Friday, February 23, 2007



Clockwise from left: Barabara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Van Heflin, Stanwyck, Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, John Payne, Loretta Young, Orson Wells

With the Oscars coming up Sunday, everyone is focused on the movies. I thought this might be a great time to point out some great movies you probably haven't seen. And the best thing is, you can view them dirt cheap.

Next time you visit your local convenience store, thumb through the box of dollar videos sitting on the counter. True, there is a lot of junk there, but there are also some truly great movies available there, often packaged two on one disk. This is especially true for vintage Film Noir, but also great Westerns, War films and Comedies.

A few of my recent finds include:

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS. A terrific noir with Barbara Stanwyck, a very young Kirk Douglas, Van Heflin, and Lizabeth Scott. From IMDb: "
In 1928, young heiress Martha Ivers fails to run off with friend Sam Masterson, and is involved in fatal events. Years later, Sam returns to find Martha the power behind Iverstown and married to "good boy" Walter O'Neil, now district attorney. At first, Sam is more interested in displaced blonde Toni Marachek than in his boyhood friends; but they draw him into a convoluted web of plotting and cross-purposes."

THE STRANGER. Orson Wells, Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young. From IMDb: "Wilson of the War Crimes Commission is seeking Franz Kindler, mastermind of the Holocaust, who has effectively erased his identity. Wilson releases Kindler's former comrade Meinike and follows him to Harper, Connecticut, where he is killed before he can identify Kindler. Now Wilson's only clue is Kindler's fascination with antique clocks; but though Kindler seems secure in his new identity, he feels his past closing in."

On the same disk is THE TRIAL. Directed by Wells and starring Anthony Perkins, this movie is based on the novel by Franz Kaska. Haven't watched it yet, but the reviews sound excellent.

From KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL: Another really terrific noir starring John Payne, one of my favorite actors. I really
enjoyed this movie. IMDb: "A down-on-his-luck ex-GI finds himself framed for an armored car robbery. When he's finally released for lack of evidence--after having been beaten up and tortured by the police--he sets out to discover who set him up, and why. The trail leads him into Mexico and a web of hired killers and corrupt cops.

Also on this disk, a Dragnet episode, and a vintage Mighty Mouse cartoon!

A WALK IN THE SUN: Terrific WWII flic starring Dana Andrews. From IMDb: "
In the 1943 invasion of Italy, one American platoon lands, digs in, then makes its way inland to attempt to take a fortified farmhouse, as tension and casualties mount. Unusually realistic picture of war as long quiet stretches of talk, punctuated by sharp, random bursts of violent action whose relevance to the big picture is often unknown to the soldiers."

Also purchased but not yet viewed: THE ROAD TO BALI. Bob Hope , Bing Crosby classic. A western twinbill; NEATH THE ARIZONA SKYS w/John Wayne and SANTA FE TRAIL w/Ronald Regan.

So, for $5, I got eight terrific movies, a couple of TV shows, and several pretty neat cartoons. Now that's a bargain.


Viewed the Western double feature yesterday. The John Wayne flick wasn't much, but the other film, SANTA FE TRAIL, was terrific. It chronicles the exploits of a group of West Point grads in the years just prior to the Civil War, fast friends who would become famous as enemies just a few years later, and the nations inevitable slide into civil war. Really strong cast. Stars Ronald Reagan (as George Armstrong Custer), Errol Flynn (as J.E.B. Stuart), Raymond Massey (as John Brown), Van Heflin, Olivia De Haviland, and Alan Hale. This movie really gives you the a feeling of the times, and almost a sense of dispair at the inevitable.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007



So.... You're this relatively unknown animation studio in the UK, and you come up with this smash hit movie, SHREK. The distributing studio, Dreamworks, is so impressed they sign you to an exclusive 5 movie deal.

Your first movie, WALLACE AND GROMMIT, is a moderate success. You're second movie, in spite of getting rave reviews, flops at the box office. Whereby, Dreamworks backs out of the remaining deal. Boss Jeffrey Katzenberg's explanation: "Their humor is just too British for American audiences." Translation: Americans are too stupid to get it!

Stupid is right, because FLUSHED AWAY is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Hands down better than either CARS or HAPPY FEET. It embodies all that is great about British humor. Great physical comedy, smart double entandres, a send up of Tom Jones, and of course, wickedly politically incorrect French bashing! It is a film that would make Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, and the Monty Python gang proud!

One of my favorite parts was the horribly wrong French bashing. Ninja frogs (and remember, in the anglophile world frog is to French as beaner is to Mexican) with pencil thin mustaches and French accents, who upon being ordered to do their thing, throw their hands up in the air and
"we surrender!" Probably banned in Quebec!

And there is the music. My granddaughter spent the day singing "poor old Roddy, flushed down his own potty." This is one several narrative songs sung by by siren, er, slugs. This is actually a really good soundtrack, with songs by Billy Idol, Tom Jones, The Dandy Warhols, Tina Turner, Fat Boy Slim, Jet, Boots Randolph, and of course, The Slugs.

By now, you're probably asking "what the hell is this movie about, anyhow?" Well here's the film overview form

Plot Summary: Roddy is a refined rat, living a life of comfort and luxury in an upscale Kensington flat in London. One day, when a common sewer rat named Syd intrudes on his lifestyle via the bathroom sink, Roddy attempts to eliminate the unwelcome pest by trying to flush him down the toilet. His scheme to lure Syd into the toilet by telling him it’s a lavish whirlpool bath backfires when the clever guest pushes Roddy in instead. As one might expect, Roddy gets flushed down to the underground sewers, a world very much unlike his own. As he explores this universe, also known as Ratropolis, he encounters a female rat named Rita who is a sewer boat captain. She is an entrepreneur – always looking for new ideas that will give her the opportunity to leave the London cesspool behind for the glorious Parisian sewers. One of the inhabitants of the sewage tunnels is the gruesome Toad, who despises all rodents and wants them eliminated. After his two henchmen Spike and Whitey fail their assignment to make Rita and Roddy disappear, Toad has to consider more drastic alternatives. He sends for his cousin, Le Frog, a dreadful and ruthless mercenary.

So you get the plot, and in the end Roddy saves Ratropolis, gets Rita, and a family of his own! But the Devil is in the details, and these details are really funny.

This is a great movie for kids and grown ups alike. And the DVD is really cool because it has a bunch of interactive games, a slug sing along, and a build your own slug program. What could possibly be better than building your own slug?

So GO RENT THIS MOVIE! Help prove that Americans aren't stupid!

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Thursday, February 15, 2007



Sooo...... how was your Valentines? Was it what you expected? Better? Worse? Any horror stories? Divorces in the making? Love kindled or rekindled? Tell us your stories!

It's funny (peculiar, not ha ha), even though I am really sour on romance, and relationships beyond purely physical, easily my favorite movie genre is Romantic Comedy. I am such a sucker for chick flicks! So in honor of St. Valentines Day, here is my all time favorites list!

1. Benny and Joon (Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aiden Quinn)
2. Green Card (Andie Mc Dowell, Gerard Depardeau, Bebe Neuwirth)
3. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Hugh Grant, Andie McDowell)
4. Bye Bye Love (Paul Reiser, Mathew Modine, Randy Quaid, Janeane Garafalo, Amy Brenneman, Eliza Dushku, Rob Reiner
5. Fifty First Dates (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider)
6. Doc Hollywood (Michael J. Fox, Julie Warner, Woody Harrelson, Bridget Fonda)
7. Murphy's Romance ( James Garner, Sally Field)
8. As Good As it Gets (Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear)
9. McClintock (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara) this may be the funniest of the bunch
10. Breakfast At Tiffanys (Audry Hepburn, George Peppard)
11. The Englisman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain (Hugh Grant, Tara Fitsgerald, Colm Meany)
12. It Can Happen To You (Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, Rosie Perez)
13. The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Janeane Garofalo, Uma Thurman, Ben Chaplin)
14. When Harry Met Sally (Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan)
15. She's All That (Freddie Prinz Jr., Racheal Leigh Cook)
16. Singles (Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelly, Matt Dillon, Bill Pullman, James Le Gros)
17. Father Of The Bride (Steve Martin, Diane Keaton)
18. Roman Holiday (Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn)
19. His Girl Friday (Cary Grant, Rosiland Russell)
2o. Roxanne (Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich)

Saturday, February 10, 2007



from top left: John Prine, Maura O'Connell, Ben Stein, Condi Rice

What could Ben Stein and Ralph Nader possibly have in common? Also: Those little white lies.. Why Condi is in hot water (again)! But first:

So I return to my trusty little S-10 pickup, after lunch with a friend at Denny's yesterday, to find this message on my cell phone: "I know it's short notice, but I have an extra ticket to see John Prine in Ft. Wayne tonight. First person who calls back can have it!" So I call my friend Sue back, and in a couple of hours I am motoring towards Indiana's far northeast hinterlands at a high rate of fuel consumption. After muttering the phrase "goddam f***ing Amish, get a f***ing car" more times than I can count, I arrive at the rambling farmhouse just outside Howe IN that Sue shares with her Great Dane, Max.

Moments later, we are motoring towards the "summit city". She tells me the story of the extra ticket; the concert was supposed to be a second date with a guy she knows, but he came down with a nasty case of creeping crud, and magnanimously gave her the tickets. She also mentions that "some Irish singer" is opening for Prine, and I will probably know who she is.

We arrive at the magnificent Embassy Theatre about 7, grab a beer, then head for our seats. A quick word about the Embassy: It was renovated at the cost of $5 mil about ten years ago. It is a truly remarkable venue, rivaling Detroit's Fox Theatre in it's ornate beauty. The theatre organ is one of the finest in the world, and draws people from all over the country to the regular organ concerts held by the theatre. But I digress...

So like I said, we arrive at our seats, and the lady next to us informs us that the opening act is the incredible MAURA O'CONNELL! Hell yes I know who she is! Anybody who is a fan of Irish traditional music or folk music knows O'Connell. She is a big, buxom woman with a shock of unruly red curls, and a voice like Kate Smith. She wowwed the crowd with a 45 minute set, earning a standing ovation at the end. And then came John Prine.

Eight years out from his successful battle with throat cancer, it is clear that he is fully recovered. He did a full 2 1/2 hours, including a 5 song encore. He did all the old favorites, including Living In The Future, Sam Stone, Grandpa Was A Carpenter, Hello In There, That's The way the World Goes Around, The Missing Years, The Accident, Illegal Smile, and many others. Plus a number of new songs that will soon be old favorites. O'Connell returned to the stage for a number of songs with Prine, including a terrific version of Make Me An Angel.

Our evening ended nicely with the Big Breakfast (including all you can eat pancakes) at the International House Of Pancakes, and a brief discussion of what Sue might have to do as paybacks for what turned out to be such a magnificent gift.

It's funny. It had been quite a while since my top 10 concert list had changed any. Now it has changed twice in the last three weeks. We're on a roll!
Ben Stein is perhaps the last great "man for all seasons." Valedictorian at Yale, professor of economics and securities law at Pepperdine, UC Santa Cruz, and the American University. Also trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, author of seven novels, and columnist for a number of conservative magazines.

And of course, there is his Hollywood career as screenwriter, producer, actor (over 20 movies and a number of tv shows to his credit), and host of the game show Win Ben Stein's Money. He is known as "the funniest Republican in Hollywood" and the "world's funniest economist." So what could he possibly have in common with the curmudgeonly, somewhat humorless, liberal crusader Ralph Nader? Well, both are crusading against corporate greed, and Stein is supporting Nader's push to protect the rights and investments of millions of unorganized shareholders.

Here is what Stein had to say about the plethora of management buyouts of stockholders, a practice that commonly occurs when a company's assets are worth more than it's shares. Management buys these stocks low, then resells them when the stock price reflects the company's actual value, screwing the unwitting stockholders of gazillions of dollars, and making a tidy profit for themselves and their investment banker buddies.

Stein says such management buyouts are "illegal on their face," and cites three reasons that this is so:
1. BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY. Citing settled trust law, Stein states; "Managers are bound to put the interest of stockholders ahead of their own, in each and every situation."

2. CONFLICT OF INTEREST: "Mangers are supposed to avoid any conflicts of interest with their trustors, the public shareholders, or even the appearance of it." Yet in these cases, the managers are buying low, while the rightful expectation of shareholders is to sell high, and hiding this fact from the shareholders.

3. INSIDER TRADING: "What is a management buyout other than trading not just some, but all of the shares of a corporation based on inside knowledge of just what the company is worth? How can this be allowed? How long until a wary court notices? Or Congress? Or the S.E.C.?"

He also has a lot to say about the increasing income inequity in this country. According to Stein, "all restraint of dignity and decorum and decency has been cast aside by people in the corporate boardrooms, and some of the people on Wall Street." According to Stein, "Back in the '60's, CEOs were restrained by social mores. But that sense of restraint is gone."

Stein worries about the continuing effect of the income gap on society. He sees the wealthy more and more buying political influence and solidifying their position at the top of society. According to Stein, "if management and the top dogs on Wall Street are just going to be able to continue to get whatever they want, this will become not a democracy any longer, but an oligarchy where a very few, very rich people call all the shots. We are way down the road to that happening already" warns Stein.

All Things Considered had a great series on income disparity this week. Check it out HERE
Condi Rice appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week, and NPR caught her in a big lie. Iran sent a fax to the state department in 2003, seeking direct talks with the US, and putting the possibility of Iranian support for a two state solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and funding of Hamas on the table. Rice denied ever seeing this, telling the HFAC: "I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said 'we're ready to recognize Israel,' and Congressman, I just don't remember ever seeing such a thing."

Unfortunately for Rice, she acknowledged the existence of the fax, and the fact that she had viewed it, in an interview with NPR last year.

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