Monthly Archives: March 2011

by Georges Simenon



When you plan a whodunit, there are certain unwritten rules you should obey.  You should not, for example, make your killer a minor, inconsequential character.  You also should not introduce him (or her) very late in the story.  If you violate those conventions, you are cheating the reader who is striving to discover “whodunit.” Simenon, famed mystery writer that he is, violates both rules in Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard.  That’s a strike against him.

Now that I’ve vented, let me add some praise.  Unlike in Agatha Christie stories, Simenon’s characters are three-dimensional, not recurring stereotypes.  The protagonist, police detective Maigret, gathers most of his clues through interrogations (much like Christie’s Poirot), but the suspects are gritty, colorful, and memorable – very often street toughs.  In short, Simenon is great with character and dialogue, but not so great with plot.  At least not in this book.


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These headlines showed up on the same day.  Can’t a baby get some respect?






And so it has come to this for the nation’s downtrodden smokers.  Geraldo Rivera’s guest was porn star Kacey Jordan (above), one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous squeezes.  Sexy Kacey expressed her disgust over … the secondhand smoke in Sheen’s house.

Yes, even porn stars consider smokers beneath contempt.






Speaking of Charlie Sheen … he has been getting hammered ferociously by certain segments of the media, most notably CNN’s Showbiz Tonight and the magazine Entertainment WeeklyShowbiz Tonight bubble-headed anchors Brooke Anderson and A.J. Hammer (above) and EW’s snotty writers seem to be taking Sheen’s shenanigans personally.  I wonder why.

Sheen recently announced that he will sue Warner Brothers for breach of contract over his firing from the sitcom Two and a Half Men.  In addition to Warner Brothers, can you guess what else parent company Time Warner owns?  You guessed it:  Showbiz Tonight and Entertainment Weekly.




Eminem Simpson2 Snoop


Alan Simpson Quote of the Week:

“I think, you know, grandchildren now don’t write a thank-you for the Christmas presents.  They’re walking on their pants with their cap on backwards, listening to Enema Man and Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dogg, and they don’t like ’em!”


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We can argue till we’re blue in the face whether chess is a “game” or a “sport,” but maybe we can agree on this:  Searching for Bobby Fischer, the 1993 drama about chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, might be the best movie ever made about … well, let’s call it “competition.”

When the real-life Waitzkin was very young, he was given conflicting advice about how to succeed.  “You have a good heart – and that’s the most important thing in the world,” Josh’s mother (Joan Allen) tells him.  His chess instructor (Ben Kingsley), on the other hand, tells Josh the secret to what made Fischer the best chess player on Earth:  “Bobby Fischer held the world in contempt.”

Writer-director Steven Zaillian’s low-key approach to the universe of chess masters and child competitions yields high humor (especially from misguided parents) and nail-biting drama.  Never before, nor since, have scenes involving two people seated at a game board been so deliciously suspenseful.

In the end, young Josh has to make a choice that faces all of us.  Should he emulate the explosive Fischer, winning at all costs, developing a “killer instinct” and playing only to succeed?  Or did his mom have the best advice?

Turns out Bobby Fischer might not have been worth looking for, after all.   Grade:  A




Director Steven Zaillian   Cast:  Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Nirenberg, David Paymer, Robert Stephens, William H. Macy, Laura Linney   Release:  1993

Bobby3          Bobby4


   Watch the Trailer  (click here)


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 by Frank Brady



If you are an undisputed champion in one area of life, does it necessarily follow that you are the master of everything else?  That seems to have been Bobby Fischer’s perspective – and downfall.

Brady, who knew the American chess master for most of Fischer’s life, had a tough task in compiling this biography.  Fischer wasn’t so much reclusive as he was abusive; cross him once, and he would erase you from his world.  That obstacle might explain why, fascinating though Endgame is, it leaves so many unanswered questions.  Why did Fischer have no meaningful relationships with women (other than his mother) until late in life?  Why was he declared unfit for the draft during Vietnam?  Who was his biological father?  Brady does capture Fischer’s volatile personality, including painful examples of his many anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Soviet rants – along with other, what might kindly be called “eccentricities.”  Mostly, Endgame is a harrowing examination of the demands and pitfalls of celebrity.


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There’s a good reason most vampire movies bear little resemblance to their primary inspiration, the 1897 novel, Dracula.  Bram Stoker’s classic story is elegant, atmospheric, and creepy, for sure.  But it’s no longer very “scary.”  Ditto for this 1992 adaptation from arguably America’s greatest living director, Francis Ford Coppola.  The movie is overlong and rarely frightening, but it is gorgeous to look at, and on the eeriness scale it ranks high.  Watch it
for free by clicking here.


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Post-Oscar Ruminations


The King’s Speech and The Social Network both purport to be “true stories.” Evidently, those claims are unadulterated bullshit.  According to an essay by Christopher Hitchens, the real King George VI was a man who sought to appease Adolf Hitler.  The Social Network has a very different agenda:  It demonizes wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg, who, judging from what I’ve seen of him in interviews, is actually quite genial.

Oscar voters, presented with the option of voting for one of two truth-spinning biopics, opted for the one that made them feel better.




  • I won’t bitch (much) about The King’s Speech’s Best Picture award, because it is an entertaining, well-made film.
  • I will complain about Natalie Portman’s Best Actress triumph.  Portman apologists point out that she learned ballet for Black Swan.  Big deal.  Charlie Sheen learned how to throw a baseball for Major League.  That kind of thing is simply part of an actor’s job description.  Besides, Portman acknowledged that a stunt double was used for some of her shots.  She did, however, perform her own masturbation scene — quite admirably.
  • James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosted a dull and predictable ceremony, but I blame lackluster writing more than the hosts.  Ricky Gervais couldn’t salvage some of those lame one-liners.
  • The hoopla about the Oscars reaching out to a younger demographic?  Something must have gone terribly wrong, because the biggest laughs came courtesy of 94-year-old Kirk Douglas and 73-year-old screenwriter David Seidler.
  • Biggest Oscar snubs:  The Ghost Writer, Blue Valentine, and David Fincher’s direction of The Social Network.


Zuckerberg            Jesse






Reasons To Hate Charlie Sheen:

1)  If you’re female, because he allegedly beats women.  2)  If you’re in the media and host a show like CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, because Sheen eliminates the middle man (you) by going straight to the public, which means we don’t really need your show.  3)  If you are an arrogant, preening egotist named Dr. Drew Pinsky, because Sheen called you a “clown” on national TV.  4)  If you are CBS … well, I’m not sure about CBS.

Reasons To Love Charlie Sheen:

1)  He might be crazy, but he is refreshingly honest — I think.  2)  He’s a big star, but he’s still managed to paint himself as “the little guy” battling faceless corporate honchos at CBS.  3)  He is quotable.  Two of my favorites:  “Just got invited to do the Nancy Grace show … I’d rather go on a long road trip with Chuck Lorre in a ’75 Pacer.”  “I will cut your head off, put it in a box and send it to your mom!”


Sheen could well be in the middle of meltdown, but a lot of what he says rings true  — to men, if not women.


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