Snowy weekends with Under-rated movies on DVD

Bad weather weekends are always great for Netflix and watching bad movies on tv….and this weekend brought a couple films that are a lot better than they should be….


First – ABC Family ran Grease 2 all weekend….and this has always been one of my guilty pleasures…by the time “A Girl For All Seasons” rolls around, I’m hooked every time…and every viewing makes me appreciate some of the subtler things that Patricia Birch did with the direction and choreography. Compare this to other schlock that came out about the same time (1982) and this one totally bristles with some movie-making gusto. And my all-time favorite actor, Peter Frechette is hilarious (Louis)– he’s in character every second he’s on screen, and it proceeds his subsequent intense performances on stage and tv and regular guest appearances on ThirtySomething. And it’s one of the few movies in which the very out Frechette plays straight, rather than his normal gay roles. 

And the “pool of enchantment” kills me every time. 

Patricia Birch infuses the entire production with all the early-80’s Broadway musical theatre talent she can stuff into the film. Watching the chorus numbers is like watching a who’s who of Broadway-gypsy performers of the early 80’s, before AIDS started to make its deadly journey through New York and Los Angeles alike.

When you compare Grease 2 to the absolutely awful “High School Musical” trilogy, you really come to realize what good film-making this is. HSM pales by comparison. This one is gracefully aging in a good way that deserves to be seen. As the famous quotation goes, this is the “best sequel to a Stockard Channing movie starring Adrian Zmed ever made.”

agle Eye 1-shtI missed GhostTown in the theatres this past year, but watched it twice from Netflix this weekend. It’s charming and sweet, and it has a big heart. Ricky Gervais is wonderful here, but so is Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear. This is another movie stuffed full of Broadway musical theatre performers circa 2007…look for Brian D’Arcy James as “Irish Boy”…Highly recommended and I am not sure how I missed this in the movie theatres.



Dan in Real Life is another underrated film from 2007….I had seen it before, but decided to watch it again after a friend mentioned it the other day. Steve Carell turns in his most nuanced performance here, and it’s a terrific and under-rated little romance. I like the way they get the family patter right in this film. Listen to all the stuff in the background, and the way the people talk to each other. Families really DO sound like this. 

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today…

Another One Bites the Dust…

Goodbye Adray Camera…


I’ve known you well. I’ve known you in Dearborn, Canton, and Ann Arbor — and I’ve watched Ann Arbor and Canton shutter their shops one after the other.

In business for 57 years in Dearborn, Adray Camera announced their final going-out-of-business notice today. 

That leaves almost no camera-specific stores left in the area. There is the over-priced Huron Camera in Dexter, but their limited selection and far over retail-suggested-prices makes it a no brainer: it’s B&H and Amazon online for all future camera needs.

Adray, you will be dearly missed. Who else let me buy lenses and return them when I didn’t like them with no questions asked. Who else had all the new Nikon dSLR camera bodies as they came in, and always saved me one. Where else could you go in for a SD memory card, and leave with Oreck vacuum bags at the same time…

And so it goes.

What went wrong with MILK?…

With the Academy Awards fast approaching, this blog post takes a look at our Best Picture candidates…It was actually a strong year for movies, and except for the (bizarre) number of nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, pretty accurate, at least in reflecting quality, as far as I’m concerned…


First, let’s discuss SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE….my choice for Best Picture of 2008. This is far and away the first feel-bad-feel-good-can’t take your eyes off of it-unique-unBollywood slice of life picture ever made. Without giving away too much, lets just say the basic premise of rags to riches is turned on its head when our adorable lead actor (Skin’s Dev Patel) goes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire not to win money, but to find his lost love. I adored this movie, despite it’s extremely violent first act. Everything was done right to catapult this film into the public limelight and it’s won every single major award for Best Picture this year. I don’t think I have liked a British film for frontrunner to get an Oscar since Chariots of Fire won in the 70’s. If you haven’t seen this film – for God’s sake, get off of the internet right now and go see it. It’s showing everywhere in Ann Arbor.


So, for most of the fall and early winter, MILK looked like a shoo-in to win Best Picture. So what went wrong? First, this is a fine film and beautifully acted throughout. It’s filled with continuity and historical inaccuracies, and the Castro has never really looked the way it is pictured in studio sets in the film, but overall the film is a very well filmed and finely acted showpiece. And therein lies the problem. The Academy already awarded a Best Documentary Oscar to The Times of Harvey Milk, and MILK is very much a live-action remake of that documentary. Second, Focus Features absolutely botched the release of this film, Instead of going wide right after the Prop 8 debacle in California, when the country was heated-up about similar issues, Focus chose to roll the film out in small art houses in selected markets. “Going wide” at the end of January involved the addition of only a few thousand more theatres, and it never went the cineplex route. In Ann Arbor, it has shown only at the huge vaudeville house Michigan Theatre and has never opened at the cineplexes. Meanwhile Slumdog is going strong on almost 4000 screens nationwide. You do the math. Fine picture, but it’s not going anywhere anymore for best picture.


Miramax’s dark horse this year is THE READER. I saw this in San Francisco, because frankly, it had such limited release in Michigan it was too much of an effort to find it in the local theaters. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from a literate, well-told, well-acted point of view. And that was about it. I’m not sure how this snuck into the Best Picture category, and it’s not going to win. But I’m glad it did, so that more people will see what might otherwise have quickly disappeared into the literate-movie ether…I really liked Kate Winslet here. You can see the ending coming from a mile away, but it the film is still deeply moving and has impact long after seeing it. But it’s minor impact. Seeing the film made me want to read the novel, because it felt like a lot of story was missing. Guess what, it’s not!!


Sheen and Langella both deserve Oscar’s for their performances in FROST/NIXON…but in reality, have probably gotten all of the true accolades they are going to get while performing these exact same roles in the stage version of the movie. The same can be said of the film as a whole. Note to Ron Howard: I really missed the multiple-angle live television shots of the penultimate scene’s “big reveal” that so beautifully captured both Frost as well as Nixon’s faces at the same time on stage. I loved the film, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t stand a chance against Slumdog (or for that matter, Milk). 

Which brings us to a movie I despised:


I am completely at a loss as to how THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON got so many Oscar nominations. It’s not going home with any of them, with the possible exception of Best Makeup. But even there, The Reader’s makeup for Kate Winslet is actually similar and has more nuance. While I enjoyed the technical marvel of this film’s CGI work, I basically lose all interest when you invent something like the “living backwards” McGuffin and expect an audience to care after three hours. The film did contain my favorite cinema image of 2008: the final tableau of the clock (still running backwards) in storage while the waters of Hurricane Katrina sweep into the room. Brilliant. That, and editing at least an hour out of this brutally long movie would have made it more accessible. I detested this film, and wouldn’t be surprised if it won nothing.


Sticking with Best Picture, I’m not convinced that THE DARK KNIGHT shouldn’t have been nominated instead of CURIOUS CASE. It took a formulaic Batman movie, and superimposed a fine moral story along the lines of Silence of the Lambs. And I am not sure that DOUBT shouldn’t have taken the place of THE READER. Reader’s tale of holocaust remorse is touching but dated, and Doubt’s storyline of possible child abuse is historically dated but emotionally relevant as if ripped right out of today’s headlines (which it was — the play was written at the height of the US priest-abuse hysteria a few years back).

Good luck to all of the films.

Here in Ann Arbor, you can see the nominees at:


STATE THEATRE: Slumdog Millionaire

GOODRICH QUALITY 16: Frost/Nixon; The Reader; Slumdog Millionaire

SHOWCASE CINEMAS: Slumdog Millionaire; Benjamin Button

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor…

Current Reads….

Just a quick note on some current reading —

The Associate

John Grisham’s THE ASSOCIATE is the closest thing he’s written to his first commercially successful novel The Firm. If you enjoyed The Firm, you will like The Associate. There isn’t much more to say about it — except to remind people to play the Foot-Game with Mr. Grisham’s books…by page 100, I had counted 50 references to feet, shoes, socks, loafers, legs, ankles, etc…Glad to see his foot-fetish remains intact…I lost track after that as I rushed to finish the book and move on to something more substantial.

Children of Freedom

Favorite thing I’ve read in a really long time is a book you can’t get in the US yet, but I completely recommend you invest in a copy through or — Marc Levy (my favorite French writer) has done it again — CHILDREN OF FREEDOM is a wonderful novel, based on completely true stories about the French Resistance during WWII, the novel follows a group of 16 – 24 year olds as they work to sabotage Nazi activity, live, and to love. Halfway through the book, the novel takes a completely different turn and without giving away any further specifics, follows the trail of the last Phantom Train as it makes its way toward a concentration camp. Excellent and compelling reading. Not sure why it hasn’t been published in the USA yet, but it is a international best-seller phenomenon in Europe right now.

***02/12/09 Update — I got a nice letter from Marc Levy that indicates that CHILDREN OF FREEDOM will be released in Canada in early April and available from Amazon at that time, but no publisher yet in the States. He sends his regards.

And that is the view from Ann Arbor today….