Hey I Finally Saw…TRUE GRIT!

It seemed like a good time to catch up with the 1969 John Wayne western classic for a few crucial reasons. The recent death of Dennis Hopper who has a small, yet memorable role was one, but overwhelmingly it’s because the Coen Brothers next project is a remake with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin set to be released later this year. Although the Coens reportedly are aiming for their film to be a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel than a strict remake, the original was a milestone movie that won an Oscar for Wayne’s performance as Marshall Rooster Cogburn, therefore a must see.

In the late 60’s the genre was undoubtedly winding down, but you wouldn’t know it from the opening landscape shots of TRUE GRIT in which the wide-screen western still looks alive and kicking. Henry Hathaway had the formula down as he had directed dozens of cowboy pictures, and of course “the Duke” was a hardcore veteran, but this project had a different element to it in the form of a young tomboyish girl named Kim Darby. Darby plays the fiercely determined 14 year old Mattie Ross who recruits the ornery drunken Wayne to help her hunt down her father’s murderer (Jeff Corey).

Accompanied by Glen Campbell as a Texas Ranger they ride out through dangerous Indian Territory. They encounter horse thieves, rattlesnakes, and an extremely shady Robert Duvall as Corey’s partner in crime “Lucky” Ned Pepper. Wayne says of Duvall: “Short, feisty fella. He’s got a messed-up lower lip. I shot him in it.”


That’s just one of many great line readings the Duke gives in the best performance of his that I’ve ever seen. Rooster Cogburn is an iconic role and very comic at the same time. In one scene he sees a rat in the corner of the cabin he resides in. Inebriated though still fairly articulate he declares: “Mr. Rat, I have a writ here that says you are to stop eating Chen Lee’s cornmeal forthwith. Now, It’s a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of same! See? He doesn’t pay any attention to me.” Then he swiftly shoots the rat.

Later the trio came across a couple of outlaw buddies of the men they’re pursuing – Jeremy Slate and Dennis Hopper. Hopper, as a character named Moon that wasn’t in the book, took 5 days off from editing EASY RIDER to do the film and appears to have been added as a concession to the kids of the hippie era. Or maybe it’s the unsettling “tweaking” manner he’s acting in that makes me think that.


Darby is very much the heart of the movie bringing a feminist factor in to re-ignite a timeworn formula. Her poise and “never back down” spirit clashes then mashes with Wayne’s rugged demeanor in many amusing blustery exchanges. Sadly as an actor Campbell is not up to par with Darby or “The Duke”. He was perhaps the real concession to the times as he had just had a hit single – “Wichita Lineman”.

It wasn’t the last western that Wayne made – he even returned to the role of Cogburn in a sequel simply entitled ROOSTER COGBURN (1975) – but TRUE GRIT was perhaps the most notable of his films in his last decade. It’s just a notch below the supreme quality of the movies he made with John Ford, yet it’s still a towering achievement and an absolutely essential work. Rooster Cogburn deserves further recognition as one of the greatest characters in the history of motion pictures. Can’t wait to see what “The Dude” will do with it.

More later…

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R.I.P. Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)

“Somewhere in my strange career, someone has liked something.” – Dennis Hopper

Sadly, iconic actor/director Dennis Hopper lost his battle with prostate cancer Saturday morning. Every obituary will understandably point to his breakthrough milestone EASY RIDER (1969), but I’m sure most people who would read this blog know he had a ginormous crazy career spanning almost 6 decades.

Impressively IMDb lists over 200 film and television appearances in nearly every genre. In 1986 alone he appeared in HOOSIERS, BLUE VELVET, RIVER’S EDGE, and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, and from the looks of it that was a typical year for the man as he worked constantly until his illness got the best of him – 6 movies in 2008, 26 episodes of Crash 2008-09, and a couple of upcoming projects (THE LAST FILM FESTIVAL, ALPHA AND OMEGA) set for later this year.

A career so vast is difficult to cherry pick from, especially since he had so many bit parts in major movies – his roles in friend James Dean’s movies REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and GIANT (1956) for example – and also because a few films he directed are unavailable on DVD these days – THE LAST MOVIE (1971) and OUT OF THE BLUE (1980). That said these are my picks for:

10 Essential (And Available) Dennis Hopper Performances


1. EASY RIDER (Dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969)


When I said every obit would highlight this as Hopper’s most acclaimed achievement I wasn‘t saying I wouldn’t also. It’s inescapable as a classic counterculture event of a movie that helped kick off the “New Hollywood” movement of the late ’60s/early ’70s. It also solidified the long-haired mustached hippie wiseacre persona that Hopper would return to a number of times throughout his acting career.

Concerning a couple of drug dealers (Hopper and Peter Fonda) who make a huge score and set out on their motorcycles to go, in the words of the film’s tagline, “looking for America”, EASY RIDER is very dated with clumsy artistic cuts, redneck stereotypes, and a cringe-inducing psychedelic trip sequence, but Hopper’s glee while riding through Monument Valley out over the sunset on his chopper is infectious. In those moments, which were innovative in their use of rock song scoring, the film’s theme of freedom lets its freak flag fly the highest.

2. BLUE VELVET (Dir. David Lynch, 1986)


Frank Booth, a Nitrous Oxide inhaling sexual deviant, was considered a comeback role for Hopper who had gone through more than one wilderness period in the years since EASY RIDER and the failure of its follow-up THE LAST MOVIE. Booth was scary and a bit funny at the same time; the manner in which he menaces nice boy Kyle MacLachlan being a twisted yet beautiful example: “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” The part won Hopper a few Critics’ Association awards and in 2008 was voted #54 in Premiere Magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time”.

3. APOCALYPSE NOW
(Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) Credited as “Photojournalist” and only given a small amount of screen-time in the final reel, Hopper is one of the most memorable elements of Coppola’s seminal sprawling Vietnam epic. His cryptic speeches like this one still resonate 30 years later:

“This is dialectics. It’s very simple dialectics. One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out in space without, like, you know, with fractions – what are you gonna land on, one quarter, three eighths – what are you gonna do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics, okay? Dialectic logic is there’s only love or hate, you either love somebody or you hate them.”

Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz then angrily hurls a book at Hopper in a moment that doesn’t feel scripted.

4. HOOSIERS (Dir. David Anspaugh, 1986) As I mentioned earlier, 1986 was a banner year for Hopper. His roles in BLUE VELVET, RIVER’S EDGE, and this Oscar nominated turn as the basketball supporting town drunk had him unstoppably on the comeback trail. It’s a folksy formulaic sports film about underdogs triumphing against all odds, but Hopper’s gutsy edge is no small part of the film’s abundant charms.

5. TRUE ROMANCE (Dir. Tony Scott, 1993)

Another small but juicy part as the ex cop father of Christian Slater who has a scene stealing showdown with mobster Christopher Walken. You can watch the scene, scripted by Quentin Tarantino, in all its almost 10 minute glory entitled “Sicilians” here on YouTube.

6. CARRIED AWAY (Dir. Bruno Barreto, 1996) It’s a LOLITA-ish tale of forbidden love in which timeworn clichés litter the landscape, but Hopper’s layered performance as a bored small town schoolteacher who has an extended fling with one of his students (Amy Locane) is one of his finest. His measured thoughtful presence comes through in scene after scene facing off with Locane, Amy Irving, Hal Holbrook, and Gary Busey. Maybe not an overlooked gem, but Hopper’s solid work makes it well worth watching. Be warned though, it may contain more Hopper than you want to see – mind you, I’m talking full frontal nudity.

7. RIVER’S EDGE (Dir. Tim Hunter, 1986)

Another from 1986, this harrowing teen drama had Hopper as Feck, a drug-dealing one-legged hermit who, like many of his characters, hijacks the movie from its stars every time he appears. For Hopper though, it wasn’t hard with lines like: “I killed a girl, it was no accident. Put a gun to the back of her head and blew her brains right out the front. I was in love.”

8. FLASHBACK (Dir. Franco Amurri, 1990) Some may scoff at Hopper’s self mocking role in a fairly lightweight comedy being given a spot on this list, but I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for his work here since I saw the film in the theaters 20 years ago. As a once famous aging hippie radical who turns the tables on a Federal Agent played by Keifer Sutherland, Hopper seems to be having a lot of fun with the familiar material that heavily references EASY RIDER.

The pair would square off a decade later on the popular TV series 24 with Sutherland playing a very different kind of FBI agent and Hopper as a Ukrainian mastermind behind the deadly scenes of season 1. Flashing back to FLASHBACK – Hopper tells Sutherland that: “The 90’s are going to make the ’60s look like the ’50s.” Of course, that didn’t turn out to be the case, but as an idealistic art student at a theater in Atlanta back in 1990 I remember believing, or at least wishing, it would be. Watch the trailer here.

9. The Twilight Zone“He’s Alive”
(Dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1963)
In an hour long episode of the classic sci fi/fantasy anthology that isn’t rerun as much as the half hour ones, Hopper plays a street corner neo Nazi who starts to get winning advice from a mysterious stranger in the shadows. We can guess a long time before the reveal (one of the main minuses of the hour long format) that this stranger is Hitler, but it still displays that the young Hopper had talent to burn. And burn it up he did. Here’s a 10 minute edit of the episode somebody made and put up on YouTube.


10. SPEED (Dir. Jan de Bont, 1994) I figured this list wouldn’t be complete without one of Hopper’s late period makeover roles as a mainstream action movie villain. As the evil extortionist that rigs a bus to explode if it drops below 50 MPH, Hopper’s scenery chewing is a thing of unhinged bug-eyed beauty. He played very similar bad guy roles in SUPER MARIO BROS. and WATERWORLD, but SPEED wins out simply because a lot more people have seen it.

Hardly a definitive list, but a solid one that I stand by. Even with his large filmography that will take a lifetime to catch up with, Hopper will be sorely missed.

R.I.P. Dennis Hopper.

More later…

Ongoing Adventures In Altman Appraisal

Seeing all of the films that iconic director Robert Altman made in his half century career can be quite a task these days.


Several titles have never been released on DVD (including BREWSTER McCLOUD, HealH, and COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN) and one of his first features, COUNTDOWN, is only available as part of Warner Archives Collection’s “Burn On Demand” series so you can’t get it from Netflix.


Recently, inspired by reading the excellent “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” by Mitchell Zuckoff, I’ve been catching up with the handful of movies of Altman’s movies that I haven’t yet seen. These 3 films are easily available but still fairly obscure – here are my thoughts:


THE JAMES DEAN STORY (1957)


The opening titles of this – one of the very first bio-docs ever – declare that this is “a different kind of motion picture.” They go on to explain: “The presence of the leading character in this film has been made possible by the use of existing motion picture material, tape recordings of his voice, and by means of a new technique – dynamic exploration of the still photograph.”


If that sounds pretentious well you haven’t heard anything yet. Orson Welles-ish sounding narrator Martin Gabel reads from a script over the hundreds of photos and footage such overwrought lines as:


“He looked at the ocean, and was envious of its power.”


“He kept a revolver – which made him feel safe… but they found it and took it away.” (No more explanation is given to this)


“He tried to believe it when they said they liked him.”


“Success was nothing more than the concealing leaf which covered the tree of his loneliness, and after every job the tree was bare.”


If you can get past such irritating pretension, and the fact that this was an exploitation film rushed into production after Dean’s tragic death, there is much here to enjoy. Such a wealth of black and white photographs, whether they are dynamically explored or not, is displayed – many of which I’d not seen before. I’m sure there is most likely some coffee table book out there that contains them, but this is a well edited collage worth seeking out. Perhaps one should just turn the sound down and put on some music while watching.


Another notable aspect is that Altman re-created Dean’s fatal car accident for the documentary. Producer George W. George described the incident in Zuckoff’s book as “pure Bob.” He elaborates:


“Well, son of a bitch, he goes and figures it out by lashing a camera onto the end of a long piece of wood and putting it on the bumper of his car. And driving down the road that Jimmy Dean had taken that day! It looked like Bob was going to have a crash, but son of a bitch; he missed crashing by about two feet. He was driving the car!”


By no means an essential piece of Altman’s canon, THE JAMES DEAN STORY is still an interesting curio.


QUINTET (1979) I purchased this film as part of an odd Altman boxset – the other films were M*A*S*H, A WEDDING, and A PERFECT COUPLE which I had all seen before. QUINTET is a real oddity in his filmography: a sci fi tale set in a future ice age. Paul Newman, in his second starring role for Altman (the first was BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS) plays a stoic seal hunter named Essex who finds himself in the middle of the deadly game of the title.


The movie drags quite a bit with sequences that just sit there. If tightened up considerably it could make for a gripping short film, but you really have to be an Altman fanboy to get through it as it is. I had the close captioning on when I watched it and was amused at how many times the word “groans” was used in the descriptions of sound effects i.e. “the water groans”, “the ice groans”, “the wind groans”, etc. At one point I joked: “the audience groans”. I know I did.


O.C. AND STIGGS (1985) Although this is considered Altman’s “least successful film” I was looking forward to watching it mainly because of Nathan Rabin’s “My Year Of Flops Case File #54” entry at the A.V. Club in which he concluded that it was a “secret success”. That’s much more favorable a response than what I experienced. The premise of a 80’s teen comedy with a “slobs versus the snobs” scenario isn’t a good match for Altman even if he claims it was supposed to be a satire of the genre.


Very little satire is actually present in this tale of 2 hipsters (Daniel Jenkins and Neill Barry) who come off as a poor man’s pair of Ferris Buellers. They torment a insurance mogul (Altman regular Paul Dooley) who lives in a garish house with destructive shenanigans, none of which is even remotely amusing. Altman’s patented style can still be identified – overlapping dialogue and slow panning long shots – but no unity to this material can be sensed.


It’s also sad to see cheap shots such as riffs on “The Pink Panther Theme” and the Doors “The End” intro when Dennis Hopper, who appears in his APOCALYPSE NOW get up, enters a scene. Of the supporting cast which includes Jane Curtin, Jon Cryer, Cynthia Nixon, and Ray Walston, only Martin Mull appears to be having a good time, but, even then, he looks like he’s just bidding time until the wrap party after shooting is finished.


The only bonus feature on the DVD is an 8 minute interview entitled “Altman On O.C. And Stiggs” that should’ve been called “Altman Defends O.C. And Stiggs”. Altman: “There was a time when these teenage films were kind of in mode. And I hated them…I just hated them. And I thought here’s a chance to do satire on something I feel strongly about.” The problem is that his strong hatred of the genre shows in every frame of this film more than any notion of satire. Still, as much as I disliked it, it’s not my least favorite Altman film – that would be DR. T AND THE WOMEN (2000).

Okay! That’s enough Altman for now. Just a few more titles to go to finish his canon – and then there’s his television work (episodes of Combat!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, and many others) to consider so look forward to more adventures in Altman appraisal somewhere down the line.

More later…

10 Blink And Miss Them Movie Cameos

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I have a fondness for film cameos. Film Babble Blog has featured lists like 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos, The Cameo Countdown Continues, and more recently Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies, but this list is a bit different because many people may not have noticed these cameos at all. They can be difficult to catch as they go by fast but they’re there just waiting for some film geek like me to point them out. So here goes:

1. George Harrison in MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Dir. Terry Jones, 1979) Harrison helped finance this film solely because he was a big fan so it stands to reason that they’d throw him a bit part. He can be seen in a crowd scene and although he is uncredited he actually has a character name: Mr. Papadopoulos. He has one word of dialogue (“ullo”) spoken to Brian (Graham Chapman) as he is introduced by Reg (John Cleese) as “the owner of the mount” they are planning to rent. It’s brief but worth looking for – if only so you can point out to your friends: “Look! There’s a Beatle!” Speaking of the Beatles…

2. Phil Collins in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (Dir. Richard Lester, 1964)

This is kind of a cheat because Collins wasn’t a well known celebrity at the time (he was 13), and you can barely see him in the audience shots of the concert climax but I just couldn’t resist listing it. Collins has often bragged about being one of the 350 teenage extras screaming at the Beatles, especially when he hosted You Can’t Do That!: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” (1995). Though as you can see his visage is impossible to recognize, even when enlarged, he is listed in some movie guides as being one of the stars of the film.

3. Alan Ladd in CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941) This is a pretty infamous one – Ladd is one of the reporters in the screening room after the opening newsreel. It’s a smoke filled shadowy shot but he can be clearly seen, though it took Roger Ebert’s commentary on the DVD for me to identify him. He can also be seen at the end of the film smoking a pipe and even has a few lines.

4. R2D2 in STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)


This cameo/Easter egg was rumored when the film opened last summer (there was even a Paramount sponsored contest centered on finding it) but it was pinpointed by fanboys all over the internets when the film hit DVD/Blu ray last month. It works as a funny little visual joke as well as a shout out from one science fiction franchise to another.

5. Dan Aykroyd in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1984) It may have seemed strange to see the former SNL funnyman hawking Crystal Head Vodka in advertisements that refer to the last INDIANA JONES film, but Aykroyd actually has a legitimate connection to the series. He appears in Indy’s second installment as Weber, a British cohort who arranges a getaway plane for Jones (Harrison Ford), Willie (Kate Capshaw), and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). It’s easy to miss him as it’s a sweeping long shot and he’s such an incidental character but he still makes the most of his 18 seconds in this film.

6. Dennis Hopper in HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) This one is priceless because Hopper looks like he can’t wait to get out of the studio, get on the road and shoot EASY RIDER (Monkees money funded EASY RIDER you see). Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote HEAD, is also in this scene which has the movie break down around Peter Tork with many members of the film’s crew coming into the shot including director Rafelson. When he swoops behind Tork to get to Rafelson I’d like to believe he’s asking “hey man, how long is this gonna be? We gotta get going!”

7. Christian Slater in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991)

I know, I know – another STAR TREK cameo but this one baffled me when I first saw this film. When Slater pops up it’s a dark shot and I distinctly remember the murmur in the theater as everybody seemed to collectively wonder “was that Christian Slater?” Credited as “Excelsior Communications Officer” Slater appears in a doorway, has a few lines, and then he’s gone. What was he doing there? In an interview with DVD Playground he answered that question: “My mother cast that film and needed someone to fill in. Yet even so, that was probably the most nervous I had ever been in my entire career.”

8. Richard Dreyfuss in THE GRADUATE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Again, this might be playing loose with the definition of cameo too, but Dreyfuss’ smart part as “Boarding House Resident” always makes me laugh when I watch this film. Over the shoulder of landlord Norman Fell, Dreyfuss’s delivery is unmistakable on his only line: “Shall I call the cops? I’ll call the cops.”

9. Sigourney Weaver in ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) She only appears in one shot, and it’s a long one, as Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen) very tall date to yet another showing of THE SORROW AND THE PITY but if you ever see this film on the big screen you can see her features better. It was her first film and I bet nobody involved could predict that only 2 years later she would break through big in ALIEN. From “Alvy’s Date Outside Theatre” with no lines to science fiction icon/feminist heroine Ripley is quite a leap considering.

10. The Clash in THE KING OF COMEDY (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982) From the IMDb Trivia section for this film: “In the scene where Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernard argue in the street, three of the “street scum” that mock Bernhard are Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon, members of the British punk rock band, The Clash.” There are many pictures of Scorsese directing RAGING BULL wearing a Clash t-shirt so there’s obviously a connection between the master film maker and “The Only Band That Matters” (as they were billed at the time).

Okay! There goes another patented Film Babble Blog list. If you have any other blink and miss them movie cameos please drop me a line.

More later…

TWO LOVERS And 2 New DVD Reviews

TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray, 2008)

Joaquin Phonenix‘s Leonard Kraditor is the latest in a long line of New York lovelorn schlubs that includes Ernest Borgnine’s comical Marty Piletti and to a darker extreme – Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Phoenix brings a disturbed pathos to the character that, as reports indicate, may extend into Phoenix’s real life. We are introduced to the troubled character in an opening scene suicide attempt off a bridge in Brooklyn (not the Brooklyn Bridge, mind you). He doesn’t go through with it; he surfaces and is helped out of the water by passing pedestrians.

Soaking wet, Phoenix returns home to the disapproving looks of his parents (Moni Moshonov and Issabella Rossellini) and a small cluttered bedroom. That night his parents are having a dinner party and intend to set up their son with the daughter of Moshonov’s business partner played by Vanessa Shaw. They hit it off but Phoenix’s eyes wander to neighbor Gynneth Paltrow, an outgoing free-spirited beauty that he is instantly attracted to. Unfortunately she is involved with a married man (an asshole lawyer portrayed perfectly by Elias Koteas) so their budding relationship is unlikely to bloom.

Phoenix has palpable, if at times awkward, chemistry with both Shaw and Paltrow. An audience will surely pull for him to wind up with Shaw (who’s just as attractive) over Paltrow for more than just “good brunette” over “bad blonde” reasons, but the emotional discord within that Phoenix displays can’t be easily dismissed. We still feel for the guy even when he is being deceptive and come to care deeply whether or not he makes the right choice. Possible Spoiler!: In the end it’s not his choice to make and there is an edge to his actions that come more from fear than true love. As my girlfriend said as we were leaving the theater: “How romantic it is to be someone’s choice over death or being alone.” Good point for sure, but this little spare drama should be commended for its non-contrived storyline and unpretentious tone regardless of its uneasy aftertaste. Resembling a Woody Allen relationship movie without the one-liners, TWO LOVERS is an engaging experience that is sure to be remembered long after tales of Phoenix’s odd off-screen behavior have faded away.

And now, a few new release DVD reviews:

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Dir. Phillippe Claudel, 2008)

Kristen Scott Thomas as a woman recently released from 15 years in prison affects a somber trance as she suffers societal scorn in this drawn out drama. That makes it sound as though this movie is a trial to endure which is not the case. It’s a carefully paced character study with very subtle appeal that lingers for days after viewing. Thomas, going through the motions of reassembling, comes off like an ashamed ghost in the presence of her sister (Elsa Zylberstein) who offers her a place to stay while she gets back on her feet. Zylberstein‘s husband (Serge Hazanavicius) is sceptical of having Thomas around the children because, after all, she went to jail for the murder of her own 6 year old son.

We follow Thomas through these day to day unpleasantries, feeling for her even when we are unsure where our sympathies should really lie. She befriends a few empathetic souls – her probation officer played with aplomb by Frédéric Pierrot and Laurent Grévill as a kindly colleague of her sister’s. I’ll definitely say no further because the film’s biggest asset is in the unwrapping of its intriquing layers. Thomas deserved greater recognition in the now concluded award season for this performance; her work is immaculately measured and nobly nuanced. The film surrounding her is much the same except for some embellished misteps like the inappropriate acoustic guitar flourishes and some abrupt editing. These are minor beefs though, for I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG is one of 2008’s finest films that just barely missed making my top ten.

ELEGY (Dir. Isabel Coixet, 2008) The track record for movie adaptations of the works of noted novelist Philip Roth is pretty poor. His 1969 bestseller PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT was made into a critically derided forgotten film in 1972 (Ebert labeled it “a true fiasco”) so it wasn’t until 30 years later that Hollywood tried again. The result: THE HUMAN STAIN (Dir. Robert Benton, 2003) which was one of the worst films of the last decade if not ever. Not to be discouraged, 5 years later, Spanish director Isabel Coixet and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, yo!), dive head first into Roth’s “The Dying Animal” – the third book in his fictional professor David Kapesh series (if you can call it that).

In this ambitious adaptation, renamed ELEGY (meaning “a mournful poem”) presumably because the original title wasn’t very accessble (sic), Ben Kingsley plays Kapesh as a eloquent man of the arts. We are told how much a celebrated cultural warrior he is from the first shot of him pontificating on the The Charlie Rose Show. His voice-over narration, or commentary, sets up his falling for one of his students with such pithy asides such as: “How is it possible for me to be involved in the carnal aspects of the human comedy?” The student in question, a shy for once Penelope Cruz, 30 years younger than Kingsley is seemingly just as smitten. Kingsley confides in best friend Dennis Hopper as a Pulilzer Prize winning poet who offers: “Stop worrying about growing old, start worrying about growing up.”

Devised as half a mediation on growing old, half erotic obsession study, ELEGY delights in flowery exposition and artfully shadowed sex scenes. Kingley lies to his long time lover Patricia Clarkson about his affair but like everything else it hardly registers. “When you make love to a woman you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life” Kingsley detachedly remarks at one point and I was like, uh, I never thought of it like that before and you know what? I never will again. Beneath all his sophistication and culture lies a pretty despicable dude that I could never care about, I just cringed at his every labored turn.

Hopper finds a little poetry in his part particularly in a spiel about how women are invisible because men are blinded by their beauty and their soul can’t be truly seen, which is as pretentious as it sounds, especially with the ever present piano tinkling and lush presentation, but still more affecting than the bulk of material here. So disinterested was I that at one point I found myself thinking nothing more than how Kingsley and Cruz have such curiously shaped noses. As “a work of art that reminds you of who you are now” (professor Kapesh’s words) ELEGY just reminded me that I’d rather be washing the dishes.

More later…
 

10 Movie Characters Revived Via SNL By Their Original Actors

For no other reason than to take a break from reviews of the all the prestige Oscar bait out there I decided it was time for another patented Film Babble Blog list. Enjoy!

It’s interesting that some actors stay away from reprising their best known roles when Saturday Night Live comes a-calling. In the 2 times Robert De Niro hosted there were no appearances by Travis Bickle (TAXI DRIVER), Jake La Motta (RAGING BULL), Max Cady (CAPE FEAR) or even deluded comedian Rupert Pupkin (THE KING OF COMEDY) who actually would lend himself nicely to a follow-up sketch. Sally Field even stressed in her monologue on her one time hosting gig that she would not be playing any past parts to the comical disappointment of Flying Nun, Gidget, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT fans (actually just one – Burt Reynolds as played by Phil Hartman). Many movie stars though have fearlessly stepped back into old shoes and reclaimed their iconic characters even if it’s just for the sake of satire. Here’s some of the best:

1. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates from PSYCHO (March 13th, 1976) Perkins was the first actor to take on the role that made his name for a SNL sketch. It was a gutsy move because the part had him typecasted him for years but he slips back beautifully into Bates in a commercial parody entitled “The Norman Bates School Of Motel Management.” In his direct to the camera address he stutters, imitates (or channels) the voice of his mother, and gives us a quiz to see if we’re motel material: “Question One – A guest loses the key to her room. Would you: A: Give her a duplicate key. B: Let her in with your passkey. C: Hack her to death with a kitchen knife.” Silly, yes but Perkins playing Bates again later in 2 80’s sequels and a 90’s TV movie (yep, 3 more times) is much sillier.


2. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from STAR WARS * (Nov. 18th , 1978) Fisher, who also did the opening monologue in Leia garb, joined the cast as her most famous character in a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movie parody entitled “Beach Blanket Bingo from Outer Space.” Frankie (Bill Murray) hits on the visiting Princess to Annette’s (Gilda Radner) chagrin while celebs such as Vincent Price (Dan Aykroyd) and Chubby Checker (Garrett Morris) make obligatory cameos. Her appearance is actually light years less embarrassing than on “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (broadcast just one day earlier by the way) in which she also insisted on singing a song for us. Most notable however is the sight of Leia in a gold bikini a full 5 years before RETURN OF THE JEDI.


* Still not calling it A NEW HOPE, damnit!


3. Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison from THE DOORS (Dec. 9th, 2000) Donning a wig, 60’s threads, and a perpetually stoned expression, Kilmer embodied the Lizard King one more time in a Behind The Music satire that centered on “Rock And Roll Heaven.” Morrison forms a band with other dead musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy Minor), Janis Joplin (Molly Shannon), Keith Moon (Horatio Sanz), Billy Holly (Jimmy Fallon), and as the announcer (real Behind The Music narrator Jim Forbes) reveals: “a Wild Card – Louis Armstrong (Tracy Morgan) on trumpet.” Morrison’s afterlife band called The Great Frog Society is soon the talk of Heaven, but offstage things were falling apart (Forbes stresses: “‘offstage things were falling apart”, is a registered trademark of VH1 and Behind the Music’”).


4. Glenn Close as Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (Feb. 25th, 1989) This support group sketch actually takes place during the events of the 1987 infidelity suspense thriller. Close’s murderous stalker character shares her stories with her group members (Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, and Jon Lovitz) and therapist (Kevin Nealon) who of course are supremely disturbed by them. Portraying Alex as merely the victum of a one-night stand is an especially nice funny touch here considering, well, you know.


5. Elijah Wood as Frodo from THE LORD OF THE RINGS series (Dec. 13th, 2003) st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }
Gollum (Chris Kattan) interrupts Wood’s monologue to plug their new sitcom pilot featuring an Odd Couple (or more like Perfect Strangers) premise. As Wood describes it: “Basically, the idea is that, before they make it to Mordor, Frodo and Gollum decide to move to Denver and share an apartment together.” Of course, wackiness ensues.


6. Dennis Hopper as Billy from EASY RIDER * (May 23rd, 1987) Using actual footage of the ending to the New Hollywood classic, we see Billy and Wyatt’s (Peter Fonda) ultimate demise (that can’t possibly be a Spolier! at this point, can it?). Not so fast, with a “later that day” caption this sketch shows that Billy and Wyatt (now played by Dana Carvey) survived to get treated by a local Doc (Jon Lovitz) and even run into their lawyer friend George Hanson (Phil Hartman doing his best Jack Nicholson). Billy: “George, man, I thought you were dead, man!” George: Nah… just a bad hangover. I felt like I’d been whopped on the head with an ax handle. [ holds up bottle ] This stuff’ll ruin ya!” Billy: Yeah, man. I’ll take that [grabs and opens bottle].

* Incidentally on the same episode Hopper also played Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET in a game show parody called “What’s That Smell?”

7. Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink from RESERVOIR DOGS (Oct. 15th 1994) In definitely one of the best sketches of a dreary season, John Travolta revisited his Sweathog roots in “Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back Kotter”. The sketch was overpopulated as an SNL sketch can be with all of the cast (including Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Elliot, Mike Myers, Janeane Garafolo, you get the picture) hamming it up but the finale involving a cameo from David Lander (Squiggy!) joining old Laverne And Shirley partner Michael McKean was greatly upstaged by Buscemi bursting in the doorway, gun raised and fitting sophomoric put-down ready: “Up your hole with a mellow roll!”


8. Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (May 13th, 1978) One of the first to mock his own character and film while it still played in theaters, Dreyfuss again put on the worn bathrobe of the alien obsessed Neary who now comes to believe the Coneheads are the source of his implanted visions. The sketch (“Clone Encounters Of The Third Kind”) ends, like the film did, with Neary leaving earth with his new intergalactic friends.


9. Tim Robbins as Bob Roberts from BOB ROBERTS (Oct. 3rd, 1992) Another appearance that occurred when the character in question was still on the big screen, Robbins’ conservative folk singing candidate was on hand for a sketch entitled: “Bob Roberts Book Burning.” It was a funny premise – Roberts burning books while singing about free expression but its place on the program was incredibly overshadowed by that week’s musical guest Sinead O’Connor who had free expression thoughts of her own * that night.


* For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to – O’Connor, after an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War”, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and yelled: “Fight the real power!” Audience silence and the prospect of the segment never being re-run was the result.


10. Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe from THE BIG SLEEP (1978) and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975) (Nov. 14th, 1987) This film noir satire called “Death Be Not Deadly” appropriately filmed in black and white gave the great Mitchum the chance to spoof his Private eye character and one of the conventions of the genre. Seemingly mistaken that his comments/narration is in voice-over when actually it’s Marlowe speaking aloud, he confuses and annoys his clients (Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks). As funny as it is a fond tribute.


Okay! Of course there are others – both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover did their cop buddy characters in “Lethal Weapon 6” in 1987 (before there was even a LETHAL WEAPON 2) and Margot Kidder reprised Lois Lane while SUPERMAN was still flying high in 1979 so I’m sure there are many I’ve neglected but that’s what the comments below is for.


More later…