Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Open Road; The Open Mouth

On Saturday night, I enjoyed a double feature of two Alex Cox movies: REPO MAN, from 1984, and SEARCHERS 2.0, from 2007. In between, three actors who are in both features (Del Zamora, Ed Pansullo, and Sy Richardson) along with fellow RM actors Dick Rude and Olivia Barash did a Q & A with the audience; and the three SEARCHERS actors stuck around through the second feature and chatted with the audience in the lobby.

SEARCHERS 2.0 is, in some ways, the stereotypical indie movie. It's shot on a tiny budget, on HD video, and is mostly talk. And talk. And a bit more talk. Fortunately for both the movie and the audience's sanity, the talk is fun and entertaining, and the characters just the right mix of sympathetic and obnoxious that we don't mind spending 93 minutes in their company.

The basic story would fit on the back of a cereal box. Two former kid actors from Western movies learn that a screenwriter who once abused them on a movie set will be appearing at a film screening in Monument Valley. They immediately embark on an Ill-thought-out mission to drive from L.A. to the valley and take revenge on the writer. Because they must take the SUV of the daughter of one of the actors, the daughter comes along on the trip. The actors engage in endless discussions about American films, primarily westerns about revenge. The daughter -- who rereads "The Fountainhead" obsessively -- alternately complains about the conversation, or critiques the underpinnings of American films. It's all fairly straightforward, but takes a Cox-like surreal turn when they get to Monument Valley. It's not entirely satisfying, and certainly not a work that captures the zeitgeist like "Repo Man" did 26 years ago. But it's certainly worth a viewing when it comes out on video next month -- particularly if you're a movie fan who can stand to see your favorite movies take a little needleing.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's a Melody Played in a Penny Arcade.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that Los Angeles has a public radio jazz station, KKJZ, allowing me to listen to jazz all day at work. But I do think the station's programmers have to acknowledge that there has been new jazz music composed in the last 30 years. K-jazz's programming consists of old performances of old music, and recent arrangements of old music. I like the jazz music of the past. But the genre is still alive. I wish the station would treat it as such.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

To Catch a Thief, Go North by Northwest

On Friday night, I played hookey from Yom Kippur evening services and Amy and I headed to the Aero Theater, where American Cinematheque is in the middle of a Hitchcock tribute. Friday's double feature comprised two of the movies Cary Grant made with Hitchcock: NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I have it on laserdisc, and I've seen it several times. I'd seen TO CATCH A THIEF once, on a pan-and-scan VHS cassette with bad Copyguard problems (the top of the frame skewed to the left). I didn't recall much from it, except that when I rented it I mistook it for the similarly-titled 1960's TV series, IT TAKES A THIEF.

Seeing NORTH BY NORTHWEST on the big screen was a delight (even though we had bad seats -- to the left of the screen, and close up) and brought out how painterly the late '50's Technicolor could make a movie. TO CATCH A THIEF also looked great on a big screen, especially since so many of the movie's charms are visual. THIEF doesn't have the action or suspense that NORTHWEST packs; but it has beautiful scenery (the French Riveria, with lots of helicopter shots of the hills and water), beautiful costumes (from Edith Head -- when the plot calls for an 18th-century-themed masquerade, the camera lingers on the details of each period costume), and beautiful people (Grant and Grace Kelly, who met her future husband during the movie shoot).

While Grant does get to look Ninja-cool in THIEF, decked out in black and lurking on rooftops, nothing compares with NORTHWEST, the movie that influenced all the spy flicks and TV series in the '60's. NORTHWEST even boasts actors who would later be in three of the top spy series of the swinging sixties: MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE (Martin Landau), GET SMART (Edward Platt), and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Leo G. Carroll).

As an added treat, Eva Marie Saint strolled onto the stage at the front of the Aero Theater between movies, to answer questions about her role in NORTHWEST and other movies. Ms. Saint was all old-school-movie-star charm and dry wit. And her looks prove that fine cheekbones survive the decades. ("No Botox!" she exclaimed.) She discussed tidbits about the production, such as how Hitchcock avoided contemporary fashions in his movies because he thought nothing "dated" a movie worse than clothing. Another is that the Wright-type house on top of Mt. Rushmore in the movie didn't exist in real life. It was just a painting on a scrim on the soundstage. The Mt. Rushmore face on which the actors crawled in the climax was also a soundstage mockup -- although high enough up that there were padded mats on the floor to catch the actors if they fell.

The demand for this showing was so high that the theater was filled and many people were turned away. (And the Aero is a fairly large theater.) Just goes to show that well-made movies on the big screen can still pack 'em in.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wi-fi Watering Holes: The Talking Stick

A bohemian vibe permeates this coffeehouse, built in what appears to be a former diner space in a Lincoln Boulevard stripmall. You've got your standard mismatched chairs, tables, and couches. You've got a fairly large stage in the corner, with a nice sound system. You've got art on the walls. In addition, there's a used book shop/exchange in a side room (with stuffed chairs for comfortable reading) and an upstairs meeting room. Oh, and the coffee and the wraps are pretty good. Recommended.

Travels with iPad

I've just returned from a three-day business trip. And while it's certainly no substitute for Amy, I found my iPad a most accommodating travel companion. When I wanted to read, it gave me novels and comic books. When I wanted to watch TV, it gave me streaming anime fresh from Japan. It provided me with music on command. And when I needed to work, it swallowed two-foot piles of trial transcripts (without showing the slightest bulge) and provided them to me in full-sized pages that looked clearer than the paper originals.

I did supplement the iPad with my netbook, because the Pad doesn't do WordPerfect and isn't great for typing. But the Pad provides.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Pierce the Heavens

I've been watching Japanese animation for a few decades now, and occasionally I'll get so weary of the more mediocre and repetitive products of the anime industry that I'll be tempted to think the industry's best days have ended. Then I see a series like 2007's GURREN LAGANN, which takes a concept as shopworn as giant combining robots and turns it into a brilliant work of storytelling, filled with emotion and wonder (not to mention quite a bit of silliness).

GURREN LAGANN doesn't look quite like any TV anime before or since. It starts out featherweight and then keeps spiraling (pun intended) into something that touches on the profound -- without ever growing ponderous.

And fortunately, the series is available online at

Not Quite Despicable

DESPICABLE ME is a minor computer-animated work -- certainly not on the level of the Pixar or Shrek films -- and features some lamentable lapses in logic. But for what it is, it's well executed, and certainly a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes.