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Bah! Humbug!, 27 July 2016

This is a middling effective tearjerker marred by a few specific things: First, the absolute insistence that everybody and everything is Christian. (How do you actually tell someone you don't know over the phone to tell somebody else you don't know "Merry Christmas"? How rude is that if they are any other religion?) Yes, some scientists have religious faith, but two thirds of a given group of scientists believing in the actual divinity of Jesus of Nazareth? Please. Which brings us to the scene where Booth and Brennan argue about faith; the scene ends with Booth saying, "You don't know if you're sick, but you're more than willing to take drugs just in case. Seems to me you should give the man upstairs the same benefit of the doubt that you do an invisible fungus." And he walks away while Brennan looks contemplative, like she needs to think about that argument. But the argument is complete rubbish: the fungus might be invisible to the naked eye but its presence has been tangibly established by evidence nonetheless; and even if it were a fair comparison, the best it amounts to is Pascal's wager, the argument that one should believe in God just in case he's real and wants to send non-believers to hell. This show clearly wanted to side with theists—not just theists but Christian theists—over atheists, and it uses bogus rhetoric and tear-jerking to do so. Bad! Bad TV program! ((Smacks 'Bones' with newspaper.))

Finally, this episode is marred by the most egregiously awful rendition I ever hope to hear of "Have Yourself oh! Merry Little Chruhmuh", courtesy of Tori Amos. No doubt Ms. Amos has considerable talent and appeal as a musician—I remember liking a thing or two from "Little Earthquakes"—but this performance was a catalog of WTF ARE YOU DOING TO THIS SONG?! moments: mangled pronunciation, bad microreadings, worse vocal habits... Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Stinky! ((Smacks Tori Amos with newspaper.))

Clue (1985)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
What species is this?, 14 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The near-universal public acclaim for Clue is the strongest evidence I've found to date that I am not actually one human among several billion on a planet called Earth, but a lone brain, or computer program, in a laboratory run by an evil scientist, or possibly a very sick teenager.

Vox DOT com just published an "ode" by Caroline Framke to the best 30 seconds in Clue, which of course is Madeline Kahn's rhapsody on her hatred of Yvette. "It was also the only improvised moment in the entire movie," Ms. Framke reports. It is also very nearly the only funny thing in the entire movie. Go figure.

But Ms. Framke goes on to credit "...writer Jonathan Lynn's quick wordplay and absurdist twists..."

Whut. See, I would have said "writer Jonathan Lynn's incessant clunkers and idiotically stilted non-dialog" but that's just me. Seriously, how is this exchange "comedy gold"?: "What are you afraid of, Peacock, a fate worse than death?" / "No, just death, isn't that enough?"

Because WHO F***ING TALKS LIKE THAT? Who would offer that set-up line? It's f***ing imbecilic.

"For Clue, Kahn takes what Lynn later admitted was a two-dimensional character and settles into the role with a detached grace, like a cat stretching on a cushion, barely deigning to acknowledge anyone else's presence." Yes, please, you can praise Madeline Kahn all the day long, as far as I'm concerned; she was a gargantuan talent and I still weep for her loss.

But they are all 2-dimensional characters in Clue. They are uniformly uninteresting and unsympathetic. They are terse and suspicious and rude to each other from the start, and not in the amusing way that I'm sure was the author's intent. And the sources of their supposed funniness—Leslie Ann Warren's seeming turpitude, Christopher Lloyd's repugnant lechery, Martin Mull's ... military buffoonery, I guess?— none of them are inherently funny; it would take a skilled satirist to make them work, and Johnathan Lynn seems to me *singularly* unskilled. I am personally, unconsolably affronted by this unpleasant little man having tarnished my otherwise pristine love for Ms. Kahn, Mr. Mull, Michael McKean, and—most fiendishly ill-used—Eileen Brennan.

Lynn's script is not sharp; it's pointy-headed. It's not rapid-fire; it's rapid-misfire. It's not even wordplay most of the time; it's word drudgery. Word torture. Cruel and unusual pun-ishment. Worderboarding.

*Sigh* No one will find this review "useful" among the pages and pages of paeans proclaiming this "THE GREATEST COMEDY EVER MADE!!!" by people who grew to love it when they were five. I just want to tie all these people down and show them Murder by Death.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Profoundly disturbing, at least to me., 25 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is, quite simply, a horrific little film. I cannot pretend that it is enjoyable to watch. It is brutal and utterly bleak. And yet I find myself thinking about it frequently, weeks after having viewed it.

Collected in Spike and Mike's 'Unprotected' DVD, 'Gack Gack' (I'm assuming this is what chickens say in German since the alternate English title is 'Cluck Cluck') pursues a single nasty scenario: a henhouse-office in which ranks of chickens sit at typewriters all day doing nothing but typing 'Gack Gack Gack Gack Gack Gack', filling pages with the single word. (Already existential hell, right? And appropriate from the culture that brought us 'Arbeit macht frei'.) Worse, this operation is presided over by an astonishingly foul office manager: a hippo whose rage over a mistyped 'Gak' invariably results in the murder of a hen (the culprit? a hen picked entirely at random? it is not clear that the boss knows whose 'Gak' is it); and who exalts in working his bovine secretary's udders for his own pleasure, even as she weeps at being so used. A ray of hope--the hippo's death by heart attack--is introduced specifically to be smashed down when the iguana (tuatara?) replacing him, a superficially pleasanter personality, ends up being more of the same: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Spike and Mike program humor almost exclusively in their collections, and it is quite possible that they found this short funny in that 'sick and twisted' way of theirs. I don't find it funny in the least; I think it is desolate and desperately depressing; and the horror it evokes in 7 brief minutes is precisely why is it very nearly a great film.

Denied (2004)
12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A very bad movie, and that's a damn shame., 1 May 2008

I was rooting for this movie, even as my every hope was smashed the whole way through: all the elements of a truly engaging, affecting, sophisticated picture are here, but they are botched beyond belief. Maybe somebody could give director David Scott a bigger budget and a staff and they could try it again from scratch.

The basic premise of the movie--requited but unacknowledged love--will ring true with a lot of queer folk: "You make love to me all the time. Why can't we just be boyfriends?" (That may have been one of the lines, actually, but the sound on this movie is so very dreadful I suspect I caught less than a third of the dialog.) There's no reason this film shouldn't resonate with anyone who's been in the position to rue their beloved's denial of acceptable, respectable, publicly avowed togetherness. And I suppose it does, with those more forgiving of its many distracting flaws. Am I unrealistic in expecting a certain basic level of competence from a movie?

The young actors are not without talent; or, at any rate, they are much better at what they do than the director, who frames extremely long static shots (such as that of Troy and Merrick discussing their issues in the living room) with no visual relief, no character movement, and no particular tension-building purpose. Not to mention the astonishing percentage of frames in the movie that feature Troy's obliquely downcast, unchanging stare-into-the-abyss! (Perhaps we should be thankful that Scott did not devote equal time to capturing the abyss staring back into Troy.) One is reminded of The Brown Bunny, which was built of 8 sentences, a blow job, and 80 minutes of Vincent Gallo alone and looking like he's just eaten a fistful of bear scat.

Our writer-director allows his protagonist the dignity of doing the only responsible thing by the end of the movie: growing up and getting over Merrick. He even permits a cloudy, ambiguous split between them, in which the lingering affection is just as obvious as the need for separation. All this could turn a film golden, win awards, and jerk tears like nobody's business--if only there were the tiniest shard of coherent film technique backing it up.

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A remembrance, 29 May 2007

Well, it is the end of May 2007 and Mr. Charles Nelson Reilly has recently died. I just learned of it today and, while I know it's silly, I've been sitting here at work getting teary-eyed. Sure, as a kid I knew him only from The Match Game, but when I saw "Life of Reilly (Save It for the Stage)" last fall I understood at last what a fascinating person and enormous heart lay behind the outrageous public persona. And, finally, it seems that even the game-show Charles Nelson Reilly was not really ever a mere persona, that he was never anyone but who he was, histrionic and unapologetic and, if you took the trouble to look, enormously dignified. The movie shows both the man and the artist, a veteran stage actor whose craft at storytelling never ebbed, even as his final years slowed him down physically.

As it happens, I ran across the "Jose Chung" episode of the X-Files, with Mr. Reilly in the title role, last week, just before he passed. That long, serialized interview scene with Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully is just a delight; I think you can see the fun Ms. Anderson is having playing off him. And it surely contains some of the series' best comic writing.

*Sigh.* Mr. Reilly, I shall miss you greatly.

7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Wonderful, including extras, 3 January 2007

Having never seen ABOFAL on TV, I've now watched all of Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. To be fair, one should note that not every sketch delights--some are perhaps a shade too random and give us little to hang on to or identify with; but when Fry gets going on his "overly-florid-speech" character, with Laurie as the increasingly put-out straight man, we're in LOL territory. A particular highlight of Season 2 is the extended sketch in which an effete, reticent Laurie is charged by Fry's menacing spy/terrorist with planting a bomb in a local restaurant--then this scenario plays out alongside two or three other situations in the restaurant--each one terrific--with Fry and Laurie playing multiple characters.

In addition to the six episodes of Season 2m the DVD includes a 45ish-minute "Cambridge University Footlights Revue" that, while inconsistent in tone and quality, shows off Fry and Laurie and some of their contemporaries (including Emma Thompson) at college-age, looking freshly scrubbed and adorable. Fry, in particular, had yet to gain his extra poundage--his slender face is beautiful and he is a veritable panther in terms of physical grace. He, solo, also has the best piece in the "Revue," a recitation called "The Letter" that recounts, with raucously funny wordplay, his Harkerian visit to Transylvania to respond to the legal needs of one Count Dracula. ("The journey through Eastern Europe had passed pleasantly enough. I'd picked up a little German on a previous visit, and he and I had met up again at Ragensberg. Now, night was just falling as I knocked on the mighty oaken door, and heard the answering echoes ring through the castle. After what seemed a cliché, iron bolts were drawn back..." "I tried to question Travolta as to the nature of the Count's business as I dressed for dinner, but he made the sign of the cross and said nothing. I asked him why there were no mirrors in the castle, but this time he made the sign of the very cross indeed, and spat." "The wind whistled all through the night, and other Welsh hymns. I arose early, made my toilet, sat on it, and then came down to breakfast.")

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A wonderful thriller with dreadful music (possibly spoilers?), 23 October 2006

I think The Wicker Man 1973 is probably the single most dissonant movie I've ever seen in terms of soundtrack music versus the rest of the film (although the song over the opening credits of The Ninth Configuration really tries, momentarily, to wrest the title away). TWM is an effective, creepy flick, regardless of whether the showcased pagan beliefs & customs are unsettling (and i think we're mostly meant to identify only remotely with Sgt. Howie's growing horror—he really is a right prude and the flick was made in very libertine times; though, after all, immolation can really spoil one's afternoon). And to my way of thinking, Edward Woodward's francophonic pronunciation of "turquoise" is itself worth the price of admission.

But the true, immutable, almost Lovecraftian horror of the movie is its music, from the "Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs" song over the credits to the truly loathsome balladization of the circle of life around the maypole to the pub music to which Britt Eckland ostensibly makes love to a wall. Awful, awful stuff, and all the worse for being so obviously new-writ for the movie, instead of sounding like (or actually being) traditional music, such as the residents of Summerisle would undoubtedly sing and play to accompany their millennia-old rites and ceremonies.

Elephant (2003)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
befuddling., 30 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

i mean, i can see how some folks could find this movie rhapsodic or hypnotic, but i just found it soporific. it's not that i wanted a big nasty violent movie, but all the advance publicity led me to believe this would be a disturbing, moving experience. i was moved to yawn, and greatly disturbed when the credits ran over more clouds without anything having been achieved in the movie. look: i'm not a tough sell. i don't even insist that things be explained neatly away in movies; certainly not in movies of this nature, where we are, almost by definition, searching for answers where there are none. however, if you're going to give me a big, unexplained horror like these Columbinish shootings, you might at least try to keep me interested in the characters and guessing at motivations.

the ONLY thing in this movie that kept me rapt was the kid's playing of Fur Elise--though others have complained about van Sant having "ruined" Beethoven, having learnt to play Fur Elise some 30+ years ago, i was struck by how very "real" the kid's mistakes were. (for example and to be geeky, he plays E-B-E in the left hand instead of E-E-G# exactly once and does it right every other time--this is, without question, a previously correct mistake that crept back in). anyway, it was a spot-on "learning" rendition.

as to the characters, there is a reason fiction movies are made a certain way: there are shortcuts and accepted "code" to get an audience to care about characters. van Sant's staunch avoidance of all such smacks of gimmickry without any kind of payoff: all we see are regular kids, like the ones we went to high school with--except they're NOT the ones we went to high school with, so we do not love them or hate them or feel any other strong way about them. that they end up with bullet holes in them sucks, but only in a sterile way of nameless corpses in police blotters.

re homosexuality, as a gay man i find van Sant creepy. back with My Own Private Idaho he used (uber-creepy) Udo Kier to great comedic effect, but that film was wholly redeemed by River Phoenix's exquisite portrayal of a haunting and haunted gay character. i'd like to believe van Sant merely tries to show that stereotypes do not tell the whole story when he does things like getting the two shooters naked and kissing in the shower the morning of the slaughter, but finally i suspect he's a little wrong in the head and it just slimes out into his movies.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Reprehensible, 12 March 2005

Not a remake of the 1956 classic--itself probably the worst film to have garnered the Best Picture Oscar--but instead a ludicrous attempt at a feel-good, charming, silly adventure. Like so many recent period movies, this is chock-full of anachronistic ideas and distortions of Victorian mores. Messages about the redemptive power of friendship or the unexpected fighting skills of women have no more business in this story than a female evil Chinese warlord, or jokes about Queen Victoria's butt. To top it off, the screenwriters seem positively obsessed with semi-naughty jokes about homosexuality, having the principals needlessly aver their own staunch hetero manliness every five minutes.

The script and the plotting are so very dreadfully bad from start to finish. The script is populated with gags so obvious and strained they would cause the very worst sort of TV sitcom to quietly die of shame. The best thing one can say about this movie is that it is basically a Jackie Chan fight movie disguised as a classic story.

Good GOD, this movie rots.

Noah's Arc (2004)
9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Queer as Bruthas, 17 October 2004

Three promos and the pilot episode of Noah's Arc just screened last night at Washington, D.C.'s 14th Annual Reel Affirmations Film Festival, and it was a sold-out house--just like when director Patrick-Ian Polk showed his feature film "Punks" at RA in 2000. The hype behind this showing was all about "At last we get stories of gay Black men!" And indeed, whereas other films at this festival are attended overwhelmingly by gay WHITE men, Noah's Arc attracted a larger African-American gay audience than most of us light-skins ever get to commune with. Who knew? Are all these guys out? Where do they hang out? Not the same clubs my friends and I frequent... It's incredible that in wonderfully diverse D.C. we're still so damn segregated.

Anyway, the shorts and the pilot were wildly appreciated at the fest. I cannot help but surmise that this was due at least in part to the aforementioned thirst for gay Black stories in film. Noah's Arc is definitely entertaining, but apart from being the first gay Black (soon-to-be-) cable network show, there's really nothing new here. It's Queer as Folk, translated to African-American L.A. I liked the characters; but that's because I was supposed to like them. I like the issues they deal with--relationships, sex, family--but there are no real challenges or surprises here. The central dilemma of the pilot--Noah falls for an acquaintance who has historically been hetero but seems to have some more-than-friendly feelings for Noah--is NOT an exclusively (or even a primarily) Black phenomenon.

Don't get me wrong--the production is great (though the sound could use some editing) and the cast are uniformly talented (and for the most part drop-dead gorgeous). But the characters are all *upscale* L.A.--even the "struggling" screenwriter Noah drives a convertible--and apart from a few Black street terms ("downlow" and, yes, "nigga"), there's little in Noah's Arc to distinguish this group of gay guys from the cast of Queer as Folk, or of any mainstream sex- and romance-themed feature film of the last few years.

So my question, then, is: Is it enough to take a recent, successful formula for a TV show, change the race of the characters but little else, and resell it? Is it really all my Black neighbors want, to be able to see Queer as Black Folk? From the reception Noah's Arc received at the Reel Affirmations fest, the answer seems to be yes... but I'm personally doubtful.

I know this was just the first episode, and I'm totally willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt. I very much wish for the success of this project as a cable series, and I look forward to seeing future episodes, in the hope that we get to see (a) further exploration of what, in all its diversity, "Black gay America" means, and (b) examinations of more of the weightier issues barely touched on in the pilot. For example: the family situation of Noah's friend Chance, who has just married a partner who has a young daughter. So far that daughter is nothing more than a political prop and a running joke regarding her name ("Kenya"), which the "diva" friend can never remember. I have no doubt that Mr. Polk's heart is in the right place, so I look forward to seeing where he takes these characters--hopefully someplace we haven't all seen before!

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