Blu Ray Review: MYSTERY TRAIN (1989)

MYSTERY TRAIN (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1989)

There are several notable elements that Quentin Tarantino took to the bank a few years later heavily on display in Jim Jarmusch’s 3rd feature film “Mystery Train” – now out on a special edition DVD / Blu ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

First off there’s the non linear storyline that gives us three different scenarios that happen at the same time from different perspectives.

Second there’s the hipster soundtrack that posits Elvis Presley (of course, it being a Memphis movie), Otis Redding, and the Bar-Kays to decorate the film’s scrappy edges.

Third, there’s an ultra hip disc jockey who is heard throughout the movie (think: Steven Wright in “Reservoir Dogs”) spinning that cool soundtrack – Jarmusch regular Tom Waits does the duty here.

Fourth, there’s Steve Buscemi.

“Mystery Train” is an independent gem that was for a long time endangered to be a forgotten film. This spiffy new Criterion Collection edition not only saves it from that fate; it presents it as the classic that anybody who saw it in the last 20 years knew it was all along.


It’s a movie in which the locale is as much a character as any of its cast. Memphis comes off as a ghost town with dilapidated buildings, dive bars, and a very decrepit hotel – the Arcade Hotel which was raized the year after the film finished shooting.

All 3 separate storylines, the names of which are “Far From Yokohama”, “A Ghost”, and “Lost In Space”, take place on the same hot night in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the first story, Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase play a young couple on somewhat of a religious pilgrimage – they want to visit the old stomping grounds of the King of Rock and Roll and his minions. Their tour of Sun studios tasks them and they constantly bicker about who’s better: Carl Perkins or Elvis Presley.

The next narrative involves Nicoletta Brasch as a recent widow stranded in Memphis while escorting her husband’s coffin back to Italy. At a diner she listens to a creepy Tom Noonan telling a story about the ghost of Elvis and later with Elizabeth Bracco as a woman fleeing an abusive ex she re-tells the story.

Bracco reacts harshly: “Is this the one where the guy has to go to Graceland and it turns out to be Elvis? I think I’ve heard this a hundred times. I think almost everybody in Memphis has picked up Elvis’s ghost hitchhiking.”


In the third storyline, Steve Buscemi, Joe Strummer (of the Clash), and Rick Aviles navigate through a drunken criminal night ending up at the same hotel as the previous protagonists. The ghost of Elvis lingers as Strummer is referred to as “Elvis” much to his chagrin: “Don’t call me Elvis! If you can’t use my proper name, why don’t you try ‘Carl Perkins, Jr.’ or something?”

The details concerning a gunshot that is heard in the preceding stories are made clear in the final story and with it the arc is complete. As the night clerk and bellboy of the Arcade Hotel, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee are the most consistent characters in the movie – they encounter all the movie’s players in all 3 scenarios and handle them with memorable flair.

“Mystery Train” concerns the intertwining stories of foreigners in a quintessential American city. Like in many of his other films Jarmusch comes off like an American film maker who makes foreign films about America. In my humble opinion this is his best.

Bonus features or as Criterion calls them – Supplements: A rambling but highly amusing Q & A with Jarmusch in lieu of a commentary (his words there not mine) and a couple of cool featurettes including a documentary on the film’s locations and Memphis’s musical history and on-set photos by Masayoshi Sukita.

There’s also an excerpt (19 min.) of a 2001 documentary on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins entitled “I Put a Spell on Me”. All excellent extras on an essential indie could be classic.

More later…

Michael Cera Is The Putz *And* The Poseur

YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2009)

It’s funny that Michael Cera has reportedly been the lone holdout for the prospects of an Arrested Development movie since he’s never quite left the character of awkward yet lovable George-Michael Bluth behind. Cera has never shown us that he has any versatility, yet his trademark hangdog nervousness coupled with his particular brand of soft spoken sarcasm, has worked nicely in several movie comedies in the last few years – SUPERBAD being the best of those.

As Nick Twisp, that same Cera persona is on display in YOUTH IN REVOLT, but here there is sort of a promise of a twist to that persona in the form of a bad boy alter ego named François Dillinger. Unfortunately apart from a pencil thin mustache and an always present dangling cigarette in his lips, François is still the same Cera. He makes taunting risque comments to Twisp and acts according to the domino-effect accident-prone nature of the script, but it’s still the same Cera. Sigh. Couldn’t he have even just attempted an accent?

Cera affects François for the express reason of wooing the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday) – a neighbor in the trailer park his family fled to. Though we are introduced to Cera’s Twisp by way of a masturbation scene, he fancies himself a well read intellectual who loves Frank Sinatra and in Doubleday he feels he’s met his match. He longs to break away from the white trash world of his divorced mother (Jean Smart) who’s shacked up with a scuzzy trucker (Jack Galifinakis), so he plots to get his real father (Steve Buscemi) to get a job and relocate so he can be close to the girl he loves. François appears to be the key to set this in motion.

Mix in reliable character actors Fred Willard, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, and Ray Liotta (as yet again an asshole cop) and this all plays as quirk by the numbers – “Independent Teen Angst Movie” it could be called. To jazz up these stale elements there’s jaunty animation that looks like it was pilfered from Nickolodeon and Justin Long as Doubleday’s laid back hallucinogenic mushroom providing brother.

YOUTH IN REVOLT was filmed a few years ago and possibly shelved because the producers (the Weinstein Brothers) sensed there was a lack of a strong hook to this material. Its release in early January seems to support this. The film has likable people, songs, and story strands but Cera feels severely miscast to the ultimate detriment of the movie. Unless Cera’s got some major character deconstruction surprises coming anytime soon, here’s hoping he reconsiders reprising George-Michael Bluth in the afore mentioned Arrested Development movie. I mean, c’mon! It’s the only role he seems to have really played since.

More later…

Revisiting RESERVOIR DOGS On The Big Screen – Thanks Again Cool Classics @ The Colony!

As a film geek/blogger it’s probably not surprising that one of my favorite pastimes is to see old movies, whether for the first time or hundredth, on the big screen. A 35 MM print, new or old, of a particular cult or could be cult movie really is most certainly my cup of tea. As I’ve blogged before, The Colony Theater in North Raleigh has been showing a regular round of what they call “Cool Classics”. Last Saturday night was right for a midnight show of arguably Quentin Tarantino’s best flick. Since my girlfriend and I have attended such previous pop culture staples as ERASERHEAD, PURPLE RAIN and most recently enjoyed re-seeing CITY OF LOST CHILDREN we were game to revisit:


RESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)


It was hugely fitting that the night before this late show, The Museum Of Art in Raleigh screened THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. Why you ask? Because Mr. Too Cool For Film School Tarantino lovingly lifted the use of colors as code names from that classic 70’s heist film – i.e. Mr. Blond, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue etc. Of course he snarkily threw in Mr. Pink just so Steve Buscemi could have something to hilariously complain about: “Yeah, Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple.” He lifted lots more from other films here too but whether you consider it a rip-off or a homage, RESERVOIR DOGS, 17 years later, is still colossal cinema and one of the most daring breakthrough debuts of a director ever.


This was before independent films were the rage and award nominee regulars. Many notable auteurs had offered up dark crafty fare before but while filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh made cool indie films, Tarantino made indie films ultra cool. With RESERVOIR DOGS and its overwhelmingly influential follow-up PULP FICTION, the former video store clerk created a world of wise guys in suits with thin black ties, vintage cars with blood splashed interiors, 50’s styled diners, f-bombs and n-words dropped in nearly every line, endless pop culture reference riffing, and soundtracks full of 70’s funk/pop deep cuts. The opening credits slow motion shuffle to George Bakers Little Green bag alone defines Tarantinos savvy assured style.


Most of the action in RESERVOIR DOGS (nobody really knows what the title means – Tarantino himself wont say) deals with a never seen heist gone wrong and takes place in a mostly empty warehouse. It has been said that for budgetary reasons most directors first films are essentially ‘filmed plays’. That said, seeing this film on the big screen for the first time enhanced the spare staging scenarios for me to an edgier level than I expected. The iconic shot, used on many posters and the go-to promotional picture, of Harvey Keitel with gun pointed at an on the floor Steve Buscemi is 10 times more effective here than on any TV viewing when it pulls back to reveal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) coolly watching them in an over the shoulder viewpoint. Likewise the shot from the P.O.V. of the cop (Kirk Baltz) tied up in Mr. Blonde’s car trunk – I mean it’s obvious to say but it’s so nice to see this film like this how it was truly meant to be seen.


One flaw of many film folks’ first films is that the actors all talk like the writer/director (see Richard Linklater’s SLACKER). This is actually something that works well in Tarantino’s favor here despite all odds. I can practically hear Tarantino coaching Buscemi, Keitel, producer turned actor Lawrence Tierney,Tim Roth et al. through all of their lines but somehow that’s actually a plus in these punchy proceedings. Tarantino wisely kills off his own character (Mr. Brown) after his opening Like A Virgin breakdown speech presumably because he was aware his acting wasnt up to the caliber of his co-stars – too bad he didnt make the same decision in future films (especially PULP FICTION and DEATH PROOF).


In the low budget framing but the high formula re-thinking that defines Tarantino’s cut and paste career, RESERVOIR DOGS deserves future wave after wave of big screen audiences. Even if you own a special edition DVD or Blu-ray, consider seeing it on the big screen if a print comes to your area. Every detail from Steven Wright’s voice-over on the radio (“K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” to be exact) to the sadly late Chris Penn’s scene steals as Nice Guy Eddie just screams for larger projection. One great moment – in a pivotal scene, Madsen spoke just as somebody in the audience made a distracting noise by dropping their drink. Keitel responded “excuse me?” as if he didn’t hear because of the offending interruption. Madsen had to repeat himself louder. Many at the Colony theater late show laughed – a communal sensation that can’t be recreated at home. Maybe that’s a disclaimer that should be on this film as well, especially the brutal cop’s ear slicing sequence: “These are trained professionals – don’t try this at home.”


Post note: I realize after re-reading this that I was addressing folks who’ve already seen this movie. If you haven’t seen it – by all means, screw waiting for a big screen opportunity, just rent the damn thing and complete the indie initiation of your film education – why doncha?


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…

The Coen Brothers Repertory Role Call 1984-2008

In anticipation of the new Coen Brothers film BURN AFTER READING (opening next week!) I decided it was time to update the listing of their stock company of able bodied actors. Lets get right to it starting with:

The Major Players

Steve Buscemi (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, PARIS JE ‘TAIME): The bug-eyed Buscemi is a perfect fit for the world of the Coens making. After making an undeniable impression in bit parts for the brothers in 3 films in a row, he graduated to major player as Carl Showalter in FARGO – a tour de force performance which should have gotten him an Oscar or at least a nomination. Next up as Donnie, the daft but incredibly lovable bowler/surfer in THE BIG LEBOWSKI he had many memorable moments (Im throwing rocks tonight!) before his untimely demise. He didn’t show up for them again until their short segment of the colorful anothology film PARIS JE ‘TAIME (2007) in which he played an unlucky tourist in the city of love. Heres hoping it wasnt his last time in front of the Coens camera.


George Clooney (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING): Many thought the square-jawed leading man if there ever was one would be like Nicholas Cage or Tim Robbins – i.e. a starring part one-off for the Minnesotan movie-makers but Clooney keeps coming back for more. Completing what he calls a trilogy of idiots with BURN AFTER READING it is rumored that he may be on board for the brothers long talked about Hercules project. Man, I hope that comes together!

John Goodman (RAISING ARIZONA, BARTON FINK, THE

HUDSUCKER PROXY (just a radio voice-over cameo), THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): One of the most reliable of the major players, Goodman brings a stern but dangerously stupid edge to every character hes embodied. From escaped felon Gale Snoats in RAISING ARIZONA to BARTON FINKs charming but murderous Charlie Meadows (who could tell you some stories) to the incredibly quotable Walter Sobchak (Mark it zero!, were talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude, this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!, etc.) with his turn as Big Dan Teague in O BROTHER… being possibly his last film with the Coens. He told Rolling Stone: After a while, (my) characters got too similar. Their names were even similar, so we had to part company. I kind of miss those days. Theres a lot I would do differently, but you cant do that. Its against the laws of nature. Time travels on. Maybe so but I for one hope the Coens go for the Goodman goods again some day.

Holly Hunter (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): She was just a uncredited voice on a phone answering machine in BLOOD SIMPLE but Hunters ferociously feisty performances in the comedy classic RAISING ARIZONA and the Oedipal musical O BROTHER… definitely make her a major player in the Coen canon. Officer Edwina Ed McDunnough in RAISING ARIZONA was a breakthrough role for her and it paved the way for an Osacr nomination the following year for BROADCAST NEWS. She took home the Academy Award for THE PIANO in 1994 but that didn’t mean she would turn her nose up at the prospect of reteaming with the Brothers. As the fierce Penny in O BROTHER… she seemed right at home. Like Goodman and, well, every one of these folks, I hope to see her in Coen country again someday down the road.

Frances McDormand (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, MILLER’S CROSSING, FARGO, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, BURN AFTER READING): Obvious why she makes the grade. McDormand starred in the Coen brothers film debut BLOOD SIMPLE, she had brief but memorable bits in RAISING ARIZONA and MILLERS CROSSING before once again ruling the screen as pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (which won her the Best Actress Oscar), she has a key part in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, and she returns in BURN AFTER READING as gym employee Linda Litzke which I can’t wait to see. Oh yeah, shes married to Joel Coen so theres that too. Fun fact: Pre-stardom McDormand once shared an apartment with both Joel and Ethan Coen as well as Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel, and Holly Hunter.

Jon Polito (MILLERS CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE): A great under-rated character actor, Polito has stolen every scene he’s been in under the Coens direction from the GODFATHER-esque opening monolgue in MILLER’S CROSSING right through to the sleazy businessman Creighton Tolliver in THE MAN WHO WASN‘T THERE.

Tony Shalhoub (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE): Better known these days as Monk, Shalhoub was a great presence usually playing a slick fast talking insider in a brief but sweet sideline role. As Hollywood producer Ben Geisler in BARTON FINK he constantly admonishes Fink (John Turturro) about his struggles with writing: Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap? As defending lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (great name) in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, Shalhoub is no less harsh: I litigate. I don’t capitulate.

John Turturro (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): Turturro is IMHO the finest actor present as a major player and each of his roles are works of beauty. His powerfully intense performance as BARTON FINK is of course a stand-out being that it is a starring role but oddly THE BIG LEBOWSKIs Jesus Quintana (which pretty much just counts as a cameo) may be his most lasting creation for the Coens. In a recent interview Turturro spoke of wanting to do a LEBOWSKI spin-off sorta sequel that focused on Jesus getting out of jail and landing a job as a bus driver for a girls high school volleyball team. It will be a combination of ROCKY and THE BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we’d have to have a Dude cameo. I wouldnt hold my breath on that happening but it is a funny thought.

And The Rest:

Bruce CampbellTHE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS: 2 small parts and 2 as soap actor on TV – all 4 are uncredited.

Blake Clark INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS


Charles Durning THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU


Richard Jenkins (Pictured left) – THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING


John MahoneyBARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY


John McConnell MILLER’S CROSSING, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, THE LADYKILLERS


Stephen Root O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, THE LADYKILLERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – Another personal favorite of mine. Root, best known as Newsradios Jimmy James and OFFICE SPACEs Milton (pictured right) has only had a few very small parts in the Coens work. I really hope they throw something more substantial his direction because he seems like he was born to be in their world.

J.K. SimmonsTHE LADYKILLERS, BURN AFTER READING – Another hope to be regular in my book (on my blog more like).


Hallie Singleton THE MAN WHO WASNT THERE, THE LADYKILLERS


Peter StormareFARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI – A
Pancakes House loving nihilist through and through.


Billy
Bob ThorntonTHE MAN WHO WASNT THERE, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY – Hope he gets used again too.

M. Emmet Walsh (pictured on the left) BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA – A key player in the first 2 Coen bros. flicks Walsh couldve easily slipped into the cast of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Okay! Did I miss anybody?

More later…

Clash Frontman Joe Strummer Gets The Julien Temple Treatment With Great Rock Doc Results

“I need some feeling of some sort – hey, we’re all alive at the same time, at once, you know!”

– Joe Strummer yelling at the US Festival crowd 5/28/83

I sadly missed this film on its extremely brief theatrical run in my area but happily just viewed the newly released DVD so here’s my review:

JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (Dir. Julien Temple, 2007)


Tracing Joe Strummer’s life from a “mouthy little git” to “punk rock warlord” (Strummer’s words) Julien Temple’s lively and loving documentary is full of insights and powerful ideology that render it immediately essential.


As the frontman for the seminal British punk rock band The Clash, Strummer was rawly outspoken, always passionate, and brutally honest so he’s the best one to tell his story and by way of BBC radio recordings of him as guest DJ and audio from many interviews over the course of his career – he does.

These archival Strummer soundbites are helped along by a bountiful bevy of talking head comments from such stars including Johnny Depp, Steve Buscemi, Bono, and John Cusack as well as those with a more personal connection – former bandmates, girlfriends, and family members who I wish were better identified.

That’s one of the only beefs I have with this project – we know who Matt Dillon or Bono are when they appear at a campfire shot to offer their takes on Strummer but without a name and caption many folks like girlfriend Palmolive (from the lesser known but still vital bands The Slits and The Raincoats) fly by with their context not properly placed *. Also would be nice to have concert dates and events better titled. Small quibbles though, the rest is rockumentary gold or at least rock doc crack.

* Luckily the DVD has an over an hour and a half of bonus extended interviews which does identify each participant and is also essential. A couple of the highlights: Angela Janklow tells of a hilarious chance meeting of Strummer and Monica Lewinsky & Martin Scorsese relays how Clash music fueled his inspiration making RAGING BULL and later GANGS OF NEW YORK.

Born as John Mellor, the son of a British diplomat and a Scottish nurse, his family moved quite a bit during his childhood; living in Eygpt, Germany, and Mexico before John ended up at a boarding school in London. It was there that he was turned on to The Rolling Stones, learned to play the ukulele, and starting going by the name of “Woody” ostensibly because of an affection for Woody Guthrie. He went to art school with cartoonist aspirations (many of his drawings are sprightly animated and interspersed throughout) but music was his real calling and he was soon playing guitar in a band called the Vultures which didn’t last long. At the same time he toiled in such vacant career opportunities as carpet salesman and grave-digger. Because of his style of guitar playing he changed his name to Joe Strummer and angrily derided anybody who called him by another moniker.

As it certainly was suspected the center piece here is Strummer’s years with, as the hyped phrase goes, the “only band that matters”. Having disbanded another band – the popular pub rockers The 101ers, Strummer met guitarist Mick Jones and manager Bernie Rhoades. With bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes, and another guitarist Keith Levene they formed The Clash. They were immediately embraced by the blossoming British punk scene and signed to CBS within a year of their live debut (in 1976) with Chimes replaced by Topper Headon and Levene being axed. Great grainy footage abounds – most notably The Clash playing to a giant crowd of pogo-ing punksters at an Anti-Nazi League benefit. Their political themes, fueled by Strummer’s leftist views, were not lost on their fans as Bono from the mega-band u2 pretentiously but accurately explains: “I never knew who the Sandinistas were or where Nicaraqua was, the lyrics of Joe Strummer were like an atlas; they opened up the world to me and other people who came from blank suburbia.”

“I couldn’t believe we turned into the kind of people we were trying to destroy” Strummer laments as we see The Clash reap the rewards of success/excess. Contrasting professional arena concert footage from the early 80’s with the grimy black and white basement video of their early days of the same song illustrates beautifully his case: “we were part of the audience, part of the movement. Once it became thousands of miles removed from that I began to freak out.” Mick Jones final appearance was at the US Festival in 1983 (which again, is not properly identified) at which point Strummer, most likely way after the fact, describes the band as a “depleted force”. The Clash carried on however with some replacement blokes but the glory was gone so yep, here comes death. The death of the band that is, Strummer had many years of soundtrack work, acting roles (he appeared with Buscemi in my favorite Jim Jarmusch film MYSTERY TRAIN, solo recordings, and powerful performances with his band the Mescaleros. As a former global punk superstar he struggled a bit: “You meet a 17 year old guy and he’s never heard of The Clash; that’s the moment my feet touch the ground again.”

Strummer died of a congenital heart defect on December 22nd, 2002. Just weeks before he played with Mick Jones for the first time since 1983. It was an impromptu appearance with Jones getting on stage to join Strummer and the Mescaleros on the Clash classics “Bankrobber”, “White Riot”, and “London’s Burning”. The footage from that gig, albeit brief, adds enormously to the emotional last third of the documentary. Temple’s clever construction of the different strains of pop culture, even utilizing clips of ANIMAL FARM and the classic British flick IF…. to symbolize oppressive British society, is incredibly compelling from the before mentioned concert footage to even an appearance on South Park (1998). As both a enjoyable touching tribute for the long-time fan and a teaching-tool for the uninitiated, Julien Temple’s JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN is one of the best of its kind and a new addition to the definitive rocumentary checklist.

More later…

Helen Hunt’s Directorial Debut & A Few New DVD Reviews

THEN SHE FOUND ME (Dir. Helen Hunt, 2007)

Best known as Paul Reiser’s wisecracking wife on the rom sit-com Mad About You, Helen Hunt has forged a cagey career on the big screen. Despite her Best Actress win for AS GOOD AS IT GETS her other roles have been less than stellar – her sideline spouse part in CAST AWAY could’ve been done by just about any actress and her tone and delivery in Woody Allen’s THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION were so off the mark that I would consider it among the worst acting of the last decade. So, surprise surprise – I wasn’t looking forward to her first-time out as director but lo and behold, I actually ended up being won over. Based on the 1990 novel by Elinor Lipman, it’s being marketed as a comic drama but I’d but the emphasis on drama and as such it’s definitely a more genuine work than Noam Murro’s recent SMART PEOPLE – another piece about aging, pregnancy, and over educated middle-class white anquish. And it has a cameo by Mr. “Satanic Verses” himself Salman Rushdie as Hunt’s gynecologist!

Hunt casts herself as a withdrawn elementary school teacher and Matthew Broderick as her pensive husband. Shortly after their marriage he tells her he doesn’t “want this life” and moves out after she isn’t able to change his mind with some spontaneous kitchen floor sex. Within 9 hours of the break-up, Colin Firth as a befuddled divorced parent is hitting on her in the parking lot of her school but her biological clock is ticking so loudly that it barely registers. Then, if the timing couldn’t be any worse (or better for the sake of the drama) Bette Midler, as a local TV talk show host, shows up out of the blue saying she’s Hunt’s long lost Mother and drops another bombshell: Steve McQueen was her father. Hunt is skeptical of this, and rightly so, but charmed by Midler’s schtick – which is undeniably the funnybone of this film. Wanting to pursue a relationship with Firth is confounded by Hunt finding out she is pregnant with Broderick’s baby. Broderick, in a part that’s more pathetic ELECTION-style than FERRIS BUELLER-ish, wants back into Hunt’s life…maybe. Hunt, using long takes and a good sense of lighting, effectively portrays the stressful pulling of her character’s sensibilities in every direction and does it with a nice lack of snarky one-liners and manufactured quirk. THEN SHE FOUND ME shows that Hunt has learned a lot from the film makers and actors she’s worked with (James L. Brooks, Robert Altman, Nancy Meyers, Jack Nicholson, et al) and, weirdly enough, makes her a film maker to look out for. Never thought I’d be writing that.

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 2007)

When Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar last year the award was presented to him by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. That wasn’t just a group of honored directors walking off the stage afterwards, that was what was once called New Hollywood walking off the stage. The surviving members of the maverick auteur movement that saved the movies in the late 60’s and 70’s were still majorly representin’. Of course we know where Marty’s at with his DeCaprio epics and rock docs, and Spielberg/Lucas, of course, we know what’s going on with them with the #1 movie right now, sure but what of Francis Ford Coppola?

Well, for his first film proper since 1997’s THE RAINMAKER it appears that he’s the modern movie maker equivalent to Sisyphus from Greek mythology. If you don’t know, Sisyphus was a King cursed to have to roll a huge boulder up a steep treacherous hill, only to see it roll all the way back down again and then have to repeat this action til the end of time. So Coppola, yet again at square 1 gives us this curious case – a movie about a 70 year old man struck by lightning that makes him young again and gaves him another chance at love and finishing his previous life’s philosophical work.

Tim Roth, as the old man turned young, has a gravitas and intensity apt for the part but the premise is far from satisfactorily played out. His tortured, and unfortunately tedious, time recovering in his hospital bed as too many headlines tell us the timeframe (World War II) takes away from the story’s momentum. Roth meets Alexandra Maria Lara, (a stunning woman even when speaking in tongues) who also plays his lover from his early life, who is overtaken by the same lightning shining (or whatever it is) and they form a bond which of course becomes something more. The fractured-ness of the film gets a bit tiring – right when I was thinking ‘hey, that last shot didn’t make much sense’ Coppola starts showing shots upside down. There’s a lot that’s confusingly mismatched in the material here – I’m seriously unsure what the point was to a lot of it. I got that Coppola was trying make some sort of a new cinematic language (he says something like that on a “making of” featurette on the DVD) out of choppy yet beautful imagery interspersed with trying narrative introspection but come on! There’s very little here that someone who is not a hardcore film buff would care to follow. If APOCALYPSE NOW was a failed film experiment that still turned out to be a great movie, this is a failed film experiment that just ends up a puzzling curio. So come on Sisyphus – it’s time to start rolling that boulder again!

DELIRIOUS (Dir. Tom DiCillo, 2006)

As I wrote before (Buscemi Now? – Dec. 17th, 2007) Director Tom Dicillo doesn’t think his film, which got good reviews, didn’t get a fair shake at the box office. Well having finally seen it upon its recent DVD release I can honestly say he’s right. While no masterpiece it is a better than average independent movie that surely deserved better distribution and surely would’ve gained some audience support. Michael Pitt plays Toby, a homeless 20something New York kid who by chance comes across a plethora of paparazzi waiting for a chance to photograph K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman) – the pop star flavor of the day. After that shoot goes awry, Toby makes an unlikely friend in Les the acerbic (Steve Buscemi) who doesn’t consider himself to be paparazzi but a “licensed professional” and declares: “Rule #1: There are players and there are peons – I am a player.” That becomes a running joke as there are many Rule #1’s throughout the film as in “Rule #1: Never let a hooker slip you the tongue.” Les, for all his cynical arrogance prides himself on getting photos of Goldie Hawn eating lunch and Elvis Costello without his hat.

Toby as an unpaid assistant joins Les in his celebrity stalking quests and learns the tricks of the tawdry trade driving around in Les’s beat-up station wagon, hauling around gear, and trying to crash into celebrity parties. At one such event Toby gets swept up into K’Harma’s entourage. K’Harma and Toby hit it off back at her hotel while Les is left in the dust. Toby and Les patch things up the next day but then Les blows it by taking photos at K’Harma’s birthday party (of Elvis Costello!) that he weaseled his way into. “Rule #1: Know where you belong” Les says but by this point Toby has tired of his teachings. Gina Gershon plays a sexy saavy sop opera casting director that helps Toby on to the ladder of actor success he longs for while Les (Buscemi in full bug-out mode) toils on the lowest rung. The themes of parasitic tabloidism and the trials of being a celebrity in the spotlight are obvious but it’s the chemistry between Buscemi and Pitt that makes this work. Lohman’s diva issues with stardom are fairly transparent and there are some unneeded artsy interludes (such as the one with flower petals falling from the sky) but DiCillo has made a funny appealing film with a heart that beats through the equal measures of grime and glitter. It would make a good double flipside feature with INTERVIEW – Buscemi’s fine film about a serious journalist having to do a piece on a B-movie/TV star (Sienna Miller). In my before mentioned Buscemi Now? post I said that Buscemi pulls off the task of being “extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time”, the same could be said about DELIRIOUS.

More later…

Buscemi Now?

“It’s simple for everybody else. You give them a Big Mac and a pair of Nikes and they’re happy. I just can’t relate to 99% of humanity.”
– Seymour (Steve Buscemi) GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

I’m right there with you Seymour. Everybody I know – every fellow film fanatic, co-worker, and passerby on the street (yes, I’ve polled people) loves Steve Buscemi. I’ve never heard a hating word from anyone about the hero of indie cinema who right after 9/11 donned his old fireman gear and put in weeks of 12 hour days to sift through the rubble at Ground Zero. Every time out – whether it is in his run through the classic Coen brothers canon, scene stealing appearances in Quentin Tarentino flicks, and his should have gotten an Oscar appearance in my personal favorite – the above quoted GHOST WORLD he pulls off the enviable task of being extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time. So why is it that his last 2 films, both critically acclaimed, did not get wider releases and are virtually unknown by those same fellow film fanatics, co-workers, and passerbys? Neither INTERVIEW (which he directed) nor DELIRIOUS came anywhere close to a theater near me. In fact apart from his brief but brilliant appearance in PARIS, JE T’AIME (again with the Coen bros.) his most visible showing at the multiplex in recent years was the voicing of Templeton the Rat in the live action remake of CHARLOTTE’S WEB!

INTERVIEW, Buscemi’s 4th film as director (the others – TREES LOUNGE, ANIMAL FACTORY, and LONESOME JIM) was just released on DVD but unfortunately I’m going to have to wait til March to see DELIRIOUS. That’s a shame because after reading director Tom DiCillo’s frustrated email to Roger Ebert in which he says “I’m kind of struggling on my own to make sense of how a film I put my soul into, that Buscemi put his soul into, a film that generated such strong, positive reviews, had no life in the market” (you can read more here on DiCillio’s blog) – I’m really dying to see it. However I am happy to have just viewed INTERVIEW which I’m also happy to review:

INTERVIEW (Dir. Steve Buscemi, 2007)
This remake of the 2003 Dutch film by Theo van Gogh (1957-2004) is an engrossing vehicle for the acting directing Buscemi. The sweet rub here is that his cynical political journalist (for the fictional Newsworld) character Pierre Peders is in danger of being seriously one-upped by his assigned subject Sienna Miller as Katya – a complicated and possibly deranged B-movie/TV show star. Apart from the waiter and a few restaurant patrons and some voices on cell phones this is a two person show. It is essentially a stage play, being that it appears to happen in real time and takes place mainly in one location – Miller’s opulent and over-sized loft.

“Why do you choose only the most commercial crap that’s out there?” Buscemi attacks. Miller counters “I enjoy entertaining millions upon millions of people.” She goes further – “How big is your readership?” He smugly replies “Oh, you know, I have dozens of readers.” With that only being the icing on the acidic exchange cake we follow these two through a series of mind games and mood swings and never lose interest in either character. Both are deluded and seem to base their existence on their ability to bullshit more articulately than most people to the point that their careers hinge on it. Their tortured talk is never tedious and feels almost all too natural so if you get past the initial cringe factor INTERVIEW is well worth the time.

So since I have to wait to see DELIRIOUS I thought it would be fun to recount:

5 Classic Steve Buscemi Characters

1. Seymour GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwiggoff, 2001) “I couldn’t imagine you’d have any interest in me except as an amusingly cranky eccentric curiosity” he tells Enid (Thora Birch) but there’s a lot more to him than he lets on. This old jazz record collecting, Cook’s Chicken archiving, and desperate personal ad declaring dude may be a “dork” as Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) calls him but he’s our dork. Buscemi is at the top of his game here and there’s a nice bonus after the end credits – there’s a reversal of fortunes of sorts. A scene in which Seymour has his ass kicked in the convenience store is replayed but this time he kicks ass and even yells “Motherfuckers! Fuck with me?”

2. Mr. PinkRESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarentino, 1992) This is the role that turned the world on to the beauty of Buscemi. As the smartest of a crew of jewelry store thieves (though that’s not saying much), Buscemi had the most memorable dialogue (“I don’t tip because society says I have to”) and the most entertaining ‘tude. His reaction to the name his character is given is also cemented in cineste’s psyches – “‘Mr. Pink’ sounds like ‘Mr. Pussy’. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple. That sounds good to me. I’m Mr. Purple.”

3. Carl Showalter FARGO (Dir. Joel Coen, 1996) Another thief but this time far from smart, Carl is constantly described throughout this stone cold classic as “kinda funny lookin'”. Nothing ever seems to go right for the guy – he’s beaten up, shot in the face, and finally wood chipper fodder but every time I see this film I cherish Carl’s crisises more and more. When he angrily says to a airport lot attendent “You know these are the limits of your life man” I feel the Carl that is within us all smile.

4. Donny, Who Loved Bowling * THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1998) Yes another Coen bros. outting but one I couldn’t leave off the list. Theodore Donald Kerabatsos (betcha didn’t know his full name) is probably the stupidest character Buscemi has ever played – he never seems to follow what the Dude (Jeff Bridges) or Walter (John Goodman) are talking about, always weighing in way too late with comments like “His name’s Lebowski? That’s your name, Dude!” Still, talk about a lovable lug! Like his other Coen Brothers parts Donny doesn’t live to see the end credits. Semi-narrator The Stranger (Sam Elliot) breaks the 4th wall and says to us at the end of the tale – “I didn’t like seeing Donny go”. I didn’t either.

* I call him such because it’s not just the way Walter eulogized him – it’s also the name of a electronica band from Austin, Texas.

5. Tony BlundettoThe Sopranos (1999-2007) It was sweet that Buscemi came aboard the HBO powerhouse as a major player in the 5th season. He played Tony Soprano’s (James Gandofini) just released from prison cousin Tony B. At first he tries to go legit as a licensed massage therapist but gets pulled back in to the mafia underworld. Seething with rage but still armed with cutting oneliners – this was primo Buscemi and that he directed 4 episodes of the series was pretty sweet too.

Okay, that’s my fave Buscemi five – if you have prefered other characters of his (perhaps Nick Reve in LIVING IN OBLIVION, Rex in AIRHEADS, or even Rockhound in ARMAGEDDON maybe?) then send ’em on!

Also it used to be said that somebody has only truly made it if they were on the cover of Rolling Stone or if they hosted Saturday Night Live, these days I think it’s if you’ve appeared on The Simpsons which Buscemi has twice – first as himself in a typical celebrity cameo and second as Dwight, a bank robber who Marge tries in vain to help.

Okay! I’m all Buscemi-ed out now. As Carl said in FARGO “that was a geyser!”

More later…

A Few New Reviews & Doing The Wright Thing

“I went to the video store and asked if they had the movie with Nicolas Cage and Hayley Mills. It was shot in black and white on color film. It was the one where they lost the war because they made all of the submarines out of styrofoam. Then I realized that wasn’t a movie, it was a dream I had. Then I thought how cool it would be to rent your dreams. The guy says, “that’s not a movie, that was a dream you had.” I said, “how did you know that?” He said, “you tried to rent it last week. “I said, “well, let me know when you get it in.””
– Steven Wright

Thanks for everybody’s comments and suggestions on my last post – 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos. I’m compiling the best reader’s picks and will post them soon so please stay tuned. This time out a few movies now playing at a theater near you and new DVDs as well as a local live review of one of the greatest comedians (and sometime film actor) ever so please read on –


SWEET LAND (Dir. Ali Selim, 2005) This film has been around for a bit but only made its way to my local home town theater The Varsity this last week accompanied by the director who said this was his last stop on his publicity tour. Based on William Weaver’s touching short story A Gravestone Made Of Wheat dealing with immigration issues and small town prejudices that delays the marriage of a German mail-order bride (Elizabeth Reaser) to a Norwegian immigrant farmer (Tim Guinee) in the days after World War I SWEET LAND aims for a loving lyricism that for the most part it achieves. One of the only mis-steps are John Heard’s Priest character who seems a bit off in tone to fully fit into the mechanics of this period piece – his “but I saw them dancing” dialogue feels a bit forced but Reaser is extremely beautiful (though her makeup is a bit much) and so is the Minnesota scenery. Remarking on the oft made comparisons to DAYS OF HEAVEN at the Q & A after the screening last friday night, director/writer Selim said “you can’t shoot a field without people thinking you’re referencing Terrence Mallick”. Good point though for a first time film maker to be placed in such lofty company should make him as proud as he should be for this solid absorbing debut.

Also in theaters :

PARIS, JE T’AIME (Directed by 18 different directors including the Coen Bros, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Tom Twyker, Alfonso Cuaron, and Isabel Coixet) In 1988 NEW YORK STORIES featured 3 short films made by master directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola that collectively formed a valentine to the grand city. Multiply that by 6 and add a bit of LOVE ACTUALLY change the locale to Paris and you’ve got PARIS, JE T’AIME (translates to Paris, I love you). Much like its predessesors it’s a mixed bag but with nearly 20 movie makers how could it not be? At its effective best it’s as good as movies can get particularly the Coen Brothers-Steve Buscemi as a tourist in a subway segment which is the best thing the Coens have done since THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Other successful bits are “Place des fêtes” by Oliver Schmitz which has a dying man falling in love with his paramedic and Alexander Payne’s gorgeous “14e arrondissement” also about a tourist enjoying a profound day sight seeing. Even the misfires are interesting – Sylvain Chomet’s “Tour Eiffel” about mimes in love is too cutesy but it’s breezy enough and “Quartier de la Madeleine” by Vincenzo Natali with Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko is only useful if you’ve ever wondered how vampires make out. The Maggie Gyllenhall and Natalie Portman portions are annoying but then maybe it’s just them that’s annoying – I can’t decide.With it’s amazing photography and ratio of good material over bad PARIS, JE T’AIME deserves to be seen in theaters though it will also be fun later to skip and choose the best bits from the DVD platter. It’s the tastiest anthology film I’ve ever been served.

Just released on DVD –

THE GOOD GERMAN
(Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2006) Shot in black and white with its white washed exterior shots and rear projection when driving scenes THE GOOD GERMAN achieves beautifully the exact aesthetic of a film shot in 1945 so much that you may forget it’s a current release and think you are watching Turner Movie Classics. Its got the look down but unfortunately it doesn’t feel authentic. Soderbergh regular George Clooney plays a journalist who arrives in Berlin just after World War II has ended but the shadows and treachery still linger. He finds out that his scheming motor pool driver (Tobey Maguire) has been seeing Clooney’s former lover (Cate Blanchett)- a prostitute with a complicated dark background. Well if you’ve read my reviews you know I’m not one for detailed plot descriptions so that’s all you’ll get. Overlong and undercooked with a cast that is as stiff as Mount Rushmoore (with the exception of the overacting Maguire who is completely out of his depth here), this film adds nothing to the great noir genre and left me feeling afterwards like I saw a bad CASABLANCA cover band. I’m sure after they were finished with this sober straight faced old school exercise I bet Clooney and Soderbergh were dying to get trashed and party it up OCEAN’S style.

A write-up of a live performance by a comedian? Isn’t this supposed to be a film blog? Well I think Mr. Wright’s connection to the world of movies is pretty undeniable especially since he’s won an Oscar damnit! (For the short film THE APPOINTMENTS OF DENNIS JENNINGS1988) So hush your bitchin’ and let me babble on :

“When I was a little kid I wish the first word I ever said was the word ‘quote’ so right before I died I could say ‘unquote.'”

STEVEN WRIGHT live at the Carolina Theater, Durham June 6th, 2007 – I’ve seen Steven Wright before – in 1985 at Memorial Hall here in Chapel Hill and it was one of the funniest performances of stand-up I’ve ever seen. With a load of new material and a reputation from years of movie appearances (see below) and TV guest shots Wright walked onstage to thunderous applause early this month. Although the audience was familliar with a lot of his act (a recent Comedy Central special and DVD release When The Leaves Blow Away documents the new stuff) just about every line killed and it was fascinating to see him experiment with some lines that were obviously works in progress. He did about an hour and 40 minutes never losing momentum and I believe he only used a handful of jokes he had done 22 years earlier (pretty sure “I got arrested for scalping low numbers at the deli” and the bit about Harry Houdini locking his keys in his car were repeated) but these one liners are like classic crowd pleasers so that’s not really a criticism. He even played 2 songs on the guitar – one was introduced as a song he wrote when he was three years old – “the kittie’s trying to kill me”. So nice in these stupid celebrity obsessed times to have a non-topical apolitical clever crafty comedian still going strong and gaining new generations of fans. Can’t wait to see him again in 2029!

Wright was considered for my Cameos post last time out but didn’t make the list so I thought I’d take this occasion to pay tribute to the great man with this handy dandy list :

5 Great Wright Roles

1. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1994) Maybe the closest to a dramatic part as Wright’s ever done, uh well no not really. Dr. Emil Reingold is pure Wright through and through. When told by Robert Downey Jr. – “Mallory Knox has said that she wants to kill you.”He responds in a matter of fact manner – “I never really believe what women tell me.”

2. HALF BAKED (Dir. Tamra Davis, 1998) Uncredited and only known as The Guy On The Couch Wright has very few lines – “is it January?” he asks at one point but everybody always remembers his part in this aptly named pot comedy. Well, at least all my stoner friends do.

3. CANADIAN BACON (Dir. Michael Moore, 1995) Quite possibly the only legitimately funny part of Moore’s only non documentary flop comedy Wright appears at his laconic lucid finest as “RCMP Officer at Headquarters”. Thinking that there’s a war with Canada angry American invaders (John Candy, Kevin J. O’Connor, Bill Nunn) are further angered by Wright’s Canadian tongue – “I don’t know what you’re talking aboot, eh?” Bill Nunn yells in Wright’s face – “Aboot! It’s ABOUT! And what’s with this ‘eh’ business?!!?

4. COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2003) In the opening short film “Strange To Meet You” Wright meets Roberto Benigni for a cup of coffee and yes cigarettes. Fimed in 1986 the scene is relatively meaningless beyond its basic description but there is a palatable amusing sense of awkwardness when these guys styles mix – Benigni sure doesn’t get Wright’s caffeine popsicle bit. Credited as Steven he has one energetic moment – “I like to drink a lot of coffee right before I go to sleep, so I can dream faster.” You can see the clip here.

5. SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER (Dir. Thomas Schlamme, 1993) Another near lame movie saved from complete lame-ocity because of a Wright appearance. As a pilot of a small plane he scares the Hell out of passenger Mike Myers with his admission that he has never flown at night and when pointing at the instrument panel he says “that’s the artificial horizon, which is better than the actual horizon.”

Notable mention goes to his DJ voice-over in RESERVOIR DOGS, his take on the infamous naughty joke in THE ARISTOCRATS, and his film debut in 1984 as Larry Stillman D.D.S. in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (which was Madonna‘s film debut too by the way).

More later…