Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Joel Schumacher, who just died, was not the type of director who won Oscars.  He made commercial movies that critics rarely treated as high art.  But occasionally, he turned out something interesting.

He actually started as a costume designer in the 70s, working with directors such as Woody Allen--now there's someone who wins Oscars--on Sleeper and Interiors.  Then he became a successful screenwriter, working on films with African-American themes, such as Sparkle, Car Wash and The Wiz.

Then, after a couple TV movies, he graduated to features with Lily Tomlin's The Incredible Shrinking Woman in 1981.  It did not please the critics, but I thought it wasn't bad.

He followed up with D.C. Cab and the quintessential brat pack movie St. Elmo's Fire.  Then he directed what is probably his best film, The Lost Boys.  It's about two brothers moving into a new town with their single mom.  The younger brother meets some friends who are vampire hunters while the older brother happens to meet a gang of teenage vampires. There are also subplots with the mom and their eccentric granddad. (I was going to say more but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.)

There's a lot to like about the film.  Schumacher manages a nice mix of horror and comedy, but also gives us a good feeling for what it's like to be young and living in a beach town.  The Lost Boys also has great visual style, and a good ending (that apparently they fought over behind the scenes).  It also had a horrible poster, playing up hunky star Jason Patric, but making him look dorky.

Schumacher followed it up with Cousins, a remake of a French comedy, that once again I liked while the critics didn't.  Then Flatliners, a horror film with a great cast and a passable concept that didn't really work.  After that, Dying Young, a dreary film with the hottest new star in town, Julia Roberts--I remember some magazine predicting it would be the #1 hit of the summer, but that was before anyone saw it.

After that Schumacher made what might be his most critically acclaimed film, Falling Down, a drama about a middle-aged executive fed up with his life who walks across Los Angeles committing acts of mayhem. I found it intriguing, though I haven't seen it since it opened and wonder how it'd play today.  I'd like to see it again simply because I know the layout of Los Angeles so much better and would know where he is throughout the movie.

At this point, Schumacher started doing bigger and bigger films, though they were getting less and less interesting.  He did two John Grisham stories, The Client and A Time To Kill, which aren't bad, though it doesn't seem like he added much to them.  And he also did two Batman films, Batman Forever (Val Kilmer as Batman) and Batman & Robin (George Clooney as Batman).  The former is not highly regarded, while the latter is considered the low point of the Batman films.  Perhaps it is, but, aside from the design and a few performances, I don't think much of the Batman series up to that point anyway.

Most of the Schumacher films that followed aren't much.  Some people had hopes for 8MM, the follow-up script from the writer of Se7en, but it's awful.  So is Flawless, starring Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman, which seems to be the kind of film designed to win awards.  Then came the war film Tigerland, which sank without a trace. (Some critics liked it--I've never seen it.)

Schumacher made eight more features, most with decent budgets and good actors.  I wish I could say one or two stuck out, but all of them are undistinguished.  No matter.  He had an up and down career, but he made some decent stuff, often when no one was paying much attention.

Monday, June 22, 2020


With so much going on, it was easy enough to ignore what would normally have been last week's big story--the major cases handed down by the Supreme Court. Not that they weren't covered.  They just didn't create the excitement they normally would.  Though some conservatives (including some on the court) suggest that's the problem--that the court, under John Roberts, avoids controversial decisions. (Controversial to certain people, that is.)

Thus the sexual orientation case and the DACA case.  Conservative critics find it absurd that Gorsuch, allegedly a textualist, could find the Civil Rights Act of 1964 means things its signers couldn't possible have meant.  And the same critics find it even more bizarre that the Chief Justice says one President can make an executive decision that the next President can't rescind.  Both opinions, they say, are results-oriented jurisprudence.

What got to me, though, is how it was assumed--correctly--that all four liberal justices would vote the same way. Can't they ever surprise us?  Looked at a matter of principle, rather than politics, it doesn't seem like these cases are slam dunks for their side.  Just now and then, can't one of them go a little off the reservation?

Friday, June 19, 2020


Ian Holm has died.  A great character actor, someone you were always glad to see. The obits are mentioning his work in Alien and The Lord Of The Rings series, and even his one Oscar nomination for Chariots Of Fire, but those are not my favorite performances.

So what did I like best?  It's hard to chose, as he was in well over a hundred movies and TV shows, and rarely gave a bad performance.  But here's a top ten of sorts, in chronological order, which also demonstrates the variety of work he did:

Napoloen in Time Bandits

Mr. Kurtzmann in Brazil

Lewis Caroll in Dreamchild

Ken in Another Woman

Polonius in the Mel Gibson Hamlet

Willis in The Madness Of King George

Cornelius in The Fifth Element

Mitchell in The Sweet Hereafter

Kiri Vinokur in eXistenZ

Joe Gould in Joe Gould's Secret

Monday, June 15, 2020

In The Arena

The Arena Cinelounge, a one-screen cinema just up my block, will be the first movie theatre to reopen in Los Angeles.  I'm glad to hear they've got that underdog spirit, but it's still an odd story.

I love the Arena Cinelounge.  They play real independent films--not those indie films that get shown on a couple hundred screens across America, but films you never heard of that get almost no distribution.  I've been a regular since they opened at their current location.

But I just don't think people in L.A. are ready to return to their film-going habits.  And I would have guessed the Cinelounge would be the last place to reopen. The linked article tells us this:

Arena Cinelounge [...] will be in full compliance with public health protocols.  They will take important safety precautions such as a new air purification system, seat disinfecting between screenings, socially distanced seating and concessions specially packaged for contactless delivery.

The Cinelounge is the smallest theatre around.  The seats are very comfortable, but there are less than fifty in the house.  With "socially distanced seating" how many can attend a showing?  Five?  Ten?

They probably won't get that many, anyway,  Or maybe they'll get five or ten people who made the film.  I long for the days we can go to the movies again, but I fear this won't be the start of something big.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


Bobby Lewis just died at the age of 95.  Not a major artist, I suppose, but he recorded at least two pretty memorable tunes:

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Hugh Cares

Someone sent me a tweet from Hugh Laurie.  I don't usually bother with what celebrities think about politics, but he's saying something a lot of people believe is an important point:

For every hour we spend agonising over societal crimes of the past, we should probably allow a minute or two to wonder what we're doing now that will be similarly condemned a hundred year hence.  Climate, obviously; animal rights, likewise.  What else?

Hugh, I respect you as a performer, but this is pretty stupid.  Here are some other things we're doing now that plenty of people believe we should worry about for the future--excessive government spending, abortion, the spread of socialism.  I could list hundreds of others, of course, but I have to ask you, will you now be spending any time worrying about my list?  Or will you perhaps realize that claiming you know what people will believe in the future is simply an obnoxious way of arguing about what we believe today. (And by the way, those jerks in the future will likely get us wrong--just as we misunderstand the past when we condemn it wholesale--so screw 'em.)

And as a side note, I don't know about "agonizing" (which is how we spell it) over societal crimes of the past.  You can study them and be aware of mistakes that were made, but I don't know if agonizing helps anyone, since you can't change the past.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


The fourth season of Rick and Morty is over. It was separated into two 5-episode sections, the second airing about five months after the first.  That was annoying, but what about the episodes themselves?

They were good, but this was the first time the new season didn't top the previous one.  I'd say there were only two classic episodes, the eighth--"The Vat of Acid Episode"--and the tenth--"Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri."

Unfortunately, too many of the episodes had the show swallowing its own tale.  For instance, "One Crew over the Crewcoo's Morty" was a parody of all the double, triple and quadruple-crosses we see in caper films, and it got tiresome.  Same for "Never Ricking Morty" where the title characters have to fight their way off a literal Story Train that has them work through many different plots and emotional moments.

I'm not saying any episode was bad, and they all reward second viewings, but much better are more straightforward stories examining how the characters react to outside forces, not comments on storytelling itself.

PS  I watched two new comedy shows, Upload and Space Force. They were both fine, though not great.

Space Force got a lot of negative reviews, but it wasn't that bad, and the cast was excellent--Steve Carrell as the general who at first seems to be another military clown, but turns out to have some nuance; Diana Silvers and the general's bored teenage daughter, Tawny Newsome as Captain Ali, the general's aide who has higher aspiration; and Jimmy O. Yang as one of the leading scientists at Space Force. Above all, there's John Malkovich, as Dr. Mallory, the intelligent, effete chief scientist.

Both Upload (a comedy about the afterlife--coming right after The Good Place finished) and Space Force end season one with cliffhangers.  I don't like this.  If a comedy is funny, I'll be back.  They think it's better if I worry about whether a character will die. It isn't.

I also finally finished Hunters, which came out in February.  I watched the first few episodes of the much-advertised show back when it came out and gave up.  The characters and the politics were gross caricature, and the Holocaust was used as a prop for comic book antics.

Since I've got nothing but times these days, I went back and watched the rest, and it was even worse than I remembered. On top of which, there's a twist at the end so ridiculous that I suspect even fans of the show threw up their hands in disgust.

Anyway, awful, just awful. Despicable, really.
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