass’ third installment in the excellent Matt Damon action franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum.

So, there does happen to be plenty to look forward to as the weather heats up that doesn’t have Spider-Man or Captain Jack Sparrow front and center, even though the movies cited above make up only a small percentage of what’s actually coming in on the tidal wave soon to hit your neighborhood infinty-plex this summer.

And speaking of summer, it isn’t often I find something really fun to read in Entertainment Weekly these days—though the magazine has tens of hundreds of contributing writers, I usually only look forward to actually reading a capsule review if it has Chris Willman’s name on it. He and regular film reviewers Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum are the only writers for that mag that seem to have individual voices. The snark that coats EW like a unpleasant pasting of peanut butter and jelly makes it seem as if it’s all really written by one wise-ass guy/gal-- to hell with trying to distinguish one writer from the other when they all seem to have the same trendy fixations on whatever’s hot that week. But I do also like the back-page contributions from Stephen King and EW editor Mark Harris, and this week Harris takes us on a pretty hilarious journey through his Top 10 Formative Summer Movie-going Experiences. It’s an amusing read, and it sparked some memories of my own. But I’ll wait to share them, because I thought this sounded like a good SLIFR Forum topic to kick off the week and the summer movie-going season. So the question is out there: What are some of your most memorable experiences going to the movies during the summer? What among all the studio and independent offerings are the movies you most want to see between now and Labor Day? And don’t worry-- you can always go see Spider-Man 3 right after you’ve dropped your comment!