Tuesday, November 27, 2007


There will be a new SLIFR quiz coming your way just in time for Christmas vacation. But to hold you over until then, here's my own version of one of those maddening find-the-word puzzles that I always used to love to do in school. There are plentiful clues for each of the 60 words, names and phrases buried in the puzzle, and note that there are some maguffins buried in there as well, just to make life even more difficult for you. And as always in these things, words can be spelled backward, forward or diagonally. If you have any intention of actually doing this puzzle, double-click on the image above, save it to your desktop as a .jpg and print it out from there. This will give you a good, readable resolution copy you can take to any special reading place... gnomesane? In any case, I hope this is as much fun for you all to scratch your skulls over as it was for me to write. There is no unifying concept at work here-- the references range from the silent era all the way up to last week, and one of them is specifically designed to annoy you and make you call me names. So have at it, let me know how you do, and please let me know if there's some mistake in there that managed to escape the eyes of my crack editorial staff. (My apologies too for the ragged, off-kilter look of the puzzle itself. Still getting to know my scanner...)

Some clues you might be able to use:

1) AH’s Charlie (Miss)
2) Midtown strutter in Amarcord
3) McTeague
4) Magician who lit Jesse James and Anton Chigurh
5) She’s pretty poisonous
6) Chronicler of Little Edie
7) Head light and scenery mover
8) Alternate for Wilder’s Ace
9) Rivetting female sailors
10) Bob and Jane together again
11) Hurricane Dino’s Matangi
12) Bug director
13) Lady Bernbaum, currently M. Carmody
14) Made film debut in Carrie
15) Crossed the Atlantic for Ford in 1933
16) Mr. Warmth
17) “Are you scared we’re on live?/No, I’m sure I can cope/Well, this show isn’t broadcast in _____________!"
18) Opti-grab inventor
19) Gatekeeper of Hollywood Babylon
20) He who got slapped
21) Lombard’s froggy-voiced daddy in Godfrey
22) Greek god of movie disaster
23) Before meeting her final destination she was a royal pain
24) 1975 Best Picture loser
25) Emmy winner stalked by Chucky
26) __________ A Great Notion
27) Negative Space
28) Kaspar Hauser
29) What Coffy and Nashville have in common
30) Low-rent Hollywood Boulevard studio

31) “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our _____ ________.”
32) Greatest movie candy (inarguable)
33) Undoubtedly Armond’s favorite Stooge
34) Campus where infamous Experiment bled over into Summer
35) Mexican Spitfire Out West
36) The Italian Job’s maestro of motoring (1969)
37) “If they move, _____ ____.”
38) ___________ East of Java
39) Special stereo sound mix unveiled for Tommy (1975)
40) Where Nicholson and Arkoff called home
41) Don’t!
42) “This is my _____________ and it freaks me out!”
43) Forbidden Zone’s Clutch Cargo-esque musical number
44) Castle mode of expression
45) Film critic responsible for Mitchum’s tattooed knuckles
46) The Duke, A-No.1, King of New York
47) The Emperor of the North Pole a.k.a. A-No. 1
48) Cineplex blight
49) “FOUND! One missing link… and the terror that goes with it!”
50) Mizoguchi’s governor
51) Hill's baseball gang
52) Knocked Fonda on his ass
53) The end, if you’re Bertrand Blier
54) Logjammin’ composer
55) “I don’t even think you can spoil good ________.”
56) Edward Everett _______.
57) Lugosi with a hump
58) Repo man
59) Joe Don!
60) Gower and Marge

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Kim Morgan hashes it out with Richard Roeper

There’s a very good film blog, Nathaniel R’s Film Experience, I visit so often that I just assumed I had it linked on my sidebar. Up through this morning, it wasn’t. Now it is. Nathaniel is a spirited writer—I particularly liked his even-handed take on American Gangster-- and he has a recurring feature where he’ll grab a screenshot from the 20th minute and the 07th second of a random movie, just to see what’s there, that is a surprising amount of fun.

And you gotta get over there before the holiday wraps up just to get a look at the Thanksgiving-themed header he’s got going on at the top of the page.

Yesterday Nathaniel unwrapped a very special holiday treat for us all by sitting down with one of my favorite film writers, Kim Morgan, for 10 Questions. This interview, in addition to being a funny, carbonated look at one writer’s obsessions, gives you some thoughtful insight into the intelligence behind those obsessions, an intelligence swimming upstream against the tide of assumptions about film critics, particularly female film critics, in the polluted river of sensory overload and lack of connection with film history that is Hollywood. Kim has never been too shy about talking about those obsessions either, and her rapid-fire enthusiasm is, as Nathaniel’s interview with her vividly illustrates, contagious as hell. As I wrote in Nathaniel’s comments column, the piece perfectly captures Kim's fevered cinephilia, but also her sly humor, her lack of pretension and her giddy smarts, as well as her disdain about the level of film education that runs through Hollywood like a dry creek bed. If you're lucky enough to spend time with someone who combines all those qualities, you'll come away from a conversation with a definite buzz on. And that's what Nathaniel’s interview with Kim Morgan did for me.

Read and enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2007


On the recommendation of faithful reader and good-natured contrarian Bill, I’ve finally picked up Theodore Roszak’s Flicker, which promises to be time well spent with a good novel, a rare-enough experience for me, sad to admit. At the rate I read, it’ll be a while before I can report on it, but what I’ve absorbed so far has me excited. So do some of the blurbs on the dust jacket:

“Theodore Roszak’s Flicker is a fantastic novel of suspense and ideas. It reminds me at once of favorite books by H.G. Wells, John Fowles and Raymond Chandler. That is to say it successfully weds the novel of philosophical, political and religious ideas within a popular genre—in this unique case, noir disguised as film criticism. Everyone from film buffs to fans of detective novels should love Flicker.

---Robert Ward, author of Red Baker

”For the film buff, this is not only a chilling metaphysical tale of darkness lurking in the cinematic apparatus, but also a fascinating excursion into the world of true film devotees—filmmakers, critics, scholars, and the denizens of the repertory theater world.”

---Ernest Callenbach, Editor, Film Quarterly

”This book is n absolute necessity for those of us whose lives are based on the movies but who are nevertheless trying not to go too overboard--- and for those who don’t care and have gone overboard anyway. Since nobody else is left, I think this book will be handled around by all those who still read because it is really great, mean, contagious, and true.”

---Eve Babitz, author of Slow Days, Fast Company and Eve’s Hollywood

“On the surface it’s an insane account, one that reaches back to the twelfth century ‘invention’ of the movies and predicts Armageddon in the wake of PlayStations and iMacs. It tests the suspension of disbelief when introducing a few real Hollywood luminaries to the brew, but Flicker is a powerfully seductive tale, an eccentric tour de force by Theodore Roszak. Jam-packed with film references, it seduces through a bizarre conspiracy plot committed with diabolical patience…
Now back in circulation after being out of print for more than a decade, it’s required reading for anyone with a passion for cinema. The new edition… taking a cue from DVDs, (has) been expanded in the literary equivalent of a deluxe director’s version. ‘Novels, like movies, have their outtakes,’ the author explains, ‘passages and chapters that never make it into the final cut.’ Is Flicker the first novel to come with bonus features? It’s a tie-in for the upcoming screen adaptation written by Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Considering the stifling interior worlds of his Pi and Requiem for a Dream, however, Aronofsky seems less a carrier of Roszak’s warnings than one in cahoots with the novel’s shadowy heretics.”

---Ray Young, Flickhead (Click here to read Ray’s entire review.)


I may have to trade in the 1991 library-loaned edition I’m currently reading for that spiffy new version Ray talks about. But until I do, I’ll keep reading the old model. Here’s a great passage I soaked in while waiting for Southland Tales to begin last night. The narrator is speaking of the start of his personal voyage toward an obsession with an Ulmer-esque director of film noir:

“How diabolically ironic it was that I should have been summoned to the serious study of film by these French and Italian sirens. As I remember them now—Gina Lollabrigida, Simone Signoret, Martine Carol—they brim with the bright promise of love, the insurgent fertility of life. But the hunger of the flesh as I learned it from them was only the beginning of a darker adventure; though I could never have guessed it, beyond them lay the labyrinthine tunnel that led down and down into the world of Max Castle. There, among old heresies and forgotten deities, I would learn that both life and love can be bait in a deadly trap.

Still I must be grateful, knowing that the awkward desire these few fleeting moments of cinematic seduction quickened in me was the first early-morning glimmer of adulthood. Through them, I was learning the difference between the sexual and the sensual. Sex, after all, is a spontaneous appetite; it bubbles up from the adolescent juices of the body without shape or style. We are born to it like all the simple animals that mindlessly rut and mate. But sensuality—raw instinct reworked into art into a thing of the mind that can be played with endlessly-- that is grown-up human. It idealizes the flesh into a fleshless emblem.

Plato (so some scholars believe) had something like the movies in mind when he wrote his famous Allegory of the cave. He imagines an audience—it is the whole sad human race—imprisoned in the darkness, chained by its own deceiving fascinations as it watches a parade of shadows on the wall. But I think the great man got it wrong. Or let us say he couldn’t, at that distance, know that the illusions of film, when shaped by a deft hand, may become true raptures of the mind, diamond-bright images of undying delight. At any rate, that’s what these beauties of the screen became for me—enticing creatures of light, always there, unchanging, incorruptible. Again and again, for solace or inspiration, I reach back to recapture their charm, the recollection of something more real than my own experience.”



”If Southland’s smugness doesn’t get to you, then its barriers of built-in self-protection should. The film is designed so that any of the obvious critical grenades one can lob at it can be deflected with the force of a fly swatter: try “scattershot,” “messy,” “inelegant,” “politically confused” and its defenders will follow the Richard Kelly line, that it’s supposed to be that way (its idiocies and logic lapses are safeguarded by the fact that all its characters are idiots or amnesiacs), and what better way to deal with the “current moment” than to stab out in all directions, using a host of multimedia techniques, juggled genres, tonal inconsistencies, etc.? Yet Kelly can’t harness all of these approaches: it’s an actual mishmash disguised as an intended mishmash, lacking not in narrative coherence so much as a verifiable ideology. Comparisons to Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut only make the mousiness of Southland all the more evident: it’s the filmic equivalent of the diary doodling of a high-school daydreamer who just read Cat’s Cradle for the first time.”

-- ReverseShot’s Michael Koresky on writer-director Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales

Southland Tales aims for disorientation right from the get-go, using a multi-screen, mutli-tasking Windows 2008 approach to its overstimulated narrative, a wide-screen pop nihilistic jamboree. It’s all in service to an overreaching satire on-- or is it a barely-exaggerated representation of-- our overstimulated, distracted, disjointed times. (The unwashed masses who make it all the way to the end—I barely did—won’t be surprised to find out the movie literally is, as implied in its chapter IV, V & VI structure, the middle section of an equally overstuffed graphic novel.) But, as Michael Koresky implies in his piece for ReverseShot, an excellent rejoinder to the defensive feints and jabs of positive assessments from the likes of Amy Taubin and J. Hoberman, it’s a disorientation that is also meant to mask the movie’s essential inability to grasp onto any one idea long enough to ride it to its logical conclusion.

Both Taubin’s and Hoberman’s reviews spent unusual (for them) amounts of space on the film’s beleaguered history and on trying “desperately” to describe the plot (“desperately” is Taubin’s word of choice for the futile endeavor). And Hoberman finally just gives up and goes with, as Taubin would have it, the movie’s lysergic flow—“Southland Tales is obsessed but not overweening, free-associational yet confident,” he writes. “Kelly's movie may not be entirely coherent, but that's because there's so much it wants to say.” I’d say it’s a movie that seems to want to rack up points—and it’s doing just that in some circles, judging by Hoberman’s comment—based on the sheer volume of shots that miss the target either partially or entirely.

I got the feeling that if Southland Tales were more coherent, Kelly and his defenders might feel the movie was less provocative, might have to admit to its conventionality. But there’s just no way to get the post-millennial hangover really throbbing unless Kelly throws as much at the screen as possible and scrambles the audience’s perceptions to the point that they’ll wear down and accept just about anything (or, worst-case scenario, reject it all). The problem is, Kelly mounts and paces his counterculture screed with the shallowest of understanding, as Koresky observes, of the history of the Marxist extremism he’s skewering, and he employs the same tiresome cartoon buffoonery with which he pole-axed right-wing conservatism in Donnie Darko to the right-wing nut jobs running loose here. And he’s no more subtle as a simple storyteller. The director deliberately cuts back and forth between the three main protagonists with thudding, dispiriting, metronomic reliability—he brings the same unwavering gravity, and the same tin ear and eye for witticisms and slapstick, to each new set piece, until the movie, for all its P.T. Barnum craziness, achieves a singular kind of cacophonic monotony. He doesn’t have much knack for the on-screen violence he likes to occasionally employ for shock effect either. I felt sorry for Sab Shimono, who gets his hand chopped off on screen, not because, hey, that’s gotta hurt, but because Kelly lets him writhe on screen unblinkingly, for an embarrassing length of time while the stump sprays red and cosmeticized freaks Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling, the chopper, look on amused.

Unfortunately, the rest of the actors simply seem confused. Whether we’re in the company of the amnesiac movie star turned dazed political activist (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, amusing even when he’s cued to perform with a weird series of tics that wouldn’t have seemed subtle in The Perils of Pauline), the amnesiac Iraq war veteran-turned cop (a one-note Seann William Scott), or the scarred, glowering Iraq war veteran-turned-civilian guard (a scarred, glowering Justin Timberlake, spouting Kelly’s favored Revelations quotations) stationed on Venice Beach, all of whom may represent three sides of the same fractured personality in Kelly’s vision, they’re really only ones and zeroes, pawns in Kelly’s digi-carnival free-for-all. And to no great end-- the movie spends all its energy alternating between high-tech horror-comedy and surrealistic fantasy that it quickly loses its fizz in a Panavision screen filled with white noise. Venice Beach, of course, is already ground zero for pre- and post-apocalyptic freaky self-expression, where all the elements of the end of the world gather for the big bang. (“The world ends not with a whimper, but a bang,” goes the oft-repeated turn of phrase which is meant to be grimly funny, but just sounds leaden coming out of Timberlake’s mouth). But despite Kelly’s every-shot-a-new-cameo approach (Cheri Oteri, Nora Dunn, Christopher Lambert, Zelda Rubenstein, John Larroquette and, in a heavy-duty make-up appliance, Kevin Smith head a small army of folks you never want to see on screen again after this) and the presence of Gen Y hotties Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mandy Moore (neither of which have much to do), none of them are much more than celebrity eye candy. Kelly doesn't even display much feel for even this most textile and obviously cinematic locale-- Venice here hasn't the sinister fire that Kathryn Bigelow and Matthew F. Leonetti briefly infused it with in Strange Days (The brackish cinematography is by Darko’s talented Steven Poster). Southland Tales is apocalyptic comedy from a director too busy raising the stakes on his own nascent reputation as a filmmaker to set up a good, honest laugh, much less one that catches in our collective throats, as the world turns in the shadow of a mushroom cloud.


Richard Kelly makes sociologically, psychologically tinged science-fiction puzzle boxes that are, when they are amusing (Donnie Darko), more fun in the contemplation than in the figuring out. (If anyone ever did make a convincing case for a through line in Southland Tales, then I fear we’d all really be in for a dour time.) Michael Bay, on the other hand, makes big, loud Hollywood movies that go boom. And even counting the segments of the downright weird Bad Boys II that were chunks of inspired highway mayhem, there isn’t a movie in Bay’s oeuvre that isn’t at least almost entirely stupid. Transformers doesn’t really change that formula— in fact, its stupidity is right there on the surface. The director doesn’t try to trick it up (The Island) or make you seem like a poor sport for not swallowing it whole (Armageddon). Transformers is, in every significant way, the ultimate Michael Bay movie, the essence of his arrested adolescent aesthetic— reduced to its essentials, it is nothing more than a bunch of big, overgrown boys (and a couple of young female beauties too, of course) playing in the desert with big toys (based on actual toys). The difference is, Transformers is also, despite my every instinct to resist it (and I tried to resist it), a lot of fun and, as much as a movie about 10-ton heavy metal warriors from outer space can be, it has a lightness of spirit.

I was too old to have ever been caught up in the original wave of Transformers mania in the ‘80s, so the movie’s bid for nostalgic sympathy holds no sway over me. But these shenanigans, mounted with the seriousness a 10-year-old would bring to a scenario of intergalactic warfare carried out between plastic Megatrons and Optimus Primes on Earth’s neutral backyard soil, are pitched perfectly, backed up by the year’s gaudiest, funniest special effects. And Bay makes a rare right choice when it comes to the human beings too—choice ham steaks like Jon Voight and Kevin Dunn play it straight, Shia LeBeouf displays his usual sharp way with words and that sleepy stare of disbelief, and best of all, John Turturro brings an edge of uncut weirdness by playing the whole shooting match straight as an arrow (until he takes off his government suit, that is). I got a huge kick out of watching all these actors delivering neat, no chaser, all their nonsensical dialogue, much of which surrounds what a race of Autobots, who for some reason turn into vehicles, will do next in their quest to turn downtown Los Angeles into a rock quarry. After seeing it on DVD, I actually regretted avoiding this one in theaters this summer. And I still wanted to see a real movie after seeing Transformers, one that knows that value of a held shot or a brilliant acting turn (up next: No Country for Old Men?). But for once, Bay’s excesses seemed innocuous, almost (dare I say it?) charming in their simultaneous fluidity and the lunk-headed aggression of their CGI campaign to sell action figures. Maybe the dumb mechanics of Michael Bay are less nutritious than Richard Kelly’s striving, self-important satire (I said maybe), but at least I didn’t feel cheated afterward. Richard Kelly is selling high-tech snake oil, but Michael Bay’s biggest crime this time around is truth in advertising.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


It seems like a pretty simple idea. As formats change and more feature films and TV programming become available for downloading and live streaming and other Web-based means of distribution some genius hasn’t even thought of yet, it only stands to reason that the people from whom the original ideas for these projects sprang, the men and women who provide the skeletal structure for your favorite shows and movies, and often most of the meat on those bones as well, should somehow be compensated. And why not, when producers and networks and studios stand to make so much more money every time one of those products finds a new way to get to the people who will pay to see it?

There is word today that talks will resume after Thanksgiving between writers and studios in the hopes of ending the current WGA writer’s strike. That is good news, not because I’m worried about what will happen to my favorite TV show or how it will affect my life (though it surely will in some way). No, it’s basically because I am a writer, though not part of the WGA, and I have friends who are writers. And I can easily understand the anger and frustration and sense of diminishment that comes along with seeing words being devalued in the Hollywood community, either by dismissive studio executives or by the rush of critics and fans to heap solitary praise on directors and/or stars, and often excluding mention the role of the writer in the creative process. Those same words are then being appropriated by someone other than the person who wrote them and used as the basis for a whole new stream of massive revenue, the participation in which the writers are being denied. Nobody on the picket line is saying they have the life of a textile worker or a coal miner. But it’s more than a bit disingenuous for people who head up an industry known for trafficking in blasphemous amounts of filthy lucre and regularly green-lighting projects with budgets that could swamp those of several small nations to try to portray writers in Hollywood as greedy jet-setters who merely want to add more big bucks to their already swelling coffers. Most of the people I know wouldn’t be willing to trade their job security for the chance to write for a living, for the occasional opportunity to pour their hearts into something they really believed in, but more often the necessity of working on something just to make enough money to live out the year.

As the strike has progressed and I’ve read about all kinds of ways that fans, actors and others can support the men and women on the picket lines, I’ve thought about how I could contribute support of my own. There was Blackout Blog Tuesday which happened last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it about myself until after the blackout had begun. And as I thought about it, I honestly couldn’t be sure if I would be undertaking a blackout on my own blog out of solidarity for the writers, which I certainly feel, or because it would be a convenient way to explain what has been a difficult period for me to find time to create my own work here. I didn’t want use the plight of the WGA membership, deliberately or not, to in any way, directly or indirectly, as a public face to justify my own inability to produce work for this site at the rate I’d like to.

So I thought the best thing I could do, not being even close to the most informed person on the blog block, would be to open up the comments column to those of you who have something to say about the strike, in support of the writers or even the studios, in the spirit of constructive dialogue and observations. I know what I know from what I read, just like most of us who aren’t on the front lines do. If there are any writers who want to use this forum to air their issues, have at it. It’s my hope that we can garner more support for the hopes of the writers that this strike will end beneficially for them and their families, and yes, even for the studios (those concerns don’t have to be mutually exclusive, do they?).

I really hope, for the benefit of those I know whose livelihood is dangerously implicated in the outcome of this strike, that all will go encouragingly well once those talks resume. My viewing habits can bear the strain of not having fresh Letterman jokes every night before I go to sleep. But I’d rather hear the fresh jokes-- not because I’ll sleep better, but because that’ll mean the writers are back at work, in New York and Hollywood, sweating to create more TV shows and movies to enthrall me and enrage me and cause me to have much more to write about, with enthusiasm and disdain, in my own way.

Those who enjoy the work of WGA writers (and come on, that’s all of us), the floor is yours.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Well, here we are, three years to the day since I first pressed "publish post" and began the adventure known as Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, which, by the way, was not the original name of this here blog. For the first couple of posts, this space was (barely) known as The Good, the Bad and the Dodgers. Thank heavens for minor miracles of wisdom and the willingness to change.

I will have plenty more to say about all the fine people who have come into my life because of this blog next week, when tradition insists that we take special time out to give thanks. For right now, I just have to offer my gratitude again to those of you who have stuck with me during a time when outside forces are making it difficult to post much more than once or twice a week. Those forces should ease up considerably in about eight or nine days, at which time I have lots of stuff planned to unleash on those of you who have come to expect it, as well as those of you who remain unsuspecting. All I can hope is that time will be kinder to the quality and productivity of what you read here on SLIFR than it has to the poor crum-bum pictured above, who looked presentable at age three but has, alas, fallen victim to his own form of Dorian Gray Syndrome. But enough morbidity. May there be at least three more years we can spend together that will be as much fun for me, and hopefully for you, as the last three have been. Skoal!

UPDATE: November 15, 3:59 p.m.: Girish made mention of it in the coments section below, but it's worth repeating that, by purest coincidence, Jim Emerson launched a new series over at Scanners yesterday which will document his readers' various experiences as extras in big Hollywood movies. And the inaugural subject in Jim's "Are You An Extra In Your Own Life?" series is none other than Yours Truly. Hop on over to Scanners for a screen shot of myself alongside Stephen Furst and Tom Hulce as we're initiated into the hallowed ranks of Delta Tau Chi membership. Jim has invited me to send along some further screen shots of other places my pudgy 17-year-old mug is visible in the movie, and if I can get a screen-grab program to work for me, I will do just that. Needless to say, finding Jim's post late last night while I was up burning the pre-dawn oil was the sweet cherry on top of an otherwise Brown 25 kind of day for me. I hope you'll get a kick out of it too!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


It cost $350,000 to make back in 1974, and one reviewer (I believe it was Ted Mahar in The Oregonian) said that it looked like it was shot in the director’s basement. No matter. In the short months just before Saturday Night Live, itself woven from borrowed threads belonging to Second City TV, The Committee and the National Lampoon, it was the movie comedy to see. A good friend of mine was lucky enough to catch it when it first came out. But by the time it rolled through my local drive-in, on a double bill with Flesh Gordon, Saturday Night Live was already gathering its first real head of steam, and my buddy had related the most hilarious bits so vividly that I practically had the movie memorized before I ever saw a frame firsthand. Even so, as it unspooled under the stars at the long-gone Circle JM Drive-in for the first of four times that week (I was there for two of ‘em!), even though I already apparently knew it backwards and forwards, The Groove Tube was still, along with Blazing Saddles, the most side-splittingly funny movie I’d yet seen in my young life. Devised as a very loose set of sketches parodying the inanities of the still young medium of TV, The Groove Tube had no unifying theme or philosophy other than irreverence, which was, for the generation about to canonize the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, plenty unifying philosophy enough. Paddy Chayefsky would end up looking like a legitimate prophet and Howard Beale would end up looking not quite angry enough. But The Groove Tube, seen from a distance of 33 years, perhaps because of its accurately low-ball production values and chillingly precise recreations of some of the more mawkish and self-serving advertising of the era, more resembles like a murky crystal ball through which we can catch a smudged, warped glimpse of the way TV, and comedy way too raunchy for Ed Sullivan, actually was.

And thanks to YouTube, it’s my pleasure to be able to present a special viewing package of personal favorite highlights from The Groove Tube to carry you all through the upcoming long weekend which I’ll be taking off from SLIFR.


The Groove Tube represents a lot of firsts for me—the first female full-frontal nudity I saw in a movie, the first male full-frontal nudity I ever saw in a movie, my first exposure to one of my all-time favorite songs, the brilliant Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. And, amazingly, all three are packed into this one three-minute segment, part of the movie’s opening sketch. I only wish whoever was kind enough to post this clip had included the hilarious parody of 2001 that leads directly into this segment. But you know what they say about gift horses-- never run after them buck naked through the woods.


This parody of TV cooking shows, shot in one take, with director Ken Shapiro’s lulling narration and Chevy Chase’s wonderful pantomime hand performance, is just as funny today, especially if you can remember life before Emeril, as it was in 1974.


BROWN 25 1:10

Of course The Groove Tube was littered with spot-on, barely exaggerated TV commercials, of which these two spots for the mysterious industrial corporation Uranus, "aired" during the nightly news program, were the absolute peak. The first mocks like a dagger the notion of the sensitive, caring multinational by perfectly aping the brokenhearted, ecologically-oriented public service announcements of the time. The second— Well, you just have to see it for yourself.




But The Groove Tube wasn’t just great TV parody. Three of its most memorable moments were inexplicable musical bits crammed into the leaky crevices of the movie’s stitched-together structure. The first, “Four Leaf Clover,” again features director Ken Shapiro on drums and Chevy Chase on vocals (stick around for Shapiro’s sociopathic “who’s next” stare at the end). “Democratic National Committee” showed up about 2/3 of the way through, and if it weren’t so weirdly funny and appropriate it might have signaled the point late enough along where the movie, like Saturday Night Live typically would later on, had started to run out of gas. But the Tube still had surprises in store, not least of which is the third clip, “Just You, Just Me,” the penultimate sketch of the movie, featuring Ken Shapiro again, proving that you don’t have to be built like Gene Kelly to be light on your feet.

Do you remember other great Groove Tube moments?


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Conversation with Writer-Director Don Mancini Pt 2: FILM CRITICISM, THE STATE OF HORROR, THE MOVIES OF 2007 (so far) AND WHAT'S COMING NEXT...

Before we get started, a quick report on the Seed of Chucky screening at the Egyptian on October 30, which was a grand time indeed. I got to meet a few folks I’d never met before, including SLIFR reader and proprietor of the fine blog Forward to Yesterday Bob Westal. Bob and I, it turns out, have a mutual friend, and we really enjoyed talking about old Hollywood movie theaters and adventures in the blogosphere. (I’d forgotten about Bob’s aversion to gore, but he confided afterward that he had such a good time with the movie that it was barely an issue.) Even my supervisor from work showed up, accompanied by her very own Tiffany doll housed in a vintage violin case, which Jennifer Tilly kindly signed for her!

Three's company: Jennifer, Tiffany and Kimberly after the movie

I attended the screening with an old friend, who happened to be a graduate teaching assistant in many of my film classes back at Oregon in the late ‘70s. Until about a month ago, we hadn’t seen each other for about 25 years, and as the movie was about to begin I got that old feeling of being intimidated by someone you know is smarter than you who is sitting next to you and waiting to see what the big deal is about this movie you seem to like so much. Well, it only took the first few frames of the credit sequence for Seed of Chucky, which documents the travel of Chucky’s little swimmers down the path to fertilization, followed, of course, by the eventual development of the plastic starchild fetus that will become little Glen/Glenda, to send her into paroxysms of laughter. Which was, of course, the proper response. And she stayed in stitches throughout, as did the entirety of the very appreciative audience that gathered that night, which made for a very delightful screening indeed.

Left to right, Mike Werb, Guy Louthan, Jennifer Tilly, Don Mancini

Don and Jennifer Tilly were there, along with producer Guy Louthan and moderator Mike Werb, and the foursome made for a very entertaining Q & A. Miss Tilly is as bigger-than-life in person as she is on screen—gorgeous and funny and clearly enjoying her place as the big star in the Chucky firmament. The banter onstage between Don and Miss Tilly was very reminiscent of their terrific audio commentaries on the Bride and Seed DVDs. And it was very nice to see Don have his moment with this movie with an audience that really got it and enjoyed it. I’d never seen it on the big screen before myself, and as I said to Don during the Q&A, coupled with the fact that I’ve liked the movie more and more each time I see it, seeing it on the big screen played up for me how sophisticated it actually is as a piece of filmmaking, especially compared to many of its Jason/Michael/Freddy-populated contemporaries. I came away from the Egyptian convinced that Seed of Chucky is just too smart to not someday get its due. (Click on the display case photo for a much bigger, better look at the Egyptian's bloody good one-sheet display.) I think the movie is ripe for rediscovery— or in this case, just plain old discovery, considering the frosty shoulder given to it by critics and audiences, who have up till now received the bad reviews and accepted wisdom about the prospect of a fifth Chucky movie being a piece of shit as gospel. Well, over the course of the many times I’ve seen it since my own semi-thumbs-up review a couple of years ago, I have come to see the light-- Seed of Chucky is, no qualifications, a terrific horror comedy, and it bodes well for things to come from its creator. Speaking of whom, here it is, ladies and gentlemen, only about four days late—part two of my lunchtime chat with writer-director Don Mancini, the father of Chucky the killer doll. We start with some thoughts on criticism, move on to a discussion of horror movies in 2007, head on toward a look at some of Don’s favorite movies of 2007 so far, and then talk about a couple of fascinating projects coming up from the Eyegore award winner. (If that reference escapes you, go directly back to part one and read it before diving into the deep end below.) Enjoy!

Jennifer Tilly signs Seed of Chucky memorabilia (while the popcorn guy pretends not to notice) at the Egyptian Theater Tuesday night.

(All photos of the Egyptian screening, with the exception of the shot of the one-sheet display case, come courtesy of Ken Braasch. Thanks, Ken!)


DC: One of the things that I’ve always been impressed with in talking to you is the way you deal with criticism. It’s hard to imagine being as open-minded to the negative things that people say about your own work as you seem to be. In that light, do you think you’re your own worst critic?

DM: That’s a nice, flattering way of putting it. Yes, I like the sound of that. (Laughing) Part of it is, as you know—this is one of the ways we became friends. I am really, really interested in film criticism. I read a lot of film criticism, I think probably more than most filmmakers. And it’s not just of my own stuff. I’m just very, very interested—always have been, since I was a kid. So I think there’s a part of me that is still this green, wide-eyed kid from Virginia who—“Oh, my God! I was panned by Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times! Cool! I’m part of the club!” There’s a part of me that responds to it that way. It’s kind of like Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk-- “The new phones books are here! Look! I’m in the phone book!” But it’s also that I’m arrogant enough to think that sometimes people are just wrong! (Laughing).

DC: Why not? There’s room for that.

DM: “They don’t like my movie? Oh, they’re just stupid!” (Continues Laughing). Even your initial review of Seed of Chucky was not, by any means, a rave. But it was sort of— How do I describe that review? I thought it was intelligent, for one thing. It’s very easy to condescend to this kind of movie. I mean, it’s not much of a surprise if the fifth in the Chucky series gets bad reviews. Bride of Chucky got a lot of bad reviews too—better than Seed, however. Your review was sort of lukewarm, but you appreciated things about it and you found it funny, and I really do think—I look at that movie, and it makes laugh. It still makes me laugh. It’s got its problems, but it’s funny.

DC: That’s one of the things that has made my estimation of it rise in the last year or so. Every time I do look at it, it gets funnier and funnier. And the thing about my first review is, I took that as evidence that the movie wasn’t working— “No, no, it’s too funny. It’s not scary enough.” Well, it certainly seems clear enough, and it should have then, that that was the intention. It’s not like an Ed Wood movie, where the laughs are rooted in the movie’s sincere incompetence. I think a lot of people come to this movie looking for reasons not to like it—“I gotta be smarter than a movie about a killer doll, right?”

DM: I definitely wanted it to be funny. I think I wanted it to be—I hesitate to say the word “scary,” because the context of that movie is very deliberately silly and stylized and cartoony. The leads are a trio of dolls, a doll family. And then your human lead is Jennifer Tilly playing “herself,” and she’s very stylized by nature. Placed in that context, how scary can it really be? I did try, the various set pieces, to do what you do in these movies where you set up expectation and then try to subvert it. I certainly could have been more successful in that regard. But then again, I was a first-time director making a movie in Romania, for God’s sake. And making a movie with puppets. Puppets are really difficult. It’s very slow, tedious work.

DC: That’s made clear enough from the bonus material on the DVD. How difficult was it to maintain focused on the big picture in this situation?

Mancini (right) on the set of Seed of Chucky with special effects supervisor Tony Gardner

DM: It was tough. It’s very complicated trying to coordinate performances from the puppets. And the last thing you want to have to worry about is whether, on take 15 of a two-shot of Tiffany and Chucky, when you’ve finally got the performances right, you’re going to lose the shot because you lost camera focus. Because you’re dealing with puppets, you can’t move the camera as much as you might want, and that’s definitely one of the things that I found frustrating. As far as my own aesthetic taste as a filmmaker and a filmgoer, and certainly in the realm of suspense, I like camera movement. The reality of working with puppets really limits that, and I think that’s something that hurts the movie as well. But I do think it’s funny—it amuses me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who goes on IMDb to see what people say, and there was one reviewer that hated the movie and said, “This seems to be a joke that only Don Mancini and Jennifer Tilly are getting.” And I was, like, well, yeah, I can live with that, because it was a movie that was kind of conceived in that way. I first proposed what I wanted to do with it to Jennifer and we immediately started giggling and said, “Can we possibly get a studio to give us $10 million to do this? Tee-hee!” And we did!

DC: In the years since the movie came out, I’ve talked to several film critics and serious moviegoers who really seem to have an affinity for it and I always wonder, where were these voices when the movie was released? The received wisdom about a movie like this gets set in stone pretty quickly, so it’s fun to discover, years later, how many people actually like it.

DM: It’s great to come across that— it’s how I met you, of course. It’s great to read someone who’s obviously intelligent, who writes intelligently about film, even if they didn’t entirely love the movie, who will talk about it in that same way. And I do console myself that there are a number of critics that I really admire that did say some good things about the movie. So maybe my career isn’t over!

DC: What kind of stuff did you watch when you were a kid? Were you mainly into horror movies, or were you soaking up everything you could get your hands on?

DM: I did love horror movies from a very early age. As a little, little kid I loved Dark Shadows on television. To give you an idea of how little, I learned the word “shadow” from watching that show, so I must have been only three or four. I was just naturally drawn to the genre. The first R-rated movie I ever saw—my dad brought me, when I was 13, I guess, to see The Omen, which I loved. And having been raised Catholic, it kind of resonated. And as a fellow De Palma fan, you know—I was very into the early films of Brian De Palma-- Carrie, Obsession, the Fury, Dressed to Kill.

DC: One of my favorite moviegoing experiences was seeing Carrie and Dressed to Kill with you last year.

DM: That was so much fun! Did you know there’s going to be a screening of Carrie in New York next week that both De Palma and Amy Irving are going to attend?

DC: Oh, God…

DM: I know. Wouldn’t that be great?

DC: Yeah, that kinda would be great. There was just something about seeing those movies on the big screen. It had been at least 15-20 years since I’d seen Dressed to Kill like that. And having gotten used to seeing it on DVD—

DM: It does make a huge difference to have that mass experience, especially in that genre. I think if I had to name one movie—It’s always hard to choose one, but if I had to name my favorite horror movie, it would be Carrie.

DC: And what’s interesting, in the way the movie is structured, it doesn’t even function as a horror movie in the traditional sense. The first two-thirds of the movie are about horrible things the character endures, and certain imagery De Palma uses isn’t intrinsically horrific, but he definitely locates the horror in it. It’s a great sustained, agonizing exercise in audience empathy.

DM: In a lot of ways, it’s a tragedy. It is horrifying.

DC: We used to watch a local weekend horror movie show out of Portland, Oregon, called Sinister Cinema, which is where, in addition to Famous Monsters of Filmland, I ended up getting exposed to a lot of classic horror films. Did you have anything similar growing up in Virginia?

DM: We had something called Shock Theater. I certainly caught up with a lot of old horror movies on that show. But I was also really into disaster movies, as you know. (Laughs). In fact, on the way over here I was listening to my Poseidon soundtrack, and it’s not even a good score!

DC: You’re talking about the Wolfgang Petersen remake? I don’t even know who wrote that score.

DM: Klaus Badelt!

DC: Of course.

DM: I was driving somewhere with a friend recently and I brought my Hairspray CD and put it in her player, and it just wouldn’t spit it back out. So Poseidon was only a substitute. I have been primarily driving around listening to Hairspray for the last two months, as you know.

DC: What’s at the top of your list for the year?

DM: Definitely Hairspray. That’s my favorite of the year so far. Loved 3:20 to Yuma.

DC: I did not expect to like that movie as much as I did.

DM: Me either.

DC: Here we go with another remake, right? It’s almost exactly the same set-up and structure, but it manages to have a completely different feel to it. I think the director and writers did a very smart job of rethinking it as an action movie without violating the spirit of what made the story good in the first place—it’s an interior character piece unfolding in the great genre of the exterior.

DM: It’s a great script, really good cast, really well directed. One of the really smart things about that movie was the way that assault on the stagecoach was staged with such a modern sensibility. Everything about the look of it was very true to the classic elements of the western, but the way it was shot, especially with the stunt of the stagecoach overturning was very much—What they must have said was, “We’re gonna do this like a modern-day car chase.” And it was exciting like that, as were many of the action sequences. They very obviously decided, “We’re making a traditional western, we know what that means, but we want to bring something modern to it because audiences are going to demand it.” I had not seen the original, and I really want to now, but it’s such a great, simple, mythic story which is really about the battle over the kid’s soul between these two men, and that’s so satisfying. I’ve seen it three times now, and the ending moves me to tears every time. I certainly didn’t expect that. I also loved Grindhouse.

DC: Have you seen the extended version of Death Proof yet?

DM: Not yet. Is it good?

DC: I loved it. One of the things I loved about the theatrical version was the extent to which you end up enjoying hanging around listening to, and enjoying listening to, these basically narcissistic women chattering through this kind of autopilot night of bar-hopping, and what you think of the movie largely depends on whether Tarantino can translate his enthusiasm about that experience.

DM: It’s curious how, even people who loved Grindhouse as a whole, seem like they can’t help but prefer one of the features over the other. I guess I’m more in the minority camp, but I was more into Planet Terror. I mean, I liked Death Proof as well, but I did find those characters overly chatty—I found the movie to be a little overwritten, and I wasn’t as interested in those characters, initially, as I was meant to be. But once Kurt Russell’s character is revealed— all the stuff when he’s talking with Rose McGowan in the bar, I loved all of that.

DC: I loved his introduction, wolfing down the nachos.

DM: He’s brilliant in that role. Not that I actually think they would have done this, but I’m sorry the movie didn’t do better because I would have totally welcomed another movie about that guy. I guess I wanted Death Proof to be more about Stuntman Mike—he’s a slasher, and this is his m.o. The whole second half of the movie is fantastic, and I love Zoe Bell—she was wonderful! And Rosario Dawson is incredible.

DC: Seeing the extended version was my fourth go-around with Death Proof, and a big part of what I found myself looking forward to were her little moments of disbelief and annoyance as the two stuntwomen reveal to her what it is that they want to do. She has a moment when they’re trying to snow her into staying behind because, well, you know, she’s a mother, and she interrupts them with this really funny, impatient “Ah-ah-ah-aaaah!” It sounds insignificant, but the movie is full of bits like that that really add up to something special.

DM: She’s stunning beautiful, very charming, very funny. There’s an actress just waiting for the right role to turn her into an enormous star. She has everything. I loved her in Clerks 2.

DC: I liked her more than I liked the movie.

DM: I liked it much more than you did. I believed that she loved (Brian O’Halloran, who played Dante). But I loved Planet Terror, even people who were fans of the movie looked askance at that one—they thought that was the lesser one. And actually, I think Robert Rodriguez sometimes doesn’t get as much credit as her deserves. I think, within the parameters of what they were doing there, Planet Terror-- If I were teaching a screenwriting class, I could use that screenplay as a model of construction. It’s very efficient. And part of it is because it’s so simplistic. But for what it is setting out to do, I thought it was 100% successful. I loved Rose McGowan’s character and her relationship with Freddy Rodriguez—and there was a relationship there. Some you link to on your sidebar—I can’t remember who at the moment—wrote an essay about Grindhouse, and he said something really evocative about the moment in Planet Terror when they’re having their love scene, and that’s when the print disintegrates, and he said that he had tears in his eyes. And I had a similar response—it was just such a great conflagration of the narrative and the way it was shot, and then that great visual meta-metaphor. That would be the movie where the celluloid melts! And I really loved Rodriguez’s score—it was a really great parody of those ‘80s John Carpenter scores.

DC: It is a terrific movie, and Rodriguez definitely had his shit together as a director better in Planet Terror than perhaps he ever has. I’ve not been a fan of most of his stuff.

DM: Did you not like Sin City?

DC: I thought it was effective in the moment, but when I walked out of it, the movie evaporated. It was very interesting as a visual exercise. But I’m thinking more of the Spy Kids sequels—

DM: I liked the first one.

DC: Yes, that was wonderful. For a long time I thought it was his best movie. The Mariachi series, on the other hand-- Once Upon a Time in Mexico is disgracefully bad.

DM: That’s the one with Johnny Depp?

DC: Yeah.

(Both laugh).

DC: I’m someone who loved the entirety of Grindhouse. But of the group I saw it with, there was a definite preference for Planet Terror, which was the opposite of your experience.

DM: It’s a shame they’re apparently only releasing the movies separately on DVD. I mean, if there was a DVD of the complete theatrical version, I could imagine only watching one or the other. But what was so great about that movie was that it was singular experience, and it’s a shame that it didn’t do better. You can’t say you didn’t get your money’s worth at that movie. And those trailers were stunningly good.

DC: Being a big fan of the old Amicus horror movies, Edgar Wright’s was a real treat.

DM: Don’t!-- brilliant. Thanksgiving-- brilliant.

DC: There’s a frame or two near the end of Thanksgiving-- I think I see something really disturbing in there and I’m not sure I want to know—

DM: You mean with the cheerleader?

DC: No, no, no. At the very end of it— There’s something going on--

DM: Oh, when you see the guy fucking the turkey!

DC: Exactly! Oh, God, do I really wanna know? And the “print” is kinda jerky and mangled, so there’s this unnerving jump-cut quality to it…

DM: I think everyone really wants Eli Roth to make that movie.

DC: I’d pay to see it.

DM: Me too. Oh, and Bug! That was my horror movie of the year. The audience, such as it was— There were probably five other people for a weekend matinee—hated it, hissed at the end. It so wasn’t what they expected. That movie was so disturbing, but at the same time I found it very inspiring, because it’s so simple. It’s basically two characters, two actors quietly going insane together. There’s not a bug in the entire movie, which is, I’m sure, what pissed off the audience. But I thought it was such a smart movie about paranoia. And Ashley Judd was fucking awesome. I mean, I’ve never disliked her. I’ve just never really had an opinion about her one way or the other.

DC: Which can probably be laid at the feet of the kinds of movies she’s largely known for—those none-too-distinct woman-in-jeopardy thrillers.

DM: But she was great in Heat. She has one incredible scene with no dialogue. She’s standing on the balcony of her apartment and Val Kilmer, who is either her boyfriend or her husband, is coming to see her, but the cops are moving in. They each know he has to go away, and they’ll never see each other again. It was devastating. And she was brilliant in Bug.

DC: What do you think about horror movies right now? Do you think they’re in a creative lull after the market became saturated with extreme films like those in the Saw and Hostel series?

DM: I don’t know that I’d call it a creative lull, but I do think that as always happens, because it is a cyclical process—I sense a change. I think what we’ve seen in the last few years, where the torture movies and the Asian remakes were sort of “it,” is that those strains are starting to dissipate.

DC: The last one I can recall was barely even released.

DM: What one was that?

DC: The Messengers, directed by Corey Yuen. See? (As correctly informed by a reader, The Messengers was actually directed by the Pang Brothers, directors of The Eye. Thanks, Anonymous.-- DC)

DM: (Laughs). God, even the names are all starting to sound alike. What was the one with Sarah Michelle Gellar? I even saw it, and I can’t—

DC: The Grudge?

DM: No, not The Grudge-- The Return. How could I have possibly forgotten that? (Laughs). But that wasn’t even an Asian remake.

DC: No, it was just marketed like one.

DM: It’ll be interesting to see how well Saw IV does. I bet it’ll do well, but perhaps not as well as the last two, which I believe were in the $80 million range. Hostel Part II’s relative failure at the domestic box office, in my opinion, was really all about the release date. It came out in June against these big summer juggernauts. Again, we saw that one together, and I liked it.

DC: I did too.

DM: I liked it better than the first one. But I think if it had come out around this time of year, it would’ve done better. Is it possible that people are tiring—But as I say that, Rob Zombie’s Halloween made quite a bit of money. I mean, part of that is the brand name. Rob Zombie himself is a brand. I do think that the genre is waiting for the next new thing that everyone will then chase and copy. Certainly the Hostel movies, and even the Saw movies, though perhaps less explicitly, are very much post 9/11 in their intent and effect. Hostel was about xenophobia and Americans’ fear of the “Other.” But what’s going on in the Saw movies is, there’s this guy who’s largely invisible, who visits spectacular violence on people from out of nowhere to teach them a kind of moral lesson. That, to me, sounds like bin Laden. And I wonder if, on a certain level, that’s part of what those movies are speaking to, why people in part respond so strongly to them. I think the Final Destination movies work in that way too, although the first one predates 9/11, I believe. They’re these movies about horror coming at you from out of nowhere, it’s gonna get you spectacularly. That’s just in the national psyche now—it’s something we’re so terrified of.

DC: And there’s a level on which the Saw movies operate in which they ask you not to accept Jigsaw’s moral reasoning—you don’t appreciate your life, and here’s what you have to do to restore that appreciation—but they are asking you to understand it.

DM: The reason why Jigsaw is such a legitimately great horror villain—And this is a nod to John Doe in Seven-- is that beyond the violence, he’s a genuinely disturbing philosophical provocateur.

DC: As a filmmaker, have you considered a remake?

DM: We’re talking about it.

DC: Really?

DM: We haven’t made any decisions, but I’ve had a couple of meetings with the producers, David Kirschner and Corey Sienega. We want to do another Chucky movie, and I think we all feel—and certainly the audience feels—we’ve gone as far as we can in that comedic, satiric mode. Although, personally, I could do it again. I used to joke with John Waters—“Wouldn’t this be a great musical?” And I honestly do think it could be totally hilarious. I don’t think anyone else particularly wants to see that—maybe you and me and John Waters! (Laughing).

DC: I’d be there!

DM: But I think the most subversive thing we could do with the Chucky franchise now is to make it legitimately scary again. We started out that way—it was creepy—and turned it into a joke, deliberately, and a really good joke. But now what’s interesting to me and David and Corey is the challenge of making it scary again, whether that means a direct remake of the first movie, or whether there will be another sequel. But I think that will happen in the not-too-distant future. (In fact, just days after this interview took place, news of a Child’s Play remake to be directed by Don became public knowledge.—DC.) We’re talking about what that character could mean to audiences in 2007, or 2009, whenever it gets released, how it might speak to the zeitgeist. Whether or not this ends up in the movie or not, it’s interesting how toys are being recalled lately because of toxic materials used to make them or whatever other reason, and this is a result of American corporations outsourcing jobs to cheap foreign labor, and it comes back and bites you on the ass. I think that’s an interesting possible subtext.

DC: And with that subtext, you have a direct link to the first movie that goes deeper than just recreating the basic idea and plot structure.

DM: My script for the first movie was very much about exploring how advertising and marketing affects children. A little bit of that made it into Child’s Play, but not all of it.

DC: Let’s talk about your TV show, which just got picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel through NBC-Universal TV.

DM: Yes. It’s called Kill/Switch. Howie Mandel is attached to produce and co-star. In a nutshell, it’s Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap. It’s all about a young woman, akin to Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, but also like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, that archetype of the spoiled but decent young woman. In our case, she commits a crime of passion—she kills the guy who killed her fiancé, ‘cause he got off on a technicality. In the process, she herself was gunned down and killed by the cops. So now she’s consigned to this bizarre earthbound purgatory wherein every week she becomes a different person, inhabiting his or her body in life. All she knows about this person is that in the next 48 hours someone’s gonna try to kill them. So her task is to figure out who the potential killer is and stop the murder before it takes place. So instead of a whodunit, it’s a who’s-gonna-do-it.

DC: Is she always successful?

DM: She is not always successful, which gives the show a real sense of unpredictability. Sometimes she’ll succeed a take a step closer to redemption, and sometimes she doesn’t, and she has to suffer that death firsthand. That’s the price she has to pay for taking a life herself.

DC: I like that because it gives the concept a bit of gravity, whereas something like Quantum Leap you always knew that Sam would escape at the last second, everything was going to be okay and he’d just be transferred to another situation.

DM: Part of the challenge was to find the right tone of the piece. My original version, when I initially sold it to ABC, it was not her fiancé who got killed, but her daughter. But the death of a child is so heavy, it’s just impossible—You can’t have fun with the situation of this woman—In the pilot, she finds herself in this bubble bath in this unfamiliar bathroom in a McMansion in Tarzana. She’s looking around and she goes, “Is that chintz? Oh, my God. Am I in hell now?” That kind of thing where she looks in the mirror and we do that conceit a la Heaven Can Wait, All Of Me and Quantum Leap where we look in the mirror and she sees the person she is, and of course our actress, whoever it will be, she looks in the mirror and sees this cheap-looking redhead with fake boobs and says, “God, just kill me now.” We have a lot of fun with it. But when it was the daughter who died, it just didn’t work because the tone was so tragic. So we changed it to her fiancé who gets killed.

DC: I like that it doesn’t invite you to speculate as to why this person is being followed around by all these murders. Angela Lansbury shows up at a book convention or someplace, and you automatically know somebody is going to get killed.

DM: Yeah, you’re surprised after a while that this woman has any friends at all.

DC: Or why she hasn’t been hauled in as a suspect herself.

DM: They must have done that at some point, right? There must have been some episode—They had to have done an episode where she became a suspect.
DC: The show was on over 10 years, for God’s sake.

DM: What I always loved about that TV genre was, a different murder every week, a different case every week, and you had your small core cast, but an ever-revolving roster of “special guests suspects” that are always these kind of B-list—Actually, it’s probably not fair to call them “B-list,” ‘cause sometimes they were Hollywood royalty, like the way that disaster movies were cast—people who were incredible but maybe now past their prime.

DC (Imitating Quinn Martin Announcer): “Special Guest star Barry Sullivan!”

DM: Yes! Columbo-- there were some amazing people on that show. That show has had some many incarnations, but in the ‘80s version Faye Dunaway was on. Jack Cassidy was on, like, four or five times as different characters every time.

DC: Robert Culp.

DM: Johnny Cash.

DC: Johnny Cash?!

DM: Johnny Cash was on one episode. John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands together in one episode, which was really cool. So that aspect of Kill/Switch I love, and I’ve already hit up the few celebrity friends that I do have—“If this thing does go, John Waters, Jennifer Tilly, you’re doing an episode!” (Laughing)

DC: Is it weird for you when you’re going to a movie at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and Chucky walks up to you?

DM: I must admit, I love it! (Laughing). Of course it totally tickles me that this character has become such an icon. It’s great. And I’m perfectly happy with his apparent status, at least currently, as the jokester amongst movie slashers. But if I run into Chucky on Hollywood Boulevard, I do have to hold my tongue and keep from insisting to him, “I invented you!” That would just be too lame!

Monday, November 05, 2007


I got a lot of e-mails and phone calls from friends over the last two weeks asking about the fires in Southern California and whether my family and I were being affected at all. Well, other than being treated to a steady diet of what my friend Kim Morgan calls mesquite-flavored air, we were lucky enough to be far removed from all of the threatened areas. And so it went, thank God, for my relatives in the San Diego area as well. The weekend before the fires erupted, I attended a family wedding in Rancho Bernardo, just north of San Diego. My uncle, the groom, his new bride, and one of my uncle’s daughters (who lost her home in the fires of 2003) all live close by. This time all of them escaped the recent conflagrations with their property and lives unscathed, though I still have no idea whether the hotel where the wedding took place is still standing. And now, as temperatures are expected to heat up again this week, accompanied by another blast of those dry Santa Ana winds, we here in Southern California go about our business praying that some would-be arsonist doesn’t decide it’s time for his 15 minutes, that the winds won’t carry a stray cigarette ember into a brittle, parched patch of grass, that it won’t be our neighborhoods, hillsides and roofs that are lit up next.

Those of you who have read this blog from its humble beginnings may recognize the nom de plume the Mysterious Adrian Betamax. The genially cranky M.A.B. could always be counted on for a sassy comment or two and really helped get SLIFR on its feet in terms of reader participation in the early days. After a long break from putting in his two cents, the M.A.B. recently dropped a couple of comments on some recent posts (the Bunuel Blog-a-thon notice was one, I believe). It was good to hear from him again. And it turns out the M.A.B., who has always had sharp, sometimes oddball, sometimes just plain annoying and contrarian critical facilities at his disposal, has talent as a filmmaker too. During the recent disasters, the M.A.B. ventured out into the burning landscape and turned his camera eye on some horrifying, and horrifyingly beautiful images, for a filmmaking class project. The result, Elements, is a short film edited to Stravinsky’s Concertino for 12 Instruments, a collision of natural beauty, signposts of civilization, and the tragedy of a ravished landscape. M.A.B. (whose real name is revealed in the end credits) displays a keen eye for textured, immediate and jarringly juxtaposed imagery in this, only his second effort as a budding filmmaker. I’m sure he would appreciate any honest reactions, either positive or negative, that you care to submit in the comments thread below. I look forward to seeing him develop his obvious talent with the camera in future projects and continue to hope that he has a far less grave subject to document next time out.

Friday, November 02, 2007


UPDATE MONDAY 11/05/07: I have no excuse other than the usual. But I will say that I will not sleep until the second part of this interview is posted tonight! Thank you for you patience!

11/02/07: Well, here I am, riding on the back of the great lumbering wooly mammoth of laptops, having finally ground through the gears of a nearly 20-minute boot-up process, from turning the computer on to being able to type these words. The computer is running this night like Erland van Lidth de Jeude in the final stretch of the New York Marathon, burping and hitching and hanging up with practically every other keystroke.

All of which is my technologically impaired way of saying that the second part of my interview with writer-director Don Mancini will be delayed until sometime on Sunday. I apologize for promoting it as a Friday night done-deal and then being forced to scale back, but the way this computer is acting tonight, it'd be Saturday dawn before I ever got a workable version ready for you to read. Better to wait till Sunday, when my computer, not to mention my mind, will be hopefully working at full speed. All I can say is, it'll be worth the wait!


While I’m reading textbooks and writing papers over the weekend, perhaps you’ll get a chance to take a look at yet another burgeoning and exciting form of Internet film criticism unfolding over at Jim Emerson’s pad. If there was any doubt left, it turns out there’s a good reason why his blog is named Scanners-- Jim has just posted his latest critically-themed short film entitled Written in the Flesh: A Crash Course in David Cronenberg, a 12-minute journey through the major themes of the director who, as Jim points out, “has more daringly and relentlessly explored what it means to be human” than any other. Here’s Jim on Cronenberg and his own film essay:

“Clips from nine chapters in the ever-mutating cinematic saga of David Cronenberg (The Brood to A History of Violence) are interwoven to illuminate some of the director's major themes: technology (and art) as an extension/expression of the mind and body (guns, game pods, television, cars, computers, typewriters, eyeglasses...); the human appetite for extreme sensations; violence as sex, and sex as violence; the evolution of humankind beyond biology, and the inevitable dissolution of the flesh through mutation, disease, aging; corporate co-option of the intellectual property behind new technologies... all in only 12 minutes!”

As Barry Convex might say, Hold still, readers— Jim has something he wants to play for you…


And stay tuned! Those who are feverishly awaiting part 2 of my conversation with Don Mancini won’t have much longer to wait. I should have something posted around Midnight tonight!



Some of us have some pretty specific ideas as to where bad directors when they shuffle off this mortal coil. But did you ever wonder what happens to great directors go when they die? Me too. And now Peet Gelderblom has boldly gone where no critic has gone before-- the Great Beyond-- to report on the latest misadventures of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Sergei Eisenstein, and the two latest recruits on the scene, Ingmar Bergman and Micheloangelo Antonioni, who are sure to cause some knee-slapping existential dust-ups as they try to film a remake of heaven in their own image. In case you don't know to what I'm referring, you must checkout Peet's wonderful new comic series, Directorama, published every Monday at The House Next Door. Described by some as Doonesbury crossed with "Fractured Fairy Tales," and a more-than-liberal splash of Cahiers du Cinema, Peet's comic, adorned by his cheeky, angular artwork and sharp, impudent writing, is a weekly dose of giddy genius. (Someone at the House even aptly detected the influence of Sergio Aragones.) Peet's been cartooning for quite a while on the subject (as seen in this great Kubrick/Hitchcock panel) and is now channeling his hilarious observations into this continuing cinematic saga, what amounts to a new and surprising form of film criticism disguised in a Sunday Funnies format. Directorama is only three episodes in, and it's already become an addictive weekly stop. Check it out and see if you don't agree.


Thursday, November 01, 2007