Monthly Archives: September 2011

                                                              by Philip K. Dick



There are reasons I’m not a big fan of most science fiction.  Ubik, by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, is a case in point.  Dick’s futuristic tale of life-after-death and alternate universes has some fascinating ideas and some amusing situations – but it also has paper-thin characters and dialogue, and clunky prose.  I can deal with fantasy leaps of logic when they are served up by an H. G. Wells, but Dick was no H.G. Wells.

When I finished Ubik, I felt much the same way that Dick’s main character does in mid-story: “Very confusing, Joe Chip said to himself.  He did not like it at all.  Granted it had a satisfying symmetrical quality, but on the other hand, it struck him as untidy.”


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Mandingo is a curiosity that should be embraced by two groups:  historians, and fans of schlock cinema.  It’s a film that depicts reality — and that’s why you might feel the need to take a shower after watching it.

The 1975 movie, based on a novel by Kyle Onstott, presents 1830s Southern slavery without revisionism, without sugarcoating.  Nothing is implied when it can be shown:  slave auctions, whippings, rapes, and sex between masters and slaves.  Historians should have no objections.

And why should fans of schlock cinema love Mandingo?  Nothing is implied when it can be shown:  slave auctions, whippings, rapes, and sex between masters and slaves.




James Mason is all bluster and bigotry as the patriarch of decrepit Falconhurst, an Alabama plantation.  He wants a grandson, and that means son Hammond (Perry King) must marry and procreate.  Hammond chooses Blanche (Susan George), a conniving belle who makes Scarlett O’Hara seem shy and reserved, by comparison.  When Hammond learns on their wedding night that Blanche is no virgin, he takes it poorly and continues his extracurricular activities with a comely black slave (Brenda Sykes).  Blanche seeks retaliation, and all melodramatic hell breaks loose.

Mandingo is vulgar but has lots of hooks, including Mason as the gravel-voiced, rheumatic plantation owner; former boxer Ken Norton as a “Mandingo” (an ethnic branch from West Africa) named Mede, who is unlucky enough to attract the attention of Blanche; and some of the most gratuitous sex and violence to come out of 1970s cinema — a decade not known for skimping on sex and violence.




But mostly, Mandingo has British actress Susan George.  George, so memorable as Dustin Hoffman’s unhappy wife in Straw Dogs, is mesmerizing as Blanche, a vixen who personifies evil and yet — when you look closely at her circumstances — is not entirely unsympathetic.  The fairly graphic sex scene between lusty George and hesitant Norton was quite daring in 1975.

Mandingo is a potboiler (quite literally, in one scene) with strong moments.  Whether those moments strike you as historically important, or mere titillation, is of course up to you.     Grade:  B-


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Director:  Richard Fleischer  Cast:  James Mason, Susan George, Perry King, Richard Ward, Brenda Sykes, Ken Norton, Lillian Hayman, Roy Poole, Paul Benedict,  Debra Blackwell, Laura Misch Owens  Release:  1975


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Watch the Trailer  (click here)




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It’s the new Fall Season on network TV!  I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on any of the excitement, so I tuned in to four of America’s most popular shows.  This is what I learned:

Two and a Half Men is painfully, embarrassingly bad television.  I’m guessing that it sucked when Charlie Sheen was the star (I didn’t watch), but it couldn’t possibly have been worse than the uninspired drivel with Ashton Kutcher.

Dancing with the Stars was equally dreary.  I did learn why viewers never get to see Nancy Grace below the waist on her HLN show.  Can you say “chubby”?

The mass appeal of Modern Family escapes me.  The “shaky cam” is annoying, the political correctness is heavy-handed, and I almost — not quite, but almost — wished there was canned laughter, if only to remind me that the show is supposed to be funny.  Ed O’Neill, so memorable on Married … with Children, is wasted here.

Simon Cowell — I am sick of this guy.  His grumpy shtick was amusing years ago, but I am tired of watching the famous Cowell scowl.  The X Factor versus American Idol?  They are the same show.

Summary:  I must be completely out of touch with the American viewing public.  The public is addicted to junk.  On the other hand, I am hooked on Survivor.






“If the thing happens to come down in a city, that would be bad.” — Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, reassuring none of us about the falling space satellite which, according to the image shown above, might have tumbled down in my neck of the woods ….






Feminist of the Week:  Mike Tyson


This is what Tyson had to say last week, talking about Sarah Palin on an ESPN station: 

“You want her to be with somebody like [Dennis] Rodman …. You want someone like Rodman — yeah baby!  Let’s get that donkey in here now.  Just imagine Palin with a big old black stallion ripping.  Yeehaw!”  And later:  “She could always get boned out by a black person, a vote to bang her.”

And more:  “Everybody got to get that out of their system when they get out of college.  If you’re a black man, every white girl, every uppity middle-class … everybody got to get their share of love.”  Believe it or not, I’ve omitted some of Tyson’s more colorful comments.






Then why don’t you quit Fox and work somewhere else for free?  I’m sure Paul Ryan would support that:




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by Nora Ephron



“I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.”  So writes Ephron at the end of Heartburn, her 1983 autobiographical novel about the breakup of her marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein.  Funny, clever, and ever self-deprecating, Ephron’s humor does indeed cover up any traces of self-pity.  She has the humorist’s gift for seeing ordinary incidents in extraordinary ways, and then putting that vision on paper.  This is Ephron describing an embrace with her housekeeper:  “Juanita gave me a big hug, which was awkward since she was only about four feet six inches tall, and a hug from her felt like the Heimlich maneuver.”  Good stuff, that, but the book is also more than a bit sad.


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Anderson Cooper is officially … everywhere:  CNN, 60 Minutes, talk shows, New Year’s Eve specials.  Try as I might, I haven’t really been able to ferret out anything truly despicable about the guy, but that does not mean that I want to see so damn much of him.  Get out of my living room, Cooper, and take your girlish giggle with you.






On the other hand, it seems obvious that the Salahis need some company, so I am pulling out my hide-a-bed, just for them.  But tell that creep from Journey to buzz off.




I watched a TV interview with a representative of Ducks Unlimited.  Yes, my life really is that sad and pathetic.  The rep was asked what attracted him to Ducks Unlimited (silly question) and he replied:  “Something just snapped, and I became a water fowler.”

I could not let this kind of comment pass without some good-natured ribbing, so I Web-searched Ducks Unlimited, found it, and sent off an e-mail.  I got this reply:


Hi [Grouch]

Welcome back to Minnesota.  I appreciate your comment and wish I could have taken the remark back.  To be clear, “you guys” is me.  I was the dude that made the comment.  Unfortunately, at that moment I didn’t represent the best of Ducks Unlimited or the great volunteers of Minnesota.

Thank you for the feedback,

Dave Flink/Minnesota State Chair/SCSU 1980


There are so many things wrong with this.  Welcome back to Minnesota?  What does that mean?  And the guy apparently went to my college (SCSU).  And he graduated the same year that I did.  Do I somehow know him? Worse, does he know me?  The lesson:  Be very careful before you mess with Ducks Unlimited.




Knight    Pelley


CBS anchorman Scott Pelley has an unfortunate Ted Baxter thing going on.  Like Ted, Pelley looks and sounds like he’s seated in front of a mirror, practicing his anchor voice.






And you thought that Jay Leno has a gigantic chin?






I’m not sure why the nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson are considered big news.  She’s an attractive actress showing off her bare ass — like that’s never happened before.



There must be a God:






This is the kind of thing that happens to you when you live next door to a writer:




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These are a few things that Drive has going for it:  1) the hottest actor of the year, Ryan Gosling; 2) arguably the most promising actress of 2010, Carey Mulligan; 3) a director, Nicolas Winding Refn, who brings a distinctive European flavor to the project; 4) handsome production design and striking visuals.

None of that matters, because Drive goes nowhere thanks to a lackluster story and characters who are thinner than windshield-wiper fluid.  It’s all very frustrating, because the film would seem to have so much potential.  Yet once again, Hollywood puts polish and shine on a movie and neglects the most important element, good storytelling.

Gosling plays “the driver,” an enigmatic Steve McQueen type, a soft-spoken loner who is on the wrong side of the law but who harbors — you guessed it — a kinder, gentler side.  Just in case we overlook this aspect of his personality, we are treated to scenes of Gosling watching cartoons with a kid.  Somehow, I can’t picture McQueen taking time out in The Getaway to watch an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.




The driver decides to bless a girl next door with his niceness, which leads to big problems.  Mulligan, so good in An Education and in Never Let Me Go, has the thankless role of “the girl” in another example of lousy parts for women in Hollywood “A” movies.  Mulligan plays a single mother (dad is in prison) whose main purpose in Drive is to cast sad looks at the men in her life:  expressions of longing for Gosling, and looks of despair for her no-good husband, an ex-con called “Standard.”  (I checked, but I could find no character in the film named “Automatic.”)

The supporting cast is also wasted.  Bryan Cranston is the foolish sidekick whom any graduate of Movies 101 will tell you is expendable in a movie like this.  Christina Hendricks looks fetching but comes and goes in no time at all.  Albert Brooks, as a foul-tempered money man, is one of the film’s few bright spots.  The undernourished plot is a heist-gone-wrong story that you’ve seen many times before.

Refn, who inexplicably took home a Best Director award from the Cannes Film Festival for this mediocrity, wants his film to be like Shane with car chases.  Shane was cool and had lots of soul.  Drive looks cool, but has no soul.      Grade:  C+


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Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn  Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos, Jeff Wolfe, James Biberi, Russ Tamblyn  Release:  2011


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Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)




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by Kingsley Amis



Reading Lucky Jim is like watching a 1940s Hollywood romantic comedy, but with a British bent.  The novel is polished, clever, amusing … and dated.  I suspect that Amis’s tale of rebellious college instructor Jim Dixon had more resonance for earlier generations, although its puncturing of academic pomposity is a timeless pleasure.  But speaking as a 21st century, American reader, I dare say that much of the book struck me as more peculiar than funny.


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Believe it or not, I’ve usually seen the movies I select for “Free Flick of the Week.” That’s not the case this week, in which I’m plugging Brian De Palma’s 1976 thriller, Obsession. But I want to see it, because I love me some 1970s De Palma, and this Hitchcock tribute, in which Cliff Robertson (who died last week) plays a man who loses his wife and child to kidnappers, looks intriguing. So let’s all of us go here and watch it for free.


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