Laurel Canyon (2002) is my kind of film, and, as Scoopy said in his review, if it is your kind of film, you will love it. I did. While Lisa Cholodenko was cutting her first film, High Art, her editor, Amy E. Duddleston, who had been with her since film school and also cut Laurel Canyon, brought in a Joni Mitchell album Ladies of the Canyon, which included a painting Mitchell made of Laurel Canyon as the cover art. This was the Genesis of Laurel Canyon. Lisa, who grew up in the nearby San Fernando Valley, had driven through the canyon many times growing up, and was well aware of the Bohemian atmosphere there, and its importance in the folk/rock scene in the late 60's and early 70's, and decided a film should be made. The lead character was probably patterned somewhat on Mitchell, but had a personality before the script really got started, as a female record producer, smoker, pothead and sexually liberated woman, who was producing a record in her home studio. Cholodenko intended to whip out the script quickly, but found it hard to finish the script while earning a living.
While the project was languishing without funding, Frances McDormand saw the script, and wanted to play the character of Jane. This was the sort of role she had been looking for, so she set her handlers about finding financing, and they did. She was right about this role being perfect for her, and did an amazing job bringing the character to life. She is producing a record in her Laurel Canyon home, which she has promised to her son and his fiancee, who have just finished medical school in his case, and a dual PhD in hers, so he can start his residency and she can write her dissertation. The fiancee, Kate Beckinsale quickly becomes fascinated by McDormand's life style, attitudes, young musician boyfriend and her body. Meanwhile fiancee Christian Bale is attracted to second year resident Natascha McElhone, who is unabashedly interested in him. There are two ways to see the resultant conflict, and, I think how you see the conflict will determine whether you find it a well made effort but mundane story, or an absolutely delightful character driven comedy/drama.
I am sure some see this as a film about two normal young adults trying to cope with a very strange mother and her aberrant lifestyle. The other point of view is that they are uptight, repressed over-achievers who come face to face with the realization that life can be exciting and fun. I hold to the second view, and part of the enjoyment for me was watching Beckinsale and Christian Bale begin to lose the corn cobs stuck up their respective arses. Growing up in Southern California, I knew a few people like McDormand's character, and admired them greatly. Some have even accused me of being somewhat unique and non-mainstream myself.
Cholodenko has received some criticism for two aspects of the film. The first is the accent by McElhone, which people say sounds Russian, when she is supposed to be from Israel. My favorite comment at IMDB is from an Israeli complaining about the accent, who says, "Natascha sounded more like the many Russian immigrants we have in our country!." Maybe I'm dense, but if she sounds like one of the Israeli Russian immigrants, how is it a bad accent? The other criticism is that the film doesn't resolve neatly. This was intentional on the part of Cholodenko, and was meant as an homage to "New Hollywood" films of the 70's like Five Easy Pieces and The Graduate, which end with a big question mark. Her homage to the Graduate goes deeper than even she realized. In an opening scene, Beckinsale tells Bale, "Not Psychiatry, but brain surgery." He might as well have said plastics. Jane (McDormand), like Mrs. Robinson, is about to have an affair with her offspring's fiancee. Both of the kids are very conservative, and there is even an underwater swimming pool scene at the end of the film.
Scoopy covered the nudity report thoroughly, although he failed to mention the lesbian kisses between McDormand and Beckinsale. For me, this is a C+. Everyone agrees that it is a very well made film with a strong performance from McDormand (who is added to my list of actresses that can do no wrong). After that, your level of enjoyment depends on your frame of reference. There is no doubt in my mind that Cholodenko was 100% successful in bringing her artistic vision to the screen, and I must share her vision.
The Naked Truth (1992):
I think Nicos Mastorakis is a
really charming guy, I admire his maverick nature, and I love the
special features on his DVD's. For all of those reasons, I really
want to like his movies, but I just can't. It's an ordeal to watch
each and every one of them, although each one has some excellent
moments. What can you say about a career in which Blind Date is
his highest rated film at IMDb?
No matter how much you like the
Naked Gun and Airplane movies (I love them. I even like some of the
Police Academy movies!), you probably won't be able to find it in
your heart to like this screwball comedy. It doesn't have one
original verbal gag in the entire film, and the writing level is at
the level of elementary school humor. The notoriously loony
screenwriter Norman Wexler used to go out on the streets and tape
street lingo which would then lend authenticity to his film
dialogue. It seems as if the writers of this film did the same
thing, except with fourth graders, as if they listened to the school
kids swap their infantile jokes, then incorporated those into the
script. This film makes Police Academy: Mission to Moscow seem to be
as literate as "Manhattan", and the three leads in this film make
Steve Guttenberg seem to be the second coming of Chaplin.
Their film careers pretty much began and ended with this movie. They
couldn't even land sitcom work. Pretty Courtney Gibbs never worked
again at all, based on her IMDb entry. I
don't think Kevin Schon ever appeared in another live action movie
before or after this one, although he has gotten voice work. Robert
Caso has been a hanger-on in the film industry, playing roles like
"man" and "doorman". IMDb says that he is active in theater stock
companies, so he is probably playing right now, or will soon, in a
dinner theater somewhere near you, provided that you live someplace
far from the center of the entertainment industry, like Sarasota or
Kenosha. I'm sure that Robert has enjoyed many a hearty meal of
leftover roast beef and peas, spiced by plenty of manly after-dinner
badinage with Robert Goulet.
As with all of Mastorakis's films,
however, there is some enjoyable material.
- He managed to coax cameos out of
dozens of Hollywood figures, ranging from Lily Munster to The
Incredible Hulk to Billy Barty to Zsa-Zsa.
- He included some sexy frontal
nudity from Shelley Michelle, body double to the stars, and some
occasional peeks at other women as well. The film is filled with
sexy women in bikinis.
But forget about the movie
altogether. The DVD is still worth a rent or purchase because of
Mastorakis's documentary "The Films of Nicos Mastorakis: Part IV".
As always. Mastorakis comes up with some stunning, unseen raw and
deleted footage, and some great anecdotes about the filmmaking
process. His commentary is priceless because he has a rare
combination in the film industry: acute intelligence, and complete
candor. As Howard Cosell used to say, Mastorakis "tells it like it
Some examples of the material in the
1. Footage of an unexpected
helicopter crash which killed one of his stunt men.
2. A great anecdote about screen
legend Jose Ferrer, who once covered up somebody else's fuck-up by
memorizing five pages of script in five minutes. Ferrer then told
Mastorakis to film the rehearsal, and delivered every line
perfectly. The rehearsal footage was used in the film!
3. Mastorakis's candid assessment of
another screen legend, the unpredictable Oliver Reed. Here are
Mastroakis's words, "My co-director and I had the brilliant idea to
hire Oliver Reed, who had been infamous in the industry, not only
for the eagle tattoo on his private parts, but also for picking
fights and being constantly under the influence. Good old Ollie
stood up to his reputation and our expectations. Fortunately enough,
he didn't kill anyone and he wasn't arrested by the local police."
4. A long story about the battle
waged between Mastorakis and the MPAA over the "X" rating assigned
to "In the Cold of the Night", including the (relatively innocuous)
footage that upset the censors. (I ordered "In the Cold of the
Night", so more on that later)
- Shelley Michelle (1,
- Courtney Gibbs (1,
- Various unknowns (1,
- Adrienne Sachs in "In the Cold of
the Night" (from the documentary) (1,
- additional footage "In the Cold
of the Night" (from the documentary). This may be Shannon Tweed,
but I'm not sure. More on this film in a week or so.
- additional footage "Hired to
Kill" (from the documentary).
The Life of David Gale (2003):
WARNING: I am about to spoil the entire plot. If you
haven't seen the film and plan to, don't read on. This movie has
about four different surprise endings, and I'm going to spoil them
I'm going to take a wild guess and say this movie was intended to
present the case against the death penalty. How do I know this? I
was able to use my trained critical instincts to pick up on the
subtle clues that would have been missed by you less experienced
moviegoers. For example, all the people who oppose the death penalty
are played by sensitive, attractive, reasonable, articulate, thoughtful people
like Laura Linney and Kevin Spacey. All the people who are in favor
of the death penalty look like the guy who played Porky. In fact, if
that Porky guy had shown up at one of their rallies, they would have
suspected him of being a liberal Ivy League professor. If Billy Bob
Thornton had joined their cause, they would have told him to stop
puttin' on those high-falutin' airs. These are people who think
George W. Bush is a brainiac grammar-nazi. When interviewed, they
squint up their little piggie eyes, and say things through their
fat, grease-stained lips like, "thet there injectionatin' is too
good for 'im. I reckon we should set on 'im with jackhammers and
If the subtlety of the casting fails to convince
you that the death penalty is wrong, then the plot is supposed to do
the trick. Spacey is a soft-spoken philosophy professor who is
accused of a brutal murder. Kate Winslet is a reporter who's trying
to get the goods on his story, and becomes convinced of his
Now, here are some details of the plot that
probably should make you a little suspicious of the case against
1. He is an earnest opponent of the death penalty.
He has just been fired from his teaching job for having a sexual
relationship with a student. His wife left him for the same reason.
He feels like he has nothing left to live for.
2. The woman he raped and killed is an equally
sincere and dedicated opponent of the death penalty. She is dying of
leukemia. She feels like her life and death are meaningless.
3. The seemingly incompetent lawyer who defended
Spacey - why, it almost seemed like he wasn't trying at all.
4. Parts of the murder are on video tape.
5. After the night when he supposedly killed
Linney, Spacey was basking in the sun on Linney's lawn, and left
only after giving the neighbors plenty of opportunities to see him.
6. Spacey doesn't talk to Winslet until three days
before his execution. Ask yourself why he waited.
Are you starting to see the point? If you haven't
already figured it out, Linney was going to die anyway, so she
figured she might as well die for something worthwhile. The first
video tape that I mentioned turned out to be an edited version. In
the Extended Cut Version #2, it is apparent that Linney actually
committed suicide. The idea was that Linney and her co-conspirator
would reveal the truth after Spacey's execution, thus proving how
foolish the prosecutors were, and how quick they were to execute an
innocent man on circumstantial evidence. At that point, it seemed
that poor Spacey was framed and died for no reason. Oh, the irony
that he, too, opposed the Death Penalty!
The final surprise: there is actually a Super
Extended Special Edition Version #3 Director's Cut of the video,
with even more deleted scenes - showing that Spacey was in on the
suicide plot from the beginning. Spacey had so little to live
for that he was willing to be a martyr. There is an important lesson
to be learned from this film: always wait for the Director's Cut of
the movie before drawing any conclusions.
Yeah, like you couldn't figure that out the Spacey
was in on it when he
was framing himself by virtually handing out his business card to
the neighbors in the hours after Linney died. "Hi, I'm David Gale,
and I'm here in your neighborhood to ... er ... um ... hand out The
Watchtower. Yeah, that's the ticket. I'm a Jehovah's Witness, not a
guy who killed one of your neighbors. Oh, look, I'm all out of the
Watchtower, but my name again is David Gale, and I have all the back
issues at home. Here's my card. Call me if you need anything."
And what about the timing? Winslet is supposed to be a good reporter, so she
tells Spacey, "you should have agreed to talk to me much sooner",
knowing that she could prove his innocence with her investigative
abilities, if she just had more time than the three days he allowed
her. If she were REALLY a good reporter, she would say, "OK, now you
tell me exactly WHY you waited until the last minute to tell me all
this, and I'm not going to move from this spot until I get an answer
that satisfies me". I guess the scriptwriter didn't think a
top-notch journalist, "Mike Wallace with PMS", would ever ask a
silly question like "why?" The obvious answer would have
been, "because I wanted you to publicize my innocence, but not in
time to prevent my execution". And that's what I assumed right from
the beginning, thus making the rest of the plot unnecessary. I
thought to myself, "It can't be that obvious, can it?" It was.
As if the film's argument weren't flawed enough
already, the details of the film are completely annoying. At one
point Kate Winslet is in her car, racing against the clock to stop the
execution, while possessing version #2 of the film, which shows
Linney committing suicide. Can you guess what happens? Just as she
is about to succeed, the engine light goes on, and her car craps out
on her. Her plan? She has to run the rest of the way. If you can
imagine Kate Winslet running, you can determine that this plan is
deeply flawed. If she took on Abe Vigoda in a sprint, she'd be
checking out Fish-tail all the way. This girl couldn't out-run
What bugged me the most about the race against the
clock was that the script was obviously imagined to take place in the
days before cell phones. They simply didn't know how to make it work
in the current world, so they just left cell phones out of the picture
completely, pretending they had never been invented. A real character
similar to Winslet, allegedly a media star on the Mike Wallace level,
would probably carry not one but two cell phones as I did in my
international commuting days, and her intern would have one as well.
Since this script seems to come from the old days, Winslet and her
assistant have to make phone calls from pay phones, just as they used
to do in Ludlum novels and the Redford-Beatty strident liberal
conspiracy movies of the mid-70s (Parallax View, Three Days of the
Condor), from which this film takes its spiritual communion.
Oh, yeah - one more thing really sums up the
film's competency as a thriller. Two cars race to a railroad
crossing. One beats the speeding train, the one behind is cut off.
'Nuff said about that.
As badly as it fails as a thriller, it did worse
as advocacy. If you have been following all this, you realize
that the film proves (1) that all opponents of the death penalty are
conspiratorial fanatics who will do anything to prove their point,
no matter how much they have to stretch the truth (2) liberal
filmmakers insist on portraying their opponents as drooling
I thought the film was supposed to be against
the death penalty. Oh, I'm so confused.
The two numbered points above are practically
"smoking gun" evidence to prove that Rush Limbaugh has been right
about something all along. If the film was supposed to be against the death penalty,
why did death penalty proponents leave this film feeling so
By the way, Winslet's character is named Bitsy Bloom.
No special point, I just thought you'd like to know. Bitsy Bloom. In
most of her other movies, Bloomy Bits would be more accurate.
And that guy who played Spacey's lawyer was a perfect
incarnation of how people in the North view us Texans. Remember this
was a big-time lawyer, not a trailer-dweller, and he had a pony tail,
diseased teeth and gums, and was constantly saying things like "holy
macacows dere, missy, you done rushin' to put the hot sauce on da
wrong crawdads, like cuzzin' Cletis leavin' da holler after settin'
fire to Cooter's hound dog". He talked like a cross between Foghorn
Leghorn and Amos 'n Andy. I admit we have some colorful ways of
sayin' shit down here in Texas, but I never heard anybody talk
like this outside of a Loozeeanne gator-wrestlin' tournament, and even
then it's only for the tourists.
Roger Ebert, in a scathing zero star review, noticed
one more illogical thing about the plot. This blew over my head at the
time I watched the film, but I later realized he was right. Just
before the epilogue, we are led to believe that Spacey was an innocent
men, an opponent of the death penalty who had ironically been
incorrectly subjected to it. In the epilogue, Winslet receives version
#3 of the tape, which shows that Spacey actually was part of the
conspiracy to frame himself. Why would Spacey and/or his colleagues
send that last tape to a big-time reporter? In order for Spacey's
martyrdom to be validated, he needs to be an innocent man, as Winslet
believes him to be before viewing the last tape. Once Winslet sees the
tape, Spacey's innocence can only be preserved if Winslet keeps the
last tape a secret. If she reveals it, then Ol' Spacey is just a slimy
conspirator willing to do anything for the purpose of his political
cause, and his death is in vain. So, there Winslet is, a reporter sitting on the biggest scoop
of her career, and she's supposed to keep it a secret. Even if you buy
into the fact that she doesn't care about her career, you also have to
buy into the fact that she doesn't care about the truth. If she
doesn't care about either the truth or her career, how did she get to
her position in the first place? You see Ebert's point? If the plot
were based on reality, the death penalty advocates (including Spacey)
would never have sent Winslet that last tape. It was just a plot
contrivance. The writer could have gotten around that point by having
Winslet discover the truth some other way, but it just doesn't make
any sense for the abolitionists to send her a tape proving themselves
conspirators, and rendering their double martyrdom nugatory.
Hey, Spacey! Just one personal point. Robin
Williams screwed up about twenty years of his career by taking the
kind of lame, mawkish roles that you are now taking. It is only in the
past year or so that he's been able to get back on track. Why don't
you accelerate the process and get out now, because you are a very
talented guy who can do much better than this for the next two
The public reaction to this film has been
interesting from a marketing perspective. Critics generally loathed
it, but it scores fairly high from the voters at IMDb and Yahoo, and
it got excellent exit scores at Cinema Score. Most important, young girls scored it
"A+" in Cinema Score's analysis, and score it 9.5/10 so far at IMDb.
Women in general score it nearly a point higher than men at IMDb. It
is, therefore, the rarest of cinema animals - a political thriller
which is not only a chick-flick, but one that skews young! I didn't
think there was such a thing, because teenage girls are not generally
considered to be very interested in political issues. Their high
ratings for this film lead one to reconsider what may be done with the
genre. The reactions of female audiences to David Gale may influence
future filmmakers to consider making a certain type of highly personal
political thriller as a viable entry into the "date movie" market. The
Life of David Gale is not in itself a triumph of the genre, but it may
be a harbinger of a trend that other filmmakers will follow.
I need to add one bit of balance here. Alan Parker is a great
filmmaker. He's the guy who did Angel Heart and Midnight Express, for
example. Portions of this film are presented with stunning brilliance,
and some people liked it a lot. Although Roger Ebert gave it no stars,
for example, James Berardinelli awarded 3 stars out of 4.
archives. May also include newer material than the ones above,
since it's sorta in real time.
days left until International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept 19)
are the latest movie reviews available at scoopy.com.
- The yellow asterisks indicate that I wrote the
review, and am deluded into thinking it includes humor.
- If there is a white asterisk, it means that
there isn't any significant humor, but I inexplicably determined
there might be something else of interest.
- A blue asterisk indicates the review is written
by Tuna (or Lawdog or Junior or C2000 or Realist or ICMS or Mick
Locke, or somebody else besides me)
- If there is no asterisk, I wrote it, but am too
ashamed to admit it.