The Cinephiles’s Corner looks at skullduggery on trains, hearts and flowers on the Seine, glam in the U.K, and heartbreak in L.A.

It’s time for another look at (relatively) recent Blu-Rays and DVDs aimed at the hardcore movie lover  — though more casual viewers looking for something beyond Hollywood’s latest mass-market offerings are certainly allowed to kibitz at the Corner as well. Today’s selections are from Hollywood, off-Hollywood, England, and France and were made mostly in the 1930s or the 1970s, though we will be looking at one from 1998 — only yesterday!

And so we begin…(after the flip, that is.)

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American Idol: Nashville auditions

Last night’s Nashville auditions on “American Idol” were as far on both ends of the spectrum as could be, but that’s what the producers of the show I’m sure would prefer. Here is how it went down…..

HOLLYWOOD BOUND
The duo of Chelsee Oaks and Rob Bolin was unique—they are formerly an item romantically but still are musically, and still live together despite the fact that Chelsee has a new boyfriend. Yikes. The whole thing was made even sadder by the fact that they were both really good, especially Rob. And both made it to Hollywood, with Steven and Jennifer proclaiming that they would get back together while in Hollywood…..Stormy Henley, a Miss Teen USA winner from Crossville, Tennessee, was pretty good but not great. J-Lo said no but Steven and Randy were enamored, just as Simon Cowell would have been without even hearing her sing….22 year old Adrienne Beasley, an African American from Kentucky with white parents who are farmers, had a great voice and Steven accurately pointed out that there is “something special in there”…..Jackie Wilson, 28, had the jitters but did a nice version of “Till You Come Back to Me,” and had the judges flipping out. I mean, she was good, but not that good….a few rapid-fire Hollywood bound folks were 25 year old Paul McDonald, 25 year old Jimmie Allen and Danny Pate, who did a cool version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”…..Matt Dillard, a 27 year old dude in overalls from south of Nashville, came from a family that takes care of foster children. Amazingly, this dude with overalls and a cowboy hat sang Josh Groban. It was weird, but really good….and they closed with 15 year old Lauren Alaina, from Roscoe, Georgia. This was also the sob story of the night, as she has been inspired by her cousin Holly, who is recovering from brain surgery but was on hand to cheer her on. Lauren was insanely talented, and Steven even said “I think we may have found ‘the one.’” I’m certainly not going to argue. She was that good…and only 15!

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How many Schickels is an Altman worth?

Probably for the same reason that you don’t often see movie stars diss other movie stars for their acting, or directors critique helmers they think are less imaginative, film critics and writers tend to avoid making negative public comments about each other’s work. There are exceptions, however. Armond White of the New York Press has made a habit of, apparently reflexively, viciously attacking most of the films praised by other critics while praising whatever all the other critics hate, and then adding an extra step and implicitly, or not so implicitly, attacking all the other critics and viewers who may agree with them for being so intellectually lazy as to not see things in  the same eccentric way as he. So, he’s taken some well-deserved crap, although some writers still harbor some affection for his earlier reviews and sometimes even still find him occasionally insightful. Not me. I could never stand the guy’s insanely self-important writing or verbal pronouncements.

Richard Schickel, however, is a more complicated case. Also a strong documentary filmmaker who mainly covers filmmakers of the classic era and his favorite contemporary director, Clint Eastwood, as well as a highly readable writer, I’ve nevertheless have always felt somewhat suspicious of him going back to his eighties reviews in Time Magazine. Those feelings crystallized to some extent when I heard him and critic Emanuel Levy take to task a rabbi on Los Angeles public radio while discussing Robert Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” They all but called him a bad Jew for not finding the film offensive and daring to admit he was moved by it, or at least that’s how I remember it.

Still, I’ve enjoyed not only several of his cinephile-friendly documentaries, but also some really good audio commentaries recently featuring Schickel discussing another one of his — and my — favorites, Howard Hawks. I’ve been in a forgiving mood.

610_wb_schickel

Then, however, some editor at the L.A. Times had a very bad idea last week. I guess there’s no law that says, say, that if someone hates Picasso or Oscar Wilde or whomever, they should not review a new biography of them.  Ideally, I suppose, by itself that should not be a deal-breaker — as long as the writer in question can step away from their dislike of the subject enough to actually review the book rather than simply yell to the heavens that the revered creator being chronicled is wildly overrated while slipping in some snide remarks at the author’s expense for daring to think her subject is worth composing an entire book about.

Schickel, however, is clearly not big enough to do that, as he proved in writing this anti-Robert Altman screed disguised as a book review for the Los Angeles Times.  You can read Anne Thompson‘s take and then Patrick Goldstein‘s critique and defense of Altman, which also includes a letter from Altman’s one-time protegee, Alan Rudolph, a pretty strong and prolific filmmaker in his own right.

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RIP Henry Gibson

I was going to cover some of the usual folderol I cover here today, but, sadly, we have another passing to note with the death at 73 of Henry Gibson from cancer.

Gibson — whose stage name derives from an early character he did with roommate Jon Voight — was a personal favorite of mine. Not a large man, he was the kind of actor who might have one or two scenes in a movie, but was pretty much guaranteed to bring something detailed and memorable to his usually hilarious scenes; a relatively recent case in point was his great turn as the befuddled shocked clergyman towards the end of “Wedding Crashers.” He’s also familar to fans of “Boston Legal” as one of the show’s recurring judges.

With his eccentric but unassuming air, he gained his greatest fame as a cast member on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a faster paced, but more shtick-laden late sixties/early seventies forerunner of SNL. His signature bit involved him reciting absurd, vaguely counter-cultural, poetry in his ultra deadpan style while holding a giant flower and bowing with exaggerated politeness at the end. (He was famously spoofed on the show by John Wayne, who brought his own unique socio-political sensibilities to his verse.)

Numerous movie and TV roles followed, including probably the closest Henry Gibson ever got to a leading film role, cast brilliantly against type as a controlling and hypocritical country music patriarch in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, “Nashville.” Later, he’d play out-and-out villains, but usually in more comical contexts. Fans of eighties comedies have a special affection for his commanding role as the patriarch of a very strange family who loom in Tom Hanks‘s fevered imagination in Joe Dante’s comedy horror homage, “The ‘Burbs.” He was also the head neo-Nazi in “The Blues Brothers.”

All in all, the loss of Gibson at the relatively young age of 73 is a sad one and hit me personally a bit harder than expected. I’ve loved Gibson’s work since childhood and, whether he was playing a Napoleonic villain or a gentle preacher totally out of his depth, there was an abiding soulful quality to his work that made him all the more funny. Truly original performers like him are few and far between.

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My friend, Zayne, has a very nice remembrance of Mr. Gibson at More a Legend than a Blog, and Edward Copeland shares my appreciation of his work as country music legend Haven Hamilton.

There’s less of him than I’d like on YouTube, but I did find a few fine moments of Gibson, which you can check out after the flip.

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American Idol: yee haw, y’all

It’s Grand Ole Opry Week on “American Idol,” meaning the contestants last night had to sing country music songs by anyone who belongs to the Opry, including recently inducted member and former Idol champ Carrie Underwood. Opry veteral and country music legend Randy Travis spent the week in Hollywood training and mentoring each contestant. Country week can be challenging for most of the finalists at best, and painful for viewers at worst. But honestly, there wasn’t anything last night that was so hideous you knew for sure what tonight’s results would be. At least, that’s how I saw it. Here is a recap of the very good, the good, and the mediocre:

THE VERY GOOD

Allison Iraheta sang Patty Loveless’ “Blame It On The Heart” and while I had my doubts about this young (16!) hopeful, Allison proved last night that she is not only going to hang around a bit, but that she could be a contender to win it all. Her voice is just sick. Kara said Allison can sing anything in her own style, Paula said it was rock solid, Simon said it was good but tuneless in spots, and Randy strongly disagreed with Simon, saying it was “dope.” I agree, it was dope.

Danny Gokey came out dressed in this weird white jacket that made him look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters.” Really, whose idea was that? Danny started off slowly with Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” but in the chorus he soared to heights that few in this competition can match. And to be honest, I hate this song. Kara said the second half of the song was amazing, Paula said it was brilliant, Simon agreed with Paula but said he hated the marshmallow suit and that it looked like Danny was going on a polar expedition, and Randy agreed with Kara that he only liked the second half of the song.

Anoop Desai was close to being eliminated last week, so he knew he had to step up his game. And he did just that, with a solid performance of Willie Nelson’s “You Are Always on My Mind.” Paula declared, “Anoop is back!” and that he touched her heart (please…), Simon said Anoop went from “zero to hero” and that it was an excellent song choice, Randy said he showed great skills and that he loved the arrangement, and Kara said Anoop took a classic song and made it sound amazing. Indeed.

Matt Giraud closed the night with Carrie Underwood’s “So Small,” but did a really cool piano version of it. This kid is a dark horse…..remember, his day job is as a dueling piano player, and his only blemish so far was that awful Coldplay song a few weeks ago. Kara said there is nothing small about Matt and that he is a true talent, Paula said it was authentic and honest, Simon said Matt doesn’t get enough credit for his vocal skills the way Adam and Danny do, and Randy said it was his favorite performance of the night.

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