Monthly Archives: November 2013

Grouches

 

Especially Grouchy Holiday Edition

 

Heaven

 

“I felt my body break free, and I felt my spirit break free and I was greeted by these people or these spirits.  I could be with them and be going down this incredible pathway.” — a woman on CNN’s To Heaven and Back.

This got me to wondering:  Why is it that we never hear stories about people who, during their near-death experience, behold the gates of hell or smell fire and brimstone?  But then I answered my own question.  If I had an experience like that, I wouldn’t likely go on CNN to talk about it.

 

*****

 

Target2

 

These “big box” stores are full of it.  They claim that employees who worked on Thanksgiving Day were there on a “volunteer” basis.  Right.  I’m sure that, come review time, the managers at Walmart and Target and Sears will pat Sally Shoemaker and Al Appliance on the back and completely overlook their unwillingness to work on holidays.  Also, how many top-level executives were at work on Turkey Day?

 

*****

 

The Huffington Post is still looking for a few good proofreaders.  From this week:

“We reached out to McDonald’s for comment on this horror, because journalism, with no response so far.”

 

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Europa1

 

In Jason Zinoman’s book about the modern horror film, Shock Value, he discusses “the monster problem” – how directors try to resolve the fact that, at some point, audiences expect to stop anticipating something scary (the monster) and actually see something scary.  I kept thinking of this while watching Europa Report, a science-fiction thriller about six astronaut/scientists seeking signs of life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

Unlike, say Aliens, Europa Report is a low-budget affair, and so I half expected director Sebastian Cordero to resolve his monster problem with a disappointing and cheap-looking, well, monster.  He does not.  Cordero’s movie is too smart for that; yet the climax of the film is still a bit of a letdown.

 

Europa2

 

The Good:  1)  Given the film’s budgetary limitations (or possibly because of them), the visuals on Europa are pretty cool.  2)  The script makes use of actual science, rather than side-stepping it.  3)  There are no clichéd subplots involving romance among crew members, or evil corporations out to sabotage the mission.   4)  Cordero creates an eerie, claustrophobic mood and traps us there. 

 

Europa3Europa4

 

Not So Good:  1)  This is yet another entry in the tired “found footage” genre, and as such we are subjected to narration by an Earth scientist (Embeth Davidtz), which does little to enhance the story.  2)  Although the ending doesn’t deteriorate into man-in-a-rubber-suit silliness, it is a bit on the vague side.          Grade:  B+

 

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Director:  Sebastian Cordero   Cast:  Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley  Release:  2013

 

Europa6Europa7                                         

Watch Trailers  (click here)

 

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Park1

 

Maybe you have to be younger than I am to get incensed over a documentary like Park Avenue.  At a certain point in life, some of us simply shrug and conclude:  “Nothing ever changes.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  I might as well go watch a football game.”

However … if you are young – or if you still have fire in your middle-aged belly – it’s hard to disagree with this New York Times assessment of Alex Gibney’s indictment of the wealthy:  “If you were still on the fence about whether to despise the superrich, this film will almost surely make a hater out of you.”

Gibney opens his film by contrasting the bookends of New York’s famous Park Avenue, which is divided in two by the Harlem River:  the luxurious Manhattan side, home to the largest collection of billionaires in America, and the side located in the Bronx, where infant mortality is high and poverty is rampant.  If America is the richest nation on Earth, why such income disparity?

 

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Gibney doesn’t focus on the poor; he targets the super-wealthy and their disproportionate political influence.  As he wrote for The Huffington Post:  “[Park Avenue] is an intentionally angry film.  I felt that the contribution of this film could be a kind of focused rage against the dying of the light of the American Dream, slowly being extinguished by a flood of money.”

That money comes from the political left and right (Democrat Chuck Schumer comes off just as corrupt as anyone else in the film), but Gibney’s main culprits are conservative, in particular the billionaire Koch brothers (David Koch pictured below).

 

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The article that Gibney penned for The Huffington Post to accompany the film’s premiere generated a meager 15 comments.  If the movie made any money, the numbers are not listed on Wikipedia, which generally includes that type of information for films.  This lack of attention for Gibney’s film must make the Koch brothers very happy.

So go ahead, youngsters, harness your rage to save the American Dream.  If it looks like you’re making any progress in that war, I might even tear myself away from football to help you out.           Grade:  A

 

Park3

 

Director:  Alex Gibney   Featuring:  Jack Abramoff, Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Michael Gross, David H. Koch, Jane Mayer, Tim Phillips, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, Stephen A. Schwarzman, Scott Walker   Release:  2012

 

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                                                     Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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CeeLo1

 

Sexiest Man Alive!

 

People’s “sexiest man alive” list, as usual, is packed with girlie men and assorted metrosexuals, the kind of males that gay hairdressers find attractive.  But I was heartened when I heard that the top spot on the list went to a singer/judge from TV’s The Voice.

In honor of People’s hunk of the year, I tracked down photo goodness of the super-sensual CeeLo Green.

(Top) CeeLo enjoys some fine cuisine; (below) CeeLo models the latest fashion, circa 2008; (bottom) CeeLo delights fans by making a public appearance last week at his sexual assault hearing.

 

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*****

 

Mystery in the Middle of the Night

 

What happened to Red Eye’s Bill Schulz?  Schulz’s abrupt departure from the late-night talk show, coupled with a cursory announcement from host Greg Gutfeld that the longtime panelist had “moved on,” has tongue wagging.

 

Gutfeld4           Schulz

.                            Greg Gutfeld                                                                         Bill Schulz

 

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Alec1

 

On principle, I make a point of avoiding anything that might be described as “heartwarming.”  I do this because I am an incurable grouch.  But I’ll have to admit that I was caught up in the excitement on Friday when the Make-A-Wish Foundation took over San Francisco.

The foundation, as you probably know, exists to grant wishes to suffering people.  On Friday, the organization restored my faith in humanity when actor Alec Baldwin was granted his fondest desire:  to pummel paparazzi.  Thousands of spectators cheered and the Internet went nuts as Alec laid waste to photographers from TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, and other media outlets.

 

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           Police stand by as Alec arrives for his big day.  Alec locates his first target.

 

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Alec’s fans chant “Faggots! Faggots!” as the movie star has his way, below, with a startled photographer.

 

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Throngs of excited San Franciscans show their appreciation for Alec.

 

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Alec moves on to his next targets.

 

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Even the president found time to send a video, wishing Alec well on his special day.

 

*****

 

At this point, historians could discover that Lyndon Johnson, crouching on the roof of the Texas Book Depository, killed Kennedy with a bazooka and I wouldn’t much care.

 

*****

 

An item in my local newspaper:

“Remarkably, the Houston Astros’ broadcast of a game with Cleveland on Sept. 22 registered a rating of 0.0.  As far as Nielsen could tell, nobody watched.”

 

Stadium

 

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Trans1

 

A good thriller is hard to come by.  For proof of that, scroll through your Netflix menu and behold the scores of movies labeled “thriller.”  New ones appear seemingly overnight, and most of them are, well, straight-to-Netflix dreck.  That’s why it’s disheartening when a good one comes along, like Transsiberian, and gets buried in the pile.

It’s a shame because if you like Hitchcock, or if you’re a fan of the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky, here is North by Northwest meets Crime and Punishment.  OK … maybe not quite in that league, but close enough.

 

Trans2

 

Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play an American couple aboard a train traveling from China to Moscow.  They meet another young couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega), with whom they share cramped sleeping quarters.  But someone has a secret, and it’s not long before a Russian cop (Ben Kingsley) takes more than a casual interest in this quartet of travelers.

Director Brad Anderson, who inexplicably works mostly in TV these days (Rubicon, The Killing), devotes the first half of his film to character development, atmosphere and, a la Hitchcock, planting ominous seeds of what’s to come.  It’s no accident, for example, that Harrelson and Mortimer keep hearing of or seeing disturbing episodes involving the Russian police.

 

Trans3

 

The second half of the film, like the best of Dostoyevsky, is a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between Kingsley’s cop and Mortimers wife-with-a-secret.  Transsiberian’s five main characters – every one of them – are fleshed out and interesting.  How many thrillers can say that?

Meanwhile, if you like train movies, this one is a treat.  Filmed in Lithuania, Beijing, and Russia, the passing scenery is often a series of picture postcards from hell:  cold, barren landscapes; toothless, miserable villagers; and, just to break up all that dreariness, an occasional breath-taking sight, such as the sparkling ruins of a church buried in snow (along with a body or two).

But mostly this is a thriller, and a good one at that.      Grade:  B+

 

Trans4

 

Director:  Brad Anderson   Cast:  Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretschmann, Etienne Chicot   Release:  2008

 

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   Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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Hots17

 

Despite what the trailer trumpets (“The most intellectually stimulating movie of the year!”), there’s no question that H.O.T.S. is a dumb movie.  But it knows that’s it’s a dumb movie – and it doesn’t really care.  Neither do I.

By today’s standards – hell, even by 1979 standards – H.O.T.S. is a sexist, juvenile, exploitive piece of junk.  And that’s why I like it.  It doesn’t apologize for existing; it knows that a large segment of the audience will dismiss it, but it isn’t pandering to all segments of the audience.  It’s pandering to me, damn it.  You go watch your Magic Mike; some of us prefer this.

 

Hots1

Hots2

 

So what, exactly, is this 1970s relic?  It’s: 1) A low-budget rip-off of the previous year’s comedy smash, Animal House2) An attempt to lure sex-crazed males by showcasing boobs, boobs, and an occasional butt;  3) The precursor to a slew of 1980s T&A crap (it predates Porky’s);  4) A good-hearted, lame-brained waste of 95 minutes;  5) An attempt to lure sex-crazed males by showcasing boobs, boobs, and an occasional butt.

 

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                                    Danny Bonaduce, above, with Angela Aames and Lisa London.

  Hots4

 

Oddly, H.O.T.S. was penned by two women, including B-movie queen Cheri Caffaro (Ginger).  Refreshingly, the voluptuous actresses on display, including a bevy of Playboy Playmates, seem to be in on the jokes, no matter how lame they are.

 

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                                                       K.C. Winkler demonstrates method acting.

 

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So why should you waste time watching this nonsense, or even see it more than once like, ahem, some of us have?  1) It stars post-Partridge Family, pre-radio host Danny Bonaduce, one of the few actors in the cast who can handle the dialogue, no matter how lame it is.  2) The “plot,” some folderol about competing sororities, includes a pet seal, a drunken bear, topless parachuting, and awful 1970s fashion and music.  3) Susan Kiger’s boobs, K.C. Winkler’s ass, Lindsay Bloom’s boobs, and … first and foremost, the greatest strip-football game ever to grace the silver screen.        Grade:  B

 

Hots7Hots8          Hots9Hots10                              

                         Angela Aames makes a splash; Lindsay Bloom makes a pass.

 

DirectorGerald Seth Sindell   Cast:  Susan Kiger, Lisa London, Pamela Jean Bryant, Kimberly Cameron, Angela Aames, Lindsay Bloom, K.C. Winkler, Sandy Johnson, Danny Bonaduce, Richard Bakalyan   Release:  1979

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                                                 Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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  Hots14     Hots15

 

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Ford5

 

Fat Guys Gone Wild!

 

Chris2

 

Fat Guy 1:  Chris Christie won re-election, and newspapers everywhere were forced to expand to single-column layouts.

 

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*

 

Incognito

 

Fat Guys 2 and 3:  This kerfuffle over hazing/harassment/business-as-usual in the NFL won’t surprise anyone who’s seen what is perhaps the best sports movie ever made, 1979’s North Dallas Forty.

 

Jonathan Martin

 

I have no idea how the Incognito-Martin squabble will resolve itself, but I do know this:  I just finished watching MSNBC, and a panel of gays and hetero “girlie men” were discussing how to fix pro football — and that has to be every NFL fan’s worst nightmare.

 

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Fat Guy 4:  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (photo at top).  Enough said.

 

*****

 

Baldwin6

 

CNN’s Brooke Baldwin might want to choose her words more carefully.  On Thursday, she did a segment on mental illness.  This is how she introduced Joe Pantoliano, an actor who has struggled with clinical depression: “Looking at your credits, you’re this crazy successful actor.”

 

*****

 

Returned

 

Best Show That You’re Probably Not Watching:

The Returned.  Critics keep referring to this eight-part French series as a “zombie” show.  It is not.  It is a ghost show, dammit.

Sundance Channel has again imported an intriguing drama that, aside from all else, is great-looking.  Top of the Lake gave us spectacular New Zealand scenery.  The Returned takes us to the French Alps.  I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but the premise is a keeper:  Long-dead people suddenly show up at their loved ones’ doorsteps — including, apparently, a deceased serial killer.

 

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Trick ‘r Treat

.      Trick1  Trick2

 

At first, I thought this horror-comedy was an undisciplined mess.  But then a funny thing happened on my way to the graveyard:  I realized I had the wrong attitude.  I expected the story to make sense.  Big mistake.  You have to view it as a filmed nightmare, in which your sleeping brain jumps from one horrific scenario to the next – it’s a vampire dream … a serial-killer dream … a space alien dream.  Trick is a surrealistic treat.  Most impressive:  writer-director Michael Dougherty’s colorful, stylish visuals.  Release:   2007   Grade:   B+

 

*****

 

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

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Here’s a cautionary tale about what can happen when you obsessively compete with Daddy.  Downey, the son of a famed singer, was our original trash-talk TV host, a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed precursor to Limbaugh, Beck, et al – not to mention Jerry Springer.  But Downey’s fall was as fast and dramatic as his late ‘80s rise, and the whole saga is well documented in this film.  Release:  2013   Grade:  B+

 

*****

 

Maniac

.      Maniac1  Maniac2

 

Elijah Wood again miscast, this time in a gory, unpleasant serial-killer remake.  Wood might be fine as a hobbit, but as a romantic leading man (The Oxford Murders) or a “terrifying” psycho (this film) … not so much.  The diminutive, child-like actor is simply too physically unthreatening – although he does have creepy eyes.  On the other hand, 50-year-old Jan Broberg proves that it’s never too late to bare a shapely ass for the camera.  Release:   2012   Grade:   C

 

*****

 

Olympus Has Fallen

.      Olympus1  Olympus2

 

It’s Die Hard at the White House, but what was once a fresh concept — ballsy good guy vs. dozens of bad guys in a sealed-off setting, in this case Gerard Butler battling North Koreans in the president’s house — has gone stale.  Butler lacks Bruce Willis’s charm, the villain lacks Alan Rickman’s wit, and the whole film has a been-there-done-that feeling.  There are, however, lots of explosions — if that’s what floats your boat.  Release:   2013   Grade:   C

 

*****

 

Dirty Wars

.      Dirty2  Dirty3

 

Journalist Jeremy Scahill looks into U.S. covert activity overseas, and the picture he paints isn’t pretty.  Scahill’s interviews with victims of collateral damage caused by military strikes – in particular by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the group responsible for killing bin Laden – are disturbing.  What taints this otherwise compelling documentary is the one-sidedness of the reporting:  Government response is either scant or missing in action.  Release:   2013   Grade:  B

 

*****

 

TWA Flight 800

.      TWA1  TWA2

 

Evidence that conspiracy nuts might not always be nuts – and that our government has few compunctions about lying to us.  The documentary makes a strong case that Flight 800 was deliberately shot down on July 17, 1996 – scores of eyewitnesses describe missiles honing in on the plane – but it’s also a frustrating film in that no theories are proposed about the “why” of the catastrophe.  Do the filmmakers suspect terrorism, or perhaps a military mistake?  The movie also gets bogged down in technical jargon about melting nitrates, burning fuselages and other baffling terminology.  Release:   2013   Grade:  B

 

*****

 

The Purge

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An upper-middle-class family holes up in its gated community on “Purge Night,” an annual 12-hour window in which the government sanctions all crime – including murder.  Yes, it has a message about class warfare, and another message about violence in America, but it also has some genuinely tense invasion scenes.  Release:   2013   Grade:   B+

 

*****

 

Flight

.      Flight1  Flight2

 

If your quarterback wins big games, would you care that he also has six illegitimate kids?  Flight is a smart film that asks a similar question:  How should we feel about our heroes when they are also deeply flawed?  Denzel Washington plays a pilot who pulls off a life-saving crash landing – but who also flies high in more ways than one.  The story is realistic and thought-provoking, yet Washington’s pilot is so self-assured, even cocky, that’s it’s difficult to much care about his fate.  Release:   2012   Grade:   B+

 

*****

 

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

.      Wiki1  Wiki2

 

Filmmaker Alex Gibney’s take on WikiLeaks, the online group devoted to uncovering secrets that powerful people would prefer you not know, and on Julian Assange, the weaselly Aussie who founded the organization, is riveting stuff.  The documentary touches on Assange’s legal battles – personal and professional – but mostly poses this question:  Where do you stand on freedom of the press vis-à-vis national security?  Judging from our government’s track record of lies and obfuscation, I’m going to side with the weaselly Aussie.  Release:   2013   Grade:   A-

 

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