Monthly Archives: April 2010

by Jesse Ventura

American

 

Earlier this month, Jesse Ventura was on CNN asking why so few in the mainstream media were reviewing his new book, American Conspiracies.  Now that I’ve read it, I’m wondering the same thing.  Ventura raises too many provocative questions, and offers too much documentation, to have his book dismissed as the work of a “conspiracy nut.”

The book has failings – sloppy editing, and so many allegations that the book becomes a fact-checker’s nightmare (which could explain the lack of reviews; it requires hard research to prove or disprove his theories) – but his overall message is clear:  You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.  The kind of assaults on our cherished institutions that Ventura outlines, covering everything from Lincoln’s assassination to the Wall Street bailout, are not pleasant, so it’s easier to go into denial than to acknowledge that some of his allegations might be true.

 

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Imbued1

 

Director Rob Nilsson made the mistake of taking audience questions after a screening tonight of his new drama, Imbued.  Nilsson had just explained his directorial intention to not spell everything out in the film, to make viewers draw their own conclusions.  What did the screening audience think of his movie?, Nilsson asked.

A woman in the back piped up and asked him why the main actors (Stacy Keach and Liz Sklar) had to be naked at the end of the film.  Why, she wanted to know, had Nilsson made his movie from the “typical” male point of view?  Since we never actually see Keach’s nudity, but the camera does linger on a fully nude Sklar, I assumed the woman was taking issue with the objectification of the young actress. Nilsson, clearly taken aback by her question, said something about trying to show the “beauty” of both characters.

Imbued is all about characters — just the two of them.  Keach plays Donatello, an aging bookie who through chance winds up spending the night with Lydia (Sklar), a high-end call girl.  (Here’s a separate issue the lady in the audience could have objected to:  yet another greying actor — Keach is 69 — romantically paired with a much younger actress.)  Donatello and Lydia verbally joust, push emotional buttons, and eventually bare more than just their bodies.

The proceedings aren’t as dull as that description might suggest.  The story, set against some stunning skyline shots of San Francisco at night, unfolds at a leisurely pace, but this is an actors’ movie, and Keach and Sklar are absorbing throughout.  With or without their clothes.         Grade:  B-

 

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Director:  Rob Nilsson  Cast:  Stacy Keach, Liz Sklar, Michelle Anton Allen, Nancy Bower  Release:  2010

 

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Pan

 

It almost feels like heresy to say anything negative about Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, but why do I get the feeling it will fail to go down in film history as, say, a darker, more adult, The Wizard of Oz?

Not because of the dazzling visuals, which deservedly won Oscars.  Not because of del Toro’s direction, which is stylish and well-paced.  I think it’s not quite a masterpiece because of its story, which weaves two threads that don’t quite mesh.  Story A concerns young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in post-Civil War Spain, 1944.  Ofelia’s widowed mother has remarried the ogre-like Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who is bent on ridding the Spanish hillsides of rebel guerrillas.  Captain Vidal is dismissive of Ofelia and her mother and cruel to everyone else.  And so, in time-honored fairytale fashion, we have a young heroine and her evil stepfather.

Story B concerns Ofelia’s imaginary escape from her misery, into a labyrinth where she meets fantastic characters small and big, good and bad.  She is told that she will become princess of this magical realm and be reunited with her true father, but first she must accomplish several tasks.

This dream world, which del Toro details superbly, does not connect all that well with Story A.  It does so at the end of the movie, but prior to that Ofelia’s excursions into the labyrinth seem more like a fanciful diversion from Story A than a smooth connection to it.            Grade:  B+

 

Director:  Guillermo del Toro  Cast:  Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil  Release:  2006

 

Pan2   Pan3

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Old

 

James Whale, British filmmaker and subject of the excellent 1998 film, Gods and Monsters, is best remembered as a director of classic horror movies, including Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.  But Whale had a sly wit that is nowhere on better display than in 1932’s The Old Dark House, which is an absolute hoot.

Whale reteams with fellow British expatriates Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger, both of Frankenstein fame, in this madcap “dark and stormy night” flick in which five unfortunate travelers must take refuge at the gloomy home of the Femm family.  Movies this old are often filled with unintentional humor, but Whale’s story is black comedy par excellence, and he’s assembled a cast that winks at the audience while keeping a straight face.

Karloff, who by this time in his career must have been wondering if he’d ever get an actual speaking part, is all glowering menace as Morgan the mute butler — until he utters a bizarre, guttural growl, at which point I challenge you not to laugh.  Thesiger and Eva Moore, as the bickering Femm siblings, are English eccentricity personified.

When Whale isn’t busy subverting our horror-movie expectations, he’s thumbing his nose at the soon-to-be Hollywood Hays Code, particularly in a weirdly erotic scene between dowdy Moore and comely Gloria Stuart.  Moore looks on as Stuart strips down to her satin underwear, and then hisses:  “You’re wicked, too.  Young and handsome, silly and wicked.  You think of nothing but your long, straight legs, and your white body, and how to please your man.  You revel in the joys of fleshly love, don’t you?”  Those lines are illustrative of the film as a whole:  bizarre, creepy, and hilarious.        Grade:  A-

 

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Director:  James Whale  Cast:  Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, John (Elspeth) Dudgeon, Brember Wills  Release:  1932

 

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Plan9

 

Some day, maybe aliens really will land on Earth, turn the dead into zombies, and vindicate much-maligned director Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.  But in the meantime, lazy critics continue to cite Plan 9 as “the worst film of all time.”  But I happen to know this simply isn’t true.

Back in the early 1970s, two buddies and I somehow convinced my poor mother to drive her car (none of us boys were old enough to drive) into the local cemetery in the dead of night, and then shine the headlights onto tombstones so that we three idiots could film an 8mm vampire movie.  Somebody called the cops, and my mother was forced to explain the ridiculous situation to an officer.  Tragically, that film footage has been lost, but I’m quite certain that had it survived, it would have rivaled Plan 9 for sheer awfulness.

What went wrong for director Wood during the filming of this 1956 (1959? — even my reference books show no respect, disagreeing on the production year) “masterpiece” is legend.  Star Bela Lugosi died early on and was replaced by a man who covered his face with a cape.  The special effects budget was, shall we say, substandard.  But hey, this movie has TV goddess Vampira and pro wrestling legend Tor Johnson.  Watch it for free (you wouldn’t pay for it) by clicking on the link below.

 

Vampira        Lugosi

 

Tor   Wood     Watch the Movie for Free  (click here)

 

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SouthPark 

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got in trouble for daring to thumb their noses at Muslims by lampooning the prophet Muhammad — and Comedy Central decided to pull the plug.  Let me rephrase that:  Cowardly Central decided to pull the plug.

This is America.  If South Park or any other show chooses to picture Adolf Hitler on a ride at the new Harry Potter theme park, so be it.  And so, I am doing my small part by running this disrespectful picture of the prophet Muhammad:

 

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*****

 

Sinead1  Sinead2

 

I vaguely recall all of the huffing and puffing back in 1992 when Irish singer Sinead O’Connor got everyone’s panties in a bunch by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live.  O’Connor said she was protesting sex abuse within the Catholic Church.  Back then, a lot of us thought O’Connor was some bald nutcase.  Saturday Night Live apologized for O’Connor the following week, but now it looks like a lot of us should be apologizing to her.

Last night I was watching the news and O’Connor once again surprised me.  She thanked the American media for getting on the Vatican’s case about child abuse.  Let me repeat that:  “She thanked the American media.”  Wow.  I don’t believe I’ve seen that happen before.

 

*****

 

Moss

 

The NFL just wrapped up its annual draft.  Is there anything on God’s green earth more absurd than the hoopla over this non-event?

Oh, and that’s Randy Moss pictured above.  Moss was not a draft pick this year, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to run this picture.  You’re welcome.

 

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by Henning Mankell

White

 

Henning Mankell, the popular Swedish mystery novelist, writes two kinds of books:  novels with a strong social conscience, and novels worth reading.  Sad to say, The White Lioness falls into the former category.  Mankell has created a wonderful protagonist in Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander, a depressive, middle-aged cop from tiny Ystad, Sweden.  It’s a joy to follow this miserable man as he solves crimes in and around his seaside village.  We care not only about whatever crime Wallander’s trying to solve, but also about his relationships with a senile father, a maturing daughter, and his sometimes unreliable police colleagues.

But this winning setup isn’t always enough for Mankell, who in some of his books turns Wallander into a globetrotting James Bond (The Dogs of Riga), and in others like this one, puts the reader to sleep with preachy moralizing, in Lioness about South Africa circa 1993.   Mankell is so intent on teaching us all lessons that the actual mystery suffers.  And once the story loses allure, every little plot twist becomes less and less believable.  My advice to the first-time Mankell reader:  Stick to pure Wallander in books like Faceless Killers or Sidetracked.

 

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Eclipse

 

This little number from Ireland is the kind of movie you plop into the DVD player late at night, sit back and enjoy, and eventually forget.  I don’t mean that as an insult, although I suppose it’s not much of a compliment.  The problem with playwright-turned-director Conor McPherson’s ghost story is that it lacks tonal harmony.

The Eclipse begins as a melancholy chiller, with recently widowed Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) moping and coping with his two kids in their eerie little house in County Cork.  One night, Michael thinks he sees a ghost downstairs. 

He volunteers as a driver for a local literary festival, where he meets arrogant writer Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) and, much more to his liking, London novelist Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle).  There begins a middle-aged romance between Michael and Lena, complicated by the jealous and frequently drunk Holden.

Actors Hinds and Hjejle make for a refreshingly mature couple, something Hollywood can’t — or won’t — offer anymore.   They both hold back and reveal just the right amount of their characters’ inner selves.  We find ourselves pulling for them.

But this is also supposed to be a ghost story.  And this is where writer-director McPherson stumbles.  He works hard to create a quiet, charming romance between two very nice people, and every 20 minutes or so the SOUNDTRACK EXPLODES as some horrifying apparition manifests itself to poor Michael.  It’s exactly the same effect you get in any Nightmare on Elm Street film.  It’s jarring and it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie.       Grade:  B

 

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Director:  Conor McPherson  Cast:  Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Dorothy Cotter, Eanna Hardwicke  Release:  2009

 

Eclipse3      Watch Trailers (click here)

 

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Kick

 

Kick-Ass is stirring up controversy, mostly because of the foul language and violence swirling about its star, young Chloe Moretz, now 13.  Moretz plays a superhero of sorts, a gun-totin’, daddy-lovin’ prepubescent lass dubbed “Hit-Girl” who clobbers grown men, is clobbered in return, spews profanity like a hardened convict and, of course, saves the day.  She uses the c-word.  Both of them.

A lot of people apparently don’t like this.  They see it as sinful.  They might be right, but the biggest sin that Kick-Ass commits, to my way of thinking, is the imposition of boredom on its audience.

Does the idea of a little girl raising all that hell make you want to see the film?  If so, knock yourself out, because that would be the only reason to waste your time and money.  The plot is standard comic-book crap:  Nerdy teen boy (imagine a movie with a character like that!) dreams of being a hero, mostly to impress the girl who ignores him.  He gets his wish in the way only dumb movies like this can contrive, and is soon involved in ridiculous exploits with cardboard villains.

The introduction of “Hit-Girl” and her ex-cop daddy (Nicolas Cage) is mildly amusing.  When she swears and fights, it looks like an 11-year-old girl following a director’s instructions.  That didn’t bother me so much.  Everything else about the film certainly did.       Grade:  D

 

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Director:  Matthew Vaughn  Cast:  Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Sophie Wu  Release:  2010

 

Kick3     Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)

 

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Video2

 

Not long ago I read the novel The Monster of Florence, in which the Italian “justice” system was, well … put it this way:  I no longer wish to visit Italy as an American tourist.  Now comes director Erik Gandini’s documentary Videocracy, and it’s frightened me away from Italian television.

OK, so I don’t watch Italian TV, anyway.  But Gandini’s film elevates the corrupting influence of television to a whole new level.  According to this film, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has managed to sway an entire electorate with a televisual combination of sex, youth, and beauty.  Berlusconi, a charismatic media mogul and three-time prime minister, has used his television and magazine monopoly to convince the Italian populace that, with just a bit of good fortune, every last one of them can live the good life.  As Gandini narrates over the film’s final images:  “Anyone can become popular.  You just need to be seen.”

Gandini shows the folly of this daydream by juxtaposing the pathetic stabs at stardom by Ricky, a talentless young mechanic, with the life of luxury and decadence enjoyed by Berlusconi and his shady acquaintances, including baby-faced talent agent Lele Mora and paparazzi king Fabrizio Corona, whose hobbies include extortion and nude preening for the camera.  (Some of you ladies might consider this scene worth the price of admission; Corona is, ahem, blessed — and not the least bit camera shy.)

None of this is a revelation, of course.  The cult of celebrity has been examined and re-examined in this country and elsewhere for decades.  But unless Gandini’s film is a gross exaggeration of conditions in his native country, we might all do well to turn off the tube and pick up a good book instead.  Like, say, The Monster of Florence     Grade:  B+

 

Video3    Videocracy

 

Director:  Erik Gandini  Featuring:  Silvio Berlusconi, Fabrizio Corona, Lele Mora  Release:  2010

 

Video4      Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

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