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Enchanting Fairy Tale Set In A Dark and Dirty World
17 August 2019
This movie is powerful, and it's got a melancholy feel to it. Yet it's funny and romantic too!

Let me just say that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have never been better, and that they are both powerful in their dramatic scenes, while in the lighter moments they form an unforgettable comedy duo. Margot Robie is radiant as Sharon Tate. And this is a movie that will leave you feeling good about Hollywood, the movies, and just being alive.

No, there are no spoilers here!
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Annihilation (2018)
Pretty Flowers, Goofy Looking Monsters, and Chicks With Guns
12 August 2019
I was nervous when I sat down to watch this movie last night. As an aging white male, was I ready to see a small band of young, sexy, bad-ass chicks fighting monsters and saving people while the men folk lie around looking weak and scared and confused? Could I handle an action packed adventure epic where tough, competent women pull off what the men folk can't?

But fear not! These chicks are not competent, let alone overpowering. They have no clear-cut mission, they don't work together as a team, and nothing is clearly resolved one way or the other. There's a lot of fuzzy talk as they lazily paddle their canoes, about "we're all searching for something," and "she's a lost child," and "she drinks," and "she's confused about her sexuality," but you'll find you can barely tell the five women apart, anyway.

Then the monsters attack, and it's like, instead of feeling terror you just sit there thinking, "okay, what's next? How about . . . a kangaroo covered with porcupine quills! A raccoon with the wings of a bat? Just how much COOLER can this story get?" And then our super sexy, brave chicks just put their M-16's on full automatic and blast forty or fifty rounds into the creature till it groans and falls over dead. Because women, you know, are more creative and sensitive than men. A male team wouldn't even think to shoot at the beasts, they'd just, I don't know, kill them with their bare hands. Or something. Don't imagine any of this has a point, because it doesn't!

Oh, because the jungle scenes aren't monotonous enough, every fifteen minutes or so we cut away to random scenes of Natalie Portman having sex with different guys. You can actually count every button in Natalie's spine! That's the kind of thing you notice when you're bored, and you'll notice it a lot. If you know what I mean.

So at the end, what did we learn, Charlie Brown? Girl power doesn't save the day. The girls are petulant, whiny, back-stabbing hoes, and they turn on each other within hours. They accomplish nothing, nothing is resolved, and at the end we're right back where we started.

On the plus side, those flower arrangements were really pretty. And there were some amazing glowing lights at the end!
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Out Came The Sun Is Much Better
13 July 2019
Everyone else is hating on Mariel -- you know, she's blonde, she's pretty, she must die -- but really I thought this documentary was pretty good. You can see how much she loves her daughters, Dree and Langley, and how they're working to build lives of their own outside the Hemingway curse.

What's missing is the wonderful self-knowledge and wry sense of humor Mariel shows as a writer, especially in Out Came the Sun. Read that if you really want to know how Mariel Hemingway looks at life.
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Yesterday (III) (2019)
Erasing The Beatles From History
12 July 2019
Two stars for Lily James because . . . well, Lily James. One star for the odd bit of humor now and then, mostly very cozy British bits like the dad asking for a sandwich or someone stealing someone's crisps.

Other than that, this was a movie that left me feeling like Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now. The horror . .. the horror!

Please understand, I'm an American male and I've been listening to the Beatles for forty-three years. I remember what it was like when you could only buy their albums on vinyl and in America they were all different. We had Beatles 65 Beatles VI, and not Beatles for Sale. But I remember how good it felt on Sunday mornings at home, listening to songs like "Kansas City" and "Words of Love."

Funny thing is, both those songs are actually not Beatle originals. "Kansas City" was a Little Richard song. Richard was a gay black man from Macon, Georgia. "Words of Love" was written by a Texan named Buddy Holly. The Beatles learned a lot from those guys. Without them the Beatles really would not have existed. Without America the Beatles would not have existed.

Yet in this movie America is bad news, a joke, a put on. And the music of the Beatles is re-invented in a sort of painless virgin-birth that excludes any vision of change, conflict, or rebellion.

God knows the Beatles could be tough on America ("Rocky Raccoon" "Happiness Is A Warm Gun.") But they could also be hard on women. And old people. And England. And, well, everything. It's astonishing how the makers of this film want the Beatles to be remembered -- only the softest, soppiest ballads, and barely a nod to any of the mean, hard-rocking material they did almost as well as the Rolling Stones.

So getting down to the plot, such as it was. It's great fun to see Lily James, who soared playing unforgettable dream girls like Elizabeth Bennett and Natasha Rostov, playing a forgettable girl next door type. She just is so touching in all her scenes, especially when she hears "Yesterday" for the first time. But it's funny because when Jack leaves her to go on his first tour, I really expected him to start singing "If I Needed Someone." Because he's brushing her off for the money, and he's really ice cold about it! "If I had some more time to spend, then I guess I'd be with you my friend . . . if I needed someone!"

See how cold that song is? See how heartless? George Harrison wrote that. See, the Beatles could be cold. The Beatles could be mean. But they could also be brutally honest about their emotions. That's something this movie so does not get. Nor does it wish to!

Now look at the other side of the coin. In the oldest romantic movie cliche, when Jack is gone too long Ellie gets herself another man. Nothing wrong with that, good on her. But it's funny, when Jack sees the other guy I really expected him to get steaming mad and rush out on stage and start singing "I'll Cry Instead" How did John put it? "I've got every reason on earth to be mad, cause I've just lost the only girl I had. If I could see you now, I'd try to make you sad somehow. But I can't so I'll cry instead." See how direct that is? How it's brutally honest and direct and says what the man really feels, without any effort to act like a nice guy or leave everyone smiling? This movie so, so, does not get "I'll Cry Instead."

When I went to the movies yesterday to watch this yesterday, it was a big milestone in my life. All the other people in line were senior citizens, and when I said "one senior" the lad at the counter gave it to me without even asking my age. I felt kind of thrilled, yet sad. But this movie just made me sad. It's sad that the only people who want to see a movie about the Beatles are old people like me. It's even sadder that the vision this movie presents of the Beatles rigorously excludes about sixty percent of who they really were and what they had to say. Maybe it's just as well that young people are staying away in droves!

When I was a kid, forty years ago, there was a cheap made for TV movie in America about the Beatles' rise to fame. I'll never forget the scene at the Cavern Club, where the local kids are screaming and going crazy and the Beatles are about to go onstage for the first time with Ringo Starr as their Drummer. John Lennon is in command, and he looks out at the crowd with a cold, sneering look on his arrogant face. Then he shouts something like, "hello, you horrible lot. Welcome to the fabulous Apollo Theater in Harlem!"

Now what did he mean by that? What point was he trying to make? Figure it out and you'll understand why YESTERDAY is such an empty experience.
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Star Trek: A Private Little War (1968)
Season 2, Episode 19
More Than A Vietnam Allegory -- Coming of Age in a Fallen World
26 June 2019
Fifty years ago this was one of my top ten episodes of Star Trek. As a six year old kid I wanted action, fist fights, gunfire, and adventure. I wanted Kirk in action with his fists, fighting the bad guys. I also loved the low-tech feel of the muskets and the powder horns. This episode to me has the perfect balance of action, adventure, romance, and heartbreak.

Now a lot of reviewers judge this episode solely on what it says (or fails to say) about the war in Vietnam. Certainly you can fault Gene Roddenberry for failing to take on the human cost of war -- this isn't Born On The Fourth of July. (Imagine a sequel where the Federation signs a peace treaty with the Klingons, and Kirk finds a wheelchair-bound Tyree in a bar, cursing Kirk for persuading him to enlist!)

But the thing is, this episode may not have the "answer" to what went wrong in Vietnam. But it raises a lot of timeless questions about loss of innocence, the end of childhood, and the price of change. Many, many Star Trek episodes show Kirk running across someone he liked or admired before his five-year mission with the Enterprise. Usually the other person fails Kirk in some way -- they've become corrupt, or crooked, or simply gone insane.

This time around, though, Kirk's friend Tyree is just as pure and just as innocent as Kirk remembered. The two of them were boys, once, hunting and fishing in the wilderness just like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. But now Tyree is a man, and a leader -- like Kirk. And that means he has to change in ways that are genuinely tragic. The arc of Tyree, from helpless and innocent to hardened and ruthless, really mirrors the price Kirk has paid to become a legendary star ship captain. And Kirk's sadness only makes the tragic journey more profound and meaningful.

Tyree is the most likable and sympathetic companion of Kirk's "younger days" that we ever meet in the original series. I would also argue that of all the deadly, seductive women Kirk ever encountered, Nona is the most alluring and the most memorable. She's initially presented as being much more strong-willed and street-smart than her husband, and it's hard not to admire her genuine outrage at the way Kirk puts the Prime Directive above her husband' s survival. ("Then he has the wrong friends -- and I have the wrong husband!") But the way she over-estimates her own charms and fatally under-estimates the brutal cruelty of the villagers makes for some of the most graphic and disturbing violence in the series. And watching Tyree deal with what follows is genuine drama.

Everything is great about this episode -- even the big and furry Mugatu adds just right unintentional comic relief, a touch of campy silliness to offset the genuine sadness and the explosive drama!
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The Sopranos: The Happy Wanderer (2000)
Season 2, Episode 6
Best of Season Two
16 May 2019
In my opinion, the best episode of Season Two. The picture of gambling as an addiction is painfully real. The deadly tension between Richie and Chris at the poker game is suspenseful and powerful. Frank Sinatra Jr. is great as a man of enormous dignity who knows the rules.
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This Movie Is Out of Gas
24 April 2019
All through high school, the cool kids laughed at me for listening to the Beach Boys. Guys would come to my house, take girls away from me, and then laughingly ask to see my Beach Boys record collection. And I just took it. Because deep down I knew, the Beach Boys were special. Let the other kids listen to Blondie, and the Bee Gees, and Fleetwood Mac. I was with my boys. That's how loyal I was. So loyal that I read every book ever written about the band. So loyal that I waited years for a chance to watch this movie, certain it would be a classic like Easy Rider or the Wild Bunch.

I figured in the movie Dennis Wilson would play the coolest, toughest guy around, a hippie but with a cowboy's macho code of honor. I figured there'd be a creepy villain, like Charlie Manson, and a dream girl like Sharon Tate, innocent as a lamb with a body like Venus, tied up in a shack somewhere, helpless and afraid. And at the end of the movie Dennis would beat up Charlie Manson and Tex Watson and all those other dead-eyed hippy creeps and make it to the shack just in time in a bitching hot rod and save Sharon just in time.

But you know what actually happens in this movie? Nothing! Nothing actually happens in this movie. And boy, does it happen a lot. Warren Oates squeals "I'm not into that" when some guy puts a hand on his leg. James Taylor drives around looking for a parking space. The Doors sing "Moonlight Mile" while our heroes cruise past endless cars outside a diner. Dennis Wilson doesn't save anyone. He doesn't teach anyone how to be cool or stand up to other kids. He doesn't even smile!

I got more fun out of listening to "Heroes and Villains" in the car on the way to work this morning than I did watching this piece of crap. No wonder Charlie Manson figured Dennis Wilson for an easy mark!
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Sylvia (2003)
And Now, A Word From Lady Lazarus
12 April 2019
You know what I love about Hell? Arm-wrestling Ernest Hemingway. Playing "Go" with Yukio Mishima. You know what I hate about Hell? Watching movies about me, or more specifically, watching myself being portrayed by a fake-ass blonde Beverly Hills mannequin with a phony British accent. (New England girl here, folks. Born in Boston!)

May the Bull of Bendylaw trample your fake vegan-ass right into the sea!

Your friend,

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Paging Frank Dracman! Mr. Frank Dracman!
13 March 2019
Saw this movie on HBO at the age of fourteen, almost right after it came out. Even at that age I could tell it was a real stinker, a lame attempt at a sexy teen comedy that was neither funny nor sexy.

Yet there was one part that always stuck with me. The lame hero's brother gets in an accident during some prank and lands in the hospital. The hero knows to look for him under the name "Frank Dracman," because his little brother's three greatest heroes are Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. That moment really rang true for me because at the time I was exactly that kind of kid, reading nothing but magazines like EERIE and CREEPY and watching Universal horror on late night TV.

If that was the high point of this movie . . . well, you figure it out.
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Star Trek: Return to Tomorrow (1968)
Season 2, Episode 20
Deeply Romantic, Dream Like, And Sensual
12 March 2019
I saw many of the original series episodes when they came out in 1968 and 1969 -- but I was only six years old at the time! At that point I only liked the episodes where Kirk got into a lot of fistfights and fired his phaser. And especially the episodes where the Enterprise fired all its phasers at another ship!

Fifty years later . . .

This episode, which I hardly noticed as a little kid, is now a favorite. It's haunting, tragic, deeply romantic, dream like, and sensual. The idea that god like aliens long to be human, to have all the feelings and emotions we take for granted, is deeply inspiring. It's all the more poignant because they speak to us in the voices of people we already love, like Kirk and Spock and the incomparably lovely Ann Mulhall. I loved how the "temptation" of Thelessa was so Biblical, with the suave Henoch in the role of the serpent.

People joke about the plot, but from an acting perspective it must have been so liberating for William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to take on these "dual" roles as aliens inhabiting the bodies of Kirk and Spock. Shatner gets to play a man who is quite different from James T. Kirk. Sargon is a great leader, a hero, but he's no playboy. He's dignified and caring and his scenes with his lost love are unbelievably touching. And for Nimoy to be able to step out from behind Spocks' shadow and play a truly Satanic villain must have been a real thrill. I think Henoch is one of the best Original Series villains and I think Leonard Nimoy deserves a lot of credit for bringing him to life!

Private joke: when Sargon talks about spending thousands of years searching the universe for passing ships to help, he says something like, "Always waiting, always probing, probing, waiting, probing." I wanted him to go the full Buddy Holly and say he was "crying, waiting, hoping" instead!
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Vikings: Blood Eagle (2014)
Season 2, Episode 7
Good Evening, and Welcome to the Northman's Hour. Tonight Ragnar's special guest is Jarl Borg!
6 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Good Evening, and Welcome to the Viking's Hour. Tonight Ragnar's special guest is Jarl Borg!"

Okay, that's a quote from DRIVE IN, a really cheesy Seventies comedy. The Texas hoods start their Drive In Rumble by announcing it like a daytime talk show. But it really describes this episode of VIKINGS as well. Basically it's just a snuff flick, where chump of the week Jarl Borg (a dead ringer for Beach Boys' singer Mike Love, by the way) makes one mistake after another and then literally staggers into a finale worthy of a cheap slasher movie.

Which is not to say that VIKINGS isn't a classic show or that this episode isn't gripping in parts. Watch the way the whole cast reacts to the blood and guts finale. It's almost dreamlike! But still, Enoch and the Widow Makers would have loved this.
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The Departed (2006)
Nobody But Me!
18 February 2019
Martin Scorsese is more sentimental about the mob than Margaret Mitchell ever was about the Ku Klux Klan. On the other hand, where else can you see Leonardo DiCaprio looking sexy and beating up on a helpless storekeeper while dancing to the sounds of "Nobody But Me" by the Human Beinz?

Eat your heart out, Malcolm McDowell!
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Maybe We All Look The Same -- But We Ain't The Same!
13 February 2019
New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen once wrote that enlisting in the military was nothing but "a great American post-adolescence for some young men and women not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college."

This movie tells the story of those people. The unlucky ones who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. These are the people who don't matter. The people a modern feminist can safely dismiss with smug contempt. In the name of love and peace!

And do you know why Anna Quindlen hates us so much? Because she wants to be proper. She wants a proper home and a proper position with a proper husband who can give her proper children. And she's never going to apologize for any of her ignorance, cruelty or hypocrisy because having a college degree means . . . well, it means she's proper. And when you're proper your safe.

One final thought from Anna Quindlen. "We have become more complicated than the scripts of old movies." Baby, nothing you've ever felt, written, or thought is as complicated as this movie.

1st Radio Battalion 1987-1992
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He's More Fred C. Dobbs or Charlie Kane than Daniel LaRusso!
12 February 2019
Absolutely brilliant, and very hard to define. Is it a drama? A satire? A coming of age story?

I went to Columbia University in the Reagan Eighties, and I hated every minute of it. This movie captures the environment perfectly -- spoiled rich kids, binge-drinking, callous administrators, self-impressed instructors, hatefulness and evil triumphing over ideals and hope. Man, I hated Columbia. And I loved this movie for explaining why.

Yet at the same time I hated this movie, because it's so craven and so desperate to uphold the status quo. In terms of tone it's really not so much a modern KARATE KID as it is a mash-up of CITIZEN KANE and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.

Except that John Huston treats his bums with a lot more compassion than this movie treats its heroes.
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Repo Man (1984)
Let's Go Do Those Crimes!
12 February 2019
This movie literally saved my life when I was a miserable undergraduate at Columbia University. I saw it in 1984, and I had to take the IRT all the way from the Upper West Side (miserable Morningside Heights) down to Greenwich Village.

What I saw on the screen was a young man who made me cry. At 21 Otto was everything I wanted to be. The way he blows off his elders hypocrisy with cool contempt, literally pouring their beer on the floor. The way he dismisses a pickup on the street with three sledgehammer words. The way he refuses to be anything but what he wants to be. I was at Columbia, supposedly getting an education, but really getting reamed by the system. And Otto was having none of it.

Let's go do those crimes!
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Plan 9 From Sicily -- But Not Quite So Bad
6 February 2019
For years I heard legends about how awful this movie was, and then finally I bought all three GODFATHER movies on Blu Ray from TARGET.

This movie is bad, all right, but not that bad. People always knock the younger stars in the cast, Andy Garcia, Bridget Fonda, and especially Sophia Coppola, but really I thought they were all fairly attractive and sympathetic. The tragic love affair between Vincent and Mary would have been so much more powerful and moving if sexy, wisecracking modern girl Grace Hamilton hadn't just vanished without explanation half an hour into the picture! (Is that a spoiler? Trust me, you won't have to waste the next two and a half hours hoping to see Bridget again. That drove me nuts!)

So what kills the movie isn't the (weak) attempt to build new characters, but the horrifically ugly and stupid way the older characters are stripped of all human dignity, human emotion, and all reality. Al Pacino yells, he screams, he twitches, he drools, and instead of making Michael more human, he makes him less human every time he opens his mouth. And its just the same with the background characters. In the first two movies just a single shot of some old Sicilian's face would show you how dangerous he was and what kind of world he came from. Here even the minor dons are treated as clowns. ("My lucky coat!" shouts an old Mustache Pete, caught in the middle of an inadvertently hilarious gangland massacre.)

People talk a lot about how the plot makes no sense in this movie. It doesn't. But there's a larger problem. The movie is set in 1979. A lot has happened in the world since the last Godfather ended. The Vietnam War, race riots, feminism, the total destruction of many old values and prejudices. But the Corleone family is still operating like the world has never changed. The plots about drug trafficking and corruption in the church are so unsatisfying precisely because they don't show the Corleone world being challenged or threatened by outsiders. We hear about blacks but we don't see them. We hear about Colombians but don't see them either. And Mary Corleone for all her headstrong passion seems to have no life outside the home.

In the first two movies, the outside world was a threat, but that threat was made credible and dramatic by the conflict with formidable outside villains -- Jack Woltz, the movie producer. Police Captain McCluskey, Hyman Roth. Fidel Castro! But this movie has a lifeless, incestuous feel -- even the villains are insiders, family members. Coppola hints at the venal corruption of the Vatican, but he settles for trivial stuff like embezzlement and fraud and never even hints at the real horrors -- and you know what I'm talking about!
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Eastbound & Down: Chapter 1 (2009)
Season 1, Episode 1
Magnificent Low Comedy -- An Anti-Hero For Our Times
1 February 2019
Kenny Powers is cruder and dumber than all Three Stooges, more uproariously irreverent than the whole South Park Gang, and more sexually out of control than Kid Rock, Howard Stern, and Hugh Hefner combined.

But that's not the only reason why this outlaw HBO Series is so meaningful and profoundly stirring. It's about a man, or rather a legend, a super man, who has more natural, God-given talents (on and off the baseball diamond) than anyone else in his community, or indeed anyone else on earth. And it's about how even when society betrays him, and refuses to show him respect, and refuses to allow him to be the person he was meant to be, he never once gives in. He never compromises. He continues to be Kenny Powers, the hero that he believes in. This man is as pure in his anarchic fury as Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, even if he is (generally) a less violent egomaniac.

Kenny Powers lives the dream. Kenny powers IS the dream.

And there's a little Stevie in all of us.
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Pleasant But Not Outstanding
24 January 2019
It was strange watching this version of Pride and Prejudice because I'd missed it at the theater and actually saw BECOMING JANE and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES before giving this version of the "actual" classic a try.

Nothing against Keira Knightly, who is radiant in every frame and does amazing work as Elizabeth Bennett. Watch how she holds Darcy with her eyes, so that a flat and commonplace remark becomes barbed with wit and subtle criticism.

Director Joe Wright does a good job with some small things -- the dancing at the assembly really has enormous energy, much more than the identical scenes in BECOMING JANE. But the larger story doesn't really hold up. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett is really wrong -- Charles Dance was so much better in the zombie version. Mr. Bennett has to be witty and funny, not sullen and depressed. Also the guy who plays Mr. Bingley is too goofy looking. And the actress who plays his sister is too beautiful, too glamorous, and too charismatic -- you start wondering why Darcy doesn't just marry her instead of Elizabeth! The actress who plays Charlotte is great, capturing the balance between pathetic and courageous, while the guy who plays Mr. Collins is actually pretty subdued. His opposite number in the zombie version was running into furniture and falling through windows!

Altogether this is a good movie, but in some ways BECOMING JANE was more poignant and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES actually had a better supporting cast!

PS I'm not saying the cast here lack talent. Kitty and Lydia are played by Cary Mulligan and Jena Malone, two of the most brilliant actresses ever! It's just that Joe Wright doesn't really know what to do with them. He's better at directing big crowd scenes than actual one on one drama.
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Vice (I) (2018)
Great Performances, Shrill and Strident Story
2 January 2019
I agreed with most of what this movie has to say politically, but I don't need to be lectured by the Hollywood elite on morality and decency for two hours. When will we get a movie like this about Harvey Weinstein?

When you watch Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane does many hurtful things and changes America for the worst, but you can understand why he's successful and you can understand what he's trying to accomplish. You believe he's human even when he's roaring with rage and tearing apart his wife's bedroom as she packs up to leave him.

None of those things are true of Christian Bale's performance. His Dick Cheney is simply a monster from beginning to end, and the "softer" scenes, such as teaching his daughter to fish, are plaid tongue and cheek and lack any human feeling.

Oh, and the mock Shakespearean bedroom scene was a total waste of time. If there was any point, I think its that the film makers resent having to see their enemies as human beings. They lack Shakespeare's talent, his gift for language, but also his humanity and compassion. They know how empty this movie is, and they resent having to pretend to to care about the humanity of people they hate.
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All Lovely and Shining On The Western Front (Guest Review by Paul Baumer)
4 December 2018
God, this is Paul Baumer. He didn't want to watch this film. He already knows what it's like to die on a beautiful summer day when it's all quiet on the Western Front. But after watching this film, Paul and his friends all felt worse than when Behm got blinded by shell fire that night on wiring detail!

Why is the pretty little dark-eyed girl with the cute hats and the nagging voice so irritating? Is it because she's utterly perfect and always right about everything? Paul Baumer wasn't perfect. He didn't know everything in the first scene of his story. In face he knew nothing at all!

But Paul Baumer learned, and along the way he met other people, people he didn't know before the war. Unforgettable friends like Cat, and Tjaden. Enemies like Himmelstoss. War made all of these men suffer, but they did more than stare dreamily into space and talk about flowers and poems. Now and then they took time out to fight. And die.

The lovely young miss in the cute hat doesn't die. All her men friends die, but they stay lovely and shining till the very end. They never cheer about getting an extra can of beans to eat. They never battle rats or burn lice over an open flame. They don't get angry or curse their schoolteacher or their sergeant . . . or their parents or the war or God. They're all to pure and good to really feel anything one way or the other. All the soldiers in this movie are so very upper class, so lovely and shining. Maybe that's what they should call this movie.

All Lovely and Shining On The Western Front
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The Post (2017)
By All Means Move At A Glacial Pace -- You Know How That Thrills Me
25 November 2018
Literally one hour goes by in this movie before things start to happen. The rich lady who owns the Washington Post decides to run a story that could cost her family the newspaper they've owned for generations. Meryl Streep is the rich lady. To show she's not stuck up she stammers every sentence and hems and haws worse than Jimmy Steward in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. You just want to slap her every time she opens her mouth.

"Oh! Um, we must . . . we must . .. we must think about the paper and then . . . and then think about what's right. Does that . . . does that make sense?"

Tom Hanks plays the tough guy, the editor of the paper. I saw him play a mob hit man in ROAD TO PERDITION and he was pretty good. Not this time. He has literally no credibility. All he ever does is growl four words at a time.

"Print the goddamn story. Print the goddamn story. Print the goddamn story!"

Gee, Ben Hecht never wrote dialogue half this good!

Now for some serious thoughts. This movie is slow, boring and stupid. The acting is bad and the characters are lifeless. (Even the *three* television ringers brought in from BREAKING BAD can't save it.) But it's not quite fair for people to say the movie is just worn-out liberal propaganda. It's much worse than that. Yes, the movie demonizes Richard Nixon, and that's a very liberal, Sixties thing to do. But there is something very un-Sixties, very illiberal, and indeed very authoritarian and reactionary, about the way Steven Spielberg turns the anti-war movement on its head.

The purpose of this movie is to erase the violence, turmoil, and disorder from the story of the anti-war movement. THE POST is written in such a way as to make it look as though the war stopped because a handful of rich, cultivated, charming people made a single courageous decision to tell the truth -- and then the childlike masses obediently took to the streets.

Not quite. The people who led the anti-war movement for years before the nation turned against the war were nearly all-- for better or for worse -- young, angry outsiders who did not want to be a part of the Establishment. And since this movie maker, our hero, the gutless aging Steven Spielberg, very much wants to embrace the Establishment, is indeed obsessed with joining the establishment, the real history needs to be watered down, subverted, falsified. Let's all pretend that the demure, soft-spoken lady in pearls stopped the war. Let's ignore the dirty, smelly, foul-mouthed, doped up radicals who nearly scared this country to death -- let's pretend they only came into existence after the Nice People Did the Right Thing.

THE POST falsifies the very history it pretends to celebrate. It insults the audience and moves at what Miranda Priestley would call "a glacial pace." And by the way, "Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival was a hit in 1969, not 1966.
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The Natural, Coming Straight Out of Zanzibar
12 November 2018
The inspiring story of rock star Freddy Mercury comes to life on the big screen, but the way it comes to life is fairly predictable. It's less like RAY or WALK THE LINE and more like STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, or even the old Robert Redford baseball classic, THE NATURAL.

Freddy is a Natural, just like Roy Hobbs. You see he was born with extra teeth so that he has a superhuman vocal range. He's never shown watching earlier rock stars and learning from them -- he just shows up one day with his bat Wonderboy, (I mean with his magic teeth) and suddenly the last place New York Knights -- I mean, the college band Smile -- are on their way to the World Series!

In the Natural Roy Hobbs has two girlfriends. One is kind and good and always dresses in white. The other one is mean and selfish and always wears black. Freddy Mercury has two boyfriends in this movie -- one is mean and the other one is good. And you don't even need color coded outfits to tell them apart! The only question is whether Freddy will choose the right one in time. But most audience members will figure it out without the endless scenes at home. And frankly, watching Freddy feed his cats gets really, really boring.

On the plus side, I loved the way the other members of Queen got credit for writing many of the bands greatest hit songs. I loved how they worked together as a band. I loved the subtle message of tolerance, not just for the LGBT community but for middle eastern culture and religion. I loved all the scenes with Freddy's father and Freddy's patience and determination in going his own way in a new culture. (The way he says so quietly, "it's Freddy now, father.") I loved how the fantastic live performances told the story, and how the ending is just as exciting as the finale of the Natural. Freddy comes through with the bases loaded, hitting a home run in spite of serious health problems -- just like Roy Hobbs at the end of the Natural.

I just wish they could have created a new kind of story for a new kind of legend.
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The Buccaneers (1995– )
Strangely Endearing Mixture of Childlike Snobbery, Titillating Sleaze, and Shrill Feminist Preaching
31 October 2018
Everything about this lush mini-series is wrong, oversimplified, anachronistic, and just plain dishonest. Yet the results are strangely irresistible. The cast is what makes the difference. Mira Sorvino, Carla Gugino, Alison Eliot, and Rya Kihlstedt -- four utterly gorgeous young starlets, all of whom showed enormous promise, none of whom really topped their mid Nineties peak.

Imagine Charlie's Angels in corsets and lace, running here and there with fluttering lashes and heaving bosoms, determined to marry well or bust a bodice. And boy, do they ever! You will not believe the amount of leering sexuality in every scene, like a bad Seventies late night soap. Yet it's all so touchingly innocent, as if in every scene you can here the young actresses telling themselves, "This is culture! This is culture! Oscars await! It's CULTURE!"

To balance out the titillating sleaze, of course, the writers are very careful to make every last eligible bachelor an utter bucket of manure. Such a bold choice! Such intellectual daring it must have taken, to cop a fashionable feminist attitude and just slap it right down in the middle of the soft-core porn worship of all those country houses and heaving bosoms and bursting bodices and corsets laced tight. This is a story that preaches with shrill insistence while undercutting its own supposedly egalitarian message with childlike worship of money and social class.

Now when you read an actual, completed Edith Wharton novel, like THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY, you will notice some interesting differences between the actual Wharton genius and the goofiness of this guilty pleasure. Undine Spragg is a pretty girl, and she wants a rich husband. But Undine is never any better than the people around her. In a lot of ways she is worse! When Edith Wharton sends her to Europe the whole point is that she really is a menace to the civilization she wants to conquer. "You want the things we want but you don't understand why we want them," says an exasperated French count.

That kind of complexity is completely absent from THE BUCCANEERS. The girls are awesome just because, hey, they're GIRLS!!!
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Little Buddha (1993)
May Your Child Journey Forever Into The Blank Emptiness
25 October 2018
Blank emptiness of pure non-thought . . . this is not the way to enlightenment. This is the face of Bridget Fonda. Pray that you will never be reborn as a lowly substitute teacher, working at an elite school district in upstate New York. Pray that you do not substitute for a last period Global History class where freshmen are laughing and chattering while you fight desperately to maintain order. While you strain in growing despair to hear the moronic dialogue delivered by the blank-faced avatar of nothingness that is Bridget Fonda.

"I'd like to be an ant," Bridget says. Then cut away to Keanu Reeves (!) as the Great Buddha himself. Envision Bridget on her knees before Buddha. Envision Bridget on her knees before Genghis Khan. Envision Bridget on her knees before Jim Morrison.

Envision whatever you like, for there are many paths to Enlightenment. But do not become a substitute teacher. And do not go to see Bridget Fonda looking blank and empty in this awful, awful movie. Pray instead that everyone responsible will be reborn as ants . . . or substitute teachers. Pray that those responsible for adding to the world's suffering will be forced to watch this awful film year after year, while the freshmen laugh and chatter and throw small bits of paper at Bridget Fonda's empty and lifeless face.
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Star Trek: The Return of the Archons (1967)
Season 1, Episode 21
Classic Trek Episode With Deep Roots In American Literature
24 October 2018
So many fantastic reviews for this episode, but with all the talk about computers and the science fiction themes it's interesting that no one has commented on the moody and atmospheric way it draws on classic American literature.

Think of Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" the next time you watch this episode. Notice the sharp contrast between the outwardly virtuous small town life and the mindless violence the people throw themselves into with wild abandon whenever the Red Hour comes around. Think of Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTER. (Or even his short stories "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Minister's Black Veil.") The townspeople are all suspicious of outsiders, and pretend to fear their immoral ways, yet beneath the bland facade (like the black veil of the minister) they're all concealing some really unspeakable goings on.

I first saw this episode as a little kid, and what really struck me was not the computer stuff at the end but the haunting atmosphere at the beginning -- the New England accents, the string ties, the brutal violence under the fatuous hospitality. This is a very American episode of Star Trek, with roots that go all the way back to Plymouth Rock!
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