Monthly Archives: February 2011



Some people you should never leave alone.

Poor, beautiful Carole is one of those people.  When Carole peers into the hallway of the apartment building where she lives with her sister, she sees one example of the sort of life she herself might one day live:  her elderly neighbor, a pudgy battleaxe who likes to walk her dog – and spy on fellow apartment dwellers.  When Carole instead looks out her bedroom window and across the street, she sees another possible future:  the cloistered, celibate nuns at a nearby convent.  When she is older, Carole will likely become an eccentric dog-walker or a nun.  This much is certain:  Carole will not live a typical life, because Carole is batshit crazy.

She is sexually repressed, lord knows why, and painfully shy.  She is repulsed by men, which is easier to explain:  the construction workers who ogle her as she walks to her job as a manicurist; her sister’s boorish boyfriend, whose takeover of Carole’s bathroom space she finds unforgivable.  And then there are the horror stories older women at the beauty parlor relate about the beastly behavior of males.




Carole is stunningly good-looking, but she is also quite insane.  When her sister and the boyfriend go on holiday, leaving her alone for ten days, what on earth will she do?

Roman Polanski, at his obsessive and stylish best, pulls the audience along as Carole descends deeper and deeper into madness, utilizing a master storyteller’s grab-bag of tricks:  distorted lenses, a ticking clock, the girl’s obsession with cracks, the distracted way in which she keeps brushing at her face.

Catherine Deneuve, the ravishing French actress, is a revelation in Repulsion.  Her Carole is mousy most of the time, but when she gets a certain gleam in her eye ….

Some of this 1965 film’s shocks are no longer very shocking.  Others hold up quite well.  But it’s Deneuve’s performance and Polanski’s direction that make Repulsion such a superb psychological thriller.       Grade:  A-




Director:  Roman Polanski  Cast:  Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux, Patrick Wymark, Renee Houston, Valerie Taylor, James Villiers, Helen Fraser  Release:  1965


Repulsion4        Repulsion5






Repulsion8         Watch the Trailer  (click here)


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I’m beginning to believe the nutcases — maybe the world really will end in 2012.  Wars and threats of war in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea.  Natural disasters in New Zealand, Australia, and Haiti.  All of this chaos is covered by social media, including Twitter.  Could it be that the world will end not with a bang or a whimper, but with a tweet?




TV Land, "the Andy Griffith Show" CBS Archive Photo       OReilly2


I’m afraid the world has passed by poor Bill O’Reilly.  The Fox News figurehead was discussing the upcoming Oscars, and Bill said he hadn’t seen any of the “crazy movies” up for awards.  Bill said that he used to be a big movie fan.  On the other hand, Bill never misses an opportunity to mention The Andy Griffith Show or Leave It to Beaver in his quizzes and pop-culture references.

But there are signs that Bill is trying to modernize his pop-culture worldview:  This week, he interviewed that up-and-coming Hollywood stud, Ernest Borgnine.






I’m still waiting for the angry backlash over Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Usher, and other A-List American celebrities who pocketed millions by performing for the Gaddafi family in recent years.  Isn’t Gaddafi supposed to be, like, “the enemy”?  And oh, yes, let’s not overlook the American stars who enjoyed hanging out at Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s decadent parties.  Apparently, we only have room for Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in our cultural doghouse.




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by James Thurber


Thurber is a revered American humorist, but I thought this autobiographical collection of essays was hit-or-miss.  Some of the stories (“The Day the Dam Broke,” especially) were laugh-out-loud brilliant; others ranged from mildly amusing to forgettable.  Thurber, like a turn-of-the (20th)-century David Sedaris, chronicles the comic misadventures of his oddball family members, but too many of the stories simply end, with no real point or punch line.


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Tod Browning’s Freaks has come a long way since its disastrous premiere in 1932.  The drama, in which Browning (Dracula) cast people with real deformities to play circus sideshow “freaks,” opened to horrified audiences and critics alike.  It was banned in Britain for 30 years and effectively put an end to Browning’s directing career.  How times have changed:  In 1994, the movie was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.  Watch what remains of it (extensive cuts were made and are now lost) free of charge by clicking here.


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by Jerzy Kosinski



Kosinski published this amusing dissection of pop culture’s influence on American life in 1971, back when remote controls and TVs in limousines were considered state-of-the-art luxuries.  But there is nothing dated about Kosinski’s novella Being There, which chronicles the fallout when a simple-minded gardener’s simple-minded pronouncements – many of them influenced by what he sees on television – are repeatedly mistaken for philosophical genius.

You have to wonder what the Polish-American Kosinski would make of “reality TV” in today’s world.  Chance the gardener, the author’s blank-slate antihero, would probably feel right at home on Big Brother.


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The Housemaid promises to deliver the mother of all Korean catfights.  It doesn’t quite come through, but watching the four female leads as they lie, scheme, and shift loyalties makes for some ticklish good fun in director Im Sang-soo’s remake of a 1960 Korean classic.

At the heart of all this estrogen-fueled enmity is, naturally, a man.  When innocent young Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) is hired as a nanny by a wealthy pregnant woman, it isn’t long before the woman’s lascivious husband (Lee Jung-Jae) is bedding the girl.  Complicating matters is an older housekeeper (Youn Yuh-jung), an embittered woman who takes an instant dislike to Eun-yi.

The illicit affair between husband and housemaid is soon uncovered, and at this point the movie gains momentum, spinning an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse between servants, the wife, and the wife’s mother.  There are shades of Hitchcock here – Rebecca and Notorious, in particular – and the proceedings are imaginatively photographed, with cameras gliding in and out of elegant sets.

Unfortunately, that hoped-for catfight doesn’t really materialize.  Instead, Sang-soo gives us a denouement that strives to be shocking but is instead melodramatic and unsatisfying.  One character is singled out for revenge, but it’s the one female in the house who’s guilty of no wrongdoing.        Grade:  B




Director:  Im Sang-soo  Cast:  Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Jung-Jae,  Woo Seo, Youn Yuh-jung, Park Ji-young  Release:  2010


Maid3            Maid4


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Anyone who’s seen the jaw-dropping 2010 documentary Videocracy isn’t surprised by the scandalous turmoil surrounding Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  And anyone who’s read the true-crime book The Monster of Florence won’t be shocked by the madness on display in the Italian justice system.

Italy, sad to say, seems to be completely insane.




Rosen       Lara


Free speech in America is alive and … not so well.  Not if you’re legendary reporter Helen Thomas, and not if you’re journalist Nir Rosen, who foolishly tweeted bad things about CBS’s Lara Logan.

Thomas had the temerity to criticize Israel — and was promptly forced into retirement by Hearst Newspapers.  As for Rosen, his timing was awful.  You do not tweet negative comments about a woman who just days earlier was sexually assaulted.  If Logan’s politics are war-mongerish, as Rosen asserts, he has every right to denounce them.  Just not right now.








This hullabaloo over a girl wrestler in Iowa is annoying.  Cassy Herkelman is in the news because she’s wrestling boys, has advanced to the state tournament, and won by forfeiture when a boy declined to wrestle her.  The boy was in a no-win situation:  If he wrestled Herkelman and won, the refrain would be, “You beat a girl — big deal!”  If he wrestled her and lost, “I can’t believe you lost to a girl!”

Meanwhile, Herkelman rides the feminist wave to glory.  But this isn’t about equality; it’s about an attitude that says girls can’t have just anything, they can have everything.


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I don’t have kids, so I suppose I could argue that I don’t have much at stake when it comes to the education of young Americans.  After all, they’re your kids, not mine.  Don’t I already pay enough taxes for their schooling?

But of course, nothing is that simple.  Your kids are going to cost me more in taxes or less in taxes, and they will directly or indirectly affect my quality of life in myriad ways, whether I like it or not.  Add to that this moral question:  Isn’t a quality education for all kids simply the right thing to do?

Waiting for “Superman,” like any good student (or teacher), asks a lot of provocative questions about the decline of public schools in America.  Should we send children to pricey charter schools, seven days a week and during the summer months?  If we don’t spend more on education now, will we wind up spending more later on bigger and better prisons?

As I write this, teachers in neighboring Wisconsin are protesting their governor’s efforts to scale back the clout of teachers’ unions.  Those protestors face an uphill battle, because much of the recession-weary public is in a sour mood, and movies like this one make it clear that teachers’ unions have a major public relations problem.  Director Davis Guggenheim tries to make a distinction between teachers, whom he depicts as (mostly) noble warriors, and their unions, which seem intractable and corrupt.  But aren’t those unions composed of … well, teachers?

If Waiting for “Superman” has a flaw, it’s that it tries to tackle too many complex issues in less than two hours.  But it has stirred up public debate, and that can only be a good thing for the kids.        Grade:  B+




Director:  Davis Guggenheim  Featuring:  Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates  Release:  2010


Super3     Super4


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The expression “so bad it’s good” is overused.  Usually, the movie in question is just plain bad.  Not this time.  Filmmaker extraordinaire Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is so magnificently rotten that it’s wonderful – bust-a-gut, pee-your-pants hilarious.

In the vain, irrepressible Wiseau, the spirit of Ed Wood lives again.  Wiseau writes, directs, produces, distributes, and stars in this labor of love, so there is no doubt about who deserves credit for this monument to schlock.  (Wiseau’s achievement is so enviable that, according to Entertainment Weekly, a script supervisor is now battling him for a directing screen credit.)

Wood, patron saint of the bad movie, would be proud of this film, because its flaws are legion:  continuity errors, drunken editing, abysmal acting, awkward love scenes, incomprehensible storytelling – it’s all here.  If Wiseau falls short of Wood’s standard, it is only because, unaccountably, the cinematography isn’t awful.  And the soundtrack isn’t bad.  But please don’t let those virtues stop you from enjoying this film.

I suppose a plot summary is in order.  Nah – there’s no point.  The story has something to do with lovable, long-haired Johnny (Wiseau), whose fiancée (Juliette Danielle) is cheating on him with his best friend.  I won’t say more, partly because it might spoil the story, and partly because the story makes absolutely no sense.        Grade:  F




Strange But True:  The deleted scenes on the DVD are much better than the actual film.  In fact, if you just saw the outtakes, you might be led to believe that The Room is a pretty decent film.


Room3    Room4


Director:  Tommy Wiseau  Cast:  Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Philip Haldiman, Carolyn Minnott, Robyn Paris, Mike Holmes, Kyle Vogt, Greg Ellery  Release:  2003


Room5    Room6


                                           Watch the Trailer  (click here)


Room7    Room8


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