Saturday, April 30, 2005

And yet Grand Funk Railroad got no royalties: "Some Kind of Wonderful"

Hey, kids, did you ever wonder what would happen if the "Pretty in Pink" cast switched sexes? Look no further, and get some more of that John Hughes teen angst right here.

We all know how Hughes ruled the '80s. The man was connected to no fewer than 413 teen movies, and I think he had a hand in "Out of Africa" and "Gandhi," too. "Some Kind of Wonderful" is one of the less popular offerings thrown into the Hughes blender -- no Judd Nelsons or Molly Ringwald's here -- but that didn't keep the missus from TiVoing it, and me from watching it with her as some quality family time. Hey, it's better than Lifetime.

I'll also admit that while this movie is no kind of special, I do have a soft spot for Mary Stuart Masterson, who's particularly cute here as the tomboy/drummer friend of Eric Stoltz ("The Fly 2"). We're to believe that Stoltz is the movie's hero, literally from the wrong side of the tracks. (We see him walking down railroad tracks during the opening credits. Gee, Hughes, hit us over the head, why don'tcha?)

Anyway, it's a stunningly simple story: Stoltz has a thing for Lea Thompson, the school hottie ... although not nearly as hot as in "All the Right Moves" (boobies!) or even "Red Dawn." Meanwhile, Masterson pines for Stoltz, who's oblivious to the point of insanity, even after they having "kissing practice" in the garage where he works. Oh, Mary, I'd never be so clueless. Masterson was a mere 20 years old vs. Stoltz and Thompson being 25 -- 25! -- when this movie was made. You know, it's too bad she never hit it really big. What a cutie.

Throw in Craig Sheffer as Thompson's boyfriend/our villian, John Ashton -- a classic "that guy" -- as Stoltz's college-pushing dad and Elias Koteas as the high school punk, and you have all the ingredients for true Shakespearean drama. I shouldn't be too hard on the movie, since it's certainly watchable and could be a lot worse. And you have to admit that Hughes could write some solid lines when we wasn't being too melodramatic. High school? Melodramatic? No!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dragon style ... tiger style ... I think mine is poodle style: "Kung Fu Hustle"

I'm on a roll here, back at the cineplex for the second time in three days. We have the missus to thank for this, as she suggested we sneak out to the movies on a school night. Then it was off to go parking at Inspiration Point with Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero.

Anyway, the buzz on "Kung Fu Hustle" was that it was fun, frenetic and downright weird. The buzz is right. These days, I'm decently pumped for something that's just different. "Sin City," for example. "A Lot Like Love?" Not so much.

As for "Hustle," it's the movie that's supposed to introduce Hong Kong legend Stephen Chow to everyone, and does it ever. It's not so much the action and fight scenes, which are good but (a) not the best and (b) use too much digital trickery. Then again, that trickery meant Chow could do all sorts of crazy stuff, such as make his characters a bunch of Looney Tunes regulars, i.e. Play-Doh bodies and Roadrunner legs.

I read that if you speak Chinese the movie is even funnier, but the subtitles did the job. The story basically is how the feared Axe Gang wants to take over Pig Sty Alley, a neighborhood that is true to its name yet counts a few kung fu masters among its residents. With this plot, Chow dishes out the satire, paying homage to Tarantino, Kubrick, Broadway and a lot of other oddball stuff along with the cartoon world.

You know, I'm probably not doing a good job with this recap, and I'm not sure how I could do "Kung Fu Hustle" justice. It's sort of a mess in some ways, but that's a good thing. I'd still say go see "Sin City" first, but this movie definitely isn't boring and is pretty damn funny. Compared with the straight faces and pretty scenery of other recent Chinese movies -- oooh, Chow Yun-Fat is sooooo sensitive -- consider this one "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dunce Cap."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Hmmm ... it was either "po-TAY-to" or "po-TAH-to": "The Interpreter"

That's right ... seeing a movie on opening weekend. Not such a slacker after all, am I? Well, as the Wolf once said, "Let's not start sucking each other's d*cks yet ... "

The plan last weekend actually was to do the opposite of hanging out in a dark theater -- that is, hiking. More specifically, I drove two and a half hours to meet up with a friend who's hiking the Appalachian Trail. The SOB has both time and money, so he's spending the next few months walking from Georgia to Maine. I'm jealous, and I wasn't sure if I was going to hike with him or simply destroy him.

As it turned out, Mother Nature had it in for us both, throwing down rain on Saturday and forcing us to consider alternative entertainment in Erwin, Tennessee, population 5,610. To my slight surprise, Erwin had a two-screen theater, and that theater had first-run movies. Given the lack of amenities along some stretches of the trail, I figured a cinema could get away with "Jersey Girl" and "2 Fast 2 Furious" for months on end.

Instead, our choices were "Sahara" and "The Interpreter." I favored the former, wanting to embrace the weekend's would-be adventure theme and make fun of Matthew "All right, all right, all right ... " McConaughey. Alas, I was outvoted by my pal Steve and "Hooky," a girl he had met on the trail. "Hooky" was her trail name, since she was a teacher essentially playing hooky from school. Heck, getting a new nickname is enough of a reason by itself for me to hike the trail. Then again, the risk of being known as "Bighead" or "Unabomber" for five months might not be the best thing in the world.

But hey, what about the movie? In a word, not bad. Nicole Kidman ("BMX Bandits") looked fantastic as usual and had no problem pulling off the role as a United Nations interpreter who stumbles across a conspiracy to assassinate the president of an African nation in which she once lived. Matching her angst is Sean Penn ("Shanghai Surprise") as a Secret Service agent hired to protect/investigate her. Neither actor does anything we haven't seen before, and it really didn't seem like they were challenged, but rather ably filling roles. No Oscars here, that's for sure.

As for the plot, it drags a bit but never slows down too much. A few good, tense scenes, including one especially good series of events involving a New York City bus. This also apparently was the first movie to shoot inside the actual UN, which surprised me. The main hall looked OK, I suppose, but I can't say it was worth the wait.

But back to Penn, the four-time Oscar nominee for Best Actor and one-time winner. He clearly wants to be next in the Brando-DeNiro line and is doing just fine in that regard. But wouldn't it be great if, just once, he dropped the sourpuss and threw out a "Fast Times" reference? I can see it now ... the next time he's at the mike during the Oscars, after reading a list of nominees, he pauses, then drops the bomb: "Those guys are fags!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

But the corsage looked so nice: "Carrie"

I'm in New York on business and had hoped to catch a movie sometime in the last couple of days. Then I got shanghaied into drinks both Monday and Tuesday nights by friends and family. Damn them, damn them all to Hell.

Speaking of Hell, I managed to catch a horror classic before heading out of town. I had seen bits and pieces of "Carrie" before, but never the whole movie. The missus had never seen it, either, and we all know nothing brings a couple closer together than watching a '70s prom go bad.

Of course, that's an understatement. Even if you haven't seen "Carrie," everyone knows about the shy title character -- perfectly played by Sissy Spacek -- going berserk and killing people with her mind. Hey, some people just don't handle being doused with pig's blood very well. As for the rest of the movie, it's pretty much a buildup to Carrie unleashing her fury on her fellow high schoolers, including a young John Travolta and a pre-"Greatest American Hero" William Katt. (I loved him in "Last Call!" Hello, Shannon Tweed ... )

Overall, "Carrie" is pretty campy between the scenes of Spacek discovering her powers and Piper Laurie's over-the-top performance as her bible-thumping mom. The prom scene packs a bit of a punch, but that's more from waiting so long for it than the actual violence, rather tame by today's standards.

Here's a fun fact: Katt and Spacek were considered for the Luke and Leia roles in "Star Wars," while Carrie Fisher was going to play Carrie in "Carrie." (Enough "Carries" for you?) But when Fisher balked at the nude scenes -- and "Carrie" does have a few, god bless Brian DePalma -- she and Spacek switched films. The rest, as they say, is history, although you have to wonder how the coal miner's daughter would have pulled off "Help me, Obi-wan, you're my only hope ... "

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Nah, honey, we're just going to watch football and drink beer: "Bachelor Party"

Full disclosure: I loved "Bosom Buddies." Why it didn't last more than a few seasons is beyond me, and I wonder to this day if Peter Scolari shows up every now and then at fellow cross-dresser and Academy Award Winner Tom Hanks' house, pitching a new project through the intercom. "Tom, remember me? We were great together, man! Tom?"

All this is a way of saying you have to love the early Tom Hanks comedies, before he got all serious on us. "Volunteers," "The Money Pit" ... even "The Man With One Red Shoe." (Also one of Jim Belushi's finest hours, but I digress.) So when I saw "Bachelor Party" was on one of my fancy-pants HDTV channels, how could I resist?

Hanks really did do comedy well, as the first half-hour of this movie shows. Playing a school bus driver who somehow was going to marry Tawny Kitaen -- not looking as hot as in the Whitesnake videos, but still ... -- Hanks gets a send-off by his best buddies, including the immortal Adrian Zmed.

Yeah, a lot of this movie is bunk. (C'mon, hookers at a bachelor party? Strippers, sure. But hookers? Maybe it's because I went to Catholic school.) But I totally identified with Hanks having seemingly random friends -- a photographer, a dentist, a waiter and an auto mechanic. Hell, my college buddies run the gamut from lawyers and doctors to vague consulting and government jobs I never can remember.

Along with Hanks' one-liners -- particularly around Kitaen's family -- maybe my favorite part of this movie is that the "villain" is the guy who goes on to play Kent in "Real Genius." Definitely a contender for the "that guy"hall of fame. Of course, it's also nice to have a little T&A, including an insanely hot high-school crush that Tommy somehow manages to resist on the eve of his wedding. That's another cultural shift from yesteryear. Who has his bachelor party right before the wedding anymore? I mean, you need time to get bailed out of jail, right?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Take my wife, please!: "Your Friends and Neighbors"

Just in case you're feeling really good about your relationship, here's a nice way to spend 90 minutes or so. Let's see ... we'll take the guy who gave us "In the Company of Men" -- a brutal tale of two guys psychologically abusing a deaf woman -- and apply his idea of fun to couples! Who's with me?

I'd seen this movie a few times, but the missus spied it on IFC and ordered me to TiVo it. Of course, 20 minutes in, she's asleep. No matter. She wouldn't have appreciated Jason Patric anyway.

Oh man ... Patric absolutely kills in this one as one of six people who are pretty much messed up when it comes to love, relationships, blah, blah, blah. The cast overall is solid, although Ben Stiller is at his most annoying. Yes, even more than "Dodgeball." But his lesser half, Catherine Keener, plays her typical bitch role to perfection, pretty much emasculating him at every turn.

As for the others, Aaron Eckhart is OK but perhaps most notable for looking a lot worse than in "Company." Nastassssssssssssja Kinski is a saucy lesbian, and Amy Brenneman -- star of my wife's favorite show, "Judging Amy" -- is a cute but terribly insecure and unhappy wife.

That brings us back to Patric, who is a true ass ... and brilliant at it. If you thought he was good in "Solarbabies," look out. He pretty much has no soul as he looks out for him and only him in pretty much everything. In fact, this movie is worth a look just for the showdown between him and Keener, sort of a irresistible force vs. immovable object kind of thing. That is, except Keener has a glimmer of a heart, while Patric is all business. If only he had been this badass in "Speed 2," that cruise ship never would have even left port ...

Trying to forget "Rollerball?"

Now, now ... someone with Chris Klein's acting chops was probably just doing research for a role. You know, "washed up actor who never really was an actor in the first place."

And we can only hope it wasn't a female officer who pulled him over. "Suck me, beautiful ... "

("Friends call me 'Nova ... as in Casanova.")

Monday, April 11, 2005

Talk about losing your head ... and hand ... and leg ... : "Sin City"

Hey, look at me! Going out to the movies! Against all odds -- and setting aside a to-do list that makes "War and Peace" look like a Post-It -- I managed to sneak away to Ye Olde Cinema over the weekend. There, I succumbed to "Sin City," and it was good.

I had seen the impressive trailer a few months ago and read a bit about this comic book adaptation. (Oh, I'm sorry, they're "graphic novels" now. Whatever happened to Jughead and Veronica?) Wasn't sure if it would be my cup of tea, but this definitely seemed like something to see on the big screen. Yes, this logic sometimes backfires, and while I still haven't seen "Schindler's List," I did pay good money to watch "Supernova" and "Cabin Fever" in the theaters. Take that, Ebert.

Anyway, once I got over the family with three toddlers a few rows back -- um, is it the nudity or the violence you want to scar them forever? -- "Sin City" was a great ride. You definitely have to accept the whole comic book format, but it wasn't hard to do with actors eating up these roles. (And in one case, each other. Say it ain't so, Frodo.) The movie basically is three stories, each with guys trying to protect or avenge women. Sounds a little like a '40s detective movie, right? Yeah, with more boobies and beheadings. Not that I'm complaining.

In the end, I liked almost everything about "Sin City," mainly because I didn't take it seriously in the slightest. Some pretty creative scenes, even if most of them were shot against a blue screen. Also good to see B-list actors get just as much time as the big names. Bruce Willis? Give me Mickey Rourke, perfectly playing an ugly lug with a sackful of ass beatings. Jessica Alba? Sure, I've loved her since "Idle Hands" (there's an ironic title), and the woman knows how to wear leather chaps. But right there with her was Carla Gugino, who had some odd aversion to wearing clothes, god bless her.

The list of favorites goes on. Rutger Hauer ... Michael Madsen ... Powers Boothe. Powers Boothe! Hey, he may never match his "Red Dawn" turn ("You think you're tough? You eat beans every day? There's a handful of scarecrows left in Denver give anything for a mouthful of what you got!"), but good to see him break his straight-to-cable streak. Like I said, good stories, great look, solid cast. And did I mention Jessica Alba in leather chaps?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

For a little guy, he sure flies high: "Top Gun"

It was purely unintentional, but I kept the '80s train going this weekend, stumbling across "Top Gun" on HBO Family. HBO Family? What about that torrid romance between Tom "Twice Divorced" Cruise and Kelly "I Was Hotter as an Amish Woman" McGillis? Those two really burned up the screen. And we approve this for our children? Oh, the humanity!

Awkward love scenes aside, I get sucked into "Top Gun" almost every time it's on, especially without commercials. One time it came on Turner Classic Movies, and I about cried. I mean, letterbox, man. And this after I wasn't that impressed way back in 1986, when the movie was in theaters for six months and everybody had Kenny Loggins ringing in his ears.

Today I have a little more appreciation for Tom's flyboy film, for two reasons:
1. Hilarious dialogue, mostly in the first half. (Before Goose dies. Oops, spoiler alert.)
2. A solid supporting cast. Most people praise Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer, but I'm a big Michael Ironside fan. Gotta love a voice deeper than the Grand Canyon: "That was some of the best flying I've seen yet ... right up to the part where you got killed. You never, ever leave your wingman."

Also fun to see Tom Skerritt playing the mentor role (vs. pawing at Drew Barrymore in "Poison Ivy"), as well as a pre-"Bull Durham" Tim Robbins. "C'mon, meat, you're not gonna hit that MiG ... " And get this: Apparently Matthew Modine turned down the Maverick role, and John Carpenter turned down the chance to direct. Not sure it would have worked, but I would have been curious to see Louden Swain knocking around with Michael Myers.

Alas, once Goose bites the dust, all of the humor is drained from "Top Gun," and we're supposed to believe Lil' Tom can handle life-and-death situations and become a hero. Never mind that he was a full head shorter than Goose and needed a booster seat for his F-14. Really, isn't there some kind of height requirement for pilots? Or can you just flash a big smile -- between Cruise and Kilmer there should have been a Colgate product placement -- and get the keys to a $30 million plane? Other than that, of course, everything seemed totally real. "Too close for missiles, I'm switching to guns."

Friday, April 08, 2005

No ties, no socks, no problem: "Miami Vice"

Forgive the lack of posts (again). Was out of town on business -- someone has to teach people how to make urinal cakes -- and then catching up on a few TV dramas. I'm a "Deadwood" man; just something about seeing more dirt on people than in the streets, I guess. Meanwhile, the missus wants to hook me on "Grey's Anatomy," which I find interesting only because it features Mitch's lady in "Old School." Remember? She was from Denver. ("The Sunshine State. Gorgeous!")

Anyway, the TV show I was dying to watch was "Miami Vice," which has to be considered a watershed moment in DVD history. For me, this is the true value of Netflix. Movies? I can find plenty of those on cable. But "Miami Vice?" The last time I stumbled across that on TV was maybe five years ago, and I was staying up past midnight for days on end during that limited run. Now there's a remake in the works. So yeah, you can say I was pumped for the DVD set, starting with the two-hour "Vice" movie that started it all.

But where to begin? How about with that legendary theme, stretched out for the series premiere and ending with a slow foot-to-head pan of Don Johnson, decked out not only in his trademark white linen suit but also eyeliner. Hmmm, didn't notice that back in '84, but who wasn't wearing eyeliner then?

Sonny Crockett ... calling him cool is like calling John Goodman "a tad overweight." Forget being president. Anyone who can persuade men to wear pastels and forgo socks with loafers ... that's power. And let's not forget that Ferrari convertible, which I lusted after for, oh, my entire adolescence.

Of course, today Don's acting seems, well, a bit over the top. Growling every sentence, breaking into a crouch and whipping out the gun at every opportunity ... and then there's the dialogue. Oh, man, you really have to hear it for yourself. Consider this advice to Tubbs: "This is Miami, pal, where there are so many players you need a program." Or "You're here on a courtesy pass, New York (Tubbs again), so I recommend you take a conversational detour right away, capisce?" For the record, he also used "comprende?" Wow, a regular United Nations.

Yes, it really was high comedy to see Crockett and Tubbs take on Calderone ("The Colombian") more than 20 years later, and I'm jazzed for the rest of the series ... and hoping there's a "Where Are They Now?" featurette on Philip Michael Thomas, the "Oates" to Johnson's "Hall." Besides, this should kill time until I can get to "Knight Rider." "A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist ... "

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Museums, monuments, mammaries: "Eurotrip"

I present to you now, ladies and gentlemen, the first ever requested posting on this humble site. Yeah, you'd think it would be for something like "The Godfather" or perhaps "Citizen Kane." Alas, the people have spoken, and they want to know what I really think about locker-room comedy, with plenty of boobies thrown in for good measure.

Lest I overstate this, here's the background: While sitting down to watch basketball with some friends a couple of weeks ago, one asked a seemingly innocent question: "Hey, Jeff, have you seen 'Eurotrip?'" Sadly, I said no. Something about not paying top dollar for a low-grade film that made "Road Trip" -- its supposed predecessor -- seem like the height of sophistication.

This suspicion was confirmed when I finally did see "Eurotrip" in its entirety. Simply put, this isn't for all tastes ... namely those who have taste. But hey, don't we all need a little dose of teenage hijinks and random nudity to balance the "Finding Neverlands" and "Mystic Rivers" of the film world? Thinking hurts my head sometimes.

I'll spare you a detailed overview, other than to say a group of American kids travel Europe so one of them can meet his hot German e-mail pal. The typical offensive European stereotypes soon emerge, from English soccer hooligans to loose Dutch women to slimy Italian men. ("Me scuzi! Me scuzi!" You'll never sleep on a train again.) And before all this ensues, we're treated to a rather bizarre cameo by Academy Award winner Matt Damon. Not so much the role -- which is fun ("Scotty doesn't know!") -- as the fact that he's even in the movie. I hope he gets those naked pictures of himself back someday.

In short, I felt conflicted watching "Eurotrip": I'm clearly smarter than this, but stupid lines like "This isn't where I parked my car!" make me laugh, and looking at shirtless teenage girls isn't bad, either. This inner struggle isn't helped by the fact that the hot German girl -- a member of the movie's breast-baring club (and how) -- looked a lot like one of my co-workers. I mean, what am I supposed to do during my next staff meeting ... read Frommer's? ("Here's a fun fact ... ")

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Before R. Kelly believed he could fly: "Finding Neverland"

Not sure if you missed me, but I just got back from a little R and R out west. You know, people get a little touchy about that Grand Canyon. Seemed to me a little graffiti blended right in.

As you might expect, it's not a short hop to the other side of the country, and my westbound flight featured "Finding Neverland," the only movie nominated for Best Picture that I hadn't seen before the Oscars. The missus and I talked about catching it at the neighborhood cinema, but once the awards came and went, my interest waned. C'mon ... it's about how some guy came up with Tinkerbell.

On a five-hour flight, though, you tend to reconsider things, and so it was I came to watch Johnny Depp ("Private Resort") playing around with a sick woman's kids and coming up with characters for "Peter Pan." Not sure why there's been so much Depp in my movie diet lately, and not sure I want to think about it too much. At least I haven't stumbled across "The Astronaut's Wife" yet.

As for "Neverland," it was OK but definitely not on par with the other Best Picture nominees. Depp was good as usual -- the guy could get nominated for reading a shampoo label -- although it was hard to understand just why he took to these kids so much. Sure, his own marriage to an English hottie wasn't going so well, but most guys in that situation just head to the strip club for company. (Kidding, honey!)

Otherwise, you had Kate Winslet doing her typical Brit-speak, Dustin Hoffman not getting much screen time as a theater owner and Julie Christie playing the mean grandmother to the aforementioned kids. As for those kids, they sure were cute, but I could take only so much of them. Maybe it would have been better if they had foiled home burglars or saw dead people.