Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer: Batman Returns

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Sometimes in movies, an actor or actress gives such a charismatic and fully realized performance that it rises to the level of high art itself. Case in point: Michelle Pfeiffer's legendary performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992). Burton's second Batman film is delightfully weirder than his first—it's chock-full of a deliciously twisted black humor and everything feels more loose and assured. Make no mistake though: twenty-five years on, it's Pfeiffer's embrace of that weirdness in her quintessentially fierce and sexy turn in the catsuit that remains the movie's most lasting legacy.

What's most rewarding about Pfeiffer's work here is how much nuance she brings to Selina's arc, from meek and mousy secretary to ferocious and extroverted antihero. Early on, while establishing Seli…

An Appreciation: Richard Hell

Writer. Street poet. Heartbreaker. Blank generation. Voidoid. Fashion icon. Bassist. Neon boy. Punk.

Richard Hell (né Richard Lester Meyers) was everywhere and everything all at once in the nascent punk rock scene in 1970s New York City. During the decade he was in several seminal bands: the Neon Boys, Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids. Hell played bass and sang (if one can call it that) with a warble and a sneer, all furious punk fury just barely masking a sensitive songwriter's ethos.

Hell is responsible for the famous ripped clothes, spiked hair, and overall fuck-you style of early punk rock. When you see a wannabe punker sporting the look these days, four decades on, realize it's Hell to whom they owe a debt. Back then, he managed to seem more alive than almost anybody else while looking like he'd just been mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Malcolm McClaren was inspired by and lifted the essence of Hell's couture for a new band he was managing over …


Our mothers had recently become friends, through the PTA I think, so her parents invited us over one Friday night. Jackie was a grade behind me in school; we knew each other but rarely talked. She seemed shy. I was shy. While our parents talked and laughed in the kitchen over drinks, we were in the living room, watching something inane on television. We sat on the couch in silence for several minutes. I started to wish I'd just stayed home.

At one point we each snickered at something on the tube. Then she muttered a few sarcastic asides and the entire tenor of the room changed. I can't remember now what she said, but I'll never forget how it made me feel: Alive. I replied with an equally dry comment of my own and we were off to the races. In that instant, I knew she and I were the same. We saw things from a slightly skewed perspective. We felt like outsiders at school. We each had some friends, sure, but not many close ones. I think we both felt misunderstood, maybe even …

Michelle Pfeiffer: Scarface

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

***** "Michelle Pfeiffer was a star from the moment she descended in that glass elevator in Scarface—although the automatic prejudice that assumes beautiful people can't act means it took a while for people to see she was also an actress." — Charles Taylor, in Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You *****
Like everyone and everything in Brian De Palma's wildly overstuffed, profane, and bloody morality tale of Tony Montana's (a gloriously over the top Al Pacino) dogged pursuit of the American dream, Pfeiffer's Elvira Hancock is not entirely what she seems at first glance. Certainly, she posses an otherworldly beauty, but she's also fiercely intelligent. Pfeiffer's masterful performance in Scarface (1983) upends our perceptions of the traditional, frigid ice queen trope—while Elvira is hardly impressed wit…

Eyes of Laura Mars

As its title indicates, Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) is especially concerned with eyes, and specifically how we can each "see" something different when looking at the same thing. Laura Mars, as played by the captivating Faye Dunaway in an impressive performance, is a celebrated yet controversial fashion photographer. Her stunning pictures—inspired by the photography of Helmut Newton for the film—play with the intersections of desire and fear, sex and violence, blurring the lines between lustful consent and threatening assault. We see how audiences perceive Laura's work—on the one hand she's feted by Manhattan's elite art crowd for her daring and provocative style, while on the other a journalist looking for an interview shouts, "I just want to ask her if she knows how offensive her work is to women."

When the serial murders begin, Laura actually "sees" the murders as they occur—her eyes become those of the killer's, and she witnesses her fri…

Michelle Pfeiffer: The Age of Innocence

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

It's long been my contention that Michelle Pfeiffer is the best actress of my lifetime. She's consistently impressed in a wide variety of performances spanning several decades now. She's a true chameleon, disappearing inside of her characters, film after film. Clearly, she works extremely hard at her craft, but she makes it all seem effortless and above all, honest. We believe she is the character she's playing. There's no performative artifice to her acting; instead she's fluid and natural, fully inhabiting the women she's bringing to life.

Pfeiffer's performance as Countess Ellen Olenska in Martin Scorsese's sublime The Age of Innocence (1993) is, without question, one of a handful of Pfeiffer roles that I point to whenever someone asks for "best performance ever" lists. The exquisite beauty and crushi…

Barely Making a Dent: July 2017 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.
That image above is from the occult bookstore scene in Joe Dante's 1981 werewolf masterpiece The Howling. I can hear you snickering at my belief in the existence of a "werewolf masterpiece." In response, I'd like to urge you to see more movies and to change your damn attitude. The Howling resides in my personal top ten horror films list, sometimes even inching into the top five. It's a horror movie for fans who know their horror. Scary, smart, sly, funny, terrifying. It's got it all.

Speaking of movies with bookstores in them, let's talk about some books, shall we?

Currently reading

Opening Wednesday at a Drive-In or Theater Near You, by Charles Taylor. The Howling isn't covered in this book, falling just outside its parameters of films from the 1970s. I'm guessing though that it's the sort of intelligent …

Desperate for Divinyls: "Ring Me Up"

From the opening shouts of "Hooh! Haah!" over that killer guitar riff, "Ring Me Up" announces itself as an intriguing song. Then around the ten second mark Chrissy enters, declaring "You are my desire" and it's all over; intrigue quickly morphs into addiction.

I suppose I should apologize in advance, but here's an unavoidable truth: I'll most likely spend at least a small portion of every post in this series extolling the virtues of Chrissy Amphlett and that voice. Mostly that's because writing about instrumentation isn't one of my strengths, while describing what makes a singer/songwriter memorably special is much more in my wheelhouse.

Chrissy's distinctive vocals and unique talents are as potent as ever in "Ring Me Up." She sings softly, yodels tremulously, and barks fiercely, often one after the other. She lets out a brief, high yelp after "Oh oh oh I ya oh oh oh I ya" that's full of more charisma than …

An Appreciation: Debbie Harry

I like to think this was photo was taken at a diner near the Chelsea Hotel, back in the day, maybe right before William Burroughs meandered in, ordered a black coffee and winked in Debbie's direction. Maybe he was meeting Patti Smith, who sat by the window, engrossed in Rimbaud. Maybe David Johansen had just kissed Debbie goodbye and strolled out the door. Maybe I was sitting at a table nearby, watching it all unfold. Maybe I even snapped this picture. Too young, you say? Eh. Don't do the math; it won't add up, but in some alternate reality it might've happened. My film-and-music-nerd buddies Jason Blanco and Dean Garman were there and scarfing down pancakes while Debbie sipped tea and I slurped coffee and we both raved about the Ramones. Anything's possible.

Two bands hooked me on the power of rock as a kid: the Pretenders and Blondie. Then came U2, then came Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc. But it really started with the videos for songs like "Brass in …

It Came From the '90s: The Nineties on CNN

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

A heads up for readers of this series: starting this Sunday July 9, CNN will air The Nineties. Here's how they describe the event on their website: From executive producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, and Mark Herzog, in association with HBO, CNN's Original Series "The Nineties" explores the decade that gave us the Internet, DVDs, and other cultural and political milestones. Yes, it's true. CNN is now copying me. I can see the Mango Mussolini's enraged tweets already: "Fake News network #CNN has NO originality. Copying a blogger! Sad." Sad, indeed.
I kid of course, because I can. You can be sure I'll be watching. If it's anything like CNN's previous miniseries on other decades, The Seventies and The Eighties, it'll likely be a breezy yet insightful look back at the cultural and societal shifts that shaped our lives back in…

Introverted: Sometimes

Scenes from the life of a high-functioning introvert.

Sometimes something as simple as asking a server at a restaurant to list the seasonal beer specials stirs up an introvert's anxiety to such a degree that we fumble for our words when it's time to ask her. As she recites the list of anywhere from ten to twenty beers, our eyes glaze over and our minds get fuzzy and we barely here anything she says. "I'll have the last one you said," we might reply, because it's easier than asking her to repeat it all again.

Sometimes making eye contact with people is difficult. But this particular symptom of introversion disappears when we're comfortable with someone. Thankfully my life is filled with a multitude of wonderful people with whom I'm completely at ease. But, when I was younger? Those people existed, but I wasn't comfortable enough with myself to take advantage of their existence. The struggle was real, trust me.

Sometimes we can't assemble our th…

Talismanic Object Essay: Phoenix

HiLoBrow recently ran a contest for their Talismanic Objects Series. They put out the following call for essays:
Describe your object’s significance — what you think about when you contemplate it, what emotions it provokes, why you cling to it — and explain exactly how this ordinary object came to possess such extraordinary significance. Write no more than 400 words! Please note that your narrative must be nonfiction; we’ll trust you not to inject any fictional elements into the mix. Snap a non-blurry, well-lit photo of your talismanic object. I submitted an essay. It didn't win, but along with several others it received a very brief mention in HiLoBrow's announcement of the winning essay. So, here it is, as submitted, unedited, for posterity.

Every day, I carry a small yet symbolic reminder of how much "The Dark Phoenix Saga" has meant to me.
If may seem hyperbolic, but the seminal X-Men story changed my life, and on more than one occasion. Reading it as a boy…