6 posts categorized "Film"


I'm pretty sure Terrence Malick mows our yard


Our lawn guy, who I think is Terrence Malick, must have stepped away for a minute.   (Courtesy:  blingcheese.com)

Malpic250Oh he's a crafty one, that seriously reclusive Texas-based filmmaker Terrence Malick.

Malick's "The Tree of Life" took the Palme d'Or, a fancy way to say Best Picture, at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France on Sunday (May 22).

The anti-prolific filmmaker didn't show himself along the sun-baked Croisette in Cannes to bask in the glory of a controversial press screening (a mixture of boos and praise), the gala screening or even Sunday night's awards ceremony.

I think I know the reason for that.  It wasn't near-terminal shyness at all.

I'm pretty sure that's because Malick was cutting and edging our lawn in Plano, TX early Saturday afternoon.  Did a fine job, too, and walked away with 30 bucks (including tip) for his hard work.

Malick hides his true identity well, that sly dog.

Terrence -- an overly formal name for a guy trailing along after a power mower -- calls himself Manuel in his landscaping persona.  I suppose that's an effort by the former Rhodes scholar to, you know, blend in.

He calls me Mr. Larry, and even blurs his true identity by wearing a floppy hat, which is eerily similar, plus or minus a sweat stain or two, to the one seen in Malick's rare photo shown here. 

Manuel -- or is it Terry? -- tries to further conceal his ID by speaking in broken-English via a thick Spanish accent.  I tell you, Malick could act in one of his movies.  His Spanish accent is that "bueno."

That means "good," for those of you who are single-lingual.

It took me a while, but I'm onto Terrence/Manuel now.

I mean, the guy has only cranked out five feature films in almost 40 years.  That gives the Harvard grad plenty of time to grow his landscaping business between gigs.

If you ask me, when Malick turned down the opportunity to direct "The Elephant Man" in 1980 it was because he had some serious mowing and edging to do.

Then there are the blatent landscaping hints in some of his movie titles:  Come one, "The Tree of Life"?

And isn't "The Thin Red Line" (1998), a World War II flick set in the jungles of Guadalcanal, just a metaphor for that thin ditch the edger channels between the sidewalk and the lawn?

I'm on to you, Mr. Terry.  Just know that your secret is safe with me.  In fact, I feel a little like a movie mogul, since we invest $30 in your cinematic projects every couple of weeks. 

I hate to bring this up, Terry, but we have yet to see any return on our investment, cinematically speaking.

Also, if you're not too busy hiding from the paparazzi after your big win at Cannes this week, the magnolia tree of life over by our squirrel feeder in the back yard could use a little trimming.

(Terrence Malick, or Manuel photo from some time in the past courtesy:  Hollywood.com.)



(Courtesy:  weeklyreader.com)

It's not that Suellen and I have to share our shower with ants that bugs me the most, really.

It's more of a social issue.  The ants, I've concluded, are taking more showers than I am.  That makes me look bad, you little jerks.  (Talking to the ants, not you.)

I don't care if they did evolve from wasp-like ancestors (still talking ants, not you) and have been around somewhere between 110 and 130 million years.  The ants can just take their bathy baths outside somewhere.

OK, full disclosure:  I was pretty freaked out by the cheesy sci-fi/horror movie "Them!" when I was a kid not yet 10 in the mid '50s.   Nuked in early atomic tests, giant mutated ants roamed the New Mexico desert looking not for someplace to shower, oddly enough, but for humans to snack on. 

Almost everything I know, which isn't much, I learned by watching movies.  Case in point:  Don't go anywhere near the ocean ("Jaws"); Don't look in the attic ("Don't Look in the Attic"); Don't try to pet a skunk.

Actually, I learned that one on my own.  That's another (grisly) story.

Obviously, ants have no decency and show no mercy.  After all, early on in "Them!" they did devour gentle old storekeeper Gramps Johnson.

But could we get back to my shower, please?  (Speaking figuratively; still not talking about you personally.)

We can't put ant traps in the shower, where they appear to be coming in, for sanitary reasons.  So we've placed ant traps on the floor just outside the shower door.

Many of them do die.  Actually, it's a clean death.  They tramp through the shower, stop off for a little ant trap snack, "Yum!" and fall over dead.

Perhaps taking a hint from what they're read on a shampoo bottle on the way in, this process takes place, then repeats.  Takes place, then repeats.

About a billion times!

I thought we were gaining on the determined little invaders.  I mean, how many of them can there be?  Now I learn through my usual careful research (I Googled) that ants are attracted to the smell of their own dead. 

Them!  Those sick bas*#$@*!

 Apparently it's some sort of "no ant left behind" military deal.

If they must go military on us, I would much prefer a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

That way maybe I could shower in peace.



R.I.P: Jean Simmons; you ignited my movie love

The scene of the boys-will-be-boys "crime."

(Courtesy:  OakCliffYesterday.com/Office of War Information Photograph Collection)

I was just reading the Jean Simmons obituary in the New York Times.

Who am I to criticize "the gray lady," as the Times is sometimes called?

Jean Simmons as Sister Sharon.

(Courtesy:  MGM/UA Home Video)

But it appears to me that the summation by Aljean Harmetz of the life and career of the great British actress who succumbed to lung cancer (according to her agent) at the age of 80 at her home in Santa Monica, CA,, the other day failed to include something.

In addition to sharing the screen with Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus," Marlon Brando in "Guys and Dolls" and Burt Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry," Simmons, you see, played another major role.

Simmons and Lancaster are the reason I've spent 30 years writing about movies and much of my life willingly succumbing to their magical spell.

I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager and beginning to think about what, if any, place I might have in this world when my older brother, three years my senior, got his driver's license in 1959.  We lived in Grand Prairie (TX), a sleepy underachieving gas stop between Dallas and Fort Worth where you could buy hamburgers seven for a dollar. 

There wasn't much for a kid like me to do on weekends except walk across the railroad tracks to town, or more specifically to the Uptown Theater for a Saturday afternoon at the movies.

The long, joyous afternoon typically began with cheesy MC Jerry Silver (the owner or manager) hopping on stage and pretending to swallow a lighted cigarette.  After a newsreel, cartoons and maybe a "Flash Gordon" serial short, there'd be a double-feature.  John Wayne was usually involved, as were "bad hombres" and/or "ingins."  (The Duke's words, not mine.)

That all changed when my older brother got the keys to the car.  Looking back, it was probably a minor rite of passage for him; freedom and an introduction to the world of unchaperoned dating, etc.

A trip to the nearby Chalk Hill Drive-in, however, changed my life in 1960.  For some reason I can't recall, my brother and a couple of his buddies actually let Little Larry tag along.  I remember my mother asking what was showing.  My brother replied something about a Disney movie.

It is very likely that a Disney movie was playing in theaters (including drive-ins) back then.  The Mouse House released "The Sign of Zorro" and "Swiss Family Robinson" that year, along with "Pollyanna."  I'm pretty sure my brother didn't say we were heading out to see "Pollyanna."

Mother would have snapped that something risky and bordering on dangerous emotional territory was up.  The trip would have been canceled before my brother could back our '57 Chevy out of our two-strip, cracked driveway.

But we didn't pull up to the Chalk Hill Drive-in speaker pole and face the screen playing a Disney movie.  This carload of semi-naughty boys were "getting away with something."  I was in the back seat; not a hostage nor a willing co-hort, but just a forgotten extra kid in the backseat.

We were there to see "Elmer Gantry." And it changed my life.

Set in the 1920s, "Elmer Gantry" starred Jean Simmons as an angelic-looking tent evangelist named Sister Sharon Falconer.  Her life changes drastically and unexpectedly (like mine) when a loud, but charismatic traveling salesman named Elmer Gantry shows up.  He's quick with a joke and even quicker to pull out his flask of whiskey.

Lancaster, nominated for Best Actor Academy Awards for "From Here to Eternity," "Birdman of Alcatraz" and "Atlantic City," won instead for this amazing, grandiose title-role performance.  Elmer takes a shine to the saintly evangelist and pulls out all the stops -- even joining her troupe of tent preachers -- to use his gift of salesmanship to, shall we say, win her over.

I'll never forget how Lancaster emphasized the name "Sister Sharon," lifting it to such heavenly heights in his sermons that she might have been one of the original disciples.  More often, though, Elmer stoked the hell fires of the crowd by charming them before Bible-thumping the fear of everlasting damnation into them:

"I have here in my pocket - and thank heaven you can't see them - lewd, dirty, obscene, and I'm ashamed to say this: French postcards. They were sold to me in front of your own innocent high school by a man with a black beard . . . a foreigner."

If my brother or anyone in the front seat with him had turned around, they would have seen a future film critic stunned by the brute power of effective, provocative drama as the projected colors of "Elmer Gantry" danced across my frozen face.

It was a more innocent time back then.  The President John F. Kennedy assassination (just a few miles from the Chalk Hill Drive-in in downtown Dallas) and the Vietnam War were yet to sour this country's idyllic state.

Movie stars back then didn't hop into bed or slam each other into a wall to signal coupling.  Filmmakers like Richard Brooks, who directed and wrote the screenplay for "Elmer Gantry" and who was married to Simmons for 17 years, used nuance to its full potential.

After much emotional seduction, Elmer is extra perky one morning.  As for Sister Sharon Falconer, she can't concentrate on that night's sermon.  She's too busy pouring sand out of her shoe very slowly; savoring the previous night's free-fall to more common earthly activities.

Yes, the con man gets the girl in "Elmer Gantry," another shock brand new to me at the time.  And although painful damnation is coming, Simmons, Lancaster and Brooks welded an appreciation for powerful, dangerous drama into my heart and brain that will not go away until I do.

How dare they bring to the screen such provocative subject matter of a lovable lout posing as a preacher not for a greater good, but, pretty much, just to get laid?

How dare them indeed, and thank God they did.  

So, rest in peace, Jean Simmons.  You'll always be pure, sweet, divine -- if a little gullible -- God-loving Sister Sharon Falconer to me.

You've already left us, but I leave you with the line Elmer Gantry loved to woo you with the most:

"Love is the morning and the evening star." 

Followed, of course, by a salesman's wide, cheshire cat grin.



Something new: Old year's resolutions

If a Christmas tree falls in the living room when no one's around, does it make a sound?

I've never had much luck with New Year's resolutions, or even new years for that matter.

Case in point:  2009, which I have referred to in this space as a year of living dangerously, skidded completely out of control for me early.  Friday, Jan. 16 to be exact.

It was about 11 in the morning when the editor of my newspaper called.  Not my immediate editor, or even his boss.  I'm talking THE EDITOR.

I was fighting a noon deadline to finish up a filmmaker interview I was writing before rushing off to a matinee of an opening film not screened in advance for movie critics.  I knew immediately what the call was about. 

I was seconds away from finding out what the word "deadline" really means.

Outwardly seemingly undaunted by the news of an abrupt smash, skid and detour to a 29 year career as a film critic, I wept silently inside; occasionally blowing up at my wife Suellen for no reason.

But there was a reason.  "They took my career away, yada ("Poor me"), yada ("Damn them"), yada."

After even I couldn't stand feeling sorry for myself anymore, I got busy and went into business for myself as a film critic, columnist and Web site purveyor.  If you're reading this, I thank you.  Please remember to click on all the ads.  It's sort of like remembering to tip the waitress before you leave.

So because of what happened in 2009, there will be no New Year's resolutions from this aisle seat.  Instead, here are unfortunate mishaps of 2009 that I swear I won't repeat in 2010, or "oh-10" as so many people wrongly refer to the new year.

Oh Christmas tree, why'd you do that to me?

I knew right away when we tried to put up our Christmas tree this year that there was going to be trouble.  Without going into too much detail, just know the stupid, #&^)$#@#@ stand was malfunctioning to a point that it could not be adjusted properly.

Suellen and I, bickering all the way (not laughing as the joyous season suggests), finally achieved something that appeared to be a semi-straight Christmas tree truce.

Long story short, after all the presents were unwrapped and a house full of relatives were bravely sharing the holiday with us, the Christmas tree, Suellen's most cherished decorating prize of 2009 or any year, decided to take a bow.

"The tree's falling," I said, too stunned to jump up from my lopsided, eroding, fairly new recliner (another story for another time).

Luckily my stepson Marc, who has the quick reflexes of a former star athlete, caught the tree, saving all the family heirloom ornaments and, quite possibly, my life.

That's my bad, Suellen.  In 2010, I promise we'll start the Christmas season off with a new tree stand that can handle your strict requirements; thick, full bottom and a nice shape above.  (I'm still talking tree here, folks.) 

As God is my witness, I'll never order a nose stud on-line again!

A close family member and I don't quite see eye-to-nose on the issue of young ladies and women wearing nose studs.

Maybe it's because to me nostril piercing sounds like something that comes right after water-boarding to get suspected terrorists to tell us where they're hiding Osama bin Laden.

I'm not talking a 12-year-old suffering from a bad case of peer pressure, either.  I'm referring to an adult professional with a PhD who wanted a tiny diamond-topped nose stud for Christmas. 

"It's tagged 'high priority' on her Christmas wish list," Suellen informed me.

So, I reluctantly ordered it.  Of course the recipient loved it and even laughed when I referred to her tiny nose glitter as a booger spear.  I won't order one again, though.  Don't know why, really.  Just won't.

A little less gluttony, a little more treadmill

I'm really going to try to cut down on the stupid, dangerous, embarrassing, unhealthy gorging of food in 2010.  My battle cry, which real movie buffs will recognize (hint:  "2001"), is "Close the pod bay doors, HAL." 

The pod bay refers to my mouth, which I can rarely control verbally or with food.  In the past year it has succumbed to serious abuse issues with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream and cobbler, just to name a couple of waist-line expanding items.  (Click here for the grisly details.)

It's a new year, so I'm going to give better eating habits the old emeritus college try.

Finally, my wish to you for the New Year

To you and yours, I wish a happy, prosperous 2010.  And to all the fine folks still hanging on to newspaper jobs around the country (and especially in San Antonio), I sincerely hope you get through the new year without getting The Call.

Take it from me.  The new definition of deadline is a bitch.  



Good news for Dallas-area parakeets

That's the end of the first quarter, and a five and a half month absence from writing about movies for a newspaper.

I just dropped that quarter into a newspaper rack outside a North Dallas Starbucks and purchased Preston Hollow People, one of three Dallas-area weekly newspapers that began publishing my movie reviews on June 26.

I don't want to put any pressure on former President George W. Bush to read my reviews.  But this is the new neighborhood.  If the former prez and the ex-First Lady missus are in the mood for a cinematic excursion, they're more than welcome to check out my reviews for, you know, guidance.

I'm not going to lie.  I missed writing for a newspaper for the past few months.  Once that smell of ink gets in your blood, it's impossible to shake.

My goal is to do more, actually.  (Are you listening other newspapers and publications?)

For now, though, I'm proud to be appearing in not only the Preston Hollow People, but the Oak Cliff and Park Cities editions as well.  (Click here for the People Newspapers Web site; but you'll need to continue to click here for my film reviews.)

That means Dallas parakeets, who may have been holding it (so to speak) until a suitable newspaper target came along, are now free to blast away at my prose so neatly spread out under the seed feeder and water cup at the bottom of their cages.

Believe me, they won't be the first to give my movie opinions the ol' poop salute.


I can't even drag my wife to 'Hell' in peace

Helluse The devil went down to the neighborhood movie house, he was looking for a soul to steal.

(Thanks, Charlie Daniels)

My wife and I went down to our local semi-upscale movie multiplex Saturday afternoon, looking to see if someone was really going to be dragged, you know, way, way down south. 

Suellen loves well-constructed horror flicks as escapism entertainment, especially if they're a little campy and fun.  So do I.

Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell" fits the bill beautifully.  It's silly and cheesy at times, but on purpose, not like those slice-and-dice blood-letters that draw unintentional laughs from their own genre shortcomings.

We even had fun going in.  "Which way to 'Hell?" I asked the somewhat-stunned kid taking tickets.

In a moment, he rebounded:

"Um, Theater 9.  Right over there," he said, with just the hint of a sideways grin as he pointed.

The ticket taker's look was one the late Elvis Presley might come up with if he bit into a rotten banana slice lurking in his peanut butter and banana sandwich.

All we wanted to do was spend a couple of carefree hours being shocked a little and entertained a lot as we munched on popcorn and Milk Duds.  (If you know me at all, you know I'm the Milk Duds guy.)

I had already seen the movie, of course.  (Click here for my review.)  I just couldn't wait to see how Suellen reacted as Raimi (the filmmaker who has given us the "Spider-Man" fantasy adventures) returned to his first genre love:  Horror films with humor. 

It only took a few seconds and the sighting of older kids bringing what looked to be about a 5-year-old boy into the auditorium to exorcise 99 percent of the fun from our escapism movie outing.

"Drag Me to Hell" is rated PG-13.  But it is hardly meant for impressionable tykes with single-digit ages. 

Raimi plays the audience like his personal fiddle.  He uses harsh scary sounds, frightful sights and sudden horrific images that go way beyond standard bump-in-the-night stuff to scare his audience into what is intended to be a gleefully ghoulish entertainment thrill ride.

As the gaggle of late teens or early 20-somethings with the little boy took their seats in the row directly behind us, Suellen also spotted two men arriving with a little girl.  She was about 8.

And our carefree outing at the movies was officially ruined.

Suellen has compassion for all decent citizens of the world, especially defenseless children, that rivals Mahatma Gandhi.  She could stand it no longer:

"Can I say something to them?"

I responded something like, "Go ahead if you want, but it won't solve anything.  Come back later when the theater is full and you'll see 30 or 40 kids dragged in here by stupid parents or older siblings.  You can't save the world."  (I like the way comedian Ron White sums it up:  "You can't fix stupid.")

Youngsters, of course, aren't able to understand that the filmmaker is just having fun as he gives us the heebie-jeebies.  They just process the shocking images and file them away to be haunted later when, as Suellen says, "The dumb parents fail to understand when their child cries out of fear when the lights are turned off at night."

I heard the little boy behind us say, "I'm not scared" after almost every horrific filmmaking punctuation mark.  I'm not sure if he was trying to convince his older seatmates or himself.

Later, over dinner, Suellen pleaded her case to me again about getting involved:

"Even if that little boy is subjected to mental abuse like that his entire young life, he might just remember that one day a lady stood up for him in a movie theater."

I joked back:  "Yeah, or he might always remember that day when his sister's ex-con boyfriend stabbed a lady in a movie theater."

Even though I fended off her heartfelt comment with weak humor, Suellen's compassion and her courage to stand up and fight for what's right is something I will never forget.

Shame on you folks for taking little kids into PG-13 or R-rated movies just because you're too cheap to get a babysitter or because it isn't convenient for some reason.

And shame on me for not standing up and being a man on Saturday.

Suellen, please forgive me.

(Photo:  Lorna Raver prepares a knockout blow in "Drag Me to Hell."/Universal Pictures)