Tuesday, May 30, 2006


A devoted Needtovent reader recently sent us an article appearing in "The Wall Street Journal" which began with the intriguing headline: "Film's Know-Nothings." The author of this essay, Joe Morgenstern, lamented the fact that "today's filmmakers know very little, and care less, about the real world. Their movies derive from other movies."

Morgenstern goes on to declare that "the shallow careerists of contemporary Hollywood, fixated by whatever seems to be selling at the moment and striving to sell more of it...ultimately produce and direct movies that are made of interchangeable, recyclable and utterly disposable parts."

This phenomenon is not all that new. Over the years I've personally run across scores of film projects being described along the lines of "This script is a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE" or "GODZILLA meets LOLITA". Another commonly used short-hand description is the verbal-pie-chart, i.e. "It'll be one-third BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and two-thirds WEDDING CRASHERS."

It is a shame. It is a damn shame.

While much of the blame must go to the recent spate of film school graduates who know their cinematic shorthand, but who haven't lived or experienced or learned much from real life vs. reel life, it should be pointed out that many studio heads are equally as guilty. Two examples follow; the actual names of the executives are withheld because I'm still trying to keep a career going. (Tsk, tsk, it isn't polite to laugh so loudly).

Example Number One -- Frank Q. Dobbs loved to tell about the time he pitched his script titled KLONDIKE to a very well known studio mogul. During the course of a full thirty or so minutes Frank described in detail how each of the central characters were lured to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush in an effort to strike it rich. The treacherous Chilkoot Trail was highlighted, along with many other references to the actual historical events which took place in 1897-1898. It wasn't until Frank mentioned a steam engine that the executive suddently stopped him and asked, "Is this a period piece? We don't do period pieces at this studio." Frank was promptly shown the door.

Example Number Two -- When I went in to pitch a project based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel, THE MAGICIAN, the studio guru opposite me asked in all seriousness, "Maugham, Somerset Maugham, should I know that name?" My meeting was fleeting to say the least...

Despite this myopic miasma, every once in awhile a truly unique, totally surprising film comes out of Tinseltown. My favorite example is THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, the truly offbeat movie once described as "a silly film for smart people," starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Jeff Goldblum. How BUCKAROO BANZAI ever received the green light from a major studio defies all logic, even to this day.

Perhaps an even better example is the incredible body of work from Terry Gilliam, the only American-born member of Monty Python. In addition to that troupe's wonderful films, Mr. Gilliam has individually brought to the silver screen a number of non-traditional, creative, entertaining and thought-provoking cinematic triumphs including TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING and TWELVE MONKEYS, among others. Yes, this Python ex has given us a full monty of stunningly original movies. We should be thankful.

Friday, May 26, 2006


(Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers in search of "countless peaks and valleys...")

As our legion of loyal readers know, Needtovent.com rigorously avoids the use of hyperbole. At one point in time realtors, Mercury Zephyr sales brochures and a not-so-candid literary character named Dr. Pangloss were the sole practitioners of undeserved, unconscionable, unassailable hype. To our collective dismay, this is no longer the case.

Take, for example, the following description of where I live, published by the local Chamber of Commerce:

"Spring Branch is a majestic wonderland, blessed with rolling ranges of countless peaks and valleys..."

With due respect to recently deceased Senator Lloyd Benson -- I can only respond by saying:

"Chamber of Commerce, I have lived among countless peaks and valleys, I know peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys are favorites of mine. Chamber of Commerce, Spring Branch is not blessed with countless peaks and valleys."

Has the Chamber ever been to Switzerland? Austria? New Zealand? Tibet? Even Colorado? Apparently not. Yes, the surrounding Texas Hill Country is, arguably, the most scenic part of the Lone Star State. But for Christ's sake, or at least that of Tenzing Norgay, please back off this ridiculous claim -- it is downright embarrassing.

And speaking of overrated, I must also throw into that category TRANSAMERICA -- the gender bender tale of a conservative transsexual woman and the son she fathered. Yes, I correctly said "fathered." Felicity Huffman's "Tootsie Role" is a remarkable performance, but the screenplay disappoints in that this cross-country road trip eventually leads to nowhere.

Not even to Spring Branch.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


USA TODAY described it best -- Gray vs. Anatomy.

Last night's American Idol finale saw the Soul Patrol triumph over McPheever. Approximately sixty-three million votes were cast, "more than any president in the history of our country has received" according to host Ryan Seacrest. Yes, 63 million votes, and it is a fair assumption that many of these were from rural America where one would assume Taylor Hicks held more appeal than the visually appealing, sultry, but almost souless, Katherine McPhee.

I'm reminded of the all-time best VARIETY headline which described the downturn in box office performance for films aimed at the nation's heartland. For years, films like MA AND PA KETTLE BACK ON THE FARM (starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) were hits from Bozeman to Birmingham, but slowly their attraction in the hinterlands diminished, ticket sales lagged and the genre was abandoned by Hollywood altogether. That famous headline read: "Stix Nix Hix Pixs," and I feared that Tuesday evening not enough rural voters would take the time to call in support of Mr. Hicks. Thankfully, they did.

Lynda's happy. I'm happy. And tonight Simon Fuller, one of the creators of AMERICAN IDOL, turns from lungs to legs. It is the season premiere of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. I don't think Taylor should try out for this show -- reckless abandon notwithstanding...

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Friday, May 19th was a big day for little ol' Opie Taylor. Yes, Ron Howard's cinematic opus opened nationwide amid considerable controversy. Accompanied by Mr. Jerry L. Nelson (whose Haiku Review can be found below), Needtovent made it a point to see THE DA VINCI CODE during its initial matinee screening in New Braunfels, Texas.

Upon ariving at the Marketplace Theater I suddenly realized that I had left my trusted Flash Gordon Decoder Ring at home. Needless to say, I was thus extremely concerned that I would be unable to make sense of the highly complex storyline, especially since I had not read the book. My concerns were unfounded.

Kudos to Ron Howard. He has brought to the screen a very enjoyable, highly polished motion picture that, despite its approximate two hour thirty minute running time, never becomes dull or boring. And while Tom Hanks was far from the first choice to play the lead (Bill Paxton was the initial choice, followed by several others, including George Clooney of all people), Tom's understated performance is among his finest in recent years. (I'll admit that I was skeptical, fearing something akin to Gump Goes Godly).

In fact, the entire cast was terrific. Special mention must be made on behalf of Audrey Tautou, who I first saw in LE FABULEUX DESTIN D' AMELIE POULAIN, aka AMELIE in the US. She is absolutely radiant. Likewise, both Ian McKellan and Jean Reno were perfect for their respective roles.

Simply put, THE DA VINCI CODE is a highly intriguing, suspenseful, entertaining and engaging motion picture. As Harvey Karten wrote, "At once cerebral and melodramatic, THE DA VINCI CODE should please those who think and those who feel." And if it doesn't please Opus Dei, then so be it. In fact, I suggest Opus Dei should simply go back to practicing their corporal mortification and keep their traps shut. Only complete idiots would not understand that THE DA VINCI CODE is simply a piece of fiction. Then again, from what I have read about Opus Dei, that appears to be exactly what they are...

(This concludes Part One of a three-part trilogy concerning THE DA VINCI CODE. Other points of view follow...)


Many pundits had a negative reaction to what they would call THE DUH VINCI CODE. In a desire to provide our readers with some of these alternative viewpoints, Needtovent has selected several especially pithy comments from around the nation. To brighten things up a bit we have selected this photograph of Eva Herzigova taken at the Opening Night Gala & Premiere in Cannes to accompany all the negativity. We figured no one would mind. This is Part Two of our Da Vinci Trilogy.

"Bad enough to offend even an atheist." Chuck O'Leary

"You know a movie's a dud when even its self-flagellating albino killer monk isn't any fun." John Beifuss

"Way too long and duller than watching Da Vinci's paint dry." Edward Douglas

"This film is about as dull as street luge." Phil Villarreal

"If there's a flavor to describe director Ron Howard's all-too-faithful adaptation, it's vanilla." Bill Muller

"How can a film contain so many clues yet remain clueless?" Michael Phillips


Part Three -- "The Holy Ghost" -- comes from the esteemed Haikuist, Jerry L. Nelson. Mr. Nelson's spiritual beliefs are unknown to the staff here at Needtovent, however we do know that his permanent residence is located in a place called Mystic Shores.

by Jerry L. Nelson

Harrison?...No way
Hanks did it with subtlety
Blockbuster this one

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Chefs Catalog (The Best Kitchen Starts Here) has a "NEW" item that defies belief.

On page 21 you will find, and I quote verbatim: "Porcelain renditions of the paper French fry cups popular with street vendors in Brussels make a big impression at the table. Our tall cups are tapered to hold a cluster of pommes frites and include a side crinkle that furthers the paper illusion and makes it easy to hold at parties, too. Oven-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Made in France. Set of two: $24.99"

A penny shy of twenty-five bucks for two "porcelain renditions" of a paper cup? You gotta be kidding, although I will admit that the "crinkle" is a nice touch. If this really does impress your friends, I would guess that you are a card-carrying member of the Texas Lyceum.


"And so faintly you come tapping, tapping at my chamber door." (Without a court-authorized warrant I might add...)

CIA nominee Air Force General Michael Hayden is seen here saluting his alter ego, Nazi SS Leader Heinrich Himmler. As you will recall, "Little Hinney" was responsible for the "Heinrich Maneuver" -- the eradication of over six million Jews during World War II. Of course, this all began innocently enough with the unrestrained and illegal surveillance of untold millions in the Mother Land.

General Hayden is credited with being the architect of our government's own on-going, illegal surveillance -- the warrantless wiretapping of millions of phones by the CIA right here in the US of A. You know what, I hope this fellow doesn't get the job...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

BLASPHEMY! An Urban Legend Rebuked...

There is a vicious e-mail making the rounds which claims Betty Rubble is not to be found in any Flintstones Vitamins package.

If true, this would be an untenable situation requiring the immediate deployment of 5,000-plus National Guard Troops to the corporate headquarters of Bayer HealthCare with orders to secure its border and deport all executives (documented or not) responsible for such a travesty.

Alas, the e-mail's assertion is unfounded. All is well El Presidente.

I suspect several readers may be bewildered regarding my deep devotion to Betty. The answer is simple: Betty is a hot babe, far more fetching than Wilma, and clearly the female Flintstones character preferred by young boys nationwide. I'm sure there is more than one Duke Lacrosse geezer who wanked off watching Betty on the family Philco as a youngster. It's understandable. Remember, this was the first television program in American broadcast history to actually show a married couple sleeping in the same bed.

Yabba Dabba Do!

Sunday, May 14, 2006


In 1964, Director Sidney Lumet brought to the screen one of the most gut wrenching motion pictures of all time -- THE PAWNBROKER. Rod Steiger's brilliant portrayal in the title role earned him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination as a Holocaust victim trying to scratch out a meager living in a Harlem pawn shop. Steiger's Method Acting technique was dead-on, offering up a lead character so wracked by the past that he's barely functional in the present. The ultimate result is that this pawnbroker places the love of money over all else in his life.

Forty-two years later another pawnbroker makes history, at least here locally in Comal County, Texas. County Judge Danny Scheel's scare tactics prove effective as he and his minions defeat the Tax Rate Rollback Election by a little over two hundred votes. This inconceivably stupid outcome reminds me of another movie -- DUMB & DUMBER.

I fully understand that some might think that my focus on Herr Scheel's ownership of a pawn shop shows little respect. Let me respond by first stating that this is about all I know about the man since I was unable to find anything else during my search on the internet. All of the other members of the County Commissoners' Court, for example, post biographical information on the Court's official website. Not so with Danny Boy. In actuality, this was all I really needed to know; who could be better qualified than a pawnbroker to lead the pawns of Comal County into doing exactly what he wants?

(Actual photograph of two Comal County voters taken Saturday, April 13th)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Yes, It Certainly Is UNAN1MOUS...

This past Wednesday the final episode of UNAN1MOUS aired on the Fox Network. As ill-conceived as any Sudanese child in the year of our Lord 2006, UNAN1MOUS will not be missed. We at Needtovent have canvassed a large cross-section of Comal County residents, from overly succulent soccer moms to septic tank impresarios, and we cound not find one single fan. Not one...

For me, personally, I'd rather tune in to the Berlin bunker low life high jinks of Adolf and Eva. Cyanide anyone?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Ameriprise Financial is currently running a television commercial with a hippie motif. Under a blaring '60s rock beat the voice-over announcer proclaims:

"You're the generation that gave meaning to the meaningful relationship."

What? Are they out of their frickin' minds? I was there, buddy, and about the last damn thing we had on our minds was a "meaningful relationship."

Ever hear of "free love?" Apparently not...

You can bet your bong that I am not going to place an investment with an Ameriprise Financial Advisor. For being so stupid these guys, and their addled ad agency, should have been headquartered in the World Trade Center.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is an extremely well crafted motion picture that is worthy of almost all of the Oscar attention it received.

Director Ang Lee has mounted (no pun intended) a beautiful production. His directing is a marvelous example of telling a story straightforward (again, no pun intended) without the use of any annoying gimmicks or cinematic tricks. The music by Gustavo Santaolla is spot-on perfect; it is evocative and haunting and it will stay with you a long, long time without ever becoming too flashy or intrusive. Quite simply put, this is what film scoring should always strive to accomplish, yet so rarely even comes close. In addition, the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is a pure gem -- these writers took me to a place I have never been before. I don't mean geographically, but emotionally, and they accomplished this by creating two exquisitely-drawn characters whose shoes I will never walk in, but who I have come to better understand. Yes, there's no question that all four were deserving of the Academy Awards they received.

As for the Oscar Nominees, Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto's sumptuous cinematography is breathtaking, as are the performances of both Heath Ledger (nominated for Best Actor) and Jake Gyllenhaal (nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Only Michelle Williams' nomination for Best Actress seems to be a stretch.

And what about Randy Quaid? He has recently dropped his lawsuit seeking more money for his role as Joe Aguirre. In this reviewer's opinion, Randy's pathetic performance is the only flaw in an otherwise nearly perfect movie. Whatever he was paid, it was too damn much.

I know quite a few individuals who refuse to see this film because of its underlying subject matter. I understand and respect their decision. It is unfortunate, however, since BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the best love story since BRIDE OF CHUCKY ("Chucky Gets Lucky" was that film's hip tagline -- one of my all-time favorites).

All kidding aside, I hereby award BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN 4 1/2 Dingleberries on a scale of 5. It doesn't get much better than that...

Monday, May 08, 2006


"There isn't enough Visine in the world!" -- Elitestv.com

Wes Craven's RED EYE isn't the worst thriller to come down the runway in recent years. It is, for example, a slightly better film than FLIGHTPLAN -- and it is considerably better than the recently released UNITED 93. Tepid praise, to be sure, but what else can one say when virtually all of today's Hollywood directors resort to a "paint-by-the-numbers" mentality. This adherence to formulaic filmmaking insures that today's movie audiences experience far more trill than thrill -- with obligatory music cues laden with the deepest of bass to heighten the suspense that should have been present due to a quality script. Bring on the timpany, cue the organ, let the subwoofer do what the screenwriter and the director can't...

An interesting comparison can be made if one watches LES DIABOLIQUE (THE DEVILS, 1955), directed by H. G. Clouzot. This acclaimed masterpiece is more frightening than waking up in bed with Leona Helmsley by your side. Here the suspense eminates from a terrific script performed by outstanding actors under the direction of someone who thoroughly understands all of the cinematic arts at his disposal. Unbearable suspense drives the 'killers' (and the audience) up the wall with a host of unexpected surprises and genuine terror. Cloying audio cues are not needed; they are not missed.

An aside: I do not know the record for "goofs" in a mainstream motion picture. RED EYE is riddled with them. Beginning with Rachel McAdams boarding a wide-body Boeing 757 cabin (incorporating 2-3-2 seating separated by two aisles) and then cutting to an exterior of this plane taking off (they filmed an Airbus A-310 -- a conventional one-aisle aircraft with three seats on each row separated by a single aisle just like a Boeing 737). Serious suspension of disbelief issues right off the tarmac, with at least another dozen or more continuity errors that follow.

And did I mention the name of the fictional airline? FRESH AIR -- sounds more like a feminine hygiene product than a company providing scheduled passenger service.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I may have once been booted out of the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freepoint, Maine for complaining about the high price being charged for a Mepps Timberdoodle, but that will never happen again. You see, my life has changed forever as of yesterday when I was admitted into one of the most powerful families in America. As Aretha Franklin gloriously sings -- I now have "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" -- and the L.L. Beaners wouldn't dare lift a hand or a foot ever again.

In fact, I must turn to another women's anthem (also sung in English) to further articulate my euphoria: Helen Reddy's lyrics (slightly altered):

I am strong!
I am invincible!!
I am Nielson!!!

Yes, as of Saturday I am now an official member of the Nielson Family. I am no longer impotent; overnight I went from a faceless and voiceless non-entity to someone possessing meaningful, bona fide sway over television programming decisions. Unlike the local rigged elections held at the Comal County Reichstag, my vote will actually count, and it will count for something that impacts virtually every man, woman and child in this here U. S. of A. Television ratings will never be the same.

Actually, President George W. Bush describes my new empowerment best of all:

"I am a Decider!"


Wednesday, May 03, 2006


It is almost a full twenty-four hours since I left the Marketplace Theatre in New Braunfels after seeing UNITED 93.

I am still shaking.

Yes, I continue to shake uncontrollably from this intense experience -- but the cause is not for any of the reasons you might logically assume.

To begin with, my trembling has nothing to do with the inherent nature of the story. When it comes to a deeply visceral screening experience you can find about as much emotional intensity in an old SKY KING rerun.

Nor is my malady a result of witnessing once again just how inept and incompetent the US military, the FAA and this nation's government was on 9/11. For example, hours pass by and, ultimately, a grand total of four jet fighters are scrambled. Yes -- only four jets can even get into the air -- and two of these were unarmed. You'll normally find that many zipping past at the opening ceremonies of a NASCAR event each weekend. It's enough to make the average person quiver like an aspen leaf; but this is old news and it isn't the cause of my current woes either.

Finally, let me reassure you that my spasms are not a debilitating reaction to observing every passenger's cell phone working perfectly and without interruption as their Boeing 757 rockets along at over 550 miles per hour, across several states and at altitudes ranging from 33,000' down to 3,000' and less. This technological accomplishment is Cingularly unfathomable to me, but I have elected not to dwell on my personal cell phone experiences and so the cause of my present condition lies elsewhere.

You see, the real reason for my ongoing involuntary twitching lies solely with Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd's unrestrained cinema verite style of filming that has the camera shaking more violently than Nancy Pelosi's vibrator. Not even fans of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT could possibly appreciate the excessive jerkiness, in-your-face-but-out-of-focus cinematography found not only in the not-so-friendly skies, but also on the ground, in the terminal, even in the NORAD bunker. Ninety plus minutes of wide screen, uninterrupted visual chaos will leave you shaking, too.

I find it fitting that Cinematographer Ackroyd's next project will be an Irish/UK co-production titled THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. What do you want to bet he wears a self-winding watch?

PS Whatever happened to Herkie Walls?