Wednesday, July 22, 2009


"Has Tarantino ever made a singularly authentic, sincere, innovative frame of film in his life?"
(Brandon Fibbs)


DEATH PROOF is Quentin Tarantino's feature-length contribution to GRINDHOUSE, the twin-bill gore-fest which was intended to be a homage to the classic, albeit classless, drive-in B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Combined with several fake movie trailers and Robert Rodriguez's full-length PLANET TERROR, the total running time for this patronizing pastiche was a whopping 191 minutes. Overly long and ultimately disappointing, GRINDHOUSE was a box office failure.

What to do?

Well Tarantino and Rodriguez and the Weinstein's, Executive Producers Bozo Bob and Hapless Harvey, re-released both films as single offerings and the staff at Needtovent recently screened DEATH PROOF thanks to the fine folks at AMC which, in this case, could very well stand for Agonizingly Mindless Cinema.

DEATH PROOF stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a psychopath who uses his heavily reinforced muscle car as a killing machine to annihilate unsuspecting, beautiful young women who have a propensity to bare their belly button. The navels are nicely shaped, lint-free "innies" -- just what any red-blooded hormone-driven fella would find arousing, for lack of a better word. But Stuntmn Mike has a hard-on of a different nature for these nubiles; what/why is never divulged. And what Stuntman Mike forgets is that Hell hath no fury like a woman being creamed by a big bore Chevy. Sounds promising enough, but the biggest bore of all is the incessant bantering among the various broads which bogs down any momentum until the very end. By then, one hardly cares.

On the bright side, Russell's hypnotic/psychotic Stuntman Mike is a fun character to watch. And the legion of libertine, libidinous lounge lizards provide appealing eye candy at first, at least until their incessant droning makes you want Stuntman Mike, or anyone for that matter, to reach for some duct tape or, perhaps, a Louisville Slugger.

We have not screened the other full-length component of GRINDHOUSE, but it appears that Rodriguez also missed the mark. Quite frankly, we doubt we will even bother trying. Instead, we plan to grab a six-pack or two of Lone Star longnecks and pop into the old VHS machine a copy of FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Old Coot: "Women! They let 'em vote, smoke and drive -- even put 'em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president!"

Sorry Quentin, when it comes to the grindhouse genre, no one does it better than Russ Meyer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


"Most Hollywood films are just a tapeworm, a 2,500 meters long tapeworm that sucks the life and the spirit out of me." (Ingmar Bergman)

More often than not, the staff at agrees with Mr. Bergman. Accordingly, we actively seek out the best in low budget, independent cinema and these efforts have rewarded us with a number of truly excellent, highly entertaining films which we have had the pleasure of reviewing over the past few years. Our latest discovery is BITTER/SWEET, screened at the recent Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival where it won The Grand Jury Award for "Best Picture" and the Golden Remi Award for "Best Director." These awards are well deserved.

The music under the lush opening credits -- "That Funny Feeling" -- was the first hint that yes, indeed, there's a funny feeling that this film might be special. It is. BITTER/SWEET is an ambitious undertaking by recently-formed Angel & Bear Productions, a Bangkok-based Thai-Swiss production company headed by Urs Brunner in cooperation with two American firms, Capitol Motion Pictures and Eighth Wonder Entertainment. Prior to entering the film industry Mr. Brunner had already found success in Thailand by forming the Boncafe coffee company. In fact, it was his experience in the coffee business that prompted him to conceive the underlying story for BITTER/SWEET. The resulting screenplay by the extremely talented Jeff Hare (who also directed) takes the viewer to the picturesque coffee plantations of Southern Krabi where there's more in the air than just the aroma of first-rate robusta beans.

"Is there life before coffee?"

Let's be honest -- not every independently-produced film is good, but BITTER/SWEET is a truly Thaitanic effort with a generous production budget that provides the necessary resources to take full advantage of the exotic tropical locations. Of particular interest is the use of the RED ONE in one of the earliest feature film applications for this cutting edge, some say revolutionary, digital camera. And the superb, highly energetic music selections, under the supervision of Chris Moellere and Cindi Avnet, keep things moving at a steady pace. In fact, all of the production values are first-rate, significantly superior to the majority of independent offerings, and they collectively enhance what is an engaging love story brought to the screen by a cadre of wonderful actors which include Kip Pardue, Mamee Nakprasit, Kalorin Nemayothin, Tata Young, Spencer Garrett, Laura Sorenson and James Brolin.

Pardue (REMEMBER THE TITANS, BOBBY) plays Brian Chandler, an American-based coffee expert who is sent to Thailand by his boss Calvert Jenkins (Brolin -- THE WEST WING, LAST CHANCE HARVEY) to check out a reportedly superior grade of coffee which his company may want to acquire if these rumors are true. This assignment takes him away from Amanda (Sorenson), his attractive fiancee, and from the rigorous preparations of their impending wedding. (This second consequence may not be all that unfortunate as any groom can readily attest.) Upon his arrival in Bangkok he meets the gorgeous Ticha (Nakprasit), a stunningly beautiful, dedicated career woman who has given up on finding love. It is at the urging of her coffee farming parents that Ticha is pressed into taking Brian to her old village which is now suffering economically in the hopes that Brian will recommend purchasing the coffee grown there -- thus saving the day. Assisting in this task is Ticha's sassy sidekick Mook (Nemayothin) and Mook's "boyfriend," Werner (Garrett), an Austrian prankster/huckster who has a lust for life, libation and libido. Garrett's performance is especially engaging as he literally steals just about every scene he is in.

Initially, Brian and Ticha do not get along -- in political terms think Franken and Palin and you wouldn't be too far off. But their journey through the fabulous Thai countryside is also a journey of self-discovery as each come to realize that the pursuit of "perfection" isn't as clear cut as previously thought . Their journey is one that we thoroughly enjoyed -- and one we hope a smart, savvy distributor will make available to large audiences both domestically and worldwide. Surely Brolin's appearance will help market the film; his steady, stately performance as the coffee mogul with a hidden agenda is just the latest character he has nailed in a long, distinguished career. We cannot think of anyone better in this supporting, yet pivotal role. Pardue's sweet, subtle performance is a winning one also, but it is Mamee Nakprasit, clearly one of Thailand's most attractive, talented and award-winning actresses, who will likely gain the most attention. We have a funny feeling you will agree.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Is Bruno numero uno?

Yes and no.

Accoring to preliminary reports, Sacha Baron Cohen's BRUNO is Number 1 at the box office this opening weekend much to the consternation of the Christian Film & Television Commission. Yes, good old Ted Baehr and his fellow inquisitors have anointed BRUNO the most "abhorrent" film of the year, calling it "mindlessly pornographic, politically correct paganism" and "worse than any decent human being can imagine." Hey, that sounds like my kind of film!

But, while BRUNO pushes more envelopes than the U. S. Post Office, most end up in the dead letter file thanks to a screenplay that is so shoddily constructed you would think Kaufman & Broad had written it. After a surprisingly slow start in Austria, the various contrived scenes go downhill faster than Franz Klammer on the Hahenkamm at Kitzbuehl. Things pick up, slightly, when the title character reaches Los Angeles, but even at a relatively short 82 minutes, Sacha's sashaying grew tiresome and I found myself longing for The Village People or Bruce Vilanch or Paul Lynde, even Topo Gigio.

There are a few bright moments, such as the segment at an Arkansas wrestling arena where the local red-necks, looking like Beluga whales in cheesy t-shirts, become mortified at the homo heat taking place in the rink between Bruno and his sycophant assistant, Lutz (played by Gustaf Hammarsten). And the clips from his appearance on The Richard Bey Show in Dallas, where he introduces his adopted black baby as "O.J." (claiming it is a traditional African name), is priceless. How Cohen manages to escape both the Pig Sooie state and Big D alive is beyond me. How he managed to escape the dreaded NC-17 rating is also perplexing. BRUNO may be rated R -- but it is a hard R, a virtual diamond-cutter of an R to be precise.

Yet, for every little comedic gem, there are several sequences that misfire as often as a Vanguard rocket. For someone who is Cambridge educated, how in the world did Sacha Baron Cohen think his Ron Paul interview was going to be funny? Wouldn't Senator Larry Craig have been a better choice? Even the much ballyhooed closing song featuring Baron singing his own unique version of "We Are The World" with such luminaries as Bono, Slash, Snoop Dog, Chris Martin, Sting and Elton John disappoints.

Unfortunately, BRUNO isn't anywhere near as entertaining or as funny as BORAT, and while BRUNO rules the box office this weekend, we predict ticket sales will nosedive like a Stuka once the word gets out. Wanna bet?

Friday, July 10, 2009

ALAN EMBREE -- Baseball Trivia

The staff at Needtovent has a long-standing appreciation for the little oddities that continue to comprise a unique, interesting portion of baseball history. For example, we previously reported on the plight of Joe Pignatano who will forever be remembered most for his being the only major league player to ever hit into a triple play in his last at-bat. That's a pretty unfortunate way to end an otherwise respectable major league career.

On a more positive note, Colorado Rockies pitcher Alan Embree accomplished something that is about as rare as anything found in America's Pastime: He threw zero pitches against zero batters but was still credited as the winning pitcher in a recent game against the lowly Washington Nationals. This has to be hands down the easiest win in major league history.

It was the top of the eighth inning and the game was tied 4-4. Austin Kearns was on first and there were two outs. That's when Embree came in to relieve Joel Peralta, but luckily for him the Nats poor play extends beyond hitting, pitching and fielding to include baserunning as well. Before even getting the opportunity to throw a pitch, Embree tossed the ball over to first and caught a sleeping Kearns between first and second base. Kearns was tagged out. Embree exited the game for a pinch-hitter hitter in the bottom half of the inning and the Rockies scored to take the lead. Reliever Huston Street then took the mound and closed out the ninth to seal the victory for Embree.

Yep, zero pitches thrown, but a big "W" nonetheless. Go figure...