Monday, February 25, 2013


The last Oscar telecast I can remember watching in its' entirety was in February of 2002. That's eleven years ago for you folks scoring at home. That was the year Halle Berry won a Best Actress Academy Award and had an emotional meltdown on stage when she accepted the award. I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same under the circumstances but no one else that walked away with a statue that night had the same over-the-top reaction as Berry did. Like legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal once said about end-zone behavior: "act like you've been there before."

I remember that the Oscars that night seemed to go on forever (they may still be taking place somewhere for all I know). Judy and I were at the home of some friends and we all kept looking at our watches throughout the telecast, wondering when it would end. This was, after all, a Sunday evening, and we all had to get up and go to work early the next morning. More importantly, I hadn't seen any of the films nominated for any of the awards and I really didn't care who won or lost. We were watching just to be sociable and enjoy some time with our friends. When I got home late that night I realized something shocking but true: I just didn't give a damn about the Academy Awards anymore and I'd be damned if I'd spend another long Sunday night watching another pointless and meaningless (to me at least) Oscar awards show.

I didn't always feel this way. When I was younger, I prided myself on having seen most of the Best Picture nominees each year. My perfect year was 1970 when I saw all five of the Best Picture candidates: PATTON, AIRPORT, FIVE EASY PIECES, LOVE STORY and M*A*S*H. Not bad for a thirteen year old kid.

But over time, I saw less and less of the nominated films each year (hell, I saw less films period each year). It got to the point where I might see one Best Picture nominee, maybe two but never all of them. And then, over time, I began to notice something.

I didn't see any of the films. None. Nada. Zilch. 

As was the case for the show last night. I haven't seen a single Best Picture nominee from last year. In fact,  in all of 2012, the only first run films I saw at the theater were the following: JOHN CARTER, THE AVENGERS, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, PROMETHEUS, TOTAL RECALL, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE and SKYFALL. That's not to say that I won't see some of the nominated films eventually. I'd like to see LINCOLN, ZERO DARK THIRTY and ARGO and I imagine I will at some point in the future. 

Here's my score for Best Picture winners going back to 1990: DANCES WITH WOLVES (I saw this one but will go to my grave knowing that the vastly superior GOODFELLAS was robbed), THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (saw it), UNFORGIVEN (saw it twice!), SCHINDLER'S LIST (oh, great gods of cinema forgive me, I've never seen this), FORREST GUMP (saw it, thought it was highly  overrated), BRAVEHEART (saw it), THE ENGLISH PATIENT (saw it, hated every minute of it), TITANIC (saw it), SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (didn't see it), AMERICAN BEAUTY (saw it), GLADIATOR (saw it), A BEAUTIFUL MIND (didn't see it), CHICAGO (nope), THE RETURN OF THE KING (I will cross against the light to avoid any and all J.R.R. Tolkien films, so no, didn't see it), MILLION DOLLAR BABY (saw it, loved it), CRASH (nyet), THE DEPARTED (saw it, was blown away), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (saw it, really liked it), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (no), THE HURT LOCKER (no), THE KING'S SPEECH (no), THE ARTIST (no) and ARGO (not yet). So, I've seen only twelve out of the last twenty-three Best Pictures of the Year. Not a stellar batting average by any means, especially for someone like myself who used to see practically everything that came out.

But that was then and this is now. When I was younger and single, I used to see at least one new film every week, sometimes two. But over time, I've found that I just don't go to the movies that much anymore. The ticket prices are too high, it's a further drive now that I live outside of town, there's less I really want to see and it's far easier to stay home and watch a film on DVD from my vast collection. All of those DVDs on my shelves are proof that I haven't lost my love of films. It's just that my preferences and tastes have changed over time and I now find that it's the older, classic stuff that I prefer to watch instead of more contemporary fare. I have huge sections in my collection devoted to the films of Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Roger Corman, Ray Harryhausen and Alfred Hitchcock. I've got one shelf of Criterion Collection gems, two shelves of vintage film noir, a shelf of James Bond, two shelves of comic book movies, etc. 

Over the last few years, I've only made the effort to get to the theaters to see the big blockbuster comic book superhero films (most of which I've thoroughly enjoyed). I'm sure I'll make the effort to get to the theaters this year to see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, THE MAN OF STEEL, IRON MAN 3, THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD and maybe a few others. Plus, during the summer months I can see great classic old movies at the Paramount for free. Why spend twenty bucks to see something that I might enjoy when I can see something I know I'll love for free?

I didn't watch the Oscars last night. I won't watch them next year, or the year after that or the year after that and... You get the picture. The Academy Awards are a waste of precious time for me. I never thought I'd say that. I used to watch the entire show, I used to compete in Oscar betting pools, I used to think that what happened in Hollywood that night had some bearing on my life.

 It doesn't.

It never did.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


"The Last of the Independents"

I was in high school when Don Siegel's masterful crime film, CHARLEY VARRICK was first released in 1973. Somehow, I managed to miss seeing this film in the theaters back then and over all of these years, I had never seen it until the other day. 

Walter Matthau stars in the title role as Varrick, a former stunt/crop duster pilot who has decided to try his hand at robbing banks. Varrick and his gang (Felicia Farr, an unnamed actor and Andy Robinson, whose portrayal of the psycho serial killer "Scorpio" in Siegel's DIRTY HARRY gained the young actor a fair measure of cinematic immortality) target a small bank in a one-horse town in the high country of New Mexico. They get the money but the heist goes wrong, leaving the unnamed guy and two sheriff's deputies dead, the getaway driver (Farr) mortally wounded and Matthau and Robinson on the run.

One of the two forces that are tracking the bank robbers is the law, represented by the sheriff of the small-town (veteran character actor William Schallert) and the District Attorney (the no-nonsense Norman Fell). But it's the other group on their trail that gives Varrick the most to worry about.

It seems that the money that was stolen (a considerable amount for such a small bank) is actually mob money that has been skimmed by the shady bank manager (the oily Woodrow Parfrey) and his boss, John Vernon. Vernon knows the mob will kill them if they don't get the money back so he sets his own sadistic killer-for-hire (Joe Don Baker) out to kill Matthau and Robinson.

It was sheer dumb luck that Varrick chose the wrong bank to rob. But he's no chump, no rank amateur, no raw beginner. Matthau plays Varrick with an understated air of calmness and composure. His mind is always turning, always figuring the odds and the angles and the rumpled, slightly over-the-hill criminal is always one step and several moves ahead of his pursuers. 

The good guys (Schallert and Fell) in this film are mostly ineffectual and are merely supporting players. Director Siegel's real concern here is bad guys (Matthau and Robinson) and worse guys (Vernon and Baker). We're forced to cheer for the bank robber and our sympathies and concerns are squarely with Matthau. He's such a likable guy that we want him to get away with the loot. 

Siegel orchestrates the action like the seasoned pro that he was at this point in his career and the climax (involving a chase/battle between a bi-plane and an automobile) is expertly choreographed. The script (adapted from the John H. Reese novel THE LOOTERS by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman) is smart, the plot is swift and the locations (Nevada subbing for New Mexico) add greatly to the film, giving us a sun-drenched crime thriller. But the real joy in watching CHARLEY VARRICK comes from watching all of these terrific actors do their stuff. They are all veterans and pros and they all give 100% . I miss actors like Matthau, Schallert, Fell, Parfrey and Vernon. They were always a treat to watch and they were all solid assets to the films they appeared in. 

I had to wait forty years to see it but CHARLEY VARRICK was well worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 18, 2013


I finished reading THE THREE ROADS (1948), yesterday afternoon. It's the second mystery novel by Ross MacDonald that I've read in a row. This one is a stand alone crime story and is not part of the Lew Archer series.

In the book, Bret Taylor is a shell-shocked WWII Navy Lieutenant (today we'd call him a victim of post traumatic stress disorder) who's had his ship sunk by the Japanese. As if that trauma wasn't enough, when Taylor returns home to Los Angeles, he discovers that his young bride has been brutally murdered. The combination of events and the tremendous emotional and psychic stress that he's under causes him to gain amnesia. The novel opens in a military hospital, with Taylor making slow progress towards regaining his lost memories.

He's aided in his quest by one Paula West, a Hollywood screenwriter who was Taylor's first love prior to his short, tragic marriage. She's determined to stand by her man and help him recover, no matter the cost to both of them.

When Taylor is presented with information about his wife's murder, he leaves the hospital and sets out on a manhunt to find his wife's killer and do him (or her) in. What he finds isn't at all what he expected. 

THE THREE ROADS is an intensely psychological crime novel, with much of the narrative taking place within the various characters' minds. There's a mystery to be solved and some gun play along the way but it's not an action novel by any stretch. However, MacDonald is a very good writer and he kept me turning the pages trying to guess the identity of the killer. There are a couple of major twists near the end of the book and the ending will leave you wondering what happens next to some of the characters. Recommended.

Friday, February 15, 2013


I recently read BATMAN: EARTH ONE . It's an original hardcover graphic novel published by DC Comics. The script is by Geoff Johns, one of DC's top writers, with art by Gary Frank. It's the first Batman story in DC's ambitious "Earth One" series which aims to present new iterations of their classic flagship characters. There have already been two SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE volumes published. Here's my two sentence review:

Everything is different.
Everything is the same.

Allow me to elaborate. In this version, Bruce Wayne is just starting out on his quest for vengeance as Batman. He's aided by a new version of Alfred. Here the esteemed and venerable butler is re-imagined as an ex-solider of fortune who served alongside Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne, in various military campaigns. This Alfred is tough-as-nails and he administers a take-no-prisoners attitude in training Bruce to be a crime-fighter.

The Waynes still meet their death outside of a movie theater but this time, it's a political assassination engineered by Gotham's corrupt mayor, one Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin). James Gordon is a detective on the GCPD who's been blackmailed into looking the other way when certain crimes occur. His partner is Harvey Bullock, who is recast as a drop-dead handsome matinee idol reality television star instead of the slovenly character depicted in the regular continuity. 

Harvey Dent and his twin sister work for the District Attorney's office and Barbara Gordon is a librarian who will become Batgirl based on events in the story. There's no Robin, Dick Grayson or otherwise, the Scarecrow is revamped as a masked, bulked up serial killer named The Birthday Boy and there's a  shadowy glimpse of The Riddler on the last page. 

In short, this is just a tricked-up, hardcover, expensive version of an Imaginary Story. Nothing really different happens in this version. At the end of the day, Bruce Wayne is still Batman. Some of the supporting characters are slightly different but none of the basic dynamics of the mythos are radically changed. 

One word about Gary Frank's artwork. Is it just me, or do all of the men (Bruce, Alfred, everybody) bear a striking facial resemblance to actor Christian Bale from the recent BATMAN films? 

BATMAN: EARTH ONE has a mediocre script and acceptable art. I can't really recommend it to anyone unless they're a die-hard Bat-fan.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


When I was a kid, Forry Ackerman used to run stills from DR. CYCLOPS (1940) on a fairly regular basis in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine. I was fascinated by the b&w photos which depicted several very small people being menaced by the bespectacled and bald-headed giant Dr. Cyclops (Albert Dekker). Reading the captions and accompanying text clued me in to the fact that the little people were in fact victims of the mad Dr. Cyclops' shrinking ray. The whole affair had a whiff of wonder and I was deeply intrigued and mesmerized by the images. I yearned to see the film but alas it was not to be. 

DR. CYCLOPS never showed up on any television channel that I had access to while growing up and it was never theatrically re-released. It never turned up at any of the comic book conventions I attended in the 1970s (although several other classic horror, fantasy and science fiction films did). It wasn't until sometime in the 1990s that I finally acquired a copy of the film on VHS (remember that?). I know I watched it at least but that was at least twenty years ago and the details of the film were hazy until a few days ago.

That was when my buddy Kelly Greene and I sat down to watch DR. CYCLOPS on DVD. We were both stunned and blown away by how beautiful this film looks. Shot in the long since abandoned three-strip Technicolor format, this Paramount Pictures production bears the distinction of being the first full color science fiction film ever made.  

And what color it is! Three-strip Technicolor gives everything a super-saturated look. It's like the color palette has been turned up to 11. The green glow of  Dr. Cyclops' radium ray is so rich, so lush, so lurid, if you will, that it gives certain scenes in the film a look that is straight off of the cover of a 1940s era science fiction pulp magazine.

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack (who also co-directed the original KING KONG (1933)), DR. CYCLOPS stars Albert Dekker in the title role. He's a mad scientist ensconced in some ruins in the jungles of South America where he operates a radium mine. He kills a man with the deadly green substance at the beginning of the film to let us know he's a really bad guy. The doctor has sent for a fellow scientist to confer about his findings. The scientist is accompanied by his fetching assistant and three other men (one is a mineralogist). After Cyclops speaks briefly with the scientist, he abruptly dismisses them all wishing to remain alone in the jungle with his experiments. The five are naturally curious and suspicious about just what the doctor is up to too and they begin to poke around. That leads to trouble. The doctor turns his shrinking ray upon all of them and thus begins an exciting adventure of cat-and-mouse as the shrunken people attempt to escape their now enormous (and myopic) captor.

DR. CYCLOPS has wonderful special effects, enormous props and sets and a terrific performance by Dekker. For years afterwards, every time I saw Albert Dekker in other movies I always wondered why he didn't look like he did in the pictures in FAMOUS MONSTERS! The technicolor cinematography adds immensely to the film and makes every shot a pleasure to watch. Forry turned me on to DR. CYCLOPS years ago but I could never have imagined what a thrill it would be to finally see the film in all it's lush, vivid, pulpy glory. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I watched this one the other day. It was yet another DVD that I acquired in a  trade with a fellow comic book collector. CARRIERS is not a film I would have paid to see in the theater nor would I have purchased the DVD. But since I got it in trade, I figured I'd watch it and throw it out on eBay.

CARRIERS is one grim little film. The story takes place in what appears to be the near future in which an extremely deadly and highly communicable disease has killed off much of the population of the United States. The origins of this disease and how it is spread is never made entirely clear. The film begins with the disease already widespread with devastating effects. 

The story centers around a group of four young people (two men who are brothers and two unrelated women) traveling cross country on their way to a coastal community where the brothers spent much of their childhood. They have strict rules about interacting with any infected persons they might encounter. The rules are pretty simple and straightforward: if you're sick, you're dead and we leave you behind. 

The foursome encounter several different survivors of the plague along the way and each interaction takes it's toll on the group. In the end, two of the four are dead and only one man and one woman make it to the beach (Port Aransas, by the way, according to the credits).

I must confess that I was totally unfamiliar with any of the performers in this film except for Chris Pine, who plays one of the brothers and I only know him because he starred as James T. Kirk in the recent STAR TREK reboot. CARRIERS is a low-budget film shot on location in Texas and New Mexico. It uses the vast landscapes and wide open spaces to emphasize the desolation the characters are experiencing. With a PG-13 rating, the effects and shock value is not as high as one would find in a similar R-rated film.

Apparently CARRIERS was filmed several years ago and sat on a shelf at Paramount for quite some time before being given a very short theatrical release after which the film went straight to DVD. It's not a bad film but it's so grim and depressing you have to think twice about investing 90 minutes of your time to watch it. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) is a nifty little film noir that I watched a few nights back. I recorded it off of TMC. The title says it all as the film details the planning, execution and aftermath of the robbery of an armored car. William Talman (who would go on to play District Attorney Hamilton Burger on the long running PERRY MASON television series) is the mastermind of the heist. He has it all perfectly planned but of course, something goes wrong. The gang of four gets the money but they pay a heavy price: one of the crooks is wounded and a Los Angeles police officer is left dead at the scene following a shootout. Talman and his gang are desperately on the run, doggedly pursued by genre icon Charles McGraw as a never-give-up L.A.P.D. detective. The trench-coated McGraw, with his square jaw and chin and chiseled features, is a dead ringer for the comic strip detective Dick Tracy. He would have been great in that part.
Talman hopes to shake McGraw and escape the country with his girlfriend, a strip tease artist played by Adele Jurgens. Two of the crooks are killed, one is captured and another police officer is wounded before the exciting climax at an airfield. ARMORED CAR ROBBERY is a tightly constructed, swiftly paced crime film that doesn't waste a minute of its' screen time. Director Richard Fleischer shot much of the film on location in and around Los Angeles which adds greatly to the film's atmosphere and sense of place. Fleischer and McGraw would later work together on another classic film noir, THE NARROW MARGIN. Fleischer went on to direct such big budget films as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, TORA! TORA! TORA!, THE BOSTON STRANGLER and SOYLENT GREEN. ARMORED CAR ROBBERY is highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



Regular readers of this blog will recall that I recently reviewed HARPER (1966), a private detective film starring Paul Newman. The film was based on the novel "The Moving Target" by Ross MacDonald. I remembered having a copy of the book (pictured above) on my shelf and, having seen and enjoyed the film, I thought I'd give the book a read and see how they compare.
I'm here to report that the screenplay by William Goldman is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the source material. Of course, there are some minor changes. There are scenes in the book that aren't in the film and vice versa just as there are characters in the film that aren't in the book (such as Harper's ex-wife, played by Janet Leigh). But overall, in terms of main characters, storyline, plot and narrative (even some dialogue quoted verbatim from the novel), the movie serves the book very well. 
"The Moving Target" was the first novel by Ross MacDonald to feature private detective Lew Archer. It was also the first Ross MacDonald novel I've read. I enjoyed it immensely. MacDonald was a very good writer and I'm eager to read more of his work. I'm about to start reading "The Three Roads", which is a stand alone crime novel and not a Lew Archer mystery. I'll have a full report soon.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I just finished reading a book about Superman. The book is SUPERMAN: THE HIGH-FLYING HISTORY OF AMERICA'S MOST ENDURING HERO by Larry Tye and I recommend it to one and all. It's a history of Superman as if he was a real person and it covers his incarnations in several different media: comic books, comic strips, radio, television, movies and more. It's a broad based, general history written for a general audience. As such, it's a good book and is well worth your time.
However, if you're a hardcore comic book fan, there's not going to be much material in these pages that's new to you. I didn't learn much I didn't already know about Superman but I enjoyed reading the book. There has been a great amount of comic book history written over the last couple of decades including books and magazine articles. A lot of interviews have been conducted with almost every still living person who ever worked in the comic book business in some capacity: writer, artist, editor, inker, letterer, colorist, publisher, etc. Tye benefits greatly from the work done by other comic book scholars. While Tye does cite some original interviews that he conducted for the book, many, many other people did the bulk of the heavy lifting on this project. Tye does acknowledge this but the bottom line is that he doesn't bring much new material to the table.
And some of what he brings is incorrect. For instance, Titano, the giant King Kong inspired ape that has appeared many times over the years in the pages of SUPERMAN and other comics featuring the Man of Steel, is not a survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, nor was the big monkey ever a member of the Legion of Super-Pets as Tye implies. Also, there was never a single issue parody comic book published entitled STUPOR-MAN. The story, "Stupor-Man" that Tye references, appeared in an issue of Marvel Comics' NOT BRAND ECHH, a short-lived 1960s humor comic that parodied both Marvel and DC characters. By the way, NBE ranks as one of all-time favorite comics. I loved it when I was I kid and still admire it today. 
When mistakes like these appear in a work of non-fiction it causes me to suspect the rest of the book. After all, if the author got these "facts" wrong, what else did he state that was incorrect? Of course, it's not always entirely the authors' fault. A good editor is supposed to be there to catch mistakes like this but there are very few editors (good, bad or indifferent) left in the publishing business these days.
These are relatively minor and insignificant flaws that I'm more than willing to overlook and they didn't impede my enjoyment of the book in the least. If you're a fan of Superman, I urge you to read this book. If you're not a fan, give it a read anyway and see if it doesn't change your mind.