Off Limits

The envelope, please

Even as studios push prestige pictures like Gangs of New York and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for Oscar contention, Abby Winter and Laura Peterson are adding a little snark to the festivities.

For the past eighteen months, the Capitol Hill-based duo have been offering decidedly opinionated movie reviews on their Web site, www.reconstructedbellybutton.com. And Denverites are catching on. The 'buttons had 29,000 hits and more than 2,000 visitors in November, with zero advertising and only bad attitudes and rudimentary HTML to recommend them.

"We were tired of everyone else's reviews. They loved everything they thought they were supposed to," says Winter. "Since we had an iMac and the Adobe software, we decided to do it on our own."

Completely on their own, since Peterson does all of the illustrations and Winter does all of the writing. Plus, their scoring system consists of photos of their cats, Mr. Thornhill ("a Siamese with a bent tail") and Gleason ("a Blue American something that doesn't really like anyone and screams a lot"). Get a hissing, hairball-hacking Gleason, and the movie is "wretched." Throw in a second picture of a sleeping Mr. Thornhill, and the movie moves up closer to merely "bad." Naturally, a photo of Gleason and Mr. Thornhill together is the highest rating ("masterful") that Winter and Peterson have to offer.

"We like our cats and think they're the funniest things around," Winter says, "so we decided to use them for the ratings. We've gotten slammed for it on message boards, people saying the drawings are third-grade level, my two-year-old could do better. A five-year-old could do better, but we think it's funny."

Funny, but not very lucrative: The 28-year-old roommates don't get invited to media screenings and have to fork over the price of a ticket about three times a week. They like to watch movies at the Mayan, but the Colorado Cinemas Cherry Creek 8 is a close second with its 10 a.m. showings. Winter, an English major at Knox College (where she met Peterson), spends roughly four hours a week writing the reviews -- longhand -- in a stream-of-consciousness style.

"I just write whatever I think about a movie afterward," she explains. "Sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what I think, which can be annoying. It took me two weeks to write the Man Who Wasn't There review because I felt so bad about not liking a Coen brothers movie."

She compensates for her lack of professional polish with deadpan humor. While most reviewers are giving The Two Towers raves, Winter mocks its absurdities: "The Two Towers is the story of Arwen's (Liv Tyler) inability to figure out how boats work. Come on, she can take a boat to evil-free land but can't take one back? And why couldn't she catch a boat later, after the goofy funeral scene if she had to? That doesn't make any damned sense. Maybe laying around all day waiting for Daddy (Hugo Weaving) to tell you what to do is more intellectually draining than it appears." The movie rates a flat "Okay."

Winter's all-time most abhorred movie is Titanic, which she couldn't even bear to review. She hated the script, she hated the acting, she hated everything. "I've been told I don't have a soul over Titanic and that I clearly don't understand romance," she says. "The problem is that if you don't like a movie other people like, they think you're calling them stupid."

No, just the Academy.


The artist formerly known as Shagman: Also headed for film fame is Jay Stickney, the once-but-not-future Shagman for Rocky's Autos. Contrary to our report in the December 19 Off Limits, Stickney gave up the Shagman role three years ago, allowing its originator, Ron Vigil, to return.

"I guess as strange as the commercials are, it's still fun doing them, being with the crew," Stickney remembers. "The weirdest part was really just meeting the general public. When you're out at the Adam's County Fair -- we went wherever there was dirt -- there'd be people waiting an hour and half to get a hat signed. It was like being a really bad rock star."

Although he's no longer shagalicious, Ritchey hasn't dropped out of the public eye entirely: You can catch him live twice a week at the Ritchie Center as the voice of the University of Denver's Pioneer hockey team. "It's great being part of a team that's so successful. I get to travel with the team, hanging out with 20- and 21-year-old guys," says the 34-year-old. "I'm more like a coach. I drink a lot of coffee and just follow the puck."

He's had some great moments with the guys, none of which he'll allow to be described in print. (Hey, they can't be any worse than some of the Rocky's commercial antics.) He doesn't want to offend the folks at his day gig, where he's a KHOW account executive "to pay the bills."

And fund his big-screen debut. In late February or early March, Stickney and fellow Rocky's Auto character Audra Winn will star in Strange Kind of Woman, an independent film written and directed by Ray Mahoney. Since all but a select few managed to miss Mahoney's first film, Baconhead, he's hoping the all-star roster -- the romantic comedy also features KBPI's Uncle Nasty -- will make this a must-see.

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