Monthly Archives: November 2010

Canary

 

Like your horror laced with laughs?  Here is the granddaddy of “old dark house” movies, a silent gem from 1927 that inspired pretty much every haunted-house film that followed.  Watch Laura La Plante and Creighton Hale (yeah, I don’t know who they are, either) get scared out of their knickers by clicking here.

 

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Tiny1

 

Tiny Furniture is like an e-mail you receive from your 22-year-old niece.  You laugh at her misadventures, shake your head over her latest choice of a boyfriend, and worry just a bit about her future.  It’s an amusing and charming e-mail, but she has no earthshaking news, and by the next day you’ve forgotten all about it.

Tiny Furniture creator Lena Dunham is being anointed the next “it” girl by some critics, heralded as a filmmaker with a bright future.  Dunham shot her movie on a shoestring budget in her real family’s Manhattan loft, and enlisted friends and family members to play pivotal roles in what, I assume, is a more-than-slightly autobiographical film.

Dunham directed, wrote, and stars in the film as Aura, a recent college grad who returns to her mother’s home to little fanfare, and proceeds to struggle with men, old friends, work and, mostly, an apparently unsympathetic mother and a self-centered younger sister.  Aura is no pampered product of the new millennium; she’s a friendly, funny, and smart cookie cast adrift in that messy thing called adulthood.

It’s been a long time since I graduated from college (even longer since I was a young woman), so I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that young women will relate to Aura’s heartbreak and frustrations much more than I did.  But I also believe that exceptional movies transcend gender, reaching out to both sexes and all ages.  Tiny Furniture doesn’t do that.  Its dramatics might be profoundly relevant to my 22-year-old niece – but not really to anyone else.        Grade:  B

 

Tiny2

 

Director:  Lena Dunham  Cast:  Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky, David Call, Merritt Wever  Release:  2010

 

Tiny3 Tiny4

Tiny5      Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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by Richard Connell 

Dangerous 

 

Connell’s prose reminds me of Cornell Woolrich.  At times his writing feels amateurish, but like Woolrich, the man knows how to build suspense and tell an original tale.  At just 35 pages, Game is really just a short story, but Connell packs more action into those pages than Tolstoy does with ten times the length.  The plot:  An American falls off a yacht in the Caribbean and is swept to shore on a mysterious island.  Once there, he becomes the “guest” of an aristocratic Russian hunter who informs the American that they will go hunting together – with the Russian as hunter and the American as prey.  It’s melodramatic hokum, but it works.  My only complaint is with the Hollywood ending, which feels false.

 

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Madre1

 

Why am I not in love with this film?

Whenever critics compile their lists of great movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is among the honored.  Yet to me, the film seems to be … missing something.  This, well, “deficiency” prevents Huston’s adventure tale from being as emotionally satisfying as other classics from the 1930s-1940s.

The movie certainly has an impressive pedigree.  Some people think it’s Huston’s best work, and this is the same writer-director who gave us The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, and The African Queen.  You can find critics who believe the late, great Humphrey Bogart delivered his best performance in this film.  When I asked my own father to name his favorite movie, he cited this one.  So why don’t I like it more?  Again, something … isn’t there.

For the uninitiated, Treasure tells the story of three down-on-their-luck American expatriates in 1920s Mexico. They team up to prospect for gold, and during their pursuit must battle bandits, the elements, and their own self-interests.  There is lots of action, and everyone who sees the film agrees that Bogart and especially Walter Huston (John’s Oscar-rewarded father) are superb.

Huston’s script has the universal themes of greed, loyalty, and honor that one might expect from a classic.  The movie was mostly shot on location in Mexico, a rarity in 1947, which adds immeasurably to its authenticity.

So once again, why on earth am I so unmoved by this beloved movie?  Two reasons, I think:  Despite the bravura performances by Bogart and Huston, their characters aren’t particularly likable.  I didn’t care if any of them got rich.

And I finally figured out what was missing from the film:  women.      Grade:  B

 

Madre2

 

Director:  John Huston  Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Robert Blake  Release:  1948

 

Madre3 Madre4 Madre5

 

                                  Watch Trailers and Clip  (click here)

 

Madre6    Madre7

  

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by Jane Austen

Sense

 

There are two ways to read a Jane Austen novel:  with modern-day sensibilities, or by just going with the flow.  I recommend option number two.  Austen is such a witty writer that it’s easy to forget you are essentially devouring soap opera, and are getting caught up in the feelings, intrigues, and status of characters who are, after all,  a bunch of privileged snobs. 

The men in Austen books never seem to actually work and often fall prey to the sins of “idleness.”  The women are no better, wasting their time on gossip and self-pity.  Meanwhile, their servants and other lower-class citizens are barely worth a mention.  However … if you do go with the flow and can bring yourself to identify with Austen’s pampered people, it’s a rewarding experience.  Also, it’s not often I can claim that a book published in 1811 made me literally laugh out loud – but this one did.

 

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1

 

—–Original Message—–

Sent: Friday, November 26, 2010 5:31 AM

To: guest.relations@target.com

Subject: Westinghouse 42″ TV on Black Friday Ad

Congratulations. I can’t imagine a better, more efficient way of alienating customers and generating bad word-of-mouth than the way your store just treated me on “Black Friday.” You lure people in for a Westinghouse high-definition TV for $298, let us stand in line in 10-degree weather for an hour, then open the doors at 4 a.m. and … at 4:05 inform us that the TV is sold out. This should be criminal. Not only will I never set foot in a Target again, I will do my damndest to tell everyone I know about this horrendous experience.

                                      

From: guest.relations@target.com

Sent: Friday, November 26, 2010 9:31 PM

Subject: RE: Westinghouse 42″ TV on Black Friday Ad

Dear Sir,

I’m sorry the advertised Westinghouse inch TV wasn’t available for you to buy at your Target store and I apologize for your disappointing experience on Black Friday.

We work hard to make sure you find the things you’re looking for at Target. A number of factors may impact the availability of our merchandise and sometimes sales of a particular item may exceed our expectations, even when our buyers do their best to anticipate guest interest. Whenever quantities of certain advertised items are limited we’ll let you know this right in the circular.

I understand that you’d still like to purchase this item, the TV description also had a statement “quantities limited; no rain checks.”  While I can understand how frustrating this was for you, we’re unable to offer you further resolution.

Your comments are very important us, and I’ll be sure to share them with our buyers.

Thanks for writing. Hearing about your experience helps us make Target even better.

 

Sincerely,


Garry

Target Guest Relations

                  

 2

 

 

Sent: Saturday, November 27, 2010 5:48 AM

To: guest.relations@target.com

Subject: Westinghouse 42″ TV on Black Friday Ad

And I’ll do my best to forever boycott your store, and encourage everyone I know to do the same. What you wrote is a crock, and we both know it. You were fully aware you didn’t have enough of the item in stock. You do, however, an excellent job in customer alienation, and in creating lifelong enemies.


Happy holidays!

 

3

 

*****


I stopped reading the “funny pages” in 1995, mostly because they weren’t in the least bit funny, but also because that’s when Gary Larson retired his brilliant strip, The Far Side.  But recently I discovered a guy named Tony Carrillo whose offbeat strip, F Minus, reminds me a lot of Larson.  Incredibly, against all odds, the thing is actually pretty damn amusing.  Most of the time.

 

F Minus

 

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Count1

 

There are two impressions I can’t seem to shake after watching Countdown to Zero, a new documentary about nuclear-weapons proliferation.  One of them is the sobering knowledge that movies like WarGames, Fail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove are not as far-fetched as they might seem.  Much of what passes for escapist entertainment in those films – technical malfunctions, human error – is alarmingly close to reality.

But there is also an image in the film that haunts me:  a black-and-white photograph of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American scientist commonly known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”  In the famous photo, Oppenheimer wears a fedora, smokes a cigarette, and stares directly into the camera lens.  His eyes appear to issue a warning:  “I was Pandora,” they seem to say, “What happens next … is up to you.”  Oppenheimer looks fatalistic – which can’t be good news for the rest of us.

The following is an Oppenheimer quote from 1947, two years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:  “I have been asked whether in the years to come it will be possible to kill 40 million American people in the 20 largest American towns by the use of atomic bombs in a single night.  I am afraid that the answer to that question is yes.  I have been asked whether there is hope for the nation’s security in keeping secret some of the knowledge which has gone into the making of the bombs.  I am afraid there is no such hope.”

Hope seems in short supply in Countdown to Zero.  Director Lucy Walker’s film is a catalog of near-disasters and rampant dissemination of nuclear materials to just about anyone who can pay for them.  This onslaught of nightmarish news left me feeling pessimistic, despite Walker’s pro-disarmament message.  It’s not exactly heartening to be reminded that there are still 23,000 nuclear weapons on Earth.  Also disturbing is this potential conflict between the United States and Russia, as described by a member of the World Security Institute:  “Within 15 minutes, all of the forces on launch-ready alert [could] be in the air in their flight to the other side of the planet … and they could kill over 100 million Russians and Americans within 30 minutes.”

I’m guessing it won’t help anyone sleep at night to learn that, should the American or Russian presidents be forced to consider retaliation in the event of a (possibly false) reported attack, the amount of time allotted to make that decision would be about the same as the time you just took to read this review.              Grade:  A-

 

Count2

 

Director:  Lucy Walker  Featuring:  Graham Allison, James Baker III, Bruce Blair, Tony Blair, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, Joseph Cirincione, Mikhail Gorbachev, Robert McNamara, Valerie Plame Wilson  Release:  2010

 

Count3    Count4

Count5     Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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Silencers

 

Thanks to James Bond, secret agents dominated Hollywood in the mid-1960s.  Sean Connery was hard to top, so movies and TV decided to spoof 007, rather than compete with him.  Television had Get Smart, and the movies came up with James Coburn in the Flint series and Dean Martin as Matt Helm.  The Silencers was the first in a series of Helm adventures, and it is as ridiculous, sexist, and outdated as you might expect.  And yet, these over-the-top satires had more wit than the moronic Austin Powers films, in my humble opinion.  Watch Martin and Stella Stevens for free by clicking here.

 

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Lane1

 

Scenario 1:  Lady A is late to the movie theater.  Parking is impossible to find, and the concession-stand line is endless.  As a result, Lady A misses the first half of High Lane.

Scenario 2:  Gentleman B watches the first half of High Lane, but receives an emergency call from his cousin Bertie, who urgently needs bail money.  Gentleman B departs the theater, and misses the second half of High Lane.

The following day, you bump into Lady A and Gentleman B, and ask both what they thought of the film.  “A crackerjack adventure with gorgeous scenery,” Gentleman B tells you, adding, “I highly recommend it.”  “It was horrid, cliché-ridden, slasher dreck,” says Lady A.  “By all means, avoid it,” she adds.  Who is giving you the best advice – Lady A or Gentleman B?  Answer:  both of them.

The first half of director Abel Ferry’s … well, “horror/adventure,” sports some of the best, tensest mountain-climbing scenes this side of Cliffhanger.   The mountain views (allegedly of the Balkans but reportedly shot in France) are breathtaking.   Ferry’s depiction of these nerve-wracking crags and crevices and their effect on one character’s vertigo is dizzying, indeed.

But for some unfathomable reason, at the 45-minute-mark the film makes a Wrong Turn and steers away from nail-biting action to tiresome, seen-it-all-before horror.  I suppose the idea must have looked good on paper:  Deliverance Meets Leatherface.

Our heroes, a group of five young and attractive (naturally) climbers, suddenly find themselves stalked and cocked by a sort of Croatian Keith Richards, an unwashed hillbilly who, in the grand tradition of all bogeymen, has no trouble snaring young people who sprint full-speed while he simply plods after them.  Everything you expect to see is included:  A young woman miraculously displays martial arts skills; people go places they shouldn’t, and do things they oughtn’t – all in the service of a plot gone spectacularly wrong.           Grade:  C

 

Lane2

 

Director:  Abel Ferry  Cast:  Fanny Valette, Johan Libereau, Raphael Lenglet, Nicolas Giraud, Maud Wyler, Justin Blanckaert  Release:  2009

 

Lane3         Lane4

Lane5       Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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Pat1

 

I’m so happy that I don’t fly much these days.  That means I can sit back and chortle over the “pat-down vs. body-scan” hullabaloo at airport security checks.  But I do agree with what’s-his-name, the toothy guy from California, who says the TSA’s procedures would be considered sexual assault were they not performed by the government.

As for same-sex patdowns … what if the TSA guy is gay?  For me, that would be more uncomfortable than having a woman do my crotch-cuddling.  Perhaps they could institute “don’t ask, don’t tell” hiring requirements for screeners.

 

Scan1      Scan2

 

Less intrusive measures are needed, if only because the law of “slippery slope” suggests that government will next be patting us down at shopping malls and baseball games.  I suggest more profiling — based on behavior, not ethnicity.  Profiling will be abused, of course, but then everything is abused.

 

*****

 

Dogs

 

American Men Are Sick

All this talk about redemption and forgiveness for Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick misses the point.  Football fans apparently think, “OK, Vick paid his debt to society, now let him get on with his life.”  But Vick “getting on with his life” does not mean the same thing as it does for 99.9 percent of other ex-cons.  In Vick’s case, it means wealth and fame beyond a person’s wildest dreams.  That’s not forgiveness, that’s a return to Mount Olympus.  All this mindless jock worship is the fault of American men. 

 

Royal1

 

American Women Are Sick

Britain is atwitter over the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  This, despite horrific economic problems in that country.  No, England persists in wasting millions of pounds on its outdated, class-based Royal Family.

“The less romantic groaned, while the rest of us swooned,” gushed CNN’s Brooke Baldwin about the engagement.  Ugh.  “All those people who say we shouldn’t be covering this — it’s fun!” enthused another CNN reporter.  Ugh, again.  There is nothing “romantic” or “fun” about wasting millions on these privileged people while so many can’t pay the rent.  I blame the hysteria on this side of the pond on American women.

 

Royal2

William in happier times

 

 

Bristol1

 

American Gays Are Sick

Three good reasons to ignore Dancing with the Stars:  1) The premise is flawed and unfair.  How do professional dancers like Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) wind up competing against amateurs like Bristol Palin?  2) The show is less about talent and more about popularity.  How else to explain the continued success of Palin, whom most objective observers describe as gymnastically challenged?   3) It’s a stupid show.  I blame its popularity on American gays.

 

Bristol2


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