Thursday, December 31, 2009




Thursday, December 24, 2009

Spend a deliciously dysfunctional Christmas Eve with the Chasseur family in THE REF

It's hard to imagine how The Ref, a caustically hilarious and original movie, got pitched to the big boys at Touchstone. "Dog Day Afternoon meets Reservoir Dogs meets National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!" Nope. "Ordinary People meets Desperate Hours meets Home Alone!" Not exactly. Touchstone went ahead and made the movie anyway, but they never did market it correctly. The problem starts with the title. This is not a sports film, people. Unless you consider the flinging of marital brickbats a sport.

The Ref, which covers the events of one fateful Christmas Eve, is more a collection of stocking stuffers than a present you would find under the tree. That's because, unlike conventional presents, stocking gifts have no rules. Anything could go in the stocking: an orange, a pair of socks, a nifty set of prehistoric animals, a lump of coal, all of the above. And that's The Ref in a nutshell.

Denis Leary, who plays a fast-talking thief named Gus, robs a suburban mansion and sets off all the alarms, so he needs a getaway car and a place to hide till he can figure out how to get around the roadblocks. It's his bad luck to choose as hostages the bickering Chasseurs, whom we've already met in a blackly side splitting, no-holds-barred session with their marriage counselor. To say that Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) are bickerers is to say Mystic Mints are cookies. These two are the most merciless human migraines you've run into since you last looked in the mirror. Gus is flabbergasted at the sheer venom of their attacks on each other, especially since they are living what certainly looks to him like the good life. He is so dumbfounded at the invective they spew that he unwittingly finds himself playing the role of mediator more than hostage-taker (hence the title of the film).

Though Leary has the most immediately funny scenes (he is, as usual, all bottled energy and screw-you attitude) and shows terrific screen timing and presence, it's Davis and Spacey who are the heart of the film. The rest of this prom-night carwreck of a family includes the Chasseur's son, the possibly still redeemable "demon seed" Jesse (Robert Steinmiller Jr.), Glynis Johns as the preposterously overbearing matriarch, and a number of other first-rate familial irritations. Steinmiller proves our theory that the kid who played Alfalfa did not grow up to be killed over a $50 debt; he was cryogenically frozen and subsequently thawed out for this film.

While the acting is what really works in The Ref, the writing comes in a very close second. Screenwriters Richard La Gravaneses and Marie Weiss's dialogue crackles, and just when you think one of the stabbings from one of the spouses will sting fatally, the other volleys back with a kamikaze zinger. It's how you wish your parents had argued, because damn it's entertaining. Potential dvd renters should be forewarned about one thing. At the beginning of the movie, Leary is sprayed with cat urine as he bungles his burglary attempt, and throughout the film, one character after another remarks, "What's that smell?" This is a metaphor, in a way, for you will notice an odor, too. Near the end you're going to say, as you wrinkle your nose and whiff the air, "Is that... Touchstone I detect?" Yes, yes, it is. Touchstone processes good scripts with the same reluctance that W.C. Fields's liver processed alcohol, so, true to their name, they use their touch to turn living things into stone: Leary is never allowed to be quite bad enough, and things do have to work out with mildly tedious agreeability at the end. But these are just quibbles, and, after all, when you grab your stocking off the fireplace mantle, you have to take the socks along with those nifty animal toys.


Sunday, December 20, 2009


1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
lemon juice
4 lg eggs
lots of nuts
1 bottle of Vodka
2 cups of dried fruit

Sample the vodka to check quality.
Take a large bowl.
Check the vodka again. (to be sure it is the highest quality.) Pour one level cup and drink. Repeat.
Turn on the electric mixer.
Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon of sugar.
Beat again.
At this point, it's best to make sure the vodka is still okay. Try another cup... just in case.
Turn off the mixer.
Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Pick fruit off floor
Mix on the turner.
If the fried fruit gets stuck in the beaters, pry it loose with a screwdriver.
Sample the vodka to check for consistensy.
Next, sift two cups of salt (or something... who gives a shit.)
Check the vodka.
Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table.
Add a spoon of sugar, or something. (whatever you can find.)
Grease the oven and piss in the fridge.
Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
(Don't forget to beat off the turner.)
Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the vodka and kick the cat.
Fall into bed.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Joan Crawford is a terrifying vision in fishnets in the late 60s camp masterpiece BERSERK

There's nothing certain in show business," Joan Crawford tells us in the aptly titled 1967 gem Berserk. "We've eaten caviar, and we've eaten sawdust." Connoisseurs of Bad Big-Top Movies We Adore like Big Circus, Carnival Story and The Greatest Show on Earth can be certain of one thing, though: Berserk --  which features Crawford looking even more butch and self-enchanted than usual -- offers up the tastiest mouthful of sawdust to be found anywhere in this demented genre.

When 59-year-old circus ringmaster Crawford (a terrifying vision in her trim tuxedo jacket and fishnet stockings) introduces her world-famous high-wire soloist, the audience is definitely not ready for what happens next: the high wire snaps and coils around the performer's neck, leaving him dangling above their upturned faces. Oblivious to the human tragedy, a post-show Crawford busies herself with the night box-office receipts. "How can you be so cold-blooded?" asks her business partner. "We're running a circus, not a charm school," Crawford growls, going on to point out that the violent death will be good for business. Then she changes tack. "What can I do to cheer you up?" she queries. "I just may let you tuck me in tonight." God forbid! Even with Vaseline smeared on the lens and strategic shadows cast across her face, our star looks, at best, like a short, male senior citizen in elaborate drag.

The next day, who should turn up but a high-wire soloist in need of a job. The suspiciously useful newcomer is strapping studmuffin Ty Hardin, who is soon embroiled in a torrid affair with Crawford, despite the fact that he's 22 years her junior. The biggest scare in this whole movie is the appearance of a postcoital Crawford, done up in a negligee and a big-hair wig. "Long ago I lost the capacity to love," she purrs, very believably indeed. "If you want me to spell it out for you, I will. What we have is no more than a greeting card. Maybe not as friendly." Just as you're thinking that's not exactly what you'd say if you looked like an aging female impersonator and had somehow gotten Ty Hardin into bed, Hardin replies, "You're playing a dangerous game!"

When Crawford's business partner is murdered, the circus performers get agitated. The magician -- obviously the thinker in the group -- announces, "It is clear to me there is a killer loose." Enter blowsy, badly bleached blonde tootsie Diana Dors (who was at one time hailed as England's answer to Marilyn Monroe -- i.e., Jayne Mansfield with bad teeth). As the magician's new paramour/assistant, Dors expresses her view that bosswoman Crawford is the killer. Overhearing this, Crawford snaps, "You slut!" Whereupon Dors demonstrates the accuracy of this assessment by boozily coming on to Hardin. You may want to memorize Hardin's reply for your own future use: "You're peddling your merchandise at the wrong booth." When Hardin tosses Dors out on her rear -- literally -- a high-water mark in cinema cattiness is reached as an onlooking circus babe croaks, "You must be more careful, you'll damage your brain!" Happily, a nail-scratching, wig-pulling catfight ensues.

Enter Crawford's unhappy teen daughter (Judy Geeson) who's just been expelled from charm school. "Let me stay here with you," she pleads to her mom. "The circus is in my blood like it's in yours." Speaking of blood, the next big-top demise occurs when the magician saws Dors in two for real. Now even Crawford is afraid. "I've got the jitters!" she confesses to Hardin. "I'm not made of stone!" Actually, wax is what we were thinking.

Doing what anyone whose circus is being torn asunder by a psychopath would do, Crawford throws a gigantic party, at which she confesses to Hardin that she's made him her partner: "You'll have 25 percent of the circus and 100 percent of me." When charm school dropout Geeson appears to be sulking her way through the shindig, Crawford wonders out loud if the girl is spoiled. "You certainly never lacked anything," she points out. "No, except what I needed most... you!" the teen shrieks, bolting into the night. "I have an eerie feeling the killer will strike again at any moment," Crawford murmurs. Hmmm. Is this just a doting mom's wishful thinking? We don't want to spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that Berserk parallels its star's real life in some amusing ways. The on-screen Crawford often had her hands full with pesky teen daughters -- think Mildred Pierce, Strait-Jacket, Della -- but for cinematic subtext on the offscreen Crawford's doubts about her adopted daughter Christina, Berserk is unsurpassed.

Note: If you do happen to catch Berserk, be sure to note circus owner Crawford's special booth for Pepsi-Cola, a company in which the real-life Crawford was a major stockholder. Given the homicidal goings-on of the film, Pepsi's slogan on the booth -- "Come alive with Pepsi" -- is a brilliant touch.

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