Monthly Archives: November 2010

Potter1

 

I don’t care how old you are, 15 or 50, the beginning of the end of the Harry Potter saga is sad news.  But for me, this magical film franchise really began to fade about five years ago.

The Potter films were a marvel in the beginning.  Director Chris Columbus reached into a hat and produced a pair of movies that captured not only the essence of J.K. Rowling’s novels, but also their appearance.  Think about it.  All of the Potter films – including the five not directed by Columbus – have relied on the ingenious casting, sets, and music introduced in the first film.  Who supervised the construction of Hogwarts?  What genius cast Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid?  With all due respect, it wasn’t David Yates; nor was it Mike Newell or Alfonso Cuaron.  Rowling could not have asked for a better director than Columbus to transfer her vision to film.

 

Potter2

 

Beginning with the third film, the series’s tone began to change.  Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the movies lost some of their charm.  As Harry, Ron and Hermione grew older and less innocent, the stories moved away from the wonder of magic and the mind-blowing concept of a school for wizards, and more toward standard teenage melodrama.  It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when the fantasy began to diminish, but the transition was unmistakable.   If I were handing out Harry Potter grades in the Great Hall, they would go something like this:  First two films – A;  third and fourth films – B+;  fifth and sixth films – B.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a good movie.  The franchise’s expensive production values, veteran actors, and commitment to quality ensure that all Potter films at least look and sound impressive.  It’s the tone, the ambience, that has changed – and not for the better.

 

Potter3

 

Rowling’s books somehow managed to avoid this pitfall.  Maybe that’s because in the books we don’t actually hear Harry’s voice mutate from soprano to baritone (as we did in Chamber of Secrets), nor did we actually watch Ron grow so tall.  Or maybe it’s simply a testament to Rowling’s skill as a writer.

 

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Here’s hoping that Deathly Hallows, which opens in a few days, can recapture some of that old magic … although I don’t expect that it will.   Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:    Grade:  B-

 

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Director:  David Yates  Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith  Release:  2009

 Potter7      Watch Trailers & Clips (click here)

 

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Glory

 

“Exceptional story.”  “Brought to life with astonishing skill.”  “Breathtakingly filmed.”  “One of the finest historical dramas ever made.”  Those aren’t my words of praise – I’ve never seen the movie.  The accolades come from Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide, and Leonard can’t be wrong, can he?  Click here to watch this 1989 film starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.  Who knows – maybe I’ll watch it, too.

 

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                        Ship1 

 

“Horrific.”  “Awful conditions.”  “Harrowing experience.”

That’s some of the hyperbole used to describe the Carnival cruise-ship expedition that went bad near San Diego this week.  Ship guests were deprived of hot water for a spell, and had to subsist on cold food.

Poor babies.  I can only imagine the tears of sympathy shed by the Chilean miners when they heard about this.

 

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*****

 

            The Strange Case of Dr. Anderson and Mr. Cooper

Cooper1  Cooper2

 

We all know that CNN’s ratings are in the tank, but what on earth have they done to poor Anderson Cooper?  Recently, our fair-haired lad has gone from puppy-dog cute (ask Kathy Griffin) to attack-dog mode.  Everything seems to infuriate Anderson.  This week, he is upset about Amazon promoting a pedophile-friendly book.  In his rage, Cooper seems to be calling for censorship.

I’m not sure what’s behind this personality shift, but I suspect that some honcho at CNN pulled Cooper aside and said, “Enough with this Boy Scout routine.  If we’re going to compete, you must toughen up — be more like Mike Wallace!”  I don’t think it will work.  I think he misses Kathy Griffin.

 

*****

 

Idiotic Quote of the Week:

 

Quote

 

So now Conan O’Brien is heroic?  Once again, the Chilean miners must be weeping in sympathy.  Wait … those miners weren’t really heroes, either.

 

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Anti1 

 

Let’s take a little trip, shall we?  Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden.  While we’re there, maybe we can answer a few nagging questions.  Was Eve really a villain?  Are women more responsible than men for “original sin”?  And is life a matter of rational thought creating order … or does chaos reign?

Lars von Trier’s thought-provoking Antichrist has been attacked as a misogynistic film, but I didn’t get that impression.  In Trier’s hellish view of our time here on Earth, we are all of us pretty much screwed.  Here is an exchange between a wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband (Willem Dafoe):

She:  “If human nature is evil, then that goes as well for the nature of —“

He:  “Of the women.”

She:  “— the nature of all the sisters.”

Critics have seized on Trier’s storyline in which the wife, traumatized over the accidental death of the couple’s only child, gradually becomes an Eve apparently designed by the devil, leading to some graphically violent outbursts against her husband.  But prior to that, I had to wonder who was torturing whom — if your husband, a therapist, deals with his own grief by treating you like a psychological experiment in a Petri dish (“No therapist can know as much about you as I do,” he tells her), might not you snap, as well?  They say there’s nothing worse than losing a child.  After watching Antichrist, it seems there might be one thing worse:  marriage to a jerk who sidesteps his own problems by analyzing your every move and thought.

All of this sounds like dreary stuff, and it is.  There are a few graphic scenes, but nothing that fans of, say, Hostel haven’t seen before.  Trier has turned potentially off-putting material into an engrossing, visually dazzling, study of the nature of, well, nature.        Grade:  A-

 

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Director:  Lars von Trier  Cast:  Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg  Release:  2009

 

Anti3        Anti4 

Anti5    Watch Trailers (click here)

 

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Stewart

 

I know what you must be thinking.

You are thinking, “But this film hasn’t been released yet; how can anyone review it, much less give it a 100 percent rating?”  In answer to that, let me just mention two words:  Kristen Stewart.

Although it’s true that I have yet to see the film, I am told that Ms. Stewart gives a powerful performance.  Says one critic of the film, “We can almost forget the weight of Kristen Stewart dragging it down with every hair flip and tug.”

Reading between the lines of that review, it’s clear to me that this critic is referring to Stewart’s unique ability to create heavy, serious drama out of what might have been a lightweight movie.

Back in the third grade, when I was a tyke of nine years, I developed a crush on a girl named Patty Guggenheimer.  Patty was new to our school, and quite unpopular. One day, sitting in Mrs. Spolum’s class, I inadvertently filled my pants.

Most of my classmates noticed the noxious smell and, in their ignorance, began to whisper about poor Patty.  In my shame and cowardice, I allowed this false impression to continue.  Poor Patty, my schoolboy crush, took the blame, and I am heartsick about that to this day.

But I must admit, there was a pre-pubertal excitement in all of this, as I sat there at my wooden desk, my heart filled with pining for Patty and my pants filled with poop.

Over the years, I grew to miss that exciting sensation.  Then one day not long ago, as I watched a Kristen Stewart movie (you guessed it) – it happened again.

I initially became paranoid; was it just me who was thus affected by Kristen Stewart’s performance?  I checked around, conferring with friends here at rottentomatoes.  To my immense relief, I learned that both Hollywood and SB, whose opinions I value, experienced similar, stomach-tingling sensations whenever they viewed a Kristen Stewart performance.

And so, in conclusion, let me make a bold prediction.  Come the spring and Oscar time, the name Kristen Stewart will be announced as Best Actress in a motion picture, that picture being Welcome to the Rileys.  Kristen’s pert, cherry-tipped breasts will no doubt be awarded an honorary Oscar (she plays a stripper).  And when she climbs the stairs to the podium, every man, woman and child in the Hollywood auditorium will fill his or her pants in excitement.

There will not be a dry ass in the house.


Watch Trailers and Clips
 (click here) 
 

(Note: I originally posted this “review” at rottentomatoes.com in October 2010)

 

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by Gunter Grass

Tin

 

Over the past 15 years, I’ve read about 460 books, and all of them – fiction and nonfiction, short and long, classic and trendy – had one thing in common:  I began on the first page, and I finished reading on the last page.  Not so with The Tin Drum. I had to put this book aside after reading 52 pages.  I simply could not stand author Gunter Grass’ style.

Last year, a good friend of mine died, and after his death I learned that this 1959 German novel was a favorite of his.  I was aware of the book’s impressive pedigree:  An Oscar-winning film adaptation was released in 1979, Grass was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize and, according to the new translation’s afterword, “It remains the most important work of German literature since the Second World War.”  I was prepared to love the book.

I detested it.  To me, Grass’s prose screams out, “I am a writer – look at me write!”  Drum’s “groundbreaking” style (switching from third-person to first-person, magical realism – god, how I hate magical realism) and its cutesy characters … all of it seems like undisciplined Vonnegut.  It is tedious reading, and self-indulgent writing.  I really wanted to finish The Tin Drum but, like the book’s hero, the minuscule Oskar Matzerath, I’ve learned that life is simply too short.

 

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Demons7

 

1988’s Night of the Demons was a true guilty pleasure.  It was a horror flick that never took itself seriously, but made sure to include all of the genre’s required ingredients – boobs, butts, blood, and boos (not necessarily in that order).  The acting sucked, the production values were cheesy, and the script was apparently concocted by Cub Scouts at a late-night campfire … but who cared?

Director Adam Gierasch’s remake gets some of this stuff right.  The story is still silly, the babes are on board, and the demons are suitably gruesome.  But other things are seriously out of whack.  The acting is superior in the new film – which is probably a mistake.  Part of the charm of the original was third-rate actors spouting third-rate dialogue.  Gierasch’s screenplay is corny enough, but these actors – like the movie itself – take themselves way too seriously.

As for the boobs and butts, well, where are they?  There’s a lot of teasing in Demons, but apparently political correctness rules the day over female flesh.  Gierasch includes a quick kiss between two of the male stars, but gratuitous female nudity – which is never “gratuitous” in this kind of flick – is in short supply.

This is how Gierasch explains it on the DVD:  “I don’t feel like you can get away with as much stuff now as you could back then [in 1988].  The audience is a lot more sophisticated.”  That’s the wrong attitude; it was the lack of sophistication that made the first film so much fun.

Star Edward Furlong, looking and sounding like someone who’s smoked, drugged, and drank way too much for a 30-year-old, says this of the remake:  “Lotta eye candy.  You got tits and blood – can’t really fail.”  Wanna bet?              Grade:  C-

 

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Director:  Adam Gierasch  Cast:  Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, Shannon Elizabeth, John F. Beach, Bobbi Sue Luther, Diora Baird, Linnea Quigley  Release:  2010

 

Demons9  Demons10

Demons11         Watch Trailers  (click here)  

 

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Cold 

There have been some horrific home invasions in the news lately, but this kind of thing is, unfortunately, nothing new.  In 1959, four members of the Clutter family were slaughtered in their rural Kansas home by two drifters.  Seven years later, Truman Capote turned the tragedy into a bestselling book, which a year after that became this Richard Brooks-directed film.  Forty years after that, In Cold Blood star Robert Blake was acquitted of the murder of his wife.  Satisfy your morbid curiosity about the Clutters (and Blake) by clicking here.   (You might have to verify your age, but you are old enough, aren’t you?)

 

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 .        Faint1

 

From a news report:

127 Hours has gotten audiences fainting, vomiting and worse in numbers unseen since The Exorcist — and the movie has not even hit theaters yet.  A report in The Sun claimed that ‘horrified film fans threw up and fainted at the premiere of Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle’s shocking new movie,’ which closed the London Film Festival last week.  ‘Boyle looked on as paramedics treated fans struggling to cope with gruesome scenes.’  And the person sitting near Daily Mail reviewer Chris Tookey ‘left just after the most gruesome bit and never came back,’ apparently rebuking ‘the most harrowing bone-breaking and amputation scene in the history of cinema.’”

 

Who are these wimps?  It’s a frickin’ movie, people!  Does someone also wipe your arse for you?

 

Faint3       Faint2

 

*****

 

Zach

 

Zach Galifianakis:  Everywhere I turn, I am seeing stories about this bearded John Belushi wannabe.  Galifianakis first came to public awareness in The Hangover, a movie in which he displays exactly one emotion — a glower — and for which he was heralded as some kind of comic genius.  He is now starring with Robert Downey, Jr. in Due Date, an uninspired comedy getting trashed by the nation’s critics.  Here is what Roger Ebert says about Galifianakis in Due Date:

 

EbertA

 

This guy also made the news for — wait for it! — pretending to smoke a joint on Bill Maher’s HBO show.  And he again made news by reportedly wielding his immense Star Power by whining to director Todd Phillips that he could not work with disgraced actor Mel Gibson in the upcoming The Hangover Part II.  I am baffled, bamboozled, and befuddled by this guy’s sudden emergence as a Hollywood player.  It makes no sense.

 

*****

 

Stop It!

 

False       ????????

 

I watch too much cable news.  I know this, because I no longer pay attention to the actual news and am instead transfixed by the anchors and their annoying physical quirks.  Recently, I shared my irritation with entertainment reporter Kim Serafin, who is a living bobble-head doll.  I was also freaked out by Fox anchor Harris Faulkner’s enormous eyeballs.  I am now adding two more anchor pet peeves to my growing list.

I was watching The Larry King Show.  Larry was off-camera as the show prepared to go to a commercial break.  Suddenly, on the audio track, there came a wet, clicking sound — a slurpy, gnashing, glop!  The sound was familiar to me:  It was Larry running his tongue over his dentures.

 

Baldwin1

 

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin is a fox, no doubt about it, but she has the alarming habit of continually darting her eyes off to her right.  I can’t watch her for more than a few minutes without witnessing this odd phenomenon.   It appears as though someone just off-camera suddenly popped off a fart, catching poor Brooke off her guard.

 

Baldwin2  Baldwin3  Baldwin4

 

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 by Christopher Hitchens 

God

 

Hitchens’s book isn’t so much a refutation of god as it is a full-throttle slam on religion.  As a condemnation of man-made worship, the book is relentless – and persuasive.  But as a treatise on whether or not god exists?  Hitchens has no better arguments than anyone else.  As he puts it himself, “Those who believe that the existence of conscience is a proof of a godly design are advancing an argument that simply cannot be disproved because there is no evidence for or against it.” 

For all of his damning evidence against religion’s role in human history, I am still left with one overriding question:  Has the good done by religion balanced out the evil done by religion, or is the ledger as one-sided as Hitchens would have us believe?

 

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