Monthly Archives: December 2011

Priests Gone Wild!



Another sign of the coming apocalypse:  brawling Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests.  To watch the melee, go here.




Bullshit Political “Truisms”


1.  There are too many negative campaign ads.  Hogwash.  We love them, we need them, and they have always been part of American politics.

2.  At least he’s consistent and doesn’t flip-flop.  Why on Earth is this considered a virtue?  Hitler was consistent and didn’t flip-flop.  Should we admire him for that?




My new favorite celebrity grouch is Daniel Craig, who is forever grumbling about something, or someone, to the press.  Recently, the James Bond star has snarled about the Kardashians (“What, you mean all I have to do is behave like a fucking idiot on television, and then you’ll pay me millions?”), media interviews (“I can’t do the tits-and-teeth stuff”), and now this:








I thought I should say something about the Bill Maher-Tim Tebow feud, but then I realized that I just … don’t … seem … to care.  But here’s a picture of the Denver quarterback, just because you want to see one.






CNN is relentlessly plugging its New Year’s Eve special with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.  “The most unpredictable show on television!” crows the network.  Balderdash.  Granted, their banter is amusing, but there is no program on television more predictable than Cooper-Griffin on New Year’s Eve.

Griffin will make sex jokes.  Cooper will turn red and giggle.  Griffin will “hit on” Cooper.  Cooper will act embarrassed.  Repeat.  Same act as last year, and the year before that, and ….






Quote of the Week (James Joyce):


“I think I would know [Joyce’s wife] Nora’s fart anywhere.  I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.  It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have.  It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night.  I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.”




This is a fake People magazine cover. It is not real.  But I am wicked and enjoy doing my small part to spread false Internet rumors about celebrities, so here you go.






And finally, basketball fans welcoming point guard Ricky Rubio to Minnesota:




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It’s the end of the year and we are scraping the bottom of the Internet barrel in search of free flicks.  We scraped and scraped and came up with Teenagers from Outer Space, a 1959 absurdity that features babes in bathing suits, stilted dialogue, stiff acting, dime-store special effects, and a ridiculous plot.  Oh, yeah, and a monster shaped like a giant lobster.  This Hulu version of Teenagers is crammed with commercials – not necessarily a bad thing in this case.  Click here to watch this “so bad it’s good” cult classic.


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It’s the end of December, and that means it is time for every news show, magazine, and Web site to compile inane “end-of-year” lists.  But most smart people realize that next year, 2012, heralds the end of the world, and so it makes a lot more sense to compile an “end-of-the-world” list.  Thus, here you go:




Best Species of All Time:  The Cockroach

Everyone knows that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the much-maligned cockroach is one of the few species expected to survive, possibly even thrive.  I don’t see why, come Armageddon, things should be any different for the heroic and plucky cockroach.



Best Con Artist of All Time:  Cleopatra

The Queen of the Nile, according to ancient coins that bear her visage, was one homely lady.  And yet somehow the woman enjoys a “man-eater” reputation, inspiring Hollywood biographies and even a role for our most beautiful star, Liz Taylor.


Cleo2              LizT




Greatest Work of Art:  2012

The critics hated it but hey, when you are right about things, you are right about things.




Greatest Blight on the Universe:  Television Commercials

TV signals are beamed into space.  Somewhere, someday, an alien species will be subjected to god-awful Nationwide insurance commercials.  When the aliens study Earth’s doomed culture, they will despise us for this. 





When the power went out — twice — during this week’s Steelers-49ers contest, someone made the decision to delay the game.  I think that was a missed opportunity.  They should have kept playing in the dark, like many of us did when we were kids.  “Dark football” would have been a big hit.





I wonder if the geniuses at Columbia Pictures’s marketing department thought of potential negative associations when they came up with the above slogan for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  What is hidden in snow that comes forth in the thaw?  I’ll bet they didn’t think of this:






I often channel surf between Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Fallon, but I never watch Jimmy Kimmel’s show.  This is because Kimmel’s show includes a non-stop barrage of commercials.  I took notes the other night:  


11:55 — Jimmy welcomes guest Jeremy Renner.

12:03 — The onslaught begins.  There are ads for Capital One, the Minnesota lottery, Xbox 360, Hilton’s Doubletree, Ford’s Focus, HBO’s True Blood, Celebrity Wife Swap, The Bachelor, Dodge Journey, and Menards.

12:08 — Back to the show.

12:13 — Ads for Bud Light, Blockbuster, Arby’s, Macy’s, Stayfree, Head & Shoulders, Viagra, the NBA, Winter Wipeout, Ford, Xfinity, local news, Citibank, Target, Midnight in Paris, Gamefly,com, Centrum, Target, The Bachelor, Celebrity Wife Swap, Work It, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and The Original Mattress Factory.

12:22 — Back to the show.

12:29 — Ads for Chrysler, Delsym cough syrup, Mucinex, Mitsubishi, GMC Superstore, and local news.

12:32 — Back to the show.


I watched Kimmel for 37 minutes.  There were 39 commercials.  That’s 20 minutes of Jimmy, 17 minutes of ads.  Some day, this is what the aliens will see, and they will despise us for it.




Posting pictures of female buttocks is a sexist, revolting practice, and we hereby resolve to stop doing it.  Instead, please enjoy this beautiful landscape portrait:




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It’s been years since I last watched director Sam Peckinpah’s seminal drama Straw Dogs, but it’s the kind of film that you don’t easily forget.

Peckinpah’s thriller provoked howls of outrage in 1971 for its violent content, in particular a prolonged rape scene in which the main female character, Amy (Susan George), appears to take some pleasure from her assault.  Critics accused Peckinpah of misogyny.  If the macho director’s goal was to generate controversy, he succeeded big time.

I don’t presume to know if “no always means no,” but I do know that the sexual question mark in Peckinpah’s movie — did Amy prefer her alpha-male assailant (an ex-boyfriend) to her pacifist husband David (Dustin Hoffman)?  — was key to the film’s climax.  When the couple’s home comes under siege by the rapist and his thuggish pals, suspense was derived from audience uncertainty about whether David and Amy could work together long enough to survive.


Alexander Skarsgard as "Charlie" in Screen Gems' STRAW DOGS.


Director Rod Lurie’s remake dispenses with any questions about the pivotal rape scene.  It’s clear this time that Amy (Kate Bosworth) wants no part of it.  This is a politically safe viewpoint, but it also subtracts tension from the remake’s final act in which, once again, the couple’s home comes under attack.

But Lurie’s Straw Dogs is still effective because of the universal conflicts it explores.  When Hollywood players David and Amy return to Amy’s hometown in rural Mississippi, the couple ignites a powder keg of culture clashes — city vs. country, privileged vs. poor, liberal vs. conservative, North vs. South, and atheist vs. believer.  Pretty boy David (James Marsden) is a lightning rod for Blackwater’s football-loving, beer-guzzling good ol’ boys. And Amy is a source of constant temptation.

Marsden is convincing as a proponent of the “can’t we all just get along” school of thought, but he lacks Hoffman’s charisma.  Bosworth is a credible small-town-girl-turned-TV-star, but she also projects a bland personality.  Hoffman and George were unforgettable.  I’ll remember them, but I won’t remember this remake.       Grade:  B-




Director:  Rod Lurie   Cast:  James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins  Release:  2011




    Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)






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                                                    by John W. Campbell                                                              



This is why, in some literary circles, science-fiction gets so little respect.  Campbell had a great idea – malevolent, alien life force, frozen in Antarctica for millennia, is thawed by a small group of unwitting scientists – and he put his pen to paper.  But Campbell had one problem:  He could not write.  Let me rephrase that:  Campbell writes abominably.  He never uses an adjective when two or three will do, he indulges in hyperbole, and he garbles grammar.  Huge chunks of the novella are incomprehensible.  I have no idea how Who Goes There? found a publisher, but I can see why Hollywood found it attractive.  Campbell’s premise was one that filmmakers could build upon – and improve with very little effort (The Thing movies are based on this story).  Yes, in this case, the movies really are better than the book.


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937950-Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The


If you haven’t seen the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then the American remake should please you.  If you have seen the original and decide to take in director David Fincher’s copy — excuse me, “reimagining” — prepare for deja vu.

A year ago, I saw the Coen brothers’ update of True Grit.  I enjoyed the new film, but it was a peculiar experience because, aside from new actors,  I felt as though I was watching the 1969 John Wayne classic again, pretty much verbatim.  I had that same feeling as I watched Fincher’s much-hyped thriller.  Fincher gets a lot of things right in adapting Stieg Larsson’s novel:  the wintry sterility of the Swedish landscapes; casting the right actress to play Larsson’s heroine, the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander.  But Danish director Niels Arden Oplev also got those things right in his 2009 original.

Oplev and Fincher both do some tweaking of Larsson’s plot, but they’ve essentially made the same film.  What made the first movie stand out was the chemistry between leads Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace.  Rapace, especially, made a strong impression as Salander, the goth-girl computer hacker who helps track down a serial killer.  In the new film, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara also strike sparks.  But as the adage goes, the first time is always the best, and I prefer the two Swedes.

Fincher is my favorite working American director.  He prefers dark subject matter, and always puts a personal stamp on projects.  So this movie surprised me, because it hasn’t a drop of originality.  It isn’t bad, mind you, just unnecessary.     Grade:  B




Director:  David Fincher  Cast:  Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic  Release:  2011


Tattoo6    Tattoo5


                                         Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)






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                                                     by Mary Roberts Rinehart                                                              



I keep asking myself why Agatha Christie became a household name while Rinehart – an author quite similar to Christie – has faded into obscurity.  I think the answer might be that Rinehart, unlike her British contemporary, never created a charismatic, recurring protagonist.  Her books have no Poirot, no Miss Marple, no hero to capture the public’s fancy.  At any rate, The Window at the White Cat is vintage fun from the American writer.  One thing I’ve learned:  It’s never safe to put out the lights and go to bed in a Rinehart mystery, because someone is always breaking into your house.


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In 1937, the screwball comedy Nothing Sacred was a critical and commercial smash, and it helped make Carole Lombard the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.  Five years later, the 33-year-old actress was killed in a plane crash near Las Vegas.  Watch the legendary star in what might be her best film by clicking here (YouTube version) or here (IMDB version).


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If you read enough Agatha Christie or watch a lot of whodunits, you tend to get pretty good at deciphering clues.  Often, you can predict who, exactly, done it.  (Unless — heaven forbid — the story cheats.)  To lure in the savvy mystery fan, a smart TV crime series comes equipped with two extra weapons:  atmosphere, and great characters.  Advantage:  Brits. 

Here is my take on three British mysteries now airing on BBC America.


State of Play —  Everything is messy in this political thriller, including a marriage, old friendships, journalistic ethics, and police-press relations.  But the direction, acting, and script are crisp and compelling.  This might be the best “reporter drama” since All the President’s Men.  Bill Nighy, as a crusty newspaper editor, has the juiciest lines. 

p.s.  Don’t confuse this 2003 miniseries with its 2009 Hollywood remake starring Russell Crowe (not bad, itself).        Grade:  A


State3   State4


Cast:  John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Polly Walker  Premiere:  2003








Whitechapel — Jack the Ripper, the original serial killer, never gets old.  Jack is just one of the legendary murderers resurrected in Whitechapel, which seems to prove that violent death is an eternal side effect of living in London’s East End. 

Rupert Penry-Jones stars as a rookie detective inspector who does battle with his own insecurities and a host of copycat killers whose murderous role models include ripping Jack and the notorious Kray twins.  When the show focuses on life at the police station the material is a bit clichéd, but once the action moves to the foggy, seedy streets of the Whitechapel district … watch out.     Grade:  B


Chapel2     Chapel3


Cast:  Rupert Penry-Jones, Philip Davis, Steve Pemberton, Alex Jennings  Premiere:  2009








The Hour — Imagine the love triangle in Broadcast News.  Now subtract the comedy, add a plot involving Cold War spies, and you have The Hour, an arresting mix of suspense, romance and, sadly, a distracting dose of political correctness.  As it depicts the story of three young Brits striving to produce a current-affairs TV show, The Hour tends to clobber us over the head with “you go girl” feminism and topics including the death penalty and civil rights — worthy dramatic material, certainly, but hot-button issues in 1956?  But the period settings and costumes are a hoot, the lead actors are engaging and, as is customary with BBC productions, everything is  oh-so smart.     Grade:  B+


Hour9     Hour10


Cast:  Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West, Anna Chancellor  Premiere:  2011




Warning for American Viewers:  All three of these shows feature at least a few characters with heavy British accents.  It can be a challenge for the viewer (at least for this viewer) to follow a complex plot without frequently reaching for the rewind button — or resorting to subtitles.

Another Warning:  It appears that these programs have been edited, i.e., censored, for content, including language.


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I read that Michael Fassbender’s (above) acting in the sex-filled Shame is “fearless.”  I’ve seen that adjective used to describe performances by actresses like Michelle Williams and Halle Berry.  “Fearless” is critic-code for “He/She gets naked a lot in this movie.”  Rooney Mara, no doubt, gives a fearless performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.






Irritating Codger of the Week:  Tom Brokaw


Brokaw’s mush-mouthed, incomprehensible delivery made for painful viewing back when he was anchoring the news.  Then he managed to alienate Baby Boomers and most everyone else with his “greatest generation” hogwash.  (Apparently, widespread racism and sexism during the 1930s-’60s were just minor flaws, in Tom’s opinion.)

Now Brokaw is popping up on the talk-show circuit as some sort of “elder statesman.”  Sorry, dude, but you ain’t Walter Cronkite — and you look ridiculous in that robe (above).




Here you go, Bush, this is your legacy:








Simon Cowell says that new America’s Got Talent judge Howard Stern is “not stupid,” and that Stern will have to curb his outrageousness for NBC’s family-friendly show.  “If he goes too far, he’ll be kicked off,” Cowell says.  Hmmm … a tame Howard Stern?  Doesn’t that pretty much defeat the purpose of hiring him?




Celebrities At The Lakers Game


From E! Online:  “We want to hang out with Charlize Theron, like, right now.  Seriously, could she be any friggin’ cooler?”  E! Online then uses a quote from actress Elizabeth Reaser to explain what makes Theron so friggin’ cool:  “She [Theron] is also very potty-mouthed.  Everyone else I know says ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ every other word, but she is just so unabashedly herself.”

This reminds me of Entertainment Weekly’s recent love letter to Hollywood has-been Ellen Barkin (below), in which EW readers were informed that the profanity-loving actress is “our new Twitter obsession.”  And why is that?  Because “Anyone who reads Barkin’s profane, blunt, and hilarious Twitter feed knows that there’s definitely no filter on the 57-year-old actress and mother of two young adults.”  And what, exactly, makes Barkin so funny on Twitter?  She swears.  A lot.  I guess if you’re 57 and a mother, that’s considered hilarious.

Listen, I’m no puritan, but whoever said that people who swear a lot are compensating for a lack of imagination was onto something. Cursing, by itself, is not particularly funny.  So go fuck yourselves, Charlize Theron and Ellen Barkin.




On the other hand, I would like to hang out with Theron, especially at the beach (below), although not because of her vocabulary.




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