Wednesday, April 17, 2013


So grateful for the chance to get reacquainted with this, a hidden gem among Stephen King adaptations. King himself adapts two of his NIGHT SHIFT stories ("Quitters, Inc." & "The Ledge"), and pens a new closing segment ("The General"). So distinct is each segment from the other two that director Lewis Teague is directing three different movies. And he's directing a cat in all of them.

A blogger of my acquaintance makes a credible case that rather than an anthology, it's all one story with a plucky and determined (not to mention insanely well-trained and directed) cat as its protagonist. I would add that the film even follows its feline hero through Hell (Quitters Inc. - a terrifying no-escape situation) into Purgatory (The Ledge - trial by heights) before ending in Heaven (The General - home at last).

Kudoes to Teague, King, and the four credited animal trainers in this film; I'm hard pressed to recall another animal character (a cat, no less) that makes such a strong impression. But each of the segments has its strengths: James Woods provides a grounded and believable performance in the Twilight Zone-like Quitters, Inc.; Kenneth McMillan's mania dances beautifully with Robert Hays' fear-then-determination in The Ledge; and there's genuine suspense in The General's cat-on-troll fight.

Stephen King movies came and went throughout the 80s, but something about CAT'S EYE held it a little higher than the others. It became something of a staple on cable, which is where I initially saw it - indeed, I caught it tonight on Encore's Movieplex station, which seems to be bearing the standard of pan-&-scan, weirdly random cable programming that made Cinemax such a favorite destination during my teenage years. If pressed, I'd name "The Ledge" as my favorite segment, for the intensity of the McMillan/Hays conflict, the way the cat plays his shifting loyalties, and the sound effect that caps it. Rare for anthologies like this, a browse of reviews on line finds each of the three segments with its champions. This lack of consensus speaks to something special in it, an offbeat charm that the decades haven't diminished, whether you enjoy it as a trio of Stephen King stories, an undersung gem in the offbeat but entertaining filmography of Lewis Teague, or the tale of a resourceful, well-traveled, and ultimately lovable cat.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


A good friend once commented that THE DA VINCI CODE existed for the sole purpose of making stupid people feel smart. "Well, it's got Da Vinci, and he's smart, and it's about a code, and I figured it all out, so I'm smart! Wa-hey!" I can not speak to the accuracy of this assessment of THE DA VINCI CODE, and yet I feel, having seen Danny Boyle's TRANCE, that I have experienced the exact movie my friend was describing.

The movie is as empty as the frame held above by Vincent Cassel. For all its games of dress-up in the complexities of the human psyche and entry-level art history, TRANCE has nothing to offer us. No credible, dimensional characters (the leads are revealed to be as shallow and duplicitous as the multi-ethnic but otherwise interchangeable thugs that make up the cast); no reason to give a damn about the fate of the missing painting that serves as the movie's MacGuffin; no real plot on offer that isn't driven by the schemes of these shallowly drawn and uninvolving characters. The truly lovely cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and brisk filmmaking do their damnedest to make something look like it's going on, but it very carefully explains every stray image, sealing everything so neatly that even the most dense viewer is sure to not be left behind. If after seeing this you have a desire to go again to catch the details you've missed, then you've been conned, and are a suitable target for the anti-human disdain this smug motion picture oozes from every scene.

Friday, April 5, 2013

200, for Roger

Representation is, in fact, important.

And so it was that young, prepubescent, bespectacled, asthmatic, schlubby me was somewhat adrift in a childhood free of identifiable role models. No one on television looked like me, or did anything within my sphere to emulate.


Davey Marlin-Jones (who was just as bespectacled and a hell of a lot weirder than I) was on television reviewing films for Eyewitness News. Which started to unlock something in my head...

...until viewings of Sneak Previews not just unlocked that door, but blew it wide open. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert weren't just relatable, they were smart. The way some kids looked at athletes with tangible dreams of growing up to be one, so did I see these guys as my own heroes. I was always a movie-loving kid, but these guys honed my nascent cinephilia. Siskel & Ebert had me looking at movies outside my comfort zone at an early age, enabling a number of cinematic epiphanies possible. Sure, my family took me to STAR WARS like any other child of my generation, but THE SHOOTING PARTY was the movie that truly sent me and showed me what movies could address. Sneak Previews didn't point me at that film, but it made my experience of it possible.

With Siskel and other partners, into soloville as Thee Recognizable Face and Voice of The Movies, Ebert continued to serve admirably as both reviewer AND critic (remember, they aren't the same thing). You could trust his opinions, whether you agreed with them or not. The disagreements were a challenge to articulate your own position. And the agreements would open new doors to beloved, familiar works. And he was refreshingly capable of human error (as when he picked up a certain rumor about a local movie palace a year and a half ago, but why dredge up those details?).

I had something much larger in mind for my 200th post here (which, indeed, this is), but that piece has been floundering under the weight of what I wanted it to become. It's necessary for me, for everyone touched by Roger's example, to articulate what that example meant to them. I can't imagine what my life would be like without that early formative influence. I'm sad to say goodbye to him, but the fire he stoked in me burns still. And in everything before these 200 posts, through them, and everything after.

Thanks, Roger. G'night.