Monthly Archives: October 2010

Morris      Springer


There is something to be said for having low credibility.  Cases in point:  Jerry Springer and Dick Morris.  I watch a lot of cable news, too much really, and it gets old listening to the same talking heads as they blather on about this or that.  But Springer and Morris, both of whom are considered jokes by a lot of people, understand that they have little to lose by speaking their minds — and they do so, most entertainingly.






Quote of the Week:  “There’s a four-letter word in there.” — Fox anchor Megyn Kelly issuing a viewer “warning” before showing a clip of Joy Behar calling Republican candidate Sharron Angle a “bitch” (count the letters).




I can’t be the only one who finds this bedbug infestation in New York City hilarious.






Job I Want:  Cameraman for CBS’ Survivor.  This week, the boys showed off their cinematographic skills by focusing on contestant Brenda Lowe (above and below).


Brenda2  Brenda3

Brenda4  Brenda5 


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.                         Will1 


Several years ago, I decided it was high time that I read Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf.  This is what I wrote in my review of the book:  “You can call him [Hitler] a megalomaniacal monster, but he was nothing if not shrewd and determined.  In Mein Kampf, he exhibits a keen understanding of propaganda, psychology, mass manipulation, class warfare … and the basest human instincts.”  Much of Hitler’s prose, I recall thinking, seemed rather reasonable.  Of course, that was his special talent:  If you want millions to follow you, you can’t come off as a raving lunatic; you have to appeal to people’s sense of injustice in rational terms.

Hitler also knew how to select a good biographer.  Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous documentary featuring the Fuhrer at a 1934 political rally in Nuremberg, captures the mood and fervor of a nation falling under Hitler’s spell.  This movie doesn’t excuse the Nazi movement – but it goes a long way toward explaining it.

Riefenstahl’s challenge as a filmmaker was daunting:  how to take footage of endless crowd scenes (parades, rallies, speeches) – all of it glorifying Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – and make it compelling for nearly two hours.  Despite her documentary’s stellar reputation as groundbreaking cinema, I think Riefenstahl was only partly successful.  The camera angles (very high, very low, often dramatic), the editing (juxtaposing Hitler with smiling children – there are lots of smiling children in this film), and other filmic devices are indeed impressive.  But a speech is a speech, and a parade is a parade.  The political rants grow tedious, and the parades become repetitive.

But for the most part, Riefenstahl was as talented behind a camera as Hitler was in front of one.  As the film progresses, the crowds grow larger, Hitler grows more prominent, and the sense that something big is coming is palpable.

Just as in Mein Kampf, the Fuhrer appears calm and reasonable throughout much of the documentary.  Until, that is, the last ten minutes of the film and his final speech.  It is only then, when Hitler begins to rant about race and “best blood,” that his eyes take on a crazed glint, and his voice begins to quake.           Grade:  A-




Director:  Leni Riefenstahl  Release:  1935


Will4         Will3


                                             Watch the Film  (click here)  


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In 1973, some of the folks at Hammer Films, a British film factory best known for schlocky horror product, decided to get more ambitious.  Christopher Lee, of Frankenstein and Dracula renown, wanted to stretch his acting talents, and so he teamed with screenwriter Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy) and director Robin Hardy to create an original, low-budget chiller they dubbed The Wicker Man.

The result is a true 1970s oddity:  a mystery movie revolving around an epic clash of religions – and a film that feels both dated and timeless.  What’s peculiar is that the “datedness” of The Wicker Man actually works in its favor.  The setting is a Scottish village inhabited by free-loving, guitar-strumming pagans.  With their strange apparel, uninhibited sex lives, and affinity for folksy ballads, these people would seem equally at home in medieval Britain or in Haight-Ashbury during the “summer of love.”

The conflict of the plot is twofold.  Edward Woodward plays a policeman who is staunchly Christian, virginal, and closed-minded.  Sgt. Howie is summoned to an isolated village named Summerisle to investigate the apparent disappearance of a young girl.  Once sequestered on this island, Howie is doubly challenged.  He receives little cooperation from the odd villagers he interrogates, and his very core goes to war with the way these mysterious people choose to live.

The ending of The Wicker Man is justifiably famous, not only for its twist, but also for a truly memorable final shot.  I’d place that image on par with the exalted Statue of Liberty visuals in Planet of the Apes.

A word of warning:  There are multiple versions of The Wicker Man on the market; beware the 88-minute, truncated version, which is choppy and ruinous of the film’s opening scenes.         Grade:  B+




Director:  Robin Hardy  Cast:  Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris  Release: 1973


Wicker3            Wicker4

Wicker5           Watch Trailer  (click here)


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Dangerous Occupation Number One:  ESPN Sideline Reporter

News Report — An ESPNU reporter smashed a window in her hotel room after being told by a caller that the room was on fire, the website The Smoking Gun reported Thursday.

Police said [Elizabeth] Moreau, in Gainesville to cover a women’s volleyball match between Florida and Tennessee, told them she became suspicious when the caller then told her “that’s what she gets for being a bad ex-wife” and made a disparaging remark about her sexual performance.


Andrews2        Andrews1


Moreau joins ESPN’s Erin Andrews on my list of Most Dangerous Occupations.  Andrews, you might recall, was victimized by some nutball who videotaped her through a hole in the wall as she pranced around naked in her hotel room.


Bounty     Quaids


Dangerous Occupation Number Two:  Ex-Movie Star

News Report — Actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi were arrested in Vancouver on Wednesday for immigration violations charges after recently skipping a court date in California. … The headline-grabbing couple originally made news back in September when they were charged with felony burglary on suspicion of illegally squatting in the guest house of a California home they owned in the 1990s.

Celebrity bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman issued a public challenge to the couple on Thursday night, urging Quaid to turn himself in or he would capture them personally.


Seems clear to me that the Quaids are this generation’s Bonnie and Clyde, and Dog the Bounty Hunter is our Eliot Ness.  Being an ex-movie star is now one of the Most Dangerous Occupations.


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The late, great Alfred Hitchcock’s final film was 1976’s Family Plot.  The movie was a tepid, disappointing lark that caused the “Master of Suspense” to go out with a whimper.  Why couldn’t Frenzy have been Hitchcock’s swan song?

I’m no authority on the films of Claude Chabrol, the legendary French director who died earlier this year, leaving Inspector Bellamy as his 50th and last feature, but I’m guessing that Chabrol’s legion of fans are also disappointed.

Bellamy is an alleged “murder mystery” starring portly Gerard Depardieu as a police commissioner on holiday whose seaside reveries are rudely interrupted by two sources:  a nervous stranger who seeks his counsel regarding an apparent murder, and the reappearance of Bellamy’s ne’er-do-well, annoying younger brother, a surly sort who carts old emotional wounds into guest quarters at Bellamy’s previously peaceful household.

Depardieu is a genuine movie star, and it’s just as engaging to watch him eat breakfast with his wife (Marie Bunel, in a strong performance) as it is to see him investigate dark doings.  But Inspector Bellamy is all breakfast and very few dark doings; it’s a character study with characters not much worth studying.

The mystery is uninspired, suspense is nonexistent, and the entire movie is oddly flat.  The greatest tension in the film occurs when Bellamy stops his brother from stealing a scarf at a dinner party.  The whole thing lacks zing.           Grade:  C+




Director:  Claude Chabrol  Cast:  Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin, Marie Bunel, Vahina Giocante, Marie Matheron, Adrienne Pauly, Yves Verhoeven, Bruno Abraham-Kremer, Rodolphe Pauly  Release:  2009


 Bellamy3    Watch Trailers  (click here)


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by Colin Dexter



Of all the fictional modern detectives – Dalgliesh, Wallander, Delaware, Bosch, Spenser, et al. – Dexter’s Inspector Morse remains my favorite.  I suppose it has to do with identification.  Morse’s age, single status, and affinity for beer, crossword puzzles, and attractive women all strike chords with me.  But I also respond to Morse’s fallibility and am amused by his relationship with his long-suffering colleague, hangdog Sgt. Lewis.  Having said all that, Service of All the Dead is not one of Dexter’s better efforts.  

The plot resolution is much too convoluted; Agatha Christie trod similar terrain in Murder on the Orient Express, but Christie’s multiply-motivated murderers were more convincing.  And parts of this book are oddly dated.  Dexter, for example, seemed to think homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.  But the author’s strengths are all here:  that wonderful British vocabulary and, above all, Morse himself.


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Everyone knows about Brando in this film (“I coulda been a contenda!”), but I’d like to know why Eva Marie Saint didn’t have a bigger Hollywood career.  She was the ultimate “Hitchcock blonde” in North by Northwest, and won a supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Brando’s girl in this 1954 classic.  Watch it for free by clicking here.


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The people who made Troll 2 – a 1990 horror flick often called the worst movie since Ed Wood directed Plan 9 from Outer Space – were apparently a few tokens short at the troll-booth.

Michael Stephenson, child star of Troll 2, has now directed Best Worst Movie, a fascinating probe into the power of celebrity, both real and imagined.  Stephenson’s documentary examines the forces and people that propelled Troll 2 from straight-to-HBO joke into a major event at midnight screenings and memorabilia shows.  The documentary is an endless parade of loons, imbeciles, boneheads, knuckleheads, and delusional boobs.  I honestly can’t tell you who’s crazier, the fans or the moviemakers, so I’ll drop a few quotes and let you decide.

George Hardy is the star of both Troll 2 and Stephenson’s documentary.  Good-natured, goofy, and game-for-anything, Hardy is now an Alabama dentist who skyrocketed to cult-movie superstar status at conventions and screenings of “the worst movie ever made.”  Says one fan about George’s entrance at a screening:  “You would have thought that Robert De Niro had come into the building.”

Says George’s mother of her son’s acting talent:  “Let’s say he’s no Cary Grant.”

Says Claudio Fragasso, the proud, temperamental, and Italian director of Troll 2:  “I don’t make movies to be praised by critics.  Troll 2 is a film that examines many serious and important issues – like eating, living, and dying.   People want to eat this family.”

Says stuffed-animal lover and Troll 2 actor Don Packard about his experience at the original movie’s casting call:  “I was in the mental hospital at the University of Utah, and they gave me days off to go out.  I went there.”  Packard explains his state of mind during filming:  “I smoked an enormous amount of pot then to stay sane.  It was a terrible experience making that movie.  I remember there was a little kid there [Stephenson], a little Mormon kid who was really a pain in the ass and he was a star, and I wanted to kill him.”

Says Troll 2 screenwriter Rossella Drudi, explaining why her movie trolls are all vegetarian:  “At that point in my life, I had many friends who’d all become vegetarians, and it pissed me off.”

Says Margo Prey, who played Hardy’s wife and Stephenson’s mother:  “You compare our movie to a Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart movie, and it fits in.  Because our movie was all about people, and the experiences those people were experiencing, just as Casablanca and those movies are about people and the experiences they are experiencing.”




Says Robert Ormsby, who played Stephenson’s grandfather:  “Mostly I’ve wasted my life.  More or less I’ve frittered my life away, but then what else is there to do with a life but fritter it away?”

Says Fragasso to George:  “You were a dog, and you are a dog.”

Says Fragasso about the fans at a recent Troll 2 screening:  “These people are crazy.  It’s not normal.”

At times I found myself laughing out loud at these oddballs; at other times I thought the film might be an elaborate hoax (thanks a lot, Casey Affleck).  One critic calls Best Worst Movie “touching.”  I call it “disturbing.”  But I also call it “very funny” and “charming.”  It’s enough to drive me nuts.        Grade:  B+


Best3  Best4


Director:  Michael Stephenson  Featuring:  George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, Jason Wright, Margo Prey, Connie Young, Robert Ormsby, Don Packard  Release:  2010


Best5     Watch Trailers  (click here)


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The media is an easy punching bag and it’s often unfairly slammed, but the Chilean miners coverage offers so many irresistible targets.  Here are two definitions from Merriam-Webster:





You tell me — are these miners “heroes,” as the media keeps insisting, or are they “victims”?  Personally, I’d go with definition 2a.  You might say, “what does it matter?”  It does matter, because calling the miners heroic can cheapen the status of real heroes.




Turd of the Year:  James Michael Duncan



You might think that being trapped in an underground inferno for 69 days — 17 of them without much hope of rescue — with 32 smelly, jumpy fellow miners might gain you a bit of sympathy.  But that would be underestimating the malevolence of the anti-smoker crowd.  According to press reports, many, if not most, of the miners are smokers, and one of their first requests upon contact with the outside world was for cigarettes.

Enter NASA’s James Michael Duncan, who decided that political correctness was more important than the miners’ psychological and emotional well being.  “There will be no alcohol.  Nor tobacco, although almost all of them have asked for some,” wrote a correspondent for El Pais.  Duncan eventually relented, permitting the miners a whopping two packs a day — or one or two cigarettes per smoker.

We can only hope that the miners, if and when they finally meet Duncan, will demonstrate for him one more way of shoving something up a narrow hole.


.                           Turd of   Duncan2  the Year


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