Monthly Archives: June 2010

 by Agatha Christie



You gotta love Dame Agatha, bless her devious heart.  No one was better at planting red herrings and dreaming up convoluted plots.  And her little Belgian, Hercule Poirot, is one of literature’s classic characters.  But Christie used one irritating device — over and over again — that never fails to bother me:  mistaken identity.

A crucial character will be in disguise, or age will have altered his or her physical appearance, and other characters will be deceived by the ruse.  This would be understandable if the poser was merely an acquaintance, but often this person will be well known to the duped characters — and still go unrecognized.  I refuse to buy into that.  Mesopotamia, alas, features just such a deception.  But what the hell, Christie books are really just comic books for big kids, and in every other respect this novel is another treat from the queen of mystery.


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In 1984, director John Carpenter was still reeling from the box-office failure of his last film, 1982’s The Thing.   Carpenter believed his next project needed to be something a bit kinder and gentler.  The result was Starman, a whimsical, science-fiction romantic drama (whew — that’s a lot of adjectives!) starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen.  Watch it for free by clicking here.


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.      Demons1  Demons2


If ever there was a guilty pleasure that rewards the patient, it would be Night of the Demons (1988).  Viewers who manage to endure the excruciating first 45 minutes of this low-budget flick are rewarded by a story that – finally — delivers everything you expect from a campy haunted-house movie:  real scares, some wit and, oh yes, lots of gratuitous nudity.

But the trick is to make it to that halfway point.  Director Kevin S. Tenney apparently realized he had a script with a long opening act with very little action, so he employed a variety of offbeat shots, angles, and stage business to enliven things.  But there was no escaping a clichéd beginning:  Ten kids decide to party in spooky old Hull House.  They drink, tell jokes, play music, and make out.  Despite Tenney’s best efforts, this half of the movie is as familiar and mind-numbing as it sounds.  The acting is amateurish, the dialogue is lame, and the music is, well, 1980s.  But then ….

If you are still awake at halftime, you won’t have trouble keeping your eyes open the rest of the way.  Everything about Night of the Demons kicks into overdrive – the pace, the suspense, and the shocks.  The movie also becomes quite funny:  “I’m just warming my hands in the fire,” coos a smiling demon, raising her flaming fingers from the fireplace for a stunned onlooker’s appraisal.

Tenney wasn’t making Citizen Kane, but he did his best with a skimpy $1.2 million budget.  One of the producers explains the filmmakers’ attitude on the DVD’s commentary track:  “This is a crowd pleaser, it really is.  It’s a fun movie.  It doesn’t tax you too much … you just watch the pretty naked girls and the exploding heads and the cool shots and the funny cast and just party hearty.”  That you do – if you can make it past the midpoint.           Guilty Pleasure Grade:  B+

Gratuitous Screencaps:


Demons5     Linnea Quigley

Demons4     Amelia Kinkade

Demons6     Cathy Podewell

Demons3     Jill Terashita


Director:  Kevin S. Tenney  Cast:  Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, William Gallo, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Jill Terashita  Release:  1988

Watch the Trailer  (click here)


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Joy Behar is growing on me.  I haven’t watched her on The View, because that entails getting out of bed in the morning, but on HLN’s The Joy Behar Show she’s funny and insightful.  Most refreshing:  She manages to keep her ego in check.  And is it possible she’s nearly 70 years old?




Bret Michaels is a great guy.  In fact, he might be a saint, because he once beat a brain hemorrhage and now he has diabetes.  He also once starred in a sex tape with Pamela Anderson and his tour bus was shot at.  The New York Times describes him as a “well-meaning has-been.”  He is a saint.


Showbiz         Selig


A.J. Hammer and Brooke Anderson of HLN’s Showbiz Tonight often chastise “the media.”  Silly me.  And here I thought that this sanctimonious, hypocritical duo was part of “the media.”

Unlikely Hero of the Week:  Bud Selig for getting something right by not overturning a blown call by the umpire during Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game.  Baseball games are already too long; don’t make it worse by encouraging replays and overrules on every close play.


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Midway through a screening of Splice at my local cinema, a man’s cell phone went off in the row behind me.  The recorded message was in Homer Simpson’s voice. The man apparently had trouble turning off his phone in the dark.  Normally, this kind of interruption during a film infuriates me, but not this time.  No, I wanted to listen to Homer Simpson.  Heck, I even thought about eavesdropping on the man’s conversation, if he’d let me.  Anything, and I mean anything, to help me escape the dreary business occurring on the movie screen.

The creature in Splice, a doe-eyed lovely called “Dren” (that’s nerd spelled back— oh, never mind), was learning how to spell with Scrabble tiles.  She had put together the letters T-E-D-I-O-U-S.  My feelings exactly.  I saw how bored the creature was, and now I wanted to chat with her and Homer Simpson.  Maybe they could empathize with me:  anything to stop this ridiculous story on the silver screen.

I wanted to like this movie.  Really, I did.  The director, Vincenzo Natali, impressed me with his 1998 feature, the clever science-fiction thriller Cube.  But whereas Cube was low-budget, fresh, and unpretentious, Splice has big-budget special effects, some fairly well-known actors – and not a shred of originality.  The protagonists, a scientist couple, start out bickering and never stop bickering.  Nothing could make this couple happy; not a major scientific breakthrough, not their well-paying jobs, not even their movie-star looks.

Film schools teach fledgling screenwriters that conflict is necessary in drama, but nonstop, abrasive nagging isn’t conflict, it’s an Anacin commercial.  I wanted this couple to die.  Quickly.

The creature, given life by some mumbo-jumbo combination of DNA and cloning, was apparently a fish.  And a bird.  And a zombie.  And a porn star.  But I wanted it to go on living and killing so that everyone else in this miserable movie could die. Then I could go home and watch The Simpsons.        Grade:  D


Director:  Vincenzo Natali  Cast:  Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett  Release:  2010


Splice2      Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)


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by John Ajvide Lindqvist



If Sweden has an answer to Stephen King, his name is John Ajvide Lindqvist.  I’ve been a fan of the film version of Lindqvist’s book for some time, so I wanted to check out the source material.  The novel is the same as the movie —  yet significantly different.  There are departures, primarily the gender (or lack thereof) of Eli, one half of the dynamic young protagonists.  Eli’s background, and Lindqvist’s handling of it, make this novel a deeper, if not darker, experience than the film.  This is at times a very disturbing story, but it is also message horror, cutting a nasty swath through suburban Swedish society circa 1981.  If that sounds off-puttingly political for a book of this genre, rest assured that the gore quotient rivals anything found in King.


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Ondine is a “mood movie” in search of the right mood.  For the melancholy, it has gorgeous Irish landscapes, sad songs, and broken dreams.  For the more hopeful, it’s an adult fairy tale, a gentle fable of beauty and redemption.  And for the bored … it has a plot twist straight out of Grand Theft Auto.

As you might guess, those elements don’t mesh all that well.

Colin Farrell plays Syracuse, an alcoholic, lonely Irish fisherman who one fateful day finds something bigger than a lobster in his net:  a beautiful woman called Ondine (translation:  water spirit).  To say that Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) is an enigma would be understatement.  The long-haired lass insists that she is for Syracuse’s eyes only.  She also seems to suffer from memory loss about her past.  Before you can say “Penthouse Forum fantasy,” Syracuse has the sexy nymph stowed away in his deceased mother’s cottage, where she is eventually discovered by his wheelchair-confined daughter, Annie.   Annie becomes convinced that her father’s catch is a “selkie,” a mythological creature that sheds its sealskin to become human.

That all sounds very Hans Christian Andersenish, but Ondine takes itself much too seriously to be the new Splash, and its plot is too adult for the Disney crowd.  It wants badly to be a grownup romantic fantasy, but the fisherman-selkie connection is too lightweight to resonate.  Bachleda projects friendliness — and looks great in soaking underwear — but her character is too enigmatic, too bland and underwritten.  Farrell’s fisherman is more developed, although his Irish accent is so thick that even though he’s speaking English, subtitles would be helpful.

All of this is too bad, because if the central romance was made of sturdier stuff, Ondine had the potential to be much more than what it is, a picturesque but slight romance.         Grade:  B-


Ondine2    Ondine3


Director:  Neil Jordan  Cast:  Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry, Stephen Rea, Tony Curran, Dervla Kirwan  Release:  2010


Ondine4     Watch Trailers  (click here)


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My expectations for The Wolfman were about as low as they can get.  This is a stale story, I thought, a familiar tale that Hollywood will gussy up with special effects, loud noises, and hyperactive editing.  Modern filmmakers will do to this horror chestnut what they did to Sherlock Holmes last year — and that’s not a good thing.

Having set the bar so low, I’ll have to say I was somewhat surprised by The Wolfman.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and was even quite good in some respects.

The good:  Anthony Hopkins.  Nobody does “bad guy” with quite the élan of this veteran actor.  He’s like the kindly grandfather you’d rather not have.  When this old-timer winks at you, he’s not hinting at an early Christmas present, he’s letting you know there are bodies in the backyard.  Fans of the 1941 version would be wise not to rely on their recollection of Claude Rains in the same role; there is a plot twist involving Hopkins’s interpretation.  Also good are the film’s sets.  The Talbot estate and surrounding moors are suitably grand and gloomy.  And there are some nice insider tributes to Universal Studios and the original film.

The bad:  The movie is too long.  The first hour drags at times.  This should have been fixed by excising a good 15 minutes.  The monster transformations – which everyone in the audience expects – are not bad, but 30 years’ progression in special effects don’t show a marked improvement over the full-moon makeovers in 1981’s An American Werewolf in London.

There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than by watching this monster-movie remake.  After all, the 1941 original was no masterpiece, itself.       Grade:  B-




Director:  Joe Johnston  Cast:  Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Art Malik, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin  Release:  2010


Wolf3      Wolf4

                                  Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)


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