Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Take the Money and Run (Your Legacy Into the Ground)

Bobby and Bubby

Walking into work this morning, a woman in a bright orange t-shirt handed me the new issue of b, the Baltimore Sun's free bright orange daily newspaper (and website: targeting young adults that at 40 pages acts as a sort of Examiner Lite (which is already pretty light to begin with). It's all part of the Sun's effort to broaden its audience at a time of declining revenue and increased competition in the newspaper industry and a vain attempt to get the cell phone generation to turn off their PCs and read newsprint. Whatever. What caught my eye was a reprint of a syndicated column (like so many things in the Sun!) from the LA Times by Patrick Goldstein called "Pacino and DeNiro: How the Mighty Have Fallen."

It's a great piece, stating what we've all known for so long, namely that these once proud A-list actors continue to muddy their legacies by making crap movies for filthy lucre instead of being more selective like the Jack Nicolsons and Clint Eastwoods of the world.

The once-great actors are embarrassing, if enriching, themselves with film choices.
By Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 21, 2008

I thought Francis Ford Coppola was being cranky last fall when he badmouthed Al Pacino and Robert De Niro -- the stars of Coppola's immortal "Godfather" films -- for taking parts for the money and losing their passion for doing great work. "I met both Pacino and De Niro when they were really on the come," Coppola told GQ magazine. "Now Pacino is very rich, maybe because he never spends any money; he just puts it in his mattress. . . . They all live off the fat of the land."

Coppola was right on the money. The two icons of '70s New Hollywood, heroes to a generation of young actors and filmmakers, have become parodies of themselves, making payday movies and turning in performances that are hollow echoes of the electrically charged work they did in such films as "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver."

Of the dozen or so movies that opened in Los Angeles on Friday, only one had a lead actor Oscar winner in the starring role -- and it was the worst in the bunch, which is really saying something, considering the competition included a scarefest called "Zombie Strippers" (with adult film star Jenna Jameson!) and a gruesome murder-mystery about a gang of psycho medical students called "Pathology."

"88 Minutes," a hapless thriller, stars Pacino as a hotshot forensic psychiatrist stalked by a mysterious killer. The critics have had a field day -- when I last looked, it was the lowest-rated movie of the year on While the critics pounced on Jon Avnet for his inept pacing -- despite its title, the film actually runs for a seemingly endless 107 minutes -- it's Pacino who got a real drubbing.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis zeroed in on what might be Pacino's most glaring failing, his vanity, describing the actor as having "a dusky orange tan that suggests a charbroiled George Hamilton and an elevated poof of hair that appears to have been engineered to put Mr. Pacino within vertical range of his female costars." Throughout the film, Pacino, who turns 68 on Friday, is surrounded by nubile young actresses who play students lusting after or enamored by him. One of the film's bizarre moments occurs when Pacino and a comely student rush back to his apartment, where, in the midst of their desperate efforts to locate the killer, she takes off her blouse and tosses it on his stairs.

It's not as if this film were a rare misstep in an otherwise unblemished career. Pacino has made a string of bad films lately, including the famously awful "Gigli," "The Recruit" and "Two for the Money," where he hams it up as an unscrupulous football oddsmaker. If anyone has made more movies for the money than Pacino, it would be De Niro, who has largely abandoned serious dramatic work for a spate of forgettable horror and crime thrillers (try sitting through "Hide and Seek" or "Godsend") and lowbrow comedy high jinks like "Meet the Fockers" and "Analyze That."

De Niro's most recent film, "What Just Happened?," an inside-the-movie-biz comedy, got such an abysmal reception at Sundance that it limped out of the festival without a sale (it's expected to close the Cannes Film Festival this year). De Niro cut his longtime ties with CAA last week, defecting to Endeavor, inspiring a venomous response purportedly from one CAA agent that was e-mailed all over town. Claiming that De Niro asks for a $1-million production fee on his pictures to help fund his Tribeca empire in New York, it minces few words, saying, "Bobby held us responsible for his own greed, his own avarice and his own megalomania. And it's just like the studios now ask us: Why should we pay this guy -- who doesn't open a movie -- the payoff to his production company, just so he can add his name as a producer?"

The e-mail makes a subtler point about De Niro's career choices, pointing out that he could've "gone the [Jack] Nicholson route -- very selective, very particular, protect the brand -- or go out sending himself up in tripe like 'Analyze This,' which made money but turned him into that 'old psycho guy.' "

Not every aging actor in Hollywood has to embarrass himself. While Pacino and De Niro grab the dough, working for hacks and nonentities, Nicholson, with rare exception, has picked his spots, doing movies with Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne and Sean Penn. Clint Eastwood, who's even older than Nicholson, has remained an iconic figure by working with the best director of all -- himself. (It's been almost 20 years since he acted in a movie he didn't direct.)

Other older actors, like Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty, have preferred to drop out of sight rather than embarrass themselves. After the debacle of "Town and Country," Beatty has devoted himself to raising his kids and giving interviews about “Bonnie and Clyde.” Michael Caine, who once chased paychecks himself, has turned himself into a respected character actor, doing such classy fare as "The Prestige," "Children of Men" and "The Quiet American."

It's not easy being an older actor in Hollywood, where the juiciest roles are written for a narrow age range that pretty much begins with Will Smith and ends with George Clooney. But if Pacino and De Niro are bedeviled by vanity, they are equally guilty of ego-stoked delusion. They still want to be treated like big-league stars, when they are, sadly, past their prime. Seeing Pacino in "88 Minutes" evoked memories of Willie Mays playing for the Mets at career's end, stumbling in the outfield he once glided across with effortless abandon.

Sadly, Pacino knew exactly what he was getting into making "88 Minutes." Despite the presence of 19 producers on the credit scroll, the real auteur of the film is Avi Lerner, the colorful Israeli producer who has made hundreds of B movies over the last 20 years, having recently stepped up in budget class -- thanks to an influx of money from German film investment funds -- from direct-to-video thrillers with Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal and horror fare like "Shark Attack" to star vehicles with Sly Stallone ("Rambo") and Bruce Willis ("16 Blocks").

Insiders familiar with the project say Lerner paid Pacino $9 million to do the picture, knowing Pacino's presence in a commercial thriller would allow Lerner to offset the cost of the film by selling it overseas. Lerner pocketed $6 million more by selling domestic distribution rights to Sony Pictures.

Pacino declined to talk to me about the film. But Lerner got on the phone Friday to defend the picture. "I like it -- it's exactly the movie I wanted it to be," he says. "The critics can say what they want. That's the great thing about America. Everyone gets to have their opinion. It hurts when people call and say the reviews were terrible. But I don't read reviews. I hardly read anything." (Lerner is famous for not reading scripts either, though he insists he read "88 Minutes.")

Lerner insists Pacino deserves every cent he paid him. "He's a great guy -- on time, professional, hard-working, always willing to do another take."

Lerner has another big bet down on Pacino, who returns this fall in "Righteous Kill," a serial killer thriller that teams Pacino with De Niro as New York City cops on the trail of an unsolved murder. With Avnet at the helm again, expectations for quality are low -- it has the get-out-your-checkbooks feel of the latest Eagles tour.

Lerner sees it differently. When I asked if the scathing reviews for "88 Minutes" could damage the film's commercial chances, he joked: "Hey, it's two different movies, two different sets of 17 producers." Turning serious, he said: "They are still two icons. If you get out of Beverly Hills, to Ventura Boulevard, every person you ask will say -- we want to see them together. Just like people did for Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in 'The Bucket List.' And they're even older!"

I don't envy Pacino or De Niro. They're in a bind, having come of age at a time when actors could still get provocative dramas made without everyone having to work for peanuts. Today they're grumpy old men, relegated to raking in loot from cartoonish comedy and generic thrillers.

It's no wonder De Niro's now in the hotel business. He and Pacino should take a tip from Woody Allen, who once joked that he made more money from selling his Manhattan apartment than from all his movies combined. Apartments come and go, but "Annie Hall" comes along only once in a lifetime.

Sad, but true.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mitchell Leisen

TCM Airs 2 Screwball Comedy Classics

Can't wait to come home tonight and watch two of my fave screwball comedies by neglected director Mitchell Leisen (pictured left) on Turner Classic Movies. Easy Living (1937) kicks off the proceedings at 8 p.m., followed by Midnight (1939) at 9:45. Easy Living stars Jean Arthur and Ray Milland with a script by Preston Sturges, while Midnight pairs Claudette Colbert with Don Ameche (in his best role up until Cocoon) with a script by Billy Wilder - plus you get the great Monty Woolley (The Man Who Came To Dinner) playing a judge. If I didn't already have it on tape, I'd also stay up late for Billy Wilder's bizarre The Major and the Minor, in which Ray Milland falls for Ginger Rogers playing an underaged, pigtailed teenager. (We're talking jailbait here folks - played for comedy!)

The Mitch Is Back
Though I love these two films, Mitchell Leisen (1898-1972) has remained an unappreciated and otherwise forgetten auteur, with harsher critics calling the former set designer turned director a "swishy hack" who fashioned "a string of campy gossamer romances for the lesser Great Ladies of Tinsel Town" and Billy Wilder famously characterizing Leisen as a glorified "window dresser." It seems only David Melville, in his Senses of Cinema essay "Notes on an Exploding Star," gave the man his due when he stated, "Leisen's oeuvre was decades ahead of its time...He's a subtle and stylish auteur who could add heart and humanity to the brittle sophistication of Billy Wilder, lend grace and elegance to the boisterous Americana of Preston Sturges." In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson echoes Melville's assessment but suggests that Leisen's romantic comedies flew under the radar of praise reserved for Wilder and Sturges because they were "too reliant on feeling to be screwball, too pleased with glamour to be satires – and thus less likely to attract critical attention.”

Check out these two films tonight and see what you think.

Easy Living (1937)
directed by Mitchell Leisen, 88 minutes, b&w

When millionaire Edward Arnold throws his wife's new fur coat out the window, it lands on office girl Jean Arthur, who gets a whole new life she never could have imagined. Believed to be the tycoon's mistress, Arthur gets free luxuries from storeowners and falls in love with Arnold's son, Ray Milland. Preston Sturges scripted this hilarious screwball romp.

Midnight (1939)
directed by Mitchell Leisen, 95 minutes, b&w

In order to keep a gigolo from his wife, Parisian aristocrat John Barrymore hires showgirl Claudette Colbert to impersonate a baroness and distract the would-be Romeo, in this fast-paced romantic farce scripted by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. With Don Ameche, Mary Astor, Monty Woolley.

Mitchell Leisen Links:
Internet Movie Database
Senses of Cinema: Mitchell Leisen

Family Fodder

Savoir Fair: The Best of Family Fodder
(Dark Beloved Cloud Records, 1999)

Thanks go to my friend Deirtra for turning me on to this disc. I had never heard of this obscure UK band, which was a London-based musical collective centered around Alig Pearce (aka Alig Fodder) and his French girlfriend, singer Dominique Levillain, with members of post-punk ensemble This Heat involved as well. Apparently they existed in one form or another from the late '70s up through 1983, made one masterful album, Monkey Banana Kitchen, and were obsessed with Debbie Harry - releasing a single called "Debbie Harry" and covering Blondie's "Sunday Girl." They also covered Franz Schubert ("Die Leiermann") and Erik Satie ("The Big Dig"). Art school eccentrics. Go figure.

The collaborations with the multi-lingual chanteuse Levillain beg comparisons to Stereolab, but there's a lot more going on in their sound, as Pearce incorporates Dub, bass and drums, tape manipulation, and even unexpected humor - "Playing Golf With My Flesh Crawling" in particular is a hoot! - into the mix. One critic characterized the band's signature sound as "vocals emulating a driving piano/keyboard melody" with "thumping, 'four-on-the-floor' kick drum." Whatever, it's worth a listen.

Here are two video samples from YouTube.

FAMILY FODDER - "Debbie Harry"

A fan mash-up of the song set against a collage of iconic '80s chick rockers.


Related Links:

You can read more about Family Fodder at a wonderful website called The Greatest Band of All Time and read a detailed discography at the "lucidly hoptimistic fanzine" Letslivhappy! (while we await our death).

And you can read more about the Savoire Faire comp. at

Alig Fodder on MySpace
Family Fodder on MySpace.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Mr. McGuire: "I just want to say one word to you -just one word."
Ben: "Yes sir."
Mr. McGuire: "Are you listening?"
Ben: "Yes I am."
Mr. McGuire: "Plastics."
- Neil Simon, The Graduate

I love these guys - and gal! Japanese techno-pop from the '80s.

The Plastics:
Chica Sato--vocal
Toshio Nakanishi--vocal, guitar & percussion
Hajime Tachibana--guitar & vocal
Masahide Sakuma--keyboards, guitar & bass programming
Takemi Shima--rhythm box

Plastics website




Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mr. Suave's Mod, Mod World

A Powerpop Modcast

Thanks to sonic epicure Kenny Vieth for turning me on to "Mr. Suave's Mod, Mod World," a podcast celebrating mod music, and mod-influenced music from past eras including soul, ska, garage, sixties R&B, punk, britpop, acid jazz and especially my love that darest not speak its name, Powerpop.

Kenny burned me a CD of two Modcasts and they were great, from the opening salvos of The Mooney Suzuki shouting "Yeah You Can" to the twee Malaysian powerpop of Kuala Lumpur's Couple. I especially loved the "Girls, Girls, Girls" podcast that featured nothing but, duh, songs about girls (who Mr. Suave characterized as "the greatest thing in the world"). Belgium's The Kids and the UK's Creation, Hitman and Dirty Pretty Things were among the selected artists.

And I liked how Mr. Suave name-checked the excellent Yellow Pills CD compilations on Big Deal Records from the Nineties (unfortunately all out-of-print, though used copies are available from Amazon and WFMU's Beware of the Blog has links to 10 of its fave powerpop MP3s from this series). The CD comps were an offshoot of the Jordan Oakes' music fanzine Yellow Pills, which I used to read back in the '90s. I was such a fan that I interviewed Jordan Oakes over the phone as part of a powerpop music review in the Baltimore City Paper. Alas, the only Yellow Pills comp currently in print is Yellow Pills: Prefill Numero 004, a rather pricey CD ($32.99!) from the reissue label Numero Group.

The other great powerpop compilations were Rhino's Come Out and Play: American Power Pop (1975-1978) and Shake It Up: American Powerpop II (1978-1980), which were part of its D.I.Y. series and Rhino's Poptopia: Power Pop Classics series (all out-of-print, natch; like I said, powerpop is a love that dare not say its name!).

Anyway, check out the Mr. Suave's Mod, Mod World website, where song titles are linked directly to the MP3 source file of the show for easy downloading. Each modcast is between 30-40 minutes and Mr. Suave posts a new show every week. You can stream the show from the Podomatic homepage.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mark Harp's Big Thing: Insane!

Munching Away on a Sound Bite Buffet

I love Mark Harp. Along with Mark O'Connor, Randy Peck and the boys in Berserk, he is one of the few local musical geniuses I've met in my life. By pure serendipity I happen to be dating his ex-wife and by pure happenstance she just happened to come across this old CD by him while we were shopping at Normal Books & Records.

Insane? Believe the hype!

It comes from Mark's casio cowboy days as a heavy, heavy sampler of sound bites. Some of these Amy recognized, most she didn't, coming as they did after she and "Harpo" split up in the mid-'90s. I recognized a kindred spirit for, just like me with Atomic TV, Mark loved finding obscure sound bites and looping them ad infinitum. Marshall McLuhan would be proud.

Who would get rid of this CD? Their loss. As it is the world's loss since Mark Harp passed away Christmas Eve of 2004. But fear not, the whole album is available for download from Mark Harp's website ( Click to download: Insane!

Anyway, herein is a track by track review of this mostly all-found-sounds record (with additional real human voices courtesy of bassist Dave Zidik, Mike Dejong and even Mark himself intoning "Grey Peach Cobbler" in the song of that name).


"Compiled from many years of sampling and editing, an hour long trip disguised as a ferret." - Mark Harp.

The players:

Mark Harp (guitars, sampling, editing, vocals, everything)
Dave Zidik (bass and vocals)
Curtis Bay (aka Mike Dejong, keys and horns)
Rich Dickson (drums)


An ominous-sounding intro to...

02. SHOW ME HOW TO BOWL (5:30)

Mark must have scored some instructional bowling album, and it's a great find as the narrator says "I love bowling and I want you to love it to" and other bowling bon mots while Harpo sings "Show me how to bowl"! in the background, his guitar wailing away all over the place like richocheting bowling alley acoustics.

When I asked Amy if she and Mark used to go bowling a lot, she explained that Mark was more into the idea of bowling - the aesthetics of balls and pins - as opposed to bowling as a sport. And, of course, the fashion. As "Corky Neidermayer," Mark also wrote the bowling alley hit "Bowling With You."

03. WHY YA LOUSY SOB (4:28)

"Why you lousy son-of-a-bitch! I know who you are...I know you, don't worry!" Mark samples Louis "Red" Deutsch, owner of Jersey City, NJ's Tube Bar, from the infamous underground Tube Bar phone prank tapes - as well as Ross Perot talking about extra-terrestrials! Led Zeppelish guitar snarls away against beepy-boop electronic space noises as Perot intones "Lemme tell you bluntly...somewhere out there there's an wife and children...they're all good people, they're all extra-terrestrials."

"All 10 selections are in 4/4 time and use our use our standard arrangement..." says an instructional dance record narrator as we seque into the next track...

04 DON'T KILL FLIES (5:28)

Some instructional record intones, "Don't kill flies with your nose...let's do it as follows." I swear, two days after hearing this a fly flew up my nose outside Daedalus Books. D.O.A. at the Nostrum. Weird.

The greatest song about insect genocide since "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."


This one samples Sally Gillespie - redheaded former WJHU DJ and Ziggy Stardust lookalike (it's a sexy look, trust me) whom I had a crush on in the early '80s when I was a radio record-spinner there - as well as some razor-sharp James Brown guitar riff while the Godfather of Soul yelps "I can't get enuff!" and John Lydon snottily screams "Under the House!" (a track from PiL's third album, Flowers of Romance). Yes, that's also Johnny singing PiL's "This is not a love song." And I love the silky-smooth sample of Sally chuckling, "I like it...Alright!"

James and Johnny are in the House

On the outro, someone (Mike Dejong?) is heard saying, "All you people with your short hair and skinheads, listening to Mark people haven't even seen this guy you idolize...well, lemme tell you, he's a LOT to look at."

06 RICH DICKSON (6:54)

Drummer Rich Dickson is immortalized in song. At least in name. But most of the song has Mark name-checking bass player Dave Zidek. Whose name Mark pronounces "Dave's a dick." Boys-in-the-band and their dick jokes!

Profile of Rich Dickson

07 ALWAYS WITH ME (4:03)

"My dog barks some. Mentally you picture my dog, but I have not told you the type of dog which I have. Perhaps you even picture Toto, from The Wizard of Oz. But I warn you, my dog is always with me. WOOF!"

I suspected that something this creepy had to be from a David Lynch movie and one Google later I was right: it's the late, great Jack Nance as OO Spool from Wild At Heart (1990).


Ding! Ding! "San Francisco" opens with the ringing bells from the "Rice-a-roni, the San Franciscio treat" TV commercial (in case you've forgotten this catchy jingle, the full libretto is as follows: "Rice-A-Roni, Its flavor can’t be beat. One pan, no boiling, cooking ease, a flavor sure to please, Rice-A-Roni. The San Francisco Treat! Ding! Ding!"), which is fitting since the tasty rice and macaroni dish was invented there by Domenico De Domenico and is as synonymous with the city as steep hills, cable cars, earthquakes, the Golden Gate Bridge and "San Francisco Values." (Not to mention Zippy the Pinhead!) This is followed by another signature SanFran cultural phenom, The Residents singing "Left his heart in San Francisco" (probably taken from Ralph Records' 1979 sampler Subterranean Modern)...which is followed in turn by some Vietnam "Winter Soldier" sound bites..."Can you tell me why?" "Yessir." "Can't you tell me why?" "No sir." "Can you tell me why..." "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy..."


"Gojira!" Godzilla's trademark existential roar and Akira Ifukube's classic music score need no embellishments, so Harpo plays this soundtrack snippet pure and unadulterated.

10 BOOLA BOOLA (3:58)

"No - no, no no...No - no, no, no..." and other talk radio sound bites mix with cool jazz and guitar solos to make this entry a sonic stew.

11 STEREO TEST (6:39)

"Now we come to a procedure designed to adjust your record player to the acoustics oft he room in which you are listening..." seques into some '80s hip-hop...all Hell breaks looses like some early recording from The Mothers of Invention circa "Suzie Creamcheese."

And speaking of stereo demo records...Back when Mark was working for Maryland Messengers, I saw him driving around one day and remembered talking to him about scouring fleas markets and record swaps for oddball instructional records and stereo demo LPs. I was elated to know that he and I both owned the wonderful rarity, Magoo in Hi-Fi (RCA Victor, 1956).

Side 1 consisted of a dialog between Magoo and his nephew Waldo taking place while Magoo was attempting to set up his new sound system, which provided an excuse for all sorts of hi-fi hijinks as sound effects zoomed in and out of the left and right stereo channels. Mark's probably the only other soul I know who was as excited by this score as me (though I had fork over $20 for my coveted copy!). I'm pretty sure he sampled an elevator sound bite from that record later on when he worked with Snackie in Pornflakes.

12 THE ELVIS DIET (6:18)

"The battle has been joined."

Mark sings "Elvis!" against a funky backbeat peppered with sound bites like "Vampires," "Pretty crazy," "Out of sight!", "I give pleasure to all, young and old..." and even George Herbert Walker Bush the 41st circa Operation Desert Storm proclaiming "The battle has been joined."


"Chiang Ching-kuo! Chiang Ching-kuo!"

Sheer brilliance as Mark juxtaposes Jeopardy host Alex Trebek repeating the name "Chiang Ching-kuo" (son of Chinese nationalist general Chiang Kai-shek and former leader of Taiwan) against the stadium footstomping beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You." It doesn't get cheesier than Jeopardy and Queen, but the glove fits, so we must acquit.

Status Kuo: Chiang Ching-kuo will rock you!

14 HAMMERLOCK! (3:21)


"Tasty in a tasty way."

This one's pretty darn catchy. First off, gotta say I love the British spelling of "grey" (as in Grey Poupon). Amy recalls the origin of this one coming after Mark went to a buffet and encountered some unsavory looking desserts. That said, Dave Zidek is heard saying stuff like, "Hot dogs? Pizza? Can this really be good for me?" "Cobbler..." Mark answers, "Grey Peach Cobbler." Over and over and over...

Listening to Insane! made me realize that Mark is never truly gone as long as his music lives on. He made sure of that when he meticulously uploaded all his music for streaming and downloading as part of his "24 Hours with Mark Harp" project. I always knew he was gifted, but listening to Insane! reminded me again of just how funny the guy was. The world is a little less fun without him.

Related Links:
King of Peru Lies (Mark Harp's blog)
24 Hours with Mark Harp

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cheeta Turns 76!

I hope I look this good (and have that much hair) when I turn 76!

Cheeta the chimpanzee, star of the Tarzan series and other films, celebrates his 76th birthday today. He is the world's oldest chimp (the usual lifespan is about 50), outliving his co-stars Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller (who died in 1984, aged 79) and Maureen "Jane" O’Sullivan (who died in 1998, at 87).

Last of the Line?: Cheeta holds up family album

Cheeta, who was born in the wilds of Liberia on April 9, 1932, was discovered by animal trainer Tony Gentry, who brought him back to Hollywood to make his screen debut as a baby chimp in 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man. His first star billing came with 1934's Tarzan and His Mate. Cheeta went on to make 50 some pictures - including a half dozen Tarzan films - notably fighting against the Nazis in 1943's propaganda masterpiece Tarzan Triumphs before bowing out with a final appearance as Chee-Chee in 1967's Doctor Doolittle. Cheeta also made an uncredited appearance as Ramona the Chimp in 1952's Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, which starred the not-so-famous/not-so-funny comedy team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo doing their shameless impersonation of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Chimp Cheeta with chumps Mitchell and Petrillo

Under the supervision of his owner and trainer Dan Westfall (Tony Gentry's nephew), Cheeta will celebrate as per usual at the primate sanctuary Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes (CHEETA) in Palm Springs, California, by eating sugar-free cake and drinking diet soft drinks. Although formerly fond of smoking and drinking, Cheetah was diagnosed with diabetes about eight years ago and was forced to adopt a more healthy lifestyle. It's obviously paying off as Cheeta's hobbies now focus on the arts, from playing piano to creating "Ape-stract" paintings.

Cheeta says, "Move over Jackson Pollock!"

And, according to Esquire magazine, Cheeta is writing his autobiography (allegedly the work of a ghostwriter), Me Cheeta, which is slated for a Fall 2008 release. Extracts will appear in this month's Esquire, where it is reported that Cheeta was once a body double for hirsute comedian/actor Robin Williams.

Related Links:
Check out this Italian highlights reel celebrating Cheeta's 75th b-day from mastrolindo3: Happy Birthday Cheeta!

Cheeta Autobiography? (Daily Mail)

C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Band's Visit

Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
directed by Eran Kolirin
Israel, 2007, 87 minutes
In English, Hebrew and Arabic
Official website:

There were so many movies out that I wanted to see this weekend, but my girlfriend picked this one and I'm glad she did. I can't imagine any other choice being as rewarding as this quiet little film that, on the surface, is about nothing much, but below the surface is about universal themes of peace, love and understanding that cut across any cultural divide. And Israelis and Egyptians, woo boy, that's about as big a culural divide as you can ask for. On the surface, that is.

So what's it about? As the film's humble tagline/synopsis describes it, "Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian Police band arrived in Israel. They came to play at an initiation ceremony but, due to bureacracy, bad luck, or for whatever reason, they were left stranded at the airport. They tried to manage on their own, only to find themselves in a desolate, almost forgotten small Israeli town, somewhere in the heart of the desert. A lost band in a lost town. Not many people remember this....It wasn't that important."

Au contraire.

The movie was selected to be Israel's Official Submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the 80th Annual Academy Awards (2008), but it was disqualified by AMPAS because more than 50% of film's dialogue was found to be in English, as opposed to Arabic and Hebrew. That's because the Israelis don't speak Arabic and the Egyptians don't speak Hebrew, so English is the common ground for communication between the two groups (I guess you could say that America, at least in terms of our language, is central to bringing opposite sides together in the Middle East!) After an unsuccessful appeal, Israel sent Beaufort (2007) instead.

The three main characters are Sasson Gabai as Lt. Colonel Tewfiq Zacharya (American audiences might remember him from bit roles in forgettable fodder like Rambo III and Delta Force One), Ronit Elkabetz as cafe owner Dina, and Salah Bakri as a Chet Baker-loving Romeo named Haled who likes to sing "My Funny Valentine" to charm the ladies. All three are outstanding. Gabai, who reminded me of an Arabic Steve Yeager (the Baltimore filmmaker) is the main focus of the film in a restrained, understated performance.

Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gitai

"No, really - I am NOT Steve Yeager!"

Suprisingly, Dina is drawn to him, when we naturally expect her to hook up with the younger, more socially adept Haled. It's a rewarding diversion off the beaten track that carries the film as both Dina and Tewfiq eventually peel back their tough exteriors to reveal vulnerable selves below the surface. I didn't realize it, but I had seen Ronit Elkabetz before, as Ruthie the "retired" prostitute mom in Keren Yedaya's Or, My Treasure (2004); she was also in Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage (Hatuna Meuheret, 2002). This was the screen debut of the tall, good-looking Salah Bakri, but given his photogenic presence and cinematic cool in this film, he's a talent to watch out for in future films.

Rinat Matatov, Shlomi Avraham and Saleh Bakri

This one's highly recommended if you like subtle little films about real people and real life that make you feel real good afterwards.