Thursday, September 30, 2010

RIP - Tony Curtis

A Hollywood icon has passed away; Tony Curtis is dead at the age of 85. Curtis was one of the most vibrant leading men of the late 1950s and early 1960s, giving indelible performances in such classic films as The Defiant Ones, Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like it Hot, Spartacus, and The Boston Strangler.

He was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, to poverty-stricken Hungarian immigrants. His father operated a tailor shop, and his mother was a schizophrenic that regularly beat her children. The Depression hit the Schwartz' so hard that Bernard and one brother were made wards of the state. They lived a hard-scrabble, tough existence, and Bernard Schwartz' escape only came with WWII, where he served aboard a navy submarine in Japan, witnessing their eventual surrender.

After the war, Schwartz returned to New York, where he studied acting and performed in the Catskills before eventually signing a contract with Universal Studios in 1948. His name change to Tony Curtis, and his incredible good lucks, marked him as an up and comer, and by 1951, he was headlining a film called The Prince Who Was a Thief. That same year, he married an actress whose career was also on the rise and whose beauty rivaled his own; Janet Leigh. The marriage made them media darlings, and the press followed them everywhere.
In 1953, Curtis headlined his first major hit, portraying legendary magician Houdini. The film, and his high-profile marriage, cemented his status as an A-list movie star. He would spend the next few years making schlocky costume pictures that the thoroughly modern and urban Curtis seemed ill suited for.

It wasn't until 1957, and his magnificent turn as sleazy press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success, that Curtis began to be recognized as a gifted and powerful dramatic actor. The following year, he appeared opposite Kirk Douglas in The Vikings and co-starred in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones, playing a racist fugitive manacled to fellow escapee Sidney Poitier. Curtis received an Oscar nomination for his performance in the film.

He followed this up with some very successful comedies, Mister Cory, The Perfect Furlough and Operation Petticoat, all directed by Blake Edwards. He followed this with a film that many consider to be the best American comedy film or all time, Some Like it Hot. During this creatively successful period, he would appear in Spartacus, The Outsider and The Great Imposter.

But in 1962, he and Leigh divorced after an affair with a 17 year old co-star came to light. The break-up and affair severely damaged his reputation, and although he had a hit with Blake Edwards' The Great Race, his career never really recovered. In 1968, he gave a final great performance as The Boston Strangler. But the film was years ahead of its time, and was seen by the critics and public of the day as tacky and garish.

The 1970s were spent in minor film roles and marginally successful TV shows, and he went through multiple marriages as well. The 1980s did not begin well, either, with a stint in rehab. However, during this time he discovered a love for painting and his work sold well, inspired by Matisse and buoyed by his celebrity. But it brought him a measure of peace and it would remain his primary love for the rest of life.

And with his passing, there is the feeling that an era of old time glamour has come finally to an end. His career was full of peaks and valleys, but few had peaks that rose as high.

Monday, September 27, 2010


No other comment to make, really. Coens, Bridges, Damon, Brolin. A great novel. Some amazing cinematography. I can't wait.

Are You Talking to Me?

News has been leaked today that literally dozens of celebs in New York have been licensed to carry a concealed weapon. According to several stories, the list includes Marc Anthony, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, and Robert De Niro. The NYPD have been issuing these permits, and they are famously rather tough to get. you have to prove either that you are under some increased level of threat or regularly carry large amounts of cash or valuables.

What this means is that you may experience the following scene for reals, if you get up in Bobby D's grill looking for him to autograph your DVD of Showtime:

Now, I really can't make fun of Donald Trump's hair should I ever run into him. Cross one more dream off the list, cruel world.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Look at Chris Evans as Steve Rogers

Recently there has been a whole ton of Captain America stuff leaking to the net. There has been some set walk throughs from over in England:

and a video of scene being filmed:

By the way, I love the gasps from the people watching who obviously weren't expecting that last bit!

Until now though, no one had gotten the big matzo ball; a shot of Chris Evans in the role. And while the photo below doesn't show him in costume, it does show that anyone worried about whether or not Evans could get fit enough to carry off the role of the peak human physical perfection, this puts all doubts firmly to rest.

Holy jeez, look at that guy. Now, that is absolutely how Steve Rogers should look. And for those of you wondering why his clothes are so tight, I would bet that this scene takes place just after he goes from skinny Steve to Super-Soldier. Also, his weird feet? Those are prosthetics they give to actors when they have to run barefoot over rough terrain in scenes. Steve Rogers is not a hobbit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Ben Affleck Should Be Given Some Slack

So, I saw The Town. It's a really good movie. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it as good as Gone Baby Gone, Affleck's directorial debut? No, but then I'm not sure it's trying to be as emotionally complex as that film, so it's not really a fair comparison. What The Town is is a solid, entertaining, satisfying heist film, with characters and dialogue that are richer than usual for the genre. But when I talk to some people about the film, they give me this look. This look that says, "Waitaminute, Ben Affleck made a good movie? Really?" and I really can't figure out why it's been so fucking hard for this guy to get any respect at all.

Let's go back to the beginning. Not the very beginning, because I don't think anyone who saw him as a child in Voyage of the Mimi thought, "That pre-teen is a major douchebag."

That kid? Major prick.

Really the first time anyone took any notice of him was in two films; School Ties and Dazed and Confused. Neither was a huge role, but in Dazed...he was supposed to be a prick, and you know what? He did his job. He was a colossal prick. He hooked up with Kevin Smith around this time, appearing as another colossal prick in Mallrats. and once again, he was good. But maybe this is where it started. Maybe he had made enough of an impression as a prick to irrevocably imprint him as one in the public eye. But I don't really buy into that, because it's not like any of these films were huge enough to make that big an impact on anyone's career. They may be cult faves (okay, not School Ties) but the appeal they have today has come over years.

Next came Chasing Amy. I like Kevin Smith, but it's fair to call He's not a terribly sophisticated writer, and he certainly has no visual flair, but he does have an earthy realism to his writing, and some skill at examining certain relationships. Chasing Amy is by far his most complex, funny, and all around successful film. And you know what? Affleck is fucking great in it. He's vulnerable, he's relatable, he convincingly portrays a guy who falls in love with a woman he is absolutely in no way prepared to handle, and he rather touchingly depicts all the confusion that comes with that. It's what made him, well, not a star certainly, but at least an actor you knew you would see more of.

You named your kid Pilot Inspektor, and I'M the one they ridicule?

Then came Good Will Hunting. Huge. Mega-Huge. Made Matt Damon and Ben Affleck stars. It was a labour of love that they wrote over years. And yeah, there have been rumours about this. Rumours that William Goldman or Kevin Smith or the film's director Gus Van Sant wrote it. Rumours that it was originally a spy movie about the genius Will Hunting being recruited by the CIA until someone else turned it into a drama. It's all bullshit. Goldman and Smith have denied it, and even if it was once another type of flick, what matters it what's on the screen, folks. And the movie is a drama, and it's written by Damon and Affleck.

The nastiest rumour has always been that Damon did all the writing, and Affleck basically changed paper in the printer when it ran out. And I remember that rumour starting pretty much immediately. Why did people immediately jump to that conclusion? Was it because Damon was the public face of the flick? Was it because Affleck played the dimmer best buddy to Will Hunting? Maybe. But here's the thing, Affleck is one of the best things in the movie. He's extremely funny, and very authentic. It's clear he knows guys like this. Also, one of the most original things in the film is how Affleck's Chuckie knows that Will has to outgrow their friendship to reach his potential. There's no jealousy there, there's love and a real fear that his best friend may waste a pretty amazing gift. Affleck earned my loyalty in that film, and I've stuck by him.

Suck on these, William Goldman.

He's made it hard. He was 25 years old when he really hit it big. It's really hard to avoid letting that stuff go to your head. Around this time, he began dating Gywneth Paltrow, while Damon started seeing Winona Ryder. Typical movie star stuff. He took a supporting role in Shakespeare in Love, and considering the part was well outside his wheelhouse, he did a good job. But he followed it up with Armageddon, and though I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that his final scene with Bruce Willis made me tear up, it must also be said that it was a pretty schlocky piece of dreck.

And now, he was seen as a leading man. And for the next few years, he tried to be a traditional leading man. But it seemed like he was running away from the indie-style films that made him big in the first place. Bounce, Reindeer Games, Pearl Harbor, The Sum of All Fears, Daredevil. All films trying to position him as a Movie Star like Tom Cruise. And while some were better than others, they all felt calculated, as if his manager were picking them. Sure, he made some indie films during this period, notably with Kevin Smith, and he made one good studio flick (Changing Lanes), but all he accomplish was to reinforce his image as a guy who stars in pretty mediocre flicks. And the Movie Star roles didn't seem to fit him. He seemed uncomfortable, unable to connect, but not sure what else to do.

Then he began dating Jennifer Lopez, and all hell broke loose. They were everywhere. Lopez was busily trying to set herself up as some sort of pop culture polymath a la Madonna. She was an actress, a pop star, a producer, a trend setter, a diva. Affleck and Lopez became known as Bennifer. Verrrrrry quickly, they became overexposed and surrounded by scandal and seemingly jerky behaviour. Then came Gigli, a movie so bad that Satan sent out a press release saying he had nothing to do with it, for fear being associated with it would give him a bad name.

After that, he made a couple of more movies, all of which tanked, and then he took two whole years off where he and J-Lo broke up, and he began dating Jennifer Garner. Basically, he went into hiding. At this point he was only 31 years old. It seemed as if his career as a major movie star was over, now relegated to a joke.

But after his exile he returned to the screen in Hollywoodland, a understated film that centered on the mystery that surrounds the death of George Reeves, TV's Superman. The film wasn't perfect, but it was a damn sight better than Jersey Girl, and Affleck reminded people he could act with a subtle, sad turn as Reeves. Still, reviews drew parallels between the typecast Reeves and Affleck, as if their lives were so similar not much acting was involved.

In 2007, he directed his first film, Gone Baby Gone. He adapted the novel by Dennis Lehane. The film was very well-received, garnering pretty much universal praise. Even still, there was some incredulity to the praise, as if no one ever suspected he had it in him. Here was an Academy Award winning writer and everyone still seemed to think he was basically an idiot. Maybe he hadn't quite ever delivered on the promise of Good Will Hunting, but what was the last great film Matt Damon wrote or directed?

Then out came State of Play, a neat thriller that had him more than holding his own in dramatic scenes with Russell Crowe. He followed that with another supporting role in Extract, a lackluster comedy whose stoner bartender played by Affleck was the only good thing.

Now comes The Town, which contains, as far as I'm concerned, his best performance since Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting. It's a solid piece of work. You root for a guy you really have no business rooting for, and Affleck is extremely low-key, underplaying things and rooting his performance in a haunted quality. He co-wrote the adaptation of Chuck Hogan's novel here, but it's his direction that really confirms him as someone to watch. Like Gone Baby Gone, it's not self-conscious or too earnest, the way other actor's directorial forays can be. He clearly grasps the most important quality a director can have; a solid instinct for casting, as both films have extremely good performances throughout. He feels like a director, not like an actor moonlighting. His two films may not reinvent the wheel or announce a startling new talent, but they are both exceptionally well done pieces of entertainment.

So, let's stop being surprised. Ben Affleck is back. He's good. Get used to it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trailer and Buzz Comes in for Trigger

If you were a fan of recent Canadian film, chances are you have seen the work of Tracy Wright. Wright appeared in such films as Monkey Warfare, Highway 61, Last Night, Blindness and Me and You and Everyone We Know. She was a fixture in groundbreaking Toronto theatre, and made appearances in sketches for The Kids in the Hall, as well as the classic Twitch City. Wright and Canadian icon Don McKellar were probably the most beloved husband/wife team in the country's art world, and her list of collaborators and admirers include Daniel MacIvor, Bruce McDonald, Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie, and many others.

So it was a huge loss when she passed away in June after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Shortly after her diagnosis, celebrated playwright and screenwriter MacIvor wrote a film for Wright and Molly Parker called Trigger, with Bruce McDonald coming on board to direct. According to Parker, Wright's husband McKellar told them to hurry if they wanted this film to be Wright's final performance.

Parker had this to say at a recent press conference: Don said the only way to do it was if you do it right now. Like, right now.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun documents the making of the film, which got started after longtime friend Callum Keith Rennie donated some start-up money. After a very quick shoot, in which many Toronto pros donated their time, the film is now being shown at the Toronto Film Festival. Shot incredibly quickly, and with obviously real emotion behind it, it's already generating buzz as perhaps the Canadian film of the year. Here's the trailer:

Wright, who had given a lot to our country's arts over the years, certainly deserves a swan song as good as this one appears to be.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First Photos of Cap Costume Leak!

Below you'll see the first photos of the Captain America costume from Marvel's upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger. Before you get too excited, it should be noted these pics are of the stunt double, not Chris Evans' himself. Also, for those of you who may get too nit picky, these photos are taken in the harsh light of day, without the proper lighting and effects they'll use to really make it look great on film, so let's not be too hard on it here. Still, I think it looks really great. Oh, and the Red Skull's soldiers look appropriately kick-ass, too.

Pretty cool, no? I love that Cap carries his sidearm. And the Shield looks great.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hey Now! Complete Larry Sanders Show Coming to DVD!

Garry Shandling's HBO series The Larry Sanders Show was a classic. The show ran on the cable network from 1992 - 1998, and it starred Shandling as Sanders, the host of a long-running late-night talk show a la Carson, Leno and Letterman. The show also starred Rip Torn as Sanders' foul-mouthed but loyal producer Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as his sidekick, an insecure and buffoonish pitch-man named Hank Kingsley. It was amazing. It was satirical and hilarious and misanthropic. Sanders was riddled with neuroses and angst and as a result was occasionally completely unlikable.

And real stars came on the show and lampooned themselves or got in on the profane, sometimes brutal comedy of the show. People like David Duchovny, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Petty, Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin and Jon Stewart all made cameos. Shandling headed the writing team that featured future comedy lights such as Judd Apatow and Peter Tolan. And the show was a proving ground for future stars in roles as the production team; Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, Jeremy Piven, Wallace Langham, Sarah Silverman, Scott Thompson and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

The first season was released on DVD in 2002. Then nothing until 2007, when a "Best of" DVD set was released. But on November 2, 2010, all 89 episodes will be released in a Complete Series set by Shout! Factory. Here's a look at the packaging:

Here's a summary of the extras from the press release:

60-page collector's book - The Larry Sanders Show The Complete Guide
Video introduction by Garry Shandling
All-new deleted scenes
All-new outtakes
Garry Shandling lectures at University of Southern California (40 min.)
Audio commentaries with Garry Shandling, Todd Holland, Judd Apatow and Peter Tolan.
The Making Of The Larry Sanders Show feature-length documentary
Garry Shandling and Judd Apatow on "The Writer's Process"
Interviews with cast and crew - Garry Shandling, Jeremy Piven, Bob Odenkirk, Linda Doucett, Penny Johnson, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson, Wallace Langham, Sarah Silverman, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
Garry Shandling's personal visits with guest stars: Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Tom Petty, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett and more.
Rip and Jeffrey visit with Garry in his living room
EMMY print campaign gallery (Season 6)
The Journey Continues...

I can't wait to watch it all over again.

Double Features: Gritty Crimes & Tarnished Badges

Here's another Double Feature programmed on a theme by your friendly neighbourhood Nerdlinger. It's a recurring column I began a little while ago to help some of you come up with some interesting options at the video store, along with a tasty beverage and snack to accompany your evening.

Double Feature: To Live and Die in LA & Narc

This time out we're diving into the seedy side of law enforcement with a couple of particularly nasty cop films that examine the blurred line between cops and criminals. Yeah, yeah, it's cliched subject matter, but it's also kick-ass, intense subject matter, so enjoy some car chases, bad language and truly bad muthafuckas.

To Live and Die in LA is first up, and it was looked upon as one of director William Friedkin's many comebacks. Friedkin shot to the absolute top of the directorial pile with the incredible one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist before flaming out in spectacular fashion with Sorcerer and Cruising. He would continue to direct, and every once in a while, he'd have a film come out that seemed poised to return him to the A-list. To Live and Die in LA is the one that came a closest; a lean, brutal and joyously over the top movie about federal agents so obsessed with taking down a counterfeiter that they will cross absolutely any line to do so. William Petersen and John Pankow plays the cops and Willem Dafoe is the crook. There's a killer car chase, and an equally killer twist in the final act, and while the film is almost a museum piece of the 1980s and the dialogue can get a little obvious, the film still packs a vicious punch.

Before Joe Carnahan disappeared up his own ass with overly stylized, empty-headed excess like Smokin' Aces and The A-Team he made Narc, an intense and brilliant study of two cops seemingly completely destroyed by the war on drugs. Jason Patric is heartbreaking as a cop traumatized by an awful experience who has been paired up with Ray Liotta's veteran detective. Liotta has skated completely over the edge in his pursuit of the two dealers who he thinks killed his partner, and the crux of the film is whether Liotta has lost it, and whether Patric will follow him down the rabbit hole. It's a depressing, but captivating, film, and it makes one wish this was the type of film Carnahan continued to make.

Drink: As an ironic counter-point to the cops in these films, I offer you the Pink Police:

Pink Police Recipe

12 oz Beer
12 oz Vodka
12 oz Frozen Pink Lemonade

Pour one can of beer into a pitcher. Add one can of frozen pink lemonade. Add vodka (in place of the water), stir and serve.

Snack: What better snack for a double feature about cops is there than this:

Old-Fashioned Cake Donut Recipe

If you would like to make traditional donuts you will need to buy a simple donut maker machine. They are inexpensive (often less than $10) and can be found in brick and mortar specialty cooking stores or can be easily purchased online at a kitchen supply store. While waiting to receive your donut maker, you can start by making donut holes. Simply drop small balls of dough into the hot oil.

• 2 1/2 c. flour
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
• 1 c. sugar
• 2 beaten eggs
• 1 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1 c. milk


1. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and sugar with a mixer.
3. Add the softened butter, vanilla, and milk and mix until well-incorporated.
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Do not overmix.
5. Lightly coat the inside of the donut maker with nonstick cooking spray and fill with batter.
6. Hold the machine just over the hot oil and lightly press on the lever to release the batter. Then gently release the lever and allow the donut to fall into the pan.
7. Fry the donut batter in hot vegetable oil, turning halfway through to ensure even browning. Fry approximately one minute per side, although that time can vary depending on how hot the oil is.
8. Remove golden-brown donuts and allow them to cool on paper towels.

Makes about 1 dozen donuts.

Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Comic Observations: Waid, Aragones & Comic Book Piracy

This past Saturday, comic book writer and BOOM! Studios Chief Creative Officer Mark Waid delivered the keynote speech at the Harvey awards, one of the industry's leading awards ceremony.

It was controversial, to say the least.

Waid's speech was about file sharing. Basically, it was about illegal downloading of comics, a practice which conventional wisdom has put forward as the possible death of comics publishing. Creators and the companies they work for have consistently decried the practice as outright theft.

So why was Waid's speech considered to be so controversial? Well, it appears that some industry people, including beloved Sergio Aragones, thought that Waid was basically endorsing piracy and giving a big middle finger to all those hard-working vets who get screwed out of royalties by thieving scuzzy Internet nerds.

Here's a copy of Waid's speech. I've taken out a few sections to highlight what I think his actual position is. First, here's his views on copyrights:

What most people don’t realize about copyright is that it was originally conceived to protect not artists but the public domain--to ensure that artists and writers and their heirs couldn’t have perpetual ownership of their work until the end of time because, at some point, the sentiment went, you ought to have to give back to culture the same way you, I, and all artists draw from it. Certainly, you should benefit from your work, and you should have legal protection, but I find it interesting that the original intent was to deliver ides back into the public domain.

He goes on to say that "Culture is more important than copyright", meaning that sooner or later he feels that the industry should relax its stranglehold on makling money, and make it easier for society to enjoy the works they provided.

Then he had this to say on file sharing:

Like it or not, downloading is here. Torrents and filesharing are here. That's not going away. I'm not here to attack it or defend it--I'm not going to change anyone's mind either way, and everyone in America at this point has anecdotal evidence "proving" how it hurts or helps the medium--but I am here to say it isn’t going away--and fear of it, fear of filesharing, fear of illegal downloading, fear of how the internet changes publishing in the 21st century, that’s a legitimate fear, because we’re all worried about putting food on the table and leaving a legacy for our children, but we’re using our energy on something we can’t stop, because filesharing is not going away.

And there's more:

We are the smartest, most creative medium in America. We put out ideas on a periodical basis bam, bam, bam. We don’t put out a screenplay every three years. We don’t invent a TV show every ten years. There are more ideas in one Wednesday in one comic shop than in three years of Hollywood. We're notoriously bad businessmen, but we are unmatched for creativity and inventiveness, and there are ways to make filesharing work for us rather than cower in fear that it’s going to destroy us.

Naturally, a lot of people in the industry missed Waid's overall message: that they have to find a way to make this reality work for them rather than simply ignore and villify it. He's right, it's not going away, and trying to stamp it out is simply impossible. I've talked before about how I consider it to be stealing. And I still do, but I have also relaxed on the issue when it comes to comics. Currently, I have downloaded every single appearance of Spider-Man, in chronological order, from his debut until about 1977. Trying to do so through purchase would be simply cost prohibitive. I would have loved to have done this through Marvel's digital service, but they don't currently have all the issues online.

Waid is right. The industry needs to get cracking and start thinking of ways to embrace the digital medium in a smart, cheap way. Marvel is close. You can join their digital library for about $60 per year. But there are no new issues there, and the runs of their series are patch work and not complete. How can joe blow hacker find the time to do this, but Marvel can't? Give us a system that is way less virus-plagued, more effecient and with better quality control than the illegal guys, and you'll see things improve. iTunes ain't going anywhere, from what I hear.
In ten years, I bet Waid will be seen as a forerunner.