Monthly Archives: February 2011

by Washington Irving

Legend

 

I’ve often noticed while reading old books (pre-20th century), that two themes appear again and again:  travel on the high seas, and anything pertaining to food.  We tend to forget, in our modern supermarket lives, just how much of human history was devoted to the pursuit and preparation of something to eat.  But when we read these old books we are reminded.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” – along with “Rip Van Winkle,” Washington Irving’s most celebrated work – is a case in point.  Its depiction of Ichabod Crane’s ill-fated courtship of the maiden Katrina and the attack of the Headless Horseman is justifiably famous, but what struck me were the author’s loving, nearly idolatrous descriptions of food.  It’s notable that although the plot ostensibly concerns Crane’s efforts to woo Katrina, Irving’s most vivid passages are about her father’s table – and not the girl herself (although even she is described as desirably “plump,” as though she would look good beside the turkey on a platter).  Vegetarians must hate this story.

 

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RecFree

 

A Spanish television crew decides to film a routine shift at the local fire department.  When a call comes in from a nearby apartment complex, the TV-types and the firefighters get more than they bargained for – a night in hell.  This 2007 low-budget horror movie came out of nowhere and has since inspired an American remake (Quarantine), a sequel, and more to come.  Crackle is showing it free, but unfortunately the movie is dubbed into English, and there are some annoying commercials.  Watch it free by clicking here.

 

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  by Agatha Christie

Adversary

 

When I think of Agatha Christie, what comes to mind is an old English estate, with a murder or two, and a middle-aged (or elderly) sleuth on hand to unmask the villain.  In other words, I think of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  With Christie, what I do not think of are wild motorcar chases on country roads, gun battles on city streets, and government papers that could trigger war.  That’s Alfred Hitchcock material, or an Ian Fleming plot.  And that’s part of the problem with The Secret Adversary, Christie’s second novel.  The story is out of her comfort zone, not so much a mystery as a frantic spy thriller.  

There is a reason that Christie’s young protagonists in this and four more books, “Tommy and Tuppence,” never attained the popularity of Poirot and Marple.  They are an amusing couple, but their adventures are wildly improbable, they enjoy amazing good luck, and they happen upon extraordinary coincidences.  There is action galore – but too few “little grey cells.”

 

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Egypt2 

 

Cheers & Jeers

Cheers to the people of Egypt, and Jeers to world leaders — presidents, prime ministers, chairmen, and dictators alike — who were demanding a “peaceful and orderly transition.”  What happened in Egypt was the realization of those leaders’ worst fear:  If the people can revolt in Egypt, they can revolt anywhere.  And that’s a frightening prospect to anyone in power.

 

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Jeers to pampered movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston, who seem to believe that the media (and fans) exist only to fawn over them.  Sorry, ladies, but sometimes your poop stinks, and when it does the press will cover that, as well.

 

Simpson

 

Cheers to former Sen. Alan Simpson, who in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley managed to use the terms “310 million tits” and “green weenie.”

 

Fans

 

Jeers to the whining babies who missed the Super Bowl because a Texas fire department hadn’t time to inspect their stadium seats.  The reason that only the rich can afford to attend the Super Bowl is because jerks like you are willing to overpay for your seats. 

 

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Spit1

 

“A vile bag of garbage named I Spit on Your Grave is playing in Chicago theaters this weekend.  It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theaters.”  That’s critic Roger Ebert back in 1980, explaining the repugnance he felt for a low-budget horror film that has since gained notoriety and a cult following.

Fast-forward to October 2010.  Our man Roger finds himself reviewing yet another sexploitation movie, which he decries as a “despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave.”  Poor Roger.  He didn’t seem to learn much.  You’d think that after being so traumatized by the original, he might have known to avoid the remake.

Both Graves have the same plot, in which an attractive, “uppity” city girl named Jennifer is brutally gang-raped by country hooligans and then wreaks bloody vengeance on all of them.  As Ebert points out, the first half of the new film, with its prolonged sexual assault, is by far the more realistic part of the story.  Actress Sarah Butler (as Jennifer) is degraded in every imaginable way:  She is patted down by a leering sheriff, forced to fellate a bottle, has a gun barrel poked against her crotch, is anally raped, and then raped again.  Butler is shown nude during the assaults and again as she wanders dazedly through the woods.  Director Steven R. Monroe’s camera eschews modesty in favor of gratuitousness, focusing on Butler’s small breasts, bare buttocks and, in at least one fleeting close-up, her pudendum.

When it is time for Jennifer’s revenge scenes, however, Monroe preserves the male actors’ dignity.  There isn’t much nudity from the men – not even during a scene in which Jennifer uses hedge clippers to castrate one of them.  These scenes are standard gore-movie stuff, and the audience will be thinking of plaster, putty, and fake blood – certainly not about social statements.  Jennifer is not so much an empowered feminist as she is a credibility-stretching psychopath.  The frail-looking girl manages to physically overpower all of the beefy young men, and then devise Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to torture and dispatch them.

How does all of this compare to the infamous original film?  The first one was so cheap and so poorly acted (excepting Camille Keaton, who played Jennifer) that it was almost like watching a home movie.  In a way, that rawness made it even more disturbing.  The new film has much better production values, acting, and direction.  Otherwise, they are basically the same story.

Neither movie is what I’d call “horror.”  They are both fetish films, designed for people who enjoy seeing their rape fantasies enacted on screen.  Jennifer’s revenge scenes are simply an attempt to fend off social-minded critics like Roger Ebert.         Grade:  C+

 

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Director:  Steven R. Monroe  Cast:  Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg, Tracey Walter, Mollie Milligan, Saxon Sharbino  Release:  2010

 

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     Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)

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Fail

 

I’ll admit it:  Lately, I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel with these free flicks.  H.O.T.S. and One More Saturday Night are not exactly film-preservation candidates.  It’s becoming more difficult to ferret out quality movies that can be watched free of charge on the Internet.  All of that changes this week, because Crackle is showcasing a dynamite drama from 1964.  Check out Fail-Safe, starring Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau, free of charge by clicking here.

 

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 by Charles Portis

Grit

 

I almost never read Westerns.  I think this is because some of the elements of Western life bore me.  I don’t really care about the difference between a Winchester and a Mauser, nor am I all that interested in horses, homesteads, and hangings.  But I’m beginning to think this oater aversion of mine is a mistake, because some of the best books I’ve read – in any genre – are Westerns.

I am referring to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and I am referring to this book.  In both novels, the hook is the characters.  In True Grit, it’s the voice of one character in particular, 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who narrates the story.  Mattie, who never met a contraction she would not like to flatten, is a bible-thumping delight as she interacts with some of the roughest characters of the old West.  One critic said True Grit “captures the naïve elegance of the American voice,” and I think that sums up the humor Portis mines so well, using the indomitable Mattie as his catalyst.

 

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Me1

 

This is a difficult film to review.  The problem is my over-familiarity with the source material, both the original Swedish film, which has become an instant classic, and the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  I’ve seen Let the Right One In several times, and last year I read the novel.  So my exposure to the story is extensive, recent, and – annoyingly – a hindrance to enjoying the Hollywood makeover.

Matt Reeves’s American remake immediately had two strikes against it:  “How dare Reeves mess with what is already a flawless movie?” screamed fans of the Scandinavian film.  Chipped in everyone else:  How would Reeves screw up a great story with an inevitable “Americanization”?  Compounding these issues was the fact that Lindqvist’s tale is essentially a love story about two children – definitely not the standard-issue horror film marketers led us believe – making the box-office potential of the remake less than promising.

Alas, Let Me In was not a financial success last year, which is too bad, because it’s a lot better than I expected it to be.  The power of the remake does not depend on special effects, or even direction, but on the performances by its two young leads.  In this regard, Let Me In works.  The best scenes are not the vampire attacks, but the tender, low-key interaction between Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz.  They are expressive actors, and they make you care about their characters.  If I had to compare (apparently I want to), I’d say Smit-McPhee is slightly better than Kare Hedebrant, his Swedish counterpart who played Oskar (“Owen” in the remake), but Moretz doesn’t quite live up to the gold standard, Lena Leandersson’s unforgettable portrayal of Eli (“Abby”).

But the kids are more than all right, and so is the film.  Let Me In doesn’t dumb down anything for its American audience, it is faithful to its source material, and it takes its time telling a mesmerizing tale.  Unfortunately, that’s usually a recipe for box-office poison.  I liked it very much but, dammit, I think I would have liked it even more if I weren’t so familiar with the story.      Grade:  B+       

 

Me2

 

Director:  Matt Reeves  Cast:  Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Elias Koteas, Sasha Barrese, Dylan Kenin, Chris Browning, Ritchie Coster  Release:  2010

 

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                                        Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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An Unwarranted Attack on Kristen Stewart’s Ass

StewartAss

 

Poor Kristen Stewart.  It’s not enough that she has legions of detractors because of her role in the Twilight franchise.  No, now she has jihadists to worry about.  Earlier today, I noticed that Kristen’s bare derriere was popping up all over the Internet.  Apparently, she parades her pooper in the movie Welcome to the Rileys.  In the interests of cinematic research, I Googled Kristen’s gluteus maximus and found several sites – purportedly presided over by “jihadists” – in which Kristen and her bubbly buttocks are the objects of much scorn.  For example:

 

“Kristen Stewart’s ass is flat and flabby from a sedentary Western lifestyle where women are not even made to harvest figs, so the only way Kristen Stewart is going to get a respectable behind is with a good old-fashioned Allah-sanctioned squats and lunges routine.

“As a typical Hollywood harlot we know Kristen will continue to prostitute her nude body on film whenever she gets the chance.  Let us hope she shows the same dedication into whipping her body into something that is aesthetically pleasing, or we will be continually underwhelmed with scenes like the one above.” – From celebjihad.com

 

Now, I have been guilty of criticizing Ms. Stewart in the past, but I think it’s unfair to pummel her posterior like this.  I think she has a ravishing rear, an ample ass anyone would be proud of.  Above is a picture of Kristen’s tappable tush.  Don’t you agree with me?

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Ring1

 

Probably I’ve been ruined by too many American films in which the ironclad rule seems to be that something must “happen” in the story every few minutes, lest the audience get bored.  But The Ring Finger leans too much in the other direction.  There are long stretches with little or no payoff, psychological or otherwise.  It’s a lushly photographed but at times deadly dull affair.

The plot concerns young Iris (Olga Kurylenko of Centurion), a factory employee who, after an accident in which she loses part of her finger, finds a new job with a mysterious scientist at his conservatory, a converted schoolhouse near the waterfront.  Are there ghosts in the building where Iris now works as a secretary?  Is it wise for her to conduct an affair with her reserved employer, or is he bad news?  And what, exactly, is this man “preserving” for his clients?

Too much of this is left to the imagination.  What is not left to the imagination is Ms. Kurylenko’s attractive body, which is on display in several scenes.  Nothing mysterious about that.       Grade:  C+

 

Ring2

 

Director:  Diane Bertrand  Cast:  Olga Kurylenko, Marc Barbe, Stipe Erceg, Edith Scob, Hanns Zischler, Sotigui Kouyate, Doria Achour, Anne Benoit, Louis Dewynter, Anne Fassio  Release:  2005


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Ring5     Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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