Presidential Debate Drinking Game

ATTENTION READERS: Click here for the 2012 edition!

CAPTION:  Why so serious?

C’mon, dudes.  Perk up.  It’s not like the economy is in shambles, Americans can’t afford health care, we’re in the midst of a global energy crisis, and we’re stuck in a never-ending military operation in the Middle East with no clear exit strategy…oh, wait, yeah….it is, we can’t, we are, and oh shit.

Well, it’s time to wake the kids, call the neighbors, turn up granny’s hearing aid, put out the party favors, and have yourself an old-fashioned Debate Party — despite the fact that someone wanted to postpone the first one. 

With all the “is it on or not?” debate about the first debate, I decided to forge ahead as planned with the hope that there would be no delay.  Regardless of when the debate(s) actually happen, you’ll need a drinking game to survive all the political double-speak and subterfuge. Continue reading

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Living in GreeneLand

For the past three years I’ve been living in GreeneLand.  For those who have never visited, it’s sometimes hard to explain my love for the place.  Friends and family know I’m always reading two things: Graham Greene and something else.  I’m currently reading The Quiet American, which in 1955 was the first major work to warn of entanglement in the Vietnam conflict.  If I were asked to pick any person living or dead to have a one-on-one conversation with, I would chose to share a bottle of scotch with Graham Greene.  He was in his prime during the WWII era and died in 1991, but his works are just as relevant today as they were when first published.  He’s the rare author who is just as popular with readers as he is with his peers and aspiring writers, renowned for his commercial and critical success, and he’s among the most influential and widely read English language novelists of the 20th century.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s also the best. Continue reading

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading”

The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is one of those movies with a farcical and convoluted plot involving idiotic one-up-manship that is essentially an excuse for the filmmakers to poke fun and for their stars to have a great time doing silly bits. Here our zany Brothers return to one of their favorite themes: what happens when simpletons get in way over their heads with a cynical league of morons. Clooney, McDormand, Malcovich, Swinton, and especially Pitt, all whip out their best comedic timing and smarmy facial expressions in this tale of misguided blackmail and bumbling counter-intelligence. Unlike their last two comedic travesties (the barely there Intolerable Cruelty and the wacko Ladykillers), the Coens’ focus is sharper and crueler in this Reading and pointed directly at the government, society, themselves and their audience.

I’ve seen four out of the last five Coen Brothers’ films in crowded theaters where their faithful often laugh out of turn at some of the most unfunny of moments. Burn After Reading has plenty of those moments, as well as some truly funny ones, but one has to wonder why such a talented pair would shoot so low as to desire the elicitation of that “solo” laughter from the loons in the audience that constitute the filmmakers’ personal league of morons. When Clooney’s hardwood floor-loving womanizer unveils his “special project” to McDormand’s plastic-surgery obsessed internet speed dater, it’s a hilarious anti-climax to what had been a long build-up in previous scenes that had the whole crowd groaning and giggling. But isn’t Clooney’s rear-entry sexual-aid device a bit emblematic of how the Coens’ have been treating their audience lately? Later, when Malcovich’s alcoholic ex-CIA analyst literally takes a hatchet to another character, it again elicits uproars, but I couldn’t help but think the Coens’ were symbolically taking out their frustration on the faithful who have been befuddled by their recent offerings. We’re a cynical bunch, and so are the Coens, and whether they see themselves as the simpletons in over their heads and their audience as the league of morons, or vice versa, is never clear.

At least with this slow Burn we don’t have to deal with the pretentious philosophical ruminations of their literary bound and insanely overrated Oscar-winner, No Country for Old Men. While this might not recapture the pure joy of their original dark comedy, Raising Arizona, this star-studded and occasionally hilarious Burn After Reading is the Coen Brothers’ most entertaining film in years, even if we’re all a little more bruised from the wear.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887883/usercomments-75

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Check out my archives for past Coen Brothers’ reviews:

No Country for Old Menhttps://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2007/11/13/a-review-of-the-coen-brothers-no-country-for-old-men/

O Brother, Where Art Thou? :  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/usercomments-616

Fargohttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316

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Are you part of The Coen Brothers’ League of Morons?  Feel free to share your rankings of their films.  Here’s my rankings from best to worst:

Fargo 10/10

Blood Simple 10/10

Miller’s Crossing 9/10

Barton Fink 9/10

Raising Arizona 9/10

O Brother, Where Art Thou? 9/10

The Big Lebowski 8/10

Burn After Reading 7/10

The Man Who Wasn’t There 7/10

No Country for Old Men 6/10

The Hudsucker Proxy 5/10

Intolerable Cruelty 5/10

Ladykillers 5/10

What Would Sylvester Stallone Do?

ATTENTION FILM FANS:  Put Son of Rambow at the top of your Netflix queue right now!  For some reason this family friendly feel-good British indie import never became the break-out hit is should’ve been in theaters.  I honestly think American audiences were confused by the title and thought Sylvester Stallone was actively involved in the project.  I also think this film is ten times funnier and more honest than recent indie blockbusters like Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine.  For folks from my generation, this film is for you, and it’s everything Michel Gondry’s miserable Be Kind Rewind wished it could be.

CAPTION:  Oh, those crazy kids!

Hope and Glory v. 8.0, 6 September 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Garth Jennings’ hilarious Son of Rambow is a nearly perfect Generation-Y update of one of my favorite films from childhood, John Boorman’s vastly underrated masterpiece Hope and Glory. Whereas Boorman’s Hope and Glory was tinted with melancholic Graham Greene era nostalgia and told the story of a young boy coping with Germany’s blitzkrieg over England during WWII through the power of make-belief, Jenning’s laugh-out-loud Son of Rambow takes a post-modern 1980’s pop-culture inspired look at a young boy’s escape from a harsh religious upbringing through an obsession with the movie Rambo: First Blood.

When a religiously oppressed Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner, with the perfect comic timing only an untrained child actor could provide) forms an unlikely friendship with a criminally neglected and movie-obsessed Lee Carter (Will Poulter, first seen on screen smoking a cigarette while making a bootleg video in a packed theater showing the original Rambo), the two decide to make their own Rambo-inspired film to enter in a local contest. Insane stunt-driven Tom and Jerry inspired antics ensue while Will has to hide his new activities from the family-focused Brethren and the family-impoverished Lee can’t help but get in trouble at school.

When Lee gets suspended for a mishap with a dog statue, a kite, and a science teacher clipping his nose hairs at just the wrong time; Will unwittingly attracts the attention of an inexplicably popular French exchange student and his bumbling British entourage who can’t wait to take part in the film. What follows is a hilarious kids-level satire of the movie world complete with an ingenious Boogie Nights style series of scenes that show an exclusive underground club on school grounds where kids dance to bad 1980’s music while chugging soda after downing Pop Rocks and highlights the bizarre brotherhood of filmmakers and actors that inevitably arises from such shenanigans. And that’s not the only connection to auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, as like There Will Be Blood, this Son of Rambow also features a pivotal scene of an emotionally distraught child covered in oil. And did I mention that like my novel The Thief Maker many scenes take place at a nursing home where Lee lives unattended by his jet-setting mother and step-father? Trust me, this is much funnier. Luckily, like Boorman’s clearly influential classic, this film is also wonderfully photographed and chock-full of naturalistic acting from the young cast.

Sure, Son of Rambow lacks the gravitas and realism of Boorman’s semi-autobiographical Hope and Glory but it packs a similar emotional wallop for those in my age group who grew up pretending to make movies in their backyards with neighborhood kids after the latest GI Joe or Transformers episode aired and were inspired by the latest Star Wars or Indiana Jones film before those franchises were raped for opportunistic profit during our disenfranchised adult years. For a generation of late 20’s and early 30-somethings who spent their childhoods disengaged watching endless marathons of The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges on TV while action stars like Sylvester Stallone pounded movie theater audiences into a bloody pulp, Son of Rambow is pure imagination-inspired movie magic that will tickle the funny bone while successfully playing for our sympathies. In an increasingly strange year of hidden gems and quiet sleeper hits, from cathartic and clever documentaries like Man on Wire to wickedly dark Graham Greene tinted comedy-dramas like In Bruges, Garth Jennings’ touching and uproarious Son of Rambow just might be the most accessible and deserves to become a cult favorite on DVD.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0845046/usercomments-65

SON OF RAMBOW is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, 1980’s British social mores, pre-adolescent French ennui, and cartoonish violence and reckless behavior all involving children.

A Review of Brad Anderson’s “Transsiberian”

Character Driven Train Ride from Hell, 1 September 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Brad Anderson is probably the best unknown director working today. He’s the independent Christopher Nolan, often making character-driven, psychologically complex flicks that transcend the trappings of their respective genres. In the past he has successfully combined elements from time-travel thrillers and romantic comedies in 2000’s Happy Accidents, delivered a taut Shining-esque thriller in 2001’s Session 9, and then provided a stirring Hitchcock homage with 2004’s The Machinist, which also featured a gonzo performance from Christian Bale.  With Transsiberian Anderson attempts to breath life back into the often forgotten train-based thriller. Like those three earlier films, Transsiberian was made on the cheap, yet still manages to feature great camera-work and well known faces headlining the cast. In terms of the logistics of the location shooting in Lithuania (doubling as Siberia), this arrives as Anderson’s most accomplished film from a technical standpoint.

The story starts off with an American couple (a goofy Woody Harrelson and a criminally underrated Emily Mortimer) returning from missionary work in China by route of the famous Transsiberian railroad. Once on board the train, they befriend a young couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega) who claim to be student-teachers returning from Japan but might be hiding something sinister. The screenplay does a good job of building up to “something” and developing the characters, especially Mortimer’s Jessie, delving into her past with expository dialog that makes you care about where these characters are headed and think deeply about their motives. Without giving away too much of the film, entanglements ensue as a drug smuggling operation comes to light, and in steps Ben Kingsley (excellent as a Russian bruiser) as a narcotics detective with a special interest in the case.

There is a point, however, where (pardon the pun) the screenplay derails, and despite some unexpected twists, there never seems to be that big payoff. The film keeps the viewer on their toes with a bizarre turn of events at an abandoned church and a shockingly grim torture scene, but the psychological ramifications of these events are never probed as deeply as they could’ve been. The seductively cute Mortimer gives a nervy, complex, and excellent performance as Jessie, keeping the viewer invested in her character and what could happen to her even as the screenplay goes all over the map with her development. Woody Harrelson’s performance is more of a conundrum as he seems to be playing a book-smart version of his moronic character from Cheers. He makes you laugh during some of the more ridiculous scenes as the plot holes get deeper, and whether that was intentional or not to break the tension or gloss over the leaps of logic is never clear.

Transsiberian should please those looking for something different from your run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller. Though the screenplay initially gives us characters that feel like real people, the mechanics of the convoluted plot spoil the potential of that development. However, the film still offers up an exotic locale, solid direction, and interesting performances, which makes it easy to recommend.