Kevin McCarthy–R.I.P

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I am a sucker for the working actor, the man or woman who does the job and manages to make a living at it but not necessarily hit the big time in terms of celebrity.  Kevin McCarthy was one of those guys.

He might be one of those people you recognize by face but can’t quite place.  Or maybe he was one of those faces that you remembered instantly, even if you could never remember his name.  He acted for most of his life, credited with some 200 motion pictures and television episodes in his seven-decade career.

Kevin McCarthy died Sunday at the age of 96.  A lot of folks probably didn’t know he was still around.  With some cult classics to his name, he has a good shot of always being around.

Here’s a sample:

From the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956)

From the cult favorite “Pirahna” (1978) (check out his speech around the 5:00 mark)

And from one of my young adult favorites (for some unknown reason), “UHF”(1989)

Top 5 Worst Nick Nolte Movies

What would you say if I used a chainsaw as a paper weight?  A waste of a chainsaw, no?  Well that is the simplistic reasoning behind this list of the the “Top 5 Worst Nick Nolte Movies” of all-time.

These are not necessarily bad movies.  These are not necessarily movies in which Nick Nolte does not act well.  They are ONLY, and quite simply, movies which do not offer enough foaming-at-the-mouth, Nick Nolte yelling.  That is what Nick Nolte does best.  That is why  we love Nick Nolte.  And, well, you gots to let the big Nolte dog run.

5. Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Perhaps the most important rule in Nolte-land is that you must keep Nick Nolte in the 20th century.  If you move him back in time, it MUST be back to place in time when people looked and smelled worse, and related to each other with words covered in tobacco spit.  (I couldn’t find a clip of this flick in English, so here’s a photo of Nolte as Jefferson.  Notice the lack of grizzled saliva or even the hint of irrational anger.)

4. I’ll Do Anything (1994)
This movie is Nolte-wrong in too many ways to count.  He has a cute little girl and he is placed in numerous scenes where his tough-insanity is supposed to be cute.  I think sometimes James L. Brooks actually thinks Nolte might be cute.  Here’s the trailer, which will looked dated even in 1994.

3. I Love Trouble (1994)
Now, this movie at least cast Nick Nolte for some of the unique skills of frustrated anger that only Nick Nolte can bring to the screen.  But they keep it in a box, never letting it verge on this side of crazy, and keeping it tame only to frame him as a credible love interest to Julia Roberts.  In a real Nolte film, she should be running from him while clutching a sword.  Here’s a clip with a foreign-language voice over, which I can only assume is dissecting all the things that are wrong with this casting.

2. Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Oh Lord!  This movie is sad.  Not bad sad, but melodramatic, tug-at-your-heart-strings sad.  It’s a true story of a couple trying to help their dying son find a cure for his rare disease.  Nolte plays the father.  While it works in pure “cinematic” terms, it fails on the Nolte scale.  First off, he plays an accented-character, but he is not dangerous.  There are lots of doctors and scientists in this movie, but none of them are played by Nolte, and none of them are torturing or terrorizing others.  Finally, while Nolte goes crazy a few times in the film, it is a craziness fueled by love and empathy for his child and wife.  Here’s a clip, but BEWARE.  Not only is there a sick child, but Nolte makes his wife dinner.

1. Prince of Tides (1991)
I am told there are people who love this movie.  I don’t know who they are or who they might be but I do know they don’t include me.  In her defense, Barbara Streisand let’s Nolte get somewhat emotional, just not yellingly so, and certainly not enough in Nolte-appropriate contexts (war, basketball, on the city streets with Eddie Murphy).  In the end, we have a crying Nolte who is becoming more attune to his feelings as the film progresses–even falling in love!  It is a affront too all things holy/Nolte, and as such, tops our list.

Henry Gibson has died

Actor Henry Gibson has passed away at the age of 73.

Depending on your age, Gibson was one of those actors whose face you knew well, though you couldn’t remember his name.  For my generation and older, you could probably remember a few of the reasons you knew his face.  If you’re younger, maybe not.  But you would still know his face.

I have all the respect in the world for actors who can make a full-time career of their art, in particular those like Gibson who never become household names but manage to be as successful as anyone.  If you have a moment, check out his credits at IMDB.  I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

If I were a little bit older, he would probably be best known to me as part of the motley bunch of comics on “Laugh In.”  The three roles I most associate with Gibson, however, are a creepy guy he played on an old episode of “Wonder Woman,” the Nazi guy from “Blues Brothers,” and the voice of Wilbur the pig in “Charlotte’s Web.”  He was great in everything he did.

Thanks for all the wonderful memories Mr. Gibson.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

A GenX Chicano Reflects on John Hughes

There are flurry of John Hughes remembrances floating around in cyberspace today. I suspect few are surprised. Hughes had a hand in most of the movies GenX folks associate with themselves. Some of his films are the cinematic outlet to our generational struggles, even the voice that helped give them shape and clarity. And we are all over the place on the internet. Between blog posts and tweets, who needs to read a “real” obituary today?

As a young Chicano kid growing up in the greater LA area of the 1980s, John Hughes–through his films–had an impact on me and my sister as well.  He is being famously remembered today as a filmmaker who made movies for our generation, quite literally.  Yet, even in his most productive time, Hughes was understood to be making movies about a segment of the post-boom generation.  His characters and their struggles were almost always framed by a racially-white, suburban, and wealthy reality.

This isn’t a criticism. It just is. To his credit, the limitations of his characters and their surroundings were hardly equal to the limitations of the meaning and significance of his work.  Even though they might have been rich white kids, their experiences had a kind of transcendence to them.  When Hughes incorporated class into his films–most famously in Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club–it served to help broaden the “truth” of what he portrayed.

As these films resonated with my generation, they gained credibility in the public eye. His ability to create those characters who could speak for “all of us” meant Hughes made movies about a generation that helped define who we were to the world.  Before “GenX” was named, before the media and the marketing industries had a firm hold on who we were as people and consumers, John Hughes helped name us as people.

But that doesn’t mean I “related” to everything I saw in a John Hughes film. It’s a little complicated, but for people like me, people whose experiences growing up were not always identical to the ways people understood the “GenX experience,” Hughes and a handful of others helped bridge the gap.  They didn’t do it by reaching out to make movies that incorporated my realities.  They did it by making artifacts that were so culturally powerful and dominant that they created a target for people like me to move toward.  John Hughes provided cultural products that facilitated my assimilation.

That’s the tricky part with popular culture. Like others of my generation, when I saw Hughes’ films I saw and heard my own fears, struggles, inadequacies, and strengths.  When he crafted teenage characters that thought and acted like adults, that struggled with love and being loved, who were nerds and geeks and wanted to remain true to themselves, when he did all of this and more, I could relate.  But he also created characters that were so powerful and so popular that even when I couldn’t relate I tried. Or is it that I couldn’t resist?

I don’t think the Chicano experience is unique here, just particular. I’m sure Hughes’ films were the same for other Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and even a lot of white kids.  One of the legacies of providing these kinds of “authentic” depictions of a generation that is not fully understood is that you play a role in defining who they are.  Most baby boomers in the Sixites weren’t radical hippies.  But that minority became the archetype for the entire generation because of their place in the popular media.  For the GenXers, this was both more so and less so.  Hughes had his finger on the pulse of our generation in emotionally significant ways.  There was and is something particular about being a teenager at a time of impending nuclear disaster, the birth of AIDS, and commercial ascendancy of the boomers.  Hughes captured it in words and images.  But we also came of age in a time of profound maturity in the marketplace, when your identity as a consumer became your identity as a generation.  And the illusion of reality in a John Hughes film provided one of many shortcuts to defining our generation before we were ready to be fully defined.

Hughes might be the most prominent voice in the popular culture that told me what it was to be a teenager before I was quite there.  In his films I saw myself, and I saw what “they” were like.  In the end, somewhere in the balance between the two, is me.

All-Time Top Movies

As a lover of movies and all things “Hollywood” I have been obsessed with the motion picture box office ever since I was a kid.

As any Hollywood-file knows, however, the top earners list is not the same as the top earners adjusted for inflationThe Dark Knight might have kicked some box office butt last year, but that was largely due to the rise in the price of a ticket, not because more people paid to see the movie than, say, Star Wars.

So who are the All-Time Box Office Leaders when compensated for inflation? Well, here’s the “Top Ten” with their adjusted (and actual) box office totals, and, more importantly, what I think of them:

1. Gone With the Wind (1939): $1,450,680,400 ($198,676,459)
I didn’t see the whole thing until I was in my twenties, when it toured in the beautifully restored version. It was beautiful and grand, yes, but a very different creature than when it was released in 1939.  It was the most-eagerly awaited film in history at its release, a film of a best-selling and much-loved novel. By the late 1990s, Scarlett O’Hara seems like the devil going around fucking up everybody’s life.  Kind of like Showgirls for the Civil War.  Anyhoo, the numbers justify some sort of respect, if not for content and form than just for the sake of being such a monumental hit. And it hit it was.  Gone With the Wind ran in theaters for more than a decade.

2. Star Wars (1977): $1,278,898,700 ($460,998,007)
What can I say about the movie that turned every blanket into an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume and every broom stick into a light saber?  The only reason it isn’t number 1 is because people had more things to do in the 1970s than they did in the 1940s.

3. The Sound of Music (1965): $1,022,542,400 ($158,671,368)
Any movie that recasts nuns into active anti-fascists is one that was bound to be force-fed to me from a young age. All my Catholic recovery steps have done nothing to mitigate the sheer force of Maria and those damned singing kids. I love this movie.  It might be the last of the great musicals to ever be made.

4. E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): $1,018,514,100 ($435,110,554)
Two memories related to “E.T.” standout for me. First, seeing the movie for the second time, I decided to sit apart from my mom and sister because I thought I might cry. I tried hard to fight off the tears, but one might have snuck out. My other memory is of going to Tijuana to shop and buying a small “piggie bank” of E.T. made of plaster and paint. I chose it from a line of some 40 vendors all collectively selling somewhere between 100 and 150 of the same bank. I also bought an E.T. wallet that day. The movie remains “magical” upon reviewing in my jaded middle age.


5. The Ten Commandments (1956): $940,580,000 ($65,500,000)
I hate Charlton Heston.  And not for his politics, although those were stupid, too. Basic problem with him is that he can’t act.  That can work in film (like in Planet of the Apes) or brilliant people can combine to work around it (like in Ben Hur). Here, he just stinks in what is trite Hollywood Bible fare. That said, I have fond memories of the film growing up, since it was beaten into our minds as some sort of Easter tradition. But how in the hell did Edward G. Robinson get a role in this?

6. Titanic (1997): $921,523,500 ($600,788,188)
I remember walking out of this spectacle and thinking how damned talented James Cameron was to make a movie that had something for everybody. This is a “guy’s movie” and a “chick flick” all at once. I think the parts holdup better than the sum upon reviewing. I remain fond of the narrative structure and the story he weaves, familiar to fans of mainstream films yet unrelenting in its consistency with the project. Plus, its the first film on our list with boobs.

7. Jaws (1975): $919,605,900 ($260,000,000)
I was only three when it came out, so too young for the hoopla. But it had legs (or fins?), as they say. When it premiered on On-TV in the early 1980s, I couldn’t stand the tension! It remains one of my favorite Spielberg movies because he does what he needs to do so frickin’ well. Anytime you are in a pool with kids, don’t you start “the song”?

8. Doctor Zhivago (1965): $891,292,600 ($111,721,910)
This is the one on the list I haven’t seen. I suspect it is good, since Omar Sharif is cinematic coolness.

9. The Exorcist (1973): $793,883,100 ($232,671,011)
I’ve only seen the non-television version of this movie once, at least from beginning to end. I can see how folks thought it was scary but, geez, Nixon was president. Compared to him it’s like the number 10 movie on the list. At my one full viewing I felt it didn’t hold up, especially when compared to Psycho before,  Don’t Look Now! at the same time, and The Ring since.

10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): $782,620,000 ($184,925,486)
Has hardcore mine labor ever sounded so good? You have to turn off the “political” analysis side of your brain to make sense of the good parts of Snow White. Then again, if you turn that academic brain on and do some sub-textual analysis it all gets a little kinky. Either way, it is a work of history and of art, looking and flowing better than most of the Disney work. The story works, too.

For the rest of the list, visit the kids at Box Office Mojo.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

“Transformers 2” is, well, dangerous

This is the edited and complete version of an earlier review.

I’ve just walked out of the theater after seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel to the 2007 blockbuster.  In short, it’s not a good movie, not even for fans of science fiction or of the line of products associated with the robotic toys.

But the film is more problematic than not being good. Though it feels odd to make these kinds of extreme measurements, “Transformers 2” is dangerous.  What’s worse, it might not be aware of how dangerous it is.

And let me say, right from the start: this is not a movie blog. I write about movies, and TV, and other forms of culture, but I don’ fancy myself a movie reviewer.  I am a person who love popular culture, and who also happens to be a trained specialist in the history of race and ethnicity in the United States.  I can shut the History Professor side of me off to watch movies and TV, and I often do.  But there are times when the content on the screen is so messed up, it activates that other side of my brain and keeps it alert and on guard.  This was one of those times.

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Overview
If you want plot, go somewhere else. And I don’t mean because I don’t want to sum up the movie.  When it comes to plot, “Transformers 2” is a little light.  Good robots fight with humans against bad robots and teens must work with the good to save the world.

Alot of that plot is contrived, that is, it feels unnatural, forced, and made up.  Like when the Decepticons learn where their fallen leader–Megatron–and powerful piece of energy metal (“Allspark”) are being hidden by the US government.  They learn when one of their own hacks into a satellite, just as one of the characters is summing all this information up in a conversation with military leaders.

The forced plot–obviously built by a bunch of “creative” heads who know what a summer blockbuster is supposed to look like–is mirrored in many of the sequences and visual decisions. This film is as derivative as you have ever seen.  In other words, it “steals” from a whole bunch of other cultural products–in almost unconscious ways. It takes from Voltron, The Matrix, Alien, and an assortment of other sci-fi and action sources.  That’s not bad, in and of itself.  But here, it is a reflection of the lack of creativity in the making.  They steal what they think is cool to make a movie they think is also cool.

All of this doesn’t necessarily make the movie “dangerous,” mind you.  But it does reflect the larger problem that does. “Transformers 2” assaults you with a flurry of images laden with unquestioned sexism, racism, and militarism.  Just like it unconsciously takes from other cinematic sources which have formed our expectations of the science fiction world, it also takes the gender, racial, and political constructs that inform the mainstream reality of many (young boys) and packages them in a glorified (and uninterrogated) way.

It does this without thinking, but you feel the effects of it as you watch.  Racial stereotypes (like the guy with bad teeth in the deli) are used for comic fodder, as our men who “act like women” (like the geek who is crying in the car or Shia LaBeouf screaming when the “hot girl” turns out to be something else).  The expectation of what is appropriate and needed in the movie is based on the assumption of white supremacy (like the US having the defend the Third World and the entire planet).  It glorifies war and the military, sexualizing violence as heroic acts of the young.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

girlboyrun

Gender
The film is masculinist.  To say it is sexist would almost miss the point.  It glorifies masculinity as it actively feminizes everything it does not glorify.

Shia LaBeouf’s character–Sam Witwicky–embodies the values of the film.  He isn’t the jock, but he isn’t the geek or nerd either.  He isn’t classically good looking, but he isn’t ugly either.  He is meant to be you, the teenage, male viewer.  He is meant to be the you that doesn’t think you’re good enough but every once in awhile gets glimpse at yourself in the mirror and thinks, yeah, you just might be sexy enough.

girlneed

Sexy enough, that is, to get a girlfriend like Megan Fox.  Fox is our stereotypical “girl in need” (like the Earth, the non-western world, and, to an extent, the nerd).  Yes, she is a participant in the trials and tribulations of the group of young people trying to save the world.  But she is more the person being dragged along with Sam than she is an active and necessary player.  When the crisis hits the fan, she takes her direction from Sam.

Sam is the fullest embodiment of the basic conceit of the video game genre.  He is the average kid who can save the entire world (maybe even the galaxy).  He has a destiny, one that is assured even though he is so plain and average.  Just like you, the gamer sitting in his underwear holding a joystick and sitting in front of his computer, he is going to save us all and do the incredible.  (Male fantasy anyone?)

As if to acknowledge what the movie is about on the gender plane, the struggle between the two teenage lovebirds is who will say “I love you” first, in effect, who will open themselves up to weakness first.  Megan Fox’s character–Mikaela Banes–is trying to get Sam to say it, seemingly needing Sam to say it.  She tells him, in an illustrative scene, maybe all girls just want a dangerous man.  Sam, all appearances to the contrary, is that man, leading her on a testosterone-filled adventure on two continents and saving the sun from destruction.

The movie celebrates the values and characteristic most traditionally associated with masculinity.  It values and rewards being tough, necessary, brave, unemotional, and willing to do what is needed when it is unavoidable.  Like the gender stereotypes it portrays, the movie is about war being sexy.  The characters avoid death at every turn, usually by running from a explosive of some sort.  More on that below…

Race
Dear god this movie is colonialist!  White, American men save the day.  They are the ones with technological supremacy.  All others are absent.  Even when China is being attacked, the Chinese army (which is, in reality, big and technologically advanced) is absent.  When Jordanians comes in to help Americans and a Brit, they end up crashing, and becoming another burden for the white man to have to save.

The movie celebrates the “reluctant imperialist.”  In a way, that is the dominant strain of imperialism in our culture. We are reflexive about war and empire, from our popular conception of the war in Vietnam.  But it doesn’t close us off to “necessary war.”

For example, in the film, we see a politician who is the “bad guy.”  He is a bureaucrat who is standing in the way of the noble men who are trying to do their job.  He complains about not being given access to the robots technology on behalf of the nation, and we know why he hasn’t.  Like the robots, we don’t trust him.  He has none of the nobility of masculinity to shepherd the use of that power.

He then asks if the robots would leave the planet if the president asked, describing Earth as “our planet.”  Of course, it is not.  He is a representative of the United States (and the President of the United States).  The U.S. doesn’t own the world. Well, it might not, but who else can save it?  Though they seem like they are the opposite of the politician, the men of the military who fight with the robots are very much doing the same thing the politician is: they are reflecting an imperialist impulse and acting on it.  They step in when nobody else can (see notes on gender above) and save the day.

Race is most obviously a problem in the robot characters themselves.  In terms of voices, unless I am mistaken, the only times a person of color voices a robot it is either a Decepticon or a comical, racial caricature (like Mudflap and Skids).  Every leader robot, or one with “historical” significance, has an American or European accent.  The colonialist narrative served piping hot!

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The movie’s climax takes place away from the “modern” (“First”) world and takes place in the “pre-modern” world of Eygpt.  For those who don’t know, Eygpt was part of a European colony for years, and an object of colonial desire for many more.  Here, it becomes the site of a contest for the Earth, where Americans and Brits step in and save the day.  They save us with their modern weapons and tactics but, ultimately, with the heart and verve of a young, white teen.

The past is not present, it is all about the future.  As the robots destroy the most famous pyramids in the world (which we learn, of course, were built by aliens) we don’t worry at the destruction.  We know we are safe in a land of the future.  As Optimus Prime rises from his battle, in tact and strong, he stands next to an even more crumbling Sphinx.  Ah, yes, the robot have saved the day.  And, as we see the final scenes, featuring the young Sam and the mighty Optimus standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, we know they have saved the days to come as well.

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The Danger
You might think this makes “Transformers 2” a bad movie, or a “politically incorrect” one, but dangerous?  How is any film dangerous?

Well, let me say, first, I don’t want to ban the film or anything.  I’m fine with it being made, and with people seeing it.  But people shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking it is just mindless entertainment.

Films like this one (and any cultural product like this) help to glorify a host of problematic ideologies and practices, all of which serve as the backbone for real peoples’ pain, abuse, and oppression.  Even worse, it naturalizes them, making them seem common and simply “the way it is,” giving them further fuel for the future.  The young boys (mostly) who see this film and others like it, before they have the critical analytical skills to make sense of it, areslowly but surely being prepped to be supporters of a status quo that is simply f’ed up.

Look at it this way.  By the end of the fiscal year 2008-09, the US military will have trained more unmanned drone pilots than actual bomber and fighter pilots combined.  That’s right!  For the first time in history, we’re training more people to fly war robots than actual planes.  The old argument that kids who play video games are being desensitized to war is kind of moot now.  They are actually and quite literally being trained.  They learn the basics, the foundational skills that it takes to work a robot and kill remotely.

This movie isn’t going to start a war.  But it isn’t going to hurt a war being start either.  By glorifying the most disturbing trends and visions in our social fabric and crafting them as something that is good and noble, it is one other voice in a choir of voices singing the same, tired, oppressive song of violence.

Plus, the dialogue sucked.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

25 years ago today a man came from the future

Have you ever tried to cook enchiladas and bake a coffee cake at the same time?  It doesn’t work.  You end up with bad dinner and dessert, or even worse–sweet enchilada coffee cake!  Well, that’s why I haven’t been writing much on the blog lately, because other, more serious, more “finish or else you lose your job” kind of writing is taking my time.

But I couldn’t let the day pass without some mention.  After all, today is the 25th anniversary of May 12, 1984.

You can watch the scene here.

This scene, from James Cameron’s 1984 classic Terminator, has it all:  sci-fi technology; butt; humor at the expense of a hobo; time travel; the inference of gay, alley sex; and a killer Casio™ keyboard score right out of a John Carpenter movie.  It drips with the 80s.

Hardcore sci-fi/Terminator fans will note that “12th, May, Thursday” in 1984 was really “12th, May, Saturday.”  Rumor has it the movie was set to film in 1983–when it was a Thursday–but due to Schwarzeneggar’s contractual obligations to Conan, had to be postponed.  They never updated the day in the script.  I say, when a naked man steals your gun and points it at you, you are bound to get a few facts wrong during an impromptu quiz.  Eh…

After seeing the new Star Trek movie last week, Terminator has been on my mind.  In it, Kyle Reese (the naked man you see above) is sent back from the future by a man named John Connor to save Sarah Connor.  Sarah is the future mother of John Connor, the leader of the resistance in the war against the machines.  In that future, the machines have sent one of their own back to kill her, thereby hoping to extinguish the resistance (by making sure their leader is never born).  What we learn in the movie, of course, is that Kyle Reese is the one who gets Sarah Connor pregnant.  He is the father of John Connor.

But how could John Connor be alive to send his father back in time so that he would be born if he wasn’t already alive?

Ah! Because time is connected but not dependent.  Instead of a Back to the Future space-time continuum, we have a series of dots in time/space where new lines of dots can emerge from the others and not change the course of the ones already in existence.  Sound familiar?

So Skynet was sending back a Terminator to 1984 to kill that Sarah Connor so as to kill off the possibility of a John Connor being born in the future that comes from then.  Get it?  Skynet was so fucking pissed off, it sent a machine back in time to do something that would have no effect whatsoever on its own present reality.  It just wanted to fuck it up for another human reality.

Aw, forget it.  Just bask in the glow of commemorating an anniversary of something that happened in cinematic fiction.

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John Candy & Charles Bukowski are still dead

It’s a double shot “Still Dead” this week as we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the passing of John Candy (March 4) and Charles Bukowski (March 9).

While both men worked in “the arts,” you might not think there was too much in common between them.  But both made careers out of their individual skills honed at the expense of themselves.  Creatures of excess, they each excelled not in spite of their demons, but because of them.

Candy gained fame as part of the legendary Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV (also known as “SCTV Network” among other titles, having been renamed several times for broadcast in the US).  The cast–largely from the Second City improv stage–included Candy as well as Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas.  They were a satire of television, lampooning everything from “television greats” to the gross commercialization of the medium they saw emerging in their day.

The portly Candy stood out in many of his recurring sketches but made a bigger name for himself in movies, where he appeared in or contributed his voice to more than 50 feature films.  His movie career was marked by his stand out performances in bad to mediocre films, with only a handful of them real gems.  One critic wrote Candy “has been in more turkeys than stuffing mix, yet everyone seems to love him.”

Indeed, we did.  He had that ability to make you feel like you were watching somebody real, even in the stupidest of situations.  His work in Ron Howard’s Splash (1984) represented his big break.  For that film, Candy did what he did so well–made you laugh at him and love him at the same time.  After being the comic relief for most of his scenes, he turned it up in a serious scene toward the end.  He showed depth, as well as skill in putting himself front and center in creating his character.

The quality of films he got always bothered Candy, who took his art seriously.  But he was a star.  He was respected by comics, loved by his fans, and known professionally for being the kind of “good guy” he played so well.  In many ways he was the friendly version of Jackie Gleason, always down for a party, always social, always larger than life, and always in love with excess.  When he died of a massive heart attack at age 43, nobody could be surprised, or unmoved.

Bukowski was no Candy.  Where the Canadian used his weight struggles to inspire laughter, Bukowski used his life struggles to inspire a wide array of darker emotions and reactions.  On the surface, he was a self-loathing, womanizing, alcoholic, but Bukowski was a prolific and disciplined writer of “real L.A.”, depicting the lives of people often dismissed in the literary arts.

A German immigrant, Bukowski worked as a postal worker for much of his adult life, writing during most of that period (except during a decade of drinking spanning from his 20s to 30s).  He suffered abuse at the hands of a domineering father, who wold cut his face with a razor strap for misbehaving.  This pain and turmoil crafted the battered face of the adult Bukowski, a face Paul Ciotti described as “a sandblasted face, warts on his eyelids and a dominating nose that looks as if it was assembled in a junkyard from Studebaker hoods and Buick fenders.”  It also certainly crafted the batered voice with which he spoke.

In this clip from Barbet Shcroeder’s legendary (to Bukowski fans) series of short interviews called “The Bukowski Tapes,” the man shows some of his myth and brilliance.

He turned pain into brilliance, into filth, into humor, and even into occasional warmth.  Leading something of a life infused with addiction and the emotional remnants of survival, Bukowski achieved huge success.  Whether he was “acting the part” or not was always a question in the minds of critics.  I always thought he was, but not in the way they might have meant, not as a device to get attention and sales.  I saw him as a frail, lonely, wounded soul trying to act like a “man” in the most simplistically crafted version of what that is, an act performed as a means of survival.

For fans of the 1987 film Barfly, a loose adaptation (as was much of his work) of his life, this piece by Roger Ebert may be of interest.  It stands as something of a more human version of the drunk so many followed.

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I was a college senior when both men died.  Candy was, in many ways, the symbol of my youth.  He was one of my favorite entertainers, from his early TV days to his long career in film.  Bukowski had become my entertainment of the late teens and early twenties.  His realism and “fuck-it-all” attitude were appealing to a kid just starting to read Marxist history and trying to make sense of the L.A. riots of 1992.  (I must have seen the film Barfly with my friends about once a week between 1992 and 1994.)

In my adulthood, I continue to enjoy both, though in different ways.  A John Candy movie–even a bad one–is still something I find watchable.  He has a charisma on the screen, something that shines even brighter in one of his good films (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Only the Lonely, Uncle Buck).  Candy had a way of turning formula into something special.  As for Bukowski, he is like a glass of scotch, best in small quantities on special occasions.  But even in those doses he has a knack for staying with me for a week or two.  Always a challenge, he is both simple and complicated, a lot like life.

Latinos Take Over the Golden Globes

It’s that time of year again!  The Hollywood awards season has begun, for reals!  After those hors d’oeuvres teasers last month, we get the first real course of our nominations feast–the Golden Globe awards.  Nominations were announced today, and you know what? I bet Latinos are shining brightly.

Let me gather up all the Latino nominations for you.  Just a minute…

Hmmm.  That can’t be right.  Give me a sec to double check this.  In the meantime, think about the wackiness of that Illinois governor.  Man!

Alright… well…

America Ferrera got a nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series” for her work on ABC’s Ugly Betty.

And… then… there’s…

DAMN!  That’s it.  I mean, well, Weeds got a nod for “Best Television Series-Musical or Comedy,” and they were sort of a Latino-themed show this year, but it was all gang-bangers, drug dealers, and corrupt Mexican officials on the border (not to mention the murdering, torturing, and human trafficking).

Okay!  New game:

2009 Golden Globe Nominees Who You Might Think Are Latino (But Aren’t)

  • Frank Langella, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (Italian)
  • Javier Bardem, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Spanish)
  • James Franco, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Italian)
  • Angelina Jolie, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama (just hot)
  • Penélope Cruz, Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Spanish)
  • Sam Mendes, Best Director -Motion Picture (British with a spot o’ Portuguese)
  • “Gran Torino”, Best Original Song-Motion Picture (song about a car)
  • Tony Shalhoub, Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Musical Or Comedy (Lebanese)
  • Catherine Keener, Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Lebanese)

I guess the title of my post should be: “Latinos!  Take Over the Golden Globes!”

‘Forbidden Kingdom’ is No Surprise to Us

What film won the weekend box office ending April 20, 2008?

“Forbidden Kingdom,” the first film produced through Weinstein Co.’s recent commitment to Asian cinema, topped the box office this weekend, beating out the heavily advertised and comedic odds on favorite “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The film brings together legendary martial arts start Jackie Chan and Jet Li, offering fans the first-ever cinematic show down between the two. [See trailers and find other information on the movie here.]

While the news may have surprised many in Hollywood, those of us who are even a little bit familiar with the under 25 age set know that there has been a cultural revolution taking place for years now, one that the Hollywood mainstream still can’t seem to fully get their heads around. It’s a revolution inspired and led by foreign imports, manga and other graphic novels, video games, and other forms of media largely outside of the mainstream but hugely successful with a core base of consumers.

This shift has also been accompanied (and in some ways even resultant to) a shift in immigration over the last 40 years, as waves of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants settle in the U.S. (and not just California) in increasing numbers and their children (or even grandchildren) participate in the cultural formation that is Asian America.

Today, this diverse demographic of Asian Americans and others (whites, Latinos, etc.) are the primary consumers of the new media produced in and (more importantly) imported to the U.S. This weekend, they represented the key demographic to make “Forbidden Kingdom” the number one movie in the nation. [See the report with figures here.]

What’s the lesson? Hollywood needs to stop thinking like the typical movie goer is white teenage boy and realize that youth of color and their tastes are so significantly part of the U.S. that they are even shifting how that 15-year-old teenage boy picks a movie.