Sunday, July 30, 2017


          He used to write for Conan O'Brien. He wrote the screenplay for the film Pootie Tang (2001). His stand-up comedy alters lives. He is Louis C.K., the writer/director/producer/editor/star of one of the funniest and most insightful shows ever, "Louie".
          It's not on anymore. It began in 2010 and ended last year. But, just like with William Shakespeare's plays, it's not the freshness that counts, it's the quality. And to be fair, Louis C.K. is much funnier than Shakespeare.
          He plays a fictionalized version of himself. Like Jerry Seinfeld, except much funnier. A divorced comedian living in New York with his two daughters, Louie struggles with the challenges of fatherhood, dating, and advancing his career.
          Always entertaining and frequently sublime, the show doesn't seem like a sitcom. It seems like life. "Horace and Pete", the first show he started writing after "Louie", does seem like a sitcom. Like the difference between a terrarium and a forest. Compared to "Louie", sitcoms seem stagey and controlled.
          He's versatile enough for roles in heavy-hitting movies, such as American Hustle and Trumbo. And as a director he gets terrific performances from his actors. Charles Grodin, Ellen Burstyn, David Lynch--the list of talent is formidable. Also he features great comics--Joan Rivers, Chris Rock, Robin Williams--playing fictionalized versions of themselves.
          Last year, after the show's "extended hiatus", Louis said, "I don't think I have stories for that guy anymore." Bummer? Yes. But the show is so well-written, it's incredible he was able to maintain the level of quality for several seasons.
          Some of the best material involves storylines running several episodes. A few episodes deal with his chance to take over for a retiring David Letterman. Others chiefly concern relationships with women. Whether it's a woman he met at a PTA meeting, or the niece of an elderly woman trapped in an elevator, Louis C.K. writes stellar dialogue. His characters are likable, believable, and memorable.
          Start watching the show and you might have a hard time stopping.          
          Currently available on Netflix.

Stewart Kirby writes for

Thursday, July 27, 2017


The nebbish persona belies the man.

Woody Allen, 81, has been making films his way for over fifty years. In "Woody Allen: A Documentary" we learn that the iconic auteur never takes any time off. Not counting Monday nights when he plays clarinet.

Martin Scorsese says of Allen, "Not everybody has the staying power, not everybody has the tenacity, and not everybody has so much to say."

Born Allan Stewart Konigsberg Dec. 1, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, he adopted the pen name Woody Allen in his teens when he was earning more money than his parents by writing one-liners for other writers and performers.

He also got married in his teens, and a couple years later divorced. In early stand-up he said that his wife was immature. For example, she'd walk right into the bathroom when he was taking a bath and sink his boats.

Featuring commentary by Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Dick Cavett, Leonard Maltin, and others, including his younger sister, the documentary offers insights into the 4-time Oscar-winning director of such disparate films as Sleeper and Hannah and Her Sisters.

According to Tony Roberts, "Oh, he's definitely a little nutty."

In the late-50s he went from writing comedy (with Mel Brooks for Sid Caesar) to doing stand-up at the insistence of a prescient manager.

From this he was given the opportunity to write a film, What's New, Pussycat? But the studio butchered his writing so badly, Allen determined to never again compromise creative control.
Woody Allen is not motivated by the product that sells. He's motivated what interests him. As a filmmaker he doesn't get the most money, but he gets the most respect.

There is no one else like him...except for Charlie Chaplin. They both started out making slapstick, and wound up moving toward drama. Each defines the classic auteur as writer, director, and star. And the persona of each has seeped into the culture.

The 2-part documentary, easily found online, grants unprecedented access to the filmmaker's process. He doesn't use a computer. He writes with a De Luxe typewriter. As soon as he finishes one project, he starts another. In this way he has directed 54 movies.

On his first five films: "One could say they were essentially trivial and be right." He adds, "I put a higher value on the tragic muse than the comic muse."

If you've never seen a Woody Allen film, start with Take the Money and Run or Bananas, then move on to Annie Hall or Manhattan.

Monday, July 17, 2017


          Top-notch entertainment.
          In the original 1968 film written by Rod Serling (based on the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle), the emphasis of the experience is on the shock of the astronauts finding a planet controlled by talking apes on horseback. In this third (and presumably final) installment of the reboot franchise, again the emphasis is on the humanity of the apes in conflict with the savagery of humankind.
          From Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and now War For the Planet of the Apes, we see the progression of Caesar (Serkis) as the leader of a new kind of ape with higher intelligence as an unintended consequence in the search for the cure to Alzheimer's disease.
          At this point in the story, hordes of advanced chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas occupy forests north of San Francisco. A Special Forces colonel (Harrelson), apparently enamored of the film Apocalypse Now, pulls a Colonel Kurtz in the fight against the apes and goes renegade. In this process, the colonel earns the personal hatred of Caesar. Torn between leading the apes to safety and satisfying his revenge, Caesar sets out on a quest to get the colonel with the help of a few of his most loyal followers.
          It's not the first time we've seen new episodic films referring to old material. Rogue One leads right up to Star Wars, and the new Alien movie wraps around to the first one. Similarly, War marches to the doorstep of the 1968 film.
          Knowing as we do that the apes will inherit the planet, it is a testament to the filmmakers' skills that our interest is grabbed and kept by the relationships of the apes. Because we're primed to respond to the faces of other primates, we feel their humanity without their even being human.
          To make things extra interesting, the deadly virus which spread through the human population has mutated, causing the survivors to lose the power of speech and higher-thinking skills. Consequently, the stage is set for Charlton Heston to show up someday and be real surprised. Although not on the West Coast. That's not where they keep the Statue of Liberty.
          Equally surprising, we almost never see any apes eat. Which is odd because foraging is how apes spent most of their lives. Not eating does seem to cut down on the body functions. High marks for ape cleanliness, especially considering the rampant lack of pants.

Starring Andy Serkis,
Woody Harrelson,
Steve Zahn,
Karin Konoval,
Amiah Miller,
Terry Notary,
Ty Olsson,
Sarah Canning
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Based on characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Runtime 140 minutes
Rated PG-13


Monday, July 10, 2017


          Yet another equally watchable and unnecessary Spider-Man franchise launch, this time featuring a couple of bad ideas antithetical to the comics.
          Blunder Number 1 is having Iron Man be Peter Parker's father-figure, supplying him with a high-tech suit and drones.  Come on, filmmakers! Batman isn't Superman's ward, the Hulk doesn't stretch like Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man isn't Spider-Man's dad, and Spider-Man's costume isn't high-tech. End of story.
          The second mistake, just as egregious, is making Peter's dear old Aunt May (Tomei) comparatively young and hot. What the filmmakers completely forgot is crucial: Peter wears a costume in the first place and keeps his identity secret in order to protect his sweet, frail aunt with the perpetually ailing ticker!
          Never any mention of good old Uncle Ben. Not even so much as a grain of rice in his honor.
          No doubt duly aware of their product's superfluity, the filmmakers try to freshen the flick by casting with an eye as multi-culturally diverse as possible.
          Like the previous superfluous Spidey, Andrew Garfield (a dude whose huge hair, by the way, could never fit right in the Spider-Man hood no matter how high the tech), this new Spidey, Tom Holland, is given the heroic task of having to be actorly in order to elevate the material. Again, bad idea.
          Which brings us to the very good idea of casting Michael Keaton as the Vulture. (No one ever calls him the Vulture, but we recognize the old villain in various ways.) True, Patrick Stewart might have made a good Vulture, and the best may well have been Robert Englund, of Freddy Kruger fame. Instead they went with Mr. Mom!
          It's cool as anything to see Batman as a bad guy, and Keaton is predictably terrific.
          As is the requisitely excellent look of the film. Looking just as if it all really was real. And with Spider-Man using drones now, too, almost as though in order to condition people's minds that using drones is heroic and fine.
          But why? Why another franchise launch when we already have the Sam Raimi-directed franchise starring Tobey Maguire?
          It's already been done. Why not try something new? Too much of the same characters monopolizing film becomes tiresome. Sure, this new one is a fun movie, and no rare thing there, but not an improvement. Why don't we see movie after movie about Nikola Tesla? He had jetpacks, laser guns, powerful Pogo-Stick prototypes, a couple of time machines, regular access to intergalactic prostitutes and everything. So who green lights these things, anyway?
          Tes-la, Tes-la!
          Let's see an independent documentary spotlighting that whole green lighting process. Or geez, at least give us a decent Werewolf By Night franchise.
          Spider-Man versus Werewolf By Night! Boy oh boy!

Starring Tom Holland,
Michael Keaton,
Robert Downey, Jr.,
Marisa Tomei,
Jon Favreau,
Laura Harrier,
Jacob Batalon
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley,
Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Runtime 133 minutes
Rated PG-13

Stewart Kirby writes for

Monday, July 3, 2017


          Elvis left the building forty years ago next month, but he also left a body of material from which we may perpetually draw.
          Of all the many movies he made, arguably the best is the one where he's himself.
          In 1970 MGM released the Presley documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is. Directed by Denis Sanders--who incidentally received an Academy Award in 1954 for Best Short Subject--the film features Las Vegas concert footage as well as backstage footage rehearsing, mingling at functions, and more.
          In 2001, Turner Classic Movies released a special edition 12 minutes shorter than the original, yet containing more music. For Elvis fans the backstage material is invaluable. However, it's nowhere near as entertaining as the concerts.
          What we get is a 35 year-old King of Rock n' Roll knockin' 'em dead with showmanship, presence, and voice like no one ever experienced before and we've never gotten since. Except, that is, for three years later, when he performed his 1973 "Aloha From Hawaii" TV special, which was the first ever program beamed around the world by satellite.
          It does detract from the experience for the film to start with the Culver City rehearsal footage. Giddy delight though it be to see Elvis alternately clowning around with the band and getting in the zone, some viewers might give up waiting to see what the big deal is about.
          Not surprisingly, we find that the band doesn't really have a voice. They're all pretty quiet, as though they're simply there to please their boss. Which they are.
          At this point in his career, Elvis was transitioning from movies to performing live again--he spent most of the '60s doing low-budget pictures that brought in big money--specifically performing live in Las Vegas. Watch the film and get a sense of why the King broke attendance records.
          When, for example, he performs in his jumpsuit "Suspicious Minds," he reaches with his right hand down, way down to where there is secret energy of which Elvis knows, and the lights dim as the music fades...but then the lights come back up, and the music blares as he propels the energy in his hand up now and out, outward! And all without splitting his britches. It's incredible.

Starring Elvis Presley,
James Burton,
Glen Hardin,
Charley Hodge,
Jerry Scheff,
Ronnie Tutt,
Estell Brown,
Sylvia Shemmell,
Ann Williams
Directed by Denis Sanders
Runtime 97 minutes
Rated PG

Dig the King?
Check out a new story I have going called GRAYSLAND and see what Elvis, whose death was staged, has been doing for the last forty years on the moon.