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Films & TV  •  Books  •  Odds & Ends

Music I've Been Listening To

posted Jul 20, 2012, 10:27 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Jul 20, 2012, 10:35 PM ]

Aren't you annoyed with websites that give you rankings of things? This website used to do that, but top 5/top 10/top X rankings are like, sooo 2010, am I right? So here are some songs I've been obsessed with in recent weeks, in no particular ranking or order. 

Got a little something for everyone. Unless you like Nickelback, and then you can just go to hell. Just kidding. Stick around. We're just starting lunch


This intro gave me goosebumps the first time I watched/listened to it. Even if you don't really like James Brown, you should at least watch the first minute. 

I challenge you to look in Michael McDonald's eyes and tell him you're not in love anymore. You can't do it. It can't be done.

This song comes up on my Squarepusher Pandora station a lot, though it's not by Squarepusher. Great station to put on and do work to, in my opinion, especially if you're doing something repetitive and can just let the sound wash over you.

Gunshots are used a lot in gangster rap. That's just a fact. But I think this song does it better than most, where it's a part of the beat. Plus you've got Bone Thugs and Tupac together. Hard to beat all that.

In addition to James Brown and Tupac, I've been on a Marvin Gaye and Marvin Gaye-related kick for awhile now. Here's a song I wouldn't have known existed but for the gracious goodness of Pandora. 

Inspired by this fantastic music video, brought to my attention by a friend's gchat status, I tried doing some Hall & Oates at a karaoke place. Normally I'm a pretty solid performer, but it was a weak showing. In any case, have a look at this. 

Books I've Read Since Moving to New York

posted Mar 1, 2012, 8:24 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Jul 20, 2012, 8:12 PM ]

I just got random inspiration to start keeping track of the books I've read (at least in part) since moving to New York on May 3, 2012. The order here is approximate until you get to Misery, with the most recent at the bottom.
I will be updating periodically.
  • The Great Man, by Kate Christensen
  • The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, by Herman Melville
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
  • Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Light in August, by William Faulkner
  • Philosophy in the Boudoir, by the Marquis de Sade
  • The Firm, by John Grisham
  • Role Models, by John Waters
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Night, by Vedrana Rudan
  • Misery, by Stephen King
  • Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Jann Wenner (read excepts, but not the whole book)
  • The Stranger, by Albert Camus
  • But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise, by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram
  • Sexing the Cherry, by Jeanette Winterson
  • Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Fires, by Raymond Carver
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
  • Stories by O. Henry
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  • The Gunslinger, by Stephen King
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
  • Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
7/20/2012 Update: Going to finally cut off the list here. Currently reading Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll on my Kindle (a recent purchase). 

CineNotes I

posted Oct 1, 2010, 11:36 AM by Jeff Brandt

I've thought about doing this for awhile, and now I am. Oftentimes I see movies -- new or old -- and don't feel up to a full review, but still believe they're worth mentioning and commenting on in kind of a bare-bones way. Each time I build up a few of these, I'll post another edition of CineNotes.

The Kids Are All Right

Summary: A pair of lesbian mothers have two high school-aged children -- a son and a daughter -- who are interested in meeting their biological father. They meet him and a relationship blossoms, especially between the daughter and father. It turns out that the more effeminate mother (Julianne Moore) takes a much stronger interest in him than she had expected to.

Pro: Interesting film about a unique topic. The storytelling was tightly woven and kept me engaged the whole time.

Con: This is probably just my male bias, but I don't especially like how the dad character (Mark Ruffalo) takes a despicable turn toward the end. He was a complicated character that seems to become less complicated so that the conflict could resolve, which I think was a cheap trick.


Summary: Come on. You already know what it's about.

Pro: It's great. Just see it. I saw it twice in a weekend, and I don't do that often. I'd definitely recommend seeing it a second time so you can understand some of the finer points that may have breezed past in the first viewing.

Con: SPOILER ALERT! This damn well better not have been all a dream. That is the tiredest shtick in the history of storytelling. Therefore, I refuse to believe that interpretation of an otherwise great film.


Summary: Angelina Jolie is Agent Salt, a merciless CIA agent who always finds a clever way to get out of a jam. But is she a Russian double-agent?

Pro: Truly brutal and creative violence. You root for Salt to kick ass even though you're not sure what side she's on.

Con: Not a particularly intelligent or realistic story. But then again, it's not trying to be. And it also just seems odd that we are still making movies about Communist spies.

Antichrist (2009)

Summary: A very young child looks on while his mother and father (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) have sex. He then turns around, walks back to his room, grabs his teddy bear, and jumps out his bedroom window onto the snowy sidewalk a few storeys below. Yep, pretty screwed up. Then the mother goes psycho, and the creepy, distant husband (who is also a therapist) recommends she face her fears by spending some time in their cabin in the Garden of Eden. So yeah, there's an allegory going on in Antichrist.

Pro: Truly disturbing movie from director Lars von Trier that suits the Halloween season, assuming you don't have a weak stomach and enjoy art films that have a few slow moments. The imagery is simultaneously beautiful and despicable. I like its play on the meaning of fear, the dueling concepts of rationality and the supernatural.

Con: Was I supposed to laugh when the fox bellowed "CHAOS REIGNS!" or what? Because I did.

Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Summary: Scorsese's first Hollywood film, produced by Roger Corman, Boxcar Bertha is set in the South during the Great Depression, when union men were subject to brutal beatings by police for being "Reds." A group of four innocent misfits breaks out of jail, and they become train and bank robbers. Father and son John and David Carradine both star.

Pro: There are some fun moments, but overall . . . meh. It's not terrible, and it's worth seeing if your goal is to say you've seen every Scorsese picture.

Con: It's pretty easy to tell that it was made in the 70s. Everyone looks and talks a little too groovy for it to be the Depression. It is essentially a B-movie though, so whatever. It's certainly not in the top 50 percentile of Scorsese films.

MacHEADS (2009)

Summary: This documentary, written and directed by Kobi Shely, tells the history of Apple and Macintosh from its origins in the 80s to the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007. Fanboys and fangirls abound.

Pro: You get to see the absurdity of Apple addicts exalting Steve Jobs as savior although the primary difference between Apple and PC is the smug marketing, which from the start has said that you are special and different -- and part of a "community" -- if you shell out hundreds more for a Mac.

Con: These people make me want to vomit. I was hoping for an indictment, but this film was more of a celebration.

Cape Fear (1991)

Summary: Martin Scorsese's remake of a 1962 film tells the story of a convicted murderer and rapist (Robert De Niro) released from jail after over a decade who has come back to haunt his lackluster defense lawyer (Nick Nolte).

Pro: Juliette Lewis (who plays Nolte's rebellious daughter) and De Niro are both utterly fantastic in their roles. Scorsese does a good job of adapting the classic, Hitchcockian psychological thriller genre for the 90s.

Con: The ending is a bit more insane than the movie warrants.

New York Stories (1989)

Summary: Three short films are tied together in New York Stories: one by Martin Scorsese (Nick Nolte is a brilliant painter whose gruff behavior slowly but surely turns off his much younger lover, student, and personal assistant), one by Woody Allen (a man's mother disappears while inside a magic show box and becomes a giant ethereal head in the sky), and one by Francis Ford Coppola (a privileged girl from Manhattan seeks love, friendship, and the reuniting of her parents).

Pro: Allen's film is hilarious, and Scorsese's is stylish and intriguing as usual.

Con: Sorry Francis, but this wasn't one of your better efforts. It was like watching one of the teen girl shows on Disney Channel or Nickeolodeon, except more precious, more ornate, and less funny.


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Easy A

posted Sep 29, 2010, 11:56 AM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Sep 29, 2010, 2:20 PM ]

Easy A, starring Emma Stone as the spunky young Olive, translates the basic concept of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter for today's youth: society's scorn of adultery and fornication.

Olive is an attractive, whip-smart high school student who is somehow invisible to the rest of her peers since she sees through and avoids participating in social cliques.

Then one day she comes up with a lie to tell her friend, simply as an excuse to get out of a weekend camping trip she'd like to avoid. Her weekend plans, she announces, are to meet a college guy for a date.

In truth, her weekend was spent singing to her dog. But at the beginning of the next week, when her friend wants the juicy details of the date, Olive finds herself delving into a gigantic lie about how well the (fictional) date went and how the guy took her "V card."

Of course, since this tall tale was told in the girls' restroom, her friend was not the only party to the conversation. And, as in any movie high school, the rumors about her wild college adventures are spread quickly and elaborated upon at every turn. Suddenly she becomes both hated and desired by her classmates, a classic showcase of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She even begins sewing a red letter A on all her tops as a direct allusion to Hester Prynne from the The Scarlet Letter, which her English class is reading.

I really enjoyed Emma Stone's witty sense of humor and her family's open attitudes about sex. The writer, Bert Royal, really gave them some snappy and refreshing lines. And it's nice to see a film in the high school genre about a topic that really matters, as opposed to a bunch of silly gags written, shot, pasted together, and called a movie. Yet I couldn't get over the fact that the whole scenario is ridiculously unrealistic.

Really, a girl in this modern age who is purported to have sex once is automatically a slut, viewed differently by all of her peers? It's not like this movie is set in some bastion of social conservatism; it's in California. High schoolers having sex isn't even taboo in Grease, a film made in 1978 and set in the late 50s. Granted, it is fiction, and it's allowed to take some liberties with reality. But the whole scenario was simply too unreal to ring with much truth.

I enjoyed Easy A, but it suffers from some major plot issues that prevent it from transcending into greatness. I would recommend waiting a few months and watching it as a rental.


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Boardwalk Empire (Eps. 1 and 2)

posted Sep 28, 2010, 10:21 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Sep 28, 2010, 11:32 PM ]

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter (wrote The Sopranos), and Mark Wahlberg, this instant-hit HBO show is lighting up the entertainment world after only two episodes. Heck, it was already renewed for a second season after the first aired on September 19.

But I don't have HBO, you say. What is it about? And what makes it so great?

I'm glad you asked. Steve Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, an Atlantic City public official who also happens to be in the business of running alcohol across the country in the Prohibition era, which begins in the first episode (directed by Scorsese). With a brother in the police force and all manners of local businessmen in his pocket, Nucky is essentially the king of AC.

Like any king, he's not without enemies.  Michael Shannon plays a straight-edge FBI agent who is literally more concerned with ending the alcohol production and trade in Atlantic City than with the whole web of graft, racketeering, and nepotism that fuels it. A tortured soul and devout Christian, he's made some minor busts and had some strong leads, but he still seems far from leveraging anyone into making a confession that would bring Thompson down for good.

Also like a king, he's not without men in his employ that have ideas of their own. Jimmy (Michael Pit) is a soldier of Nucky recently who returned from fighting in the First World War. Embittered from life in the trenches, he has a difficult time living with the implications of being a trained murderer of the Lost Generation. When he meets another low-level crook from Chicago by the name of Al Capone, he begins to make designs on Nucky's $60,000 shipment to New York City.

Boardwalk Empire -- Official Trailer

It's interesting to see Buscemi as a truly powerful man at the top of the criminal food chain rather than the low-level Mr. Pink-type rat he usually plays. It makes me wonder about why he was cast in the role. Is this an attempt to defy the typecasting he has received lo these many years, or will we see the desperate, weaselly Buscemi that we know and love in future episodes?

Which begs the question, does Boardwalk Empire have anything new to offer? It's a finely made show with a slew of great actors, an impressive mix of subplots, and handsome cinematography, set design, costumes, music choices, and overall style, but what does it give us that modern-era classics like The Sopranos and Goodfellas did not? That's difficult to say, and I hope that future episodes will reveal its unique genius.

For the meantime, it offers excellent storytelling and, perhaps, a reflexive look at the level of corruption in government, as well as the consequences of confining the consumption of a popular yet potentially harmful substance (in the 1920s it was alcohol, today it's marijuana) to the underworld rather than legalizing, regulating, and promoting responsible use.


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The Book of Jokes, by Momus

posted Sep 22, 2010, 7:51 PM by Jeff Brandt

A man falls madly in love with his goose. He becomes more and more entrenched in this barnyard affair. Finally, after countless intimate encounters between the two, he can keep his forbidden romance a secret no longer. Holding the goose under one arm, he charges into the house, where he points at his wife.

"This is the pig I've been fucking," he says.

"That's not a pig; it's a goose," says the wife.

"I wasn't talking to you."

This joke and many others -- all equally if not more obscene -- are brought to life in The Book of Jokes, a hilarious and inventive novel by Momus (the Scottish singer-songwriter and artist).

The book creates an alternate world where characters live inside jokes. The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around the Skeleton family, mainly Sebastian (the father) and Peter (the son). The Skeletons live in a glass house, where their bizarre behaviors make them infamous -- perpetually the talk of the town, the butt of all jokes. But Peter learns to stop time and depart from the jokes which are his life, if only for a moment, and he can see around jokes the same way you could see around a cardboard cut-out.

Incest, bestiality, murder, scat, molestation . . . no topic is taboo. So I should say right now: I would not recommend it for anyone who is easily offended or has a weak stomach. 

If you have a dark sense of humor, however, you should definitely give this a read. Mind you, it's not simply a compilation of tasteless jokes. Many jokes, like the one paraphrased at the top of this review, are pulled from pop culture, worked, and reworked in various combinations, applied to new situations, brought up again periodically like a recurring gag in a comedic play or film.

Things you will learn when reading The Book of Jokes:
  • How two men can be each other's uncles
  • What happens when an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, and a Welshman (all brothers) go on a hunting trip
  • What happens when a man, seeking to bed a nun, dresses up like Jesus
  • How to exorcise a demon that manifests itself in unbearable fart gas
Disturbing? Yes. Hysterical? Also yes.


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My Thoughts on Criticism + The Wiccan Rede

posted Sep 7, 2010, 6:36 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Sep 7, 2010, 9:46 PM ]

Editor's Note: If you are strictly interested in the actual book review, scroll down. If, however, you're interested in the back story leading to this review, read on.


You may remember my book review of Ten Minutes of Forever, which I posted in February. Little did I know at the time, a simple negative review would spurn into a veritable saga of immature and pointless (yet humorous) flame wars, with the author assuming multiple personalities and posting as fake "fans" of his. He also sent me several nasty emails. These shenanigans have lasted for half a year, with his last comment posted as recently as Saturday.

That book was written by Andrew London, which is a pen name for Mark Ventimiglia -- the author of The Wiccan Rede (2003). Before I proceed with a review of the book at hand, I'd like to establish some facts and clear the air with London/Ventimiglia.

Delighted at reading in The Telegraph that a fellow Riverbender had been published, I emailed Andrew London to hear more about his life story. He painted himself as a literary genius and a world-renowned author who lived on book royalties and was working on movie deals. Naturally, I was excited to support a talented local writer's artistic endeavors, and I purchased Ten Minutes of Forever with high hopes.

Upon actually receiving and reading the book, however, I discovered that his fiction was not only trite and naive, but also poorly edited.  I coined the term "Copy-Paste Fiction" to describe his habit of repeating descriptions nearly verbatim, and I pointed out several egregious typos and plot contradictions. As if that weren't enough, it became obvious that all of his glowing book reviews were either self-written or else acquired from friends. In short, he was simply not who he said he was.

Evidently, Mr. London/Ventimiglia took this criticism to heart -- perceiving it as a personal attack rather than a thought-out review of his work. Instead of thinking it over and using my points of concern as aids for writing his next book -- or else completely disregarding the review, which would also be acceptable -- he exploded into a gooey mess of fury all over my blog. His persistence, as well as the intensity of his rebuttals, has led me to the conclusion that my review genuinely upset him.

Due to this experience, I've had to contemplate what being a critic really means. The following is what I've come up with.

As a writer, thinker, and critic, I'm not out to hurt anyone. My intention is not to make people feel bad; it's to make them think -- and hopefully, every now and then, to make them laugh. It's my job to call 'em how I see 'em. I have to analyze the work in front of me deeply and honestly, be it a book, film, TV show, album, or whatever. It's wrong to pull punches. In this case, it seemed obvious to me that London's gigantic ego was in need of some serious punching.

Is my opinion the only opinion? Of course not. I'm sure there are people out there who loved Ten Minutes of Forever, and I'm happy for them. They can write their own reviews. However, if I can't write what I believe is the truth, then there is no reason for me to be writing at all. If you put something out into the world and call it art, and you can't handle the negative criticism that comes back, you shouldn't be writing, either.

I can understand feeling frustrated; it's never pleasing when someone says you did something badly. But you have to either absorb the criticism and learn from it, or else completely write it off as rubbish. I welcome the author to take either route. What is not acceptable, though, is to scream and carry on like a child. It's unprofessional and reflects poorly on your character. For God's sake, move on with your life already.

Conversely, it's also wrong not to give credit where it's due. And that is why I am happy to report that I have much kinder words to say about The Wiccan Rede. I hope this will end the flame wars and leave London/Ventimiglia assured that I play fairly.

Book Review

This book is a thoroughly researched and informative work of nonfiction that examines "The Wiccan Rede" line by line. The Rede is essentially a rhyming poem of 26 couplets containing clever maxims held sacred by followers of Wiccanism. Here is a the short version of the Rede, published in the book's conclusion:

Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect love, in perfect trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fullfill:
An' ye harm none, do as ye will.
An' ever mind the Rule of Three:
What ye sends out comes back to thee.
Follow this with mind and heart,
An' marry ye meet, an' merry ye part.

The origins of the Rede itself are in dispute, but its teachings, Ventimiglia argues, are central to understanding the Wiccan faith. In addition to the standard religious message of treating others well, it puts prime focus on becoming one with nature, on humans' inherent magical capabilities, and on the karmic forces at work in the cosmos. The Rule of Three, mentioned above, refers to the Threefold Law. Basically, for each good deed you perform, you will be awarded in kind three times. For each bad deed, though, a fate three times as stark awaits you.

Its message of peace, goodwill, and reverence of nature resonated with me. The book does a good job to cast aside the misconceptions about Wicca being the same as devil worship or Satanism. In fact, it's not a refutation of Christianity at all, but a separate and more fluid belief system that exalts a host of gods and goddesses from various mythologies rather than a sole male deity. Instead of being negative about others, Wicca is positive about itself. Its followers are encouraged to research widely in order to come up with their own personal version of Wicca -- keeping in mind its basic tenet of causing no harm to others.

The part I found most compelling, besides the Rede itself, was the theoretical legwork done in the introduction. On page 5, Ventimiglia poses a thought-provoking theory that seeks to explain the relationship between people and God:

The God-force was present in the universe long before the advent of humanity. It is from this God-force that all matter, and hence all life, was spawned. Based on our observation of natural phenomena, the human race simply created an idea of a god and then attached that idea to the aforementioned natural phenomena. However, in doing so, a thought-form is born and an individual God comes into being, fully independent and conscious. Simply put, we were created by the God-force, yet we organized that same God-force into a system that we could readily comprehend.

In other words: God creates man, who recreates God -- an interesting concept to be sure.

The only part I find troubling is his belief that homosexuality is an affront to the laws of nature because it defies the duality of male and female that Wiccans believe dominate the universe. In a way, I can understand the logic he used to come to that conclusion, but I simply cannot agree that something so commonplace throughout the animal kingdom could be "unnatural." Fortunately, that piece was limited to one footnote, and its significance to the book as a whole is largely overstated by outraged reviewers on Amazon. I was also a bit annoyed at the sheer length of Chapter 2. This portion of the text describes in exhaustive detail the importance of consuming enough vitamins and minerals, listing fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that contain each.

Other than those points, I very much enjoyed reading the book. Some Amazon reviewers have denounced it as having too much of Ventimiglia's own personal opinions mixed in -- including his staunch position against eating any meat. But how could it not contain a personal bias? The same as any other work that interprets a text, it reflects the opinion of its author. It comes with the territory of being a writer.

I don't see myself switching religions, casting spells, joining a coven, or wearing love charms any time soon (or ever). I think it's good, however, to keep an open mind and to learn about other faiths. As someone without much knowledge of Wicca, I think The Wiccan Rede serves as a fine primer to those interested in learning more about it. Ventimiglia makes sure to state that this is not the be-all, end-all of Wiccan books, and he provides a generous list of others to read in order to gain a fuller understanding.


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Machete -- Video Review

posted Sep 7, 2010, 12:28 AM by Jeff Brandt

In the interest of trying out new things, I'm going to post a video review of Robert Rodriguez's Machete, which came out over the weekend.

Not my own review, mind you, but one by my good friend Jacob, who runs a YouTube channel called In The Works Media. (For all you gamers out there, he specializes in video game reviews -- something I know very little about.)

He does a good job of laying out the plot and pointing out some of its high and low points.

Machete -- reviewed by In The Works Media

I agree that Machete strikes a good balance between contemporary politics and vintage grindhouse fun. I will say, though, that it's not on the same level as Planet Terror (2007). At times, it feels like there are too many bad guys filling the same role. The plot becomes a bit more complicated than it ought to be, with several characters suddenly changing directions for no real reason. In my opinion, the experience could have been improved by playing down the plot.

As you might expect, the best way to watch Machete is just to turn off your brain and enjoy the ride.


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Some Like It Hot

posted Aug 29, 2010, 9:13 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Aug 30, 2010, 10:53 PM ]

Wow! After watching a couple lame ducks in a row (Whatever Works and Quantum of Solace), watching Some Like It Hot (1959) was like a breath of fresh air. Makes me wish some more people had nudged me to watch it before.

I was banking on some standard Marilyn Monroe fare -- with a few clever jokes but more glamor than brains -- but director Billy Wilder really knocked this one out of the park. It's definitely right up there with Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Vertigo (1958) as one of the greatest films of the 1950s.

There was really no occasion for watching this film, other than hearing it mentioned during the Billy Wilder Marathon on the Filmspotting podcast a few weeks ago. Just happened to see it at the library, and I thought I'd give it a shot. If you're like me, and you're looking for some witty gags, interesting characters, and a little bit of subversion, you are going to love  it.

But enough gushing about how great it is. I should fill you in on the plot already.

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis star as Jerry and Joe, two buddies from Capone-era Chicago who make a hardscrabble living playing in speakeasy bands. They've just sweet-talked a woman into borrowing her car when they witness seven mobsters get executed in the parking garage.

As the only living witnesses, they have to leave the city -- and fast! So they dress up in drag for a gig they heard about: a women's traveling band headed to a Florida resort for three weeks. On the train ride, they meet the stunningly beautiful Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe), the band's singer and ukulele player.

Thus the games begin. Jerry becomes Daphne, Joe becomes Josephine, and each tries to get a little extra time with Sugar through various schemes.

It is admittedly troubling that Marilyn Monroe plays the simple-minded blonde bimbo yet again, but I feel that Wilder makes up for the stereotyping with unapologetic gay innuendos. Turns out that Jerry is a little bit more suited in his role as "Daphne" than Joe is comfortable with.

And the last scene . . . well, you'll just have to see it for yourself. It's not too often that a movie's conclusion is as perfect as this one. The final cut comes not a moment too early or too late.


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Whatever Works

posted Aug 29, 2010, 12:31 AM by Jeff Brandt

Picture Larry David playing himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pretty funny guy, right? Makes interesting observations about people, gets himself into trouble with friends and strangers alike for his bold statements and faux pas. A lot like George Costanza in Seinfeld (which was based on Mr. David).

Now picture him as an even bigger, more cynical asshole without any endearing qualities whatsoever who thinks he is the world's greatest genius, and you have Boris, the pigheaded protagonist in Woody Allen's 2009 film Whatever Works. Same gestures, facial expressions, and wardrobe as in Curb, but completely unlikeable.

Don't get me wrong about Woody Allen: I like his movies, generally. But over the course of a career, he's developed some tropes that have become annoying, and you wish he would expand his artistic boundaries a little. Such as the old, cantankerous, Jewish New York City native who, despite his unlikeable neurotic qualities, meets and falls in love with a much younger and less worldly woman. This time, Larry David plays that character in Allen's place, and it just doesn't work. He's too gruff and insulting, and you have to wonder how we're expected to believe he keeps friends, much less lovers.

The younger woman is Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a typical country girl from Mississippi raised on fundamentalist morals. Having run away to New York without any money or place to stay, she approaches him outside his apartment to ask for something to eat . . . and ends up living with him for a month.

At first, he despises her naivete and not-so-subtly hints she should leave at every opportunity, but -- predictably -- ends up falling in love with her. Yada yada yada, they get married, she becomes more jaded like him, and then her backward parents show up a year later and start a whole new chain of conflict for Boris.

Without giving too much away, I'm just going to say that every twist and plot development seems unnatural and forced. There are some sorta-funny moments, and some refreshing updates to the stereotypes come toward the end. Still, I would rank it as the lamest Woody Allen movie I've seen, and the least funny project that Larry David has been attached to.

For a supposedly intelligent movie, there's such a simple, easily identified, and practically meaningless moral to the story -- and it's right there in the title. Just do whatever works for you; whatever makes you happy is AOK.

Great. Thanks a lot for that thought-provoking epiphany.


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