Friday, June 26, 2009


Yesterday was a terrible day. Micheal Jackson's death was a shock, but for me, the passing of Farrah Fawcett was more personal and tragic.

I remember the first time I met Farrah -- it was at a Delta Sig keg party in 1967, and she was dating a very lucky fraternity brother. She was tremendously beautiful, very bright and she told me that she was committed to becoming the best actress she could be. Farrah left the University of Texas shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.

Speaking of history, I was on a blind date that evening and this particular coed wasn't too bad either. In fact, some 40 years later I am still married to her.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


A well-made, entertaining, low-budget, independently produced comedy is about as rare as a Republican politician being faithful to his wife. Yet, Needtovent has discovered several over the past few years -- the Rohalian world of folksy fun and fastidious fantasy comprising THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE, the gangly Gerber goober mockumentary THE BABY FOOD DUDE, and 3 DAYS BLIND, the rollicking, frolicking ribald romp from Those Keith Brothers. Joining this tantalizing trifecta is the mojo mjolnir madness brought to the screen by another pair of brothers, Jerry and Mike Thompson, whose THOR AT THE BUSTOP features more eccentric, eclectic, endearing characters than an entire season of "The Gong Show."

THOR AT THE BUS STOP is an impressive, idiosyncratic feature film which follows Thor on the day he will save the world. Unfortunately, this act of heroics will inevitably cost him his life. What makes matters worse, no one seems to care. Such is the maddening milieu found on "the far side" of the tracks separating Las Vegas' fabulous strip from the white-trash environs located on the edge of town. Come to think of it, THOR AT THE BUS STOP could become both Chuck Barris' and Gary Larson's favorite movie.

Utilizing an unconventional approach to traditional narrative similar to that found in Richard Linklater's SLACKER (1991), THOR consists of a chain of linked, disparate characters who are all in search of something. Another example of this unique sub-genre would be THE PHANTOM OF THE LIBERTY (1974), directed by the master of surrealism, Luis Buneul. Clearly this scatterbrained structure, although quite rare, is not without precedent. Just goes to show that's there's really very little that's new under the sun -- but in this case the scorching Sin City sun shines brightly on a wonderful ensemble of unknown local talent who grace the screen with winning performances throughout.

Among the seedy and needy are White Trash Chuck, a role that is perfect for Vegas native Kyle Bush. Alas, 'lil Kyle is too busy winning and whining on the NASCAR circuit, so Mike Thompson wisely cast himself in this stunning portrayal of someone desperately in search of his "inner cool." Brother Jerry's low-key portrayal of the title role of Thor hits just the right balance of pathos and platonic patriarchy. Another stand-out performance is given by Carlos Emjay as One Way Walter, the super-cool carjacker who befriends his victim even though he intends to kill him. Actually, the list of superb actors can go on and on -- there were a total of 42 speaking parts and virtually everyone delivered the goods, whether it be pizza, a bus, a yellow flower or a little bit of wisdom.

"I'm gonna tell you the secret of life. You ready? There are only two ways you can act. Just two. You can be cool or not. That's it. Those are your only choices."

(May Luong, David Schmoeller, Mike Thompson, Jerry Thompson)

While a ton of credit must be given to Jerry and Mike Thompson (who not only directed and appear in key roles, they also wrote the original screenplay and edited the film as well), there's no denying that the skilled producing team of David Schmoeller and May Luong surely helped guide the way. Schmoeller's name should be familiar -- he's the incredibly talented director of such classic, cult films as PUPPETMASTER (the original), TOURIST TRAP, CRAWLSPACE and the unforgettable short, PLEASE KILL MR. KINSKI. He is now an Associate Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; the Thompsons and Ms. Luong are previous students of his. I recall the old Chinese proverb, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Looks like Schmoeller is among that rare breed who can do both -- and do them exceedingly well.

While all of the technical aspects of THOR AT THE BUS STOP are solid given the incredibly low budget, one must single out the Original Score by Jackson Wilcox, the Original Music Produced by Ronald Corso and the featured songs by Hungry Cloud and A Crowd of Small Adventures. A fantastic job by all -- and considerably above that found in many films costing literally a hundred times more. Oh yes, there's even an uncredited appearance by Raymond Joseph Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, just to top things off.

THOR AT THE BUS STOP has recently had successful screenings at CineVegas, the Singapore International Film Festival and the 2009 World Comedy Festival in Bangkok. There will surely be more festival awards and screenings to come. In the meantime, negotiations are on-going with both domestic and foreign film distributors. It is often said that "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." In the case of THOR AT THE BUS STOP we hope that's not the case -- this highly entertaining and enjoyable feature film deserves a wide-spread release.

More information, photos and a trailer can be found at:

Monday, June 15, 2009


Originally written for Bryce Zabel's Movie Smackdown! Website --

The Smackdown. What's more dicey than a Hollywood remake? Especially for a director who takes on the task of reshooting a film considered to be the precursor for many big budget Hollywood suspense thrillers that followed, films like Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" or Jan de Bont's "Speed." Might as well go to the craps table at Monte Carlo. But auteurs (and those who think they are auteurs) often go where angels fear to tread. This time it is none other than that other Scott, Tony, who tackles Joseph Sargent's successful blend of suspense, drama, action, thrills (with even a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure) -- "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three." Both films share the same basic underlying premise from the novel by John Godey. And Godey's premise is a goody -- four gunmen hijack a New York City subway train and demand a huge ransom be paid within the hour. The money must not be late in arriving because for every minute thereafter, one of the hostages will be shot. No exceptions. What ensues is a deadly cat and mouse game of verbal sparring between the leader of the highly armored gang and the unlucky transit official who must do everything possible to delay the inevitable. It's said that Benito Mussolini kept the trains running on time. Does Tony Scott do the same for the New York Transit Authority? Or is the original the better ride? It's time to get out the subway tokens -- all aboard!

The Challenger. As Chester A. Riley might say, "What a Travoltin' development this is!" Blessed with mega-star power, Tony Scott's version features John Travolta as Ryder, an ex-commodities trader turned ex-con who masterminds a plot to steal even more money than that Bernie guy made-off with. Talk about a low life. On the other side of the tracks, the good side, is Denzel Washington, a Walter Mitty sort of fella who is a disgraced MTA official recently demoted to the position of a train dispatcher in the NASA-like central control room for the Big Apple's subway system. Just his luck that he's the guy who fields Ryder's call for the ransom money. The razor-sharp dialogue from screenwriter Brian Helgeland allow these two heavyweight actors to engage in a wickedly escalating two-person verbal dance as the clock enevitably ticks down. Travolta's language is more foul than the waters of Lake Titicaca, but it is believable, edgy, realistic, and quirky -- his randy remarks about taking a Lithuanian ass model to Iceland is classic.

Adding to the tense proceedings are John Turturro as the head hostage negotiator and John Gandolfini as the mayor. Unfortunately, neither are given all that much to do and the same definitely holds true for all others appearing on screen. Clearly this is a "star vehicle" and the entire focus of the film rests on the excellent performances of the two leads. Editor Chris Lebenzon keeps things moving at a vibrant, sometimes frenetic pace, and Tony Scott's ADD directing style includes more stunts than a Kappa Alpha keg party. Yes, there's action all right, plenty of it, as the streets of the Big Apple resemble "the big one" at Talladega during the cops' desperate race-against-the-clock attempt to deliver the dough to the hijackers. And they better not be late -- Travolta sports a spiffy Breitling chronograph that insures he knows the exact time down in the bowels of the MTA. Fast paced, with a dynamic performance by Travolta and a winning one by Washington, Scott's version delivers a captivating summertime diversion in air conditioned comfort.

The Defending Champion. The original version of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (yes, the numbers were spelled out back in 1974) had Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber, the somewhat disheveled protagonist who correleates to Denzel's character in the remake. Robert Shaw plays Mr. Blue, the leader of the rainbow warriors who hijack a subway car containing 17 innocent riders and one very unlucky motorman. He is assisted by Martin Balsam (Mr. Green), Hector Elizondo (Mr. Gray) and Earl Hindman (Mr.Brown). These names prove yet again that almost nothing is ever new in cinema. Right Quentin? Other notables are Lee Wallace as the mayor, Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone and, appropriately enough, a guy with the honest-to-God name of Jim Pelham who plays one of the Subway Guards.

The terrific screenplay by Peter Stone is rife with current references to a variety of issues facing New Yorkers in the 1970s -- both social and economic. "We don't want another Attica do we?" "There's another strike taking place?" "The city is broke." Unlike Scott's version, virtually all of the supporting cast members have something to say -- whether it be pithy, perceptive, philosophical, poignant or simply polite -- "Gesundheit!" (Believe it or not, this expression holds a significant clue to the identity of one of the hijackers. It is just another example of the countless small details found in Stone's script.) Joseph Sargent's directing style is relaxed, uncluttered, evenly paced. Shot during flu season, NYC has never looked grittier thanks to the muted colors and grainy images lensed by cinematographer Owen Roizman. In fact, there's almost a documentary feel to the film which heightens the tension once the hostage demands are announced. And no review would be complete without mentioning the excellent music score by David Shire. If I had not read the credits, I might have easily assumed that Elmer Bernstein had taken the subway from the West Side.

The Scorecard. June is what I like to call "Alice Cooper time." Yes, school's out for the summer and Hollywood never fails to bring big budget, boffo bonbons to your local Bijou in June. "The Taking of Pelham 123" is among the first of these to hit the screens, and based on a proven pedigree, this suspense thriller is a worthy accompaniment to a tub of buttered popcorn and a Dr Pepper. Comparisons between the two films are inevitable. The Tony Scott edition is definitely "bigger" -- while the exact figures are unknown, there is little doubt that the buget for his film was considerably larger than that of the original, inflation notwithstanding. The ransom amount demanded is higher, too, from $1 million to $10 million. The number of hostages rose from seventeen to nineteen. And the "star power" of John Travolta and Denzel Washington is definitely much bigger -- in fact Travolta's over-the-top portrayal of the gang leader is so bright it is like looking through the lens of the Hubble telescope.

But the original is considered a classic by many, and with good reason. A fabulous script, rock-steady direction, solid performances by everyone on the screen and superb technical aspects, including cinematography, editing, music and production design, all combine to produce a film that is long remembered after the closing credits. Add in a superior screenplay that references civil rights, the Vietnam War, gender issues, fiscal reponsibility, political corruption and a host of other topics on the minds of New Yorkers (and Americans in general) in the 1970s, and the Joseph Sargent version deserves its lofty reputation -- especially since it holds up so well thirty-five years after it was originally released.

The Decision. Both films are blessed with cracker-jack scripts containing enough surprises to keep one thoroughly entertained. And both screenwriters deliver razor-sharp dialogue, although Brian Helgeland's is more of a Bic disposable than the finely honed, serrated blade of Peter Stone's. Not only is Stone's script more nuanced and developed in its portrayal of the supporting characters, it possesses a broader range of emotions and a delightfully cynical sense of humor. "Why the Hell don't you hijack an aeroplane like everyone else?"

But it is in the area of "writer's convenience" where the two scripts differ the most. Albert Einstein once said that "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." If true, then I have to believe that Helgeland might have been sitting on the right-hand side of the Creator when he penned the scene with Denzel Washington emerging from the subway tunnel grate just as Travolta is walking by. And while neither film excels in their portrayal of the poor innocent folks being held for ransom, the 2009 version is so deficient in this area I would label these bland, vanilla-esque characters "Hostage Twinkies." Even though the story takes place in an underground subway tunnel, I'm sure that Tony Scott, Brian Helgeland and associates wanted to take the crime caper genre to new heights of daring doo. D. B. Cooper they are not. On the other hand, Joseph Sargent's film is a classic, possessing superior suspense, a shocking suicide that is unforgettable, and there's a whole lot more taking place on the screen than two mega-stars and some hard-hitting car crashes. And so the winner is the 1974 edition of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three." But don't just take my word for it -- Subway's own Jared S. Fogle agrees.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


With all due apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think I shall never see
A more beautiful Ferrari...

This 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa once again blew away the competition, setting a world record for cars sold at auction when it fetched an eye-popping $12.1 million on Sunday, May 17, at the Leggenda e Passione, an event held on the sacred grounds of the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy. The Testa Rossa, chassis No. 0714TR, was the first of only 22 that were built. In its debut in competition it finished fourth at the Buenos Aires 1,000-kilometer race in 1958. More success followed as the Scaglietti designed speedsters went on to win 10 of the 19 international races they entered from 1959 to 1961.

The Testa Rossa, which translates to "red head" in Italian, beat the price set by another Ferrari, the 1961 250 GT SWB California Spider. That car was formerly owned by actor James Coburn and fetched $10.9 million last year.

They sure don't make 'em like they used to...

And don't just take my word for it. P. J. O'Rourke recently wrote in the weekend edition of "The Wall Street Journal" that the automobile has "ceased to be an object of desire and equipment for adventure and has turned into office, rec room, communications hub, breakfast nook and recycling bin -- a motorized cup holder. Americans, the richest people on earth, are currently stuck in the confines of their crossover SUVs, squeezed into less space than tech-support call-center employees in a Mumbai cubicle farm. I don't believe the pointy-head bureaucrats give a damn about climate change or gas mileage, much less about whether I survive a head-on with one of their tax-sucking mass-transit projects. All they want is to make me hate my car. How proud and handsome would Bucephalas look, or Traveler or Rachel Alexandra, with seat and shoulder belts, air bags, 5-mph bumpers and a maze of pollution control equipment under the tail?"

Well stated, Mr. O'Roarke. Virtually every automobile manufactured today is nothing more than tifosi tofu. Long live the Ferrari Testa Rosa, the Pontiac GTO, the Bugatti Veyron, the Shelby Mustang GT500, the Jaguar XK55 and all others who have the temerity to defy cup holders and idiot lights.