Monthly Archives: January 2012

Train

“A top-rate WWII thriller.”  “A wholly persuasive, intelligent thriller.”  “A landmark picture.”  “Classic Frankenheimer WWII actioner with a unique plot.”  Yes, you guessed it, I haven’t seen the movie and I am cribbing critical blurbs from Rotten Tomatoes.  But they all seem to like it, don’t they?  Click here to watch Burt Lancaster in The Train.

p.s.   Leonard Maltin says it’s “high-powered excitement all the way.”

 

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Artist

 

The Oscars are an annual joke — but an entertaining joke.  Every year, through sheer luck, the academy manages to nominate some worthy contenders.  But mostly it’s a popularity contest worth watching only to giggle at celebrities who are dressed up, nervous, and wearing pasted-on smiles.

Can you tell that I am bitter that Melancholia was shut out of the nominations?

 

*****

 

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CNN’s Erin Burnett has a tendency to speak first, think later.  This can be irritating to watch, but at times it’s refreshing, as when Burnett told lawyer Marc Bern that his attempt to rake in $450 million in punitive damages for six passengers on the ill-fated Carnival cruise ship is “obscene,” and the kind of lawsuit that calls for tort reform.

Burnett was right.  I’m sorry that you fell off a ship and had to be rescued, but that should not entitle you to live like Bill Gates for the rest of your life.

 

*****



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It was a downer to witness the media devour one of its own — CNN’s John King — after Newt Gingrich used King to deflect attention from his own political problems during last week’s Republican debate.  King asked a relevant question (about Gingrich’s former marriage) on a topic that was in the headlines.  Blowhard Newt then feigned “outrage” at King’s temerity.  Worse, the media, including King’s colleagues at CNN, then smelled blood and ratings and failed to defend him.

 

*****

 

I’m guessing that this ad will not be used as a recruiting tool by America’s creative writing classes:

 

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Money1

 

I’m not sure if this is a boast or a confession, but I have read almost all of Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” books.  Ten years ago, I would have been proud of that statement, but in recent years, as the quality of the series has declined, well, not so much.

When it was announced that Hollywood was going to produce a movie based on the first book in the Plum series (there are 18 now, plus a few novellas), One for the Money, fans of the franchise should have had two concerns:  Would the actress playing bumbling Stephanie, the heart and soul of the books, capture her goofy charisma?  And would the film do justice to the screwball comic tone of the novels?

The answer to the first question is “not to worry.”  Katherine Heigl, who has a talent for choosing lousy scripts, nails the big three musts for an actress playing Stephanie:  She’s the right mix of klutz, good girl, and sex kitten as the Trenton, New Jersey broad who, because of mounting bills and a hungry pet hamster, reluctantly takes a job as a bounty hunter.

 

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Alas, the answer to the second question is, “not so much.”  As directed by Julie Anne Robinson, One for the Money is a curiously flat film.  There is a scene involving Stephanie and an FTA (“failure to appear” at court), an elderly exhibitionist, that should be hilarious.  Instead the sequence, in which Steph transports the wrinkly geezer and his “twig and berries” to police headquarters, is just … peculiar.

The film’s climax, involving dead bodies,  gunplay, and the unmasking of a villain, is similarly lifeless.  In a movie like this, everything needs to click.  It requires pacing and it requires chemistry.  It needs to be more like Charade.

The supporting players (of vital importance to fans of the books) range from good enough to “what was the casting director thinking?”  Debbie Reynolds, as Grandma Mazur, is OK but no more than that.  Lula should have been played by Gabourey Sidibe.  Vinnie should have been played by Danny DeVito.  The movie should have been better.          Grade:  C-

 

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Director:  Julie Anne Robinson   Cast:  Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, Daniel Sunjata, John Leguizamo, Sherri Shepherd, Debbie Reynolds, Debra Monk, Nate Mooney, Adam Paul, Ana Reeder   Release:  2012

 

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        Watch Trailers (click here)



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by Susan Faludi

Stiffed

 

As I read Susan Faludi’s (Backlash) depressing opus about the “crisis” in American manhood, I kept changing my opinion of its author.  At times I wanted to laud Faludi for her insightful reporting – and sometimes I wanted to throttle her for general cluelessness.  As a former journalist, I appreciate the sheer amount of legwork that went into her book.  She interviewed scores of men, from construction workers to porn stars, and much of her analysis is thoughtful.   But occasionally Faludi adopts the tone of a victor perched atop the pedestal of feminism, sitting subtly and condescendingly in judgment of pitiful males.


Random thoughts:
 

  • Faludi’s conclusion is that most American men are unhappy (and resistant to feminism) because their fathers – those heroes of World War II and members of the “greatest generation” – were cold, distant, and silent parents, providing little or no guidance to boys growing up in a consumer culture that rewards image over true worth.  I’m sure there is some truth to this theory.  But what about all of the mothers – do they make no impact on their sons?  Other than in passing, Faludi makes no mention of the mothers.
  • Feminism, like motherhood, gets a pass from Faludi as a contributing factor to modern male distress.  Men who criticize any aspect of the women’s movement are unreasonable, delusional, or scapegoating.  Yet I was struck by this assessment of feminism by one of the men Faludi interviewed:  “It doesn’t seem to have made anyone very happy.”
  • I’m not convinced that the average American male is quite as tormented as Faludi would have us believe.  But a 600-page volume of interviews with men who are generally content would be an awfully dull read.
  • Faludi’s final words of advice to men who are unhappy or confused by our Brave New World?  “Wage a battle against no enemy.”  Great.  That helps.

 

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Before1

If you can make it past the opening scene of this drama, in which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei do their best to convince us that we are watching a hardcore sex film, you’ll discover that the late, great Sidney Lumet still had his magic at the ripe old age of 82.  However, if you are like me, you’d prefer not to think about the octogenarian director barking instructions to his actors in that opening scene.  Click here to watch it for free.

 

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Lautner2

 

Such a pretty girl.  I wonder who she is.

 

*****

 

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Golden Globes Musings

 

Host Ricky Gervais was too tame.  He lied when he said he would continue last year’s hilarious smackdown of Hollywood’s snobbish elite.

*

Johnny Depp’s fake voice is grating.  I don’t recall him having that affected accent back in his Private Resort days.

*

Jodie Foster was a good sport during Gervais’s Beaver jokes.  Too many actors take themselves way too seriously.  For proof of that, just listen to almost any actor’s commentary on DVD extras.

 

*****

 

Roizen

 

Asshole of the Week:  Michael Roizen

 

Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, speaking on CNN:  “The thing that we can do most to improve job competitiveness, to lower the budget deficit, is to ban smoking among state workers or ban smoking — not hire — federal workers who smoke.  That single thing would do the most to make America more competitive for jobs.”

What an obnoxious prick.  Ban smoking and you’ll lose millions of tax dollars, Roizen.  And since when is some doctor in Cleveland the go-to-guy for economic policy?  If you are so concerned about “competitiveness,” then you’d better also promote job discrimination against people who drink, and people who are fat.  Of course if you do that, in no time at all you won’t have anyone left to hire.

 

*****

 

Richie

 

Jon Huntsman “suspends” his candidacy.  Herman Cain “suspends” his candidacy.  Rick Perry “suspends” his candidacy.  The suspends is killing me.  This is why people hate politicians.  They refuse to use plain English, even when they simply quit.

But it was a great week in politics, watching all of those Republicans implode.  It was especially gratifying to watch Mitt Romney squirm as he tried  to tell ordinary Americans why they should vote for Richie Rich.

 

*****

 

Ship3

 

We keep hearing about “saving the women and children” on that capsized cruise ship in Italy.  Are we back in 1912, talking about the Titanic?  Save the children, sure, but why the women?  Does equality of the sexes only apply when it works in the woman’s favor?

 

*****

 

Slash

 

*****

 

Dayton

 

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced that, as part of his efforts to encourage diversity in the workplace, surgeons have successfully completed the first head-of-state transplant. Dayton’s head will share executive decision-making with this Asian man’s head.

 

*****

 

The Huffington Post on Friday forgot to add captions to these pictures, so we took the liberty.

 

Before    After
 

                  Before                                             After

 

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Sleeping1

 

I like my movies odd, and I like my movies sexy.  In general, when I review an odd, sexy movie, I want to be kind because I don’t want filmmakers to stop producing them.  But there is a limit to my tolerance, and freshman director Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is too long on odd, too short on sexy.

Beauty is about a young woman named Lucy (Emily Browning) who is psychologically damaged.  In fact, everyone Lucy encounters — an old boyfriend, her co-workers at a temp job, the landlords with whom she lives — is damaged in one way or another, and is either hostile, bitter, or emotionally impenetrable.  So Lucy, who is nothing if not experimental, takes a new job as a living blow-up doll for rich old men to play with (but never to “penetrate,” as we are constantly reminded by the madam of the high-end brothel where Lucy goes to work).

Leigh’s movie is basically a 100-minute peep show in which we spy on Lucy and her peculiar acquaintances.  It’s also an Australian production with French art-film pretensions.  When someone pours a glass of tea or wipes down a tabletop, Leigh’s camera lingers portentously.  There is much unspoken angst in the film — but not to worry, because all of that somber silence is soon interrupted by kinky sex.

 


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If I didn’t know better (actually, I don’t), I’d wager that Sleeping Beauty was financed by a committee of dirty old men, several of whom had it in their contracts that they got to appear in scenes with the fetching Ms. Browning.  How else to explain numerous scenes in which these geezers, their twigs-and-berries on full display, spoon with the naked and unconscious girl, or mount her (drugged) body, or recklessly toss her onto the floor?

This movie is promoted as an “erotic drama,” but while watching it I found myself empathizing with one of Lucy’s customers, who complains: “The only way I can get a hard-on these days is if I swallow a truckload of Viagra.”      Grade:  C-

 

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Director:  Julia Leigh   Cast:  Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Bridgette Barrett, Hannah Bella Bowden, Les Chantery  Release:  2011

 

Sleeping5

 

   Watch Trailers and Clips (click here)



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Sleeping7

 

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Midnight

In 1975, Steven Spielberg released Jaws and taught us not to go swimming in the ocean.  Three years later, director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone released this movie and taught us never to bring drugs on board an airplane – at least not in Turkey.  Watch Midnight Express by clicking here.

 

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Ray

 

Lake Superior State University came up with a list of words and terms that it believes should be banished from the English language.  Nice list, but I would add two more:

“Indie Darling” — I was reading Entertainment Weekly and, on page 12, I noticed an item about “Indie-rock darling Carrie Brownstein.”  In the same issue on page 80, there was a piece about “indie-cinema darling” Parker Posey.  So I did what anyone with too much time on his hands would do, I Googled “indie darling” and another annoying term that pops up everywhere, “(fill-in-the-blank) porn.”

 

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*****

 

Zakaria

 

“Imagine if you flicked on your television and found that the government had cancelled American Idol, 30 Rock, The Office, and Dancing with the Stars.” — CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, commenting on government censorship in China.  Next time, Fareed, could you please pick shows that don’t deserve to be censored?

 

*****

 

Kosik

 

Until this week, I’d never heard of CNN correspondent Alison Kosik.  But on Wednesday I listened as this (presumably) highly paid TV reporter told unemployed Americans that temp jobs are “not that bad.”  Then I read that in October Kosik had mocked the Occupy Wall Street folk.  And I see that she advocates the use of job-killing self-checkout lanes in grocery stores.  So now I know more about Alison Kosik.  She is a jerk.

 

*****


Runaway1

 

Runaway:  I love this film.  It’s nine minutes of goofy greatness.  Watch it by clicking here, and thank me later.

 

*****

 

Colbert

 

Stephen Colbert is “running for president.”  Ha ha.  This guy has never struck me as funny.  He is a one-joke act, and I tire of that act after about 15 seconds.  Colbert gets a lot of media attention because of his proximity to Jon Stewart and because he jokes about politics.  But that don’t make him funny, do it?

 

*****

 

I’ve been wondering whatever became of the male stars of Dawson’s Creek.  Turns out that Joshua Jackson, who played Pacey Witter, has been getting up to all sorts of mischief in Latin America.  Just in case you weren’t a Dawson fan, here are a few pictures of Joshua, Hollywood-style (top row), and Joshua, Peruvian-style (bottom row).

 

Jackson1Jackson2Jackson3Joran1???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Joran3

 

*****

 

For some unfathomable reason, there are people interested in the fact that Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, are new parents.  Their baby girl is named Blue, but I’ve been unable to discover her surname.  In fact, I’ve been unable to discover her parents’ surnames.  So I guess I will just call them the blacks and Blue.

 

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Downton

 

The downside of any great TV series is that, at some point, it will run out of creative gas.  You’re not likely to hear anyone proclaim:  “I just watched season six of The West Wing, and the show just keeps getting better and better!”

Eventually, actors leave series for other roles, writers run out of fresh ideas, and shows decline.  Although there are some exceptions, generally the first two or three years of classic series are the best.  My point is this:  Now is the best time to catch Downton Abbey, entering its second year on PBS, and Homeland, which just wrapped its inaugural season on Showtime.

 

Episode 111

 

Homeland

 

Claire Danes is a trip in this psychological thriller about an Iraq war hero who, after eight years as a prisoner of war, returns home to glory and fanfare.  Danes, as a pill-popping, manic-depressive CIA agent, suspects that Sgt. Brody (Damian Lewis) has been “turned” by al-Qaeda and might be involved in a terrorist plot on American soil.

There are some trite elements in Homeland:  an obstinate, preening boss who places obstacles in the heroine’s path; her loyal but ineffectual sidekick, mostly on hand for comic relief.  But Danes’s wild-eyed intelligence operative, Carrie Mathison, is endlessly watchable, and Homeland’s plot has multiple hooks — it’s a whodunit (is Brody a turncoat and, if not, then who is?), a thriller (agents race to prevent an unknown attack on an unknown date), and a romance.  It’s also an effective reminder of how terrorism affects the people who actually fight it.

 

Episode 110

 

Homeland resolves its whodunit about two-thirds into the season, and as a result the show is drained of some suspense.  But the cat-and-mouse relationship between borderline-psychotic Carrie and the intense, enigmatic Brody is riveting.  Carrie is no traditional heroine;  self-absorbed, high-strung, often annoying, she’s not above using sex to get what she wants.  Brody is prickly, paranoid, sexually screwed up, and quite possibly dangerous.  In other words, these two are made for each other — right?      Grade:  A-

 

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Cast:  Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood,  Diego Klattenhoff, Morgan Saylor, Mandy Patinkin, Amy Hargreaves, Brianna Brown, Melissa Benoist  Premiere:  2011

 

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*****

 

 

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Downton Abbey

 

The term “soap opera” gets a bad rap.  You could describe much of Shakespeare as “soap opera,” considering all of The Bard’s melodramatic musings on young love, family strife, jealousies, and societal oppression.  Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, Casablanca — they all have ingredients of  soap opera.  Good soap opera. Which brings me to Downton Abbey, which is superb, polished soap.

 

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As an unpolished Yank, my initial reaction to this world of British aristocrats and their servants was a strong desire to see the various maids and butlers creep upstairs in the middle of the night to slaughter their upper-crust “superiors,” and then serve their hoity-toity kidneys on silver platters in the elegant dining room.  But the genius of series creator Julian Fellowes is a knack for sucking viewers into this stodgy universe.  I wound up caring as much about a pampered rich girl’s marital prospects as I did about a young soldier’s ordeal in the trenches of World War I.

Fellowes overpowered my inner populist by illustrating that all of us — rich and poor — are to some extent powerless in the face of the larger society in which we live.  Or, as a renowned soap-opera writer put it a long time ago, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

For the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, both upstairs and downstairs, appearances are everything.  Says the indomitable Maggie Smith, who plays the indomitable Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: “The truth is neither here nor there; it’s the look of the thing that matters.”  Packed with wit, subtlety, and soap, Downton Abbey does more than look fabulous.  It is fabulous.       Grade:  A

 

Downton3         ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

 

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Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan, Laura Carmichael, Dan Stevens  Premiere:  2010

 

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      Watch Trailers and Clips:  Homeland (click here); Downton Abbey (click here)

 

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