Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

When ‘No’ Often Meant ‘Maybe’

11/13/2017

What Movies Taught Us About Sexual Misconduct

By Glenn Lovell

As new allegations of sexual misconduct arrive daily — from the high-tech sector, academia, state and national politics — it’s time to circle back and ask: What role have the movies played in conditioning a generation of men to believe, no matter the resistance, that they are entitled to sexual favors from interns, colleagues and fans.

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, a variation on their show tune about prejudice keeps playing in my head:

Men have to be taught from year to year /

That sexual harassment is nothing to cheer /

They’ve got to be carefully taught.

Examples of men physically abusing women in the movies abound. We can trace them to D.W. Griffith’s silent “Broken Blossoms” and, later, “Public Enemy” (Cagney using Mae Clarke’s face as a grapefruit juicer) and “The Philadelphia Story” (Cary Grant shoving Katherine Hepburn backward through her front door).

Since many of the alleged abusers now in the news — from fallen studio exec Harvey Weinstein to TV host Charlie Rose to actors Kevin Spacey and Richard Dreyfuss — are roughly Boomer age, they most likely were reared on movies from the 1950s and ’60s, when limits were less well-defined and “no” sometimes meant “maybe.”

This, of course, can  never be taken as justification for sexual harassment or assault. Hollywood has always been a lousy source of advice on how to conduct yourself in real-world relationships, where “no” means just that.
 Graduate2
The movies of Weinstein’s and Spacey’s youths trafficked in a troubling double-standard: When an alpha male demanded affection screen, it was exhilarating and romantic, perfectly normal. When an aggressive female demanding attention, alarm bells  sounded. “Alert! Alert! Aberrant personality!”

In “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s Ben Braddock follows Elaine Robinson to UC Berkeley. In 1966, we applauded his determination. He was a die-hard romantic who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When Jessica Walter pursues Clint Eastwood’s Carmel disc jockey with slightly more fervor in “Play Misty for Me,” she’s an out-and-out loony, every red-blooded male’s worst nightmare.

When Charles Grodin in “The Heartbreak Kid” abandons his new wife on their Miami Beach honeymoon to pursue a spoiled sun goddess (Cybill Shepherd), he’s an incorrigible cad, yes, but one who’s living the American Dream.

I saw Hitchcock’s “Marnie” when it opened in 1964. I was 15. Sean Connery, working the sang froid that had served him as agent 007, hires a private eye to find Tippi Hedren’s troubled title character, anConneryd when he runs her to ground, he sounds much like a big game hunter who has bagged a trophy antelope: “I’ve tracked you and caught you and, by God, I’m going to keep you!”

I can still remember the rush I got from Connery’s snarled pronouncement. It reinforced the sense of entitlement that we Boomer males learned from the movies, where persistence that at times amounted to societal-sanctioned rape was rewarded. Indeed, later in the same film, Connery, claiming his matrimonial prerogative, rapes Marnie on their cruise-ship honeymoon.

A decade earlier, in “On the Waterfront,” Eva Marie Saint’s Edie attempts to fend off Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy. He breaks down her door and pins her to the wall; her pounding fists and cries of “Stay away from me!” soon give way to an embrace. This forced compliance was considered so exciting at the time the scene made it into the trailer.

It’s no coincidence that Toback, Dreyfuss, Steven Segal and others who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault are in the late 60s or early 7s. Producer Harvey Weinstein, in a statement following the New York Times’s publication of allegations by Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, used this as his defense. “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” he wrote. “That was the culture then.”

Dustin Hoffman was recently accused of inappropriate sexual overtures toward a 17-year-old production assistant during the filming of a 1985 TV adaptation of “Death of a Salesman.” Ironic, no? His Braddock character in “The Graduate” was once embraced as a counterculture icon for turning his back on his parents’ materialism and hypocrisy. Now, as we wince through Ben’s public shaming of Elaine (at a strip club, no less) and his dogged pursuit of her in Berkeley, the character seems more alienating than alienated. Once condoned as funny and irreverent his behavior today would qualify as stalking and warrant a restraining order or jail time.

Glenn Lovell has written about film for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Variety. He teaches film studies at De Anza College.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle (11-20-17)

 

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Mickey Malice — The Trump Years

11/08/2017

Emboldened by Trump’s “Fake News” Campaign, Disney Blacklists L.A. Times. Media Fight Back with United Front. It Wasn’t Always Thus. A Backstory.

By Glenn Lovell

Hollywood’s most vengeful and manipulative studio?

Fanfare, please. Dun-daah-DUNN! Winner and still champion: Disney. Tweak the Mouse’s nose with negative reviews and/or news stories and you’ll likely regret it.

That’s what I found when I conducted a national film critics survey. Everyone from TKael2ime magazine’s Richard Schickel to Chicago Sun-Times’s Roger Ebert to The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael and Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern participated. A questionnaire went out from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism, where I was on sabbatical from my job as film critic for the San Jose Mercury News.

The results — published in an arts journal in 1996 as “Caught in the Machinery: How Hollywood Subverts the Media” – caused what then passed for a media storm. CNN, Ebert and Columbia Journalism Review reported on the findings. Matt Drudge predicted the author “would not only never eat lunch in (Hollywood) again … if he’s not careful, he may find himself turning into the main course for some very hungry Dalmatians.”

More than 50 critics, entertainment editors and film writers weighed in. And when the numbers were crunched Disney outranked the competition as, in the eyes of critics and editors, the “most manipulative” studio, followed closely by Warner Bros., Miramax (then a subsidiary of Disney), and Universal. MGM and 20th Century Fox were adjudged the least manipulative.

The survey grew out of my personal experience. I was blacklisted by Disney in the spring of 1993, cut from screenings, junkets and interviews. Why? The studio had found the “tone” oSiskelf my coverage (reviews, columns, features) not to its liking. Asked for something more concrete, like factual errors or a star who had been misquoted, nothing was forthcoming. My boss, Robin Doussard, told Disney’s front office, “Lovell’s our critic. Want coverage? Deal with him.” (Note: When this happened, the Merc was a paper to be reckoned with, one of the 10 best papers in the country, according to Time magazine.)

In less than two weeks, Disney reversed itself. All’s forgiven, if not forgotten, I was told through an intermediary. Let’s move on.

Why this unpleasant amble down memory lane?  Because Disney recently went after the L.A. Times for what it called a “biased and inaccurate” investigative piece on the studio’s one-sided business dealings with the city of Anaheim, home to Disneyland. The ban from screenings and interviews lasted four days.

The big difference between what I and others (like Jami Bernard of the Daily News had experienced at the hands of Disney? Back then, when the Internet was in its infancy and print was still paramount, individual papers and their critics were left to turn in the wind. Colleagues were just pleased it wasn’t them. If a studio came down on a critic, there was probably good reason. “Lovell’s notoriously ‘difficult,’ always demanding the sun and moon. He probably got what he deserved, etc., etc.” (Then, as now, I wore the “Scarlet D” with pride.)

Twenty years later, the L.A. Times’s East Coast competition jumped to, lined up behind one of their number under fire. Deny our brethren access to “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi” screenings, the New York Film Critics Circle and the other critics groups threatened, we’ll hit you where it hurts; we’ll stamp your films “ineligible” for year-end honors.

Little wonder Fantasyland hoisted a white flag.

Can we chalk up this once-unheard-of show of solidarity to Trump and the current administration’s war on the First Amendment? Has Disney, controlling under the best of circumstances, been emboldened to follow the president’s lead and dismiss coverage it dislikes as “fake news.” Sounds reasonable.

And has the media, likewise, been emboldened to join arms and present a united front? Those writing about entertainment certainly feel a new sense of urgency. Under assault politically, we are, across the board, more sensitive to outside manipulation. And whether the bully sports orange comb-over or mouse ears, he must be faced down. What was once tolerated as all part of the game, collateral damage, if you will, is now seen as intolerable.

Critic-author Glenn Lovell teaches film studies at De Anza College and other Bay Area schools.

Are Media Outlets Inflating Toback’s Credentials to Advance Harassment Story?

10/26/2017

By Glenn Lovell

The New York Times incorrectly ID’d him as “an executive.” The San Francisco Chronicle referred to him as “the latest powerful man in Hollywood” to be accused of sexual harassment. And the L.A. Times, which broke the Weinstein-Lite exposé, inflated his credentials, overselling the all-but-forgotten screenwriter-director as a Hollywood insider, a player.

If that weren’t enough both the Washington Post and SF Chron erroneousjames2ly reported that James Toback won an Oscar for the Warren Beatty vehicle “Bugsy.” (He was nominated, but, appropriately, lost out to Callie Khouri for “Thelma & Louise.”)

What’s behind such careless entertainment coverage? Circulation numbers and ratings, of course, fueled by a newsroom directive to keep “our readers” hanging on every sordid disclosure. After the New York Times embarrassed the L.A. Times by breaking the Harvey Weinstein story, a story the hometown Hollywood paper should have been all over, the L.A. Times has been playing catch-up. Which must have played into the decision to oversell Toback, pass off a small-fry as a trophy catch.

Last I looked screenwriter-director Toback, 72, was a struggling fringe-dweller, a talented but marginal indie filmmaker who, throughout his career, has complained of barely having two nickels to rub together.

You wouldn’t know this from media fallout following the L.A. Times’ Sunday story headlined “38 Women have come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexual harassment.” (This number has, in a few days, swelled to almost two hundred, including Oscar-winner Julianne Moore.)

Little wonder the NBC and CBS News anchors who over the weekend reported on the “scoop” couldn’t help looking off-camera for clarification: James who? He directed what?

The best the L.A. Times could come up with to help readers ID Toback wepickupre decades-old credits starring the pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. – “The Pick-Up Artist” (1987) and “Two Girls and a Guy” (1997). More recently Toback was involved in a sympathetic documentary on heavyweight champ-convicted rapist Mike Tyson. (The Times reporter coyly lumped the original 1974 “The Gambler,’’ starring James Caan, with Toback’s directing credits. That film was directed by England’s Karel Reisz; Toback did the original screenplay.)

We’re not disputing that reporting on Hollywood’s endemic mistreatment of women, countenanced by men as an OT perk, is an important story, and that the longer this story remains front and center the more women will feel emboldened and come forward with their stories.

But in the rush to one-up the competition, guys, let’s not oversell what we have, fudge on the facts and reporting. (Where in last Sunday’s story were the comments from longtime Toback friend Downey? Even a “no comment” from the actor’s agent would have helped.) Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the independent film scene knows Toback resides half-a-rung up from Russ “Supervixens” Meyer, a sad, sleazy throwback to the days of the casting-couch audition. He has openly bragged about same.

But in terms of play and importance this bottom feeder doesn’t belong on Page 1 with producer-studio chief Weinstein, only too happy to share the spotlight, I’m guessing. Toback, who denies he forced himself on anyone — and supports these protestations with a doctor’s note (diebetic, he is incapable of maintaining an erection) — is symptomatic of a misogynistic culture that has festered for far too long; Weinstein, a hydra-like producer-exec, hires and fires the likes of Toback. He is illustrative of something deeper, more pervasive and dangerous.

Comments? glovell@aol.com

 

 

Trick ‘r Retreat? ‘JC3’ Gets Peek-a-Boo Premiere

09/26/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Good news/bad news for the incredibly patient fans of the “Jeepers Creepers” franchise, launched in 2001 and, based on the original’s drawing power, continued two years later with the even more popular “JC2.”

No. 3 in the series – pitting a ravenous winged Lucifer, aka The Creeper, against mostly unsuspecting (read dumb) teenagers — reaches screens today after 14 years of teased start dates. Two years ago, Variety announced it was “in the works.” Once green-lighted, the low-budget fright film, eventually shot outside New Orleans, faced an uncertain on-again, off-again production schedule.

Creeper4The bad news? The horror sequel, again written and directed by Victor Salva (“Powder”) and co-produced by Francis Coppola’s American Zoetrope, opens and closes today — will run, according to a poster and trailer, “One Night Only!”

You heard right. AMC and other exhibitors have scheduled the much-anticipated return of the Creeper for a single 7 p.m. Tuesday showing (locally at AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara, AMC Eastridge Mall 15 in San Jose and 11 other Bay Area venues). Depending on how well the grisly supernatural chiller performs, more dates may be added. (Certainly a promising sign for fans: AMC Showplace Manteca 16 sold out tonight’s 7 p.m., so quickly added a 9:30 showing.)

With Netflix redefining what constitutes a movie “opening” – its “Beasts of No Nation” was simultaneously shown in theaters and made available to stream in 2015 — the exhibition side of the biz is being redefined as we speak. But limiting a commercial-sounding horror entry to an “exclusive” single night sounds, well, counter-intuitive. (To date, the first two installments have earned $120 million worldwide.)

If this blog is any indication, there is a sizable built-in audience for “JC3.” Our lengthy Salva interview (“Can Victor Salva Move On?”), which detailed the director’s criminal past and his struggle to continue making movies, has received a lot of traffic in recent days.

So, again, why the lousy theatrical release? You’d think with the box office being in the toilet this year theater chains would be clamoring for a chiller with cult appeal.

Three possible answers:

√ The low-budget, no-star “JC3,” which like its predecessors was not screened for critics, is bad beyond words. Unlikely. Think what you will of Salva, he is an undeniably talented filmmaker. Indeed, his “Nature of the Beast,” “Powder” and first “Jeepers Creepers” (especially the long-way-home buildup) represent the work of a nascent auteur with an edgy, hard-to-shake style and dark worldview (the result of being a persecuted gay in high school, he acknowledges).

√ The 59-year-old Salva in the years since his arrest has become an even more divisive figure in Hollywood, and exhibitors (contractually obliged to show the film?) fear a repeat of the October 1995 opening of “Powder,” picketed by Salva’s male victim and pilloried in the press with such headlines as “Disney Movie’s Director a Convicted Child Molester” (L.A. Times).

The answer to our headline “Can Victor Salva Move On?”: No. Establishment Hollywood has neither forgotten nor forgiven what Salva did. His career was virtually over when his victim’s aunt started emailing members of the press upon the imminent release of “Powder.”  AP broke the story; Daily Variety, the industry Bible, followed

The absurd Tuesday berth — Friday 10 p.m. or even a midnight showing make more sense — may be AMC’s way of discouraging the threatened protests and limiting blowback.

Or . . .

√ None of the above. The “One Night Only” thing is a Halloween trick, a William Castle-inspired gag to build awareness. It certainly got my attention.

(As of this writing “JC3” has not received a rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is not being advertised as an imminent video-on-demand option.)

Check back here for more on this developing story.

 

 

 

Choosing Sides: Would Bloody Sam Have Mounted Up with Trump Bunch?

09/13/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Here’s a sobering thought for those of us who came of age as members of the Movie Generation: Had Sam Peckinpah lived a less destructive lifestyle and not succumbed to booze, coke and hectoring studio bosses in 1984, at age 59, he and Donald Trump might have linked arms in the march to steamroll politics as usual.

At least that’s what Trump adviser Steve Bannon – who channeled “Bloody Sam” in a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday — would have us think.Peck3

A registered Dem who hated fences and romanticized resourceful fringe-dwellers, Peckinpah spent a good chunk of his career disparaging the establishment. We on the left both sided with the maverick director (for his stance on Vietnam) and vilified him (for his depiction of women as whores and back-shooters).  He clearly espoused the cathartic benefits of a good ritualistic blooding and the importance of closing ranks in the face of adversity.  Consult “Straw Dogs” for a violent tutorial on standing your ground, blowing the crud out of anyone who invades your space. See “The Wild Bunch” and “The Getaway” for stark reminders of the honor-among-thieves dictum.

Asked by Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes” if he had “lost confidence in anyone” before the election, Bannon said yes and illustrated with Chris Christie’s reaction to the “Access Hollywood” tape. Christie had turned on Trump and, in Bannon’s eyes, that was a “litmus test” of his loyalty.

“It’s a line I remember from the movie ‘The Wild Bunch,’ ” Bannon said, referring to the 1969 death-of-the-West epic seen by many (myself included) as Peckinpah’s masterpiece. “William Holden uses it right before that huge gunfight at the end. ‘When you side with a man, you side with him.’ OK? The good and the bad. You can criticize him (from) behind, but when you side with him you haPeck4ve to side with him.”

Obviously no film historian, Trump’s former Chief Strategist got both the quote and placement of the quote wrong. Holden’s Pike Bishop, aging leader of an outlaw band riding to its last score, tells a confederate (38 minutes into a 145-minute film), “When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can’t do that you’re like some animal. You’re finished! We’re finished! All of us! … Mount up.”

Of course there is much about Trump that Peckinpah would have disdained — the draft dodging (Peckinpah was a WW 2 veteran), the alt-right alliances (the villains in “The Wild Bunch” are corrupt federales allied with the Kaiser’s Germany), the border wall and treatment of undocumented Mexican-Americans — but the action auteur could be every bit as erratic and blunt as the candidate and his chief adviser. The new administration wants to “drain the swamp.” When approached about a TV series, Bloody Sam vowed to “tear out the soft underbelly of Hollywood.”

He may not have been an anarchist but Peckinpah certainly knew how to blow things up. (See bridge sequence in “The Wild Bunch.”)

Still, it’s absurd to think the iconoclastic filmmaker would have mounted up with the Trump Bunch, which already boasts the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, Charlie Sheen, and Gary Busey.

“Sam was a proud liberal Democrat,” protests Paul Seydor, author of “Sam Peckinpah: The Western Films” and director of the Oscar-nominated short ” ‘The Wild Bunch’: An Album in Montage.”

“The only time since his death that I have been happy he is not alive is now,” Seydor added. “It would have made him sick to his stomach to hear this cretin quoting ‘The Wild Bunch.’ ”

Zombies R Us: George A. Romero (1940 – 2017)

08/02/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Silver Moon Drive-In. Lewisburg, PA. Late summer. My girlfriend turned to me about 20 minutes into the first feature, a newsreel immediate indie about a disparate group attempting to ride out the original zombie apocalypse in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse. She said, evenly, “If we don’t leave now, I’ll never speak to you again.” 

Her measured response to what was unfolding onscreen in grainy black and white (set to music that sounded like flies sizzling on a griddle) told me that this was no ordinary ultimatum.

I put the window speaker back in its cradle and made for the exit. Disappointed? Yes. Secretly relieved? Probably.

That was my introduction to George A. Romero’s shocking, trendsetting “Night of the Living Dead,” shot on a shoestring just southwest of us, outside Pittsburgh. The seminal 1968 shocker was remembered in obits announcing Romero’s death from lung cancer at age 77Romero. (He was a lifelong smoker.) I finished watching what would go on to become the most influential American horror film since Hitchcock’s “Psycho” a few weeks later at a theater in State College, where I would attend graduate school and write about movies for the school newspaper.

Getting back into the dark with Romero’s zombies was akin to a double-dare made with your own warped psyche: How can you call yourself a horror fan? Get back in there and stare down your worst fears of being first cannibalized by your neighbors and then jerking back to “life” to join their ranks.

Romero made movies about other horrors, such as the all-too-prescient conspiracy thriller “The Crazies” and the clinically observed vampire variation “Martin.” But he will be forever remembered for his six-part zombie series, which somehow worked as a Rorschach test for the evolving viewer. The original zombies? “Us,” replied the ever-mischievous Romero. “We know we’re going to die, right? So we’re the living dead.” In “Dawn of the Dead,” they’re glassy-eyed consumers drawn instinctively to the muzak piped through every suburban shopping mall. In “Day of the Dead,” a Frankenstein’s monster variation, they’re the sadly abused “other.”  

Here’s my last conversation with Romero, published by the New York Times Syndicate in 2005.

Pittsburgh’s own George A. Romero is thrashing mad.

On the eve of the release of his zombie sequel “Land of the Dead” to DVD, the director says he’s seriously considering crossing the border.

“I’m fed up with the country, with the whole thing,” he says from Toronto, where he’s adapting another Stephen King book, “From a Buick 8.” “And I’m seriously thinking of leaving, man. Sure it’s a tough decision; I’ve lived there (in Pennsylvania) since college.”

None of this will come as a shock to anyone who has followed RomLandDeadero’s career.

He’s always been the most political of horror-meisters. Indeed, as has been pointed out more than once, his milling undead in “Night of the Living Dead” and its first sequel, “Dawn of the Dead,” are all-purpose metaphors for America’s disenfranchised. That’s why they’re so popular; they’re just like us, only uglier.

Romero looks upon his zombie series as a “platform” for rebellion.

“They’re sort of snapshots of the time in which they’re made, not only thematically but also cinematically. I try to make them look like one of today’s movies and at the same time reflect a little bit of what’s going on in society.”

“Night of the Living Dead,” released in 1968, resonated as a Vietnam War allegory. “Dawn of the Dead,” shot 10 years later in a shopping mall outside Pittsburgh, said something about consumerism run amok.

“Day of the Dead,” set in a subterranean lab in our own back yard, was the most cynical and worst received. “It came when we were just beginning to mistrust everybody. Not only institutions, but each other. Like who’s correct in that film?” Romero says.

“Land of the Dead” — due Tuesday as an unrated director’s-cut DVD — is, at $18 million, the most expensive of Romero’s zombie movies. It did well in Europe, but, arriving after “28 Days Later,” last year’s “Dawn” remake and the horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” went largely ignored on these shores.

Not surprising. It’s a ghoulish, post-9/11 parable that includes a city tower under siege and armored vehicles gunning down restless locals.

Actually, Romero points out, “Land” was on the drawing board at 20th Century Fox pre-9/11.

“Yes, I wrote this script literally days before the terrorist attacks. Then the towers came down and everybody wanted to make soft, fuzzy, friendly movies, and I basically put it away for a couple of years.”

But then Bush invaded Iraq and Romero said, “Jeez, this might even be stronger now.”

“I didn’t have to change much, because some of my original scenes resonated even more, particularly the armored vehicle going through a small village, mowing people down and wondering why they’re pi–ed off. I made the tower taller and protected it by water — until the water gets breached.”

If it’s so timely, why didn’t “Land” find a larger audience?

“You know, man, it could be as simple as we’re tired of horror films,” he speculates. “Also, I think American audiences want more gratification. They’re not as open to horror films that go a little deeper … (and) use horror as parable.”

Romero’s personal favorites among recent fright shows: “Saw” and “Shaun of the Dead” by England’s Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who have zombie cameos in “Land.”

But truth be known, Romero’s not big on bogeymen — or Halloween.

“I’m not a student, man. I don’t rush out to see these things. And I’m not into Halloween.”

Contact Glenn Lovell at glovell@aol.com.

“Uncle” Batman: Adam West (1928-2017)

06/12/2017

Adam West, who died Friday from leukemia at age 88, played Gotham’s Cape Crusader in ABC’s campy after-school series, inspired more by Lichtenstein’s pop art than DC’s brooding Dark Knight. Once the show was canceled, West was legally forbidden to don Bat-cowl for commercials or Comic-con. This didn’t stop him, however, from sounding off about his feuds with Warner Bros., DC Comics and Burt “Robin” Ward. Here’s our 2001 interview with West, who, more recently, appeared on “Family Guy” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

By Glenn Lovell

Twice a week for two and a half seasons, Adam “Batman” West donned cape and cowl, planted tongue firmly in cheek and BIFFED!! and KAPOWED!! the Penguin, Riddler and other garish archenemies into submission. Flash forward 35 years. West’s greatest nemesis in the 21st Century? DC Comics and then-parent company AOL Time Warner, which held the copyright to Batman and his likeness.

Holy Corporate Skullduggery, Caped Crusader! Your creator has turned spoilsport!

Yes, Robin. Sad but true.Adam

Fear not, Trusty Sidekick. The Cowled One won’t be cowed. Even now, disguised as boomer icon, he battles on.

West, tanned and robust at 71, used the DVD release of “Batman: The Movie – Special Edition” to finally stick it to DC Comics and anyone else who would deny him access to the bat cowl. The low-budget 1966 feature was spun off from the ABC series, which ran 1966-1968.

“I’ve been asked to be in very lucrative national commercials or on billboards, but DC Comics makes it very difficult – they want a lot of money for the costume,” West said over the phone from his farm in Ketchum, Idaho. “Unlike our incredible fans, they’ve given very little acknowledgment, credit, to the older TV Batman. I think it’s hypocritical, and arbitrary, on DC’s part.”

To illustrate, West recalled an offer to appear in a Canadian campaign for Yoplait yogurt. West said yes; DC handed Yoplait a bill for the Batman costume. The deal fell through.

What invariably happens at this point is that they hire a younger, less-expensive model who looks and sounds like West or those other square-jawed guys (Keaton, Clooney) in the more recent “Batman” movies

OnStar Corp., the satellite guidance system, used a West look-alike in bat-cowl and Batmobile in its national campaign, he pointed out.

“Yes, that’s happened quite a bit over the years,” West said. “That’s why I use the word ‘hypocrisy.’ They could get me, the real thing, if they paid my price. But if I want to do something in costume, they have to also pay DC a lot of money. Why should they turn me down and allow others to do it?”

If someone mAdam2et his and DC Comics’ price, he’d gladly don the bat suit again, said West. “I know it still fits.”

Warner Bros., which holds the rights to numerous DC Comics characters, said the Bat suit is not for rent or personal gain. “It’s our job to protect the integrity of the icon,” said Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti. “And sometimes we have to make judgments that seem specific. Batman is Batman – not the actor who dons the suit.”

West insisted he harbored no bitterness, that he was still in demand for movie cameos and voice-over work.

Then, too, there were six or seven annual “Batman” conventions, religiously attended by himself and Burt “Robin” Ward. Sadly, the fearless duo are now feuding. West cites Ward’s unflattering tell-all, “Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights.” “Burt thought he was Jackie Collins – there isn’t much truth in the book. But maybe I should be flattered: he made me look like a cross between King Kong and Errol Flynn.”

West and Ward attended conventions in street clothes. “That we’re not in costume doesn’t bother me, and it doesn’t seem to bother the fans.”

The events sounded as wild as “Star Trek” conventions.

“Yeah, they have their ‘trekkies’ and we have ‘batties.’ We have super-fans who dress up like characters and come play entire scenes from the movie. There are those who are maybe too deeply into the show.”

Have there been Bat-stalkers?

“Not for a while. There was a time when a guy did stalk me. He even followed me onto an airplane … People are usually warm toward the Batman phenomenon, very funny about it. There doesn’t seem to be any dark element … anything sinister to deal with.”

Here, West paused, then deadpanned: “Except a few nights at a couple of bars.”

Everyone wants to kick Batman’s butt, eh?

“Yeah,” he cracked. “I should have never worn my costume into a biker bar.”

At once pompous and playfully self-mocking, sort of like his stuffy Bruce Wayne-Batman persona, West liked to hold forth on the universal appeal of the TV series, which has been lumped – incredibly– with the Beatles and Bond phenoms. In the late ’60s, as the war in Vietnam raged, an entire generation of Bat-fans raced home from school to watch West and Ward do battle in a pop art world of hokey gadgets, bad riddles and almost chaste double entendres. (“You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt, Catwoman.”)

“It was unique – it had never been done,” explained West, who got the gig after spoofing a secret agent in a Nestle’s Quik commercial. “It was a comic character brought to life in a kind of absurd way. The kids got caught up in the crazy characters, the crime-fighting pizazz. And as they got older, they saw the gags, the double entendres, the absurdity of it. It was a family-friendly show, you know. Nobody got hurt.”

Except West and Ward, victims of a double whammy: They didn’t share in DC’s and 20th Century Fox’s lucrative syndication deal (their residuals stopped after six airings), and they suffered from terminal typecasting.

“I had to face being typed,” West acknowledged. “I knew it was coming. That wasn’t an easy thing to overcome. It took me several years to get out of the cape and cowl and, you know, do other things. I did theater, several TV pilots, guest shoots and a number of movies, some of them real turkeys.”

West would have been a natural for a cameo in Tim Burton’s darker, more operatic “Batman.” He, however, saw himself, even at age 58, as the lead. Warner Bros. and Burton didn’t race to the Bat-phone..

How did he feel when Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton broke records at the box office?

“When the first one was being promoted, I felt a little bit, um, left out. But that lasted about 10 minutes … The new ‘Batman’ movies are special-effects driven … The relationships aren’t there. Somehow, they don’t have the warmth, the wit, the silliness of our show. Overall, they’ve become too dark and sinister.”

Obviously there’s a need for a kinder, gentler Batman.

“Yes, they really need me,” he laughed. “So many heroes have let the kids down. They need Uncle Batman.”

 

“Alien” X-Factor: More Schlock, Less Awe

05/18/2017

by Glenn Lovell

As we head out to the local megaplex this weekend, the question on every serious sci-fi buff’s mind:  Can 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott salvage the once-respected “Alien” franchise, dating from 1979 and Scott’s original “Alien,” after the ignominy of desperate sequels like “Alien: Resurrection” (1997) and, worse, those Alien vs. Predator grudge matches (2004, 2007)?

Scott’s “Alien: Covenant,” the second of the director’s planned prequels, following the plodding “Prometheus,” sets down this weekend after a full-court promotional push. Budgeted at around $111 million — or $102 million more than the first “Alien” — the new installment stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Billy Crudup as real and synthetic cralien-covenantew members on the titular spacecraft. Their nebulous mission (something to do with the origins of Man and machine) sounds once again like muddled Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.

From the looks of the trailer, however, Scott may have taken a much-welcome sabbatical from the, ahem, existential ramblings of “Prometheus” and “The Martian” and tried a broader “Aliens”/”Starship Troopers” approach. (The hard-R rating for multiple blood-spewing chest-births is another promising sign.) If so, that’s a good thing. After all, the roots of Dan O’Bannon’s original “Alien” script — save for the last-minute casting of a female as second-in-command Ripley — were those sublimely trashy sci-fi’ers of the 1950s, zero-budget quickies about extraterrestrial life forms that stow away in the hull of Earth-bound spaceships. Among our favorites: “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” and, with its pulsing, blob-like blood rust, “Space Master X-7.”

Obviously excited about a balls-to-the-wall scary genre entry that might follow in the slipstream of their campier b.o. behemoth, “Star Wars,” Fox held a New York junket in the spring of ’79 for what was being touted as a horror-science fiction hybrid, an Old Dark House in deep space, if you will. In attendance were members of the cast, including a slender, somewhat androgynous unknown named Sigourney Weaver (she resembled a young but taller Jane Fonda), the 41-year-old Scott (this was only his second feature), and Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, whose distturbing paintings of phallic-shaped creatures were the inspiration for the drooling stowaway with lethal hydraulic overbite and acid blood that could burn through metal.

Interviews were set for Saturday morning, after the Friday press screening. I was there representing a South Florida paper. My one-off angle, much to the chagrin of studio flacks: For all its creepy extras (industrial functional production design, Jules Verne-retro spacesuits, etc.), “Alien” was really a throwback Saturday-matinee thrill ride. Had Scott and producers David Giler and Walter Hill heard of a 1958 black-and-white programmer called “It! The Terror from Beyond Space”? I asked. They shook their heads no. I ticked off the similarities. “It” has a blood-sucking Martian, which, like their alien, hides in the ventilation ducts of thCovenante ship. Again like their stowaway, the earlier menace is briefly held off with acetylene torch as it works its way from one section of the ship to another, picking off members of the crew … before being flushed into space.

Finally, Giler fessed up that someone in the production had come to a similar conclusion and that, just to be safe, Fox had procured a print of the earlier film and screened it for Scott, Giler, et al. They decided there was nothing to worry about, the two films shared basic genre conventions, nothing more.

Still, besides my opening day backgrounder for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, published in June 1979, I did a sidebar that began “What came first, the creature or the alien egg?” (See ” ‘Alien’ vs. ‘It’: Feud Revisited.) The piece included interviews with Giler, Walter Hill and, over the phone from North Hollywood, “It” screenwriter Jerome Bixby, who, on my prompting, sat through “Alien.” I asked him what he thought. His snap reply, “My lawyer’s on it.” (Nothing came of the threatened suit.)

At the urging of Bill Kelley, the Sentinel’s TV critic and in-house expert on horror and sci-fi, I rewrote the piece for “Cinefantastique” magazine. Though it didn’t make much of an impression at the time, my “It” theory slowly gained traction and converts, to where if you pick up Leonard Maltin’s “Movie Guide” and look up “Alien” you’ll find a reference to the earlier film.

I guess what I’m saying by revisiting this episode is that what has been sorely missing in Scott’s post-“Alien” science fiction — and I’m including “Blade Runner” here  — is that sense of good old-fashioned, scary fun, qualities that distinguished the low-budget sci-fi’ers of our misspent youths. Let’s hope this new installment stows the New Age philosophizing and goes for the jugular.

Postscript: While we’re on the subject, I should remind you that “Alien” was not the first feminist sci-fi film. Well before Weaver’s take-charge Ripley, whose decisive stance re protocol would have saved all but three of the Nostromo crew, there were Margaret Sheridan’s Nikki in Howard Hawks’s “The Thing” (1951) and Joan Weldon’s entomologist in the giant ant movie “Them!” (1954). Both proved fully invested participants in the action rather than stereotypical scream queens.

Executive Order: “La La Land” Best Picture Loser

01/28/2017

How Trump Will Impact Oscar Vote, Deprive Popular Musical of Win

by Glenn Lovell

Will issue movies trump eye candy at this year’s Oscars as fired-up Hollywood liberals attempt to send the new president a loud-and-clear message that they won’t stand for fear-driven legislation meant to rob women, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBT community of their hard-fought rights?

Following that inspired #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year expanded its membership with a healthy infusion of younger, more diverse talent. And unlike the Academy’s Old Guard (white, male, over 50), these new members — Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Carmen Ejogo (“Selma”), Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Byung-Hun Lee (“The Magnificent Seven”), and America Ferrera (“End of Watch”), among them — may well prefer real-life issues over sentiment or institutionalized nostalgia.

In the current volatile political climate, they won’t want to appear self-congratulatory or out of touch. They’ll want their votes to matter.

If the above scenario plays out, presumptive Best Picture winner “La La Land” will be the biggest casualty, as Academy voters shunt aside the popular throwback musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling for something less frothy.

I’m ordinarily not a gambling man, but I’d take the long odds on “Moonlight” or “Fences” to win in the Best Picture category, with the edge going to Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” because the Miami-set drama tackles both racism and homophobia and “Fences,” as good as it is, is a more traditional stage-to-screen transfer.

What about “Hidden Figures” or “Lion” or “Manchester by the Sea,” all critically acclaimed best-picture nominees? The first, about African-American mathematicians standing up to NASA’s segregationist practigoslingces during the space race, is worthwhile if conventional; the second, about a lost boy finally finding his way home, is too baldly manipulative; the third, starring best actor frontrunner Casey Affleck as a brooding New England handyman, is intense but mostly lily white in a year dedicated to diversity.

“La La Land,” like “The Artist,” the best picture winner in 2012, is show-biz honoring show-biz and, therefore, more than a little narcissistic. Which is why it leads the pack with 14 nominations. But as things heat up politically – and each day brings a more alarming executive order – the delightful throwback musical will look more and more inconsequential. And this will spell its undoing in the top category. It should do fine in the production design, cinematography, song and score categories.

Another sign that “La La Land” won’t win best picture: Meryl Streep’s surprise nomination in the best actress category for her tone-deaf philanthropist in the indifferently received “Florence Foster Jenkins.” This is the spot that was reserved streep2for either Amy Adams in “Arrival” or Annette Bening in “20th Century Women.” Streep edged out both actresses after her gutsy anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes. Suddenly, the actress has morphed into Delacroix’s barricade-storming Liberty Leading the People. Trump helped Streep to a record 20th nomination by lashing out via Twitter the following morning, calling her “a Hillary flunky” and “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.”

By attacking Streep, Trump assured her of a spot among the Oscar nominees. The president’s subsequent attacks on everything the movie industry holds dear will have a similar effect on the voting process, turning Academy members away from delightful song-and-dance and towards something darker, timelier, more relevant.

In short, this year’s final Oscar vote, held Feb. 13-21, will essentially be a referendum on Trump. And that spells fewer trophies for the audacious but apolitical musical-fantasy about two pretty but self-consumed Hollywood hopefuls.

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, Feb. 26. Jimmy Kimmel will host.

Glenn Lovell is a Bay Area film critic-instructor-author (“Escape Artist”). He has been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, Variety and, more recently, Boston Globe.

#OscarsSoContrite

01/24/2017

By Glenn Lovell

Hollywood largesse extends only so far.

As expected, Oscar, still smarting from last year’s #OscarsSoWhite backlash, managed to have it both ways: This year’s slate of nominees, announced Tuesday at dawn, both pay tribute to the Dream Factory and recognize a record number of African Americans.

Even so, there are oversights, such as Nate Parker’s wrongly maligned “The Birth of a Nation.”fences1

To no one’s surprise Damien Chazelle’s heavily stylized backlot musical “La La Land” racked up 14 nods, including those for stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, tying it for most nominations ever with “All About Eve” and “Titanic,” and movies made by and about people of color dominated several of the top categories, including best picture, supporting actress and best documentary feature (three of the five nominees are about racial injustice in America).

Accused of being caught in a segregationist time-warp last year when it overlooked “Selma,” “Creed,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and other strong dramas about being black in America, the Academy made amends by changing bylaws and addressing the racial disparity in its membership (predominantly white, male, over 50). The soul-searching appears to have paid off. As for why Netflix’s superb “Beasts of No Nation,” about the conscripting of child soldiers in West Africa, didn’t make last year’s cut, that has more to do with Hollywood’s reluctance to welcome online studios into the fold.

Barry Jenkins very personal “Moonlight,” a critics favorite about growing up black and gay in the Miami projects, received eight nominations, including those for best picture, best director and adapted screenplay (Jenkins), best supporting actor (Mahershala Ali) and best supporting actress (Naomie Harris).

“Fences,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the late August Wilson, received four nods – for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best actor (Denzel Washington), and best supporting actress (Viola Davis). “Hidden Figures,” about women of color struggling for recognition in a segregated NASA, received three nominations – best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress (Octavia Spencer)hidden.

Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” a grim homecoming drama thought to be the frontrunner in the original screenplay and best actor (Casey Affleck) categories, received nominations for best picture, actor, supporting actress (Michelle Williams), and supporting actor (Lucas Hedges). And Australia’s “Lion,” the year’s feel-good attraction about a lost Indian boy who, years later, finds his way home, received six nominations, including those for best picture, supporting actor (Dev Patel) and supporting actress (Nicole Kidman).

But what would Oscar be without a few surprises and egregious oversights? Among those that stand out:

√ Denzel Washington’s deserved spot in the director category went to, of all people, Mel Gibson, whose hypocritical, graphically violent World War 2 epic “Hacksaw Ridge” received six nominations, including those for best picture and best actor (Andrew Garfield). Academy members, as we feared, downplayed Washington’s contribution behind the camera because, in their minds, “Fences,” as good as it is, remains essentially a “filmed stage play.”

√ Though the brainy, first-contact sci-fi’er “Arrival” earned eight nominations, including one for best picture, Amy Adams, unarguably the beating heart of the picture, was thought to be a shoo-in for a best-actress nod. Her spot went to Ruth Negga (“Loving”) … or did it go to perennial nominee Meryl Streep (20th nod for the sentimental “Florence Foster Jenkins,” about a tone-deaf New York philanthropist who fancies herself an opera singer)?

√ The Texas-set modern-day Western “Hell or High Water” surprised proghighwaternosticators; it wrangled its way into the best picture, original screenplay, supporting actor (Jeff Bridges), and editing categories — and could very well play spoiler.

√ Michael Shannon, fast making a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, was superb last year as the father who sacrifices everything in “Midnight Special,” but the Academy nominated him for a less satisfying performance, as the dying Texas detective in the turgid “Nocturnal Animals.”

√ “Silence,” Martin Scorsese’s epic labor of love about Jesuit missionaries in feudal Japan, went all but overlooked by the Academy, which only nominated it in the cinematography category.

√ Nate Parker’s ambitious Nat Turner biopic, “The Birth of a Nation,” fared even worse, leaving many to surmise that the media’s anti-Parker campaign (tied to a almost two decades old charge for which Parker was cleared) took its toll.

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, Feb. 26. Jimmy Kimmel will host.