Friday, November 17, 2006

Wild Wild Preview

Ladies and gentlemen, here is your first peek at the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #128 -- now at the printer and due to hit newsstands and mailboxes sometime next month. Feel free to click on it for a more life-sized impression.

As always, you can find more information about this special "Wild Wild" issue in the Coming Soon section of our website, with near-complete details (we've got to keep some surprises up our sleeves) and a four-page preview, accessible by clicking on the cover as displayed there.

Rather than give you samples of only two articles or reviews, as we do usually, this time we're previewing three different pieces: Michael Barnum's Tony Russel interview (a must for you Eurocult buffs), David J. Schow's coverage of THE WILD WILD WEST - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, and Ramsey Campbell's valentine to the wacky Turkish superhero fest 3 DEV ADAM.

Peek in and enjoy!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Spreading The Word

I found the following press release posted at Matt Zoller Seitz's The House Next Door blog. Normally, I would simply include a link to the original posting but, in this case, I feel the correct thing to do is to spread the word. I invite my fellow bloggers and discussion board posters to do the same.

The Adrienne Shelly Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the memory of Writer/Director/Actress Adrienne Shelly, is being founded by her husband, Andy Ostroy. Plans include a Womens’ Filmmaking Scholarship Fund, with a particular emphasis on awarding film school scholarships and helping women make the transition from acting to directing. “I know what Adrienne would want most would be to help women get a chance to pursue their dream,” says Ostroy. More initiatives from the foundation will be announced at a later date.

Those wanting to contribute can send checks made out to THE ADRIENNE SHELLY FOUNDATION, via Belardi/Ostroy LLC, 16 West 22nd Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10010. Checks should be post-dated December 15th, until the legal status of the Foundation is finalized.

Shelly, who first became known as an actor for her teamings with director Hal Hartley on THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH and TRUST, recently appeared in FACTOTUM. She wrote and directed three feature films in which she acted, SUDDEN MANHATTAN, I'LL TAKE YOU THERE, and the soon-to-be-seen WAITRESS. She also appeared in over 20 other films.

Press Contact: Reid Rosefelt 718-855-2804, 917-691-3312.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Humpday Announcements

My review of Jerzy Stuhr's THE BIG ANIMAL (First Run Features), based on a script by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, is now posted to the SIGHT & SOUND website. You can read it here in its entirety.

Today I signed a contract for a film book that will be published in the fall of 2007, the first book in a new series from a small independent publisher. I can't tell you anything about it yet, but the publisher kindly attached to my contract a beautiful, full color likeness of the book's cover art -- already finished! -- which made it all the more exciting to sign.

Speaking of books, just knowing something is out there can sometimes make all the difference. Fantasy novelist Craig Shaw Gardner, whom VW is honored to count among its readers, wrote to me recently about a trilogy of tongue-in-cheek, film-based fantasy novels called "The Cineverse Cycle," first published by Ace in 1989. He told me that the books, which were well-received at the time, have been newly reissued but aren't getting any promotional push (I hear you, brother!); he asked if I might mention them here on my blog -- primarily because he feels, in retrospect, that he wrote them for VIDEO WATCHDOG's slightly before VW actually existed. Craig sent me the three books -- SLAVES OF THE VOLCANO GOD, BRIDE OF THE SLIME MONSTER, and REVENGE OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES -- for perusal, and they're good, clean, silly, film buffy fun. Each one follows hero Roger Gordon and superhero Captain Crusader through a plethora of different movie-based worlds, including some not reflected in the book titles, like planets built around Beach Party movies (complete with musical numbers), foreign art films, and sword-and-sandal epics, so that the reader never stays in one genre for too long. You're his target audience, so check 'em out.

In further news, VARIETY is announcing the official death of the VHS format.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Words Fail Me

... but I mustn't fail her. Louise Brooks was born 100 years ago today and it's not a centenary to be overlooked. I could have picked any number of different images of Our Miss Brooks to lionize here today -- winsome, frank, coquettish, wholesome, provocative, naked, even some from late in her life when something vaguely Asian crept into her crepey yet undiminished beauty -- but I'm especially fond of this one, for its irony. It also reflects her fondness for books, her cleverness, and her self-evident defiance of convention. I defy anyone to find a comparable photo of another silent screen siren.

Criterion's forthcoming box set of PANDORA'S BOX (which streets November 28) arrived in my mailbox yesterday and it's one of their most attractively packaged sets. I may find time to watch the movie later today in her honor but, before going to bed tonight, I made a point of revisiting the TCM documentary LOUISE BROOKS: LOOKING FOR LULU, which is one of the items on the supplementary second disc. It's a candid, balanced, and wonderful piece of work that makes me want very much to see her final European film, PRIX DE BEAUTÉ (available on DVD from Kino on Video). Near the end of the program, someone remembers that Miss Brooks was of the opinion that her success had been an ingeniously disguised form of failure, and I find this dichotomy compelling. Certainly, by all accounts, she knew failure, hard times, loneliness, despair, and the bottom of a gin bottle... but she redeemed her misspent middle years by writing about her years before the fall and collecting her memoirs in a book called LULU IN HOLLYWOOD. By recapturing those years in words of hard-won wisdom, wit, and elegantly crafted expression, she found that she hadn't really lost anything. In writing about the girl who was Lulu, she also gave the ghostly flickering image of herself greater substance -- evidence, if you will, that not everything people responded to in her ever contemporary image was a deluded projection of their own desires. Had Garbo ever picked up a pen, we would have surely been disappointed.

Find and read a copy of LULU IN HOLLYWOOD if you haven't, and meet Louise Brooks. A more immediate way of accomplishing this is by reading Kenneth Tynan's famous profile of the actress, written for THE NEW YORKER in 1979, which is available online here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

She Is The Bloody Queen

Helen Mirren, looking luscious in John Mackenzie's British crime classic THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1979) -- now available from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Helen Mirren first wafted across my consciousness in Lindsay Anderson's O LUCKY MAN! (1973), in which she played the daughter of the most evil man in the world. She was perfectly cast as ambitious working class git Mick Travers' (Malcolm McDowell's) living, breathing, unattainable trophy of sexual achievement: rich, dignified, but with an anarchistic, adventurous streak that sends her cutting Daddy's masterpieces out of their frames to secure the money she is too insolent to ask for. Deep, dangerous, worldly and not merely sexy, but opulently sexy. It wasn't just the way she filled an exquisitely cut white evening gown with a body seemingly possessed of everything in all the abundance a man could ever crave; it was also the way she said "Michael." She made the name sparkle with decadent delight.

It was after O LUCKY MAN! that I got around to some of her earlier performances: the popcorn-dropping moment in Ken Russell's SAVAGE MESSIAH (1972) when she walks down a palatial flight of stairs resplendently nude in heels, and Michael Powell's final feature AGE OF CONSENT (1969) in which she again (to quote Powell himself) "stripped off magnificently." I don't mean to focus exclusively on Ms. Mirren's physical disclosures, but they need mentioning in any attempt to explain the full shock of her early screen appearances. Not only was she arguably the most ravishing creature of her era, but she gave altogether extraordinary performances in movies that reflected unusual intelligence and discernment in their selection... and then, when the credits rolled, came the triple whammy of seeing that this voluptuous firebrand had appeared in these movies by arrangement with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The years have passed remarkably for her, encompassing Tinto Brass' notorious CALIGULA (1979, which reteamed her with McDowell), THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1979, now available in a deluxe edition from Anchor Bay including an excellent making-of featurette interviewing all the principles, including Mirren), EXCALIBUR (1981), 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (1984), and Peter Greenaway's THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989). In 1991, she accepted the lead role of District Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in a British TV movie called PRIME SUSPECT, which unexpectedly became one of the key roles of her distinguished career. She would reprise the role another half dozen times in the following 15 years, and her seventh (and reportedly final) performance in the role -- in PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT -- airs tonight (and wraps up next week) on PBS' MASTERPIECE THEATER at 9:00pm.

Having matured into what Sean Burns has aptly termed "a foxy old bird," Mirren gives a performance in this two-parter that is one of her most unflinching and deeply felt, and it appears in the wake of her extraordinary work in the unrelated but serendipitous royal diptych of Tom Hooper's ELIZABETH I (aired on HBO) and Stephen Frears' THE QUEEN (2005, now in US theatrical release), making this a moment in her career that she's unlikely to top -- but perhaps that's more to do with my limitations of imagination than hers. On the basis of these three performances, we might as well declare this her year -- the former British ambassadrix of dramatic audacity and risqué risk-taking somehow reaching the pinnacle of her career by playing three of the most painfully zipped-up women you're likely to find fascinating.

The new PRIME SUSPECT reintroduces Jane Tennison at a difficult time: one month away from retirement and the pensioned life, she's taken to the bottle for companionship in her middle age, and at the point where she can no longer hide the fact from her co-workers (and ever her suspects) that she's become a blackout-prone alcoholic. Her job under threat, her career in the balance, her emotions shrieking but utterly sublimated, her only path to redemption is by solving one last case: the disappearance of 14 year-old girl Sallie Sturdy (Maxine Barton), which escalates to murder when she is found dead... and pregnant. The often harrowing investigation becomes unusually personal as DCI Tennison befriends one of Sallie's friends (Penny Philips, very well played by young Laura Greenwood) and possibly betrays that trust while under the influence. Making a tentative visit to an Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she also encounters her former adversary Bill Otley (a fragile-looking Tom Bell in his final role), who -- in a poignant turnabout for their relationship -- helps to see her through the devastating news that her father (Frank Finlay) has been diagonosed with a very quick and inoperable cancer.

Helen Mirren befriends troubled teen Laura Greenwood in PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT, airing tonight on PBS.

The first PRIME SUSPECT involvement by both director Phillip Martin and screenwriter Frank Deasy, THE FINAL ACT is not the series' most intense or surprising episode, but it is certainly its most poignant and dramatically complex, and perhaps its most deeply satisfying. Not only is it the most captivating dramatic television I've seen all year -- it eclipses ELIZABETH I in that respect -- but its strong performances (special kudos to Gary Lewis and Katy Murphy as the dead girl's parents), involving direction, and sensitive writing place it at equal standing with the best theatrical features I've seen this year; I'll be including it tandem with the more subtly remarkable THE QUEEN (to which it allies itself with the instantaneously classic line "Don't call me 'Ma'am,' I'm not the bloody queen") on my year's best list. The first part includes a terrific action scene, a chase down the side of a multi-story apartment building, and next Sunday's conclusion includes a startling compression of narrative action into a staccato howl of despair that trusts us to fill in the details. One gets the feeling it came about with the director and editor (Trevor Waite) having their backs in the corner, time-wise, but they fought their way out of that corner brilliantly.

How well PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT will adapt to PBS standards remains to be seen. In its original UK broadcast version, the show contained some very strong language that many PBS affiliates may not want to risk, lest they get slapped with heavy FCC fines. (Isn't that an ironic acronym for a company that forbids obscene language?) I recommend you watch it anyway, and fill in the FCC-ing blanks at your own discretion.

Not all great series have the benefit of a great ending, but PRIME SUSPECT has given one of contemporary detective drama's great heroines an impressive farewell. Such is the quality of Helen Mirren's valedictory performance in the role that one doesn't feel the least bit disappointed that this is the end of Jane Tennison's story.

Because it's been a good story well and fully told, and because Helen Mirren's own story is fabulously ongoing.