Category Archives: Reviews

It’s Not About the Acting—Four Boxes Review

Movies are a form of therapy that help distract us from the constant assault of negativity in the world, and I love them for it.  A small luxury in life is Netflix, and my plan allows unlimited streaming. The selection of movies available for streaming is meager compared to regular-delivery DVDs, it’s only the gratification of an immediate need for escape that supports its appeal. I often scan the instant movie list looking for something that isn’t awful. Many of them are either Independent or “B” movies, but you can sometimes find a sparkler among them. I don’t read professional reviews because they often pan my favorite movies but praise convoluted hipster crap.  So it’s helpful to read customer reviews, but not for reasons you might think.

One common complaint by amateur reviewers is the quality of acting and/or graphics. You should hear them go on. Even low-budget movies I really loved such as Four Boxes continue to get terrible reviews full of much worse clichés than the movies they complain about. It’s as if the reviewers see this venue as a legitimate invitation to flame something that displeases them. Many of the reviewers are semi-literate and out of 78 reviews for Four Boxes, a few people loved it and nearly everyone else complained about the bad acting. The reviews basically read like these:

stupid, the acting is bad, and im glad they all die.

i got to say this was the worst movie ive got from u it absolutly sucked never quite got the plot and far as acting VERY POOR.

whoever wrote the dialog for this steaming pile of feces should do the world a favor and never write again. words cannot desrcibe how much I detested this aweful, aweful abomintion before god.

And here I thought the characters in this movie were acting like real-life 20-somethings. I had no idea that made them “bad actors.” I was finally compelled to join about three other people and write my own favorable review.

How do they know the acting was bad? Is it because they found the characters annoying? Then what difference would it make if they cast Shia or Leo or Keira? Why does the acting matter so much if a movie is original and intriguing? It’s all about the writing. I would watch a school play if the story was good and I could hear it. Half-billion-dollar budgets featuring gorgeous Hollywood clones are no guarantee of a good movie—just witness the heap of boring clunkers starring highly paid actors. My biggest complaint is the trend toward non-articulate speech, and that’s why subtitles are indispensable. In streaming, subtitles are rarely available, so if the music is overpowering, the actors mumble, or the script ridiculous, they lose me. Subtitles would have greatly enhanced Four Boxes, but despite the fact they weren’t available I was completely absorbed.

I don’t care how primitive the production or how unskilled the actors. Movies are all about the script, and that’s what smaller production companies should strive for.

The Acceptance of Degrading Lyrics

Rap singers have the potential to change the world but many just sell out for the sake of sales. I love the song Yeah by Usher, who doesn’t? (Here’s the video: “Yeah” by Usher) It has a great beat. Usher is adorable and talented and his lyrics aren’t generally sexist or violent, but this song, which is about meeting girls in a club and leaving with them, has some cringeworthy bits. Another rap singer, Ludacris, sings the bridge, and every time I hear these lyrics I flinch. Yeah is considered a tame song and was (and still is) a huge success, selling a bajillion copies and remaining a radio staple. I have numbered the lines for easier translation.

Bridge to song Yeah by Usher and Ludacris:

1.  My outfit’s ridiculous, in the club lookin’ so conspicuous.
2.  And rowl! These women all on the prowl, if you hold the head steady I’m a milk the cow.
3.  Forget about the game, I’m a spit the truth, I won’t stop till I get ’em in they birthday suits.
4.  So gimmie the rhythm and it’ll be off with their clothes, then bend over to the front and touch your toes.
5.  I left the Jag and I took the Rolls, if they ain’t cuttin’ then I put ’em on foot patrol.
6.  How you like me now, when my pinky’s valued over three hundred thousand.
7.  Let’s drank you the one to please, Ludacris fill cups like double D’s.
8.  Me and Ush once more and we leave ’em dead, we want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed.

Translation:

1.  I’m dressed like a pimp and everyone is looking at me.

2.  Growl! The women in the club want to mate with a guy with lots of cash and I take advantage of this. If you hold the head steady I’m a milk the cow means that after the woman I have chosen for the night performs fellatio, she is to hold her head steady so I can ejaculate in either her face or mouth.

3.  I am not interested in talking. My only goal is to get them naked.

4.  She must take her clothes off and bend over.

5.  I own two luxury cars. If the woman does not comply with my sexual demands, she must get out and walk.

6.  You should be extremely impressed that the ring on my little finger is worth $300,000.

7.  I’m not sure exactly what this means, but obviously it has to do with enormous breasts, the number-one focus of millions of people both old and young.

8.  Usher and I only want women who are polite in public but wild in the bedroom (or vehicle).

Rap singers have enormous influence. By constantly inferring that women are nothing but whores and that flashy jewelry, cars, and double D size breasts hold the highest priority, they set the worst example possible for young listeners.

Sherlock is My Drug—Masterpiece Mystery Review

In times of stress, I turn to Sherlock Holmes. When I’m in a book-flinging mood where bestsellers are irritating and classics make me want to slit my wrists, Sherlock Holmes is my morphia. I read the stories over and over, each sentence stands alone as a work of art. A nightly chore is the attempt to distract myself from daily stress before I try to sleep, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories get it done.

I’ve watched most of the Sherlock Holmes movies out there and some series were pretty good, such as the one with Jeremy Brett. Others try to cast Holmes in Jack the Ripper scenarios or other plots not in the original stories, and that’s fine with me, but so many of these productions completely miss the essence of Doyle’s character (see The Terrible Things People Do to Sherlock Holmes). Guy Ritchie’s movie Sherlock Holmes was even pretty good, though an absolute fabrication and in Ritchie’s trademark way, too violent.

But nothing has reached me like Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock, originally presented on BBC, then aired on PBS in 2010 and now available on Netflix. They only made 3 episodes and have promised more in the fall. I have always wondered how Sherlock Holmes would translate to 21st century technology—Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who created these new stories, show us how it’s done.

This version of Holmes is thornier. His retorts are more barbed and impatient, but brilliantly delivered. He’s not a blowhard like in some books and movies. He doesn’t brag, he states facts. Physically, he’s tall and thin and handsome in a wraithlike way. I love the closeups of his strange and beautiful visage and its many expressions. Even the music is perfect for the show—not old, not new, but an ethereal air played off and on throughout the show that underscores the horrors being perpetrated without resorting to melodramatic violins or modern rock remixes. It sticks with you when the show ends.

In this series Holmes and Watson are known as Sherlock and John, the way we would informally address people now. John Watson, like the original, is an ex-army doctor fresh from a modern-day tour in Afghanistan. Sherlock has his own website, and John blogs about the cases they solve. Sherlock is a wizard with smartphones and computers, of course he would be. He finds so much information instantly on his smartphone that I wonder if he subscribes to database sites like Lexus Nexus. The viewer sees what he looks for online, and some of it seems as if it would be unavailable to normal users. Snippets of Doyle’s original stories are superbly intermixed—but not expanded upon—and I wonder if the writers almost had to do that because of modern technology. I’m not a purist, I’m much more interested in good writing and characterization so I love what they’ve done.

As Holmes responds to accusations from a local officer that he’s a “psychopath,” he says, “I am not a psychopath, I’m a highly functioning sociopath. Do your research.” And so he is, and we don’t want him to change. Benedict Cumberbatch pulls it off beautifully, and Watson is played sympathetically by Martin Freeman. This Watson is streetwise, depressed, gets irritated with Holmes, but craves the adventure. In this series Lestrade and Sherlock get along well and Lestrade allows Sherlock a lot of freedom. But the very best scenes are the interactions between Sherlock and John alone. They are often mistaken for gay partners, a modern assumption and something naturally never mentioned in the late-Victorian originals, and it’s amusing to see them fend off well-meaning remarks how it’s perfectly OK to be gay.

I love the way Sherlock redeems his brusque personality at the end of each show. He and Watson walk off, trading quips and laughing. I always put the subtitles on so I don’t miss a word, and I’ve watched these three episodes at least five times each. The third episode ends in a cliffhanger as Holmes clashes with a much more sadistic Moriarty than the original, this one comes with bombs, and they’ve promised more episodes in the fall.

I must take utmost care to never watch or listen to an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t want to know him personally because, as in many characters we love, finding out that they’re simply good actors and not much else is a letdown. Let us have our Sherlock and John then. Let them solve their cases with brilliance, wit, and dark humor. It’s all about the writing anyway. Let it wash over me and give me hope that all is not lost.

The Week in My World 5-10-11

I feel at odds with myself and the world, like an alien creature sent to live among humans to collect information but unable to send anything back but corrupt data. I despair at the state of the planet and of my personal life. And, I’m out of coffee filters.

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We’ve been streaming episodes of the TV show Lost. First season, well who doesn’t like a plane crash? Second season broached turbulence when we began to realize how unlikable the characters are. Last night we were midway through the third season when we were cast adrift. The characters bicker dully and can’t answer a simple question without some snotty witless remark. Who’d I rather? None of them. And nobody’s fracking, what’s up with that? I don’t care about any of them, and aren’t you supposed to care? The episodes crawl tediously, without a hint of insight why these weird things are happening, it’s just one mystery piled on top of another with no relief. One of the most annoying motifs throughout the show is that though each survivor experiences nightmares, hallucinations, and visions, whenever they relate their incident to another character, it’s met with “oh it was just a dream” or “you’re under a lot of stress” or “get some sleep.” Wouldn’t ya think they’d want to share these dangerous and scary visions, like maybe they’re related? We read the rest of the plot outlines and saw no need to suffer this wreckage to the end. The island is beautiful but the plot and dialogue are stagnant.

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Sorry, can’t resist another boyfriend story…

When Don Lenz first zoomed in on me and flashed me his smile, we really clicked. He said I was a cute little pixel but he must have been looking at me through a diffuser. I shutter to think how overexposed I was, and had to F-stop him quite a bit at first.

But as time went on, the contrast between us sharpened. All he wanted to do was download me with his inkjet. I wasn’t the first either, his memory stick had a long history. Well he can stuff it up his aperture for all I care. Next time I see that self-focused bastard I’m going to point and shoot.

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An acquaintance said to me the other day, Debra, all you do is rant. I said that’s a boldfaced lie, can’t you at least put it in italic? He said, well you’re still weird. I said, me weird? You oughta try blogging.

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Some recent pics…

I think my favorite tree here is the ruggedly beautiful alligator juniper. Such character, such spirit.

Alligator juniper berries

Alligator juniper roots

Bottom half of ancient palo verde (“green stick”) tree, another exotic beauty and state tree of Arizona.

Various woodpeckers, flickers, and owls make their nests in saguaros (pronounced suh-wahr’-oh) They don’t grow up here at 5,000 feet, this was taken on a recent trip to Tucson, where they flourish.

Spring and fall are the busiest times for the border patrol. Our house is situated on a corridor, which I did not know when we moved here. USBP trucks, ATVs, horses, and helicopters are a daily event in my backyard. I snapped this picture the other day in front of my house. 

Here an agent is giving one of the men IV fluids. There are so many coming through.

Battlestar Galactica, or, Who’d You Rather?

We’re behind the times with television. We have one, but gave up cable three years ago because it isn’t worth the expense.

Battlestar Galactica was on from 2004 to 2009. We rented the discs and watched it all at once. Between the cliffhangers, the commercials, and the long waits between seasons, it’s the best way. I’m also a big fan of captions and the ability to rewind.

We became addicted immediately. As far as who I’d rather, well, any of them except Baltar or Tigh. The dialogue is lean, the people real. The Cylons, a race of machines who develop human form, destroy the human planet Caprica and its colonies just as Battlestar Galactica is about to be shelved as a museum. The people on Galactica, a few survivors that managed to flee onto ships, and some civilian ships were spared because they were in already space.

The 50,000 humans left alive are now at war with the Cylons and face extinction. As each key character’s personality is revealed, you begin to respect them as soldiers and officers, especially the ubersexy Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos), whose word is law.

BSG was gritty and raw, unlike any other science fiction show such as Star Trek. I expected a show about spaceships, but got a show about people facing death on a daily basis who happen to be on spaceships. It captured the best and worst of humanity. They smoked, drank, and swore constantly (“frak” was their substitute for “fuck”). They were unwashed, had meltdowns, made mistakes, but above all they were soldiers with hearts. As more humans were wiped out, the pressure to train new pilots and other personnel was critical, and those were my favorite seasons. Each episode brought gutsy drama, sex, death, murder, executions, suicides, and destruction.

Their mission was to find Earth, revealed to them in “prophecies” as their future new home, while dealing with infighting, shortages, and traitors. The suspense was delicious, and key personalities stayed in character.

As the show progressed it began to lose focus. Toward the last few seasons, it got too surreal and confusing. Just because a drama is sci-fi doesn’t mean it should become unbelievable. It became a jumble of visions, flashbacks, and unanswered mysteries. There was much evangelical talk of god among the Cylons in an inexplicable way that I still do not understand.

The ending of the series caused controversy among many fans. I did not like it, and watched the final episode with disappointment. I don’t like loose ends. They do find a habitable planet, but we didn’t need to see them arrive there, destroy their own remaining ships, decide not to build a new city, and become hunters and gatherers in what appeared to be early Africa. The mystery of Kara Thrace was never explained, she simply disappeared. The final scene is 150,000 years later as Baltar and his Cylon lover walk through the streets of a thriving city, mumbling disapproval of what it had become. It never explained who Baltar and his lover really were.

I think the series should have ended when they knew they’d found a new home, and everybody’s cheering. There was no need to add the superfluous final episode. But as a whole it was damn good.

Oleaginous Mush

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. Dorothy Parker

The following two paragraphs comprise the first page of a book by a “national bestselling author,” Mariah Stewart, who has about 30 books published. I don’t get how people can plow through this—it’d be better than Ambien for getting to sleep if it weren’t so annoying.

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Here’s the first page:

Outside the courthouse , sleet hissed softly, striking the front of the old stone building at sharp angles with muffled plunks. From a narrow first-floor window, Curtis Alan Channing watched water spill from partially frozen gutters to overflow in icy waterfalls onto the frosted ground below. His eyes flickered upward to a sky the color of cinders, its low clouds hovering over the naked trees that lined the main walk leading to the courthouse steps.

News vans from competing television stations were parked side by side along the one-way street. He stared for a while, hoping to see if one of the pretty young reporters might surface, but no one emerged in the face of the storm other than a cameraman who occasionally poked his head out to check the readiness of his equipment before ducking back into the shelter of the vehicle. Channing wondered idly what event could be of sufficient interest to bring all those media types out so early on such a morning.

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ENOUGH—I get it already! It’s shitty outside and a guy’s looking out the window! There’s some media outside! 166 words to say this? No writer should ever, under any circumstances, say “his eyes flickered upward.”  Does Ballantine not have editors? I’m surprised this book doesn’t have stretch marks from the glut of lard that binds it.

The only enjoyment I got as I labored through the first page was editing it as I read:

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Sleet hissed outside, striking the front of the old stone courthouse at sharp angles. From a narrow window, Curtis Alan Channing watched icy water flow from the gutters onto frozen ground. He looked up at a gray sky, its low clouds hovering over naked trees.

A crush of television vans jammed the one-way street before him. Channing watched with curiosity for a while but no one emerged. He wondered what would cause the media to converge so early on such a bleak morning.

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Can you blame me for enjoying the satisfying thwump a flatulent paperback makes when it hits the wall? I had to pick it up though, so I could type the first page here. Otherwise, the dogs would have hijacked it. I still might let them.

Performance

Movie Review of Performance

Directed by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, with James Fox, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg, 1970

I can watch most movies about halfway through before I start to fidget. Even if the movie is a thriller and it’s being thrilling. Because about halfway through is when the story stops unfolding and the chaos begins—the dizzying, digitally-enhanced action that once begun, doesn’t stop—and I’m never ready. Car chases, fights, gun battles, daring rescues—all tiresome after a while. Suspense and action are not the same thing. More suspense, less action.

But I was not bored by Performance, made in 1968, released in 1970. I couldn’t tear myself away—it engaged every shred of me. I don’t know how I missed this one, tonight was my first viewing and I was pleased that captions were added to this 2004 re-release. I always use captions if available, they enhance my movie experience because all actors have moments of mumbling and I hate missing a line. Some actors are worse than others. And there were various accents in this film so captions were welcome.

Performance is about a London gangster who must go into hiding. He manipulates his way into the mansion of a retired rock performer (who “lost his demon”) and his two female lovers, where he quickly becomes drawn into their decadent world. The movie was considered experimental, a euphemism that sometimes means primitive or stupid, but this was neither. Some slow minutes in the film are probably due to the self-indulgence of the directors and cast. But every single character was fascinating and I wanted to know more about them.

There were some icky, uncomfortable, violent scenes that made me wince and avert my eyes but plenty of sex and drugs to make up for it. The two women are beautiful and natural and real—unlike today’s plasticized perfection. Mick Jagger was also at the height of his beauty, plus the movie had a great soundtrack, and oh how I loved the clothes.

Warner Brothers, the studio that backed the film, thought they were getting a variation of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. They left the crew alone, and at an early screening the executives and guests were shocked and disgusted by the film. Even with adjustments the film was not well received in 1970.

Performance is not a feelgood movie and doesn’t have a happy ending. But it didn’t make me cry and there was no animal abuse. It’s not as disturbing or graphic as the reviews say, but I guess it was in 1970. You have to pay attention in this movie, and even when you do the ending is murky. I think viewers are supposed to draw their own conclusions, but I always think this is a sellout because in my personal world of escapism, I like loose ends tied up.

Mick Jagger today---hard living catches up.

Anita Pallenberg today