Sunday, December 3, 2017

Caribbean Adventure -- Del Tenney's Masterpiece

By Steve Evans

I confess to a dangerous and evidently incurable addiction to bad movies. Over several decades I’ve tried to process the reason for their appeal and can say only that great art seems all the richer after my exposure to lousy art. Plus, it’s damned difficult to make a film – any film – especially in the absence of money and talent. This is why I admire the efforts of such inept auteurs as Ed Wood Jr. and Tommy Wiseau. They loved making cinema as much as Welles, Kurosawa, Kubrick and Hitchcock; they simply weren’t any good at it. Plus, I refuse to be hamstrung by the sniveling jackals of bourgeois sensibility. I say the only sin a film can commit is to be boring, which is to say, I'll watch almost anything. I've been accused more than once of being the most egalitarian film critic alive.

Now, the ne plus ultra of Tried & Failed, to my mind, remains the great Del Tenney. This Connecticut-based actor-director-producer-screenwriter cranked out a handful of trashy exploitation films in the early 1960s. The Horror of Party Beach is perhaps the best known, relatively speaking, and features radioactive monsters with bratwursts for teeth. Look it up if you don’t believe me. It’s a wild hybrid of Beach Blanket Bingo silliness and man-in-a-suit monster ridiculousness, with a great garage-rock soundtrack by the Del-Aires, who I’m also betting you’ve never heard of – and with good reason.

Yes, but Tenney’s masterpiece must be I Eat Your Skin, a ludicrous zombie flick made in 1964 and not released until 1970 because until then nobody wanted to distribute the picture. No skin is actually eaten, probably because the film was retitled from its original name, Caribbean Adventure, by schlock dirve-in distributor Jerry Gross. He bought the movie to make a double bill with his other feature, I Drink Your Blood.

One can only suppose Tenney was happy the film finally screened under any title. So what do we get? The zombie makeup looks like they glued-on fried eggs for eyes. The hero is a sexist jerk, more or less in step with the times. Tenney’s awful flick draws upon many influences, especially the contemporaneous James Bond films. The climax is straight out of the first Bond adventure, Dr. No. A bit of research reveals the Miami scenes that bookend the movie were shot at the Fountainbleau Hotel – the same property where early scenes for Goldfinger were filmed. I like the jazzy brass score.

In spite of the horrible acting, the bargain-basement special effects and silly makeup, the dreadful dialog and preposterous plot, I Eat Your Skin is compulsively watchable, especially if beer is involved. A full 80 minutes of WTF? And it don’t cost nuthin’. Behold my gateway drug into the netherworld of Le Bad Cinema. Watch it tonight with someone you love. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 11, 2017

HBO's The Deuce Only Spurs Deeper Research

By Steve Evans
Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times SquareSleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Incredible journey to the sordid heart of sleazy exploitation cinema once shown round the clock at the crossroads of the world. This is the milieu of Taxi Driver, of Midnight Cowboy and The French Connection, when NYC's theater district was a genuinely dangerous place. Watching HBO's The Deuce led me to online research and discovery of this book, which I bought immediately. An enjoyable but tawdry reference work on scuzzy, nothing-budget movies and the sticky theatres that screened them two generations ago, when Times Square was wall-to-wall with lost souls and hustlers peddling fantasies in glorious old movie palaces gone to seed on 42nd St. The Deuce has long since been cleaned up, polished and sanitized. A Madame Tussaud's wax museum stands on the south side of 42nd between 7th and 8th, and a BB King blues club welcomes tourists across the street. There's a Hard Rock Cafe around the corner and a Walgreen's at the other end of the block on the corner of 7th, but there's nothing approximating the sense of adventure that used to accompany an adrenaline rush -- that giddy surge borne on the knowledge that anything could happen here, in this little stretch of Midtown -- because it no longer can. Turning Times Square over to Disney is like neutering a wolf.

A minor lament: this book delivers mainly a capsule-review aggregation of mostly forgotten films; I would have liked more you-are-there accounts of what it was really like to roam those two blocks of 42nd St. between 6th and 8th Avenues, say, around 1975. Old photographs of the era show individuals who appear by turns either so depraved or smacked out of their minds on heroin that there appears to be no hope for any of them. What was it like to venture after the show into the Terminal Bar a block away on 41st and 8th for a shot of rye? Gone some 35 years, the Terminal was reputed to be one of the most violent bars on earth. Who went in there? Why did some people not come out alive? Surely there must be yellowing police records containing information that could put flesh on these skeletons.

These anthropological questions get short shrift in an otherwise fine book about some of the weirdest movies ever made and the equally strange venues for their exhibition. Maybe I'm asking too much of a movie reference book, although the title also promises a travelogue into the surrealistic bowels of urban hell. By the late 1970s the Deuce was overrun with porn theaters and massage parlors, and theaters showing strange grindhouse films of grisly horror, eurotrash erotica and kung fu foolishness were on the decline. These films live now only in my memories and in the handful of itchy & scratchy DVDs I've managed to acquire. Jess Franco remains a perennial favorite, as well as select examples of Italian Giallo, but the gold standard for insane violence has got to be the Lone Wolf and Cub series, a grindhouse staple at disreputable cinemas that today is part of the Criterion Collection, a boutique company devoted to important, classic and arthouse cinema. Oh, how times have changed.

One thing hasn't: I confess to a dangerous and evidently incurable addiction to B-movies, the trashier the better. This book is like catnip to a voracious cineaste like me. Because we cannot feast on Bergman, Fellini and Godard alone.

Give me a triple feature of Venus in Furs, Kung Fu Zombie and Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. And a large RC Cola to go with 'em.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Anticipation of a Gonzo holiday down by the seaside

By Steve Evans

Along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, on the outlying island of Manteo, there is a wonderful bookstore near the waterfront on the north side of Sir Walter Raleigh Street. Sunny and spacious it is, with comfortable chairs and stocked to the rafters with a fine assortment of classic, contemporary and regional books, impeccably organized. It was in this bookstore 40 years ago this summer that I first came to know the works of classical composer Haydn, as his Symphonie 9 in C Major thrumming on the stereo through the bookstore’s open door did lure me off the hot sidewalk and into this new sanctuary. I know it was Haydn’s 9th because I made a point of asking the shop owner, whose knowledge of classical music turned out to be as erudite as her grasp of local lore and fine literature. I bought two books that day, one a collection of essays by Hunter S. Thompson, who I had never heard of (but was curiously drawn to the cover of the book), and the other a biography of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the pirate, who haunted the Outer Banks when he wasn’t pillaging on the high seas. I plopped down in one of the thickly padded chairs and read the Thompson book for an hour, during which time I became a lifelong fan, both of Hunter and Haydn. I've returned to that bookstore every summer that I could make it back to the Outer Banks. Like surf fishing, climbing the dunes at Jockey's Ridge and grilling fresh seafood outdoors the way it was meant to be prepared, rolling into Manteo Booksellers remains a cherished tradition.

I mention these memories because when life gets too heavy and I’m inclined to kick random strangers in the ass as I stroll down the street, I know it’s high time that I get myself down to the seaside and breathe some salty air and listen to Haydn and re-read Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt, which my goofy 14-year-old self had assumed was a seafaring adventure with killer fish (Jaws had been released just two summers before). Instead, it turned out to be a pirate’s story not unlike that of old Blackbeard, with heavy infusions of drugs and alcohol. The die was cast. From that moment forward I was a troublemaker, too, damn you Dr. Gonzo.

If it was not already hot enough on the Outer Banks in August, I've raised enough hell on those beaches through the years to make the mercury bleed from the thermometer. I am proud of such things and would do them again. On the downside, the cost of a week on the coast has spiked precipitously since I first went roaming around Manteo and Nag's Head, buying books and guzzling beers, but a beach vacation is in at least one respect like divorce: Why so expensive? Because it's worth it.

These thoughts of endless summers long gone also spring to mind today because I saw a survey that shows more than 20 percent of small business owners, of which I am one, would rather forego a day of vacation than go without their smartphones for a week. Ridiculous. Always bucking the trend, I tell you with conviction that I will smash my smartphone – and yours, too – if it gets me an extra day of vacation.

Ah, but these are the idle speculations of a man in desperate need of a tech-free holiday. So into the trunk goes the fishing pole and a canvas bag of books, the old leather duffel and a spritz bottle of tanning solution. And maybe my laptop, because it has a DVD drive for movies, which ostensibly is what this blog is supposed to be about. First stop: the cold beverage section of the nearest grocer for essential provisions. Fuck all this landlocked inertia. Hi-diddle-de-dee, a pirate's life for me.

Baby, it’s time for lime. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On the Death of Flounder

By Steve Evans

The death Friday of Stephen “Flounder” Furst marks the passing of another key cast member from Animal House, a film now almost 40 years old yet immortal in its invocation of time, place and attitude.

If you’re worth knowing at all, you’ve seen the film. More than once. No need for me to rehash the plotline here. My agenda lies elsewhere.

People often assume Belushi was the first among the cast to die. Not so. It was co-writer Doug Kenney, who also had a small role as Stork. Kenney's life was no less interesting and at least as tragic, which brings us to a greater theme buried deep in Animal House.

Most men, if they are honest and spent any time in college, will confess an abiding love of this great comedy. For many of us, university life wasn’t exactly as portrayed on the grounds of Faber College in John Landis’ anarchic film, but it was often close enough. For all the puerile humor on display, I defy anyone who’s actually been to a toga party to tell me it wasn’t all kinds of debauched fun. Or that a road trip to Emily Dickinson College wouldn’t yield results as seen in Animal House. It is no coincidence that the mighty Otter, while sauntering the halls of this all-girl school, quietly whistles Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – yet another subtlety I’ll betcha never noticed before.

Keg parties. Chasing girls. Smoking grass with the cool professor on campus. Riding motorcycles indoors. Deflating pomposity. Delivering the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. These are essential rites of passage for the red-blooded male seeking some enjoyment out of life.

Because you gotta enjoy it while you can. Look out on the horizon past graduation and what do you see? Mortgages. Despicable bosses begging to be ice-picked in the face. Marriages. Diapers, diatribes and divorce(s). Graying hair. Fading health and inevitable mortality. Who needs that shit?

We cannot recapture the decades in the rear-view mirror or even act that way any longer because carrying on like lunatics might get us accused of arrested development. But we can still reminisce and laff and, especially, we can wonder whatever happened to that seemingly drop-dead gorgeous redhead I picked up that one night at Rockitz and who had vanished from my apartment by dawn along with a couple of my jazz records all those years ago.

Yes, let us indulge in healthy remembrance of things past and conjure some of that old magic with a surefire spell. Chant with me now: “Toga, toga, toga, toga!”

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday

By Steve Evans

Today marks the 113th anniversary of Leopold Bloom's wanderings throughout Dublin. I'll make my own observance of this sacred day with a pint or three of Smithwick's later this evening. I'm talking, of course, about the greatest novel by James Joyce. Published in 1922 and set during the course of a single day, June 16, 1904, Ulysses remains a masterpiece of innovative narrative structure, deploying inner monologues and stream-of-consciousness techniques to enrich the reading experience. Leopold, his wife Molly and friend Stephen Dedalus pop off the page as fully realized living, breathing, complex characters unlike any portrayed in fiction before or since. Widely banned when it first came out, the novel was not allowed in the United States until 1934 following a famous, precedent-setting obscenity trial. Ulysses is structured in 18 episodes, roughly corresponding to Homer's Odyssey, a source of inspiration for Joyce, who transposed the epic journey to the quiet turmoil and perfectly ordinary existence of characters set in his native Ireland. Molly, for instance, is a representation of Penelope from the Odyssey, however, where Penelope is eternally faithful to the protagonist, Molly is most certainly not. This only makes her the more interesting of the two.
I love this novel so much that I measure the merit of other individuals by whether they've read it, too, and then I ask: how many times? The book overflows with so many riddles, enigmas and allusions that it affords a lifetime of fascinating study to the literary obsessive. Joyce chose June 16 for the day of his novel's events because that was the date he went on his first outing with future wife Nora Barnacle. After strolling around Dublin all day, they wound up in a southern suburb of the city known as Ringsend, where she stroked him off, no doubt creating a memorable moment fixed forever in the author's mind. The closing lines of Ulysses deliver some of the most breathtaking prose the English language has given us, equal to if not surpassing Shakespeare's powers to plumb the depths of the human condition. In terms of innovation, audacity and the author's avowed determination to present reality through the fullest blossom of his artistic ability, Ulysses must rank on the short list of superb literary achievements. Below I've embedded the loose 1967 film adaptation of Ulysses, not because it is a great picture (it isn't) but because director Joseph Strick had the chutzpah even to try filming what I still consider an unfilmable novel. Strick proves my point, though the film is not without interest. It's a curio: as much a product of the 1960s as it is of the source material written 45 years earlier. Yes, and now I'm off to read Molly's soliloquy.
Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Restless Dreams of Dead Movie Stars

By Steve Evans

Last night I dreamed that Jackie Coogan returned from the dead to speak with me while in costume for his best-known role, Uncle Fester in the 1960s television show The Addams Family. But it was in costume only, not in character. 

I blame these odd nocturnal flights of fancy on the grilled pork Chimichangas I enjoyed the evening before with screaming hot salsa and frozen margaritas. Perhaps it was no coincidence, then, that Coogan met me in my dream on a sidewalk outside a Cancun cantina, where he drank iced lemon water through a straw and munched tortilla chips with childlike enthusiasm.

He told me about his rollercoaster life as an impossibly rich child movie star during the silent era and into the Depression. Coogan worked with Charlie Chaplin on one of the brilliant performer’s greatest films, The Kid (1921). It is an unequaled masterpiece that will charm you to within an inch of your life as you burn through half a box of Kleenex, mainly on the strength of Coogan’s acting. He was six years old. The film hasn't aged a bit.

Coogan recalled his shock upon learning when he turned 21 that his mother and stepfather had squandered his fortune – estimated at nearly $4 million – on high living, jewels, furs and expensive cars. While we spoke, I used my smart phone to Google an inflation calculator. We ran the numbers. Coogan insisted that I show him, and his face darkened on discovering that his childhood wealth would be equal to about $70 million in today’s dollars.


It must be emotionally devastating to sue your own mother, but that’s what Coogan did in 1938. When it was all over, he received only $126,000 out of a quarter-million, all that was left from his earnings as a movie star.

This maternal treachery resulted in the California Child Actor's Bill in 1939. The legislation is more commonly known as the "Coogan Law" and requires the guardian of a child actor to set aside at least 15 percent of earnings in a trust with the child named as sole beneficiary.

The oft-married Coogan made his first skip to the altar with pinup legend Betty Grable, though that union lasted less than two years. The fourth time around was the charm: he remained married to Dorothea Hanson from 1952 until his death 32 years later.

I couldn’t let Coogan’s ghost slip back into the ether without asking him about the dark years after his family embezzled all his money, when he was reduced to appearances in such films as Mesa of Lost Women, a bizarre, no-budget horror flick from 1953 that delivers a full 70 minutes of…Huh? There are flashbacks inside of flashbacks. Characters recall events at which they were not present. The sets are wobbly. There’s a giant puppet spider, several gorgeous women wearing ragged frocks, the mist-shrouded mesa of the title, and dwarf Angelo Rossito, whose own career spanned from Freaks (1932) to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) with Mel Gibson.

Coogan agreed that Mesa of Lost Women is pretty bad –- even the narration clarifies nothing -- but the film is not without appeal. The grating piano-and-flamenco-guitar music score would test anyone’s endurance, he observed, but the characters are so ridiculous and the line readings so awful that it endures in the canon of Le Bad Cinema. Regardless, a paycheck is a paycheck, he added wryly, especially when you’re broke.

A decade later The Addams Family would provide Coogan with a steady paycheck for a few years and a career resurgence with his role as odd Uncle Fester, who could illuminate lightbulbs by inserting them in his mouth. Fester was also a master of disaster with explosives and other life-threatening shenanigans befitting a mad scientist. Coogan smiled when I told him Uncle Fester was always my favorite character on the show.

I asked him what he thought of Christopher Lloyd’s interpretation of the role in the 1990s film adaptations. Coogan shrugged; said he never saw them.

Offscreen, Coogan was a tireless advocate for the welfare of children. For decades he worked with The Near East Foundation, the oldest nonsectarian humanitarian organization in the United States. Founded more than a century ago, the organization is now active in 40 countries. In his lifetime Coogan helped the foundation raise more than $12 million.

Coogan died of heart failure, March 1, 1984. I asked him why he waited 33 years to visit my dreams. His eyes grew wide.

“I have unfinished business," he said. "That's what ghosts do. See, the limelight gets under your skin when you’re onstage. It’s intoxicating; a drug that drives your art. It's about posterity. Nobody remembers Jackie Coogan anymore. And I don't want to fade away."

He got up from the table, wiped tortilla crumbs from his shirt, and we shook hands. "Don't let them forget me," he said.

Damn Chimichangas.

“I’ll do what I can,” I assured him. Then I woke up.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Spiraling Death Wish of Vertigo

By Steve Evans

Having seen Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) at least 20 times, it only occurred to me today, on perhaps my 21st viewing, that maybe the entire film is a dream, the final hallucination of a man about to die.

The film in 2012 was famously named best of all time in the well-respected Sight and Sound Poll sponsored every 10 years by the British Film Institute. At the time, the accolades set off another round of academic dissection about Hitchcock's most perfectly realized film, from its troubling thematic concerns about the impossibility of fully realized human relationships, to the visual cues that link everything each character says and does.

I won't recount the plot, confident in the belief that if you've arrived here you've seen Vertigo more than once. Nor does my interpretation of Vertigo's opening scene in any way distract from or disagree with the principal themes that follow -- that love and human relationships are, at best, illusions we create to deceive ourselves such that life becomes bearable. All of that plays out in the film no matter how you interpret the opening.

No, my renewed interest in this densely layered picture has to do with the idea that Jimmy Stewart's detective falls to his death in the first five minutes of the film, though we do not see this, and everything that follows is a swirl of thoughts in the seconds before he is killed. Recall at the opening that Stewart and a uniformed policeman give chase to a criminal across San Francisco rooftops, leaping from one building to the next. Stewart slips, slides from the sharply angled, tiled roof and barely manages to grab the rain gutter, which immediately bends and begins to collapse under his weight. He hangs helplessly from a great height over the streets below. The policeman abandons the chase and returns to help.

"Give me your hand!" the cop implores, his arm outstretched, as the wild-eyed Stewart dangles at least 100 feet above the street. The policeman loses his balance, screams in horror and plunges into the abyss, falling past Stewart and striking the pavement with a final, sickening thud.

Hitchcock's famous "Vertigo effect" -- zooming the camera lens forward while dollying backward, creates the nauseating sensation of space stretching into the infinite. We get one final close shot of Stewart, still clinging to the metal gutter, and the screen darkens. After a long blackout, the action picks up in the apartment of Stewart's friend and ex-fiance, Midge.

From this moment forward, I suggest the remainder of the film consists of Stewart's dying thoughts. Resolution comes only with his death at the final fade, when he stands on the edge of the mission bell tower, staring down at the dead body of a woman who he loved because he believed her to be another. In that moment it seems Stewart may well throw himself off the tower to join his imaginary beloved in death. I say, he already has.

The plot of Vertigo is preposterous. Stewart's old college friend exploits him in an elaborate scheme to murder his wife and use Stewart as a patsy to witness a phony suicide. No one would stage these events to get away with a murder. No modestly competent detective could be fooled by the ruse that unfolds. As it happens, most of the film is a portrait of a sick and deeply delusional man. That Vertigo is often considered Hitchcock's most confessional film speaks for itself.

My interest goes back to that opening scene. We never see Stewart get down from that building nor does there seem any way possible that he could. It's the middle of the night. One man has just fallen to his death. It's implausible to think emergency responders could assemble and stage a rescue of Stewart before it's too late. He hangs by his fingertips, presumably in agony from the weight of his body stretching downward with each creaking lurch of the rain gutter pulling away from the rooftop. Letting go will bring the release of certain death. Hanging on literally for life means prolonged and intolerable misery -- and even that can be sustained for only so long.

But Hitchcock gives no easy resolution. The screen goes black, leaving Stewart in that opening scene forever suspended between life and death. Since there appears to be no way he could have survived, we must approach the film as a man's ruminations in his fleeting moments before death. I can no longer accept anything after the opening scene as a literal depiction of events; the movie is just too infused with dream imagery for that. I believe we are seeing the convoluted thoughts of a man confounded by the elusive and illusory nature of love. And an instant later, he is dead.

This twist-ending narrative technique of telling tales from beyond the grave dates back to the short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It is used most effectively in several key horror films films made after Vertigo, including Carnival of Souls, Jacob's Ladder, Venus in Furs and, perhaps most famously of all, The Sixth Sense. It's a way of yanking reality out from under an audience to get them pondering your actual agenda.

If we take Vertigo literally as a dying man's final thoughts, the implausibility of the plot becomes moot. Suddenly, we are left to consider Hitchcock's themes on love and obsession on their own terms. We may never know if Hitchcock was fully aware of what he was doing, of how much he was perhaps unconsciously revealing about himself. But if musing on the power struggle inherent in human relationships is the goal, then killing off your lead character in the opening scene creates plenty of freedom to play around with these existential follies we call love and devotion.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Reservoir Dogs at 25

By Steve Evans

Reservoir Dogs is 25 years old, which makes me older still. A vicious little brute of a film. Also hilarious. The corkscrew plot is a stew of ingredients from other movies, like Kubrick's The Killing and Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, both made in the 1950s, though especially Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987). Naming tuff-guy characters after colors ("Yeah? Well Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy") comes straight from The Taking of Pelham 123 -- the 1974 original, naturally, with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau. Maybe that's why Tarantino's film is so good: he pilfered from the best. It was his first completed and released picture, and today is still his second best. This movie is sly.

Even the title is a smartass hipster joke. Years ago, when Tarantino clerked at a video rental store, a couple of hicks came in and began browsing. One of the customers picked up the Louis Malle film Au Revoir les Infants (Goodbye, Children) and asked Tarantino, "Hey, what's this movie reservoir dawgs?" 

In the early 1990s, Tarantino's acting coach was Harvey Keitel's wife. She took Tarantino's script to Keitel, who put up some money to produce and leveraged his casting in the film to raise more funds. The whole project came in around $1.2 million and earned back slightly more than twice that at the box office. But the film became a cult hit, spurring $22 million-plus in home-video sales.

What other fun facts can I share? The jewel robbers in this heist flick all wear the same black suits and skinny ties, a fashion statement also made in an obscure Jayne Mansfield crime film, Dog Eat Dog (1964). That film's title served as the name of the production company set up for Reservoir Dogs. The Mansfield picture is delightfully trashy. Insane, really. Read more about it here.

I was in grad' school when I saw Reservoir Dogs on its original 1992 release at a long-gone arthouse cinema in Virginia. My first reaction was "wow." And then I thought, yeah, he's cherry picked from films throughout cinema history to make this one, but this Tarantino knows how to meld music and image like nobody else. This was before he fell so in love with his own dialog he forgot when to cut a scene. That's a shame because his two Oscars for screenwriting suggest he's one of the best film writers alive. Tarantino just doesn't know when to shaddup -- and that's my only real criticism. Well, and he's derivative far beyond the blanket excuse of paying homage. He's still one of only two directors whose films I always see in a theater proper, Scorsese being the other. Tarantino films are entertaining as hell. Half the fun of watching them is dissecting the collage of influences he's slapped together. 

Reservoir Dogs almost single-handedly brought about the resurrection of the indie film, even though it polarized viewers at Sundance. You love or you hate this film. These dogs do not elicit a ho-hum response.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Remembering TCM's Robert Osborne

By Steve Evans

Was saddened yesterday by the death of film historian Robert Osborne at 84. Took me some time to reflect on my admiration of Mr. Osborne. For the last 20-plus years he had the best conceivable job in the world as host of TCM. I learned a lot. Variety describes him as "effervescent" while conversing leisurely about the great films. Yes, he had that champagne personality, and it was backed up by erudite knowledge of the classics. His television presence extends back to the 1980s when he hosted The Movie Channel. Before that, he was a Hollywood Reporter columnist. Years later, at TCM, he played host to a great Saturday night program, "The Essentials" also with Alec Baldwin, whose own knowledge of classic cinema is impressive. Osborne was so good that he set the standard and maintained it until stepping down early last year for the sake of his health. Today TCM is the only network that precedes a film with a moderated discussion. And boy howdy, they sure are a joy to experience.

As I feel about many hundreds of interesting people throughout the world, I had always hoped one day I'd get to have coffee with Mr. Osborne though our paths never crossed.

Monday, February 27, 2017

And La La Land Wins 7, No, 6, No, Wait....

By Steve Evans

So I predicted La La Land would take nine out of 14 Oscars and it won seven. Then dropped to six. Do whut now?

It was the most bizarre event I’ve seen in a lifelong love affair with the cinema. If it had happened in a movie, I would have shouted in disbelief. I’m certainly glad that Moonlight was the rightful winner – it’s a beautiful and worthy film – though La La Land is more my style.

Last night’s climactic events were surreal. As it all unraveled, Warren Beatty, who turns 80 next month, had an expression like he’d just farted loudly in church. Faye Dunaway, almost unrecognizable from her indulgence in plastic surgery, refused to discuss the matter with entertainment media during the Governor’s Ball afterparty. The accounting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper, which has been handling the voting results for 83 of Oscar’s 89 years, issued an apology and accepted responsibility, though it remains unclear how this happened. You don’t hand the presenting talent the wrong envelope as they’re headed to the podium. You just don’t. You verify what the hell you’re doing.

There wouldn’t be all this secret envelope stuff in the first place if the LA Times hadn’t violated a 1940 embargo by publishing the winners in an early edition of the paper before the ceremony had begun. Now, this was an Oscars ceremony for films released in 1939, widely considered the greatest year for motion pictures during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The stars (and anyone with a telephone or radio) already knew who won before the first award was announced. Some suspense.

But back to last night. Host Jimmy Kimmel looked like he was ready to die. Half a dozen production and accounting people with headsets scrambling around the stage like cockroaches with the lights coming on. And how awful I feel for everyone involved with La La Land and Moonlight. Imagine going onstage thinking you’ve won the most significant film award in the world only to be told, no, whoopsie, there’s been a mistake. An epic fuckup, as it turns out. Imagine thinking you haven’t won, then you have – and feeling that whipsaw of emotion that cuts into what should fairly be one of the greatest moments of your life.

We live in strange times.

In watching the 11th hour fiasco unfold early this morning, it struck me that Americans have now won a dubious Triple Crown of weirdness. Until last night, not in my lifetime has the presidency, a Super Bowl and the Academy Awards all in the same year been decided by sudden-death overtime with disappointing results.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Expect La La Land to Win 9

By Steve Evans

My inevitable Oscar breakdown...
I’m going with La La Land to win 9 Oscars this evening -- including Best Picture -- out of a record-tying 14 nominations (equaled only by All About Eve and Titanic, both of which won Best Picture -- for 1950 and 1997).

Also tossing off the bold prediction that La La Land will be the first film since Silence of the Lambs (1991) to win the top 5 – picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay. It's a charming and ridiculously romantic throwback to the Hollywood musicals of yesteryear, though the unsentimental ending is probably essential for it to be a serious Best Picture contender in this dark and cynical year of 2017.

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and Denzel Washington (Fences) are seen as frontrunners for Best Actor, but Denzel's won twice already and his latest work is essentially a filmed play with non-stop exposition. It's nothing terribly impressive. Affleck is trying to live down sexual harassment allegations, which don't play well with image-conscious Academy voters. That leaves Ryan Gossling for La La Land.

The only other serious Best Picture contender is Moonlight; not your customary Hollywood fare. A beautiful little film, but well outside the experience of most Academy voters, who adore a flick like La La Land because it reflects their obsessive love of the movie business. Moonlight will have to settle for the nomination. Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge was thrilling and inspirational, though probably too old-fashioned to gain any traction for a win. Arrival is science fiction, and you can count on your thumb the number of times a sci-fi flick won Best Picture. Hidden Figures sanitizes the civl rights struggle behind the story of African American women scientists who led NASA to glory. If it had more bite, it might be a real contender. Hell or High Water is fantastic, but it's a cops-n-robbers genre picture that hasn't found a huge audience, even though it should. I didn't see Lion and don't know anyone who wants to.

So if any film could stage a Best Picture upset -- and really startle the hell out of me this year -- it would be Manchester by the Sea. But god a'mighty, that was an overlong, depressing slog through misery and grief with unlikable characters, especially Affleck's. I'm betting voters have enough of that to endure in real life right now. So sorry, Sullen Casey by the Sea, but you're down and out, and so's your film.

That will delight Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel. Expect him to indulge tonight in his entertaining pseudo-feud with Matt Damon, a producer on Manchester.

My own cross to bear will involve toggling back and forth between The Walking Dead and the Oscars. Both are can't-miss shows for me, though TWD will at least be available for streaming on-demand tomorrow.

Due to the interminable length of the awards ceremony, people may not realize that only 24 Oscars are handed out each year. Yep, we’re talking 30 minutes of intrigue stretched over a four-hour period. You know you’re gonna watch, anyway. Below is a complete list of all nominees by category with my picks marked ***** (((For the last 30 years I’ve averaged an 88 percent accuracy rate so bet with confidence, film fans.))) If you want a sure thing, bank on Emma Stone's win for La La Land. It's all but a done deal.

Here's how I predict the 89th Academy Awards will go down:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
*****La La Land*****
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
*****Ryan Gosling, La La Land*****
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
*****Emma Stone, La La Land*****
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
*****Mahershala Ali, Moonlight*****
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
*****Viola Davis, Fences*****
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
*****Kubo and the Two Strings*****
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
La La Land
*****Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them*****
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
*****La La Land*****
Manchester by the Sea
Fire at Sea
*****I Am Not Your Negro*****
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
4.1 Miles
*****Joe’s Violin*****
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets
*****Hacksaw Ridge*****
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
*****The Salesman*****
Toni Erdmann
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
*****Suicide Squad*****
*****La La Land*****
*****"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land*****
Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
"Can’t Stop The Feeling" from Trolls
Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
"City Of Stars" from La La Land
Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
"The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story
Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
"How Far I’ll Go" from Moana
Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
*****La La Land*****
*****Blind Vaysha*****
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Ennemis Intérieurs
La Femme et le TGV
*****Silent Nights*****
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
*****La La Land*****
*****Hacksaw Ridge*****
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
*****The Jungle Book*****
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Hidden Figures
Hell or High Water
*****La La Land*****
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bullitt Approaching 50: Badassery, Beauteous Bisset

By Steve Evans

Let me tell you a story. When I was 10 years old all my buddies wanted to be superheroes or astronauts. I wanted to be Steve McQueen. Cool as ice. Solid as the V-8 Mustang Fastback he drove through the streets of San Francisco at heart-stopping speeds in Bullitt (1968). It’s not just one of the best action-mystery films of the ‘60s, oh no. It’s part of the great American film canon.

A beautifully constructed film, the few technical weaknesses in Bullitt can be discerned only by careful repeat viewings by film obsessives (“hello,” he said). More on that in a moment. But little things like continuity errors, to me, are irrelevant when Jacqueline Bisset shows up periodically to love on McQueen and express concern for his professional life – as a quietly bad-ass police detective who’s no less hip than the hippies haunting the Haight at the time. She plants a kiss on McQueen just to get the party started and I feel lightning crackle through my mind. Hot damn; that’s quality acting. McQueen's last scene in the film, staring wearily in the mirror, speaks volumes about his inner turmoil, whether he can give up being a cop to make a life with Bisset, because by then it's become pretty damn clear that the options are mutually exclusive. The film ends on an ambivalent note for McQueen's detective. Sometimes you wonder what happens to the characters after the movie ends. I always root for him to choose Bisset as the credits roll. That's his essential dilemma: commit to a woman who deeply loves him or drive around like a wild fool and shoot bad guys who desperately need to be shot. Not many men get to confront such an intriguing choice against the backdrop of a crackling murder mystery (Bullitt won the Edgar award for best screenplay).

Listening to the original score playing over the opening credits, I thought the tone and jazz rhythms sounded familiar and Dirty Harry (1971) came to mind. Hooray for Google: as it happens, composer Lalo Schifrin wrote the score for both films. He created that intense theme for Mission: Impossible, too.

Schifrin’s collaboration with director Peter Yates was one of many in Bullitt that sculpt the feel of the film. There’s never a lull, not one unnecessary scene. Look fast and you'll see Robert Duvall in a small but important role as a cabbie who provides crucial information. Truly, this film could be improved only with more Jackie Bisset.

The justly famous car chase in Bullitt lasts barely 10 minutes, but that’s enough. Few can withstand the jolting rush of adrenaline longer than that. McQueen did much, not all, of his own stunt driving in that growling Mustang, occasionally reaching speeds a tick above 110 mph. It’s a complex chase sequence that by the necessity of the plot covers impossible geography, as anyone familiar with San Francisco will recognize. For instance, you can’t drive past Coit Tower and two blocks over hop on the freeway. Using multiple takes shot at different angles, the sequence betrays a few other amusing mistakes, like, McQueen’s Mustang and the bad guys’ Dodge Charger pass the same green VW Bug three times. In watching the film for the umpteenth time last night, I also noticed that the Dodge loses six hubcaps during the course of the chase. These slight imperfections are obscured by the Oscar-winning editing.

And there are other wonderful distractions, whether you're 10 years old or flying down the freeway in a hunter-green Mustang at some older and more reckless age, full of vinegar, piss and testosterone. That's right: Jackie Bisset’s in it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

By Steve Evans
Netflix is producing an adaptation of the one Stephen King novel I've long considered unfilmable -- Gerald's Game, published in 1992. It's my favorite of King's books, although in truth I've plowed through less than a dozen of his 54 novels so maybe I'm missing out. This one, though, is a psychological doozy.

Lots of people are looking forward to the upcoming big-budget adaptation of It, King 's five pound door jam of a novel. But news of this quiet little production from Netflix has got me cautiously hopeful that it might turn out interesting.

That's because film adaptation
s of King's books are a mixed bag. David Cronenberg's adaptation of The Dead Zone (1983), Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (the 1980 film that King reportedly hated) and Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) are riveting. Others, like Firestarter, Christine and Pet Sematary, are just silly.

I admire the producers for even trying to film the twisted tale that is Gerald's Game. Most of the story is confined to a bedroom in an isolated cabin in the woods. Briefly, the tale recounts a trophy wife handcuffed to the bed by her kinky husband for sex games. When he suddenly drops dead, she's trapped without food or water and not a soul within 100 least no one you'd want to meet under such circumstances.

This book really got under my skin. Shuddering even now in recollection of a couple key scenes.

he film just finished principal photography with a cast of mostly unknowns. No streaming date announced yet, though we can expect it this year.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fear "The Unknown"

By Steve Evans

A 23-year-old Joan Crawford stares down the immortal Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927). Marvelous rainy-day film directed by horror specialist Tod Browning, who made 10 films with Chaney and transitioned into talkies with Dracula (1931) and the legendary Freaks (1932), an oft-misunderstood film greeted with such outrage on initial release that it effectively ended his career.

Here, Chaney plays an armless knife thrower in a Spanish carnival, in love with the owner's daughter. Except he's actually hiding his arms, wrapped tightly beneath his shirt, because he's a criminal fugitive who can be identified by the double-thumb on his left hand. Murders, double-crosses and a shocking (for its day) twist ending make The Unknown one of the great surviving silent films. The performances are uniformly astounding, with the consensus being this is Chaney's best work for Browning. It's certainly his most twisted.

The Unknown was considered a lost film until 1968 when a print was found in the archives of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The delay in discovery was because the print had been stored among hundreds of other film canisters labeled "L'inconnu" ("Unknown" in French).

I'm thinking of bringing back the gypsy look.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beware Dr. Mabuse

By Steve Evans

Meet criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse. (Mah-boo-zaa) Not someone you'd want to see climbing through your bedroom window at night with a knife in his teeth.

Image from the great 1933 Fritz Lang film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. Hitler banned the film on grounds it was an "incitement to public disorder" and the Austrian-born Lang soon after fled Germany for Paris, eventually emmigrating to America in 1935. Perhaps the greatest of the German Expressionists, Lang also directed Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), widely acknowledged as his masterpiece.

Dr. Mabuse reminds me of Trump without his teevee makeup.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reliving Groundhog Day

By Steve Evans

In the spirit of current events I'm calling out Punxsutawney Phil for delivering Fake News today with his forecast of six more wintry weeks. Damn rodent. Bring on spring.

Groundhog Day is an obvious time to celebrate the great 1993 film by Harold Ramis that afforded Bill Murray one of his best roles as a churlish TV weatherman condemned to relive the same cursed day until his attitude improves. It's a gentle moral lesson folded into a solid comedy, with an impossibly sweet Andie MacDowell as Murray's love interest.

As allegory, the picture is open to all sorts of interpretations. If you went to Synagogue or Sunday School, the film could be seen as an exploration of purgatory. If you commune with Buddha,  the movie's themes of transcendence and rebirth through selflessness would seem to bolster that devotion to Zen.

As a bit of social-media ephemera, Groundhog Day remains in the popular lexicon of shorthand for an endlessly repeating and unpleasant situation. Except...nothing lasts forever. And that is neither Zen nor Judeo-Christian. It is atheism, defined. If you had to awaken to I Got You Babe day after day, you'd lose the faith, too.

This is a great movie and a kindly parable for all times.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Watching the world end

By Steve Evans
In cognizance of the Trump Administration's infuriatingly obvious efforts to destroy the world one idiotic move after another, today I'm starting a series of film clips that artfully illustrate what happens when arrogant, hate-filled and quite probably insane fools acquire power. You know, like Adolph. Mussolini, Hirohito and Hussein. Stalin. Dada. Pol Pot. Ceausescu and Ivan the Terrible. Ming the Merciless. Hell, Charles Manson. And Mao Zedong. History provides us with a very long list that merits a refresher. But back to the clips: Let's start big with the best one I know. You can never go wrong leading with Kubrick.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Soylent Green for Everyone

By Steve Evans

Tump's censorship of scientific environmental information on government websites this week got me to thinking about an old movie, because that's how my mind works, and I realized we're just six years away from the dystopian future portrayed in Soylent Green (1973). The film shows the social consequences of global warming, dying oceans, urban decay and overpopulation. It's based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. Bleak, with a twist ending that was shocking in its time and remains potent today.

On the upside, Soylent Green is 100 percent organic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Remembering MTM, Feminist Icon

By Steve Evans

A fond remembrance of Mary Tyler Moore, whose eponymous 1970s television show was an inestimable influence on feminism and advancing respect in this country for professional women. To the best of my knowledge, she was the first single career woman portrayed on television, working in a world of arrogant and often stupid men. One of the co-creators of her show, James L. Brooks, would go on to make Oscar-winning films, including Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As it Gets, all featuring strong, progressive women characters.

But it was Mary who anchored the show that carried her name for eight years. She was capable and sensible, smart and at least as sweet as the charming theme song for the show. Even as a kid I felt vaguely protective of Mary -- that was part of her appeal -- but I knew then as now that she needed no help from me or any other man or boy. She made it, after all.

Mary Tyler Moore won 9 Emmys and was Oscar nominated. She also holds the distinction of appearing as the love interest in the last picture Elvis made, although I cannot in good conscience recommend Change of Habit (1969) as anything more than an odd curio of its time.

RIP Mary. Te adoro.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bob Roberts in 2020

By Steve Evans

Eerily prescient, this political satire from 25 years ago.

Bob Roberts is a mockumentary starring, written and directed by Tim Robbins. It was his directing debut and history shows he has seldom surpassed that freshman effort. Only Dead Man Walking comes close.

Bob Roberts is a hard right-winger running for the US Senate with a beaming stage smile. He's wrapped in the flag, conceals a dark temper, and has a sociopath's instinct for exploiting the easily persuaded. With $5,000 Dolce & Gabanna suits and silk ties to cloak him in a veneer of success, Roberts plays acoustic guitar at his rallies, singing ersatz folk songs set to the lyrics of a fascist. His scam is performance art in pursuit of unchecked political power. A journalist for a radical publication pursues Roberts across the campaign trail, ever-so-close to linking the candidate with all manner of corruption, including connections to CIA drug runners in banana republics. (Amusing side note for my fellow film obsessives: Giancarlo Esposito plays the crusading journalist, and 20 years later he would portray the murderous drug baron Gus Fring in Breaking Bad.)

Look fast for familiar faces in small roles peppered throughout this merciless and hysterically funny film that now terrifies in light of contemporary events. Bob Roberts anticipates the rise of Donald Trump and the mainstreaming of white nationalist hatreds. What was once a satire has become a horror film.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Umbrellas over La La Land

By Steve Evans

If you've fallen in love with La La Land -- it's a sure bet for a Best Picture Oscar nomination this year -- you might want to check out one of its inspirations.

Jacque Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is a hopelessly romantic musical with a score by the incomparable Michel Legrand. The lovers sing virtually all of the dialog to each other. Catherine Deneuve is gorgeous. The film was shot in three-strip Technicolor and restored to a 2K resolution (better than Hi-Def) in 2013. It's absolutely eye-popping. For film obssesives like me, The Criterion Collection is finally releasing this wonderful movie in a stand-alone edition on April 11. Previously it was only available in a box of Demy films with a $100 price tag.

You can see and hear the influence on La La Land in the dreamy cinematography, the pensive and often melancholy tone of its songs. Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Cannes 1964 Palme d'Or. This is a great motion picture.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Luck be a Lady To-nite

By Steve Evans

Text this afternoon from a fellow film-obsessive: "Dude! I just got The Lady from Shanghai on DVD for a fiver. Not a bad deal." Steve (who is never too busy for a smart-ass response): "Dude. You can get a night with the lady herself for a deuce and fifty cent. She's from Shanghai, for crissakes." (((Anyway, it's a great Orson Welles' picture from 1947. Woody Allen paid hommage in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). This rambling, esoteric FBF brought to you by Cinematic Cteve.)))

Monday, January 9, 2017

Those Goofy Golden Globes

By Steve Evans

Let's not Monday morning quarterback last night's Golden Globes, beyond the observation that the awards remain the biggest con job in Hollywood. Most everyone knows the Hollywood Foreign Press Association controls the outcome of this lesser event (Oscar is still the gold standard, naturally). Fewer may realize that the Globes are chosen on the votes of less-than-100 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. They are hardly arbiters of taste or quality in the cinematic and television arts. Yes, but the Globes deliver something the Oscars do not: a looser atmosphere fueled by an open bar. Through the years I've seen celebs stoned as monkeys during this show. Liz Taylor was trashed at the 2001 awards. Jack Nicholson stuck his ass out at the audience three years later during his acceptance speech for About Schmidt.

This is all a jolly lark, of course, and makes for good television (you can still check out Liz and Jack on YouTube), but the idiosyncratic nature of  the HFPA makes the Globes a lousy bellweather for the Academy Awards.

Although La La Land took a record 7 Globes last night, Moonlight will win the Oscar for Best Picture on Feb. 26. This is a political reality as certain as Meryl Streep dissing some asshole who was elected president by a bunch of -- yep -- gullible assholes.

Trump is an easy, though deserving, target. Whether Moonlight deserves to win Best Picture next month is a separate issue from the fact that it's going to win -- because Hollywood will have to deal with the banshee screaming that will result if it doesn't.

Let me be clear: I absolutely agree that Hollywood can do a better job of inclusion by employing people of all creeds, races and persuasions both in front of and behind the camera. I reject the notion that entertainment awards should have a quota system so that X number of minorities or other underrepresented groups are sure to get an Oscar. If films and talent cannot win on merit, then let's abolish awards.

And yet a boorish buffoon has won the presidency in the absence of merit, talent, appeal or even basic human decency. Is it obscene to compare silly awards to the Democratic process? Perhaps not if we drill down to a common motivation between the HFPA and the president-elect. It is this:

The Hollywood Foreign Press, ever-slick as weasel shit, manages to avoid hot-button issues of racism, sexism and quota-based awards by maintaining a ludicrous number of award categories, though especially the top two. They gave Best Drama to Moonlight and Best Comedy or Musical to La La Land. Equal, safe and predictable. Everybody goes home happy after the Globes. By eschewing controversy while allowing celebrities an open mic to blabber drunkenly about whatever comes to mind, the people behind the Globes last night not only solidified their reputation for irrelevance but managed to underline it at least three times, all for the sake of ratings and their own unquenchable thirst for self-aggrandizement. What irks me today is how they reveal themselves to be similar to the scary clown soon to take the oath of office. Whether you're the purveyor of a hokey awards show or a billionaire con artist, it's all about money and attention. Always has been. Dare I say, always will be.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cold War Boredom: Ice Station Zzzebra

By Steve Evans

Curiosity finally got the better of me so I just watched what turned out to be one of the worst, more boring films I've seen -- Ice Station Zebra (1968). A Cold War espionage thriller, characters fight each other at the climax on a laughably obvious soundstage dressed to resemble the Arctic. The special effects are bad. Paratroopers look like green plastic GI Joe men dropped from string-and-vinyl parachutes onto a tabletop diorama. The submarine might be a bathtub toy. Rock Hudson's acting range can be measured in centimeters. Ernest Borgnine does a ludicrous Russian accent. And Patrick McGoohan is just as strange in this film as he was on the cult TV show, The Prisoner, which is perhaps the ne plus ultra of 1960s weirdness on television, although Green Acres gives it some competition. Ice Station Zebra isn't so much weird, as inept. It appears expensive, but in the way shiny things look when created by people with lots of money but no talent or taste. Worth a look to see spies running around the North Pole without proper coats, gloves or even steam coming off their breath from the frigid air. Filmed in the wide-screen process known as Cinerama, which will be lost on television or a laptop.

The film was based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, whose Guns of the Navarone had been made into a thrilling WWII adventure with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthomy Quinn in 1961. Whereas that film followed the road to greatness, Ice Station Zebra takes the opposite path. Disappointing as hell, as this was directed by John Sturges, who helmed The Great Escape and the original Magnificent Seven.

I finally. finally watched this old bore only because it was sitting there on the library's DVD shelves this week, and I felt a sense of obligation. Decades ago the picture got a publicity boost when it was reported to be Howard Hughes' favorite film. He apparently watched it more than 150 times in the final years of his life, haunting his penthouse in the Las Vegas Desert Inn. So I was curious, Now, while the verdict's still out on me, Hughes was clearly out of his damned mind. Watching Ice Station Zebra over and over may have been the poor billionaire's tipping point.

On a related note, another famous lunatic, Charlie Manson, has been chillin' in the hospital this week with critical intestinal problems according to news reports and may not come out alive, which is long overdue. Then again, Manson isn't boring. I don't know his favorite film, but if I did, I suppose I'd watch that one, too. Couldn't be duller than this.