Monthly Archives: December 2010



I don’t often get nostalgic, but if pushed I might get a bit sentimental about, oh … let’s say the year 1991.  That was the last time my favorite baseball team won a World Series (or even played in one).  I was on the verge of getting married back then, and buying my first house, and it was a year in which my future wife and I often went to the movies.  One of the films we saw in 1991 was made by a young married couple making a big splash in Hollywood.  They were considered the most glamorous film combo since Dick and Liz.

“Our modern equivalent of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh,” gushed the New York Daily News, referring to Irish actor Kenneth Branagh and his English wife, actress Emma Thompson.  (For you youngsters, Branagh and Thompson would go on to play Gilderoy Lockhart and Sybil Trelawney in the Harry Potter films.)

The Branagh-Thompson collaboration that we saw, Dead Again, is a silly film with a preposterous plot involving hypnosis, reincarnation, and an evil boy with a nasty stutter.  But if you buy into its premise – some mumbo jumbo about a 1940s murder and its resulting bad karma – the movie is a lot of fun.  Classically trained actor Branagh, who also directed, took a clever script by Scott Frank and delivered something special:  an entertaining puzzler with lots of thunder and lightning – even though it was filmed in sunny Los Angeles.  Watch the film twice if you can:  There is an excellent twist, and not until The Sixth Sense came along ten years later had a movie so rewarded second viewings.

But try not to weep (or laugh) at the ironic dialogue.  Says young Branagh to young Thompson:  “[We’ve] become two parts of the same person.  Nothing can separate [us], not even death.”

“So we’re stuck with each other?” she replies.

Alas, apparently not.  Branagh and Thompson divorced in 1995, and so did my wife and I.  My baseball team has not returned to the World Series.  There is, however, one thing unchanged since 1991.  Actor Derek Jacobi, who in Dead Again plays a scoundrel with a speech impediment, is still acting in films about stutterers.*       Grade:  B+




Note:  Smokers, beware of this film.  I am a smoker and I’m not likely to quit anytime soon.  Having said that, there is an infamous scene in Dead Again featuring actor Andy Garcia that is so nauseating that it almost makes me want to chuck my smokes.

* Jacobi plays Archbishop Lang in The King’s Speech.


Director:  Kenneth Branagh   Cast:  Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Wayne Knight, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Campbell Scott, Jo Anderson, Christine Ebersole  Release:  1991

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Ask people to name a silent comedian, and most of them can probably think of just one:  Charlie Chaplin.  Chaplin was indeed the king of silent comedy, but he had rivals to the throne, and none was more formidable than The Great Stone Face, Buster Keaton.  Keaton’s deadpan demeanor and wildly acrobatic sight gags led many people to prefer his films to Chaplin’s.  Check out what most critics consider Keaton’s masterpiece, 1926’s The General, free of charge by clicking here.


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Just as with any other good presentation, The King’s Speech uses multiple strategies to win over its audience.  The first ploy is an appeal to patriotism:  You don’t have to be a British subject to choose sides in a film about World War II.  The second strategy is to charm the pants off of you.  In this regard, the movie has an unbeatable combo in the odd couple portrayed by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Firth stars as (the eventual) King George VI, a decent man suffering from a debilitating speech disorder.  He stutters.  Through his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), George engages Lionel Logue (Rush), an eccentric Aussie with peculiar – though possibly effective – vocal techniques.

The King’s Speech is an actors’ showcase.  The verbal and social jousting between Firth and Rush is at the heart of the film, and when the two of them are sequestered in an office, experimenting with everything from recorded music to profanity-laced tirades, the movie is at its best.  It is Pygmalion in reverse, with commoner Lionel wielding power over blue-blooded George.

Looming in the background is all manner of social turmoil, including World War II, the abdication of George’s brother, the feckless Edward VIII, and the Great Depression.  Director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler try their damndest to link these monumental events to George’s personal struggle, but no matter how hard you try, and the filmmakers certainly do, you can’t gussy up a five-minute radio address to the same dramatic effect as, say, an invasion of Omaha Beach.   It is still just a five-minute radio address.

The King’s Speech is a small movie, often amusing but not very profound.  Despite Hooper’s attempts to make us sweat the fate of England, the overriding impression is that there is just one thing at stake:  George’s self-esteem.       Grade:  B




Director:  Tom Hooper  Cast:  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Robert Portal, Richard M. Dixon  Release:  2010


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A good deal of the romantic crime-drama Accomplices updates Romeo and Juliet for the wired generation.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the kids in this version of embattled love don’t kindle their passion on anyone’s balcony – they peddle their bodies to middle-aged men found in Internet chat rooms.

Director Frederic Mermoud’s film weaves parallel plots, one involving the star-crossed lovers and the other about two aging detectives assigned to investigate when the boy is killed and the girl disappears.  Both story threads are compelling.  We want to know what happened to Vincent and Rebecca, the kids who took too many risks, but we’re also intrigued by the relationship between cops Herve and Karine, two haunted 40-somethings afraid to risk anything at all.

The film begins with the gruesome discovery of Vincent’s body, bloated and pale, floating in the waters of the Rhone.  From there, a series of flashbacks reveal Vincent’s and Rebecca’s first meeting at a cybercafé and subsequent courtship.  The second story works in reverse time as Herve and Karine unravel what led to Vincent’s murder.

Most of the screen time in Accomplices belongs to the young lovers, played marvelously by Cyril Descours and Nina Meurisse.  Vincent is a 20-year-old hustler, too old for adolescent hijinks but not so jaded that he isn’t entranced by high-school student Rebecca.  We do not learn how Vincent got involved in male prostitution.  Rebecca’s initiation into the dark side, on the other hand, is spelled out in great detail.  The seediness escalates; there is much bare flesh and ugly human nature on display.  Yet through it all, Vincent and Rebecca maintain a credible air of wounded innocence — a compliment to the young stars.

In the end, the stories of Vincent and Rebecca, and Herve and Karine, converge.  It’s bittersweet and satisfying, a final act of which I think Shakespeare would approve.       Grade:  B+




Director:  Frederic Mermoud   Cast:  Gilbert Melki, Emmanuelle Devos, Cyril Descours, Nina Meurisse, Joana Preiss, Jeremy Azencott, Jeremy Kapone, Marc Rioufol, Yeelem Jappain, Clara Ponsot  Release:  2009





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“Quirky” is a style that can be tough to pull off.  When a filmmaker sets the right tone, the result can be delightful.  Ghost World got it right.  So did Wonder Boys – it had a story to tell, but what lingers are its off-the-wall attitude and images:  Michael Douglas in a ratty bathrobe, stoned out of his skull; a dead dog in a trunk; a police car rolling down a hill.

The Royal Tenenbaums aims for quirky, and it’s certainly packed with offbeat characters, but with one notable exception, it falls flat.  That exception will come as no surprise.  The venerable Gene Hackman, as family patriarch Royal Tenenbaum, is as usual a joy to behold.  Hackman’s aging father, befuddled and estranged from his brilliant-but-odd New York family, might (or might not) have cancer and a short time to live.  Having squandered his fortune and happy home life, Royal decides to attempt a family reconciliation.

This is where Tenenbaums misses the mark.  Although the Tenenbaum children are certainly eccentric, there is nothing remotely sympathetic about them.  Gwyneth Paltrow, as adopted “rebel” and erstwhile dramatist Margot, and Luke Wilson, as her ex-jock brother Richie, are presented as star-crossed lovers.  But the two of them sleepwalk through the movie in a morose condition straight out of Night of the Living Dead.  It would seem more of a kindness to drive a stake through their aching hearts than to place rings on their fingers.

Ben Stiller plays what – unfortunately for him – Ben Stiller plays extremely well: annoying.  His Chas Tenenbaum is a widower with two young boys and a gigantic chip on his shoulder.  If I were his estranged father, I would take one look at this obnoxious offspring and bolt for warmer climes.  Chas’s transformation at the end of the movie is utterly unconvincing – in fact, Tenenbaums’s entire happy ending is absurd.

There is lovably eccentric, and then there is irritatingly eccentric.  Offbeat is not always funny, and the road not taken does not always lead to wisdom.  Tenenbaums is a near miss in the realm of quirky, but a miss it certainly is.          Grade:  C-




Director:  Wes Anderson  Cast:  Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana  Release:  2001





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There are rumors afoot …




Gossip sites are speculating about Oprah and her gal pal, Gayle King.  Are the two of them lesbians?  Apparently, many people care about this.

I don’t like Oprah.  On her unctuous show, she sits there like an obese, slit-eyed queen, passing judgment on lowly commoners who are foolish enough to stand before her throne.  From time to time, Oprah will nod at some offstage minion, who will then bestow gifts on Oprah’s fawning audience.  A trip to Australia?  Why not, as long as the Australian tourism bureau picks up the cost, and Oprah gets the credit?

Her Obesity even manages to intimidate the rich and powerful.  Just ask author Jonathan Franzen, who attempted to resist Her Omnipotence but then capitulated when the Fat Lady sang.

So is she a lesbian?  I doubt it.  I think Oprah makes love only to herself.




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Rex Ryan’s thing for women’s feet, Brett Favre’s penis pictures … what can be next for the National Fetish League?  It all kind of makes that whole Vikings “love boat” thing seem quaint.






Oscar speculation is running rampant.  Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, et al, have set tongues a-wagging.  But to my untrained eye, the most spectacular newcomer on the Tinseltown scene is a sparkling young entertainer who goes by the simple moniker “Hollywood.”

She will make you laugh, she will make you cry, she will make you shake your head and mutter, “Who the hell is this Hollywood?”

She is equally adept at action (above) and red-carpet décolletage (below).  Her caboose rivals that of J.Lo.  Keep your eye on this talented singer/writer/dancer/actress/accountant, because I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

That’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it.





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Critic Leonard Maltin called this 1946 production “one of the greatest films ever made.”  Perhaps.  I’ve read the Dickens novel, and I’d say it’s definitely one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.  Watch this David Lean-directed classic starring John Mills and Valerie Hobson for free by clicking here.


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The problem with movies in which the main character begins to hallucinate is that, as a viewer, you are powerless.  The director, not you, gets to decide what’s “real” and what is not.  If he so chooses, anything goes:  Is that a reflection of the heroine in the mirror, or is it the image of a dead woman?  Are those bloody scratches on her body just a hallucination, or are they genuine?  As a mere member of the audience, you can only decide if the filmmaker is playing fair.

Director Darren Aronofsky in Black Swan goes a little too Freddy Krueger for my taste.  His protagonist, a young ballerina named Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), endures one too many surrealistic episodes – often accompanied by that cheapest of movie tricks, the dreaded LOUD SOUND EFFECT! – and these Grand Guignol excursions damage the dramatic flow and credibility of the story.

But Black Swan is never boring.  The acting is first rate, including Barbara Hershey as the creepiest stage mother this side of Kim Stanley in Frances, and Vincent Cassel as a man who has discovered there are no Human Resources departments in ballet companies, and thus uses sexual harassment of young dancers as a routine part of his “instruction.”

Portman stars as a young dancer whom everyone pressures because they believe she has talent but lacks the passion to fully capture the role of the Black Swan in Swan Lake.  Portman dances well, and she proves she can fake orgasms with the best of them, but … all this talk of a Best Actress award?  There are scores of close-ups of Portman’s face, looking tense.  Is that how you win an Oscar?  I think I prefer Annette Bening’s more nuanced performance in The Kids Are All Right.

From press reports it’s apparent that Aronofsky was aiming for a film in the tradition of Roman Polanski’s early thrillers.  What he delivers is All About Eve meets A Nightmare on Elm Street.  His film is atmospheric and packed with histrionics, which is entertaining stuff but not particularly memorable.        Grade:  B




Director:  Darren Aronofsky  Cast:  Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau  Release:  2010



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I don’t know a thing about director David Lynch’s personal history.  I haven’t read any Lynch biographies, and am not even sure where he hails from (although I have a vague recollection that it might be Montana).  But after watching his films, I get the impression that young Mr. Lynch was raised prim and proper, a good little Protestant boy who on one fateful day wandered across to the wrong side of the railroad tracks – and was subjected to one massive dose of weird.

I speculate about that because filmmaker Lynch is famously obsessed with the macabre, the odd, and the surreal, and Blue Velvet is a prime example.  Essentially a Hitchcockian spin on a Hardy Boys story, Blue Velvet follows young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who on one sunny afternoon discovers a severed human ear in a vacant field and decides to conduct his own investigation.  As the story progresses, Jeffrey learns that it is a strange world, indeed.  But whereas Hitchcock used humor to break tension, Lynch opts for bizarre interludes.  There is one scene near the midpoint in which – completely out of the blue – a gay man croons Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to a rapt, crazed Dennis Hopper.  The scene still has me shaking my head.  What on earth has it to do with the plot — or anything whatsoever?

But it wouldn’t be a Lynch film without such scenes.  Sociopathic Frank Booth (Hopper) and pals are unfathomable to Jeffrey and to us, and yet Lynch makes them feel very real.  Isn’t that a great recipe for what’s truly frightening in life?

Jeffrey learns that there are two sides to everything.  “I’m seeing something that was always hidden,” he tells his girlfriend Sandy.  The small town he calls home is a bucolic Mayberry in daytime – and a dangerous haven for joyriding thugs at night.  Jeffrey has a virginal, sweet-faced blonde (Laura Dern) to woo at a Norman Rockwell soda shop – and a rough-sex-loving lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini) to corrupt him in bed.  There are red robins, blue velvet, and a “Yellow Man.”  There is weirdness galore, or, as Sandy and Jeffrey repeatedly tell each other, “a strange world.”

All of which makes me wonder again:  What in the world did young David Lynch stumble into when he crossed those railroad tracks?        Grade:  B+




Director:  David Lynch  Cast:  Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey  Release:  1986



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 .     Barack


‘Tis the Season for Giving (to the rich)


I don’t know about you, but at this time of year it warms my heart to see the rich getting everything they desire.  A two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts?  No problem, Mr. Trump.  A cutback of the horribly unfair estate tax?  Have some more caviar, Mr. Gates.  Time magazine’s Person of the Year?  It’s our honor, Mr. Zuckerberg.  Taxes still too high?  Just move your business out of America, Mr. Manufacturer — and be sure to enjoy the cheap labor in Mexico.

Isn’t it ridiculous how the middle class keeps waging warfare on America’s rich?  It’s Christmas, so please enjoy this picture of what the rich are giving to the rest of us:







Shea Stadium


You won’t find a bigger Beatles fan than Yours Truly, but after watching 68-year-old Paul McCartney croak last week on Saturday Night Live … well, let’s just acknowledge that we ain’t at The Cavern Club anymore.






What the hell is wrong with this man?




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What happens when you watch too many movies?  You could wind up flat on the floor and looking foolish, like Florida school board member Ginger Littleton, who apparently thought she was The Bionic Woman when she swung her purse at a man twice her size.


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