Monthly Archives: July 2010



Seems obvious that Hollywood has it in for poor Mel Gibson.  How else to explain the type of people that casting directors keep pairing with him?

In the Lethal Weapon movies, Mel was forced to share screen time with potential rapist Danny Glover (above).  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mel was also coerced into romancing leading ladies of the Jewish persuasion — Julia Roberts in Conspiracy Theory and Goldie Hawn in Bird on a Wire.


Mel2     Mel3


Aren’t there any nice, talented WASPs who could co-star with Mel?  Oh yes, there is one …






Here is a picture of Vogue magazine’s cover.  More evidence that Mad Mel is correct and that the blacks are out to get our white women:




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[Rec] 2 is one of the dumbest horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time.  If you’re looking for a few good scares, I highly recommend it.

I suppose that sounds contradictory.  All I can say is, when you go to a fright flick, what exactly are you looking for – intellectual stimulation, or something that makes you jump out of your seat?  In a perfect world, an audience gets both, a la The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby.  [Rec] 2 is no art-house classic, but it does its main job and delivers some genuine jolts.

Let me describe the plot.  On second thought, I can’t do that.  The plot is ridiculous, but it’s also beside the point.  Suffice to say there is a creepy old apartment complex in Barcelona, Spain.  Some kind of virus (or demonic possession, or both) has infected the people inside, turning them into bloodthirsty savages (or zombies, or demons, or both).  Humanity’s only hope is to secure a blood sample from a young girl who was the first infectee (or Satan’s spawn, or something like that).  A Spanish SWAT team (or something like that) is dispatched to the building to save the day.  Virus, possession, demons, zombies … whatever.  The only thing that matters is that we now have potential victims in the building.

This is the kind of script in which police use a bullhorn to warn everyone away from the windows – and within seconds one of the protagonists stands in front of a window.  This is the sort of movie where our heroes are inundated with gore, carnage, and psychological horror – but their overriding priority is to make sure the video camera is still recording.

It’s a stupid plot and a stupid movie.  But if you are willing to turn your brain off for 85 minutes, it’s a lot of fun.  Directors Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza know that handheld photography can be effective on a purely visceral level.  Combined with ominously claustrophobic apartment hallways, the jerky visuals enhance each attack.  By showing some, but not quite all, of the demonic assaults, the effect is often chilling.

The best way to enjoy [Rec] 2 is by turning your own brain into a handheld camera. Watch and record everything, but try not to think about it.        Grade:  B-




Directors:  Juame Balaguero, Paco Plaza  Cast:  Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Oscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Leticia Dolera, Alejandro Casaseca, Pablo Rosso, Pep Molina, Andrea Ros  Release:  2010


Rec3     Watch Trailers & Clips  (click here)


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Clifton Webb was one of Hollywood’s great character actors, a rare star who could thumb through the yellow pages for five minutes straight — and make it interesting to watch.  Webb made a terrific villain (Laura), but he was probably most famous for creating the original “Mr. Belvedere,” a genius turned full-time babysitter, in this 1948 comedy classic co-starring Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara.  Watch Sitting Pretty for free by clicking here.


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If you’re going to make an effective, thoughtful movie about alien abduction, your story had better hit very few false notes.  This is, after all, material that’s remarkably easy to mock:  little green (or grey) men, flying saucers – it’s all in the script, and every detail is a potential landmine if you want your movie to be taken seriously. Miraculously, Fire in the Sky works because director Robert Lieberman does almost everything right.

According to true believers, in November 1975 a work crew near Snowflake, Arizona was returning home when the men encountered an alien spaceship.  One of the crew, Travis Walton, was allegedly abducted and, after a five-day manhunt, mysteriously reappeared, shell-shocked and with an incredible tale to tell.  Walton went on to write a book depicting his supposed experience with aliens, and this film followed in 1993.

Now, whether you take any of this to heart or are simply in the mood for good science fiction, Fire in the Sky is well-crafted entertainment.  Lieberman wisely concentrates on character, focusing on the work crew, local law enforcement, and a skeptical Arizona public for two-thirds of the movie before turning things over to the “greys” and his special-effects department.

We can debate how true the film is to Walton’s book — and how true that book is to reality — but as thought-provoking entertainment, Fire in Sky is a blast.           Grade:  B+




Director:  Robert Lieberman  Cast:  D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, James Garner, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas, Bradley Gregg, Noble Willingham, Kathleen Wilhoite  Release:  1993


Fire3      Watch the Trailer  (click here)


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Greenberg is just a little … off.  You probably know someone like him:  normal on the surface, able to carry on brief conversations with no hint of being a little … askew. But on closer examination, you begin to realize that when God handed out the Facebook pages, Roger Greenberg’s page was the beta version – raw and full of glitches.

Ben Stiller, best known for playing innocuous schlemiels in broad comedies, obviously took this role to enhance his acting chops.  He does well with the part. Greenberg, although neurotic,  is not a caricatured fussbudget, a la Felix Unger, nor is he De Niro’s taxi driver, threatening to snap at the slightest provocation.  No, Greenberg is just a little off-kilter.  He has no real friends and views the world as a hostile place, some of which might be cured by dashing off letters to the editor.

Greenberg, fresh from a stay in a mental hospital, is asked to housesit in L.A. while his brother and family take a vacation trip to Vietnam (yes, Vietnam).  Into his world comes Florence (Greta Gerwig), the brother’s assistant and a woman with issues of her own.  Florence is cute and friendly but goes through life with an invisible “kick me” sign on her back.  Greenberg and the girl have one thing in common:  a remarkable talent for sabotaging their own personal relationships.

Greenberg is a character study with no special effects, car chases, or explosions.  Some critics have commented on the unlikability of Stiller’s character.  To me, Greenberg is not that obnoxious, just mildly irritating and generally intriguing.  When he sits down to pen one of his frequent “consumer complaint” letters – to the cab company, the airline, the newspaper editorial page – he might be anal retentive, but he might also be right.

Gerwig’s downtrodden Florence is also multi-dimensional.  She takes what life hands her and makes the best of it.  What there is of plot in the film hangs on whether or not these two societal fringe-dwellers can find happiness together.  How much you enjoy this movie depends on how much you care about that.   I found that I cared.       Grade:  B




Director:  Noah Baumbach  Cast:  Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Messina, Susan Traylor, Merritt Wever  Release:  2010


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Gibson1        Cruise1


How many real “movie stars” do we have left?  Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson are superb actors, but are they really old-school movie stars?  I would argue that we have about four super-duper, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am movie stars:  Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Mel Gibson. 

If I was Hanks or Roberts, I would take one look at the box office for Cruise’s latest film, and I would take another look at what’s going on with Gibson and … I’d go back to bed.




Typo of the Week:

A CNN anchor was reporting about a mishap in space involving the International Space Station, and a crawl came across the bottom of the screen:  “… resupply ship flew passed space station …”

I went back to bed.


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If you live in the city, or near the city, it can be easy to forget that there are multiple Americas.  Hollywood excels at showing us how rich America lives, and that’s where it spends most of its time.  We don’t call our movie capital “Tinseltown” for nothing.  When films do depict the poor, the stories are almost always drug-related, crime-related, and set in the inner city.

Then along comes a film like Winter’s Bone, just to remind us that there are other Americans out there, people sometimes referred to as “poor white trash,” people like 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence).  Ree lives in the Ozark Mountains with her mentally ill mother and two siblings, both of them still children.  When her drug-dealing father abandons the family and puts their ramshackle home up as bail bond, it’s up to Ree to either find him or risk losing the homestead.

Winter’s Bone is worth seeing for atmosphere alone.  Ree’s rural neighbors are all colorful, but flesh-and-blood colorful, not caricatures.  At times, the movie feels less like fictional drama than like an old Charles Kuralt, “On the Road” TV special.  Lawrence, in a breakout performance as the unflinching, tough-as-nails Ree, will probably get Oscar consideration, but she’s matched by sad-eyed John Hawkes, playing her deceptively resourceful uncle.

There is one flaw to this movie, and it affects its overall impact:  The story is slight.   Writer-director Debra Granik builds dramatic tension as Ree hunts for her elusive father, but the payoff is not strong.  That lack of dramatic meat isn’t fatal, but it does prevent a very good movie from becoming a truly great one.       Grade:  B+




Director:  Debra Granik  Cast:  Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Shelley Waggener, Lauren Sweetser, Sheryl Lee  Release:  2010


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Let me propose a little scenario.  You go to the cinema, purchase a ticket, grab some popcorn, and find a seat somewhere in the middle of the theater.  I walk in and sit down right behind you.  You have your buttery popcorn; I have a cattle prod.  Every 10 or 15 minutes, preferably during a quiet scene in the movie, I lean forward and ZAP! you in the ass with my cattle prod.  Then we both resume watching the film, until I decide to ZAP! you again.  When you leave the theater, you tell all of your friends that you went to a scary movie and jumped out of your seat numerous times.

Sound absurd?  To me, my cattle prod and I are just a low-tech version of what filmmakers routinely do to audiences with modern horror flicks.  Case in point: The Crazies.  I counted at least half a dozen moments in which, ZAP!, a hand, face, shadow, or whatever suddenly pops into the frame, accompanied by what sounds like a ton of bricks being dropped onto a piano keyboard, or shrieking violins out of an orchestra pit from hell.  The soundtrack is nothing more than the high-tech equivalent of my cattle prod, a cheap way to make you jump in lieu of genuine fright.

In the case of The Crazies, that’s too bad, because as horror films go, director Breck Eisner’s movie is pretty good.  In fact, it’s much better than most films in the genre. Of course, the bar is set so low for horror movies that you can take that praise for what it’s worth.  But The Crazies is well directed and edited with an eye for tension. Also, the actors actually seem like real people.

I think we are overdue for a horror-movie renaissance.  The last time that occurred was in the 1970s, and the genre seems to rejuvenate itself every 40 years or so, and so the time is ripe.  Great scare films seem to have one thing in common:  We are intrigued by the characters, not just the situation.  Think of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, or Linda Blair in The Exorcist.  When I think back on The Crazies, I’ll recall it as a decent horror movie — but mostly I’ll think of cattle prods.         Grade:  B-




Director:  Breck Eisner  Cast:  Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby  Release:  2010


Crazies3     Watch Trailers & Clips  (click here)


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