Monthly Archives: July 2010



Every little kid knows the bogeyman.  The bogeyman hides in the bedroom closet, or lurks on the floor beneath the bed.  Fortunately, most kids grow up and find out who the real scary people are:  math teachers and driving instructors.  But for documentarians Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, both of whom grew up on New York’s Staten Island, the bogeyman never really went away.  He is, apparently, still haunting them.

Zeman and Brancaccio wrote and directed Cropsey, a documentary about child abductions and the alleged, real-life bogeyman behind them.  The filmmakers grew up in the 1980s during what surely must have been a nightmare-come-true for Staten Island parents:  Children kept disappearing, and one of them was found dead and buried near the site of an abandoned mental hospital.  Suspicion fell on a middle-aged drifter named Andre Rand, and this pathetic outcast became the borough’s “Cropsey” (a Hudson Valley nickname for any ax-wielding bogeyman) as related in this creepy – yet ultimately unsatisfying – movie.

I call it unsatisfying because, try though they might, Zeman and Brancaccio never get past gossip, rumor, and speculation regarding the decades-old disappearance of five children on the New York island.  Rand was eventually convicted of kidnapping two of the kids, though he never confessed to their killings, and no additional bodies were ever recovered.  This lack of hard evidence forces Zeman and Brancaccio to venture all sorts of hypotheses, including:  Rand, who once worked as an attendant at the notorious Willowbrook mental institution, was seeking to rid the world of mentally disabled children;  Rand was under the influence of a devil-worshipping cult, which roamed a network of subterranean tunnels beneath the ruins of Willowbrook.

There are no revelations from Rand, no interviews with him, but instead lots of wide-eyed theories posited by regular folk and authorities.   But all of this speculation – from police, citizens, reporters, “experts” – has no payoff.  Rand remains in prison, possibly guilty, possibly the scapegoat of a fearful, ignorant community.  This ambiguity kills Cropsey, rendering it just a big-screen version of Dateline NBC when the film’s focus shifts from horror to courtroom politics.

Unfortunately for Zeman and Brancaccio, their bogeyman stayed in the bedroom closet … when they really needed him to come out.          Grade:  C-


Cropsey2       Cropsey3

Directors:  Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio  Featuring:  Donna Cutugno, Karen Schweiger, David Novarro, Ralph Aquino  Release:  2009


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  Special K Week: 

The Kindle and Killing Kim Kardashian




One nice thing about getting older is that you tend to miss out on what’s trendy — unless you accidentally stumble onto it.  Such was the case the other night when I happened upon Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

I don’t live in Botswana, so of course I had heard of these idiots, but I’d never actually watched their show, which apparently has been fouling the airwaves since 2007.  My impressions:

1)  What the hell happened to Bruce Jenner’s face?

2)  That Kim is a cutie.

3)  The mother, Kris Jenner, is a glorified pimp.

4)  Somebody needs to … kill the Kardashians!  I cannot see the teensiest benefit to our sharing the planet with them.






The Kindle


Amazon lowered the price of its e-reader, the Kindle, so I broke down and bought one.  My thoughts:



1)  Stephen King wrote his own appraisal of the Kindle, in which he quoted Gertrude Stein’s observation about her childhood home in Oakland:  “There is no there, there.”  After using the Kindle, I know what that means.  It’s just an eerie sensation to realize that you cannot rifle through pages.  And it sucks if you are on, say, page 78 and want to go back and read something on page 39.  To do that, you must laboriously tap back 39 times for 39 pages.  Very time-consuming — especially if you get to page 39 and then realize that what you’re looking for is actually on page 59.  Tap, tap, tap ….

2)  No color, and the graphics can suck.  I read The Passage on my Kindle and there was a map in the book.  But because the Kindle’s screen is so small (six-inch reading area), there was no way to get a satisfactory view of it.

3)  The Web browser is slow and has a primitive display.  The audio voices sound like Robby the Robot reciting Shakespeare in Pig Latin.



1)  The light weight (8.7 ounces).  There is something to be said for a device that lets you read War and Peace or Moby Dick with your left hand while you eat, drink, smoke, or play with yourself with your right hand.

2)  Free public-domain books.  Within seconds, I downloaded books by Jane Austen, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Charles Dickens, and George Bernard Shaw.  It was like checking out library books without leaving my bed.

3)  The instant dictionary.  It’s sweet to simply highlight “repudiate” and instantly have a definition at the bottom of the screen.



1)  Amazon hypes the fact that you can store up to 3,500 books on the Kindle.  Nice, but do you really expect to live long enough to read 3,500 books on your Kindle?

2)  A glare-free screen that allows you to read in sunshine.  OK, but I can also do that with a paperback.

3)  Download new books from the Amazon store in 60 seconds.  Rarely do I need a book in 60 seconds.  Sometimes a drink, yes.  Besides, I enjoy browsing at real bookstores.



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The World of Henry Orient is a small movie that begins as a silly romp about two teen girls infatuated with a zany pianist, and then — thanks to a pair of adult actors at the top of their game — becomes something much better:  a quietly powerful story about growing up.

Despite the title, The World of Henry Orient is initially a world belonging to New York City girls Marian and Valarie.  Marian (Merrie Spaeth) is a child of divorce who lives with her mother and a friend of the family.  Valarie (Tippy Walker) is a child prodigy who rarely sees her own parents, wealthy globetrotters who visit their daughter only when it’s convenient.  When Marian and Valarie hook up at a private school, they concoct a childish obsession:  the stalking of Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), a cowardly lothario from the Bronx with uptown aspirations and a bogus, continental accent.

Sellers, riding high in 1964 with The Pink Panther and Dr. Strangelove on his resume, does his deadpan shtick in this film and is, as always, amusing.  Walker and Spaeth have winning personalities and, although I confess there were times I felt I was watching two novice actors attempting to act, their enthusiasm is infectious.

But something near-miraculous occurs in the film at its midpoint, and this is largely thanks to a pair of consummate actors who turn a frivolous comedy into something sad, powerful, and utterly wonderful.  Tom Bosley and Angela Lansbury, as Valarie’s absentee parents, command the screen, Lansbury as a self-centered socialite and lousy mother, and Bosley in a precursor to his Happy Days role on TV —  the perfect Dad.  Bosley, in particular, has a scene with Walker that is heartbreaking, uplifting, and emblematic of why this little gem from 1964 still sparkles.      Grade:  A-




Director:  George Roy Hill  Cast:  Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury, Tom Bosley, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald, Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker  Release:  1964


Orient3     Orient4

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by Justin Cronin 



The Passage is the literary equivalent of a Hollywood summer blockbuster:  all bluster and special effects, no substance.  Justin Cronin’s vampire saga is a pretentious, derivative, colossal waste of time.  Did I mention that I hated this book?  Actually, The Passage is worse than a shallow film like, say Avatar, because Cronin’s tripe is littered with self-important religious allusions, quotations from Shakespeare — and it takes longer than two hours to finish.

So what, exactly, are my problems with this book?  Start with the characters, with whom the reader has to spend way too much time.  These are cardboard people.  Two of the main characters, Peter and Michael, are virtually indistinguishable.  One of them is handy with engines and computers; other than that, I could rarely tell them apart.  Cronin’s political correctness is gag-inducing – all of his female characters are saintly or indestructible.  In fact, one of them actually turns into a superhero.  Conversely, the males are all either deeply flawed or ineffectual. Spending hundreds of pages with these people is worse than becoming undead. 

What’s worse is the novel’s plot.  Even in the fantasy genre, an author must set ground rules and then follow them.  Cronin’s vampires are sometimes omnipotent, sometimes not, depending on what his plot calls for.  Heroes are routinely killed off and then miraculously resurrected.  This kind of cheating goes on ad nauseam.

Was there anything I liked about The Passage?  The attack scenes are not bad.  Cronin stages some tense, nasty battles between his dullard protagonists and the “smokes.”  But those scenes are too few to overcome all the tedious exposition that surrounds them.  The Passage is a Stephen King wannabe and should be burned at the stake.


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There was a scene in last night’s episode of Rescue Me in which firefighter Tommy Gavin, alone in the men’s room at the fire station, discovers to his hung-over horror that he is wearing a woman’s thong.  Too much booze the night before, and so he has no idea how this came to be.  As he gapes at his thong-clad derriere in a bathroom mirror, the deputy chief walks in.  The chief glances at Tommy, opens his mouth to say something … then turns and walks quietly out the door.  It’s a funny, funny bit.




It’s this kind of scene that makes Denis Leary’s Rescue Me such a comic delight.  What makes it must-see TV is the show’s mixture of that kind of silliness with high drama.  Alcoholic Tommy will go straight from that restroom into some corridor of hell, whether that means a burning building, his estranged family, or his high-maintenance lover.



Callie Thorne


John Scurti



Andrea Roth


Rescue Me is entering its sixth season on FX just as Louis C.K.’s new series Louie joins the network’s Tuesday-night lineup.  Between the two of them, Leary and Louis have turned Tuesdays into the only night when I go out of my way to watch scripted television.  These two middle-aged guys, both with roots in standup comedy, are at the peak of their game.  They created their own series, star in them and, in Louis’s case, also direct and write.




So far, Louie has been a hit-or-miss affair.  Some of the segments fall flat, but when the show scores, it really scores.  C.K., like that fire chief on Rescue Me, is a master of the silent reaction.  It’s not what he says that slays me, it’s the look on his pasty face — a double-take, a raised eyebrow, simple deadpan — when life throws yet another absurdity at him.



Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais


Back in the ’90s, NBC had what it called “Must See TV.”  NBC’s hubris bothered me, so I decided that I Must Not Watch.  And I didn’t.  But now I have my own Must See TV, Tuesday nights on FX.


Rescue Me  (click here)  

Louie  (click here)


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It’s hard to say who might be more offended by the cult classic A Boy and His Dog:  feminists, the citizens of Topeka, Kansas, or sperm banks.  I’d vote for sperm banks, because institutions generally have little or no sense of humor.

The genesis of this low-budget oddity is a Harlan Ellison novella, which tells the story of Vic (the boy) and Blood (the dog), two roving souls in post-apocalyptic America, circa 2024.  Vic (Don Johnson) is the dumb one, a hormonal homeboy who at least has sense enough to recognize the “smart” one:  Blood.  The dog, for some unexplained reason, has developed an ability to communicate telepathically, which he uses to deliver some wickedly funny one-liners (particularly the last line of the film).  Blood also boasts more mundane dog skills, such as sniffing out scarce food — and even scarcer human females.

When Vic is seduced by a female recruiter from the (literal) underworld, our scruffy heroes are given a choice:  remain above ground, where vicious bands of males fight for food and women, or follow Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton) to the land down under.  Vic wants to go with his new girlfriend; Blood does not.  I mentioned which of the two of them was smart, didn’t I?

Ellison’s story posits some interesting questions.  Is it better to live free but among savages (the “natural” state), or in a society where everyone must conform or face dire consequences for “lack of respect, wrong attitude, [and] failure to obey authority”?  In the world portrayed by A Boy and His Dog, this is not an appetizing choice.

But if Boy is infamous, it’s not because of any social questions it raises; it’s because of its notorious ending, in which Blood proves to be “man’s” best friend, indeed.  Is the ending misogynistic?  Is the entire movie misogynistic?  I’d say yes, but then I’d be like that sperm bank and totally devoid of a sense of humor.  Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste.       Grade:  B




Director:  L.Q. Jones  Cast:  Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards, Tim McIntire, Alvy Moore, Helene Winston, Charles McGraw, Hal Baylor  Release:  1975




                   Boy4           Watch Trailers (click here)   


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A new documentary called Best Worst Movie just opened at art-house cinemas.  It is a look at the making of 1990’s Troll 2, a movie reputedly so bad that it is rivaling Plan 9 from Outer Space for the crown of Worst Movie Ever Made.  I have not seen this documentary, although it’s generating positive reviews.  That’s more than can be said for its inspiration, which you can watch for free by clicking here.


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Harry Potter fans are breathlessly awaiting the first installment of the series finale, due out in November.  The anticipation got me wondering about the young Potter stars in the aftermath of Deathly Hallows — what will become of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert?  Herewith, I handicap their careers:

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry):  He’d best make the transition from leading man/boy to character actor, because I can’t see the little shrimp making it as a conventional leading man.  Lots of stars — Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson — are short, but Radcliffe also has a “nerd” quality that will prevent him from becoming the next action hero.  Apparently he has genuine acting chops, because he seems to have done well on the stage.  If all else fails, Radcliffe can probably get work in porn because he seems unperturbed about displaying his “magic wand” (Equus).

Emma Watson (Hermione):  I see Watson as having the best shot at a solid film career.  She’s following the Jodie Foster path by attending college, does not seem overly consumed by fame, and is cute as a button.

Rupert Grint (Ron):  Grint reminds me of Anthony Michael Hall in those old John Hughes movies.  He’s going to be stuck in comedies and in roles where he plays the “best friend,” but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  He has great comic flair and might be the best pure actor of the Potter trio.




I don’t normally seek out The Huffington Post for my humor fix, but I stumbled across this picture gallery the other day and I feel I should share it.  If you want more jock-strap jollies, click this link to check out the “Most Homoerotic Sports Photos Ever Taken.”










Sarah Palin’s invention of the word “refudiate” reminds me of other words that get butchered, sometimes with absurd consequences.

Discriminate — This is not an inherently “bad” word.  Once upon a time, to discriminate was considered a good thing, as in, “She has discriminating taste.”

Niggardly — A few years ago, some public figure came under fire for using this word, which sounds a lot like the N-word but actually means “stingy.”  The poor man lost his job for using this word, which is a shame.  I believe we should refudiate this kind of discrimination, which seems niggardly.


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You have to wonder how much time actor Mads Mikkelsen spent examining his own face in the mirror after accepting the lead role in Valhalla Rising, an artsy/gory Viking saga set in 1000 AD.   As the enigmatic warrior-slave “One Eye” (his character has, uh, one eye), Mikkelsen utters not a single line of dialogue in the film.  Not one.  Compared to this brooding Norseman, Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” was a veritable Chatty Cathy doll.

Mikkelsen does, however, spend a lot of time gazing.  Sometimes he casts a meaningful gaze.  Other times, it’s a haunting gaze.  From time to time, he displays a mournful gaze.  And when he’s having a “vision,” his gaze turns bloodshot red.  One Eye might not say much, but the man does have an active fantasy life.

I suppose you could argue that in medieval Britain, there wasn’t that much to talk about.  Life in 1000 was short and brutal; “instant messaging” was likely a pickaxe to the skull, and too much gabbing got in the way of looting and pillaging.  When One Eye escapes bondage and joins up with some Christian Vikings, “conversation” often consists of a simple question, followed by 45 seconds of silence, and then, with any luck, a perfunctory reply.  Or more likely, additional gazing.   At times in this film, I longed for the sophisticated verbal interplay of, say, Deathstalker.

There is also very little plot in the film.  Again, you could argue that outside of simple survival, there wasn’t that much to do in 1000.  Director Nicolas Winding Refn fills a mid-movie script hole by sending his crusaders on an interminably long ocean voyage.  To give him due credit, Refn’s visuals are often striking, and his movie (shot in Scotland) is certainly atmospheric; in fact, at times it is nothing but atmosphere.  But I digress.  Back to our crusading heroes:  The Christian Vikings’ quest for fame and fortune in Jerusalem takes a nasty wrong turn somewhere, and the bearded ones wind up discovering North America.

After that endless sea voyage, I was prepared for a rip-roaring windup to the movie.  Surely, One Eye would stop his soulful gazing long enough to engage in some sort of bloody battle.   I checked his resume, and learned that director Refn’s recent credits include – of all things — a TV episode of “Miss Marple.”  After all that refined gentility, Refn would certainly cut loose with a testosterone-laden, heart-pounding climax to Valhalla, wouldn’t he?  Alas, once again I was destined to pine for Deathstalker.  A North American savage clobbers One Eye on the head, our hero keels over, and the end credits roll.  This disappointing denouement dumbfounded me, and I could only sit before the screen, gazing mournfully.       Grade:  C




Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn  Cast:  Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown, Andrew Flanagan, Gary Lewis, Gary McCormack, Alexander Morton  Release:  2010


Rising3     Rising4

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And so this summer of over-hype marches on.  First, movie audiences were treated to Inception, an okay thriller that misguided “fanboys” praised as the second coming of Citizen Kane.  For the indie crowd, we now have The Kids Are All Right, a film that many critics are lauding as the second coming of … what?  Yours, Mine and Ours?

I don’t want to denigrate Lisa Cholodenko’s Kids, which is a fine movie, but despite its trendy family unit headed by a pair of lesbians, the film is a lot more conventional than you might think.  Rewrite Annette Bening’s character as a male, and you’re viewing a “family values” comedy-drama that might have starred Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in the 1960s – minus the sex scenes and obscenities, of course.

Kids is a nice movie with nice characters and a bittersweet ending – nothing more, nothing less.  Bening and Julianne Moore play the moms of two teenagers, and Mark Ruffalo portrays an anonymous sperm donor who, 18 years after his donation, is tracked down by the curious boy and girl and invited into their family dynamic.  All of the characters in Kids seem like real people, which is refreshing, and you find yourself liking all of them, which is uncommon in today’s films.  I guess that’s such a rare combination that many critics can’t help falling all over themselves in praising the movie.

Kids manages to avoid excessive political correctness, a pitfall  that could have killed its feel-good nature.  You will probably leave the theater with a smile on your face, which certainly counts for something.        Grade:  B+




Director:  Lisa Cholodenko  Cast:  Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Rebecca Lawrence  Release:  2010


Kids3     Kids4

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