Monthly Archives: June 2012

Court

 

News Nincompoops

 

I tuned in Thursday for the Supreme Court’s big decision on Obamacare.  Little did I know, Aaron Sorkin had written scripts for all three of the cable-news networks.


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9:10 —  CNN’s Kate Bolduan (above right) reported that the Supremes had struck down the act’s individual mandate.  Wolf Blitzer (above left) said that this was a tremendous blow for Obama.

9:10 — I flipped over to MSNBC, where the anchor was announcing a huge victory for Obama.   I flipped back to CNN.

Bolduan:  “So it appears as if the Supreme Court justices have struck down the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the health care legislation.”

Blitzer:  “What a setback … for the president, for the Democrats, those who supported this health care law.”

9:30Blitzer:  “This is a huge, huge win for the Obama administration.”

 

Not to be outdone by CNN, Fox News also screwed up the story — but in a fair and balanced way.

 

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Toobin

 

Thursday afternoon — Jeffrey Toobin (above) made excuses for CNN’s boner:  “Five minutes into Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion, [if] you would have asked anyone in that room whether this law was going to be held unconstitutional, I think we all would have said yes.”

Toobin must have been busy watching baseball on his laptop again, because no one at MSNBC said “yes.”


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But MSNBC was hardly exempt from brain farts.  Chuck Todd (above) on Friday posed this question to Tom Brokaw:  “The legacy of  John Roberts now, will it always be this decision?  Until, of course, the next big decision?”

 

Meanwhile, over at HLN …

 

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Certified lunatic Nancy Grace on Tuesday not once, but twice told viewers that a man had thrown his wife out of a car “on a high-speed Internet.”

That kind of thing never happens with dial-up.

 

*****

 

Louis

 

I’ve pouted that Entertainment Weekly doesn’t seem to care about me.  The magazine’s covers seem designed for gays, women, and teens, not necessarily in that order.  But not this week.  With Howard Stern (America’s Got Talent) and Charlie Sheen (Anger Management) both selling out to crap TV shows, at least we boorish, heterosexual males have one hero left (above).

 

*****

 

Klein

 

Contrary Opinion of the Week

There’s always at least one issue that pits me against 99.9 percent of the population.  This week, it’s the country’s over-the-top support for 68-year-old Karen Klein (above), the school-bus monitor who was harassed by teenage boys.  Yes, the boys’ behavior was inexcusable, and yes, they should be punished.  But if your job title is “school-bus monitor,” shouldn’t you be able to do a bit more than sit there like a bump on a log when the kids go nuts?

 

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Arab1

 

Arabesque is one of those entertaining blasts from the past that gets little respect.  Riding the ’60s wave of James Bond-inspired romps, it seems to fit the definition of “second best”:  It was director Stanley Donen’s second spy thriller, after Charade, and how could Donen be expected to top that?  Its male star, Gregory Peck, was a bit long in the tooth to be darting through dark alleys and wooing sexy femme fatales (in 1966, Peck was 50; by contrast, James Bond portrayer Sean Connery was just 35).  And its female lead, Sophia Loren, was … OK, I take it back, because there was nothing “second best” about Loren.

 

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Here’s what I like about Arabesque:

1)  The teaming of Peck and Loren.  Peck was probably miscast as a flip Oxford professor — his drug-addled bicycle ride on a busy London highway is more bizarre than thrilling — and Loren seems more interested in her Dior wardrobe than in the movie itself, but they both exude star power, and their sense of fun is contagious.

 

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2)  The score by Henry Mancini.  Was there a better film composer working in the 1960s?  Think of the Pink Panther films, or any Blake Edwards drama, and it’s impossible not to also think of Mancini’s catchy theme music.

3)  Arabesque’s plot is complicated:  Professor Peck gets ensnarled with warring Arabs who are desperately trying to decode some hieroglyphics.  But the plot is just there to service more important elements, like the Peck-Loren pairing, ’60s-cool London locations, and a string of madcap chase scenes.

 

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And finally, if 55-year-old Cary Grant could scamper over Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest, why shouldn’t 50-year-old Gregory Peck ride a bicycle?      Grade:  B+

 

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Director:  Stanley Donen  Cast:  Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Alan Badel, Kieron Moore, Carl Duering, John Merivale, Duncan Lamont  Release:  1966

 

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                                                    Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

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Dividend

 

Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor return for this 1951 comedy classic, a sequel to the previous year’s Father of the Bride.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that you have to pick your viewing poison:  The Internet Movie Database version is commercial-free, but the picture quality is not terribly sharp (click here).  The Hulu version is an excellent print – but it includes commercials (click here).

 

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Lawrence2

 

“If you don’t like vaginas, this is not your TV show.” — Lawrence O’Donnell on his Monday show.

“We’ve got profanity and nudity, coming up.” — Lawrence O’Donnell on his Thursday show.

Someone at MSNBC must be urging Lawrence to boost his ratings.

 

*****

 

Perhaps we should rethink our system for naming hurricanes and storms.  “Tropical Storm Debby” fails to instill alarm in me.  It sounds too much like a giant cupcake spreading sweetness and joy along the coast.

 

*****

 

The Killing (Season 2)

 

AMC’s The Killing took way too long to wrap up its whodunit, but, I’ll have to say, Sunday’s finale was wham-bam satisfying.

AMC is unsurpassed at sucking in fans, pissing them off, and then wooing them back.  You like Mad Men?  AMC will take it off the air for more than a year.  You a fan of The Killing?  AMC will frustrate you for a full year.  You watched Rubicon?  AMC enticed us with one brain-teasing puzzle after another on that show … and then cancelled it without resolving a thing.  Enjoy The Walking Dead?  AMC will put you to sleep for half a season … and then dish up a dynamic conclusion.

 

*****

 

            Cycle

 

Lawrence O’Donnell isn’t the only one at MSNBC using sex to sell a show.  The network announced a new roundtable series called The Cycle, to be co-hosted by male models and women who got leg.   However …

“Dear MSNBC:

Your show will not work with just pretty people.  You also need a Bob Beckel or a Joy Behar to keep things real.

Sincerely,

The Viewer”

 

*****

 

Isn’t it time to banish the term, “of course”?  If something is so obvious that you feel the need to preface it with “of course,” is the qualifier really needed?  Of course not.

 

*****

 

The U.S. Supreme Court wrote an opinion this week about a woman’s buttocks that was shown on network TV.  The Supreme Court was in favor of the buttocks.  In honor of that ruling, here is a gratuitous shot of actress Gemma Arterton’s buttocks:

 

Arterton

 

*****

 
Shia

 

The Supreme Court said nothing about the debut of Shia LaBeouf’s penis in an online music video by Sigur Ros.  We can only assume that the justices were left speechless — not by Shia’s le beef, but by his appearance in pantyhose and a feather boa.

 

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Drewe1

 

Is it just me, or did bedroom farces — a Hollywood fixture for as long as there’s been a Hollywood — lose some of their appeal when the characters began actually using their bedrooms?  If Doris Day had hopped into the sack with Tony Randall or, more likely, if Rock Hudson had hopped into the sack with Tony Randall, wouldn’t that have put a damper on their pillow talk?

In today’s romantic comedies, there’s no Annette turning green when Frankie shares his surfboard with a blonde, and no Frankie freaking out when Annette smiles at a lifeguard.  Movies don’t ask, “Will she, or won’t she?”  Now they ask, “Did she do it with the whole team, or just with the starting lineup?”

 

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In Tamara Drewe, the title character shares her bed with nearly all of her male co-stars … but gosh darn it, I like the movie, anyway.  That’s because, at heart, the film resembles those old Doris-and-Rock romances — but with a British spin and a bit more wit.

Besides, how can anyone dislike a movie that takes place at a hotbed of glamour, vanity, and repressed lust:  a “writer’s retreat”?

 

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Into this nest of constipated curmudgeons and academic boors bursts Tamara (Gemma Arterton), a local girl drawn back to rural Ewedown after the death of her mother.  Tamara, a one-time ugly duckling nicknamed “Beakie” in her school days, recently underwent rhinoplasty and is quite happy with her new nose.  The local men — all of them — notice much more than Tamara’s nose.  So does a visiting rock star.  And so do two troublemaking teen girls (young Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie, stealing every scene they appear in).

Loosely based on a graphic novel, which in turn was inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Tamara Drewe also apes the formula of those ’60s Hollywood comedies:  Romance wants to bloom, but misunderstandings and comical obstacles (including those bratty teenage girls) conspire to keep lovers apart.  Everyone behaves badly or stupidly, but we don’t care because they are all so bloody likeable.  Well, most of them are.           Grade:  B+

 

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Director:  Stephen Frears  Cast:  Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Jessica Barden, Charlotte Christie, James Naughtie, John Bett  Release:  2010

 

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                                     Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)



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Creeps

 

“Virtually unnoticed during its brief theatrical run, this wildly entertaining horror-comedy achieved healthy cult status following its home-video and cable TV releases.”  Those aren’t my words; that’s from the plot synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes. I vaguely recall watching this thing years ago … late at night … on Cinemax … in a somewhat inebriated condition.  Watch it, if you dare, by clicking here.

 

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by Charlotte Bronte

Eyre


Until now, my exposure to Jane Eyre has been limited to four-letter answers in many a crossword puzzle.  I thought of Bronte’s 1847 novel as one of those stuffy classics that I really should read – someday.  So now that the deed is done, Ive learned that the book has pleasant surprises … and also that it confirms some of my worst suspicions about 19th-century “chick lit.”


Good:
  By far the biggest surprise is a creepy subplot about a mysterious entity that lives on the third floor of Thornfield, a family mansion that serves as most of the story’s setting.  This … thing, conjuring images of Linda Blair at her demonic worst in The Exorcist, likes to pay unexpected, middle-of-the-night visits to sleeping guests on the floor below.

Bad:  There is much character analysis by narrator Jane, who goes on ad nauseam about everyone’s good qualities, bad qualities, religious beliefs, social standing, grooming habits, forehead shape, and bristly eyebrows.  But that’s nothing compared to poor, repressed Jane’s endless self-analysis and, at times, self-pity.  Can you say, “inner turmoil”?

Good:  The best novels allow you to completely escape your own world, and there’s no greater diversion from the 21st century than 19th-century literature.  Bronte’s England is at once familiar and foreign, and it sucks you in.

Bad:  Jane Eyre is all about character, which is fine, but its plot doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  There are amazing coincidences (Jane, near death in an unfamiliar part of the country, just happens to be rescued … by a man who turns out to be her cousin), and contrived plot developments (a character who creates an obstacle for two lovers commits suicide, thereby clearing the way for a happy ending).

 

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Debbie Downer

 

I was in the mood for something fun and uplifting, like an astronomy show with lots of cool outer-space pictures.  So I tuned in Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking.  At the conclusion of the episode, Hawking announced that there is no God, no happy afterlife.

I watched a second episode.  At the end, Hawking said that there likely are aliens in space, but we’d better hope that they stay far away from us because they are probably aggressive and nasty and might try to exterminate us and gobble up our resources.

I turned off the television.  I was reminded of some dialogue snarled by James Brolin in The Amityville Horror:  “Don’t you have any GOOD news?”

 

*****

 

Southfork

 

Piers Morgan interviewed the cast of TNT’s Dallas reboot.  Piers pointed out that during the original show’s run, viewers all over the world wanted to move to Dallas and get rich.

I moved to Dallas in 1980, during the height of the first series’s popularity.  I did not get rich.  I did, however, make one late-night drunken visit to Southfork.  A buddy and I hopped the Southfork fence, tip-toed over grass toward the famous ranch house … and were chased off the premises by an angry, barking dog.  There is a lesson, somewhere, in that story.

 

*****

 

Zimmer

 

Gripe 1:  Gravel-voiced George Zimmer (above) touting his stores in Men’s Wearhouse commercials.  Zimmer, apparently too cheap to hire professional advertising talent, is hell-bent on driving me nuts with his raspy, grating plugs.  If I ever run into him on the street, I will yank his beard and throttle him.  I guarantee it.

Gripe 2:  Those indecipherable “crawls” on the bottom of TV screens.  Cable news has them.  Baseball games have them.  Networks seem to believe that everyone owns a high-def, big-screen television.  If you don’t, good luck reading the tiny print.

Gripe 3:  I tried to watch Game 2 of the NBA finals but was reminded why I no longer watch much basketball.  Pro basketball is the only major sport that intentionally and consistently ruins the suspense of a game’s final moments by allowing an onslaught of timeouts — and therefore commercials — at the end of the game.  Tie game with 5 seconds to go?  Plenty of time for a Toyota commercial.  Or two.

 

*****

 

IceT

 

Bonehead Quote of the Week:

 

“If it wasn’t for rap [music], white people wouldn’t have been so open to vote for somebody like Barack Obama.” — Rapper Ice-T, pictured above with his wife’s ass, on The Today Show

That’s news to me.  I voted for Obama, but if I thought he was planning to replace “Hail to the Chief” with some rap crap, I would have left the country.

 

*****

 

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Yorga1

 

Last week, I watched a ghost story called The Woman in Black.  It’s a $15 million studio production, designed as a post-Harry Potter vehicle for superstar Daniel Radcliffe.  It was pretty and polished, but I doubt if I’ll remember a thing about it in three months.

Forty-two years ago, I sat in a small, dingy cinema in rural Minnesota and watched a monster movie called Count Yorga, Vampire.  Its budget was $64,000 and it was originally conceived as a soft-core horror film.  It was el cheapo, to be sure, but Yorga made an impression on me that’s lasted four decades.

 

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Thanks for the memories (or nightmares), Robert Quarry and Bob Kelljan.  Thank who, you ask?  Good question.  Quarry, the actor who played the title character, and Kelljan, the film’s writer-director, don’t have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  They weren’t exactly hot properties back in 1970, either.

“We had just four crew members — that was it,” said Quarry in a 2004 interview.  “There was one makeup man and a few guys with little arc lights.  You say the film was ‘dark and mysterious.’ The film was dark and mysterious because we didn’t have enough lights!”

 

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Kelljan didn’t have much money, but he had something better, something that the makers of Woman in Black apparently lacked:  creativity and a passion for his movie.  If you can overlook Yorga’s cheesy production values — admittedly, no easy feat — the film has some genuinely scary moments.  I’m thinking of three scenes in particular:  one involving a couple stranded in a van on an isolated road; a second featuring a woman and her … well, what used to be her cat; and a third in which the suave, menacing count has a final showdown with his nemesis, a doctor played by veteran TV actor Roger Perry.

Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee be damned, Quarry’s mocking, triumphant bloodsucker in that climactic scene is as good as it gets.  Said a reviewer in the New York Times:  “Robert Quarry [is] the best chief vampire I have seen in years.”

 

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The acting is all-around respectable — something not common in B-movies of the period — and Kelljan’s script was even seminal in one respect:  In having Yorga take up residence in modern-day Los Angeles, the cinematic vampire was at last removed from his previous haunts in 19th-century Europe.  Fans of Twilight and True Blood can thank Kelljan for the immigration.

At times, the bare-bones production values even work in the film’s favor, because we aren’t distracted by Hollywood gloss.  Yorga’s retro scenery, jerky edits, and scratchy soundtrack are more realistic than many of today’s “found footage” productions.         Grade:  B

 

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Director:  Bob Kelljan   Cast:  Robert Quarry, Roger Perry, Michael Murphy, Michael Macready, Donna Anders, Judy Lang, Edward Walsh, Julie Conners, Sybil Scotford, Marsha Jordan   Release:  1970

 

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                                                  Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

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HardTimes

 

I’m old enough to remember Charles Bronson back in his heyday, and it’s impossible to dismiss his once-formidable popularity.  In 1975, he was Hollywood’s fourth-highest box-office attraction, behind only Redford, Streisand, and Pacino.  A few years earlier, he received a Golden Globe for being “the most popular actor in the world.”  I never really understood his appeal, but Hard Times (1975) is Bronson in the midst of good times.  Watch it for free by clicking here.

 

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