Monday, June 27, 2005

I swear, this was just because the NBA Finals were over: "Shall We Dance?"

I know, I know ... as a member of the He-Man, Woman-Haters Club, how can I justify seeing, much less blogging, a chick flick? I could lie to you and say I watched this only so I could crack Richard Gere gerbil jokes, or so I could find out once and for all if J-Lo's booty really is that big. But the bottom line is that the missus wanted some quality time, and I figured I could read the paper and just peek over the pages from time to time when Jenny from the Block was onscreen.

It actually worked for a while, because I have no idea why family man Gere ("No Mercy") even decided to take ballroom dancing lessons at the same studio where Jennifer Lopez ("Money Train") also trips the light fantastic. Whatever the reason, "Shall We Dance" basically charts his improvement and budding friendship with J-Lo while he keeps the dancing secret from friends and family, including wife Susan Sarandon ("January Man").

And you know, it actually was kind of sweet. (Pause for testicle removal joke.) Even if it's hard to believe him as an everyman, Gere wasn't the slick ass we often see, and between this and "Unfaithful" he's creating a nice niche as the decent husband. As for Lopez, she really doesn't have many lines in this movie, but the ones she has come off pretty well as her performance alternates between tough and wounded. Between the tabloid stuff, fluff like "Maid in Manhattan" and disasters such as "Gigli," it's easy to forget she once was more than a face and a butt. Take "Out of Sight," for instance. The girl can act when she sets her mind to it.

"Shall We Dance" has a few endearing supporting roles, too, and even after my wife fell asleep, I stuck around to see what happened at the big dance contest and beyond. Of course, as far as she's concerned, I flipped it to basketball as soon as she nodded off. "Yeah, honey, Game 8 is on tonight!"

Sunday, June 26, 2005

When you think about it, we never did see the basement ... : "Poltergeist"

Like a lot of thirtysomethings, I remember "Poltergeist" not only for the cute little blond girl who got sucked into the TV but also for the dead-on picture of suburban life -- goofy subdivision names, neighboring houses just a few feet away and cul-de-sacs galore. The first time I saw it -- at age 10 or 11, maybe -- it was pretty damn scary, especially the various terrors befalling the family's son, i.e. attacks by the tree outside his window, then the clown doll in his bedroom.

Seeing this movie again a few days ago, I was terrified for another reason. You see, now I'm a homeowner myself, and even though we're not in a brand-new subdivision with a questionable foundation -- more on that later -- there's nothing saying I won't stumble across a gateway to another dimension. And I'm pretty sure that's not covered by the home warranty.

As you may recall, "Poltergeist" is the story of an All-American family who suddenly experience strange phenomena in their house. It starts with moving objects, progresses to the cross-dimension kidnapping of the youngest kid, gets pretty messy with the rescue of that girl and climaxes with the house collapsing on itself thanks to all the ghosts and ghouls. Why, you ask? Let's all say it together ... "You left the bodies and you only moved the head stones! You only moved the head stones! Why? Why?"

That's right. Really, isn't that one of the greatest horror revelations in the last 25 years or so? The first time you watch this, there's absolutely no clue why the Freelings' house suddenly became haunted. Then the dad (Craig T. Nelson of "Turner and Hooch") and his boss are checking out the next phase of the subdivision, which happens to hold a cemetery ... which happens to have been moved a few years ago from where the Freelings' house now stands. Before you know it, coffins are popping up out of the ground, and the Freelings are off to the Holiday Inn.

While "Poltergeist" has a lost a little bit of punch after 20+ years -- for one, TV stations don't really go off the air anymore, rendering "snow" obsolete -- it's still a well-told story. Even knowing the plot, I enjoyed watching things escalate from amusing to frightening and disgusting. As the mom, JoBeth Williams ("Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot") was more of a cutie than I remembered, even if being covered in goo upon returning from "the other side" sure didn't do her any favors.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Grading the summer movie trailers

Might be a little late with this since summer started Tuesday, but who doesn't love the "free movies" before the main feature? Here are some trailers I've seen recently and my best guess on whether each movie will be cool or crappy:

War of the Worlds: B+
They've been upping the ante and revealing a little more with each trailer over the last six months but still manage to leave a lot of questions. What do the aliens look like? Why are they attacking Earth? How will Cruise have Spielberg digitally insert Katie Holmes into the movie?

Fantastic Four: B-
I've never been as gaga as others over the Fantastic Four; when you think about it, doesn't that sound more like a Motown group? Anyway, lots of noise and plot revelation here, but the casting and effects don't wow me. The Human Torch gets a good line -- "Am I the only one who thinks this is cool?" -- but The Thing looks too weird. Also, isn't having the totally hot Jessica Alba play The Invisible Girl a little ironic? (You know, like a black fly in your Chardonnay.)

Wedding Crashers: A-
Alas, I fear all the best stuff in this movie is in the trailer, but it's still hilarious. And since the missus is an Owen Wilson fan, we'll probably see this even though it's not exactly geared toward women. I mean, they wouldn't be offended by a couple of guys serially crashing weddings so they can just hook up with women, right?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: D+
Whoa, what the heck is Johnny Depp doing? This performance seems weird even for him. For all I know, this is more faithful to the book, and I'll admit I'm not the target audience. Still, anyone who loved Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the first version -- "You stole dizzy-lifting drinks! ... You lose. Good day, sir!" -- is in for a rude awakening with Sgt. Hanson in the role.

The Island: B
Kind of bizarre to see artsy-fartsy Scarlett Johansson in a movie by big-bang Michael Bay. Ewan McGregor, too, who qualifies as artsy-fartsy if you take out "Star Wars." The movie might be cool ... sort of a "Logan's Run" and "Matrix" deal with the above two on the run after finding out their utopian community has a sinister purpose. And Scarlett Johansson is hot.

Dukes of Hazzard: C- (movie), A (Jessica Simpson)
Speaking of hot ... good lord, Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke? The cutoff shorts are bad enough, but then she shows up in a pink string bikini. Let's just say I'm glad the missus wasn't with me when that came on screen. As for the movie -- the latest TV retread -- it looks appropriately stupid, and I wouldn't even consider seeing it if not for ... well, you know.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why mail it in when you can send it FedEx?: "Ocean's Twelve"

Put me down with the majority of people who thought this about "Ocean's Eleven": It's bullsh*t, but you'll enjoy it. Like most, I never saw nor cared to see the original Frank Sinatra-led version. But given the cast and director for the remake a few years back, it was hard to resist Clooney and the Gang, and I thought the movie was a lot of fun.

Which, of course, meant there would be a sequel. Which, of course, would suck. Not saying "Ocean's Twelve" was the worst movie I've seen -- perhaps you've heard of "Hudson Hawk?" -- but I can safely say I've rarely been more disappointed. Seriously, there I sat, shaking my head like a dejected parent, wondering, "Where did I go wrong?"

Our story begins with the first film's bad guy, played Andy Garcia ("8 Million Ways to Die"), tracking down the 11 guys who stole a lot of money from his three Vegas casinos. You remember that crime, right? It was pretty cool, right? Remember that. Anyway, Garcia wants the money back, so the gang gets back together to consider a caper that will cover their butts.

That takes us to Europe, and sets off a chain of events and crimes that are really more muddled than masterful, at least to me. Whereas the goal of the first movie was clear -- a smirking Danny Ocean (George Clooney of "The Facts of Life" fame) wants to steal both the money and his wife from Garcia -- this is a little more convoluted, and it doesn't get better as things are "revealed."

But my biggest problem is the colossal waste of talent. Clooney, so smooth in "Eleven," really has little charisma here -- pretty stunning for guy I thought couldn't turn it off. Brad Pitt ("Cool World") isn't as bad, maybe because he gets the romance angle this time with European investigator Catherine Zeta-Jones ("The Phantom"). But Pitt still is half the fun of his first turn, and Zeta-Jones isn't nearly as good (or hot) as she's been elsewhere.

None of the others fare better, from Bernie Mac to Don Cheadle to Matt Damon -- all part of Ocean's gang. Damon's character is developed a bit more, I suppose, and he gives a game effort (especially since IMDB says he wanted a smaller role after finishing his latest "Bourne" movie), but I really could have cared less. And then we have Julia Roberts, Ocean's wife, who has a larger role and ostensibly is the 12th gang member, but really is the victim of a horrible in-joke that just doesn't work.

What does this all mean? Well, Steven Soderbergh -- who directed "Traffic" and the excellent "Out of Sight" along with "Ocean's Eleven" -- apparently can't work magic twice with the same ensemble cast. It also hopefully means he won't try to deliver a load of crap to theaters and call it a movie ever again. But on the bright side, it means Bruce Willis probably can get a little more work as himself in other movies. I also figured out "The Sixth Sense" before everyone else did ...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

No shouting at the devil, please

Hey, did the Louvre "not have room" for the Mona Lisa?

Monday, June 20, 2005

One shot, one kill, one note: "Sniper"

So there was this guy Pete in my college fraternity, and he had some bizarre fascination with this movie "Sniper." Not sure if it was because he liked guns, or was just something of a putz in general. All I remember is that he somehow got hold of a little "Sniper" sign that was hanging above the theater door, and he proceeded to post that above his own door. Man, that was cool.

Taking a break from my nice little Saturday at Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond, I stumbled across Sniper on one of the HBO channels. Not sure which one ... HBO ... HBO2 ... HBO with Lime ... Anyway, I knew it was mindless, and I was curious as to whether I might be pleasantly surprised.

I wasn't. Hey, it wasn't godawful, not with the always game Tom Berenger in the lead. I have absolutely no idea what he's doing these days -- let's check ... hey, "Sniper 2" and "Sniper 3!" Still, you have to love him not only in "Platoon" andf "Major League" but also "The Substitute," which for some reason I always watch when I come across it while being careless with the remote. Clearly I need help.

Berenger plays a Marine sniper in Panama who gets paired with greenhorn Billy Zane, a few years before the latter donned a purple bodysuit in "The Phantom" and menaced Leo and Kate in "Titanic." Together they slog through the jungle on a mission to take out a few druglord/revolutionary types. To be honest, I don't remember exactly what made the bad guys so bad, since character development isn't too high on this movie's priority list.

Other than Berenger's tough-guy act, the only thing of note is the bullet-cam employed when the snipers fire at their targets. But it's hard to take that seriously considering the same vantage point in other movies, i.e. "Army of Darkness," is played for humor. And hell, these days we follow bullets into bodies every week on "CSI."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

He really wanted to be called "Captain Trust Fund," but that was TOO scary: "Batman Begins"

I'll give this a shot, but it probably won't work. In discussing "Batman Begins," let's throw out the previous Batman franchise, mainly so I can purge the memory of Danny DeVito waddling around.

I know, I know ... forgeting the last four Batman movies is like not cringing during those Ellen DeGeneres commercials: damn near impossible. But I'll try not to compare this latest incarnation with the Series That Schumacher Ruined, mainly because this film, when taken separately, definitely stands well on its own.

As we all know, "Batman Begins" re-launches the Batman story with a younger hero and more faithful adherence to recent graphic novels. (That's "comic book" to you and me, Russ.) Given the way the previous series fizzled out -- dammit, there I go ... -- it was hard not to be pumped for this new version. It didn't hurt that the man behind "Memento," Chris Nolan, directed and helped write this movie, which also stars everyone's favorite American Psycho, Christian Bale.

Who would thought way back in "Empire of the Sun" that little Bale would become one of the more edgy and interesting actors of his time? He doesn't get the press of other guys his age, but "American Psycho" -- "Do you like Phil Collins?" -- and "The Machinist" alone show he can act. Throw in solid supporting roles in "Shaft" and "Laurel Canyon," and I can safely say Bale is a guy worth giving the benefit of the doubt, even if it involves a cape and a cowl.

How does he do here? Pretty good, right from the start. This definitely is a comic movie for grown-ups, with a whole heap of set-up before Batman actually appears. In that time, Bale convincingly shows the anguish and anger of Bruce Wayne following his parents' murder by a mugger. Better yet, we get to see all the mental, emotional and technical background that leads to Batman vs. just taking for granted that this caped crusader is tough and has a lot of toys.

Helping the script is a slew of solid performances:
-- Liam Neeson ("Krull") as the man who introduces Bruce Wayne to the League of Shadows assassin group and trains Wayne in the way of the ninja.
-- Michael Caine ("Jaws: The Revenge") as Alfred, the trusty butler of Wayne Manor and source of several one-liners. (Most good, actually.)
-- Tom Wilkinson ("Black Knight") as a mob boss who Batman has to remove to clean up Gotham City.
-- Gary Oldman ("Lost in Space") as the last honest cop in Gotham (and future police commissioner, most fans realize).
-- Morgan Freeman ("Teachers") as the gadget man at Wayne Enterprises and main outfitter for Bruce Wayne's nocturnal flights of fancy. (He gets some good lines, too, and finally gives us an American among the Brits.)

All of these guys deliver relatively well, and Cillian Murphy ("28 Days Later") as a less-than-honest psychologist and Katie Holmes ("Muppets from Space") as the obligatory love interest are decent, too. I know, even Katie Holmes. Listen, can we all agree to set aside this Tom Cruise business and recall the Katie we know and love? Forget Julia Roberts ... this is the girl next door I had in mind. (Well, except in "The Gift." Hello! I bet Dawson never saw those.)

In the end, if you can be patient and appreciate the unfolding of the Batman legend, this is a pretty good movie. I might quibble with there being a few too many elements in the mix. Also -- and this is irritating -- Bale didn't look that great in the mask. Maybe it was just a bad fit, but his face looked fat, and we can't have chubby cheeks on the Dark Knight, can we. It was a bit distracting, I have to say.

Still, Batman/Bruce Wayne's anger is pretty believable, especially one scene in which he interrogates a bad cop atop a building. Add the requisite action scenes and cool scenery, and "Batman Begins" scores pretty big. As long as we keep Chris O'Donnell far, far away from things, this could be the start of something good.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

See, this is why I don't like British guys: "Closer"

Here's a little bit of Hollywood heresy: I don't get the Julia Roberts thing.

Really, I know "Pretty Woman" launched that million-dollar smile, and that fair Julia even has an Oscar to her name. But I've never understood why she become the It girl of my generation. Talented? I guess, but not great. Good-looking? Maybe in a girl-next-door way, but other than her having a large mouth I can't tell what the big deal is. Be honest: Is it all relative because her brother is less-than-perfect Eric Roberts, still trying to recapture the magic 20 years after "Star 80" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village?"

In any case, it's clear I wasn't going to give "Closer" a pass just because of Julia Roberts, and she doesn't do that much compared with her co-stars, an All-Star cast of actors du jour: Jude Law -- required by law to be in one movie a week in '04 -- Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. You may recall Owen and Portman getting supporting actors nominations, and they're deserved. But that doesn't make the movie a slam dunk by any means.

Our story: Four people form two couples -- Law and Portman, Roberts and Owen -- then proceed to get mixed up with each other in love, sex and betrayal over the course of a few years. That's pretty much it, but director Mike Nichols tries to keep things interesting by setting each scene a year after the previous one, so you're trying to figure out when each relationship is about to fall apart and who's the bigger asshole. Really.

Neither the missus nor my sister thought too much of this whole mess, saying something to the effect of, "I don't like any of these people." As I hinted, Roberts doesn't set the screen on fire, playing the woman torn between Law and Owen yet pretty subdued through the whole movie. The only time she gets fired up is in one scene with Owen, and that's more a credit to him. He may not be the next James Bond, but that's fine as long as he delivers solid performances like this. As the guy who goes from being jerked around to doing the jerking, he shows impressive range and had me rooting for him as much as anyone in this movie.

As for the other two, Law essentially plays a big weenie -- just once, can't we see that in credits ... "and Jude Law as Big Weenie" -- and does a decent job, but nothing compared with his better turns ("The Talented Mr. Ripley, "Road to Perdition," even "Gattaca"; didn't see "Cold Mountain"). Maybe he was just tired from hoping from set to set.

Portman fares better, although I had a pretty hard time believing her as a stripper until we got to the money scene in her place of business. Now calm down ... no frontal nudity here. But I didn't expect to see Queen Amidala in a thong, and she definitely plays with Owen's head like any good stripper would. (The one on his shoulders, you neanderthals.)

Everyone was talking about this being Portman's first real "grown-up" role, and I suspect more than a few fans of "Beautiful Girls" couldn't wait to see her working the pole. (On the dance floor. Jeez.) The girl can act in general, I think. Throw out the "Star Wars" trilogy -- which proves that as a screenwriter, George Lucas is a good special-effects guy -- and she was solid in her debut movie, "The Professional," as well as "Girls" and "Garden State." Hard to believe she's only 24, and here's to many more thongs in her future.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

On second thought, put that book down and watch TV instead: "The Evil Dead"

Not any movie can claim to be the film that launched a thousand chins. "The Evil Dead" can't, either, but it did give one big chin his start on the big screen, and for that I and many others are eternally grateful.

I speak, of course, of Bruce Campbell, a self-proclaimed B-movie actor whose first significant role was in "The Evil Dead." Note that I said "significant," since "The Evil Dead" certainly wasn't a major movie -- not with a budget of $350,000. But as most men between 30 and 50 know, "The Evil Dead" was the first full-length feature directed by the great Sam Raimi, and the low-budget gore they unleashed on unsuspecting audiences has become a landmark in the annals of horror films.

I'll confess, the first movie in the "Evil Dead" trilogy I saw was the last, "Army of Darkness," which remains one of the funniest, silliest movies I've ever seen. "The Evil Dead" doesn't have the same nonstop laughs, and it takes a little longer to get going -- even for an 85-minute movie. But considering it was made more than 25 years ago, Raimi and Campbell's little film really is a decent and fun fright flick, complete with corn syrup, 2% milk, creamed corn starring as various bodily fluids.

The plot isn't exactly Hitchcockian: five college kids head to a remote cabin, where they find an old book and tape recording with ancient incantations. Fortunately, they ignore the book and tape, spend the night drinking and screwing, then go home the next morning. The end.

Oh, all right. As you can guess, they play the tape, which awakens "evil" -- in the form of a swooping camera barrelling through the woods, around corners and through windows -- that claims the kids one by one, turning them into rejects from "The Exorcist." Like I said, low budget stuff, but pretty balls-out when it comes to blood and gore, and that camera work is pretty effective in creating a sense of dread for these poor saps.

Campbell is more the straight man than the supreme wiseass he would be in "Army of Darkness" more than a dozen years later. Still, as the violence escalates, we get hints of what's to come once he becomes a veteran of battling evil. For now, though, you just feel for him as his friends turn into zombies and try to get him to join their club. C'mon, buddy ... keep that chin up!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sometimes I feel like ... somebody's watching me: "Cherish"

Never heard of this one? Neither had I, but I watched it for two reasons:
1. The plot -- a stalked woman is placed under house arrest after running over a bicycle cop -- sounded intriguing.
2. It starred Robin Tunney.

Even if she's no Meryl Streep in the acting department, I've always has a soft spot for Tunney. Not sure why, considering she's shaved her head ("Empire Records"), dealt out curses ("The Craft"), climbed mountains with waste-of-space Chris O'Donnell ("Vertical Limit") and boinked Lou Diamond Phillips in space ("Supernova"). Oh, and those four movies? Not so good. Not even close.

Still, Robin is cute, so I gave "Cherish" a shot. Helping matters was Tim Blake Nelson, whom you'll recall from "O Brother Where Art Thou?", "The Good Girl" and "Minority Report." He played something of a dolt in all three of those, and here he gets a little more substance as Tunney's parole officer. Throw in other curious casting -- Jason Priestly, Nora Dunn and a rare acting turn by former closet case Liz Phair -- and there seemed to be potential.

The verdict? OK, I guess. Can't say it's worth the time unless you're a fan of these folks or really like cheesy '70s and '80s music, which Tunney's character listens to a lot while homebound. Otherwise, you have to be content contemplating Robin and her lojack ankle cuff while she knocks about the apartment and occasionally tries to get out -- nothing great. The resolution was meant to be more exciting but really came off kind of silly. Now, if Chris O'Donnell and Lou Diamond Phillips had been around ... well, call the Academy.

Oh yeah, that guy!

Yeah, he may have been all right in "My Cousin Vinny," but any obit that leaves out "Red Dawn" and the miniseries "V" doesn't do this man justice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I guess he wasn't so bad after all

The King of Pop may have (moon)walked on molestation charges yesterday, but that doesn't make this little game any less fun. Good luck getting that song out of your head, too.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Of course, when you mention "Trojan" now, people think of a different kind of armor: "Troy"

Hi. My name is Jeff, and I'm a heterosexual male who likes Brad Pitt. ("Hi, Jeff!")

Yeah, I said it, and it's true. Brad Pitt is all right in my book. True, the fact that he has the luxury of choosing between Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie -- oh, after he broke that engagement to Gwyneth Paltrow a few years back -- should mean he must die. But I've always thought that Pitt (a) could act, especially for a pretty boy, and (b) seemed like a decent guy, at least in some of his more well-chosen roles.

Really, let's take a look: "Fight Club," "Ocean's Eleven," "Twelve Monkeys," "Seven," even "Kalifornia" ... all good turns. Sure, you have to put up with a "Meet Joe Black" -- never seen it, never will -- and "The Mexican" every now and then. But by and large, Pitt comes to play, and he could be a hell of lot worse for being so good looking.

All this is to say I was curious about "Troy," even if it followed a little too close to "Gladiator." Before breaking it down, though, a bone to pick with Netflix. I'm not expecting Updike-like prose on the DVD sleeve, but when you end the synopsis for "Troy" with "Positively Homeric!" Um, no. It's crap like this that makes me take another look at Blockbuster, bud.

As for "Troy," it's disappointing, but you probably knew that by now. Hey, it's a great story, this whole Greece vs. Troy battle royale after a Trojan prince steals the beautiful Helen from Sparta in Greece. I mean, consider the terms we use today from this tale, i.e. Trojan horse and Achilles heel. And Wolfgang Petersen of "Das Boot" and "Air Force One" fame takes great pains to show off the scope of this production, from hundreds of boats sailing to Troy to a bunch of spear- and shield-toting soldiers mixing it up. No quibbles with the movie's look, from the sweeping landscapes to the chiseled bodies. Yes, Brad, we know you have a tight ass. Throw a skirt on, for god's sake.

Alas, it's all looks and no soul here. A couple of performances weren't too bad; Eric Bana made for a decent Hector, prince of Troy and older brother to Orlando Bloom's Paris, whose theft of Helen started the whole mess. And I suppose Peter O'Toole as the king of Troy was OK, too. Beyond that, though, everyone either goes through the motions or futilely thinks blank faces and stilted speech automatically means "stoic." Even pros such as Brian Cox don't impress; I couldn't tell the difference between this performance and that in "X-Men 2," and I'm pretty sure Homer didn't write that one.

Everyone else is similarly disappointing. Pitt pretty much has to be humorless as Achilles, but that doesn't work for him. Bloom is a pantywaist as Paris, and it's hard to believe I thought Legolas was relatively cool. The women -- Diane Kruger as Helen, Saffron Burrows as Hector's wife -- aren't bad, but that's because they don't have much to do. By the time I got to the Trojan horse scene, let's just say that wasn't the only big, flashy package that turned out to be hollow.

In other news, the sky is blue

Gee, next thing you'll tell me is that Russell Crowe has a bit of a temper.

Just don't tell PETA

As a cat owner, I have to admit this would make bathtime a lot easier. And I might even install a dishwasher with a window for kicks.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Love me two times, baby: "Twin Falls Idaho"

For those of you who couldn't handle all the yuks of conjoined twindom in "Stuck on You," we present "Twin Falls Idaho," which doesn't take place anywhere near Twin Falls, Idaho, but instead is just a mood piece on what it's like to be really close to your brother.

I think the missus and I TiVoed this a while back and started to watch it one time. Then she fell asleep a few minutes in, and I may have switched over to "Taxicab Confessions." Eventually, the finite space of our hard disk claimed the movie, vanquishing it forever. Or so we thought. Little did I know my better half would TiVo "Twin Falls" yet again, and there we were a few days ago, giving it another shot. Double your pleasure, right?

Since this is a relatively small film, a brief overview: a hooker goes to a hotel for a trick, only to find conjoined twins -- more specifically, two men fused at the torso, with two heads, two arms and three legs between them. And these guys aren't nearly as outgoing at Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, believe me. While the hooker doesn't want to get physical with this dynamic duo, she ends up hanging out and learning that one of the fellas isn't feeling too well. That kicks off a friendship that grows as the sicker twin's condition worsens.

Not exactly a laugh a minute, and the freakshow aspect is the main draw here. (How I ended up watching this and "Freaks" so close together is better left to my therapist.) These guys, played by Mark and Michael Polish, aren't conjoined in real life, but they make a good showing here, in part because of their reserved nature and wholesome looks. The retro wardrobe and whispering in each other's ear aren't bad touches, either.

Eventually, the pyschological and physical stresses of being conjoined twins come to the forefront, and it's somewhat intriguing to see how both will be resolved, especially with this hooker, Penny, hanging around. While the movie plodded along at times, it never dragged so much that I wasn't curious to see whether both or neither of these guys would make it. Bit parts by such luminaries as Lesley Ann "Miss Scarlet" Warren, William "Greatest American Hero" Katt and Jon "Uncle Rico" Gries add a little spice, but in the end it's all about the twins. Now if only they had been clear on whether they shared everything ...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I'd never join any club that would have me as a member: "Freaks"

If its only claim to fame was inspiring the "Zippy the Pinhead" cartoon strip, "Freaks" would have a special place in cinema history. But its impact goes beyond that, and folks ... this really is a movie you have to see to believe.

If I recall correctly, Netflix originally didn't offer Tod Browning's classic 1932 soap opera set in a circus. I think this because my pal Louie, whose tastes often run into bizarro world, kept telling me I should see this movie. But when I checked again recently, there was "Freaks," and to my house it came.

Of course, this shouldn't be confused with "Freaks and Geeks," the wholly different but still excellent series that enjoyed a too-short primetime run a few years back. It also can't be mistaken for "Pigs vs. Freaks," a less-than-excellent TV movie about hippies and cops facing off in a football game. Finally, it's definitely not "Eight Legged Freaks," whose crime is obvious: perpetuating the plague that is David Arquette. ("Dial down the center! 1-800-CALL-ATT ... 1-800-CALL-ATT ... " Ass.)

No, "Freaks" is most definitely its own movie, and you haven't lived until you've seen, crammed into a mere 62 minutes, the following:
1. A dwarf romance corrupted by a scheming regular-sized woman.
2. A family of "pinheads" -- people who simply have smaller-than-normal heads. (That's "microcephalic" to you and me, Russ.)
3. A half-man, half-woman named Josephine Joseph.
4. Finally, and most impressively, an armless, legless man who not only gets around on his own, but rolls and lights his own cigarette.

If all these folks were "normal" people, this story of a trapeze artist and strongman breaking up a relationship and stealing the other guy's money would be fantastically ordinary. But to see this play out with real circus freaks ... well, it's a trip, baby. After a while, it was nothing to see a legless guy hop across the scene or conjoined twins talk up a bearded lady. Eat your heart out, David Lynch.

Making this more unsettling is when the scheming couple are discovered, and all of the freaks decide to exact revenge for what they did to the hapless dwarf. I don't know about you, but being of the wrong side of "The Living Torso" conjures up all sorts of bad mojo. Wait a minute, fellas ... let's be friends. Doesn't anyone want to guess my age or weight?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I, pod: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

You may recall a throwaway line about "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in an earlier post. Then, lo and behold, it aired on TCM. Call me Carnac, but regardless I had wanted to see what this movie was all about after hearing it was some kind of allegory for the Red Menace. (And I don't mean Carrot Top.)

Even if you haven't seen it, you know the premise of "Body Snatchers": unsuspecting folks find alien pods that hatch and produce perfect copies of the townspeople, with bland personalities to boot. It's pretty simple sci-fi, but it apparently resonated for a couple of reasons:
1. It's stupefyingly simple, with no real explanation for why this is happening. Call this beauty in simplicity.
2. For those who can't handle simple, it was interpreted as a cautionary tale about either Communism or the Joe McCarthy witch hunt for Communists in America. Funny how it could work both ways, but that's what happens when people have too much time on their hands.

I had seen bits and pieces of this, as well as the 1978 and 1993 remakes; there's another version in the works, as well. What ... remake an old movie yet again? No way! But I never caught the full story until a few days ago, and I gotta say ... it's pretty good considering the simple plot and nearly 50-year gap between its 1956 release and now.

What's so good, you ask? Let's start with Kevin McCarthy, who has always been a "kooky old guy" to me. I mentioned "Piranha" a while back, and you may recall him from supporting roles in "Twilight Zone: The Movie" and "Innerspace." (I also see he was in "Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College," which just makes me cry.) Here, however, he's a slick thirtysomething doctor who moves from flirtatious to horrifed with ease. Everyone remembers his crazed yelling at the end -- "You're next! You're NEXT!!!" -- but before then he really carries this movie well.

As for the overall story, it's fun to follow along and see townsfolk drop off one by one, replaced by mindless pod people. I can't recall ever being bored -- or really scared, even -- and while it's somewhat preposterous to consider someone planting a pod in your trunk of closet, everyone on screen was game, and I did wonder where the assimilation would end. Ultimately, I see why this became an iconic movie, and hey ... it can't hurt to take one last peek under the bed before turning in for the night, right?

Monday, June 06, 2005

No more yanky my wanky ... the Donger needs food!

Admit it, since we know that the Geek is now in the Dead Zone, we really just want to see Long Duk Dong leave behind those "ER" scrubs and get back into a red argyle sweater, tan trousers and red shoes. "No, he's not retarded!"

Is nothing sacred?

C'mon, folks ... it's not nice to tamper with what God created. (Writes the guy who probably should do something about his back hair. Too much information? My bad.)

Oh, tough guy, huh?

1. "Don't you know who I am? I'm the Cinderella Man!"
2. Forget the phone ... imagine the damage he could do with an alarm clock.
3. To see if he was drunk, they asked him to spell the police spokesman's last name.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Isn't "The Great Depression" the ultimate oxymoron?: "Cinderella Man"

While I've never forgiven Russell Crowe for stealing Meg Ryan and wronging my man Dennis Quaid -- then again, after seeing Meg in "In the Cut," Dennis isn't so bad off -- the missus wanted to see "Cinderella Man" on opening weekend. I could have taken or left it -- not because of the above, but mainly because it sounded a bit schmaltzy. Hey, I was wrong: It was a lot schmaltzy.

That's not to say it was no good. The story is solid: James J. Braddock is a rising young fighter when the Depression hits, and he's reduced to begging for work on the docks and trying to keep his family (wife, three cute kids) together as the bills pile up. Eventually he gets a second chance in the ring and goes on the become the heavyweight champ, inspiring people across the country. True story ... great story. And with Crowe as Braddock, what's not to love?

Crowe is good, especially when his life is ... wait for it ... on the ropes. After only a brief set-up of Braddock's promise, we spend the whole first half of the movie seeing him and his family fall deeper and deeper into despair. It's the feel-good hit of the summer!

Oh, wait ... that came in the second half, and Crowe handles Braddock's boxing rebirth well, too. Right there with him is Paul Giamatti as manager Joe Gould. Paul G. is about the gold standard these days; he carried "Planet of the Apes," baby! Renee Zellweger ("Empire Records") is decent as Mrs. Braddock, although the "don't get killed" jazz as her man gets set to tackle the dominating Max Baer didn't show us anything more than Adrian in "Rocky III." (All together now: "YOU CAN'T WIN!!!")

As for capturing the '30s, director Ron Howard ("Grand Theft Auto") does all right, especially considering this was shot in and around Toronto. C'mon, Ronny ... buy American! The clothes look appropriately ragamuffinish on the downtrodden and fancy-schmancy on the well-to-do. The fight scenes work pretty well, with less of the Apollo Creedesque tiptoeing around the ring and more of two guys stalking each other, flailing away and just going toe-to-toe and whaling on each other. Messy, confusing ... pretty much the way fights should be.

In the end, though, it's Crowe's show, and he nails it. Howard lays it on thick with the tearjerking and heartstring-pulling, but Crowe for the most part rises above it and makes for a convincing Braddock, even if he's too old for the part; Braddock was 30 when he won the title, while Crowe is 41. Still, you have to give the guy credit ... for this and for dumping Ryan when he realized her "Innerspace" days are long gone.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

I also have been known to be too sexy for my shirt: "Zoolander"

Not sure if you've heard of this actor Ben Stiller. He hasn't been in many movies ... only, oh, about 87 last year. Geez, can we officially release Kevin Bacon and now call it Six Degrees of Benny Stiller?

So yeah, you can say I'm a little Stillered out these days between the Fockers and the Starskys and the Pollys. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate Ol' Ben's better efforts, and "Zoolander" ranks high on this list, even if it's under the radar of most people.

Stiller ("Next of Kin") plays the title character, Derek Zoolander, an aging male model who makes Jessica Simpson look like Stephen Hawking. He's so mentally inept that a cabal of designers has him recruited and brainwashed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who is cracking down on the child labor industry so vital to these designers' success. It's a silly but not entirely unreasonable plot, but the more important thing is that it gives Stiller a chance to act astoundingly clueless instead of giving us his usual nebbish role.

I know, I know ... a comdey based on male modeling doesn't get my juices flowing, either. But Stiller and his partners in crime -- frequent collaborator Owen Wilson ("The Haunting") and always shameless Will Ferrell ("A Night at the Roxbury") -- really pull out all the stops. Wilson is particular good as Zoolander's rival model, Hansel, complete with Razor scooter, empty words and faux Eastern mysticism. In fact, it's worth sharing his "thoughts" when up against Zoolander for the Male Model of the Year Award:

"I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree. Richard Gere's a real hero of mine. Sting. Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I respect that. I care desperately about what I do. Do I know what product I'm selling? No. Do I know what I'm doing today? No. But I'm here, and I'm gonna give it my best shot."

Others get in on the fun in smaller doses, from Stiller's dad Jerry as a model agency owner to David Duchovny as an old hand model -- yep, "a finger jockey ... we think differently than the face and body boys" -- to Billy Zane as himself. (He nailed it.) Then there's the Zoolander family, with Jon Voight as Dad, an uncredited Vince Vaughn as one brother and Judah Friedlander as the other brother. Friedlander doesn't do anything, but it should be noted that we've seen him before, from the drugstore clerk in "Meet the Parents" ("You can get a lot of Mum's") to Harvey Pekar's friend Toby in "American Splendor" ("I consider myself a nerd.") Funny guy.

As for "Zoolander," it's hilarious pretty much every time I watch it, which is why the missus didn't have to tell me twice when we were deciding on DVDs the other night. And remember, just because you have chiseled abs and stunning features, it doesn't mean that you too can't not die in a freak gasoline fight accident.