Monthly Archives: September 2010



According to, “The Town proves that Ben Affleck has rediscovered his muse.”  After sitting through this pedestrian cops-and-robbers movie, Affleck’s second film as director, I can only speculate what that “muse” might be.  Old episodes of Starsky & Hutch?  Repeat viewings of Point Break?

You can’t blame the charisma-challenged actor for trying his hand at directing, and Gone Baby Gone was a fine debut for him, but let’s not go overboard in praising The Town, which is no more than a cliché-laden crime drama.  Affleck was smart to surround himself with talented supporting actors, but casting himself in the lead role as a Boston “tough guy”?  I didn’t buy that.

This kind of movie, in which we are asked to empathize with blue-collar roughnecks, has worked well in the past.  It worked beautifully in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River.  But sorry, while I definitely do not want to run into an angry Sean Penn in a dark Charlestown alley, if I encounter an angry Ben Affleck in that same alley, I’ll just assume he’s having trouble locating his car keys.  Affleck is more Dudley Do-Right than brooding antihero.  With his soft eyes and earnest expressions, he projects harmless nice-guy, not Boston tough.

This miscasting of Affleck by Affleck tears down The Town, because Affleck the actor is key to the whole enterprise.  If I don’t buy his bank robber, I don’t buy anything else in the movie, which is as much about relationships as it is bank heists.  Jeremy Renner and Pete Postlethwaite, great as they are, are supporting characters.  Rebecca Hall, as Affleck’s love interest, plays yet another “girlfriend” – the same underwritten role we’ve seen in a hundred other films.  We’ve also seen this plot, in which the bad guy hopes to reform and win the love of a beautiful woman, in better films.

Affleck was quoted in Entertainment Weekly explaining that the studio wanted The Town to be an action movie with plenty of gunplay.  “If I could deliver those sequences, I was free to make a drama with themes I was interested in, like class in America and how children pay for the sins of their parents.”  That’s an admirable goal, but let’s hope that next time Affleck and his muse stay behind the camera.      Grade:  C-




Director:  Ben Affleck  Cast:  Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper  Release:  2010


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“You can see that the rapist doesn’t have a penis,” says Rodolphe Chabrier, “so Gaspar [Noe, the director] and I decided to add a virtual one, created with 3-D animation.”

So says Chabrier, visual effects supervisor of Irreversible, elaborating on the filming of a 10-minute rape scene that rankles many of the movie’s detractors.  But Chabrier’s revelation pretty much sums up what’s wrong with the entire film:  A genital isn’t the only thing missing from this revenge drama; the film itself is all style and very little substance.

Thanks I suppose to Memento, which came out two years earlier, Irreversible is told in reverse chronological order.  But that wasn’t disorienting enough for Noe.  The first third of the movie is a whirlwind of spinning and zooming camera angles, screamed obscenities, and a discordant soundtrack – all meant to convey a sensation of chaos as the rape victim’s two male friends seek to avenge the crime.  This sense of nightmarish anarchy works, but to what end?  The men are enraged, I get it.  The gay S&M bar they wind up in is a fevered den of unleashed passion, I get that, too.  Does that mean I want to wallow in this dizzying world of flash-and-dash cinematography for a full 30 minutes?  No.

I guess that by beginning his movie with violent retribution and then working backwards to more sedate times, Noe wants audiences to look at the concept of vengeance in a new way.  But I felt I was just watching a director and his CGI guys show off what they could do. 

As for the lengthy rape that actress Monica Bellucci endures in the infamous tunnel scene, it’s graphic without being explicit.  But you have to wonder if it was really necessary to make the scene ten minutes long.  And here’s a question that is probably superfluous, but what’s up with adding in that penis?        Grade:  C-




Director:  Gaspar Noe  Cast:  Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia  Release:  2002


Irrev3           Irrev4


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Moviemakers go to great extremes to frighten us.  They will concoct sociopathic monsters with tragic childhoods and perverse predilections, or hatch drooling aliens on a spaceship a million miles from Earth.  But, hey – why go to all that trouble when you can simply drop a great white shark into our favorite swimming hole?  Or, as director Carlos Brooks does in Burning Bright, let loose a Bengal tiger in our living room?  And not just any tiger, but one that hasn’t been fed for two weeks and thus is rather, uh, “irritable.”

As Spielberg proved in Jaws, we humans haven’t evolved so much that we don’t still jump when we spot a menacing fin gliding toward us in the water and, I don’t know about you, but Tony the Tiger tiptoeing out of my bathroom will always get my attention.  With skilled direction, clever editing, and a soundtrack that knows what it’s doing, a movie that exploits our primal fears can be disturbingly effective.

Brooks’s problem in Burning Bright is the set-up:  How do you get a ferocious feline into a sealed-off house with a cute girl and her autistic younger brother?  In retrospect, the explanation that Brooks and his screenwriters expect us to buy is ridiculous, but by the time you stop to think about it you won’t care, mostly because you haven’t had time to stop and think about it.  Once that girl and boy are trapped in the house with the cat, your brain will spend the next 45 minutes thinking one of two things:  “Where the fuck is the tiger?” and “Where the fuck is that tiger now?”

This is a small movie, nowhere near as epic as Jaws, but it depresses me that a thriller this skillful and fun (likewise for the similar, crocodile-themed Black Water) is relegated straight to the DVD shelf while big-budget junk like the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake gets wide release.  Sure, Burning Bright is derivative (it’s basically Cujo mixed with Halloween), and its plot is absurd.  But I’ll wager you won’t care about any of that while it’s playing.  You’ll be too busy glancing at corners of the screen, anxiously asking yourself, “Where the fuck is that tiger?”      Grade:  B+



Director:  Carlos Brooks  Cast:  Briana Evigan, Garret Dillahunt, Charlie Tahan, Meat Loaf  Release:  2010


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I might have been a bit too hard on this documentary in my review of it back in July.  I focused a lot on what the movie did not do:  satisfactorily resolve a mystery (it probably couldn’t), and present a more balanced perspective (it probably should have).  But the filmmakers do present a suitably creepy look at some real-life child killings in New York, and an examination of the drifter who might or might not be responsible.  Read my review of Cropsey here,  then watch the documentary for free by clicking here.


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 by P.D. James



Mystery queen P.D. James is a master of character and atmosphere, but I always have issues with her plots.  Either her endings seem preposterous, or I am unconvinced by various story elements along the way.  True to form, Death in Holy Orders is deliciously moody, and its people are intriguing.  But the ending was unsurprising and a bit anticlimactic (not exactly “preposterous,” this time), and I simply did not buy into certain key motivations earlier in the tale.  Still … if the idea of four deaths at an isolated, seaside theology college appeals to your mystery-loving side, you can do a lot worse than this book.


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I suppose I should know better than to seek moral enlightenment from programs like Showbiz Tonight, but sometimes the double standards are simply breath-taking.  Brooke Anderson, grinning bimbo and co-host of the show, breathlessly informed viewers of a “catfight” between two women on Jersey Shore.  “These young women having fistfights — are you loving it, or is it just over the top?” giggled Brooke.

Not five minutes later, Brooke took 84-year-old Jerry Lewis to task for suggesting that Lindsay Lohan be spanked for her misbehavin’ ways.

In summary, viewers are invited to delight in what might constitute felony assault on Jersey Shore, but shame on dirty old man Jerry.




Trendy Shows That I Refuse to Watch


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The media fawn over certain shows, whether the public agrees or not.  When you look at the numbers, it seems that what determines a “hit” in today’s fragmented viewing market is hardly the same as in the past, when there were clear ratings juggernauts like Gunsmoke or All in the FamilyGlee, Mad Men, Jersey Shore … all enjoy media adulation — and relatively small fan bases.


Mad   Archie




Another Thing About Sports …

Why is it that in sports like tennis and golf, the crowd is expected to hush, but not so in other sports?  When a basketball player lines up for a crucial, last-second free throw, does that not require the same type of concentration that a golfer must summon for an important putt?  Yet in basketball, the crowds are encouraged to do everything possible to distract the poor shooter, whereas in golf, well … shhhhh!

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“Lovable hit men.”  If you have a hard time wrapping your mind around that concept, imagine what studio heads must have felt when writer-director Martin McDonagh approached them with the idea of making two assassins the heroes of his black comedy, In Bruges.

Whatever the reaction, it was a great day for filmgoers when McDonagh’s movie got the green light.  In this wacky yet poignant (yes, poignant) film, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, two European hit men laying low in Bruges, Belgium.  Ray has accidentally killed a child, and the boss (Ralph Fiennes), for reasons known only to him, has ordered his two hapless killers into hibernation.  Bruges is an ideal layover for middle-aged Ken, who digs its medieval architecture and relative freedom from tourists.  For the younger, more impetuous Ray, however, the old city is anathema.  “Ray, you’re about the worst tourist in the whole world,” complains Ken.  “If I’d grown up on a farm,” rejoins Ray, “and was retarded, Bruges might impress me.  But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

The first ten minutes of In Bruges – even on a second viewing – had me laughing out loud.  This is something I rarely do when watching movies.  The film is gleefully politically incorrect, with targets ranging from American tourists to obese people to dwarves, but I wouldn’t call it mean-spirited.  And Farrell and Gleeson make an extraordinary movie team; this is Laurel and Hardy with silencers.

That “lovable hit men” concept could not have been easy to pull off.   A deft touch was required, and McDonagh strikes a perfect balance between light and dark.   In Bruges has bad guys galore, but these villains are all cursed with consciences and warped honor codes.  “You’ve got to stick to your principles,” says Fiennes, right before pulling his trigger.          Grade:  B+



Director:  Martin McDonagh  Cast:  Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten, Eric Godon  Release:  2008


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Horror spoofs are nothing new.  You can go back to 1948 and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein if you want to laugh at monsters.  But clever horror parodies are hard to find.  Shaun of the Dead comes to mind.  So does The Return of the Living Dead, a 1985 romp that takes aim at George Romero and his zombie movies, hitting the mark more often than not.  Watch it for free by clicking here.


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Critic Roger Ebert describes the world on display in Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 as an immersive experience, and I can’t disagree with that assessment.  But this is not the England filmgoers have grown accustomed to seeing.  There are no by-the-rules Scotland Yard inspectors, no Sherlock Holmes, no Jane Tennison.  There is nothing “feel good” in this crime drama, period.

Director Julian Jarrold, in this first installment of a televised trilogy based on novels by David Peace, has expertly crafted a noir that depicts 1970s Yorkshire (in northern England) as a place of unrelenting evil and despair.  This hopeless atmosphere, punctuated by acts of violence, is the movie’s strength.  But I also think it’s a weakness.

The protagonist of the film is young Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a hotshot reporter who is arrogant and mouthy, but also a bit naïve.  When Eddie investigates a string of serial killings targeting young girls, he stumbles upon a web of corruption among city officials and businessmen.  He also falls in love with the attractive mother of one of the murdered girls.

My problem with Red Riding: 1974 was my sense of detachment.  The character of Eddie, as written, is no doubt realistic, but it’s difficult to empathize with him.  The kid is a jerk, and no matter what horrors he uncovers, I don’t particularly care about his fate.  His romance with the mysterious Paula (Rebecca Hall) is abrupt and uninvolving, and he seems to have no other social life.  In a narrative this downbeat, and which offers no comic relief, it should be a requirement that viewers be given some character – any character – with whom they can relate.

What results is a film I admired, but didn’t much like.  As Ebert observed, Red Riding: 1974 is a directorial triumph, a dark and bleak world successfully recreated. But this fairy tale was too grim for my taste.      Grade:  B-



:  Julian Jarrold  Cast:  Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, John Henshaw, Anthony Flanagan  Release:  2009


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 .          Piranha1


“I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that [Piranha] is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D.  When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops out of the turnip.” — James Cameron, creatively dropping clichés like “throw under the bus” and “last few drops out of the turnip.”




So let me get this straight:  Re-releasing Avatar with just a few additional minutes of footage, and then charging full admission, is somehow not getting “the last few drops out of the turnip”?






I was thumbing through Entertainment Weekly when I saw a picture from the TV series Sons of Anarchy.  The picture was of star Katey Sagal and some kindly, grandmotherly actress.  I recognized Sagal, but who was this elderly actress?   I read the photo caption:  Hal Holbrook.









“It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years.  But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future.  Men have few natural support groups and little access to social welfare; the men’s-rights groups that do exist in the U.S. are taking on an angry, antiwoman edge.  Marriages fall apart or never happen at all, and children are raised with no fathers.  Far from being celebrated, women’s rising power is perceived as a threat.” — Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic .

My theory is that society is a pendulum and that now it’s swinging to the side of estrogen.  When society declares some members the “winners” and some the “losers,” that means that — unlike what feminism would have us believe — not everybody wins.  So, how to corrrecft the imbalance?  The same way that feminism encouraged fathers to support their daughters:  Mothers will have to stand up for their sons.


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