"Laurel Canyon"

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.

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  • Frances McDormand (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  • Gina Doctor (1, 2)
  • Kate Beckinsale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)
  • Unknown (1, 2)

  • Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy)

    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 is".

    Some examples of the material in the documentary:

    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, 2)
    • Courtney Gibbs (1, 2)
    • Various unknowns (1, 2, 3, 4)
    • Adrienne Sachs in "In the Cold of the Night" (from the documentary) (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
    • 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 all.

    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 wild pigs."

    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 innocence.

    Now, here are some details of the plot that probably should make you a little suspicious of the case against Spacey:

    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. Convenient, eh?

    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 Cartman.

    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 single-minded idiots.

    No, wait.

    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 smug? 

    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 decades.

    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.



    Other crap 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)



    Here are the latest movie reviews available at

    • 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.

    "Sasquatch" aka "The Untold" to shoot a movie in 12 days with no budget using every single camera style learned at film school.

    Obviously this movie sucked hard since it's a movie about a sasquatch. Hey, I love bigfoot! I even have a friend who is a real life, genuine Sasquatch enthusiast! But seriously, can anyone name a good movie about the critters?

    Moving on...this stinker claims to be 'based on a true story' -insert "bullshit" cough here- with Lance Henriksen playing a Bill Gates type rich guy who assembles a rescue team to look for his daughter who was lost in a plane crash. Or is he really looking for some black box that can decode everything there is to know about DNA from a single strand of hair...including what you ate for breakfast and the present marital status of the girl you had a crush on in 8th grade.

    It plot basically boils down like this, it could have been an ok monster flick if:
    1. The story had focused on one major story line instead of 50 little ones.
    2. They had replaced one of the actors who was just amazingly bad (the rest of the cast was ok)
    3. The film had not been extremely over edited. My impression is that the director either thought the editing would make up for the lack of money for effects and monster make-up...or it was an attempt to try to be hip and show off all the cool tricks he learned in film school.
    4. When doing a monster flick based on a popular myth, don't muck around with the accepted monster 'facts'. According to this flick, Sasquatches can see in infra-red (and we see his point of view just like the Predator!), they make cave paintings, they bury their dead and they will even go Charles Bronson on human asses, hunting and killing campers to avenge the death of a family member.

    On the plus side:
    1. It's an obvious body double, but at least the limited nudity is completely gratuitous!
    2. As mentioned above, despite the weak and unfocussed script, most of the actors were competent, and did the best with what they had.
    3. They did ok by not showing the monster until the very end.
    4. If you are going to make a low budget movie, follow their lead by going to Vancouver and filming outside. Visually you can't go wrong filming the beauty of the Northwest, and in this case, all sets and wardrobe are easily available and any sporting goods store.

    • Unknown body double for Andrea Roth (1, 2, 3)

    "Men of War"
    Dolph Lundgren is a retired mercenary, called out of retirement for one last job...blah, blah, blah. I wouldn't be surprised if the writers started this script off with "It was a dark and stormy night..." or some other crappy cliché.

    Supposedly this is an action movie, but the fight scenes and billion-rounds-of-ammo-shoot-outs are quite dull, and only take place after very slow paced scenes of "character development".

    I agree with Scoop's review that the tropical scenery was photographed very well, and there are a few decent laughs at the expense of Dolph and his band of mercs. But other than that, this movie is one of the most boring action movies ever filmed.

    On the plus side, the exotic and always lovely Charlotte Lewis was topless in a very well lit 'bathing under the waterfall' scene.

    • Charlotte Lewis (1, 2, 3, 4)

    'Caps and comments by Dann:

    "Midnight Mass"

    Once again, poor acting and film making ruin a pretty decent premise in this 2002 Vampire movie.

    Vampires take over the world, and the few people left who haven't been bitten are left to defend a church. Not bad if it had been done right with some actors who could act. Unfortunately, what you get is just a less-than-average b-movie with a little nudity to make it somewhat bearable.

    Mandy Moore
    (1, 2, 3, 4)

    In link #1 we have another look at the pop star/actress showing some impressive cleavage on Wednesday night's Letterman. Thanks to DAI.

    In links 2-4 she shows off even moore cleavage at a movie premiere.

    Serena Williams Pop she a tennis player, or professional bodybuilder? A big and buff Williams on Leno.

    Julie Graham
    (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)

    Señor Skin 'caps of the tattooed Scottish actress going topless and full frontal in scenes from "With or Without You" (1999).