Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wait a minute ... you mean a 401K isn't some kind of road race?: "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"

This week on socially-responsible theater: "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." When the missus said we should see a movie on Memorial Day, this was the best we could agree on -- her because she likes financial and stock market mumbo jumbo, me because I think "Ken Lay" is a funny name.

Because it's a documentary, "Enron" probably isn't going to make as much -- or 1/100th -- the money of an "Episode III." Hell, "House of Wax" will beat its ass. But smart people need to see this -- not because you should, but because it's a fantastic tale of corporate greed followed by a brutal downfall. Put another way, this is a Michael Moore movie with all the facts and none of the preening fat slob. That's a good thing. Strike that ... a very good thing.

As we all know, Enron was a hot company (and stock) that turned out to be a big sham, and when it went bankrupt, a buttload of people lost their jobs and retirement plans. The trial of top execs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling is scheduled for January, and it's safe to say this won't be an exhibit for the defense, with director Alex Gibney essentially reaming these two guys and CFO Andy Fastow for ripping off people while driving Enron into the ground.

Flagging the best part of this movie is tough since there are several moments when you can't help shaking your head and muttering, "These f*cking guys ... " But what really hit home for me were the recorded phone conversations of Enron traders during the California energy crisis. It's bad enough that Enron may have been manipulating power to keep prices high. But when traders are happy that California wildfires have curbed power generation at one plant -- "Burn, baby, burn!" one guy said -- you want to call up Gibney and say, "Just give me a name. That's all I need. Just a name. I'll take care of the rest."

As others have noted, Enron has since been eclipsed as the nation's biggest bankruptcy. (Hello, WorldCom!) Still, because these guys were so cocky and the Enron slogan of "Ask Why" is so deliciously ironic -- Enronic? -- this movie hits a home run. It just sucks that all those employees got the big screw while the top dogs cashed out. But hey, there's still time to bring back drawing-and-quartering as an acceptable sentence before Kenny Boy and Jeff go on trial, right?

Monday, May 30, 2005

This place cleaned up pretty nice once Moe Green was out of the picture: "Viva Las Vegas"

This is no big stain on my movie-watching reputation, but I had never seen an Elvis Presley movie. Nothing personal, but I never was dying to see the King on the screen, especially since there was a decent chance he wouldn't go more than a few minutes without breaking into song. Hey, if I want that, I'll watch "South Park."

But if I was ever going to give Elvis the Actor a chance, "Viva Las Vegas" seemed a safe bet. First, I love the song; might be my favorite Elvis tune, and the Dead Kennedys cover kicks ass. (I also have a soft spot for "Suspicious Minds" and find "In the Ghetto" bizarrely compelling.) Second, I love Vegas, and because the landscape has changed since 1964 -- just a bit -- this movie figured to be a nice time capsule.

Sure enough, the opening credits show off the Vegas skyline, starting with downtown, which may have been the shiznit in the '60s but in the 21st century has been reduced to putting on goofy light shows to attract crowds. Compared with "Viva," the Golden Nugget, Binion's and other downtown staples today are depressing. Hey, I like $2 blackjack as much as anyone, but it wouldn't kill them to raise the ceiling and install more than three lightbulbs inside the casino.

The "plot," as it were, has Elvis as a race car driver trying to enter the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Within minutes he finds himself in another competition: with a suave European driver for the affections of Ann-Margret ("Tommy"), the lovely hyphenated one and pride of Northwestern University. I have to admit I liked the King's first interlude with A-M, in which she brings her car to the mechanic and tells Elvis that it's whistling. "I don't blame it," he answers. Smooth.

As the movie progressed, though, A-M vexed me. Good-looking? You betcha. But she also was pretty goofy and a bit spastic during the dance scenes. There was dancing, you say? Yeah, and even some singing. How about that? But you know ... some numbers were all right, and I have to say the light-colored suit and yellow shirt Elvis wore during one number was pretty sharp.

Of course, you can guess how the romance between Lucky Jackson (Elvis) and Rusty Martin (A-M) turns out, and it's probably no mystery what happens in the race, either. Hey, it's 1964, and the King doesn't settle for second. Even so, this was surprisingly watchable between the kitsch factor and the 85-minute running time. Will I run out and rent "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Hawaii" or "Girls, Girls, Girls?" Probably not. But Elvis didn't bore me here, and for that I thankyaveramuch.

Friday, May 27, 2005

I loved it .... it was much better than "Cats" ... I'm going to see it again and again ... : "Close Your Eyes"

True story: A guy tried to hypnotize me once. He actually was working on a whole group of people on stage during his show. But of those dozen or so people, guess how many didn't get hypnotized? That's right ... just me, baby ... just me. Hell, the guy's lucky I didn't push back and set him on fire with my mind.

I vaguely recalled "Close Your Eyes" from theaters; it apparently had the more amusing title of "Doctor Sleep" in other countries. (Not as good as "Dr. Naughty," the act in my Vegas hotel a few years back, but still.) About the only thing I knew about the movie was that it had that Croatian guy from "ER" in the cast. That meant the missus and I were going in cold when she TiVoed it a few days ago, and that's not really a bad thing every now and then.

The premise isn't complex: Goran Visnjnsijnsnsnsijinic plays a hypnotherapist with a past now plying his trade in London. There, he gets sucked into helping the police find a serial killer who preys on children. Just some light fare for a Friday night, huh? Maybe the killer can kick a dog while he's at it.

This somber procession features a host of familiar faces whose names are largely unknown in the U.S., i.e. Paddy Considine (the dad in "In America"), Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones' friend) and Miranda Otto (a small, art-house film called "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"). All are decent, and the movie actually held my attention for the high percentage of Brits involved. (No teeth close-ups, please!)

I won't ruin the ending for you, because it's worth watching all the way to the end. Just try to avoid getting sleepy ... gettting sleepy ... getting sleepy ...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply": "Dogtown and the Z-Boys"

This may stun you, but I never got into the whole skateboarding thing when I was a kid. I'd like to say it was because I was above the hype, but the simple fact is that a one-legged moose would have been more coordinated than me on a skateboard. Awkward? Me? Noooooo ...

Even so, I'd heard "Dogtown and the Z-boys" was a decent documentary, and with the fictionalized version of a California skate team making boarding a bigtime business due to come out this summer, I figured I should see the real deal before Heath Ledger and Johnny Knoxville are unleashed on audiences.

The story: A bunch of surfers from the "Dogtown" part of L.A. find themselves not only skating when they can't catch waves but eventually pushing the envelope to the point that skateboarding becomes a major sport in its own right. This not only involves getting horizontal at a time when most skateboarding was vertical and had kids slaloming through cones, but also skating in empty swimming pools, which eventually spawned the half-pipe and vertical fun that we know and love today. Ooooh, look at the skinny boy flying through the air, kneepads and all!

As a pop culture history lesson, "Dogtown" is all right, although for a documentary there was probably a little too much hero worship. Gee, I don't know why, since the director was a Z-Boy himself. "We were damn cool, if I do say so my damn self." I suppose Sean Penn as the narrator lends a bit of gravitas, but after a while the grumpy old man in me was rearing his head. "Enough with the quick cuts and extreme camera angles!" "Why aren't you kids in school?" Another 20 minutes, and I actually would have yelled, "Get a job, you punks!"

In addition, some of these guys don't seem to have moved on much from their boarding days, which was a little sad. I appreciate you breaking the mold in your teens, but that stuff doesn't carry the same weight when you're in your 40s. No offense, pal, but you don't see me playing with G.I. Joes 20 years later. Not in public, at least.

If this guy's a doctor, then I'm the Queen of England

No need to curtsy, though. Just get a load of this story:

Seriously, where can I get a job like this? Could I get away with ranking Happy Hours or wet T-shirt contests across the country? Hey, this is science, people!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Superhero? Porn star? Nope, just a high school student: "Napoleon Dynamite"

Here's how it used to be at the homestead when the missus and I would discuss what movies to watch: She would plug stuff like "Moonstruck," "The Graduate" or, her favorite, "Harold and Maude." Meanwhile, I'd futilely try to explain the plot of "Army of Darkness" and why it was indeed very funny.

Nowadays, we often go our separate ways so she can watch "Judging Amy" reruns in peace while I retire to the office and surf the Internet. (Gotta keep up on the latest Christian rock hits.) Last weekend, however, we both were in a "Napoleon Dynamite" mood, and I'm starting to think this little film could enter the rare atmosphere of "Movies that Only Get Better Every Time You See Them." (See "Bull Durham" and "Starship Troopers." What, you expected "Schindler's List?")

I confess that I didn't have "Dynamite" Fever when the movie came out last year. Maybe I was busy or something, but I figured it could wait until the small screen while I indulged my senses with stuff like "Spider-Man 2." That's it ... "Dynamite" just needed more costumes and explosions. Then again, Tobey Maguire in Napoleon's three-piece suit could have made Sam Raimi another $50 mil, I bet.

Anyway, when I finally saw "Dynamite" last fall, I was amused. When I saw it again last weekend, I laughed out loud. Some might find it hard to believe a teen movie in this era can be funny without fart jokes, profanity and nubile bodies prancing around. But "Dynamite" is, and I think it comes down to two aspects: deadpan and random.

One way to think about it is if Steven Wright was a teenager, much more myopic and much less self-aware. Napoleon's monotone is funny enough, but the odd stuff in his life -- martial arts, Future Farmers of America, his family's pet llama, his family in general (Kip!), his new Hispanic friend and, of course, ligers -- just keeps coming at you. The best thing, though, is that it doesn't hit us over the hammer and is all perfectly natural to him.

You have to give writer-director Jared Hess credit for including other funny details -- stereotypical names like "Pedro Sanchez" (from Juarez, of course) and "Summer Wheatley," corn dogs, Trapper Keepers, D-Qwon's Dance Grooves -- into a movie that was shot in 22 days for, what, maybe $10,000? Pretty good music, too.

But the real man here is Jon Heder, the unknown star who got only $1,000 up front -- hopefully more since -- for portraying the eponymous character. Napoleon Dynamite probably has carved out a permanent place in movie history, if only for his wardrobe and dance moves alone. He can count on my vote for Pedro, just as long as the chickens don't have large talons.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

But this still doesn't explain why Luke was such a whiner: "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith"

Perhaps it was fitting that while driving today I heard "The Thrill is Gone" on the radio. I mean, all this hype over "Episode III," and the bottom line is that I'm not 10 years old anymore and not going to pee my pants over "Star Wars." True, some people my age and older have done just that in the weeks leading up to last Thursday. But those people also have a persistent rash from that Yoda mask they slept in the night before the premiere.

Before I sound too much like a grump, I was pumped for "Episode III," subscribing to the widely-held belief that it couldn't be as much of a letdown as "Episode II" and especially "Episode I." Then again, whose fault is that? I mean, I'm sure kids all over the world ate up this second trilogy just as much as we did the first. And those critics who expressed disappointment at the second trilogy are, like me, mentally incapable of forgetting the first trilogy when reviewing the second, essentially dooming it to lesser reviews regardless of content.

So I guess you can say I'm conflicted about the second "Star Wars" trilogy, and that applies to "Episode III." While generally treated well by critics, this sure record setter doesn't seem that far removed from the previous two installments, i.e. cool special effects and action scenes offset by wooden acting and awkward dialogue. To be sure, this is the best, much in the same way the "The Return of the King" was the best of the LOTR trilogy. In each case, all the stops are pulled out as we wrap up the storylines that had developed over several hours of screen time. Hey, you gotta go out with a bang, right?

I won't dwell on the storyline since we all know what's going down in "Episode III": Young Anakin Skywalker gives in to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, right as the galaxy comes under the reign of the Empire. And "Episode III" starts off nicely enough with all sorts of gee-whiz space battle stuff, with Anakin (Hayden Christensen, "Life as a House") and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, "A Life Less Ordinary") trying to save Chancellor Palpatine from being kidnapped. No question Lucas knows laser blasts and lightsabers, the latter getting a healthy workout; Obi-Wan's duel with General Grievous, droid commander, probably was my favorite. Then again, it's always fun to see Yoda throw down. The more flips and flying through the air, the better!

It's good thing this installment has a bunch of action scenes, because Lucas clearly can't be trusted with actors standing around. Then they start speaking to each other, and it's hard to take them seriously. I mean, George ... you have more money than Billy Bob has ex-wives. Would it kill you to hire a script writer and acting coach? Otherwise, everyone needs to be swinging a lightsaber every minute so things don't slow down.

In the end, I guess I can forgive Christensen's one-note turn to the Dark Side, Natalie Portman's glorified galactic housewife and Sam Jackson's blank performance if they take me to the genesis of Darth Vader. And there is plenty to look at along the way -- more effects than in the previous two movies. So while "Episode III" maybe could have been a bit shorter than two and a half hours, it moved along well enough and wasn't boring.

Ultimately, we're talking about closure, and this falls in between LOTR and "The Matrix." Everything is wrapped up and explains where things stand before the first "Star Wars," and it's not too confusing or monotone, thanks to the non-involvement of Keanu Reeves. But we also won't expect to see this on the Oscar lineup outside of special effects, although I won't argue for a special award for giving Jimmy Smits something to do after "NYPD Blue" and for keeping Jar Jar Binks largely silent for the second straight movie. But getting trampled to death by a bantha wouldn't have been bad, either.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Wonder Twin powers ... activate!: "The Dreamers"

My wife and I differ when it comes to the French. She appreciates their history, culture, style and cuisine. I think they're a bunch of beret-wearing, chain-smoking, stuck-up punks. Then I went to Paris and discovered the truth: Not all of them wear berets.

Even so, I was willing to take a chance on "The Dreamers," a 2003 movie about a young American who befriends French twins in the late 1960s. "Befriends" might be an understatement, since the fraternal twins (boy and girl) are rather open with our impressionable Yank, which might explain this film's NC-17 rating.

I could tell you that the draw for me was director Bernardo Bertolucci, he of the equally uncomfortable "Last Tango in Paris." But the truth is I was curious about Eva Green, she of the pretty face and kickin' bod. And if you're worried you won't see much of that bod, don't. The missus started watching this with me, with the Paris stuff and all. It's a good thing she fell asleep, though, since my open appreciation for Ms. Green's free-spirited nature might not have gone over well in the family den.

This apparently was Green's first movie, and even stranger ... she's a twin in real life. Here, she and the French guy who plays her on-screen twin grow increasingly creepy as they welcome Michael Pitt ("Bully," another family-friendly flick) into their apartment and lives. Not "boo" scary, mind you, but rather "Maybe you two shouldn't be naked around each other so much" scary. Mr. Pitt gets in on the action, of course, which means we not only get several shots of penis -- an automatic one-star deduction, my pal Tex says -- but also a disgusting deflowering scene. On the kitchen floor. Yeah, fun.

So you may want to pass on this one when Mom and Dad are in town. It's kind of a shame, too, since the music is really good -- Hendrix, The Doors, Dylan, Janis. All relatively obscure stuff, too. I may try to track down the soundtrack, especially if there's a photo of fair Eva on the cover. I just hope listening to it won't make me wonder what went on with Zan, Jayna and Gleek behind the Hall of Justice.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Today's special: Try our "Movie Buffet" (no tasting)

Since I've not been very prompt in posting and am starting to get backed up, here are shorter recaps of a few movies, many that might not be worth a full post anyway. Consider it a little Friday treat.

A little ditty about Jack and Debra: "Terms of Endearment"

I'd seen bits and pieces of this -- including the supermarket scence with Debra Winger ("Legal Eagles") and John Lithgow ("Harry and the Hendersons") mutliple times -- but never the whole movie until this month. It was good, I suppose, but my appreciation suffers from seeing too many similar heart-tuggers since "Terms" came out in 1983. Also, naming one of the main characters "Flap" was pretty distracting for some reason. On the plus side, all of the performances are solid, especially Jack Nicholson ("Anger Management"). Sure, he's over the top at times -- shocker! -- but does get the best lines, such as this exchange:
Nicholson: "You're gonna need a lot of drinks."
Shirley MacLaine: "To break the ice?"
Nicholson: "To kill the bug you have up your ass."

This is what happens when you listen to David Hasselhoff songs: "The Princess and the Warrior"

If I told you this was a foreign film, you'd think it was from China or Japan and would involve a lot of aerial derring-do by somber, proverb-spouting monks. Yet it's from Germany, and nary a monk was to be seen. Instead, we had the woman from "Run, Lola, Run" playing a nurse at a loony bin who gets hurt in a traffic accident but saved by a guy with his own problems, namely trying to rob a bank with his brother. She wants to know more about this samaritan, but he's mourning his dead wife and can't stop crying. Sounds fun, I know. But if you don't mind reading your movies, this isn't too bad, and I liked how the plot unfolded, even if there were too many scenes of people just staring at each other.

Funny, I don't remember any of these guys at the Career Fair: "Word Wars"

This documentary from last year on professional Scrabble players is a simplified version of "Word Freak," the excellent book by Stefan Fatsis about life on the pro Scrabble circuit. (Pause for laughter.) Clocking in at 80 minutes, it's pretty easy to follow the paths of four guys on their way to the National Scrabble Championships. All pathetic in their own way, these four guys are still amusing enough, and you can't help but wonder if any of them will take home the gold. I suggest pairing this with "Searching for Bobby Fischer" for a real Macho Man Movie Night.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Benetton ad gone bad: "Crash"

I almost titled this post "Hey, white man, wanna feel guilty?" Then I realized that no race goes unscathed in this somewhat uncomfortable movie about several Los Angelenos crossing paths over the course of 36 hours.

First, though, I need to call out the "Star Wars" fans and their piss-poor showing last night at one New York theater. While in town on business I caught the 9:05 pm showing of "Crash," less than three hours before the first showing of "Episode III" at 12:01 am. But I was very disappointed to see fewer than 50 people lined up outside the theater, and not one Wookiee costume among them. Then again, the cineplexes on Alderaan were just packed, I bet.

As for "Crash," we're treated to a decent ensemble cast of folks all guilty of some kind of prejudice as they interact with each other in sunny El Lay. None of these are above-the-title actors, although Don Cheadle ("Moving Violations") is always worth the price of admission. I still get choked up thinking about his bank loan scene in "Boogie Nights." ("This is a real thing ... ") In additon to Cheadle's turn as a cop, other players include:
  • Brendan Fraser ("Airheads") as a district attorney who gets carjacked.
  • Sandra Bullock ("Love Potion No. 9) as his wife, and not nearly as cute-perky as in "Speed," let me tell you.
  • Matt Dillon ("The Flamingo Kid"), bringing his punk attitude from "My Bodyguard" up to date as a cop with a few problems with affirmative action.
  • Ryan Phillippe ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") as his fresh-faced partner none too keen on Matty's anti-black attitude.
  • Terrence Dashon Howard ("The Player's Club"), who plays a TV show director who goes along with "the man" to his wife's chagrin. (I didn't know him by name but see he played "Young A.C." in "The O.J. Simpson Story," so he's all right by me.)
  • Thandie Newton ("The Chronicles of Riddick"), the aforementioned wife who has a couple of disturbing interludes with Dillon's cop.

There are many more people involved, from Larenz Tate and rapper Ludacris playing the carjackers to "that guy" William Fichtner's turn as a City Hall sleazoid and Jennifer "I've done other stuff since 'Spin City,' I swear" Esposito as Cheadle's partner/lover. And this doesn't even cover the plotline with the Persian storeowners and Hispanic locksmith (who also changed the Fraser-Bullock locks after the carjacking). Bottom line: There are a buttload of people here with some pent-up prejudice.

The result: A winding, not-bad tale that strays too much into lecture at times but overall is interesting, even gripping at times. Some performances might have been too one-note -- Bullock and Fraser didn't do much for me -- but hey, with this many people some aren't going to pull their weight. But in the end, the issues raised are worth thinking about, even if you might need a drink or two to calm the nerves. Maybe if Cheadle had worn his cowboy gear from "Boogie Nights," that would have lightened the mood.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Because every battle against evil needs a little girl-girl action: "The Lord of the G-Strings"

Hey, we all know this isn't a family-friendly site. My taste in movies is one giveaway. Multiple mentions of "boobies" is another. But don't fret ... we're not about to throw all decency out the window and roll out Ron Jeremy's greatest hits.

That said, I couldn't resist recapping this title after I spied it on HBO Zone late one night. I fully admit that guys saying they find porn more funny than hot is one of the great alltime myths, along the lines of "It's not you, it's me," or "Sure, President Bush can read." But it really applies here, as this "film" was laughably bad and rarely erotic.

Before you get too excited about gory details, take two steps back. There will be no play-by-play here, since posting anything on someting called "The Lord of the G-Strings" deserves appreciation alone. Rather, consider these notes, and leave things at that:
  • The lead actress is Misty Mundae, which, even for an adult film actress, is hard to swallow. (Oops, no pun intended.)
  • By comparison, some of the "Lord of the Rings" puns were pretty funny. We had Diddle Earth, Throbbits, Dildo Saggins, Araporn and maybe the best, Ballem.
  • Alas, the special effects -- which is being incredibly generous -- involved simple blue face makeup for the orcs and scene transitions borrowed from Super Mario Brothers, and not 2 or 3, either.
  • With maybe a dozen people, the big battle scene wasn't exactly Helm's Deep.
  • Finally, there was exactly one scene is which the Casio SK-1 keyboard gave way to a fairly decent ripoff of the LOTR music. Then again, you really need soft notes when Dildo has a tender interlude with an innocent barmaid while traveling under the guise of "Miss Undergarments."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Give a bald man a bad-ass voice, and he'll give you a mess of a movie: "The Chronicles of Riddick"

You know, there's something to be said for truth in advertising. For instance, if "The Chronicles of Riddick" had been named, say, "Big Steaming Pile of Poop," it not only would have been accurate, but it would have cleared $200 million. "Ten dollars a ticket? I'll take two!"

Like a lot of people, I found the movie "Pitch Black" pretty entertaining. Washed out colors, space vampires, simple but effective plot and, of course, a relatively unknown brute of an actor named Vin Diesel. To that point, the former NYC bouncer had been a bit player in "Saving Private Ryan," the voice of "Iron Giant" and an amusing supporting guy in "Boiler Room."

"Pitch Black," with Diesel playing a dangerous convict helping a stranded group of people escape a planet teeming with batlike monsters, obviously put him on the map, leading to "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX," neither great but a decent fit for Diesel's limited range. Unfortunately, Diesel is still making movies, and if "The Pacifier" is any indication, his cartoonish acting is ticketed for straight-to-cable movies -- and not HBO, friends -- within three years. Too bad, because he apparently had more promising career opportunities.

But what of "Riddick?" In theory, this movie picks up five years after Diesel's character, Riddick, had escaped the planet with a couple of other folks. Through a rather convoluted process, he's recruited to stop an army of pasty refugees from "Dune" who have a nasty habit of destroying planets. Really, I swear some of the costumes and much of the stone-faced expressions were lifted directly from the 1984 film that proved that as an actor, Sting is a pretty good singer.

"Riddick" isn't as confusing as "Dune" but gives it the old college try. Full disclosure: I started watching this earlier in the week, coming across it in my hotel room after several drinks with clients. (Those bobblehead doll makers sure know how to party.) After maybe 15 minutes, I thought, "Wait, what's going on here?" After 30 minutes, I thought, "Do I really care?" After 45 minutes, I passed out. I should have left things at that, but "Riddick" was on again last night, and I gave it another shot. Will I never learn?

Anyway, there's not much to say other than, yeah, there are all sorts of fights and explosions, but there also is a bunch of exposition that doesn't explain the story very well, especially when it bounces from planet to planet and plot line to plot line. Maybe two supporting roles are decent: Nick Chinlund, a standard "that guy," as a mercenary, and Alexa Davalos, a friend of Riddick's from "Pitch Black" who really can't act but is easy on the eyes.

But two other actors bear special mention: Diesel and Dame Judi Dench. Diesel, as I said, has pretty much become a cartoon. Here's a fun idea: Count the number of times Riddick tears off his black goggles in this movie. Lines such as "It's been a long time since I smelled beautiful" don't help, especially when they and several others seem like voice-overs. Maybe his voice really is that deep.

As for Dench, I think everyone forgives her work in the James Bond movies since that's a somewhat respected franchise that draws big international box office. But what the hell was she thinking here? According to IMDB, Diesel really wanted Dench to be in this movie. Well, so what? I mean, women can say no to a weak-ass proposition. Not that I know anything about that.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

He was Bob Saget before Bob Saget was cool: "Police Academy"

Let's all take a minute to remember our dearly departed friend Steve Guttenberg. What's that? He's not dead? Really? You're positive. Well ... how about that?

You know how some movies from the early 1980s just have that unexplainable staying power that has idiots like me quoting lines two decades later? Quick, what's your favorite quote from "Fletch?" How about "Revenge of the Nerds?" (Don't worry, I'll wait.) Alas, other movies just don't have it. I'll never forget when I saw "Strange Brew" a few years ago, as I was pushing 30. What seemed downright hilarious back in 1983 -- "Take off, you hoser" ... hee hee -- left me confused and cursing myself for pissing away 90 minutes.

Which brings us to "Police Academy." This movie, well, it ... what's the word I'm looking for? Ah yes ... sucks. Really, was it this bad when I was 11? Could it be that my parents were right to keep me away from this juvenile comedy? Not because of the swearing and boobies, but because it just wasn't funny? Whatever the reason, I need to call my mom and thank her ... and then apologize for watching this steaming pile of crap now that I supposedly am old enough make my own decisions.

We all know the premise, which spawned not one, not two, but six sequels. Didn't Nostradamus write about this as a sign of the second coming? In any case, a bunch of misfits of various stripes enroll in their local police academy, and hijinks ensue. Yeah, that's a pitch meeting I'm sorry I missed. Oh, but let's not judge this classic on plot. We would be remiss if we didn't take a closer look at the cast:
  • Steve Guttenberg: Um, let's save him for later.
  • Kim Cattrall: Sure, she ended up on "Sex in the City," but PA paved the way for "Mannequin," one of the great bad movies of my childhood. (To be fair, she also was in "Big Trouble in Little China," which is awesome.)
  • G.W. Bailey: I always confuse him with M.C. Gainey.
  • Bubba Smith: A refugee from "Blue Thunder." That's the TV show, friends.
  • David Graf: The infamous Tackleberry, and if not for the PA movies, he's pumping gas in Pasedena.
  • Michael Winslow: The noises guy. No offense, but I can make fart sounds with my armpit.

So yeah, an impressive lineup. Sure, I remember thinking the noises guy -- that really should be his name, shouldn't it? -- was funny when I actually was making fart sounds. And I suppose the uber-militant Tackleberry was mildly amusing. (Sidebar: My pal Greg once told another guy -- friend of a friend -- that he looked like Tackleberry. The gentleman did not take it well, and now greets Greg with "F*ck you.") But it's rather bizarre how this pedestrian junk commanded a big audience and generated a half-dozen offspring.

But hey, what about the Great Guttenberg! Check out the first line of his Internet Movie Database biography: "Although Steve Guttenberg is firmly established as the star not only of hit motion pictures, but of hit motion picture franchises, his roots are firmly in the theatre." Yeah, I could tell. Oh, not by "Police Academy." By his latest fine works: "Domino One," "Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus" and "P.S. Your Cat is Dead."

Now, now ... I know what you're saying. "Sure, it's easy to be hard on Steve now, what with him in his late 40s and well beyond his heyday." And yes, "Diner" was a fine film, "The Day After" was a seminal miniseries and even "Cocoon" was solid. (Whither Tahnee Welch? Hubba hubba.) But I challenge you to name an actor who has suffered so much when his career is viewed in hindsight. I mean, when you trot out "Police Academy," "Short Circuit" and "Three Men and a Baby" as your hits, I don't smell a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy.

Maybe even worse, Guttenberg wasn't funny in "Police Academy." Compared with other movies of the era, the dialogue falls flat -- not his fault, perhaps -- and he doesn't take over the film. But it's great that he got more work out of the series, especially since he didn't have to worry about other, middling projects like "Ghostbusters" (turned down the Bill Murray role) and "Big" (turned down the Tom Hanks role). But I bet those guys weren't considered for "Zeus and Roxanne," right?

Oh, and Matt ... was this post long enough for your trip to the pooper?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Blondes have more fun, especially when their husbands are dead: "The Postman Always Rings Twice"

Forgive the prolonged gap between posts yet again. Was in Washington for a couple of days, testifying before the Senate Committee on Curtis Armstrong Movies. And you know what? Those politicians can screw themselves. I still say Booger's holy trinity of "Risky Business," "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Better Off Dead" -- his first three movies, ladies and gentlemen -- warrant national monument consideration. ("What the f*ck are robster craws?")

But I digress. With the summer movie season upon us -- a full month before summer begins, but still -- I fully expect to report on some first-run films in the near future. Until then, I'm still plowing through the TiVo files, which included the classic "The Postman Always Rings Twice." This is not the be confused with "The Postman," that Kevin Costner POS that made "Waterworld" look like "Citizen Kane." Really, I remember sitting through the two-minute trailer for "The Postman" in the theater and, when the title came on screen, finding myself saying, "Wait a minute ... it's about the mail?"

As for the other "Postman," this 1946 film is widely considered to have put Lana Turner on the map, thanks in part to scenes that were rather torrid by '40s standards. I know ... what, did she hold hands with someone? I mean, when today's television shows feature bare butts and oral sex jokes, anything considered scandalous 60 years ago is quaint at best. "Oh, look ... he stuck his tongue into her mouth! Her mouth!!!"

So that's one drawback to this tale of a drifter -- John Garfield, also our 20th president -- who takes a job at a roadside cafe owned by an old Greek guy and his repressed young wife (Turner). She's good looking enough, between the platinum blond hair and itch in her drawers. But Garfield actually is the best actor here, clearly wanting a piece of Lana's action but unsure just how far he should go to get it.

Otherwise, we're left with a decent film noir. Turner looks OK but didn't knock me on my ass compared with other babes from the era, i.e. Rita Hayworth in "Gilda." Oh, mama. As for the plot, it kept me interested enough, and while two hours was a bit long to find out how everything would turn out, the result isn't bad at all. Let's just say Lana's tight sweaters weren't much help in the end, and she would have been better off hanging around that drug store counter.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Oh, and if all your friends decided to attack a helpless swimmer, would you do that, too?: "Piranha"

So the missus was out of town last weekend, and you know what that means. Strip club crawl? Century club at a nearby watering hole? Carefully plotted revolt against local government? Um, try "Watching a bunch of crappy movies on Saturday night." Yep, I'm officially old.

While there were plenty of respectable films on my weekend slate, I was particularly proud of "Piranha," a '70s-era gem that I knew to be a blatant attempt to cash in on the "Jaws" craze. Would you believe that this is John Sayles' first movie writing credit? Yeah, the "Lone Star" and "Eight Men Out" guy. But hey ... maybe I'm being too hard on this movie. After all, when you've got Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies as your lead actors, you're pretty much guaranteed front row at the Oscars. Am I right, or am I right?

Anyway, "Piranha" is just what you expect: silly B-movie fun, with killer fish terrorizing various parties along a river. It actually was riveting to watch this movie and recognize virtually none of the actors. I mean, the only "name" guys were Keenan Wynn (an old veteran of westerns) and Kevin McCarthy, most famous for the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." In retrospect, isn't that a hell of a movie title? Really, if that hadn't come out (three times) before now, it would bring people to the cineplexes in droves. "Body Snatchers?" ... what's that all about?

In the end, "Piranha" is amusing but pretty inane. Don't get me wrong ... I appreciate unabashed overacting, low-budget horror, cheesy '70s wardrobes and random boob shots as much as anyone. But just because you throw a reverb sound effect into scenes of nibbling fish doesn't mean it's scary. If you really want to impress me, put the movie's budget in the opening credits. Then I might be more appreciative. "Hey, this sucked, but what do you expect for 63 bucks?"

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Consider it a blind date to the extreme: "Monsoon Wedding"

Let's get one thing straight: I have no bias against foreign films. Canada has produced plenty of amazing movies ...

OK, OK ... really, I've seen and enjoyed plenty of movies I've had to read, whether it's "Crouching Tiger" or "Run, Lola, Run." But I never could get pumped up about "Monsoon Wedding" when it was in theaters, no matter how my Indian (dot, not feather) culture-loving wife raved about it. If I recall correctly, it came out at the same time as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and I have room for only one ethnic nuptials flick a year.

Alas, "Monsoon Wedding" popped up on IFC, and the eagle-eyed missus TiVoed it for when she could handcuff me to the sofa and make me watch this generally well-received movie. The verdict: All right, I guess, but I wasn't exactly kicking myself for not seeing it earlier.

The plot is pretty simple. A family in New Delhi prepares for a young woman's arranged marriage to an Indian man now living in the U.S. There's a little bit of the culture clash, but mostly the film focuses on a few different love stories -- the bride and another man, the (male) wedding planner and a servant girl and a couple of young people playing smaller wedding roles.

This sets up some sweet scenes and some tense ones, and the script has its fair share of humor. I actually finished watching this after my own wife fell asleep, so it clearly wasn't bad. But I suspect a big reason for this movie's popularity was the Indian aspect, and that doesn't grab me as much as it does others (see the aforementioned missus, who reads a new Indian book every few months). Sure, the clothes, henna and music are nice, but so what? Take that away, and you've got a nice ensemble in a feel-good movie -- decent, but really all that?

Maybe I'm just being a grump, since the movie was OK. But so was the cultural stuff of "Bend it Like Beckham," as well as the lesser-known "East is East." And besides, it's not a real wedding without an awkward best man's toast. "I remember when Hemant first met Aditi ... three days ago! HA HA HA HA HA!!!"

Monday, May 02, 2005

Yeah, I'm not sure "Ebony and Ivory" will go over so well here: "In the Heat of the Night"

Like many of my esteemed generation, "In the Heat of the Night" was a TV show that was on TNT or TBS 83 times a day. Hey, did you know that the guy who played Bubba ended up being mayor of Fresno, California? No kidding. Forget Arnold, Eastwood or Sonny Bono ... "Mayor Bubba" is true evidence of the power of Hollywood in politics.

But yes, I knew there was a movie well before the TV show, and that Carroll O'Connor had been preceded by Rod Steiger as the redneck, racist police chief of Sparta, Mississippi. And let me tell you, kids, he's something else. This tale of the chief's uneasy alliance with a black homicide detective from Philadelphia, perfectly played by Sidney Poitier, while they try to solve a murder still packs a punch nearly 40 years later, and it's worth a viewing by pretty much anyone.

It's probably a product of my generation vs. that of my elders, but Poitier always seemed a bit overrated to me. Hey, that's what happens when the first movie you see him in is "Little Nikita." The rap on Sid is that he played the perfect black man among white fools, and that certainly seemed the case in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" But here he's pretty cool, especially in one scene where he talks down a punk in a jail cell, stopping him cold just by slightly raising his hand and whispering, "Be cool, Harvey. I'm on your side." Between that and his refusal to suffer racist fools throughout the movie, you can't help but root for Poitier in his crusade to solve the crime.

That said, Steiger really is the most complex and engrossing character here: a bigot with a badge who somehow tries to do the right thing even if it makes things harder for him. In a former life, I saw Steiger among the celebrities at the Kentucky Derby one year, and he was far from intimidating as a tired old man slouched in his wheelchair. He's no physical specimen in this movie, either, but you can feel the anger oozing from his pores along with those beads of sweat ... this is Mississippi, remember?

Like I said, these two performances are amazing, and how Poitier and Steiger survive each other is much more riveting than finding out who killed whom. Also consider that "In the Heat of the Night" won Best Picture in 1968, beating out "The Graduate" and "Bonnie and Clyde" -- no small achievement. And that's without "Mayor Bubba," too.