(Los Angeles) I just drove by Hollywood Blvd. It’s a mess down there, as final preparations are underway for Oscar’s big night – his 88th. I don’t make Oscar predictions – wrote about  why last year in case you care to read. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the spectacle. I just enjoy it more when I’m not worried about keeping up with a ballot.

Still, I’m not unsympathetic toward you Academy Award® handicappers out there. If you still have a ballot to complete, check out my friend Chris Selby’s thoughtful analysis on his blog, Captions. And the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Philip Martin always curates an interesting group of lists from his cinephile friends far and wide. Here are their picks published in today’s Style section. (It’ll always be Movie Style to me.)

Forget everything you just read for a moment. The only lock I see this year is Sylvester Stallone for best supporting actor. And I think it’s well deserved. Has any actor played a single role longer and with greater affection for the character than Stallone has for Rocky? The symmetry of his breakthrough performance 40 years ago and his bittersweet performance in CREED are the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of. Good for him. He’s hit all the right notes in the campaign and I for one am buying what he’s selling.


Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Ryan Coogler’s CREED (2015)


I was sure that Sir Ian McKellan was going to be nominated for MR. HOLMES this year. Beautiful film. Wonderful performance. Alas, it was not to be.

And speaking of #OscarsSoWhite, I don’t have much to say on the subject here but I do highly recommend THR’s Senior Editor Marc Bernardin‘s compelling article on why black movies have to be about MLK and white movies can be about a woman who invented a mop. Check it out here.

Featured Image: a casting for Oscar by artist Alex Israel. He made a sculpture of the cast because it’s illegal to make a copy of the statue. Clever boy. I snapped this at Thursday night at the Oscar Week Opening of a show by Alex Israel and Bret Easton Ellis at the Gagosain Gallery (Beverly Hills)

THE MALTESE FALCON is my favorite movie of all time. My Dad introduced it to me when it aired on some local TV Friday Night Late Movie long ago. My memory tells me I was 13 or 14 years old. The banter, the intrigue, the humor, the drama of greed and desperation – it gripped me and never let me go. I’ve seen it many times on broadcast television, cable, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray over the last 35+ years. Last night I finally saw it – a pristine print – on the big screen. Thank you TCM Classics, Fathom Events and my favorite theater on the planet, Regal 12 (Little Rock). I wrote a short piece about the film here. May try to catch it again in L. A. on Wednesday. Check out an encore performance if you missed it yesterday.

the comedians cover_1I’ve been diving into Kliph Nesteroff’s “The Comedians” every night for the last few days – it’s fantastic! If you’re a fan of comedy and/or showbiz history it is, as Joel Hodgman says, “essential!”

Tracy and I finally got into a showing of DEADPOOL – still the #1 movie in the land. The mega-meta superhero is as outrageous, shocking, dirty, and funny as billed. Jeffrey Wells is taking the contrarian view on the movie’s charms. Fox made a bet on smirk and smut and won big. I wonder though if there really is a franchise here once the bracing shock of the thing wears off. How will a second DEADPOOL movie feel fresh? We’ll just have to wait and see because there’s one coming whether it works or not.

Can’t wait to see BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS on HBO tonight. Kim Masters spoke with director Douglas McGrath about the documentary on KCRW’s The Business. It’s worth a listen.

I’ll be in L A the rest of this week. It’s Oscar week – which adds a level of crazy/fun to an already crazy/fun town. I’ll post something about it here for CineFriday.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Maltese Falcon, The)_04

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer “The Gunsel” in John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON (Warner Bros. 1941)

There’s an oft-told tale about John Huston’s method of adapting THE MALTESE FALCON for the silver screen. The way the story goes, Huston was on his way to lunch (i.e., a bar) and told his secretary to take the novel line by line and convert it to the standard screenplay format. And that’s just what she did, and that’s pretty much the shooting script they ended up with. I don’t know if the story is true but Huston’s directoral debut was as faithful a book-to-screen adaptation as one could hope for. And why not? Dashiell Hammett’s second novel is practically the Rosetta Stone for film noir.

THE MALTESE FALCON is hands-down my favorite movie. There’s nothing I don’t love about it. So I’m as giddy as a kid at Christmas that Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are screening THE MALTESE FALCON this Sunday (with encore screenings Wednesday) for the film’s 75 Anniversary. Seventy-five years, amazing! This was the last, best adaptation of the book after a spotty run. The expectations weren’t high and in many ways the studio perceived it as “B team” effort. Bogart was not the first choice to play Sam Spade. This project probably saved his career and launched him to the stratosphere after years of struggle. Sydney Greenstreet’s performance is already perfection but add to the mix that FALCON is also his screen debut and it’s startling how good he is. Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr. — all pitch perfect in their roles. Huston‘s approach to staging and shooting the film created a new look and filmmaking vocabulary.

Enjoy THE MALTESE FALCON in a theater near you this weekend. And here are some links for some more tidbits on the movie and the lore.

Vanity Fair’s piece on the Falcon — one of the most famous movie props of all time.

The Hollywood Reporter’s on the 75th Anniversary screenings


Warren Beatty (l) and Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR (d. Elaine May, 1987, Columbia Pictures)


ISHTAR (PG-13, 107 min., Columbia Pictures, May 1987)

“Ishtar shall rise again,” Dustin Hoffman proclaimed to the audience on the occasion of Warren Beatty’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It could hardly have been any deader in Box Office or critical opinion in 1987. Roger Ebert gave the film one half star — not even a full star! In his original review (May 15, 1987), Ebert called ISHTAR “a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in comedy.” You can read the whole review here.

Twenty-six years later, the NYT’s A.O. Scott wrote thoughtfully about ISHTAR in a piece about reconsidering Box Office Bombs. Saying that, “ISHTAR has entreated the lexicon  – along with HEAVEN’S GATE, WATERWORLD and HOWARD THE DUCK – as shorthand for large scale cinematic unsuccess. Which is fine, except that ISHTAR is a really good movie that suffered, in its infancy, from very bad press.” Read Scott’s piece here.

Elaine May seems to have suffered the most from the fall out over the film’s 14.4 million dollar gross against a 55.5 millions dollar budget — an extraordinary amount at the time. Rumors about her swirled, blame was assigned. She hasn’t directed since. She once quipped, “If all the people who hate ISHTAR had seen it, I would be a rich woman today.” Thank God she kept writing. I wished she’d kept directing. If the charm, wit and timing of Elaine May have eluded you to this point in your life, watch this clip of May saluting her comedy partner, Mike Nichols, at his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s a bravura performance.

Director: Elaine May, Writer: Elaine May, Producer: Warren Beatty, Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro, Composer: Dave Grusin, Editors: Richard P. Cirincione, Wiliam Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter, Production Designer: Paul Sylbert

CAST: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper, Carol Kane

Watched on Blu*ray (Sony Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo


DEADPOOL dominated the Box Office this weekend — setting records no one expected it to set.

Our favorite spot to see a movie is the Regal 12 Cinema aka UA Breckenridge in Little Rock. Neighborhood theater, great projection and sound. Every seat is a luxury recliner and every ticket guarantees a reserved seat in the spot of the buyer’s choosing. I told you all of that to tell you this: Tracy and I could not find two seats together to see DEADPOOL at any showing on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. So, we’ll be seeing it later this week. DEADPOOL is a monster hit, breaking records no one even knew were in trouble. You saw it? What are your thoughts? More from Deadline here.

Mentioned here last Sunday that I’d spoken with Karen Martin for a piece she was writing about TV/streaming viewing. “Small Screen Significance” was published in today’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette. I was glad to be included and interested to see the picks from other contributors. Here’s a link to the article online.

My family is really getting into THE PEOPLE  V  O.J. SIMPSON. Last week’s episode about the Bronco chase was riveting. Brad Simpson is one of the show’s Executive Producers and really the guy who championed the project after he ran across Jeffery Toobin’s book in a used bookstore. Here’s a great 5 minute audio piece Brad did for KPCC’s The Frame on the challenges and trivia of staging the Bronco chase for the series. (Did you hear Brad on Little Rock’s FM 103.7 The Buzz this past week? Always fun to make Arkansas connections to big Hollywood stories.)

If you’re a fan of Porsches and a fan of Jerry Seinfeld (and have some cash to burn) this opportunity is a real win/win: Seinfeld, known for his love of a specific kind of car, is auctioning off 16 Porsches in his collection. Here’s the story with details on how you can get in on the action.

Thanks for being this blog’s Valentine. The next CineFriday and next week’s Sunday Notebook will be Valentines to my favorite movie of all time. Care to venture a guess what that is?

In the 1970s Steve Martin dated Mitzi Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo’s daughter. In his memoir, Martin recounts observing Dalton Trumbo’s exercise regimen in those days. Mr. Trumbo would walk laps around the perimeter of the swimming pool in his backyard. Every time he passed the diving board he marked the lap with the click of a counter in his hand. In his other hand Trumbo carried a cigarette, which he puffed on intermittently during his workout.

It’s hard to believe that elected officials in Washington considered the eccentric, contradictory, and talented Trumbo such a danger to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But then again we should never be shocked at what elected officials believe, say, or try to put over on “we the people.”

116029580_origTrumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten. The infamy was not the Ten’s, it belonged mostly to the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and their associates. You can dive into two films (both with same title) that tell Trumbo’s story in vivid detail. One is the outstanding (and personal favorite) documentary from 2007. The other is this year’s Oscar nominated narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston as Trumbo and a stellar supporting cast.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? That was the refrain heard over and over in the chambers at the U.S. Capitol as American citizens were questioned about their interest and involvement with Communism.

Frank Rose’s landmark book, The Agency (1985, Harper Business) devotes significant space to the villains, victims and heroes in the whole sordid affair. I’d never realized until I read Rose’s book how HUAC effectively ended Edward G. Robinson’s career. I can’t recommend Rose’s book highly enough. (It’s a comprehensive history of Hollywood through the lens of the William Morris Agency.) For an up to date, in depth – and highly entertaining – audio examination of the Hollywood Red Scare era, check out the current season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This (Podcast).

And hooray for the Coen Brothers’ comedic portrait of the era in HAIL, CAESAR! It manages to be cheeky and sobering at the same time. The movie captures the paranoia, inhibitions and hypocrisy. At the same time there’s a genuine sense of the shifting ground under the characters’ feet. (I had a few things to say about the film in last Sunday’s Notebook.) The great joke in HAIL, CAESAR! — well, I won’t say it here in case you’re going to see the film soon.

For more on the subject of Hollywood and The Red Scare check out:


Hail, Caesar! (2016) A comedy from the Coen Brothers in theaters now

TRUMBO (2015, 124 mins, R) A narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston, on DVD & Bluray 2/16/16

TRUMBO (2007, 96 mins, PG-13) – Documentary


The Agency (1985, HarperCollins) by Frank Rose


You Must Remember This (Podcast) – Current season is all about HUAC & Hollywood


McMurphy (Jacks Nicholson) and The Chief (Will Sampson) in ONE FLEW OVER THE KUCKOO’S NEST (d. Milos Forman, United Artists, 1975)


ONE FLEW OVER THE KUCKOO’S NEST (R, 133 min., color, United Artists, Nov. 21, 1975)

ONE FLEW OVE THE KUCKOO’S NEST is in that elite club of movies that swept all five of the “big awards” at the Oscars. When it won for best picture, actor, actress, screenplay and director at the 1976 Academy Awards, it was the first to have done so since IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934). KUCKOO’S NEST debuted at number 20 on AFI’s original 100 Movies List. It has since slipped to 33. Has it slipped in your estimation?

It’s well known that Kirk Douglas had the rights to the book for many years, acquiring it when he had designs on playing the role of McMurphy. In fact, Kirk Douglas had played McMurphy in a stage adaptation of the book that did not fare well financially. Years later it was Kirk’s son, Michael, who made the project his first as a producer. And what a first time outing it was. Roger Ebert reports seeing Michael Douglas stumble in a daze out into the lobby following the rapturous reception of 3000 people at the film’s Chicago Film Festival Premiere. If he was in a daze that night the next few years of his (and his star, Jack Nicholson’s) career probably seemed like a blur. Those were heady days. Some suggest they were the best years for movies.

CAST: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassick, Scatman Crothers, Dean R. Brooks, Danny DeVito

Watched on Blu*ray (Warner Bros. Home Video)

*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo