Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Lovell’

Robert Redford: Cast Away

01/24/2014

by Glenn Lovell

As usual we had a few quibbles with the Academy Award nominations, like where were “Fruitvale Station,” “Don Jon” and Adèle Exarchopoulos in “Blue Is the Warmest Color”? Our biggest gripe, however, was the exclusion of Robert Redford in the best actor category for his work in the powerful survival drama “All Is Lost.” After experiencing Redford’s career-capping tour de force as a lone sailor adrift in the Indian Ocean, I would have bet the farm (or yacht) that he had a lock on a nomination, if not the trophy itself.

Lost

Redford: Abandoned

Not only was it the best performance in Redford’s long, storied career, it provided a master’s class in lean, economical under-acting. Redford’s stolid mariner blazed like a beacon in the night beside the more conventional scenery chewing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.

But in the end this didn’t mean diddly to Academy voters who snubbed both the film and its 77-year-old star. Why? A few possible answers:

√ What’s in a Name? Everything! There are memorable titles, like “Scream” and “Psycho” and soft, impossible to recall titles, like “You Again” and “To the Wonder.” Redford’s latest was saddled with a title so pedestrian it went in one ear and out the other, precluding word-of-mouth.

√ The Fogey Factor. Hollywood has always had a soft spot for veteran actors who hang in there and eventually sneak off with the hardware. Christopher Plummer won at age 82, Henry Fonda at 76. But the Academy’s sentimental streak goes only so far. It was easy to overlook the erstwhile golden boy because the voters had already embraced “Nebraska” costars Bruce Dern, 77 and June Squibb, 84.

√ Yesterday’s Snooze. “All Is Lost” played all the major film festivals, including Cannes in May, before receiving limited release in October. By the time “Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” arrived, “Lost” was all but forgotten. It didn’t help that the film had no advertising budget to speak of.

√ Simple Spells Simple-Minded. The barebones man-against-the-sea plot was exhilarating to some but too basic for most. Just a cursory description of the film turned off Academy members, who stuck their complimentary “for your consideration” screener at the bottom of the pile.

√ Silence Is Golden ‒ in small doses. Just two years ago Hollywood awarded Jean Dujardin the best actor statuette for his silent performance in “The Artist.” Like Redford, he had only one line of dialogue. Enough already with the pantomimed emoting, grumbled voters. Even lost in space, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney gabbed away.

√ The Outsider Factor. As founder of Sundance Film Festival, which curries and honors independent cinema, Redford can be seen as the ultimate maverick. It stands to reason he has stubbed a front-office toe or two when weighing in on where the year’s hot new indies should land.

Bruce Dern: Breaking from the Pack

11/19/2013

by Glenn Lovell

The best actors, metaphorically speaking, are long-distance runners. They possess stamina, staying power. They start out in juicy character parts, surge to the front in starring roles in their 30s, then finish out the race in critically acclaimed supporting turns. Melvyn Douglas was such an actor; Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson also fit that description.

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Dern

Bruce Dern, however, may have run the smartest race of all. The 77-year-old actor, who in recent years seemed to be fading in the homestretch, is now having the last laugh. He expanded his chest, made a lunge for the tape, and came in first at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Best Actor prize for his performance in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.”

Not surprisingly, Dern, a decent half-miler in college, has always been a runner. It’s an addiction, he says. Even today he can be seen chugging along Malibu trails. Locals call him “Crazy Bruce.” He twitted, “I’ve been running thousands of miles and am so bored with people who shout, ‘Watch your heart,’ and then drive on.”

The half-mile is the perfect metaphor for Dern’s long career. The runners clump together during the first lap, and then, if one runner has the heart, he pulls away from the pack.

Consider Dern’s body of work. He made his screen debut in 1960 as a smarmy thug in Elia Kazan’s “Wild River” and died famously in Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and Robert Aldrich’s “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” After six years of AIP quickies (“Wild Angeles,” “Psych-Out,” “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant”), he, at long last, was given more sympathetic roles: a marathon dancer in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” a basketball coach in “Drive, He Said,” and Tom Buchanan, the rich playboy in the 1974 “Great Gatsby.”

In 1972, he returned to villainy, memorably. He shot Duke Wayne in the back in “The Cowboys.” Asked how it felt to off the screen icon, he chortled, “They may have booed me in Orange County, but they cheered me in Berkeley.”

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Betrayed in “Coming Home”?

The same year he had his first bona fide lead, as the astronaut-botanist in “Silent Running.” This led to leads in Hitchcock’s last film, “Family Plot,” John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday,” Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home,” and, personal favorites, Bob Rafelson’s “King of Marvin Gardens” and Michael Ritchie’s “Smile.” I met Dern for the first time during the Chicago junket for “Coming Home,” which co-starred Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. Fonda and Voight took shots at their co-star because he defended his character, a Marine captain who feels betrayed by wife and country and eventually loses it. Dern wanted the character to go out in a blaze of glory (as he does in the script). Ashby shot a more melancholic ending, an ocean suicide a la “A Star is Born.” All three actors were nominated for Oscars. Fonda and Voight won; Dern didn’t.

Dern’s stint at the top lasted about four years. He was never considered bankable, especially after appearing in such bombs as “Middle Age Crazy” and “Tattoo.” He rode out the ’80s and ’90s in character parts, the best being the obsessed runner in “On the Edge” and the conniving Uncle Bud in “After Dark, My Sweet.” These roles should have netted him second and third Oscar nominations. They didn’t because nobody saw the films. Consigned mostly to crotchety neighbor roles and glorified cameos in recent years ‒ he’s in “Monster” and “Django Unchained” ‒ Dern joked that he was best known for being Laura Dern’s father. He’s the motormouth sheriff who moonlights as a writer in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt.” It’s one of his cagiest performances. The film, now on VOD, went unnoticed.

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Resurrected in “Nebraska”

And then, miraculously, along came “Nebraska,” starring Dern as the grizzled, at times vacant Woody Grant, who hits the road with his son (SNL’s Will Forte) to cash in what he thinks is a winning sweepstakes number. Dern calls the film (opening Friday) “the best role I’ve ever had” and his best buddy movie since teaming with Nicholson in “Marvin Gardens.”

Will it make him another late-in-life Oscar-winner, like Alan Arkin and Jack Palance? That would be nice, but Dern isn’t slowing down for the laurel. He’s in it for the long haul. He won’t stop acting, or running. Some days you feel the burn, some days you cramp up. His next release: “Coffin Baby” (aka as “Toolbox Murders 2”).

Linda Lovelace Survived “Throat” Preem … Barely

08/08/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Confession time: Yours truly filed the very first review of “Deep Throat,” the 1972 porno that’s back in the news thanks to “Lovelace,” the biopic starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace and Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor, her abusive Svengali.

Just out of graduate school, I lucked into a job at the Hollywood Reporter, then located on Sunset Boulevard. Though I was hired as a copy editor to rewrite press releases, I got my shot at reviewing when the venerable Arthur Knight quit in protest over a friend’s firing. I reviewed television, nightclub acts and a lot of bad blaxploitation, like “Trouble Man” and “The Big Comedown.”

On a Thursday morning the city editor called me over and handed me an invitation. It was to something called “Deep Throat,” screening thaDeep-Throat-poster_lt evening at the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard. At the bottom of the flier: “This film is rated ‘X’ for explicit sexual content.”

When I reminded him that it was HR’s policy to not review hardcore porn, he waved me away. “I know, I know, but we’re covering this one anyway ‒ as a favor to a friend who manages the theater.”

It wasn’t a black tie/klieg light kind of affair, but the premiere did boast in-person appearances by Lovelace, costar Harry Reems and director Gerard Damiano, a former hairdresser who would later make “The Devil in Miss Jones.” As we passed into the theater we were handed cardboard boxes marked “Deep Throat Survival Kit.” They contained throat lozenges, chocolate-covered bananas, multicolor prophylactics, and rocket-shaped lollypops. (What do you think one of these babies in mint condition would fetch on eBay today?)

I can’t remember much about Lovelace, except that she was almost pathologically shy. Before the movie, she fielded questions from the stage ‒ by whispering her answers into the emcee’s ear. The press was told that “Miss Lovelace will be available for questions after the screening ‒ so stick around.” She wasn’t. We didn’t.

Seated behind me at the screening were Laurence Harvey and Joanna Pettet, who were working on a film together at the time. They bolted after about 20 minutes.

My four-paragraph review ran under the headline “Porno Film with Touch of Humor.” I noted that the “uniquely talented” Lovelace “proves she can moan and gyrate with the best of ‘em as ‘the girl who untangles her tingle.’” The review went on to predict healthy box office. Something of an understatement. “Deep Throat,” which earned upwards of $600 million on a $47,000 investment, ranks as one of the top-grossing indies of all time.

Depp as Tonto: Debate Heats Up

07/02/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Johnny Depp as Tonto? I know, I know, in this age of political correctness, it sounds like a bad joke. Depp has said he took the role in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” because he wanted to redress how shabbily Tonto (Jay Silverheels) was portrayed in the old TV series. Strange reasoning: I hated the way an authentic Mohawk played the role, so I, a Caucasian, have decided to make up for it by donning war paint and feathers.

My column on Depp masquerading as Tonto (“Greasepaint Injun“) brought a ton of reaction, some siding with me, some suggesting I put a lid on the bleeding-heart thing.

“I saw a pre-screening a few nights ago,” said Denise Hobbs. “I had not planned on seeing it because of Depp’s role but when asked to the hr_The_Lone_Ranger_12screening, I took advantage of the opportunity. I find it interesting that Depp says he hated how Tonto was portrayed in the original. Well, (Jay Silverheels) was MUCH BETTER than what I saw Depp doing! I was embarrassed watching him make a mockery out of the character. It was Jack Sparrow dressed as Tonto! And I was appalled! He thought he was being funny and it was offensive. He was offended (by the TV series) as I child, well I am NOW offended at his portrayal as an adult.”

Added Christine Candelaris: “I was excited to see Depp’s Tonto in the trailer. His look is almost an exact copy of the Kirby Sattler image “I Am Crow,” an artistic representation of the Crow people from the American Midwest. My husband has worn this image on a t-shirt for years.”

Nikos Lynch said, “If we take this to its natural conclusion, then the Fighting Irish should be offensive; and what about the Irish-one-day-a-year sporting little plastic glitter walking hats on St. Patty’s Day?”

Ellen Mosher weighed in:I agree with Glenn Lovell’s article. There are plenty of good Native American actors who could have played Tonto. Native Americans do not run around in war paint and ceremonial garb everyday as depicted in the movie. The lack of sensitivity and stereotyping of Native American culture and traditions that still goes on is appalling. The parallel with Saint Patrick’s Day and the ‘fighting Irish’ does not follow. St. Patrick’s day is a day that has been embraced by many in the American culture as a happy celebration day, and the term ‘fighting Irish’ has a positive meaning suggesting strength and winning attitude. The stereotyping of Native Americans suggests a primitive and inferior culture when compared to the European culture.

JoMont: “Plenty of good Native American actors don’t sell at the box office like Depp. Let’s get real here. At least he isn’t using a Brooklyn accent like many in the 60′s. No one appeared offended when he played numerous other accented characters. In the big picture, this sort of yammering I find, troublesome.”

Wrote Bob Rosenthal: “Johnny Depp is an actor. Actors play roles. He is playing a role, his job. I will see the movie, realizing it is just a movie, not reality, and eat my popcorn and drink my Pepsi. Like everyone else I have the option of either seeing the movie or not seeing it if I feel it is objectionable.”

Don Gateley didn’t mince words. “Oh, please go away, Lovell. Must you have something to criticize and complain about? Most of these ‘caricatures’ were intended to honor, not insult. Malcontents will always find a way to twist it to tweak their disorder and offer themselves as above the ignorant, unwashed and politically incorrect masses. Your screed is tiresome.

“And, Ellen, I went to the University of Illinois where our rallying figure was in ceremonial dress and danced in honor of the defeated but still mightily respected fighting Illinois Indians who proved themselves a formidable foe.”

Michelle McIntyre: “According to reliable sources, Johnny Depp is Cherokee on his mom’s side. Works for me.”

An anonymous voice asked, “Lovell, are you Native American? If you are not then you are playing the role of White Savior. A role that colonizers have played many times with disastrous consequences to indigenous cultures. Since the word native in Western culture means primitive, I will use the term First Nation People. According to Depp, he is a descendant of First Nation ancestors, which makes him a First Nation person. Cherokee do not go by the European blood quantum policies that were forced upon most tribes by the U.S. government. One drop of Cherokee blood means you are a Cherokee. Which drop of water is not important to the river? I see your article as just another form of colonization by Europeans. You are saying live my way because it is best for you. Please let First Nation People deal with their own problems and live their own lives.”

Gary Hinze concluded, “You are too easily offended. Being offended on behalf of somebody else doesn’t even ring true. Like the white guy who smashed the Christopher Columbus statue at San Jose City Hall in protest supposedly on behalf of Indians. There are differences of opinion in the aboriginal community on this. The majority support Indian mascots. Some Indian groups have given approval to sports teams using Indian mascots. Others have objected. It could depend on how it’s done. If a sports team was to use a Japanese mascot, it surely would not be the demeaning war propaganda figure you postulate. It would likely be a fierce Samurai warrior. Are the Indians offended by the San Jose State Vikings?”

A testy Mila, obviously not familiar with my byline from years at the Mercury News, wrote: “So you’re a ‘local’ film critic? What does that mean exactly? Because based on your article you know nothing about movies or Johnny Depp. First of all, Johnny Depp has never been lily white. Second of all, he IS of Native American heritage himself. Third, his representation of Tonto is brilliant because he has consciously chosen to elevate Tonto’s role in the movie from the traditional and indeed stereotypical ‘sidekick’ to a real mentor and friend to the Lone Ranger. And lastly the make-up that he has chosen for his character is very, very appropriate.

“Here is a picture of an authentic Crow person (by Sattler), for your education: So as you can see Johnny Depp is more than qualified to play Tonto and has done the research he needed to do for his role. Unlike you, who clearly are neither qualified to comment on movies or political correctness nor has bothered to do even a quick Internet search on the topic. But you just wrote this article to get attention, didn’t you?”

Jeri Danforth: “Funny how these comments are split between Johnny Depp fans and non-fans. I agree with Glenn. Tribes recognize members according to tribal rolls. In the case of the Cherokee, even if Depp has only one drop, he should be able to trace his ancestry on the Dawes rolls. As of now, no one has heard that he has even tried. So what’s stopping him? He could easily put a stop to all this fuss if he would speak with the tribe he claims membership for and ask for their assistance.

Gary Hinze again: “Tonto is not a real Indian. Depp does not need to prove he is a real Indian to play a fictitious Indian. Actors play roles. They play extraterrestrials, zombies, even pirates. They don’t have to be real extraterrestrials, zombies or pirates. A movie is a story. This one is fiction. It is not a documentary. Depp does not need to prove he is an Indian, or a pirate. He proves his qualifications as an actor at the box office. He brings in millions of dollars. QED.”

H. Pasterlink demanded, “What reliable sources are you referring to? Cherokee rolls? His maternal great-grandmothers were Kentucky girls, nothing to suggest that they were Native American. His great-grandmother’s name is Minnie, and she was allegedly the mother of his paternal grandfather, (Walter) Everett Wells. But his mother was actually named Anna or Annie, maiden name Cooper. No Indian blood there.”

Johnny Depp as “Greasepaint Injun”?

03/14/2013

by Glenn Lovell

There’s much gnashing of teeth in our house during Cleveland Indians games. It’s not that we can’t stand the team, it’s their longtime logo, that deeply offensive caricature of a Native American “Injun” ‒ red face, stupid grin, prominent, beak-like nose.

How it is possible in the age of political correctness that a major league team could get away with something so insulting?

Answer: In the 21st Century, the PC police have still not gotten around to our country’s indigenous people. Native Americans remain the one minority it’s still OK to ridicule. Imagine the hue and cry if a team wore a WorlJohnnyDeppTontod War 2 caricature of a Japanese (buckteeth, thick glasses, slit eyes) or an African-American on its jersey?

Need more proof of our culture’s lingering insensitivity to American Indians?

Look no further than Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” due out this summer. If I’m not mistaken that’s Johnny Depp in the old Jay Silverheels role of Tonto, the Indian who saves a Texas lawman and then rides into battle with the masked man. Last I checked Depp was a Caucasian, as in lily W-H-I-T-E. Who over at Central Casting could have thought it was a good idea to have Depp slather himself in bronze body makeup to play an Indian? His Tonto ‒ under long black wig, artfully applied war paint, stuffed-crow bonnet ‒ looks like Captain Jack Sparrow crossed with Conan the Barbarian. (Not surprisingly, Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” makeup man had a hand in the preposterous get-up.)

Depp’s justification? As a kid, he hated the way Tonto was portrayed in the Lone Ranger TV series and, since there’s a drop or two of Indian blood coursing through his veins ‒ “maybe Cherokee or some Creek” ‒ he’s taken it upon himself to right this wrong. No mention of the millions he’s being paid or a monstrously oversized star ego.

Of course, Depp is only the latest in a long line of “Hollywood Indians.” (See “Dances with Deception” on this site.) Other white actors who claim Indian heritage to justify taking Indian roles include Val Kilmer, Lou Diamond Phillips, Fred Ward and Frederic Forrest.

Reminds me of an interview I did with Doris Leader Charge, the Lakota Sioux teacher who appeared in “Dances with Wolves.”

“White actors playing Indians are all Cherokee,” she laughed. “That must have been one huge tribe.”

The $200 million-plus “Lone Ranger”  is hardly the first Disney film to feature whites as Indians. The practice goes back to the studio’s “Tonka” (1958), starring Sal Mineo as a Sioux warrior, and includes “Running Brave” (1983), with Robby Benson as Sioux Olympian Billy Mills.

“If asked to do it again, I would in a second,” said Benson when I asked him about whites playing Indian roles. “It’s what an actor does, become something they’re not. If you’re worried about the political fallout every time you take a role, you might as well hang it up.”

Make yourself heard if you’re offended by this ongoing practice — by boycotting the film.

Coming to a Theater Near You: Wholesale Paranoia

07/20/2012

by Glenn Lovell

The audience emitted a collective gasp Friday morning as the exit door at the front of a northern California multiplex opened about 30 minutes into “The Dark Knight Rises.”

With CNN updates of the overnight massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, fresh in our minds, those of us in attendance at Santa Clara’s Mercado 20 had our focus snapped when a pool of bright sunlight poured into the auditorium. A figure exited furtively through the door, leaving it slightly ajar for a minute or two, and then reentered ‒ the shooter’s M.O. at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie.

Of course it turned out to be a theater employee doing a security check.

Still, for a moment there, suspecting a copycat crime, our hearts were in our throats.

I’m sure the above scenario will play out at hundreds of theaters around the country this weekend.

And while they won’t admit it, box office analysts are right now wondering how the horrific events in Colorado will affect ticket sales. Will they keep people away from the dour, plenty violent Warner Bros. release co-starring Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway? Will potential ticket-buyers say, “Not on your life ‒ I go to the movies to escape, not to be reminded of a real-life movie massacre!”

Or, God forbid, will the mass shooting add a filament of danger, morbidity, making the new Batman saga all the more alluring to young thrill-seekers?

Warner Bros.’ front office won’t own up to this, but I would wager it’s secretly banking on the latter response. After all, it’s in the business of making money and “The Dark Knight Rises” was highly touted as the summer blockbuster.

To the studio’s credit, it wasted no time yanking most of the trailers for its fall release “Gangster Squad.” The tease includes a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre variation, with gangsters positioned behind a movie screen, spraying an audience with machine-gun fire.

Will the sequence be cut from the feature, much as domestic terrorism scenes was deleted from movies released in the wake of 9/11? Probably. Audiences wouldn’t be able to look at it now without being reminded of the carnage in the Aurora strip mall.

Auteur! Auteur! Andrew Sarris (1928-2012)

06/22/2012

By Glenn Lovell

Andrew Sarris, who died Wednesday at age 83, wrote about movies his entire life but most notably during the 1960s-1970s. It was a heady time, a time of spirited debate over the merits of Bergman, Antonioni and Kubrick. And the scrappy Sarris was at the center of it all, driving and informing the dialogue with his long, rambling, impassioned columns for the Village Voice. The following is an interview I did with Sarris in 1994.

FOR THOSE OF US who began thinking seriously about film in the ’60s, he was the guru, the man who somehow made it all make sense. For his opposite numbers across the Atlantic ‒ Cahiers du Cinéma critics Francois Truffaut and Jean- Luc Godard ‒ he was the chief American proponent of the “auteur theory,” which downgraded Hollywood’s more self-conscious “artists” and made heroes of Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger and especially Alfred Hitchcock.

Sarris

At “65 going on 66,” Andrew Sarris is still hard at it, writing a weekly column for the New York Observer, teaching at Columbia University and putting the finishing touches on his 11th book, “The American Sound Film.”

Sarris, who will be speaking tonight on “The Iridescence of Irene Dunne” (Stanford Theatre, 7:30 p.m.), refers to his latest tome as “my magnum opus.” It was supposed to be out last year, but Sarris being one of the great dreamers and procrastinators pushed the deadline to this summer. “I haven’t done as much as I should have,” he says of his career in general, “but I’m a very late starter.”

Initially, he saw himself as a novelist. But the “real writing” didn’t come. At 27, after a stint in the Army Signal Corps, he submitted a review of “The Country Girl” to Film Culture (“I really panned it”). Remuneration: zilch. But that was OK; he was living with his mother in Brooklyn and working as a script reader for 20th Century Fox.

Four years later, he walked into the editorial offices of the Village Voice, then all of eight pages. Under his arm was a review of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Not only was it a rave, it argued that the “master of suspense” should be placed on a pedestal with the likes of Jean Renoir and Ingmar Bergman.

“It caused a great storm,” he recalls from his East Side apartment, which he shares with wife and fellow critic Molly Haskell (also a guest speaker for Stanford’s on-going screwball-comedy series). “I was treating Hitchcock as a major artist. Their idea of an art film was something by Bergman or Fellini. The idea of Hitchcock as a great artist was anathema.”

Those early reviews ‒ now described as “very crude, clumsy” ‒ caused quite a commotion among New York film buffs and left their author with a feeling of euphoria, power. A year later, Sarris began his reign as the Voice’s regular film critic. From 1961 to 1989, he wrote the “Films in Focus” column, which became required reading for fledgling critics and sparked very public feuds with anti-auteurists Pauline Kael and John Simon.

In 1968, Sarris loosed a salvo that reverberated throughout the critical community: “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions.” Beginning with the line, “The need for an updated film history is self-evident,” Sarris juggled the standings of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors. The darlings of the critics ‒ John Huston and Elia Kazan, among them ‒ were lumped under the heading “Less Than Meets the Eye.” Studio workhorses, such as Michael Curtiz and Henry Hathaway, were downgraded to “Lightly Likable.” Cerebral mavericks ‒ Richard Brooks, John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick ‒ were consigned to “Strained Seriousness.”

And the new residents of Sarris’ Pantheon? Such previously underrated entertainers as Chaplin, Keaton, Hawks, Fritz Lang and, of course, Hitchcock. Their personal vision of “a self-contained world” earned them a place beside Orson Welles, F.W. Murnau, D.W. Griffith. Reissued in 1985 with a new afterword by the author, “American Cinema” is required reading in most film aesthetics classes and, along with “What is Cinema?” by André Bazin and the collected reviews of James Agee, a seminal work in film scholarship.

Sarris himself believes the “cult of the auteur” has gone too far. All directors, even the hacks, are revered over screenwriters now. “It was never meant to be the last word, and I was never meant to be a prophet.”

Pressed for changes he would make in his rankings, Sarris says he’d leave the Pantheon category alone, but would be kinder to Wilder, Wellman, Frankenheimer, Leo McCarey, William Wyler.

“I’m always changing. Times change. Movies change. I think differently today than I did when I started out.”

As for the widely hailed Kubrick (“Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey”), he’s still an overrated “superego.” Ditto David Lean, whose “Lawrence of Arabia” was panned by Sarris when it opened in 1962. He considered the epic gaseous and pretentious then, and still does.

Sarris’ recent favorites: Stephen Frears’ “The Snapper,” Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day” and (as he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile) anything by Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer. Critics who measure up by combining “intelligence and intelligibility”: Kael, Vincent Canby, Richard Corliss, Manny Farber, David Kehr and Haskell (who chronicled her husband’s prolonged hospitalization in ’85 with a mystery virus in the unique memoir “Love and Other Infectious Diseases”).

At a time when many are decrying the state of film criticism ‒ where gossip and the direction of one’s thumb have replaced learned discourse ‒ Sarris is surprisingly upbeat. “I think film criticism has improved enormously,” he says. Sarris’ assessment of his own writing: idiosyncratic, a weakness for alliteration. “I’m lazy ‒ I don’t work hard enough on my writing.” He believes such traits kept him from breaking into mainstream publications. He would have joined The New Yorker or The New York Times (like buddy Canby) “in a second.” He left the Voice, he says, because he was “tired of that atmosphere. It was too political, too radical, for my taste. I’ve always been sort of a centrist, an anomaly.”

The key to his longevity, he believes, is that, for him, film was always a means to an end: self-awareness. “Film enabled me to find myself. Through film, I’ve been telling the story of my life, like an ongoing memoir.”

Classic Ray Bradbury on “Fahrenheit 451″ Redo

06/06/2012

by Glenn Lovell

Eloquent, profane, blustery, eternally boyish — Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday at age 91, proved all of the above in our numerous chats. I met the science fiction-fantasy author in 1983, upon the release of the long-stalled adaptation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Our interview was set for late afternoon at a San Francisco hotel.

But it didn’t come off as planned because Bradbury, by 4 p.m., was happily in his cups, slurring his words after one too many martinis. We rescheduled for two weeks later — at his office-cum-warehouse on Wilshire Blvd. Bradbury couldn’t have been more gracious, regaling his guest with stories of his love/hate relationship with Hollywood. A child at heart, the author surrounded himself with toys and movie memorabilia, including, on his large, cluttered mahogany desk, a model of the Nautilus from Disney’s “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”

Though we talked numerous times after that meeting, the last story I wrote about Bradbury was on a proposed remake of “Fahrenheit 451″ by Mel Gibson. Excerpts from that never-before-published 2001 interview show Bradbury in rare form, at once caustic and testy.

RAY BRADBURY IS FUMING mad at Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions. “One of their scripts for ‘Fahrenheit 451’ should be seen by people to show how dumb studios can be,” the author grouses. “And please quote me on that!”

Bradbury was hoping things would go smoother this time around with Icon holding the rights to his 1953 sci-fi classic and Frank Darabont now set to direct for Castle Rock Ent. But so far, the author reports, the new “F-451” has been more exasperating than the 1966 Francois Truffaut version with Oskar Werner as Montag and Julie Christie — in what Bradbury calls “a stupid bit of miscasting” — as both Montag’s wife Mildred and the 16-year-old girl next door.

“F-451,” about a dystopian society in which reading is outlawed, was optioned four years ago by Icon as a possible “Braveheart” follow-up for Gibson. Bradbury lunched with Gibson in 1998 to discuss the project. “We had a terrific meeting,” the author recalls. “He seemed very enthused. He showed me plans for the sets and a design for the mechanical hound, which was cut from Truffaut’s version.”

But then, complete silence. “Every six months I call them and they say the same thing: ‘Oh, we were just about to call you.’ Yeah, sure. Can you believe they’ve let so much time go by, when the novel is in every school in America?”

Bradbury says there are now nine “F-451” scripts circulating, plus his own. “How can you write 10 screenplays on ‘F-451,’ when all you have to do is open the book and shoot the pages? It’s stupid.”

Adding insult to injury, none of the scripts has been sent to Bradbury for comment. He did, however, receive a bootlegged copy of draft six from a bookseller in Atlanta. It was very “un-Bradbury-like,” in the author’s words.

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Does a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

Now that the highly regarded Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) is connected with the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” the author is more optimistic. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Among the actors periodically mentioned for the Montag role – after Gibson bowed out as director or star – are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Sean Connery once expressed interest in the Beatty role. “Either Cruise or Pitt would be great,” says Bradbury. “Especially Cruise – he’s a very good actor.”

“Alien” vs. “It! The Terror …”: Feud Revisited

06/03/2012

With Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” about to set down, I thought it might be fun to revisit my 1979 story about “Alien” and “It! The Terror from Beyond Space.” This story originally appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, where I worked as entertainment editor. A second version appeared in “Cinefantastique” magazine.

by Glenn Lovell

Here’s a riddle for you. What came first, the creature or the alien egg?

Put another way, is “Alien,” 20th Century-Fox’s $9-million release, the innovative shock show critics from coast to coast have rushed to call it? Or, is it simply a flashy retread of a number of low-budget 1950s creature features, like “The Thing from Another World” and “It! The Terror from Beyond Space”? With the alien-hitches-a-ride movie already well over the $40 million mark and reaching daily for a spot beside “Jaws,” “Close Encounters” and “Star Wars,” a backlash has begun among onetime admirers who are now asking, “Just how original is ‘Alien’ anyway?”

What they’re discovering ‒ with a little help from horror/sci-fi aficionados ‒ is that “Alien” is not only a first cousin to some of the seedier ’50s monster movies, it is also something of a rip-off of these exploitation numbers.

Although other titles have been bandied about ‒ like “This Island Earth” and “Forbidden Planet” ‒ the two films “Alien” most resembles are “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958)  and “Planet of the Vampires” (1965). The storyline, almost scene for scene, comes from “It!”; the eerie lighting and stylized, expressionistic landscapes are pure “Planet,” an Italian SF/fantasy shocker by Mario Bava.

For those of us who can recall the summer of 1958 and the release by United Artists of a $110,000 quickie titled “It! The Terror from Beyond Space,” watching “Alien” for the first time evoked a strong sense of déjà vu. The new script, credited to Dan O’Bannon, seemed nothing less than a verbatim replay of what director Edward L. Cahn and screenwriter Jerome Bixby had supplied in the way of extraterrestrial fright.

Briefly, in “It!” a spaceship lands on an uncharted planet to search for survivors of a downed rocket and, unbeknown to the crew, picks up a deadly, blood-sucking hitchhiker. As in “Alien,” the thing from another world hides in the ventilation shaft, is warded off by a crew member with a blow torch, and is finally sucked into deep space where it dies from lack of oxygen. What the makers of “Alien” have done is change the shape of the creature (theirs is insectoid, Cahn’s was humanoid with reptilian features) and assault us with more sophisticated shock effects.

Still, the stories bear an uncanny resemblance.

Aware of this, we contacted 20th Century’s “Alien” office for the official word on whether the brains behind the hit were conscious of copying an earlier film or had latched onto a project they assumed was original. British director Ridley Scott escapes complicity because he is unacquainted with most American sci-fi. His U.S. collaborators, however, are another matter. At least three were aware of the striking similarities between “Alien” and “It!” One of the film’s producers even admitted screening portions of “It!” during production “to make sure we weren’t  doing a bald remake.”

Producer David Giler: “We only began to hear about ‘It!’ toward the end of production. I haven’t seen it, but t I know of the film. We were convinced we were doing something new stylistically, even if the basic outlines were the same. I gather the alien-hiding-on-a-spaceship idea is pretty much a classic premise with science fiction writers, like the gunfight in the Western. So the similarities you refer to didn’t bother us.”

Interestingly, Giler was only too happy to brand O’Bannon “a fake” and “rip-off artist.” Giler said he and co-producer Walter Hill wrote most of the script but lost out to O’Bannon in an “idiotic” Writers Guild arbitration. He called O’Bannon’s original draft “amateurishly written ‒ just awful! Basically, it was a pastiche of ’50s movies thrown together. If we had shot the original script we would have had a remake of ‘It! The Terror from Beyond Space.’ ”

When pressed, Giler confided: “I know some of the more esoteric SF magazines have commented on tie-ins between ‘It!’ and ‘Alien.’ But I’m not a regular reader of these magazines. Personally, I think that’s a question you ought to put to O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (co-author of the ‘original story’). If somebody is responsible for stealing the idea, it’s them. They signed a paper saying it was an original idea. If it isn’t, they lied to us. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Dan O’Bannon stole the idea, I must tell you.”

For a different perspective, we contacted “It!” screenwriter Jerome Bixby. He had not seen “Alien” but, through his sons, was aware of plot similarities. We talked him into viewing the film, then reporting back to us. He called two days later.

“Frankly, I feel like the grandfather of ‘Alien,’” chuckled Bixby, whose credits include 1,300 short stories and segments of “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone.” “There’s a whole roster of similarities between what I wrote and the new film. They’re both about a small group of people trapped aboard a spacecraft with an inimical creature out to get them and which, in fact, knocks them off one by one. No problem there; that’s a pretty general plot outline. In both stories the creatures use the ship’s air ducts. In both stories they are held off with gas and electricity. And at the end of both stories, they’re dispatched by suffocation, by evacuating the creatures from the ship and depriving them of air.”

Although Bixby wouldn’t say whether he intended to take action against O’Bannon and 20th Century, he did say he was in touch with his lawyer about the matter.

“In all honesty, my story was also derivative,” he allowed. “Essentially what I did was take Howard Hawks’ ‘The Thing’ and play it aboard a spaceship. But I didn’t copy the storyline; I used the film ‒ a masterpiece in the genre ‒ as inspiration for my story. The Hawks film has long been a model for SF writers.”

Bixby said he enjoyed “Alien” but believed the film’s extravagant budget and f/x covered for a weak storyline. “When I think what we could have done with that kind of money …,” he mused. “A lot of people saw our little grade-B flick because there was something of a science-fiction boom back then. But it was nothing like we have today.”

“Radio” Days

05/26/2012

by Glenn Lovell

When news arrived of Donna Summer’s cruel passing at age 63, I reached for my Summer Greatest Hits CD. But I didn’t play the thumping disco anthems “Last Dance” and “Love to Love You, Baby.” I went to the swoony “On the Radio,” her Casablanca collab with Giorgio Moroder that was used in the mostly forgotten “Foxes” (1980), co-starring the 17-year-old Jodie Foster as one of four vaguely rebellious Valley girls and Sally Kellerman as Foster’s lost, unassertive single mom.

Directed by Brit Adrian Lyne (“Fatal Attraction”) from a script by Gerald Ayres, “Foxes” is very definitely a guilty pleasure, much like “Cat People,” “Flashdance” and other films wed to the pulsating synthesized sound of Moroder. Still, for all its dated, Day-Glo glitz — think skateboards and Scott Baio in cutoffs — there’s something achingly sad about “Foxes,” and much of the credit for this belongs to the dreamy photography, Cherie Currie as the most at-risk of the high school clique … and Summer’s yearning rendition of “On the Radio,” at least the piano prelude ‒

          Someone found a letter you wrote me, on the radio

          And they told the world just how you felt

          It must have fallen out of a hole in your old brown overcoat

          They never said your name

          But I knew just who you meant

Yes, “Foxes” — set in a San Fernando Valley P.T. Anderson would never recognize — is one for the time capsule, but, for a few of us, Summer’s lilting “On the Radio” will remain timeless.


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