Thursday, March 24, 2005

Strings attached: "Team America: World Police"

First, a confession: I'm getting old.

If you regularly check this space -- all four of you -- you've noticed the lack of recent posts. Blame my day job, which took me on the road for a few days. What can I say? Good fake dog crap salesmen are hard to find.

Anyway, two clear signs I've gotten old:
1. When I finally caught some free time one night in my hotel, I somehow passed on pay-per-view porn and instead ordered up "Team America: World Police."
2. I nodded off at least three times, missing the sex scene -- yeah, it's puppets, but still ... -- and I think the ending.

So clearly you have to accept this post with a grain of salt ... and keep the whole saltshaker handy while you're at it. What I can say is that the parts of "Team America" that I saw were pretty funny and seemed a worthy complement to the "South Park" movie. Not as good, but in the ballpark. I probably was most partial to the Spottswoode character who directed the World Police, if only for his classic Peter Graves-esque voice and somewhat odd ideas of what constitutes team loyalty. Let's just say I hope that same drop-to-your-knees challenge doesn't come up in my next performance review.

Other high points, aside from the overall dead-on send-up of stupid big-budget action movies:
-- The decidedly un-PC portrayal of Kim Jong Il, right up there with how the South Park boys have interpreted Saddam Hussein.
-- An unparalleled vomit scene, guaranteed to wither the most sophisticated senses of humor.
-- The apparent belief that no Hollywood star is off limits for parody, thank god. ("Matt Damon!")

I'm sure the movie is even better when you don't miss a few minutes here and there. But hey, it didn't cost as much as porn, and this "acting" was bad on purpose.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Separating the men from the boys: "The Empire Strikes Back"

I may have mentioned getting a new TV, and I think we can agree that you haven't truly broken in such an important home fixture until you've watched a classic movie, preferably one with an abundance of laser blasts and lightsaber noises. (Admit it ... you're making them right now in your head.) Since the missus gave me the "Star Wars" DVD box set for our anniversary, I decided to pop in the best of the original triogy and watch in installments as I put in some time on the treadmill. What, you think I sit on the sofa all day? Just 10 hours or so ...

Was anyone else shocked at the argument over "Empire" vs. "Return of the Jedi" in "Clerks?" And Randall seemed so much cooler than Dante. Anyway, no one this side of crazy will claim anything other than "Empire" as their favorite, and not just because of Boba Fett. For me, it's great to watch this now and think about how I regarded Luke Skywalker and Han Solo back in the early '80s vs. today. Back then, Luke was the -- how you say? -- shiznit, what with the lightsaber and Jedi genes. I mean, the force, man! How cool would it have been to use that and move things with you mind ... like, say, Catholic schoolgirls' skirts?

Today, though, Mark Hamill's whining performance borders on a riot -- altogether now ... "Artoooooooo!!!" Meanwhile, Harrison Ford steals the show as the epitome of cool, with Han Solo penetrating Princess Leia's ... icy personality (easy) on his own terms and giving Darth Vader and the Empire all they can handle while Luke plays around in a swamp with a reverse-talking puppet. (Little did we know how nimble Yoda was back in the day, as revealed in "Episode II.") As an adult, I relish Han and Leia's dance, right up to the carbonite chamber.

Even broken up over a few days, the non-stop action of "Empire" still rules after more than 20 years, from the battle on the ice planet Hoth ("Good shot, Jansen!") to the chase through the asteroid field ("This is no cave"). And the way it leaves us hanging with Han's fate ... that's good movie-making, my friends. Sure, that meant another movie that unleashed the Ewoks unto the world, but it also led to Carrie Fisher in that metal bikini. Let's just say Chewie wasn't the only one howling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

For those who found "Groundhog Day" too confusing: "50 First Dates"

Every now and then I like to throw the missus a bone -- stop it -- and TiVo something for her that I also can tolerate. So it was with "50 First Dates," some hopefully harmless fluff that I figured I could handle thanks to Adam Sandler's idiocy.

Make no mistake: This is not a good movie. But it wasn't as terrible as it could have been, for a few reasons:
1. While removed from his "Billy Madison"/"Happy Gilmore" prime, Sandler still can goof enough to keep you awake.
2. Drew Barrymore truly is annoying, but she and Sandler do have chemistry.
3. The writer(s) showed a lot of guts riding this potentially trite premise all the way through without wrapping things up in a nice, neat package. (I believe the technical term is "day-oos ex mock-in-uh.")

In the end, Sandler's romantic pursuit of the uniquely amnesiac Barrymore -- "I was NEVER in 'Poison Ivy!' You LIE!!!" -- could have been much worse. Instead, it was passable, with decent turns by a lisping Sean Astin (sans hairy feet and with his head out of Frodo's butt) and whoever played Sandler's frightening unisex assistant. As for Rob Schneider ... well, this guy really is pretty much done, wouldn't you say? I mean, you tell me ... would you rather tell people, "I was the 'Makin' copies' guy," or say, "Just call me 'Deuce Bigalow.'"

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Obviously you've never been to Paducah ...

Three thoughts here:
1. "Luxembourg is the world's safest city" ... well, sure, since nobody can find it on a map.
2. "Baghdad the most dangerous" ... oh, are the Beirut boys pissed at losing this title.
3. "Geneva and Zurich rank top for overall quality of life" ... really, even if everyone lives in a safe-deposit box and is armed only with tiny multi-tool knives?

Before thongs made this kind of thing intentional ...

Good to see our planet's wordsmiths validate every high school geek's nightmare. Not that I'd know anything about this ...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Three men and a little (very opinionated) lady: "The Philadelphia Story"

Considering I'm a child of the '80s, it's no surprise that I'd seen "The Philadelphia Experiment" way before "The Philadelphia Story." Hey, you know how kick-ass Michael Pare is. In fact, despite multiple people praising the famous Katherine Hepburn film, it wasn't until this week that I managed to see what all the fuss was about.

The verdict? Worth the hype. Still not sure if I think Kate is all that, but then again, the first movie I saw her in was "On Golden Pond," long after her heyday and when she was becoming a caricature. (Paging Martin Short ... ) Seems like she was a handful back in the day, and maybe that's what drove the guys wild ... at least on the screen. At home ... well, you married fellas can decide if you could stand her cackling, "Well ... how was your day?!?"

For me, the real treat in "The Philadelphia Story" was James Stewart, who I assumed was contractually obligated to play straight-and-narrow types. Here, he's the tabloid reporter who infiltrates Hepburn's wedding with the help of Cary Grant, her ex-husband. Hijinks ensue, complete with entertaining banter and several one-liners that hold up 65 years later. Stewart was the best, carrying himself sort of like Nicolas Cage at his prime -- more "Raising Arizona" than "Fire Birds."

Of course, some have changed since 1940. I'll let you decide if having the heroine named Tracy Lord would be a distraction today. Not that I know about porn stars or anything.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

In related news, No-Doz stock is through the roof: "A Nightmare on Elm Street"

Ohhh, kids. Break out your jump ropes. "One ... two ... Freddy's comin' for you ... "

When I saw this was on the IFC channel, it was a no brainer. There's just something about watching scary movies from your childhood when you're an adult. Maybe it's some weird rebellion thing. "Yeah, mom ... I am going to watch it. Then I'm running with scissors and going swimming right after I eat!"

I actually was too young when "A Nightmare in Elm Street" came out in '84, but it wasn't long before I saw what all the fuss was about. Maybe it was the same with Michael Myers and "Halloween," and I sort of remember the whole hockey mask thing after the first "Friday the 13th." But Freddy-mania ... I remember it clear as day. Or maybe you didn't notice the 47 sequels.

Those sequels did what they always do to horror movies: dilute the quality of the first one. I'm not saying "Nightmare" is up there with "Halloween," but there was something cool about the whole "dying in your dreams" thing. (Hey, I'm partial to "Dreamscape," too. Sue me.) And, of course, Freddy -- or "Fred" Krueger, as he's named in the credits -- was a terrific ham as much of a menace. I'll admit I can identify with that. No, really.

Even better, it was great to see a parade of "those guys/girls" in "Nightmare": the white guy from "Enter the Dragon," John Cusack's ex-girlfriend from "Better Off Dead," the guy who voiced Roger Rabbit, and even Cerulo from "Wildcats." If that's not an honor roll, then I'm dropping out of school.

Throw in Heather Langenkamp stepping into Jamie Lee's shoes and the very first role for master thespian Johnny Depp, and this is a watershed movie. If you don't believe me, consider that "Nightmare" also was the first movie by New Line Cinema, and it pretty much got them off the ground. In other words, without Freddy Krueger, there might not have been a Frodo, Gandalf, Gollum and all those Uruk-Hai. Wrap your noggin around that one.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

If you thought Charlie Brown had a big head ...

Did anyone else see this? Pick your punchline:
(A) That's what you get for going after Meg Ryan.
(B) "A Beautiful Mind" ... on a plate.
(C) Thank god they didn't go after Ralph Macchio.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Shaken ... stirred ... just give me the damn drink: "GoldenEye"

True story: I once knew a woman named Mona Allday. Isn't that the perfect name for a Bond girl? She really should have trademarked it ... or at least been good looking.

Showtime had a free preview week recently, and in my bachelor days this would have sent me running for a 10-pack of video cassettes so I could stock my video library. "Trancers 4?" Sure!" Sadly, I'm exercising more discretion these days, but that didn't keep me from recording a James Bond movie more notable for who assumed the 007 mantle than the story itself.

As you may know, "GoldenEye" was the first turn by Pierce Brosnan, known to that point almost solely for "Remington Steele." (Not that "Nomads" didn't rock, I'm sure.) If you couldn't tell by the mugshot on this site, I'm a fairly big Bond fan but was wary of Brosnan. Seemed too much of a pretty boy to me, and there was too much hype about him finally becoming Bond; they wanted him after Roger Moore and had to settle for Timothy "I was drunk when I agreed to do 'The Beautician and the Beast'" Dalton.

Dalton was OK but no big loss after his two movies. As for Brosnan ... well, he surprised me. Can't say any of his four Bond films is in the Hall of Fame; I've always been a Connery man and rank "Goldfinger" No. 1, but "The Spy Who Loved Me" is pretty good, too. But "GoldenEye" could have been a lot worse. The story -- a Soviet space-based weapon is stolen -- is OK, and the villain isn't bad. Mainly it was good to see Brosnan willing to get dirty and even mean. Heck, I think his hair even got messed up once.

Of course, I should mention what really grabbed me the first time I saw this movie: Famke Janssen. Oh, mama ... where did she come from? Before she got all family-friendly in "X-Men," Famke traded blows (easy, folks) with James Bond as Xenia Onatopp, a Russian pilot with a lethal pair of legs. Man, was she hot, and who knew a Russian accent could sound so sexy? Sign me up for the nearest bread line ...

Monday, March 07, 2005

If five o'clock shadows are sexy, how come my wife always wants me to shave?: "The Big Sleep"

He wasn't very tall, he made Richard Nixon look clean-shaven, and he never could lose that lisp. Yet somehow Humphrey Bogart was a big star. Hell, he even had a golf term named after him.

I own "Casablanca" and had seen "The Maltese Falcon," but my movie watching resume was missing "The Big Sleep," featuring Bogey's turn as famous private eye Philip Marlowe. Seemed like an easy enough thing to remedy thanks to TCM, but man, does this movie make you work. "The Usual Suspects" was "Bambi" by comparison.

The plot starts simply enough: Some rich guy wants Marlowe to keep an eye on his younger daughter, but Marlowe gets an itch down under after verbally sparring with the older daughter. Then people start getting killed, and I was starting to wish I had taken notes. Did I learn nothing from college? Well, other than what a "Century Club" and "MILF" are ...

Anyway, despite being a tad confusing, this movie wasn't boring, and it's hard not to like Bogart. He delivers plenty of fun lines here while walking that fine line between joker and tough guy. The lack of distinctive supporting players, i.e. Peter Lorre, Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet from "Casablanca," hurt a bit, and I'm not sure Lauren Bacall does much for me. Her little sister was much more interesting, and probably even more so in a hotel that rents by the hour.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

It's not being paranoid if they really are out to get you: "The Manchurian Candidate"

Big weekend at the old homestead: I finally took the plunge and upgraded my TV. Goodbye, rabbit ears and tinfoil ... hello, remote control! And what better way to celebrate than with a remake of the only movie to include "Sinatra" and "submersive" in the same sentence?

When I saw the original version of "The Manchurian Candidate" several years ago, I was struck equally by how much of a stir this must have made in the '60s and how much Sinatra will overact given half a chance. Good movie, but man, was he out there sometimes. His attempt at kung fu fighting didn't help, either, even if this was one of the first movies to show martial arts. (But not the best, of course. Hello? "Gymkata," anyone?)

Naturally I was curious when the remake came out last year. Didn't catch it in the theater -- had a nice little Saturday at Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond, and there wasn't enough time -- but through the miracle of digital video disc, there it was on my TV last night. Initial verdict: not bad, but not as potent as it could have been.

You may know the basic story: As an Army hero rises on the political stage, a few members of his old platoon -- most notably Denzel Washington ("Carbon Copy") -- are having dreams that the battle in which he saved them all (Kuwait in 1991 here vs. Korea in the old version) didn't actually happen. But some folks don't like other people asking questions. Ooh, the suspense!

Washington actually did a pretty good job, and it was interesting to see him play the Sinatra character as unbalanced and vulnerable. There are a few other changes from the 1962 version -- some work, some don't. One definite plus, though, was Meryl Streep. When her name came up during awards season, I was like, "Hell, Meryl Streep gets nominated for going to the post office." But she's solid here, matching Angela Lansbury from 1962 and adding a strong dose of Hillary Clinton for good measure. Hmmm ... wonder if Hillary learned anything about mind control in return. "You will elect me president in '08 ... you will elect me president in '08 ... you will elect me president in '08 ... "

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Not exactly the Sharks and the Jets: "The Warriors"

Since the missus didn't want me at her scrapbooking party last night -- dammit! -- I stayed home and finally saw what some consider a cult classic. Now more than 25 years old, "The Warriors" was where director Walter Hill cut his teeth before making it big with "48 Hrs.," and it's not as good. But hey, what does match up to Eddie Murphy terrorizing a redneck bar? ("Not a very popular place with the brothers ... ")

Anyway, the idea of this movie is solid: New York gangs hold a summit in the Bronx, and the guy trying to unite the gangs to take over the city is shot. Everyone thinks the Warriors, from way over in Coney Island, did it, and they've got to dodge every other gang, as well as the police, to get home. Sounds like a fun night, huh? And I used to get pissed about going crosstown in the middle of the day.

Unfortunately, I think this comes down to me being too young when this movie first came out in '79. Maybe then, people didn't chuckle at seeing "gangs" dressed as face-painted baseball players, street mimes and extras from a Dexy's Midnight Runners video. Hell, when the most normal outfits are the Warriors' leather vests and no shirts -- paging The Village People -- you've got a problem.

Another thing might be this post-Giuliani era, when New York is pretty safe and it's hard to imagine graffiti-covered subway cars and the potential to get capped at every corner. A decent chunk of action takes place around 96th Street in Manhattan. I've been there -- East Side and West Side -- and it's not bad. I kept waiting for a scene in Times Square in which the Warriors ducked into ESPN Zone.

Like I said, the context may just be wrong. I liked the fight scenes; Hill always is good at throwing bodies through doors and windows. And you had fun performances by a couple of Hill's favorites, James Remar (Ajax) and David Patrick Kelly, the latter playing the real gang summit shooter and his typical psycho. "Warriorrrrs ... Come out and play-i-ay!!!" Still, for cheesy gang movies, I'd go with "Streets of Fire." Michael Pare seemed more the bad ass than Michael Beck, and you had Diane Lane. Woof.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Holy crappy franchise!: "Batman"

Let me be to 1,462,891st person to say it: Thank god for TiVo. This easily is the leanest time of the year for big-screen movies; the best option in my town seems to be "Be Cool," and I didn't think "Get Shorty" was all that great. Hell, I might go see some Thai martial arts movie called "Ong-Bak," partly so when people asked what I did this weekend, I can just grunt, "Ong-Bak," and walk away.

Meanwhile, the movie that eventually led to Joel Schumacher becoming a four-letter word was on TCM, and it seemed TiVo-worthy given the rebirth of the "Batman" franchise this summer. I'll admit being pumped for that, if only because I hope a batsuited Christian Bale will turn to someone and ask, "Do you like Huey Lewis?" before chopping them to pieces.

As for the other "Batman," I was 16 when Michael Keaton donned the cape and cowl, and I remember what a weird choice Mr. Mom was. Sixteen years later, it's still an odd fit, and that's only one problem with this movie. Sure, the sets and bat vehicles were cool, especially if you were a kid. (I seem to recall a little bit of marketing with this flick.) It's also hard to resist Jack Nicholson, who looked at the top, went over it, circled back and went over it again.

But anyone who loved Billy Blaze in "Night Shift" doesn't want to see Keaton do understated, and I'm not sure I ever believed he was the tortured soul that our favorite flying rodent needs to be. Still, Keaton is Brando compared with Kim Basinger, who I'm pretty sure is wandering around Hollywood clutching her "L.A. Confidential" Oscar and screaming, "Really, I won this!"

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Don't go through my briefs: "The Firm"

Sorry for the break, folks. Was away on business in lovely Corpus Christi, Texas. That's "Body of Christ" to you and me, Russ. It's also the Kiteboarding Capital of the World, but you knew that.

Anyway, while lounging in my hotel -- no strip clubs within walking distance -- I caught "The Firm" on HBO. It's probably been about 10 years since I last saw it, and it seemed more overdone than I remembered. Too much star power and Tom Cruise ("Losin' It") mugging for the camera. But then I remembered this was the first of many adaptations of the works of distinguished author John Grisham, and that Cruise was merely the first of many young white guys in black suits running through Southern cities.

When I got over that, "The Firm" was more tolerable. First, you have Gene Hackman not having to carry the movie and generally having a good time. ("I want five passes each time down the floor, Mitch!") There's Holly Hunter as Gary Busey's perky secretary and, later, Cruise's accomplice. And, of course, the highly entertaining Wilford Brimley, paroled from oatmeal duty to play a creepy head of security at Cruise's law firm.

In the end, that alone was worth watching. True, I fell sleep before Cruise kicked the crap out of grandpa from "Our House." (And Mr. Smith from "Remo Williams!") But I thoroughly enjoyed him showing Cruise pictures of Tommy's beach romp with someone other than his wife, and pointing out the "oral and whatnot." Man, if my grandpa had ever said that to me ...