I’m On a Podcast!


I was delighted to be a guest on Jason Klamm‘s fascinating podcast about the world of film extras, The Professional Blur. We talked about me sneaking onto the set of Airport 75, almost killing the president in a made-for-TV miniseries, and being cut out of the first Spider-Man movie by my good friend Sam Raimi (pictured). Among many other topics.

Listen to the episode here.

Ode to the Uptown

On March 13, 2020, America woke to the horrible news–no, not that horrible news, the news that the fabled Uptown Theater was closing. In fact, it was already closed. In the middle of everything else going wrong, this hits me hard.

A 1936 Art Deco palace, the Uptown building is still owned by the Pedas family; brothers, Ted and Jim ran the equally-cherished Circle Theater, which they built into a local powerhouse chain of 22 theaters, including the Uptown. So, while the landlord is sympathetic to the public’s outcry, that is no guarantee that the place will come back.

Indeed, Josh Levin, who rescued the plucky West End Cinema from the Cineplex Odeon chain (which had gobbled up Circle Theaters and was then gobbled up by current Uptown owner AMC Theaters) before having to give in to market realities, posted a thoughtfully pessimistic analysis on Facebook, delineating the many obstacles standing in the way of reopening the Uptown as a successful movie venue:

It’s a single-screen theater
Needs equipment, seating, and concession upgrades
It’s a single-screen theater
Probably needs to become a community nonprofit
It’s a single-screen theater
Probably needs a liquor license
It’s a single-screen theater

Yeah, that single screen is 70-feet-by-40-feet, but apparently watching movies on your phone is a thing. Still, there is a Change.org petition going around to try to save the place. I signed.

And with so many memories wrapped up in that theater, I made this video appreciation. Enjoy.

Going Deep With “Shallow”


Would you like 300 cover versions of the song Shallow from the film A Star Is Born? Of course you would. After exhaustive and exhausting research, I’m proud to present this list of some — repeat, some — of the too many cover versions of this Oscar-worthy tune, performed in the film by the Oscar-worthy Bradley Cooper and the Oscar-worthy Lady Gaga. Many of these renditions rival the quality and emotional resonance of the film version. Many do not. Some have thousands of views; others low single digits. Some are just inexplicable. Enjoy this time-suck. You’re welcome.

  1. Alyssa Shouse
  2. Allie Sherlock
  3. Moniqu

The Wonder of It All

batman v superman2

Firstly, this is not an anti-Wonder Woman rant. I like Wonder Woman just fine. Nor an anti-feminist rant. “I’m With Her,” and all that. Oh, it is a rant, to be sure. A rant about bullshit marketing. Which, I know, too easy, but still…

As the picture above indicates, this is a rant about the movie Batman v Superman, which I am on record here as despising. As crass and inhuman as that film is, not surprisingly, so, too, is the marketing a cynical ploy. Which, again, a redundant and easy complaint about marketing, but fight we must.

My ire is raised because for some reason Wonder Woman is given front-and-center position on the Blu-ray and on the store rack. Remember, the movie is titled (foolishly) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, not Wonder Woman and Batman and Superman: Some Kind of Insane Three-Way. Of course, that movie I would watch, at least for a while. Wonder Woman, portrayed with universally-praised panache by Gal Gadot, was only in the two-and-a-half hour slogfest for a total of seven minutes. Seven minutes! A credit to the actress that she can command such reviews from so little screen time. And a discredit to the rest of the film that a bit player can steal the show, which remember features two of the most iconic characters in the history of the world.

The reason Wonder Woman was in the film, and the only reason she is heavily featured on all the packaging and posters, is that Warner Bros. is also making a Wonder Woman film. Probably several. It’s cross-promotion, don’t you know.

batman v superman

But it’s so blatant, so in-your-face, so shameless, that it just defeats its own purpose. What the campaign is saying is, “Hey, you didn’t really like this movie, but you did like this one character, so here you go, she’s in the movie, remember? Please buy this disc because there might be more of her on the DVD extras.”

Sticking your IP into everything just because you can is a filthy business.

If this is your best play, Warner Bros., why not go all the way. Warners is also making another Ben Affleck film, The Accountant. Let’s add Wonder Woman to that. Here’s the synopsis, wherein Affleck plays

“a math savant with more affinity for numbers than people. Behind the cover of a small-town CPA office, he works as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. With the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, run by Ray King (J.K. Simmons), starting to close in, Christian takes on a legitimate client: a state-of-the-art robotics company where an accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) has discovered a discrepancy involving millions of dollars. But as Christian uncooks the books and gets closer to the truth, it is the body count that starts to rise.”

Could probably use Diana Prince and her invisible plane, right?

But why stop there? Let’s add Wonder Woman (or Batman, or Superman, or the Flash, or…) to other upcoming Warner Bros. features!

Warners is making a new Tomb Raider. Another Scooby Doo. Another Jungle Book. Another King Kong movie, Kong: Skull Island. Yet another Godzilla movie, and a King Kong vs Godzilla movie!

Wonder Woman vs. Lara Croft on Skull Island: Dawn of Mowgli. A Scooby Doo Adventure!

Jeez. I take it all back. Warner Bros. should just stop making movies.

Batman v Superman v Bullshit

The film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was so scorned by critics (a lousy 28% on Rotten Tomatoes) that the Warner Bros. marketing team has been reduced to dredging up what positive quotes they can find from the most random people on social media: a guy from Pakistan, an Irish dude who mostly tweets about football (i.e., soccer), and even a grandmother on Facebook.

In the time-honored movie-marketing ploy of plucking a few words out of context from a review to suggest that the critic actually enjoyed the movie, the Warners team has been posting the following graphics to Twitter. To be fair, the fans seem to have actually enjoyed the movie (the Rotten Tomatoes audience score is an inexplicable 69%). But is the opinion of someone with less than 200 followers on Twitter of any use? Yeah, yeah, democratization of the Internet, end of the gatekeepers, blah blah. But seriously, Twitter user @ceepascual‘s money quote, “Literally every scene with @galgadot in it took my breath away,” is just a guy ogling a pretty lady. Progress!

I have been retweeting these desperate memes right back at Warners, with snarky comments, to no effect.

There is an entire wing of the Nuttycombe Archives filled with Silver Age Superman and Batman comic books, a treasure trove that I adore. I was such a Batman purist that when I watched the Adam West Batman show on TV in the ’60s, I despised it. Why so unserious? As a kid, I did not understand camp. I’ve evolved.

But the approach to adapting comic book characters for film and television (and, indeed, in comic books) has swung so far in the other direction that I was about to write my own screed against this current climate of morose, sociopathic superhero movies, filled with what Wesley Morris in the New York Times termed “lugubrious solemnity and generic philosophizing.” But here’s the Austin American-Statesman‘s Joe Gross summing up better than I the problem with BvSDoJ. Spoiler alert: He compares it, unfavorably, to a garbage fire.

Here are some of the film studio’s sad attempts to lure you into the theater, and the new social media cineastes who inspired them:


Source: https://instagram.com/nic_ferazzoli


Source: https://instagram.com/gabrielqueirox


Source: http://twitter.com/ceepascual


Source: https://www.facebook.com/SuniyehNabeel


“@ohsnapitsgingee” seems to have disappeared from Twitter.


Source: https://twitter.com/JohnnyCrua


Source: https://instagram.com/kms_fotografie


Source: https://www.facebook.com/kathy.gummere.1


Source: https://twitter.com/TriangleSpidey


Source: https://twitter.com/Themysciran

The End of the West End

west end cinema

In recapping my movie-going for 2010, I wrote this:

This year saw the appearance of a new movie outlet, the West End Cinema. Well, sorta new. It’s a fresh venue in a tired old location. When it was the Circle West End 5-7 in the ’70s and ’80s, I purposefully avoided the place. I loved the original West End, which offered a real moviegoing experience. (Saw Repo Man there. Also, John Cusack riding up to the box office on a bicycle.) But the 5-7 was in the basement of an office building and had all the charms that implies. And, though the new West End still has the same tiny theaters and tinier screens (see image above), the new owners are making interesting programming choices that mitigate the less-than-Cinerama experience. And they’re cleverly taking advantage of modern technology. Before a screening of the hysterical and disturbing Four Lions, they played a video that the director made specifically for this screening — and e-mailed to the theater. I think more films should start this way.

And now the West End is closing.

Indeed, the big difference between the West End Cinema and when it was under Circle management was the programming. (And please note, I loved most of the Circle Theaters; the Pedas brothers also ran a great operation. In this instance, they went a theater too far.) There was little point in watching a first-run Hollywood feature on a tiny screen when you could catch it at the Uptown, Avalon, or even a multiplex. And while West End also programmed first-run A pictures, more often it showcased indies, obscure indies, and even local films.

So I came off my high horse and added the West End to my regular filmgoing spots. The new relationship was not not without issues.

When the West End screened a documentary about L.A.’s famed Troubadour nightclub, I was first into the theater — only to be greeted by the menu screen for a Sony Blu-ray player. The screen itself was not all that much larger than the TVs of many of my friends. But I wanted to see the movie in a theater and the West End was the only place to see it.

And the film wasn’t great — I was expecting more on the Troubadour’s legendary owner Doug Weston rather than a tarted up James Taylor/Carole King concert film. But you can’t complain too much about spending time with James Taylor and Carole King.

When the film showed up on PBS two weeks later, I still wasn’t upset. Yes, I could have saved my money, especially as the Troub doc is exactly the type of PBS show you watch on your couch before bedtime. But so what? I got out of the house, had some tasty snacks, and shared an experience with strangers in a darkened room. That last bit sounds kinda dicey. But the West End was always a class joint. And I’ll miss the place.

I knew the end was near when the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square premiered at the West End — and at the same time on Netflix. Hard competing with that.

Fare thee well, Josh Levin and the West End staff.