Monthly Archives: February 2013

Alfred

 

What, me worry?  Yes, unfortunately.  This coffee-table sampling of 60 years of MAD magazine disappoints on a number of fronts.  Many of the selected articles are incomplete; the type is often impossible to read without a magnifying glass; and, last but not least, there is not enough Don Martin.  There can never be enough Don Martin.

Another problem, probably one that could not be helped, is that much of MAD’s humor is topical – and topical humor tends to lose bite over time.  Marlon Brando jokes from the 1950s don’t quite cut it in 2013. 

It might have been a better idea to do what Dark Horse Comics did with old issues of Creepy and Eerie, and publish a series of books containing entire issues of MAD; if they had done so, I would have been happy to buy editions representing, say, 1964 to 1970.   But I don’t want to be too harsh on “the usual gang of idiots,” because there are a lot of funny bits in this 256-page collection, and nostalgia seekers will surely find some nuggets.

 

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ARGO

 

Ben Affleck’s moderately entertaining Argo is the trendy pick to walk off with a Best Picture award at tonight’s Oscars, and if it does, it will be a bigger con than the great escape his movie depicts.

Argo, loosely based on a joint effort between Canada and the CIA to smuggle six Americans out of Tehran in 1980, is a perfectly serviceable blend of comedy and suspense – but no more than that.  The movie doesn’t come to life until its third act, when Affleck, as real-life agent Tony Mendez, has some tense moments shepherding his American charges (posing as filmmakers in Iran to scout locations) through Tehran’s hostile airport security.

Prior to that, we sit through 90 minutes of mostly yawn-inducing exposition in which CIA spooks make plans and Hollywood players (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) crack jokes.  Don’t make the mistake that I did, expecting this film to be a comic thriller, with the emphasis on “comic”; for the most part, Argo takes itself oh-so seriously, with Arkin and Goodman on hand, sporadically, to contribute a few wisecracks.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that big Ben and the Americans win the day.  I won’t carp about the unlikely, nick-of-time developments (pick up the phone! pick up the phone!) that add to the suspense, because that’s what thrillers do.  And I also won’t complain about the climactic chase scene, which reportedly has no basis in reality, because hey, that’s also what thrillers do.

But the epilogue is one of those absurd “everybody stand up and clap” clichés that Hollywood loves to stage – even though, in this case, nobody actually claps.  (Wait, I double-checked; yes, they do.)  For no apparent reason, Ben’s estranged wife takes him back, and Ben gets a macho backslap from the boss.  God forbid they also give him an Oscar.              Grade:  B

 

ARGO

 

Director:  Ben Affleck   Cast:  Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham   Release:  2012

 

ARGO

 

                                     Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Arias2

 

“He called me a fucking idiot.”

 

— Jodi Arias testifying at her murder trial on Wednesday.  Her colorful language somehow slipped past HLN’s censors, causing me whiplash as I sat at my computer and prompting HLN anchor Ryan Smith to apologize to surprised viewers.

 

*****

 

Swift2

 

Taylor Swift revenge songs … Taylor Swift revenge dress ….  Am I the only one who’s beginning to wonder if the problem here might be Taylor Swift, and not the endless series of ex-boyfriends she seems hell-bent on trashing?

 

*****

 

Zac

 

If I continue to have this problem with ConsumerAffairs, do I report it to ConsumerAffairs?

 

*****

 

Retailers often emphasize sports when they promote their big-screen, high-definition TVs.  I think a better selling point would be the programming on the Science channel.  Nothing quite like watching computer-generated asteroids hurtling toward Earth, or supernovas bursting in crystal-clear detail on shows like How the Universe Works and Through the Wormhole.

This story is not particularly newsworthy, but it is a good excuse to post a cool outer-space picture, so here you go.

 

Asteroid

 

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Girls1

 

Thoughts from a Middle-Aged Male About a Show Meant for …

Well, Not Him

 

Lena Dunham’s Girls attracts an awful lot of media attention for a show with modest ratings.  According to its critics, the HBO series:  fails the diversity test; celebrates as role models four young women living in New York City who are self-centered and do little but whine about their (privileged) lives; frequently foists upon the unsuspecting viewer the unwelcome spectacle of a naked Dunham, a big girl who has no business taking her clothes off.

The show’s champions, especially television critics, say Girls is groundbreaking TV and Dunham is a genius.

 

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Clearly, the world demands some impartial reflections from a middle-aged male, such as me.  My impressions after binge-viewing the first five episodes:

One:  At its core, there is nothing particularly new about the show’s themes.  Girls just want to find love … girls just want to have babies … girls just want R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

It’s the manner in which those themes are addressed that gives the show its bite.  Hannah (Dunham) and her roommate Marnie (Allison Williams) enjoy watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show … but it’s hard to imagine Mary and Rhoda cracking jokes at an abortion clinic, as Hannah and Marnie do, or engaging in kinky sex play to get their boyfriends off, as Hannah does.

Two:  Unlike Mary and Ted and Mr. Grant, the main characters on Girls are not overtly lovable.  I would call them “interesting.”  Hannah and company are reaping the rewards of feminism — but they are also abusing them.  Casual sex and potluck drugs are de rigueur for these gals (their boyfriends are no better).

Three:  There really isn’t all that much nudity — at least not in the first five episodes — contrary to the sniggering comments found at some Web sites.

 

Girls3 Girls4

 

Four:  The girls don’t strike me as all that spoiled or that privileged.  If you’re going to criticize their characters, it would be for their immaturity — something I certainly never experienced.  Did you?

Five:  There are no minorities in major roles.  Big deal.

Six:  There is a lot of crude behavior and language.  Not a good thing, but last time I checked out the real world, there is a lot of crude behavior and language.

Bottom (middle-aged) Line:  I like the show.  It’s not the work of brilliance that some critics maintain, but it is well-written, funny, and unpredictable.     Grade:  B+

 

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Creator:  Lena Dunham  Cast:  Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky  Premiere:  2012

 

Girls6

 

                                           Watch the Trailer or Episodes  (click here)

 

Girls7

 

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 by Richard Lloyd Parry

People2


When it comes to “true-crime” material, journalist Parry had a lot to work with for this book:  a mysterious, cold-blooded rapist/killer who used charm and loads of cash to lure victims; an intriguing culture clash between East and West, as the British family of victim Lucie Blackman descends on the Land of the Rising Sun to seek justice for Lucie, who was eventually found – in pieces – buried in a seashore cave; and the lurid setting of much of the book:  the bizarre night world of Roppongi, a Tokyo red-light district where Lucie worked as a “hostess.”

What Parry delivers is a workmanlike recounting of the hunt for Lucie, followed by the trial of middle-aged Joji Obara, who comes off as a combination of Jay Gatsby and Hannibal Lecter,  certainly the strangest “date rapist” in Japanese history.  But Parry is handicapped by never landing an interview with the enigmatic Obara, which turns People into a poignant, but not particularly compelling, story of the luckless Blackmans.

 

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Whites1

 

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia made me feel like a horsefly at the county dump.  Everywhere I looked, there was garbage and piles of unpleasantness, but damned if it didn’t attract me.

Director Julien Nitzberg used film from a 1991 documentary and new footage to shine a spotlight on the Whites, a multi-generational clan of mountain dancers, moonshiners, cons, and killers, not to mention the terror of Boone County, West Virginia.  The Whites — from barefoot young’uns to toothless elders — allowed Nitzberg to film them in bad times and in … well, I’m not sure that there are any good times for this bunch, although I’m certain they would argue the point.

One of the challenges of watching this movie is that each White is a natural-born storyteller, blessed with the con man’s gift of gab, usually through nicotine-stained teeth and whiskey-choked larynxes.  But how much of what they say is actually true?  It’s tempting, for example, to listen as Jesco White professes his admiration for Charles Manson and to assume that, like any good reality-TV star, Jesco simply knows how to hook his listener.

 

Whites2

 

But then Nitzberg turns his camera on Boone County law enforcement, and the sheriff rattles off a litany of crimes committed by Whites over the years.  We learn who was shot, who was killed, and who was imprisoned.  We watch Kirk White snort drugs just hours after she gives birth to yet another White.  A judge means business when he sentences Brandon Poe to 50 years in prison for shooting Mamie White’s boyfriend in the face.  And “Wimpy” isn’t kidding when he reveals what’s tattooed on his penis.

There’s a good deal of exploitation in a documentary like this, both by the filmmakers and by the self-serving subjects.  We are often invited to laugh at their outlaw exploits.  Yet when I wasn’t gawking at a drunken “girls’ night out” or marveling at Jesco’s clog-dancing routine, I felt … depressed.

We see little soul-searching by the hell-raising Whites, nor any sleepless nights when the government checks don’t arrive in the mail.  The coal-mining life of these hill people, despite all their whooping and dancing and drinking, is not very pretty.  Sort of like what you see at the county dump.            Grade:  B+



Whites3      Whites4

Whites5      Whites6

 

Director:  Julien Nitzberg  Featuring:  Jesco White, Mamie White   Release:  2009

 

Whites7

Whites8

 

                                              Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

Whites9

 

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Triumph2

 

The Love Boat

 

I used to wonder what a poop deck was.  Not anymore, thanks to the passengers on the ill-fated Triumph.

I actually feel a bit sorry for Carnival’s P.R. people, who are having to answer so many idiotic questions from the media.  They should have simply issued a two-word press release:  “Shit happens.”

Oh and by the way, media … this cruise-ship business was mildly interesting, but Jon Stewart was correct in calling you out for going, uh, overboard with your frantic coverage.  Inconvenienced vacationers are page 2 news.  What do I consider page 1 news?  Well, this …

 

Meteor

 

*****

 

Eggheads, Airheads, and Dogheads

 

Security expert James Lewis was on Face the Nation.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a man whose noggin so closely resembles an egg.

 

Egg   Lewis3

 

*****

 

Banfield, Ashleigh

 

I was under the impression that most bubble-headed anchors work at Fox News, but it’s hard to ignore CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield (above).  Banfield and Anderson Cooper shared this memorable exchange during last week’s East Coast snowstorm:

 

Banfield:  One other thing that I’ve been doing, Anderson, all day I’ve been doing the president’s measurements.  And I think this — as the governor of the state said — this is when it’s going to start getting a lot more serious.  The snowfall is going to start getting a lot more thick.  We’re going to get those 3 to 5 inches an hour.  And our official president’s measurement, we have reached Millard Fillmore.  I’ve been waiting.  I’ve been waiting to reach Millard Fillmore, which is about seven inches or so.  But now I can tell you every ten minutes or so, we are going up a president.

Cooper:  Hey, Ashleigh, I know you’re cold, but what are you talking about?  I don’t understand.  The measurements of the presidents?

Banfield:  Anderson Cooper, get your Kathy Griffin on.  I have a second-grader, so this is how the rulers are when you’re in second grade.

Cooper:  OK.

Banfield:  They’re the presidents.

Cooper:  I see.  OK.

Banfield:  Get with the program.  I’ve been measuring it in president.  We started at George Washington.  We’re at Millard Fillmore.  I’m waiting to get to Cleveland, not second term, first term, because that’s halfway.

Cooper:  It’s been a long night, hasn’t it, Ashleigh?

 

*****

 

DogFace

 

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Beast1

 

As I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, director Benh Zeitlin’s mystical, philosophical sojourn in the “Bathtub,” a fictional bayou settlement in southern Louisiana, I had two reactions:  1) I thought, this is the kind of film that sheltered, privileged city-dwellers probably love, because it allows them to spy on and empathize with rural “little people” for a brisk 90 minutes or so;  2) I thought, this is the kind of film that residents of the Bathtub — if they were real and assuming they ever watched movies — would likely detest.  There is very little plot, lots of mumbo jumbo about man’s place in the universe, artsy-fartsy photography, and a “can we all get along?” sentimentality.

Oh, and I had a third thought:  The people of the Bathtub would make excellent subjects for a documentary on the National Geographic Channel.  If nothing else, Beasts is a welcome reminder that, between the coasts, America is many things, none of them apartments on the Upper East Side or cop chases in South L.A.

 

Beast2        Beast3

 

Young Quvenzhane Wallis, five years old at the time of filming, has been nominated for an Oscar for her starring role as “Hushpuppy,” a spunky Bathtub resident who lives in squalor with her ailing, abusive father.  Wallis is very good; she has an expressive face and loads of charm.  But Best Actress good?  Lord, no.  Maggie Smith has nothing to fear.  At least not yet.

Not a lot happens to Hushpuppy in this movie.  We are voyeurs of her poverty-stricken lifestyle in the heat and humidity of the swamp.  But we needn’t worry much about her because, although her drunken father occasionally beats her and her neighbors are all illiterate pigs, these people like each other.  And Hushpuppy is wise beyond her years.  And the Bathtubians(?) don’t much cotton to encroachment by modern civilization, which threatens their idyllic way of life.  So we can thank them for 90 minutes of their time and go back to our apartments and cop chases in South L.A.        Grade:  C+

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Beast4

 

Director:  Benh Zeitlin  Cast:  Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander  Release:  2012

 

Beast5

 

                                                  Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Grace5

 

“They go straight back home, they make a beeline back to the apartment, back to the home for more anal sex.  You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.”

 

That’s a quote from Nancy Grace, who has been taking a keen interest in the trial of Jodi Arias for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  Trial watching has also been a welcome opportunity for Nancy and BFF Casey to enjoy some long-overdue bonding (above). 

Photoshop, you ask?  Certainly not.  We aren’t professional graphic artists here at The Grouchy Editor, so if ever we did attempt to alter a photograph, you would most likely be able to tell.

 

*****

 

Skeet

 

I guess this demand from the right for a picture of Obama shooting a gun (above) is some sort of manhood test.  OK, but it seems only fair then that we all get to enjoy this manly photo of George Bush from back in his cheerleader days:

 

Bush

 

*****

 

Rachel2

 

I realize that we can’t all be fashion models, and I love casual Fridays as much as the next guy, but geez Rachel, what is this?  “Hobo chic”?

 

*****

 

More proofreading woes at The Huffington Post:



Story

 

*****

 

“We interrupt this week’s coverage of nutcase Jodi Arias’s murder trial to bring you coverage of rogue nutcase Christopher Dorner, an ex-cop on a murderous rampage in California.”

I understand the hand-wringing over our tendency to treat hard news as “infotainment,” but good grief, is there no end to these outrageous diversions?  Guess I should ask Nancy and Casey.

 

*****

                                                

Block2

 

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 by Gillian Flynn

Gone


Did smirking Nick Dunne kill his gorgeous, albeit pampered, young wife?  As I read for clues, the plot twists kept coming but I persevered … persevered … persevered – stop.  Alas, about two thirds into the story, Gone Girl lost me.

Flynn’s mindbender is peppered with clever asides about marriage, co-dependence, and the perils of marrying a sociopath, but it’s also decidedly lacking in sympathetic characters; if her people aren’t flat-out crazy, then they’re something conceivably worse: relentlessly cynical.  But we all love a good villain, and the cat-and-mouse shenanigans between the less-than-perfect Dunnes are often delicious (imagine Nick and Nora Charles with homicidal streaks).  The problem here is plot:  There are simply too many “yeah, right” moments.

 

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