Monthly Archives: May 2011



Cheers & Jeers


Cheers to South Park — Your season-opening spoof of Steve Jobs and The Human Centipede was pure genius.

Jeers to Catholics — You are telling the world that John Paul II, a sick puppy who presided over years of pedophile cover-ups, is worthy of sainthood?

Cheers to “high” gas prices — They aren’t really that high (ask Europeans).  Americans are whining because it costs too much to fill up their SUVs, trucks and minivans — vehicles they don’t “need,” but selfishly “want.”




Jeers to Beyoncé — She debuts “God Bless the USA” on Piers Morgan’s show.  Gosh, is she really all that patriotic?  Or could this be image rehab after word leaked about her million-dollar show for Gaddafi?

Cheers to the blowback on Donald Trump — This pompous ass, who owes everything he’s got to a rich daddy, proves he can dish it out but wilts like a pansy when anyone pushes back.

Jeers to gay marriage — This is all about money, folks.  Gays want the same tax breaks and other advantages that hetero couples enjoy.  So do I.  But until the gay community stands up for singles — straight and gay — I have no reason to support their push for a bigger piece of the economic pie.




Cheers to The Dirty Dozen — Women who scratch their heads over that scene in Sleepless in Seattle — you know, when Tom Hanks and that other guy wax nostalgic about The Dirty Dozen — might have a clue now, thanks to the bin Laden raid.

Jeers to Charles Schwab commercials, especially the one featuring that “vineyard” jerk.  Angry white men whining like two-year-olds — just stop it.




Jeers to me, an angry white man whining like a two-year-old. 


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by Samuel Beckett



This was named the “most significant English language play of the 20th century” in a poll of 800 British playwrights, actors, directors and journalists.  Do I agree with that?  Probably not.  I think that Godot’s exalted “significance” stems from the fact that Beckett’s play is open to so many interpretations.  Does the never-seen title character represent God?  Of the four main characters, does one pair represent capitalism and the other socialism?  Is the entire thing an allegory for the Cold War?  Who knows?  Apparently, Beckett didn’t confirm or deny any of those theories.

But that’s part of the charm of this two-act gem – you can read practically anything into it, and probably will.  The story itself struck me as an absurdist Of Mice and Men:  Two vagabonds spend consecutive days waiting on a country road for the mysterious Godot, diverting themselves (and us) with a mixture of fatalistic philosophy, slapstick comedy, and Alice in Wonderland wordplay.


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The vampire (or zombie) movie, when it falls flat, is almost too easy to pick apart. But let me do it anyway.

Story:  “Mister” (Nick Damici) and young Martin (Connor Paolo) drive north in hopes of finding a better life in New Eden (Canada), but on the journey they clash with religious fundamentalists, vampires, and a low budget.

What’s Rotten:  Damici has all the charisma of a wooden stake and the magnetism of garlic breath.  He is the “strong, silent type,” which is a good thing because at least that means he doesn’t have much dialogue.

Soaring violins are no substitute for real drama, mellow piano music doesn’t trump genuine pathos and, most of all, LOUD sound effects are a cheap way to make the audience jump.

Director Jim Mickle aims for a grim, gritty ambience, a la The Road, and mostly he succeeds.  But you need interesting characters to populate such a dreary, apocalyptic universe.

What’s Fresh:  There are a couple of cool scenes, both of them, interestingly enough, involving aggressive female vampires.  Or maybe that’s just me.

When the stereotyped “small group of survivors” expands to include women, it’s refreshing that Mickle eschews the usual Megan Fox-type and instead includes a pregnant woman and a middle-aged nun (played by Kelly McGillis, of all people).

If you’ve seen The Road, I Am Legend, The Walking Dead, or any other zombie/vampire movie, then you’ve already seen Stake Land     Grade:  C+




DirectorJim Mickle  Cast:  Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Michael Cerveris, Bonnie Dennison  Release:  2011 


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  by Camilla Lackberg



Story:  A writer returns to her hometown on the Swedish coast and stumbles into murder and romance.

Good Stuff

  • Lackberg writes sharp characters, most of whom seem real, flawed, and quirky.
  • The little burg of Fjallbacka, which bustles with busybodies and buried secrets, is a fun setting for a mystery.
  • The identity of the killer surprised me.
  • Princess has a believable plot and denouement – not bad for a first-time novelist.


Bad Stuff

    • Yet another crime novel in which a key plot point is childhood sex abuse.  Whatever happened to the good old days, when routine peccadilloes like blackmail and ruined reputations were essential ingredients?  I guess they were usurped by the serial-killer novel, which has now given way to omnipresent child molesters.
    • There is an abundance of continuity slips and groan-inducing clichés.  From page 90: “It was so quiet in the room that you could have heard a pin drop.”  Did Lackberg actually write that, or was it the English translator’s contribution?
    • Stupid Cop Syndrome, in which the amateur heroine makes crucial discoveries that the cops, inexplicably, overlook.  Sure, it’s possible, but no, it’s not plausible.


Report Card:  B


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I believe I finally know enough about Bobby Fischer.

I remember when Fischer, in 1972, defeated the Russian Boris Spassky and became world chess champion.  In the years since that historic match in Iceland, I’ve read many articles about the strange boy wonder from Brooklyn.  Earlier this year, I consumed Endgame, a 416-page biography of Fischer’s evolution from chess prodigy to infamous anti-Semitic, anti-American, radio-ranting fugitive from the law.

And now, thanks to Liz Garbus’s documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World, I even know what Fischer’s backside looks like in the shower.  Other than that unexpected visual, the movie didn’t really show me anything new about the person Life magazine dubbed “The Deadly Gamesman.”

But the film is still intriguing, mostly because its subject remains such an enigma. Nothing I’ve read and nothing in this documentary really explains the reason behind Fischer’s intense drive.  Bobby Fischer became the world’s best chess player because, basically, chess was all he did.  No football games with the boys for young Bobby, and no girls in the backseats of Chevys.  Just Bobby and a chessboard – thousands and thousands of times, for years on end.

Fischer simply fell in love with the game and, whenever possible, used it to escape from the outside world.  Ironically, that obsession eventually brought the outside world to him.  If Fischer were alive (he died in 2008), he might say the makers of this movie got the title backwards – he would probably prefer The World Against Bobby Fischer.

Fischer’s single-minded drive cost him a chance at a well-rounded, balanced life – and quite possibly his sanity.  That’s enough for me to know.        Grade:  B




Director:  Liz Garbus  Release:  2011


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Watch Liz Garbus Discuss Her Film (click here)




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When the end credits began to scroll for the new documentary Project Nim, I rose from my seat to leave but found the aisle blocked by a young boy and his family.  I tapped the kid on his shoulder, made a slitting gesture across my throat, and said a single word to him:  “Dirty.”  The kid smiled, stood up to let me pass, and asked his parents to do likewise.

The kid and I had communicated like Nim Chimpsky, the “star” of Project Nim.  Nim, a chimpanzee born in captivity, was the subject of a famous – or infamous – scientific experiment that began in 1973 when a Columbia University behavioral psychologist and his students began a sort of English immersion project for Nim.  The idea was to place the chimp with a New York City family – husband, wife, kids and pets – and to raise the little fella exactly like a human infant.  The goal was to determine whether chimpanzees can learn language – not just symbols and memorization, but real grammatical communication.

Depending on whom you believe, the experiment did or did not go well.  After years living with the LaFarge family, Nim was transferred to a string of unpleasant new homes, including an animal medical research lab.

Project Nim is a remarkable movie.  It tells the sad story of Nim, certainly, but it also reveals a lot about the people in his world, including project leader Herbert Terrace, a man seemingly more interested in bedding female undergrads than in making good science and who, probably to his regret, allowed director James Marsh to interview him for this film.  There is very little humor in Project Nim, but the audience broke out in derisive laughter whenever the unctuous, clueless Terrace attempted to justify his self-centered behavior.

Some people love animals, and some do not.  I’d call myself a “dog person.”  I’m not all that crazy about other creatures, including cats, birds … and chimpanzees.  Face it:  Chimps grow monstrously strong, frighteningly aggressive and, as demonstrated in the movie, disturbingly horny.  Nim was no exception – he was no Old Yeller, and he wasn’t Bambi, either.

But when Nim is torn from his human environment and consigned to a lifetime of caged isolation, you have to be pretty cold-blooded not to feel for him.  One episode near the end of the film, when a former “family” member comes to visit Nim in his pen after years of absence, took me completely by surprise with its emotional power.

Oh, yeah.  You might be wondering about that business between the kid and me at the end of the movie; the boy who let me pass after I gestured at him and said, “Dirty.”  What was that about?  I could tell you, but I don’t want to.  You’ll have to see Project Nim to find out for yourself.        Grade:  A-




Director:  James Marsh  Release:  2011

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I’m guessing Hesher will look great in its promotional spots:  See zany Hesher, the long-haired, tattooed stoner, teach granny how to smoke a bong!  See Hesher freak out and hurl furniture, grills, and people into a swimming pool!  Watch as Hesher teaches dirty words to a little kid!

But here’s the problem:  People who buy tickets hoping to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the title character doing all of those wild-and-crazy things will get their wish, but they’ll probably be mildly disappointed, as well, because this movie wants nothing so much as to tug at the heartstrings, and as a mixture of comedy and drama, Hesher is a mess.  It’s an admirable, interesting misfire, but a misfire nonetheless.

The film has a cute premise.  Party animal Hesher meets 13-year-old TJ (Devin Brochu), invites himself into TJ’s home and life … and then refuses to leave.  This new arrangement does not bother TJ’s father (Rainn Wilson), a man so lost in grief over the car-accident death of his wife that everything escapes his notice, including the fact that he’s been staring glassy-eyed at Wild Kingdom on the TV screen for weeks.  TJ’s sweet-natured grandmother, played by Piper Laurie, takes an instant liking to her grandson’s new “best friend.”

Hesher turns out to be the anti-Mary Poppins for this family of three still reeling from the loss of the mother.  Rather than offer a spoonful of sugar, Hesher prescribes a bongful of weed for granny, and a crash course in arson for TJ.  That might sound amusing, but Hesher also tackles somber issues, like grief and schoolyard bullies, with clumsy shifts in tone.  It doesn’t help that 20-something Hesher’s “bond” with young TJ is less than convincing.  (Natalie Portman, cast against type as a bespectacled, accident-prone cashier, is surprisingly good.)

This mix of madcap stoner and mopey mourners might have looked good on paper (and in trailers), but Hesher is too often a kegger with flat beer.       Grade:  C+




Director:  Spencer Susser  Cast:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Devin Brochu, John Carroll Lynch, Brendan Hill  Release:  2011


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The British Are Coming — Again!


I have mixed feelings about the Brits.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, gave the world better theater (Shakespeare), music (The Beatles), movies (Hitchcock), and literature (too many to mention).  But the sun has set on the empire, and the English seem to be having difficulty coping with that fact.   For example:




The Royal Wedding

I got up early on Friday to take in the pomp and circumstance.  It was worth it.  I felt like I was watching a movie — Excalibur comes to mind.  Westminster Abbey was breathtaking — and normally I use that adjective only before nouns like “female” and “buttocks.”  The music was dramatic, there was genuine tension in the air (would Prince Harry hit on Kate’s cute sister?), and it was great fun to see ancient poops like Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and of course Elton John.

But the wedding was also an enormous joke.  As Jerry Seinfeld would say, this was England putting on a show, trying to convince the rest of us that these royal idiots somehow still matter.  They do not — unless you are some 18-year-old royal guardsman who foolishly called Kate “a stupid stuck-up cow” and a “posh bitch” on the Internet.

Making matters worse was CNN’s bonehead-in-chief Piers Morgan, who declared that the nuptials of His Toothiness and his Bovine Bride signaled that “the monarchy is back!”

As an American, I really shouldn’t care about any of this.  Problem is, the British were sending a message to little girls everywhere , including American girls, that it is the wedding — not the marriage — that matters most.


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Harry Potter

I finally got around to watching part one of the final Harry Potter movie, and it was as sluggish and dull as I had feared.  The blame for this must go to director David Yates who, as a critic for Eclipse magazine points out, “completely sucked the magic out of this franchise.”  Since Yates took over with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the series has turned into a very handsome but empty experience.




The King’s Speech

It seems that a lot of folks are falling for movie-studio bullshit that this film is based “on a true story.”  That’s a load of hogwarts.  The stuttering part is accurate, but the deification of King George as played by Colin Firth is a crock of crumpets.  If you need proof, it can be found in this essay that Christopher Hitchens penned for Slate.




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I’ve said it before:  There is only one current comic strip that qualifies as truly funny — Tony Carrillo’s brilliant F Minus.


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