Friday, December 12, 2014


He's mentioned in the "TCM Remembers" film below, which beautifully calls up memories of the artists and craftsmen lost to fans and the film industry in 2014. But I was shocked to find out that somehow I had missed news of the death of veteran stunt driver and coordinator Gary McLarty, who died along with another stunt veteran, Bob Orrison, in a horrific car accident near Sacramento this past October. The two worked together on movies like The Wild Bunch, Beverly Hills Cop, The Return of a Man Called Horse and Days of Thunder, and McLarty, a protégé of Hal Needham, was the stunt coordinator on The Blues Brothers (1980) and, tragically, John Landis's segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), among many other films.

McLarty also coordinated the stunts for National Lampoon’s Animal House, which is where I met him briefly during the fall of 1977. He was behind the wheel when I doubled for Stephen Furst in the backseat of that black Lincoln belonging to Flounder’s older brother Fred, decking parked cars and burning ass out of the parking lot of the Dexter Lake Club. (Back then, I needed a winter coat underneath my jacket to successfully double Flounder.) I remember being terrified at the prospect of banging into all those vehicles, but I also remember being out on a country road in Dexter, McLarty at the wheel, me and the other doubles along for the ride, doing slides around corners, hooting and hollering and laughing, exhilarated to be inside a speeding car at the hands of a master, never worried that we were anything but safe. (We might not have been, but hey, the illusions of youth have to be good for something.) And I remember McLarty laughing too, taking his job seriously, professionally, but also giving off the vibe of enjoyment he took in it, and in having a bunch of green kids taking this short road trip with him.

There would be terrible sadness in store for McLarty just a few short years later over his involvement in one of the most horrific tragedies in Hollywood history-- he was on the helicopter (though not the pilot) that crashed and killed Vic Morrow and two children on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The stunt coordinator testified during the trial that he had told director John Landis he felt that the stunt was too dangerous. In the wake of that disaster, he continued Hollywood stunt work until retiring in 2004.
Like the death of Paul Walker last year, there is a measure of terrible irony in the fact that McLarty and Orrison should have met their deaths in such a random way, victims of a Jeep Cherokee which unexpectedly broadsided their vehicle going full speed on a country road. McLarty and Orrison built careers on courting disaster and depicting spectacular action with the kind of precision necessary to survive such work, aided by the sort of calculations which could never account for the unforeseen imposing itself outside the boundaries of a closed set. They launched vehicles and sped down countless country roads on film, only to exit this life on one just like it under a set of circumstances they couldn't have possibly controlled or predicted.

And now the highway really is endless. McLarty knew on-set tragedy up close-- I'm sure he was haunted by the memory of what happened in 1982 and probably thought about it every day over the subsequent 32 years-- and no doubt Orrison knew about that sort of tragedy too. It's sad to hear of them going, but I'm glad to know it happened to them the way it can happen to any of us, without warning, and not doing what they loved doing most, not doing what most of us will remember them for. I'd like to think they were feeling the freedom of the road in the moments before they died. Maybe echoes of that freedom will somehow travel alongside wherever the drive takes them next.  


Saturday, November 15, 2014


Ten years ago today I posted for the very first time on this blog, an act which would, without getting too unreasonably bombastic about it, change my life in a lot of ways. I began blogging as an act of personal fulfillment, an outlet that signified trying to put something of myself out into the world, while at the same time having no reasonable expectation that anyone would care enough to read what I wrote or respond to it.

Strangely, at just around this same time, several people with whom I would become well-acquainted, were embarking upon adventures in what would soon be known (before it would also soon somewhat derisively become known) as the blogosphere, folks like Matt Zoller Seitz (The House Next Door), Farran Smith Nehme (Self-Styled Siren), Sheila O’Malley (The Sheila Chronicles), Larry Aydlette (That Little Round-headed Boy), Brian Darr (Hell On Frisco Bay) and, perhaps most importantly for me, Jim Emerson (Scanners). These were writers who became friends, whose comments sections were wonderful places where ideas, affinities, dissatisfactions and thoughts of the future of Internet film criticism, were exchanged. And I, along with SLIFR, soon became part of that community, thanks to the generous encouragement of Jim, Peet Gelderblom, Girish Shambu and a host of others whose names, after 10 years, don’t bubble to the surface as quickly as they should.

Not too long ago Larry, a man I’ve never met whom I also consider a good friend—such is the blogosphere—said that he thought that those years between 2004 and, say, 2008, of writing for ourselves and delighting in the connections made not through conscious networking but by what seemed more like natural selection, or perhaps just 100% pure happenstance, were the film blogging equivalent of the Roaring ‘20s. And that feels to me about as accurate a description as I’ve ever heard. Because in the days before Facebook eclipsed the moderated interactivity of the blog comments column, finding voices worth following, reading what they had to say, and then joining in the sometimes heated but usually civil discussion that would usually follow, well, there was an electricity about all that. Pressing “send” on a post you’d written was an act of faith, an attempt to truly connect, not necessarily with those who would always come to the same conclusion that you might, but with individuals who could be counted on for their passion, their seriousness (which, by the way, does not preclude a sense of humor), their dedication to movies and other arts, and how knowledge of each could cheerfully feed the other.

There was also a sort of giddiness to the notion of sending one’s words out into the ether unedited, or more accurately not being mandatorily subject to the objective eyes of an editor other than oneself, that was, at least among the writers cited above, accompanied by a sense of responsibility to provide posts, thoughts, essays, reviews—for lack of a better word, content-- that was worthy of a reader’s time. Because it certainly wasn’t a requirement that anyone actually pay to read what I and others were offering on our blogs during those heady days. There was a lot of talk, and not entirely just among ourselves, about being involved in an important moment in the evolution of film criticism. Manohla Dargis even alluded to it in an article which I linked to in one of my earliest SLIFR posts, one which ruminated upon 21st-century cinephilia. Film blogging was indeed something of, if not a revolutionary act, then certainly one that took advantage of the democratization of technology to get words and ideas to an ideal, sympathetic audience.
Of course that’s a double-edged sword if there ever was one. Finding voices like those belonging to the above-cited writers, or emerging bloggers like Ali Arikan, Kevin Olson, Greg Ferrara, Bill Ryan, Stacie Ponder and countless others was often a pleasant byproduct of sites like Matt’s, which soon became a gathering place for some of the best, brightest and most contentious young film writers; or comments columns like Farran’s or Jim’s, where writers and film buffs I had never been exposed to would routinely link to their own blogs and continue the discussion. But, technological democratization being what it is, one also had to sift through a lot of crap floating on the surface, a cacophony of alleged film “writing” which merely regurgitated lists and numbers and bite-sized bits of banality dedicated to an never-too-expansive list of fanboy-friendly titles.

And somehow nobody had the foresight to anticipate how all this writing-- the good, the bad and the genuinely shitty—suddenly made available to anyone at any time, would dilute the value of the pool within which professional writers, hereby defined as those who are paid by newspapers and magazine, which also paid editors, once swam. Some of us were too giddy at the thought of being on the cusp of the evolution of a new sort of film writing establishment to consider that we might end up helping erode away the presence of those paid jobs to the point where making a living as a film critic in 2014 is something that few can still do, and even fewer would now ever harbor illusions of attempting.
I still think about these things. But I also think about how my life appreciably changed, and for the better, because the associations and achievements that were made available and possible to me through my establishment of this blog. Again, I’m certainly not talking about money. Over the course of my 10 years as proprietor of this site, having established a tiny little corner of the Web from which to operate and develop something that sounds like my own voice as a writer, I can think of one instance where I was paid to write a piece. I made $500 for it, and it was a proud moment. But even in that particular afterglow I knew this would likely be the exception and not the rule. I could probably have pursued more freelance opportunities, but my energies always seemed to be pulling me elsewhere, and frankly, even in 2004 but certainly now, beating down doors for freelance work always seemed like work for a much younger person than me.

No, when I think about the true value of this blog in my life, I think about the people I know now, and perhaps even more interactively through the extended family of Facebook, who I first met because of the happenstance of my writing. (Take a deep breath.) People like...
Simon Abrams, Kent Adamson, Jeff Allard, Allison Anders, Aaron Aradillas, Peter Avellino, Sean Axmaker, Larry Aydlette, Howard S. Berger, Robert Beveridge, , Tom Block, Paul Brunick, Steve Carlson, , David Chute, Paul Clark, Doug Cummings, John Damer, Joe Dante, Brian Darr, Brian Doan, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein, Jim Emerson, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Peet Gelderblom, Ed Gonzalez, Jim Gibson, David Hudson, Robert Humanick, Odie Henderson, Richard T. Jameson, Larry Karaszewski, Craig Kennedy,  Matthew Kiernan, Charlie Largent, Craig D. Lindsey, Violet Lucca, Don Mancini, Nicholas McCarthy, Maria McKee, Kim Morgan, Farran Smith Nehme, Peter Nellhaus, Andrew O’Hehir, Sheila O’Malley, Craig Phillips, Anne Richardson, Carrie Rickey, Patrick Robbins, Bill Ryan, Matt Zoller Seitz, Ariel Schudson, Michael Schlesinger, Chris Schneider, A.O. Scott, Girish Shambu, Dave Sikula, Craig Simpson, Richard Harland Smith, Paul Talbot, Charles Taylor, Anne Thompson, Michael Torgan, Keith Uhlich, Mike Werb, Bob Westal, Matthew Wilder, Chris Willman, Ray Young, Stephanie Zacharek, Adam Zanzie and probably a hundred or so others.
And this is to not include all the wonderful and creative people those above and the hundred or so others ended up introducing me to. I haven’t meant this as some sort of epic name-dropping situation—I am truly grateful to everyone mentioned above (and the hundred or so others who weren’t) for every moment of friendship and challenge and joy and creative inspiration you’ve afforded me over the past 10 years, all of which I would have missed without you.

I don’t know what the future holds for Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. If you’ve read this site for any length of time over the past 10 years, you will have noticed that I am no longer as prolific as I was for the first five or so years. I am not an old man yet, but I am considerably older than when I started, a time in my life which was defined, even more than it was by my little writing endeavor, by learning to be a father, going back to school, and juggling all that with a schedule of day-job paying work which often bleeds into the nighttime, midnight hours in which during the past I would have been writing. In those days I often would stay up until 4:00, sometimes 5:00 a.m., to get a piece written and edited for the blog. Then off to bed for a couple hours of sleep before dragging my ass out of bed to get kids ready for school and to go to the office, propping my head up at my desk and trying not to let my dedication to movies interfere with my dedication to breadwinning. Sometime around 2007, when I added in my pursuit of a master’s degree in education to the mix, the camel’s back began to buckle, and since then my output has been far less frequent (but hopefully no less intelligent) than it was during the “Roaring ‘20s.”  

I’ve come to look upon what I post on SLIFR these days as far less filler-driven than it has been in the past. If it makes it to my blog, one thing is practically guaranteed—I feel strongly enough about it to take what dwindling time I have to myself to address an audience that has most certainly dwindled as well. I’m just not allowing myself to feel guilty when I go for extended periods without posting. I look at the blog these days as a magazine that can’t afford to publish more than two or three pieces a month, with varying degrees of consistency. But it’s a magazine that’s still there, and those who are disposed to seek it out, my ideal audience of sympathetic film buffs, will know where to find it. Just like the early days, my expectations are considerably lower in terms of an audience. But I have every confidence that, however few or many I reach in 2014, those I’m able to reach will be exactly the audience I’ve always hoped to engage.

So I suspect that, as tired as I often feel these days, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule will continue for the foreseeable future. As I approached this anniversary I couldn’t tell even myself whether or not that would hold true. But truth be told, as much as Facebook has usurped the immediate interactivity that used to be the domain of the blog, I remain addicted to having a place like SLIFR solely dedicated to expression of my thoughts on movies and whatever else in life that might be related to them. Facebook, in some ways, has helped make SLIFR a less cluttered place for the good—it often serves as a platform to try out ideas and notions that may or may not be good enough to fashion into full-fledged posts. (I posted something today, as a matter of fact, that began as a throwaway Facebook status update.) It has also helped me train myself to be a little less logorrheic and allow myself the pleasure of a cleanly worded 600-word review, without the nagging impulse to go on and on and on—the post you’re now reading, if you still are, and God bless you if you are, being an obvious exception.
In addition to this elongated state of the blog address, as a way of marking the 10th anniversary I began looking at some of my very first posts, from November-December 2014 and January 2005, and decided that linking to them here might be amusing—probably the highest quality to which this blogmeister has ever really aspired. It’s a strange and difficult thing to do without some level of embarrassment—some of the things I’ve learned since I started SLIFR are clearly not on display in these posts. But I offer them to you here in lieu of champagne as a way to toast the 10 years I’ve spent here in your company and once again express my gratitude at your fortitude in sticking with me and my rambling messages of cinematic hope, encouragement and occasional disappointment. Fair warning: I may not be able, in the coming weeks, to restrain myself from linking to more of these bloggy bonbons. But for now, take these as you will, along with my thanks, for coming along with me this far.

PLEASURES WORTHY OF GUILT (11/15/04) My very first post, which was reposted on Peet Gelderblom’s 24 Lies A Second site, and then amended years later with a necessary (I think) postscript and reposted at The House Next Door. 

MOVIE OF THE MOMENT: THE INCREDIBLES Not quite a review; more a recommendation. It’s more worthwhile to me now as a memento of the first movie I ever took my second daughter, Nonie, to see. 

UNSUNG PERFORMANCES: SHAWNEE SMITH IN SAW  The first time I ever really took a swing at a piece of acting.  

THANKSGIVING 2004 Worth remembering what I was grateful for at the time, much of which I remain grateful for today. 
I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD The first real review I ever published on SLIFR, as well as what ended up being a sort of manifesto for me during the first five or six years of writing this blog.

ON BARBET SCHRODER'S MORE  I guess I wasn’t too impressed…

THOUGHTS ON CHRISTMAS EVE 2004 My very own 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...
Review of the remake of FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX  I was still finding my feet here, but it’s not as excruciating to read as I thought it might be.
FRUSTRATED FILMGOERS 101 Looks an awful lot like the earliest seeds of the SLIFR Quiz to me… 

A New Year's Eve Consideration of THE THING WITH TWO HEADS

CHEER AND LOAFING IN EL SOBRANTE  My first reeeeaaaaaaally long, first-person essay which incorporated reviews of movies. The accounts of nights at the drive-in I would write later can be traced back to this one. And again, my thanks to anyone who made it through this piece!

IN PRAISE OF ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY and other thoughts on what makes me laugh.



Seeing Big Hero 6 made for a perfectly enjoyable Saturday morning matinee with the girls— it is visually stunning and precociously imagined, and I was hooked by the first glimpses of San Fransokyo, the hybrid city where the movie takes place, which one-ups even Spike Jonze’s amalgam of Los Angeles and Shanghai in Her. The movie is also notably unafraid of at least approaching a somewhat serious consideration of loss and grief, unusual for a movie pitched at the younger kids' market-- that is until the superhero/supervillain plot mechanics begin to dominate the film’s second half.

The real surprise of the show, however, is not the extended “cameo” by a well-known and well-feted creative force of the comics world (remember, BH6 is a Disney/Marvel cohabitation, so stay for those end credits!), but instead the program’s first course—a short from the Walt Disney Animation Group, directed by veteran animator Patrick Osborne (who worked on Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and Bolt) called Feast. This is a brilliantly compacted story of infatuation, romance, jealousy, heartbreak and love, all told from the unlikely point of view of the ravenous appetite of a Boston terrier puppy, whose relationship with the human who saved him from the streets is reflected in the meals that end up in his favorite doggie dish.
The undeniably adorable pooch, named Winston, starts off gorging on kibble, then kibble enhanced with bacon and eggs, followed by a heavenly menu of bachelor-sized treats, including pizza straight out of the box—pure heaven for the instant-gratification tummy grumblings of a dog and his footloose master. But when that master strikes up a relationship with a female human, the volume and content of those meals begins to change. Then something goes wrong in that relationship, and dinnertime for Winston becomes an even more joyless affair...

Feast is a marvel of visual storytelling, not least because of the ingenious way in which the filmmakers keep the human story important yet forever in the background, almost always literally. We understand the status of that human relationship, but the true focus is always on the way Winston interprets human feeling and reacts to the signals he’s being given by his master through the meals he’s served, which for him are the most eloquent expressions of love he’s capable of understanding. By the time this little dollop of a movie works its way through to its conclusion, any possible objections to sameness in the usual Disney affirmation of family values have been eroded by the sheer joy of the movie’s effortless invention and discipline, and then washed away in a flood of tears. Feast, at 1/17 the length of the main feature, Big Hero 6, is an unexpected appetizer that ends up overshadowing the rest of the meal, a six-minute movie miracle worthy of Winston’s most lavish epicurean indulgences.  

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


In time, all will be answered...

A couple of days later than advertised, it's time to reveal the key to the answers for this year's Halloween Horror Screen Grab Quiz. The winner this year: longtime reader and he's-knows-'em-when-he-seems-'em horror fan Dave Stewart, who knew numbers 1, 6, 9, 11, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 & 30-- five more than the next nearest entry logged by reader Jeffrey-- for a grand total of 16 on-the-money IDs in a collection of images that were not so very easy to tease out of the inner sanctum of movie memory. I wish I had more than the glory to offer Dave, but good humored gent that he is, I suspect that the glory and the bragging rights will be more than sufficient to carry him into next year's competition.

So here's what trouble was bubblin' in this year's cauldron:


KILL, BABY... KILL  (1966; Mario Bava)
MARTYRS (2008; Pascal Laugier)

THE FLY (1958; Kurt Neumann)

INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959; Edward L. Cahn)

SHIVERS (1975; David Cronenberg)

DUMPLINGS (2004; Fruit Chan)

100 BLOODY ACRES (2012; Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes)

THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942; John Brahm)

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971; Robert Fuest)



THE MUMMY (1959; Terence Fisher)

ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959; Bernard L. Kowalski)


BODY SNATCHERS (1993; Abel Ferrara)

SEVERANCE (2006; Christopher Smith)

THE HOST (2006; Joon-ho Bong)


CURE (1997; Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966; Alan Rafkin)

AUDITION (1999; Takashi Miike)

DEMON SEED (1977; Donald Cammell)

EATEN ALIVE (1977; Tobe Hooper)

THE SENTINEL (1977; Michael Winner)

THE UNINVITED (1944; Lewis Allen)

BEDLAM (1946; Mark Robson)

THE SLIME PEOPLE (1963; Robert Hutton)

THE  FEARLESS  VAMPIRE  KILLERS (Or, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck) (1967; Roman Polanski)

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944; Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise)

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961; Roger Corman)

HOMECOMING (2005; Joe Dante)