Monday, December 29, 2008


Needtovent is thrilled to report that our Smackdown comparing the 1951 classic version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL with the highly anticipated 2008 edition has been ranked by Google Number One among 90,400 links to weblogs that reference these motion pictures. This Smackdown was first posted as a Guest Review for Bryce Zabel's and was added later that day to this blog as well as to Needtovent's official website --

Being Number One out of 90,400 total postings is quite an honor, especially when one realizes that our review was listed ahead of such venerable websites as Wikipedia, the New York POST, Amazon, Blockbuster, IMDB, the Village Voice, Discover Magazine, Aintitcool and even the official Buddist film and television review website --

We've always felt that and combine to provide the very best film reviews and analysis on the internet. On Monday, December 29, 2008, Google made it official.

It's Martini Time!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Last night I had a dream -- and with all due respect to Mr. King, it was a doozy, too. You see, I dreamt that a highly talented, totally outrageous musical ensemble would emerge from out of nowhere that would be bold enough, brazen enough to unabashedly attack "Political Correctness" with the same kind of reckless abandon that Bush exhibited when he attacked Baghdad. You know, just a little "shock and awe" for the au courants among us -- what few there are.

My dream band consisted of four guys (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Marilyn Manson and Trey Parker) and three gals (Rusty Warren, Betty Page and Lisa Lampanelli).

Hey, it's my dream so just go along with it. O.K.?

When I awoke, I realized that my dream had already come true. (If only this would happen with my Anouk Aimee/back seat of a Citroen fantasy as well...)

Introducing FEYO Y LOCO, a Houston-based ebullient, eclectic, excoriating ensemble whose new album -- OVERNIGHT SUCCESS -- compliments their two previous offerings with more tour de force, hilarious hijinks that are sure to offend, yet again, PC Poobahs from Pocatello to Puntarenas. Among the deranged, daring, disavowing, deassimilation dazzlers found on OVERNIGHT SUCCESS are such clever, campy classics as BEN-WA BALLS, the bodacious ROADKILL BOOGIE, CORN IN THE MORNING ("When I see corn in the morning, I know I'm a regular guy") and the acappella anthem, THE BOOGER SONG. Yes, there's something for everyone, whether it be Dr. Demento, Wolfman Jack, Squeaky Fromme, a Mystic Light Rosicrucian, even a famous movie star like Schlitzie Metz. (As for B.P.O.E. members -- fugetaboutit. Guess you just can't please everybody...)

(Schlitzie Metz rockin' to the FEO Y LOCO paen to puberty -- SHE'S A SLUT)

For the record (pun intended), FEO Y LOCO is comprised of Tom Beard (towering almost 7 feet tall, Tom just might be the biggest guy in show business today), David Franklin, Jim Frye, Danny Lee, and the deliciously wicked trio of Shelley Burkett, Trisha Gerber and Jennifer Janek-Markey. Make no mistake, Tom Beard is not just another pretty, albeit enormous, face in the music business. This gentle giant has a fabulous vocal range which never fails to surprise -- even when one is totally sober! Add in a wide variety of musical styles, randy riffs and the occasional unexpected sound effect, and FEO Y LOCO is simply the best party band in the land. (I'm told that Paris Hilton has their phone number on speed dial.)

Be sure to check out the group's previous CDs as well. The original, FEO Y LOCO: EARLY FEO (1992), has been digitally re-mastered and RED NECK NECRO never sounded so salaciously sublime. Other tracks which especially touched the heart and soul of the Needtovent Staff are FAT GIRLS ("They're alright, they appreciate the night"), MICROWAVE CAT (a little dittie about a kitty -- banned by PETA -- but the calypso beat will have your foot a Tappan) and WHY DO I NEED YOU (When I've got my hand...") -- a masterful tune extolling the phallus/phalange palpitation paradigm.

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS and EARLY FEO CDs may be ordered from In addition, cdbaby also carries the 1994 album -- FEO Y LOCO: POLITICALLY INCORRECT, a third CD that is a must for all Feoheads as well. At a mere $12.97 each there is nothing out there that will provide more fun for less moola. In addition, you can also buy these albums and/or individual songs from your favorite download sites such as iTunes and

Come to think of it, the Christmas Season is upon us and what better time than now to have FEO Y LOCO spread a little joy and happiness? Just ask Schlitzie Metz...

Friday, December 19, 2008


"Dying is easy, Comedy is hard."

(Did you know that the origin of this quote is in dispute? Many believe it was first uttered by the famous actor, Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. In any event, it really doesn't matter -- truer words have never been spoken.)

Yes, dying is easy and comedy is hard -- very hard -- and it is especially hard if the comedy in question is being done as an ensemble piece. In fact, one can argue that while there have been a number of successful ensemble comedies produced over the ages, they remain about as rare as a gun rack on a Toyota Prius. Let's see -- there's Renoir's THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939), Bunuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972), several of Robert Altman's efforts, certainly Richard Linklater's DAZED AND CONFUSED and SLACKER qualify, along with IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. This list barely totals a half-dozen, and while I will readily admit there are additional titles that deserve both consideration and inclusion, it should be obvious that the ensemble film comedy constitutes a very difficult genre to master.

And so we come to 3 DAYS BLIND, a relatively low budget, independently financed ensemble comedy that completed principal photography on August 10, 2008, and is now entering its final days of post production. Needtovent is extremely excited about having the opportunity to screen 3 DAYS BLIND well in advance of its release, especially since we have heard good things about this project for many months. The wait has been worth it.

The somewhat deranged minds behind 3 DAYS BLIND belong to the Keith Brothers -- Clete, the Writer/Director and Christopher, credited as the Producer and the Editor. Together, this talented duo has crafted a rollicking, frolicking ribald romp that's just kinky enough for Mr. Friedman to name a cigar after them. The script is blessed with more unexpected, delectable surprises than a Pupu Platter in Phenom Phen even though the entire story takes place in the course of only three days in the life of a decidedly dysfuctional family (is there really any other kind?) who have gathered to celebrate their father's 75th Birthday. Unfortunately, things just seem to get in the way of a quiet family get-together, minor things like death and infidelity (one involving flesh-to-flesh contact and another one or two that substantiates the Dow Chemical Company's claim: "Better Living Through Chemistry") .

As is always the case with comedy films in particular, much of the success behind 3 DAYS BLIND can be attributed to the on-screen performances delivered by the ensemble cast that was assembled to flesh out (pun intended) the madcap antics envisioned by those quirky Keiths. And while none of the cast members are household names, yet, they comprise an experienced, highly energetic and winning collection of talented actors who are sure to win you over.

Rad Daly plays Cameron, a low-key quotidian Quixote whose seemingly simple quest is to bring home his sister and adopted brother so the Blinn family can throw a surprise Birthday party for their aging father. What transpires instead would make Cervantes cringe. Rad's previous screen credits include SHANGHAI NOON and CRIMSON TIDE, as well as the role of Michael Pusser in seven episodes of WALKING TALL.

Tarri Markell is Theresa, Cameron's sister, a struggling actress who constantly puts the ixnay to her husband's e-Bay. You've seen her in such films as NECESSARY EVIL, AIR MARSHALL and DEATH TRAIN. You can see more of her here, and we can assure you that her shapely bare backside rivals the sensuous beauty of a Stradivarius.

Theresa's husband is Clark, a sybaritic internet auction-addicted loser who eventually finds a little gratification with an inanimate, unnamed fellow who owes his existence to the Dow Laboratories in Delaware. Christopher Best plays Clark, and his previous credits include INSTANT TRAUMA, BAD COMPANY, and our personal favorite, the guy in the T-Bird in LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS -- a 1989 release that clawed its way to box-office obscurity.

Brett Anthony, best known for his portrayal of John Ritter in the NBC docudrama, "Behind The Scenes: The Unauthorized Story Of Three's Company" (2003), is cast as the adopted brother, Mickey, a rather bitter pothead with more demons than Malfeas. Who else but Mickey would be attacked from behind by a dishwasher? (This brief scene brings a whole new meaning to the Maytag brand.)

The Girl is Mickey's mysterious, nubile, oh-so-slinky traveling companion. Christy Reese is a relative newcomer, but her sexy, charismatic, comedic charm will surely find her cast in many films to come.

Regan Burns' portrayal of Police Officer Van is so droll it may very well rival Robert Cox's performances in Merrie Olde England in the seventeenth century. Burns' credits include many prime-time television credits including "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" and "RENO 911."

Unfortunately, time and space limitations preclude us from listing all of the other performers, but rest assured that they, too, do a terrific job, as does the entire crew. 3 DAYS BLIND may be a low budget endeavor, but it doesn't look it, so congratulations to Executive Producers Art Bergel, Susan Fowler and Greg McDonald for insuring that the entire budget, modest as it may be, is on the screen where it belongs. We see no need for a government bailout here...

Before closing, we at Needtovent want to acknowledge the hilarious coitus interruptus sequence towards the end of 3 DAYS BLIND. Not only is it funny as hell, but it is an excellent and effective use of mise-en-scene, a cinematic technique rarely employed in American cinema since the days of Otto Preminger. For all of you Film 101 Students out there, mise-en-scene is a more contemplative cinematic technique for telling a story -- it places all of the elements necessary to propel the action within the frame (and not just shown via individual back-and-forth cutting). Today, montage rules, but kudos to the Keith Brothers for employing mise-en-scene here. It works, it works well, and we will bet a dollar to a doughnut that you'll spend your time focusing just as much on the intimate indescretion taking place in the background as you will the dialogue in the foreground. We know we did, we think Stradivarius would, and we'll wager a Krispy Kreme you will, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife. But this method doesn't work with a tomato."

This historic proclamation signaled the very beginning of America's love affair with the Ginsu knife. And truer words were never spoken -- never.

The year was 1978, and the first Ginsu television commercial -- the forerunner of what we now call "infomercials" -- aired nationwide. Not only did these remarkable examples of the cutlery art have cutting edges beyond compare (for the price, anyway), the marketing strategy behind this product's introduction was nothing short of cutting edge as well.

Recently, Needtovent's esteemed President (an approval rating of 92%) attempted a hostile takeover of the Douglas Quikut Corporation, located in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. (With Needtovent, could there be any way other than "hostile?") Unfortunately, our COO got a quick "OH NO!" from the loco yoko's in Razorback Country and the proposed business acquisition failed to cut the mustard, much less the cheese and the, well, you already know what's coming next.

But wait, there's more!

The news isn't all bad. Besides receiving a gleaming new Ginsu knife set, Needtovent also was granted Quikut's permission to declare that it is truly the only website on the cutting edge of film reviewing. This endorsement from the Ginsu gurus is not only appreciated and accepted with humility, but we shall endeavor to maintain this trust by increasing the number of films reviewed prior to their formal release both here in the U. S. of A. and in the Land of the Rising Sun. Accordingly, Needtovent will strive to have more cutting edge, advanced, pre-release reviews than any of the "Rotten Tomatoes" who have the temerity to call themselves film critics.

From this day on, there's no comparison -- Needtovent's cutting edge reviews rule the 'hood. After all, a Rotten Tomato doesn't stand a chance in a knife fight.

Coming soon -- an in-depth review of 3 DAYS BLIND -- a delightful, independently financed ensemble comedy that is currently in the final days of post production. And remember, you will read about it here first.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The End of the World as We Know It

by Robert A. Nowotny

(Originally written for Bryce Zabel's Movie Smackdown Website --

The Smackdown. Klaatu and Gort are back in the 'hood thanks to the mega-budget re-make of "The Day The Earth Stood Still." The duo arrives once again with every intention of helping Mankind save itself. Thanks to the executives at Twentieth Century-Fox we will have their message delivered on over a thousand screens, including some IMAX theaters, firmly placing this film among the bigger holiday season releases this year. The studio's marketing department spared no cost in hyping this remake, and why should they? (I've seen more promos for this film than Bowflex commercials the past month or so.) Certainly the overall production budget, especially the CG and special effects costs, is reportedly very impressive, while the cast, which includes Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates and, surprisingly, John Cleese, help compliment box-office star Keanu Reeves who plays Klaatu in the role that Michael Rennie made famous in the original. Everything seems in place to assure a strong opening weekend turn-out. But can all this money and contemporary talent add up to make this new "The Day The Earth Stood Still" as enduringly memorable as the old "The Day The Earth Stood Still" that graced the world's screens in 1951? There's nothing to be gained by standing still -- so lets get to it. Here's the intergalactic Smack...

The Challenger. The talent behind this new 2008 "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is certainly respectful of the original. Director Scott Derrickson, producer Erwin Stoff and screenwriter David Scarpa have all publicly commented on how they understand that the earlier version is an acknowledged classic. And they fully realize that, generally speaking, remakes are about as successful as a Libertarian running for office in the Lone Star State. (An aside: We hope Kinky will run for Governor again -- "Why the hell not?") They also understand that, on rare occasions, a remake actually fares pretty well against the original. "Sorcerer" compares favorably with "Wages of Fear," for example, as does "The Magnificent Seven" with "The Seven Samurai" and "The Birdcage" vis-a-vis "La Cage aux Folles." Accordingly, the number of deviations from the earlier edition have been held to a minimum. Gort is now a biological form and not a mechanical robot. Likewise, Klaatu is now an alien in a human body, not an alien with a human body. And, of course, the balance between story and special effects, between character-driven moments and action sequences, has been skewed as well, reflecting the advances in filmmaking technology and, presumably, present-day audience preferences. Being the challenger against a movie that most sci-fi affecinadoes consider to be sacrosanct, the equavlaent in its genre to what "The Godfather" is to gangster movies, is a tough undertaking. But then again, a beagle did win at Westminster...

The Defending Champion. This is arguably the greatest science fiction film of all time. Don't take my word for it -- none other than the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board agree since the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still" was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry as one of America's most significant cinematic achievements, one that "continues to have enduring cultural, historical and aesthetic significance." This distinguished honor is not only well deserved, it is also a fitting tribute to a great filmmaker, Robert Wise, who set out to defy convention and to author something truly special.

"I wanted to make the picture as real, as believable and as honest as I possibly could so that whatever happened from outer space would blend smoothly into something with which everyone could identify. My goal was to make a movie rather than a science fiction movie per se."

To accomplish this, Wise concentrated on telling a rather simple story of an alien humanoid and the circle of ordinary people with whom he comes into contact. Additional credit must go to Edmund H. North, the terrific screenwriter who also brought us the Adademy Award-winning screenplay for "Patton," and, of course, to Harry Bates upon whose short story the screenplay is based. The net effect is a powerful, thought-provoking viewing experience which strikes a responsive chord with virtually everyone who sees it. Michael Rennie stars as Klaatu (in a role originally written for Claude Raines), and his superb performance as the distinguished extraterrestrial messenger is both convincing and chilling. The always reliable Patricia Neal and Sam Jaffe (in his last role during the McCarthy era) more than hold their own as well. Throw in an evocative musical score by Bernard Hermann, solid technical credits throughout, and a scintillating pace thanks to the streamlined story telling, and the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still" remains a champion, even in this post-Matrix world.

The Scorecard. The very best science fiction films accurately reflect the tenor of the times in which they are produced. In the case of the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still," we find an audacious allegory for the 1950s chilling concern over the escalating tensions of the early Cold War era and nuclear proliferation. And it hit home by placing the onus on all of mankind, not just the feared Ruskies, but on every American as well. This central theme, where humanity is portrayed as having an inherent inability to restrain from destroying itself, continues in the 2008 edition. As Director Scott Derrickson stated in a recent interview, times have changed and he felt the underlying story structure behind "The Day The Earth Stood Still" would allow him to comment on today's overriding fear -- that being mankind's current path to destroying itself by destroying the very planet it lives on. Heady stuff for both filmmakers, and the Smackdown winner will undoubtedly be the one that succeeds in getting their message across the best.

The Decision. Keanu's Klaatu is a solid interpretation of the well-known alien messenger coming from afar. Mr. Reeves is well cast and certainly holds his own when compared to Michael Rennie. Ditto for Jennifer Connelly as Helen Benson. She's an excellent choice in this critical role -- one that is expanded in importance from the character played by Patricia Neal -- and so this was a critically important casting decision that worked to perfection. Likewise, John Cleese (surprisingly, in my opinion) pulls off his supporting role as Dr. Barnhardt. I'd give a slight edge to Sam Jaffe, but this is a minor quibble not worth arguing about. And when it comes to Gort, the 2008 version is bigger, more versatile and more imposing than the original. Think LeBron James vs. Charles Barkley -- I think Nike needs to sign this new, improved Gort to an endorsement contract right away.

So far, so good.

Alas, there is one area where the remake (or "reintroduction" as some have called the new "The Day the Earth Stood Still") does not fare so well. I'm referring to the critically important underlying ability to convince the viewer that what he is seeing is realistic, that the events portrayed on the screen could actually happen today, tomorrow, or next Tuesday. That was part of the magic which made the original such a classic. Audiences then, and even now, are drawn in, almost magically, by the excellent screenplay, the flawless direction by Robert Wise and the limited number of special effects which, for the time, especially, were totally believable. Derrickson's direction and Scarpa's script are more than competent by all standards, but they just don't equal the seamless, thought-provoking, visceral storytelling found in the 1951 version. Few films do, and so this is not so much an indictment against the new DAY as it is to say the challenge to equal the original was a gigantic one, even by intergalactic standards. But it is really the special effects which fail to impress. I don't know who the hundred or so folks are that are credited with the various CG and (supposedly) high-tech visual imagery -- maybe they are names pulled out of the Rancho Cucamonga telephone directory -- because what seems blatantly apparent to me is that the biggest scenes, the destruction of the 18-wheeler and Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, for example, were actually the work of Julian Beever and the Ohio Art Company. For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to, Mr. Beever is the sidewalk artist who has become famous on the internet for this 3-D sidewalk chalk paintings, and the Ohio Art Company is the maker of Etch A Sketch. See if you don't agree -- Beever drew the requisite matte paintings and then the almuninum powder from a giant Etch A Sketch wipes the image away. O.K., maybe this is an exaggeration, but there's no denying the 2008 version of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" deserved better.

The winner, of course, is the 1951 "The Day The Earth Stood Still" -- but in a decision closer than many experts predicted.

Even Uno agrees...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

In an effort to help all humanoids living on Planet Earth celebrate the holidays this year, 20th Century Fox will soon be releasing its much ballyhooed remake of the classic 1951 sci-fi film, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL starring Keanu Reeves in the role of "Klaatu," first played by Michael Rennie 57 years ago. Bryce Zabel's Movie Smackdown Website has announced that it will place these two films in the ring against each other in an epic smackdown to be written by yours truly. Many are looking forward to this comparison as one of truly historical significance. After all, can this remake possibly do justice to the acknowledged classic that was initially released before the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance? There's a lot riding on the answer to this question, especially financially, for the Fox executives who gave the green light to this immensely costly endeavor. (It's been reported that the budget for this production approximates what Ford spent introducing the Pinto.) Although the remake doesn't come out until December 12th, here's what the Staff at Needtovent thinks...

The Glorious 1950s. The decade that gave us McCarthyism, duck-and-cover drills, rock-and-roll and the hula hoop, also gave us the Golden Age of Hollywood Science Fiction. At least two dozen terrific motion pictures came from this era, each worthy of being declared the best sci-fi flick ever, and most of them dealt with aliens coming to Earth with predominately nefarious intent. This was also, you'll recall, the decade when flying saucers really caught on in the public imagination. (Note to UFO people: Yes, I know... Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, etc. 1947... but the 50s was when Hollywood lent its media muscle and our government's honesty and the U.S. Air Force's credibility have never been the same.)

These films were full of intergalactic travel, alien life forms, invisible shields, ray guns, Robbie the Robot (who could easily kick the ass of R2-D2 and 3-CPO simultaneously), and that's only the beginning...

Before there was such a thing as CG and HD and 24p, there were authentic 35mm science fiction-themed motion pictures with intelligent scripts, memorable character arcs and an exploration of meaningful issues like the Red Scare or the dangers of nuclear technology.

Among all these glorious Technicolor gems was a unique sub-genre -- the "Alien Invasion Film" -- which, one could argue, comprises the best of the best.

And so here, in chronological order, are ten candidates for the best Alien Invasion Film of the 1950s:

1. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) -- There's plenty of reasons this production is on our list, but it is probably the memorable dialogue that stands out the most. Lines like: "An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles!" are never forgotten. Nor is the warning at the very end: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" This youngster certainly did, and still does...

2. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) -- A true classic, selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. What else do we need to say other than "Klaatu barada nikto" mofo...

3. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) -- Based on a short story by one of the masters of science fiction, Ray Bradbury. Thanks to his character Sheriff Matt Warren we learn that "More people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature...lower temperatures people are lazy-going, over ninety-two its too hot to move, but just ninety-two people get irritable. " That's something worth knowing. (I assume it's always 92 degrees in Rush Limbaugh's studio...)

4. INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) -- Aliens take over the bodies of humans turning friends, neighbors and loved ones into cold-hearted, ruthless, sullen people. If Ann Coulter would have been alive in 1953 she would have been cast for sure.

5. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) -- Sheriff Bogany: "What is that gizmo?" Forrester: "I'd say that gizmo is a machine from another planet." And what gizmos they were. Too bad they will never be seen again. Unfortunately, these marvelous Martian war machines were made out of copper and after production ended some studio bozo donated them to be melted down for a Boy Scout copper drive. Just think what they would fetch today on e-bay...

6. THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) -- Any film featuring Faith Domergue in costumes so tight that she couldn't wear underwear is a classic. No wonder the official Tagline declared: "The Supreme Excitement Of Our Time!"

7. EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) -- General Edwards: "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea or cookies." Now you know why Santa skips Washington, D.C. each year.

8. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) -- Ambulance Driver: "Well, I don't know what they are; I never saw them before. They looked like great big seed pods." Sort of like the Burpee Company on steroids, but don't be mislead, this is definitely a sci-fi classic that will still scare the heebie jeebies out of you despite a special effects budget totaling a mere $15,000.

9. INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN (1957) -- According to American International's Tagline: "They Threatened The World Until Some Hep Youngsters Took Over!" Hep? Yep.

10. THE BLOB (1958) -- The working title was THE BLOB THAT GIRDLED THE WORLD. I guess Playtex objected. Still, any feature film that stars Steve McQueen, has a title song co-written by Burt Bacharach and possesses more silicone gel than two Carol Dodas is a must see.

Alas, there are a few misguided souls who think that sci-fi films released in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and beyond are as good, even superior. The Krell know better. True science fiction aficionados know better. But the myth, as idiotic as it is, still prevails in certain quarters. And so Movie Smackdown has established a brand-new fresh-off-the-bus SmackPoll where you can express your own opinion(s). The goal is to find an "Alien Invasion Film" winner from the "Classic Era", i.e. the 1950s, and put it up against a similar winner from what is being labeled the "Modern Era." This is, admittedly, a pretty ambitious goal for a website, even one established by a distant relative of Dr. Edward Morbius, but, given the subject matter, maybe the fate of the Earth rests on it.

Needtovent solidly believes that the ten films listed above all stand tall on their own merit and any one of these will be a worthy and winning finalist that will surely kick some latter-day sci-fi butt -- after all, Robbie wouldn't have it any other way. Accordingly, we adamantly profess that all of the post-1950s newbies are nothing more than "pretenders" to the throne -- even Chrissi Hynde agrees with us. But do you?

Here's several things you need to know about this poll. First, you get to vote for your top three films. Second, if you change your mind because you actually rent and watch some of them, you can come back and re-vote. Also, your vote must be placed on the Official Ballot appearing at This way there won't be any hanging chads or electronic voting machine irregularites since all of the tabulations will take place outside the states of Ohio and Florida.

This is your link to the Official Ballot (it is at the bottom of the posting):

(We apologize for the inconvenience, but it appears that Ming the Merciless has successfully infiltrated our computer terminals making it necessary for you to cut and paste this link.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


(Thanks to our being invited to a special pre-release screening of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Needtovent is pleased to bring you this review well in advance of it's Christmas Day opening.)

Here comes Oscar! (And we don't mean Mr. Homolka.)

Needtovent hereby predicts at least a half-dozen Academy Award Nominations for this truly epic motion picture based on a short story by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and brought to the big screen by Director David Fincher (SE7EN, FIGHT CLUB) and Screenwriter Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP, WOLFEN, THE HORSE WHISPERER, ALI). With a virtually perfect cast thanks to Laray Mayfield and his associates and the impeccable technical aspects from all departments helping support Fincher's stylistic vision, BENJAMIN BUTTON will soon take its place among the best feature films released since the beginning of this millennium.

That's high praise. High praise, indeed, but it is no exaggeration to say that anyone seeing BENJAMIN BUTTON will surely be haunted by it's dark, but ultimately life-affirming theme for a long, long time to come.

"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin', I was gettin' younger...all alone."

Benjamin Button certainly has a most unusual tale to tell, as it is the unique story of an elderly man who ages backwards. This "Curious Case" begins in the year 1919, on the very evening that The First Great War came to an end, when Little Benjamin's delivery is not only marred by the tragic death of his mother, but he inexplicably exits the womb at the ripe age of 75. Benjamin's father is understandably overcome with both grief and anger, causing him to abandon the newborn child on the steps of a large retirement home. Fortunately, little Benjamin is found by a kind-hearted black woman named Queenie who, as luck would have it, believes she cannot have children of her own, and so she embraces the opportunity to take the abandonded baby in and to give him all the love and attention she can as though he were her very own.

The doctors who examine little Benjamin are all convinced that he has, at most, days to live, but as the days turn to months and the months turn to years young Benjamin finds himself growing in size and health and being accepted by everyone he comes into contact with, especially the retirees living in the home. As Benjamin continues to get younger and wiser he is repeatedly reminded that the most important thing in life is to do what one is meant to do. And so, as Benjamin's travels ultimately take him to such exotic places as Russia and India, it is this philosophy which he embraces at every twist and turn comprising a complicated, but highly fullfilling life.

The stellar cast is headlined by Brad Pitt as Benjamin. His performance is brilliant, as is that of Cate Blanchett as Benjamin's one and only true love, Daisy. Their on-screen chemistry is a joy to watch. Likewise, Tilda Swinton, as Elizabeth Abbott, Julia Ormond, as Caroline, Jarred Harris, as Captain Mike and Taraji P. Henson, as Queenie, all deliver especially winning and memorable performances.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON was shot using a Thompson VIPER FilmStream Camera using Zeiss DigiPrime Lenses. This is a camera package we are not familiar with, however Cinematographer Claudio Miranda has done a fantastic job with this equipment and I cannot help but assume more feature films will be shot with this highly capable combination. The Production Design by Donald Graham Burt also deserves special mention, as does the entire special effects team, but the biggest praise of all must go to the 32-member make-up crew who worked in conjuction with the CG experts responsible for believably aging all of the characters over the course of seven decades. Utilizing state-of-the-art motion capture technology called the "Contour System," the actual faces of Pitt, Blanchett, et al were magically placed on the bodies of age-appropriate actors required for the scene. This all sounds a bit bizarre, draconian even, but the end result is unforgettable -- having the actual face of Brad Pitt, professionally embellished by highly talented make-up artists, appear seamlessly on an infant's body provides a sense of realism that, heretofore, has never been realized.

Of course, no film is perfect, and so we should mention that one Needtovent staffer found herself distracted on at least several occasions by Mr. Pitt's inconsistent New Orleans accent. Also, just how Benjamin came to be a person who ages backwards is never explained, nor do we see very many characters who find this unprecedented state of affairs to be all that surprising. As an audience member one must simply accept what is presented on screen and not dwell on the whys and wherefores. And, lastly, some of the dialogue comes across as simply "too cute" -- given the fact that Eric Roth also wrote the screenplay for FORREST GUMP there was a time or two I thought I might hear something about a box of damn chocolates. Luckily that never happened, nor did any of his "writer's convenience" come across that inherently stilted or corny.

Minor quibbles aside, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON remains a phenominal cinematic achievment, it is a film that is highly entertaining, epic in scope, and blessed with a multitude of technical accomplishments that surely merits a "must see" status in what looks like a very solid Holiday line-up of films. And it has heart. Perhaps Benjamin's final entry in his journal best provides a positive, uplifting lesson we should all come to realize, "And maybe all that matters is no matter if we live our lives backwards or really does not make a difference as long as we lived our lives well."

For anyone with a Timex or a Rolex, whether you are on Greenwich Mean Time or Daylight Savings Time, it doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


For many Americans, the Christmas Season doesn't actually get underway until the Noreclo Santa comes sliding down a snowy slope gleefully aboard his famous triple-headed toboggan. For the past few decades this endearing commercial has helped signal the official start of the Holiday Season; who would have ever thought such a festive sight contained a truly dark, terrible, insidious secret?


The famous Needtovent Research Lab, secretly ensconced somewhere among the towering peaks and verdant valleys of the Texas Hill Country (the local Chamber of Commerce's words, not ours) has just announced a horrific medical finding that may forever alter the morning ritual of men worldwide. All adult men should take heed...

No, this discovery has nothing to do with the morning constitutional -- a time-honored, albeit somewhat nasty tradition so embraced by the male population, especially the Alabama Redneck and the Oaxacan Wetback who have both elevated the sounds and quantities associated with the daily dump to incomparable heights.

Rather, this important health warning is issued to those who shave with electric razors -- Norelco, Braun, Remington, Panasonic -- the brand doesn't seem to make a difference. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Needtovent's chief laboratory researcher, Dr. Frederick Currey IV, MD, PhD, BPOE, it has now been proven without a (five o'clock) shadow of a doubt that microscopic hair particles resulting from the savage multi-blade cutting action found in virtually all electric shavers currently on the market are breathed in during the course of shaving, where they eventually find themseleves attached to the inner walls of the lungs. According to Dr. Curry, this invasive action of non-biodegradable hair balls (for lack of a better description) eventually causes such irritation and interference with the otherwise healthy lung tissue that cancer will likely result. This danger is so pervasive that Dr. Curry estimates that the death rate due to lung cancer among adult males caused by the inhalation of these tiny hair particles equals that of those who smoke three packs of Camels a day and, possibly, may even exceed those employed in Wiccan alchemy experiments.

The esteemed Dr. Curry's finding are now being sent to the American Medical Association and a phalanx of scientists at NASA, that quasi-governmental organization responsible for giving us Velcro, Tang and, allegedly, a couple of moon rocks. A separate file is being delivered via bonded courier to Mr. Oliver Biggers, the self-proclaimed arbiter of all human knowledge, known and imagined.

There will be more to come regarding this important medical health finding in the months ahead. In the meantime, consider yourself warned...

Thursday, November 27, 2008


No, the Macy being referred to isn't William H., whose real-life wife has become my favorite "Desperate Housewife" now that Gaby has become frumpy. (Felicity's slightly deviated septum is a real turn-on for, well, let's just say for obvious reasons as most red-blooded men will agree). But, as Warden Jerry L. Nelson would say, I digress...

With the drowsy effects of tryptophan beginning to wear off, Needtovent will now post the Top Three Highlights of this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. In no particular order:

1. The Special Needs Color Guard of America. Unlike what you see in the photograph above, this developmentally disabled color guard from the Sunshine State was sporting new free-fitting blue marching outfits making them look like KABLUEY casting rejects, but we salute them for their courage and dedication. And we especially salute Macy's for inviting this inspirational and worthy group to participate.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, the virtually endless parade of pretty, perky, peewee-sized preadolescent music and dance performers was surely a wet dream for the pedophiles among the 50 million television viewers watching (and leering) worldwide. Hey, in true Holiday Spirit, I guess Macy's felt that even perverts deserve a little love on special occasions. (No photo for this one, sorry).

3. Andy Williams. He's still alive -- and lookin' pretty good, too! It was a nice surprise to see him crooning once again. (And they say only the good die young...)

Postscript: What was with NBC's production team? There were so many technical flaws that it made the average public access broadcast look as polished as -- you guessed it -- Barbie Benton's bannister.

(Needtovent believes in recycling...)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thanksgiving is a very special day, indeed. Most of us don't have to go to the office. There's usually a pretty good football game or two on the tube. There's plenty of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and, of course, gravy. One can never, ever have too much gravy.

And often there's family. Every holiday has it's downside—the Norman Rockwell insanity of it all. That's why I'm extremely happy to be spending the day quietly, at home, with just Lynda and a bottle of wine or two and my trusty remote for the boob tube. Ozzie and Harriet we are not.

We are, however, card-carrying members of that flourishing American subculture known as Bad Film Fanatics. Bad films made by bad filmmakers. But for Thanksgiving I declare bad is good, or at the very least bad is zany or outrageous or astonishing or hilarious, and so on this special day I would like to personally give thanks to my Top Three Turkey Producers from Hollywood. A trio of motion picture personalities deserving of some holiday punch and all the trimmings.

William Castle -- Ever since the beginning of the film industry movie moguls have searched for dramatic technical innovations that would increase the audience appeal of their productions. Some of these advances—such as sound in 1927 and Technicolor in 1935—permanently enriched the potential of the medium. Castle, bless his heart, was a low-budget producer/director whose “Percepto” process was but one of several cinematic contrivances he is credited with inventing. Ah yes, “Percepto”—this daring (or should I say derriere-ing?) gimmick is something I personally will never forget.

The year is 1959, and the Saturday afternoon matinee is Castle's “The Tingler”. “Brought to you in Percepto!” the ads declared. In fact, this movie was so scary that part of the price of admission went to a life insurance policy (a copy of which was given to you along with your ticket). At eleven years of age I'm already a little apprehensive, but armed with a giant tub of popcorn and a large Dr. Pepper to keep me company, I take a seat and learn that “The Tingler” is a creature created by Vincent Price that “breeds a living organism in the victim's spine, which, if not nullified, will shatter the vertebrae” and thus cause a horribly painful death. The only way to “nullify” the thing is to scream at the top of your lungs.

Big deal. But then I see this monster enter a neighborhood theatre (not unlike the one I'm sitting in), it passes through the lobby (presumably without buying a ticket) and then the screen in MY theatre goes completely dark! Vincent Price's voice booms over the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic but scream… scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theatre and if you don't scream you may die!” Behind me a girl screams at a hundred decibels (she's actually the candy counter clerk hired by the distributors to do this at each screening) and she then faints, falling to the sticky theater floor. All the while the soundtrack booms at full volume “Help!” “It's on me!” and “Look out, it's under your seat!”

That's when “Percepto” kicks in, and the popcorn and the Dr. Pepper are history. You see, my seat was one of several dozen that had a low-voltage motor hooked up underneath that was triggered by the projectionist just as the movie reached its climax. Very much like the toy hand buzzer giving the false feeling of an electric shock, “Percepto” proved effective despite its low-tech origins. Yes, this was the shock of an eleven-year-old-lifetime, and my first and only Dr. Pepper shower to boot. Thanks for the memory, Mr. Castle.

Irwin Allen -- This “Master of Disaster” gave us such big box-office flicks as “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure” (featuring Ms. Shelley Winters in a performance that still gives me the willies), but Mr. Allen's appearance here is for his $12-million 'B-movie'—“The Swarm”. One can't help but wonder where the money went. Was it for the laughable killer bees themselves, which resemble colored Styrofoam pellets being tossed casually at the supposed victims? Was it spent on the cinematography, where the bees flying in formation look more like a pinch of nutmeg sprinkled over the lens? Perhaps it went to the zombie-like extras running wildly in slow motion, flapping their arms like penguins trying to fly and, in one case, even bumping into a telephone pole? Or did it go into the screenplay, possessing such lame dialogue as an air force pilot declaring: “Oh my gosh! Bees! Bees! Millions of bees! They're all around me! Bees! Bees!”

The killer bees attack picknickers and steal peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, derail a train, down a helicopter, overrun a missile silo and almost destroy the city of Houston (can't have everything I guess), but eventually all is saved and the end credits assure us: “The African killer bee should not be confused with the hard-working, industrious American honey bee, which provides us with honey and pollinates our flowers.” Boy, let's hope they don't get outsourced. A salute, then, to Mr. Irwin Allen and the American honey bee.

Jed Buell -- By far the least known of the three, Jed Buell produced two of the most exasperating movies of all time. In 1938, motion picture history was made by “The Terror Of Tiny Town”, billed as the only film in Hollywood history with “an all-midget cast”. While not precisely accurate (there is a full-sized announcer at the very beginning of the film just for the sake of comparison), this musical Western features diminutive Billy Curtis galloping around the countryside on his Shetland Pony in search of the bite-sized baddy (played by an actor appropriately named Little Billy). In the end good triumphs over evil when the good Billy blows up the bad Billy with a stick of dynamite.

Prior to this inspired denouement we are treated to innumerable midgets walking under saloon doors, drinking from beer steins bigger than their heads, and chasing one another under—rather than around—the furniture. For good measure, a penguin wanders onto the set and waddles inexplicably through one scene. (Inspiration, perhaps, for Fellini's peacock in “Amarcord”? After all, Ecclesiastes dictated long ago that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)

Anyway, the idea for this American classic (just my personal opinion, of course) came to Mr. Buell one day when a subordinate of his declared, “If this studio economy drive keeps on, we'll be using midgets for actors.” The visionary producer jumped at the suggestion, and to realize his dream he ran advertisements in newspapers proclaiming, “Big Salaries For Little People.” His midgets came from every corner of the United States (fourteen even came over from Hawaii), and he eventually signed some sixty averaging 3'8" in height.

Although only a modest financial success at the time, the irrepresible Buell announced a sequel based on a full-grown bruiser playing the mythical Paul Bunyan surrounded by his Tiny Town cast. Alas, this film was never made, and so we are left only with “Harlem On The Prairie”—“the World's First Outdoor Action Adventure With An All-Negro Cast”. Surprisingly, this very early 'blaxploitation' feature was wildly popular in the more than 800 theatres across the nation that catered especially to Black audiences. In its own way “Harlem On The Prairie” helped highlight the commercial viability of quality black cinema, an unexpected by-product of Jed Buell's somewhat perverse sense of casting.

Here's hoping everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day. Go Texas -- beat the Aggies!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Somehow The Weather Channel failed to mention the biggest hurricane to hit Texas since Ike. Maybe it is because this super powerful force of nature blew in from Allentown, Pennsylvania and not from the Gulf Coast. Yes, I said Allentown, PA -- the home of one Alex Meixner, arguably the most dynamic, electrifying musical performer working today. If Alex's energy could be harnessed to an electrical grid, he could power all of Central Texas for a year.

And speaking of Central Texas, that's just where we most recently saw the Alex Meixner Band perform -- at the venerable New Bruanfels Wurstfest, a ten-day celebration consisting of beer and sausage and beer and potato pancakes and beer and kartoffel and, well, you get the idea. Oh yes, and music, too, where every evening as many as three bands play simultaneously in separate musical venues situated within the Wurstfest grounds. That's a lot of music, but, for ten consecutive years, the one band that packs them in to capacity, performance after performance, has been headlined by Alex Meixner.

Step aside Whitesnake, Metalica and Twisted Sister -- Alex possesses a stage presence and exuberance and kinetic energy that makes you guys look lame and tame in comparison. Lederhosen never looked so hip.

Backed this year by three highly talented accomplices, the Alex Meixner Band set a new standard for fun, zaniness, musicality and perspiration. Phalanges flew faster than a hummingbird's wings when Alex literally attacked his button box while belting out a truly eclectic array of unexpected tunes, all with a "Meixnerian" slant that had everyone, including the usually sedate fans of Lawrence Welk Champagne-style Music, cheering wildly and forming Conga lines as long and spirited as any during Carnival in Rio.

Examples of Meixnerian "Loony Tunes" include "The Devil Goes To Munich," an exhilarating adaptation that Charlie Daniels must surely salute along with that other Daniels fellow, Jack. Or how about Sachmo's "When The Saints Come Marching In," featuring Alex's amazing vocals successfully emulating America's beloved Ambassador of Good Will. Or Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," where Alex is accompanied by one of the band members playing a Ukulele -- a dad gum Ukulele! Want another example? How about Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," a groovy, irrepressible rendition performed on a Siwa & Figli accordion.

Bet you never thought you'd see that...

(More information on the Alex Meixner Band, including a schedule of their upcoming appearances, can be found at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
(John Steinbeck)

These famous words provide a more than apt description of Writer/Director/Actor Scott Prendergast's low-budget, independent feature -- KABLUEY. As frequent readers of this website know, Needtovent loves to champion independent cinema and has accorded some of our highest praise to such worthy projects as THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE, BUBBA HO-TEP, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, and, most recently, LA TRAGEDIA DE MACARIO. And so with great anticipation we recently screened KABLUEY. For one thing, the artwork on the DVD cover was extremely intriguing; how in the world could this not be a FUN movie? And the endorsement from Stephen Farber of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, "This CHARMING, POINTED COMEDY is A GENUINE DISCOVERY," provided further assurance that we were in for a treat.

Alas, the viewing experience was as disappointing as the Texas Longhorns' last-second loss to the Red Raiders in Lubbock this past weekend. And as for Mr. Farber's quote, KABLUEY turns out to be pointless -- don't take our word for it, even Little Oblio agrees.

Lisa Kudrow (in a surprisingly down-beat role) plays Leslie, the mother of two overly obstreperous young boys left to fend for herself while her husband serves an extended tour in Iraq as a National Guardsman. He's actually the lucky one; Al Qaeda posses less of a constant threat than these Hellish little fellows. Desperate to make ends meet, Leslie reluctantly turns to Salman (Scott Prendergast) her ne're-do-well brother-in-law for help.

Things do not get better when Salman arrives. In fact, the oldest nephew openly declares, "I'm going to kill you." And, with the aid of his younger brother, he tries. Unfortunately, for movie audiences everywhere, the little bugger did not succeed. Like a Croatian peasant's nose hair, KABLUEY could use some judicious trimming.

Ultimately Salman gets a job dressing up in a big blue costume as the mascot for a failing company. Prendergast's screenplay wants to have us believe that underneath this ridiculous outfit he is able to connect with Leslie and her kids, but Prendergast is a poor actor at best and the attempted heartwarming conclusion fails to deliver for a wide variety of reasons. There's even an attempt at some pithy commentary on the domestic repercussions of the Iraq War as well as the current state of the American economy. Yes, the aim was high, but the shots taken were so ill-conceived and off target they reminded me of those fired against the Branch Davidians by the ATF SWAT team in Waco.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Director Prendergast exhibits as much competence as Donald Rumsfeld or Michael D. Brown, Lawrence Maddox's editing, like a Republican's lovemaking, is perfunctory at best, Production Designer Walter Barnett's sense of style makes a Century 21 Real Estate Agent look haute couture, and the original music by Reddy Bottum scrapes the barrel to be sure.

Bottom Line: Phooey on KABLUEY.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

CREDITS (Or Debits?)

"It's not about how good you are, but who gets the credit."
(Denny Crane)

There has been much debate, in the U.S. and abroad, regarding the experience level of both Barak Obama and, especially, Sarah Palin. Most would agree that there is a reasonable cause for concern, and it is this very situation that has elevated the press worldwide to become far more interested in the credentials of all individuals whose influence sway millions, whether they are leaders in the political, military, economic or entertainment arena.

As a result, it came as no surprise when the Needtovent hierarchy was approached by the respected research departments of both the Buddhist newspaper Hyundae Bulgyo and the Winnemucca Sun inquiring about the credentials and experience level of our Founder, CEO and Supreme Potentate -- Robert A. Nowotny. Our response to these requests, which were made through official channels and in full compliance with applicable international laws governing such disclosures, is posted below. Be advised that this listing is an abridged compendium of Mr. Nowotny's credits and accomplishments due to space limitations and an admittedly less-than-perfect memory. It is anticipated that additional credits will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

Robert A. Nowotny Resume -- Part I
(Credits Listed Alphabetically)

2nd Lieutenant in the Fighting 69th Airborne
Academic Tutor (College Level)
Actor (Stage, Screen and Television)
Advertising Copywriter
Advocate (For the IRA -- County Clare and Dublin)
Animal Trainer
Anti-War Demonstrator
Automobile Racer (Drag Strip and Open Wheel)
Baseball Umpire
Beauty Pageant Judge
Blackballer and Fraternity Hazing Specialist
Boom Operator
CableACE Awards Judge
Cattle Herder
Cave Guide and Spelunker
Christmas Tree Salesman
Clown (Intentional and Unintentional)
Co-Founder -- The German Rocket and Science Foundation
College Graduate (BBA and MA -- both with Honors)
Corporation CEO, CFO and COO
Court Jester
Day Trader
Decider (Like George W.)
Duck Wrangler
Economic Stimulus Participant
Electric Utilities Repairman
Film Festival Founder and Judge
Fly Fisherman
Frog Gigger
Grocery Stock Boy
Historical Researcher
HOA Nazi (Retired)
Homing Pigeon Racer
Hunter (Deer, Dove, Quail and Snipe)
Infidel (So charged in France -- Unrepentant)
Jazz Record Producer
Jehovah's Witness Interrogator
Leaf Blower
Left Fielder -- Roy Hobbs Baseball League
Lecturer (Land Based and Cruise Ship)
Libation Mixologist (Creator of the rum-based "Stem Christi")
Linoleum Salesman
Liquid Fuel Rocket Engineer
Master Of Ceremonies
Motion Picture Producer, Director, Writer, Editor
Mountain Biker
Newlywed Game Auditionee
Nielson Family Member
Off-Shore Drilling Rig Roustabout
One-time card carrying member of The Groucho Club (London), BPOE, Rick's Cabaret and the Zuider Zee Lunch Bunch
Original Member -- Inner Mongolian Liver Flukes
Pall Bearer
Panel Moderator
Pin Boy (Bowling Alley -- Not Pinhead)
Pine Beetle Eradicator
Plumber -- Unlicensed (Just like Joe...)
Pole Vaulter
Political Campaign Chairman
Political Pundit
Private Pilot, Instrument Rated
Published Author (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
Radio DJ
Real Estate Investment Advisor and Speculator
Rock Band Promoter
SAG Liaison
Skateboard Designer
Ski Instructor
Snake Handler (Non-Religious)
Solicitor -- Nuevo Laredo & Ciudad Acuna
Sports Announcer
Stand-Up Comedian
Still Photographer
Student of Theology
Studio Recording Engineer
Teacher (College Level -- Undergraduate and Graduate)
Telephone Solicitor (for non-profit)
Woman's Softball Team Manager
Zealot (Miscellaneous Causes)
Zoysia Lawn Subsistence Provider

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


"The World Without US" is a fascinating and informative socio-political docu-drama that takes a close look at one of the major issues facing America today -- a potential return to isolationism. The United States currently has a military presence in over 100 foreign countries, and there are more than a few who believe this is a far too costly, intrusive and unjustifiable foreign policy. With US troops spread thinner than an O. J. Simpson alibi, filmmakers Mitch Anderson and Jason J. Tomaric travel to 21 countries over the course of two years to try and determine what the world would be like if all of our overseas military bases were to close and all of our troops were to come home.

Mr. Anderson was born in Romania and learned to love America by listening to his father's short wave radio while being told that some day soon Eisenhauer would return to his part of Europe and free him and his fellow countrymen from brutal Soviet domination. Even though Ike never came, the dream of living free and some day coming to the United States never wavered. After multiple failed attempts and subsequent prison confinements he finally succeeded. It is this historical backdrop that causes Anderson to question why America has a military presence in virtually every country on earth, yet decides to intervene on only certain occasions, leaving other, similar situations alone.

The film opens with a fictitious presidential candidate, William Turner (played by Roy Werner, a veteran of film and television), running on a campaign promise to end our military's "overextended" presence abroad and to use one-half of the significant resources saved to help fix a multitude of domestic problems right here at home. It is also pointed out that even if America's defense spending were to be cut by a full 50%, it would still exceed the military budgets of China, Russia and all members of the "Axis of Evil" combined.

The unique structure of "The World Without US" divides the film into three parts, taking a look at what might happen if Turner were to be elected and his promise to pull all overseas troops were to be realized first in Europe, then the Middle East and, finally, in Asia. Anderson interviews a wide variety of individuals comprised of both ordinary citizens and academic experts. What may be surprising to many is how fully informed the average citizen overseas is when it comes to America's foreign policies. Having been to 37 foreign counties I have often noticed how well educated the average cab driver, as an example, is on the topic of international politics and America's involvement in global affairs. Compare this level of sophistication with the average American Wal-Mart devotee or Alaskan Governor and you'll have an awareness gap wider than Condoleezza Rice's front two teeth. Yes, buckaroos, where most Americans babble incoherently while living complacently and in ignorance even as our sons, daughters, neighbors and fellow countrymen are giving their lives to causes that are often more beneficial to citizens of other countries than to us, you'll find that the average Joe the Plumber in Panama, Taiwan, Egypt, Germany, Kuwait and scores of other countries actually knows what the hell he's talking about.

Among the handful of academic experts interviewed is Dr. Niall Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. He makes several interesting points including his analysis that American intervention in what was formally known as Yugoslavia, including the conflict in Kosovo, was both desirable and necessary, calling it "human rights imperialism," while all of Europe either ignored the situation in their own back yard or did not have the backbone to do anything about it. He also claims that without America's significant presence in the Middle East, Israel would soon be destroyed and the entire region would rip itself apart causing global economic, social and political ramifications. It is important to note that in the "Bonus Section" of this DVD there is a segment on America's influences -- good and bad -- in Latin America. Once again, our neighbors to the South, just like those to the East and the West, provide informative insight, especially in regards to Panama.

Special mention should be made concerning the sophisticated and effective musical score by Christopher First, the sharp editing by Jason Blum and the use of powerful and illuminating film clips from around the world. The scenes from a North Korean Communist propaganda film are especially revealing.

Of course, the bottom line for most Americans is why should we police the world when no one else is willing to help (the impotent, insignificant "Coalition of the Willing" is a joke; how many foreign combat soldiers remain by our side -- eleven?). And, just as importantly, why should we bear the cost in both lives and resources when some of the countries who depend on our protection have higher standards of living and more wealth per capita than we do? (Japan being just one example -- it's vulnerability to China and North Korea forms the basis of the final conclusion reached by Anderson and Tomaric; a conclusion I will not give away here. Yes, you will have to get a copy of "The World Without US" to see for yourself -- something I highly recommend.)

A Final Thought -- During WWII America's propaganda machine (and I use that word without prejudice of any kind) produced a series of highly effective films directed by some of Hollywood's finest (Frank Capra being the most notable), which explained why we were at war with Germany and Japan. The seven episodes comprising "Why We Fight" were a tremendously effective series, something which should have been replicated in recent years regarding our invasion of Iraq and our incessant "War on Anxiety." With that said, credit must go to Anderson and Tomaric for at least giving us one installment attempting to explain the reasoning behind "Why We Fight -- Again and Again and Again."

("The World Without US" DVD can be purchased for $9.98 via Singa Home Entertainment's website ---

Monday, October 27, 2008


Review by Jerry L. Nelson

Dorothy Parker is reputed to have once said to one of her friends at the Algonquin Round Table, and I may be paraphrasing here, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, come sit over here by me,” but you get my drift, I hope. It’s amazing how the brain connects things. As I wrote that line about Ms. Parker, I flashed on the time when my wife, sister-in-law and niece, in an effort to save some money on decorating our wine cellar, stenciled the floor to look like a hand crafted tile floor imported from Italy and laid by an artesian. As they stood there rather frazzled looking after a day of backbreaking effort, waiting on edge for my compliments, the best I could come up with was “Well, it doesn’t suck.” I’ve always been a quick thinker when pressed into a corner. As time has passed since that creative phraseology crossed over my lips, I now rather enjoy walking into the cellar and glancing down at the floor knowing there’s not another one like it. But I digress.

Our most recent culinary excursion, “our” being friend and me, again sans spouses, was to Palmer’s Restaurant, Bar, and Courtyard in San Marcos, located on the corner of Ranch Road 12, also known as Moore Street, and Hutchinson, just a few blocks around the corner from the Court House Square. The first thing you’ll notice about Palmer’s is that you won’t notice it. For more than thirty years it has occupied this greenery covered corner lot and I must admit I have passed by for years and never really saw it.

Not being deterred by its lack of identity, Friend and I ventured in one recent fall evening and were given our requested seats in the courtyard, as the weather was seemingly perfect for us. Little did we know, there were creatures lurking in the bushes for which it was also perfect, as we became the main course for hundreds of non-discerning mosquitoes. Fighting them off long enough to enjoy a very nice Grilled Tuna appetizer ($8.00) we retreated into the dining area of the bar and were seated at a small table near a very large circular fireplace, fortunately not in operation at the time, but sure to take the chill out of a cold, winter evening.

Once our waiter found us, the evening continued with dinner. Friend requested the Grilled Chicken with mixed veggies and a rice pilaf ($16.95). It really looked good, right down to the grill marks on the chicken breast. Friend was not disappointed. The flavor and texture were quality as well.

I opted for the Bone in Pork Chop. It came with your standard garlic mashies and surprisingly good corn niblits, not cut from the cob, and most likely previously frozen, but none the less, quite good and reasonably priced at $18.95. Since Friend had chicken and I had pork, we compromised on a soft White Horse Pinot Noir with which to swill it all down. A good choice it turned out for both of us.

Wanting to try as much as we could, we requested dessert menus. It’s beginning to seem as if more and more restaurants are getting their dessert ideas from the same shows on the food channel. Nearly every place you go these days offers what’s becoming standard choices of Carrot Cake or Key Lime Pie and some form of chocolate decadence. I guess the two of us are falling into a rut as we ordered the Key Lime and the Carrot Cake ($6.00 each). Nothing outstanding here but not disappointing at the same time -- adequate for lack of a better description.

Overall, a pleasant foray, not into the bowels of culinary hell but a bit short of heaven at the same time. Most of our experience was enjoyable and the prices were reasonable. Service was smooth and polite.

I guess I can only equate our experience with my pseudo tile floor. The more I think about it, the more pleasant it becomes; some place I’ll enjoy returning to because it didn’t suck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Inspired by a true story, LA TRAGEDIA DE MACARIO is a remarkably poignant and insightful film written and directed by Pablo Veliz, a supremely talented young filmmaker (he was 23 when he shot MACARIO) who lives and works, whenever possible, in San Antonio, Texas. Blessed with a talented young cast and crew, this low budget, independently financed featurette has a running time of only 71 minutes, yet it succeeds in addressing in a powerful, moving and intelligent manner a combination of social, ethical, religious and political issues all at once -- and it does so with a budget that totals less than $8,000. Talk about a miracle...

Come to think about it, maybe the Virgin Mary, who appears on camera in several highly stylized and memorable scenes, actually blessed this debut effort by Mr. Veliz. Divine intervention or not, there's no denying that Rogelio T. Ramos, who plays the title character, Macario, puts an indelible face on the stereotype of the illegal immigrant. And Milicent Figueroa, who portrays the loving, left-behind wife, Regina, will break your heart given the impending "tragedy" that punctuates this story. The fact that the title gives away the ending is of no concern, as Mr. Veliz does a superb job of getting us to this point utilizing a variety of risky, but ultimately successful cinematic techniques which combine stark realism with a dream-like, almost mythical and magical series of scenes that in the hands of a lesser director would have been a disaster.

Macario's decision to seek a better life by going to America, where a relative has promised work and good pay, is a fatal one. On more than one occasion the Virgin Mary materializes before him warning Macario not to go, but the despair and depravation he and Regina are forced to endure, especially once he loses his menial job working on a nearby ranch, along with the promise of making as much as $800 a month in the U.S., unite to form a powerful combination too tempting to resist. And so Macario, along with his best friend Felipe (Victor Agustin), find a "coyote" who promises to not only help them cross the border, but he'll personally welcome them on the other side when he unlocks the boxcar they, along with a dozen or so others, are being transported in. The lowlife coyote never shows -- all are asphyxiated. Consider yourself warned because these scenes depicting realization, then desperation and, ultimately, suffocation, will haunt you for some time.

Special mention must be made for the wonderful music by Carlos Sanchez and Pablo Veliz, as well as the first-rate sound work by Dagoberto Patlan and Jeff Seale. Overall production values are excellent given the budget, with all technical elements such as cinematography and editing, etc. surprisingly solid, especially given the relative youth and inexperience of all involved. Accordingly, LA TRAGEDIA DE MACARIO has been selected for screening honors at Sundance, Worldfest-Houston, SXSW and numerous other film festivals. These accolades are well-deserved.

Postscript: Living in the South Texas Hill Country affords one numerous supposed sightings of the Virgin Mary, in such widely divergent and unlikely places as in the center of a corn tortilla, the bark of a mesquite tree, the water stain on a Whataburger ceiling panel, a puddle of oil on the floor of a Jiffy-Lube or, most remarkably, on the surface of a diseased rutabaga. As a result, this reviewer hereby vows that if such a vision ever appears and the Virgin Mary is trying to warn him about something, like she did Macario, you can bet your bottom dollar yours truly will take heed -- all avowed agnostic beliefs notwithstanding.