Sunday, October 30, 2005

Well, Andie McDowell DID carry him in "Green Card"

I share this only because "My Father, the Hero" is the absolute worst movie I've ever seen. (Yes, worse than "Hudson Hawk.")

Before October was red and the tide was crimson: "Run Silent, Run Deep"

If this weren't a family blog, I'd tell my favorite submarine joke. All right, since you really want to know ... "What's long and hard and full of seamen?" Pa dum dum. Now let's review a film that helped blaze a trail for such movies as "The Hunt for Red October," "U-571" and "Das Boot" (and ultimately its adult version, "Das Booty").

First, you gotta love just the name of this '50s flick, "Run Silent, Run Deep." Can you even say that without lowering your voice an octave and pausing for effect? Try it ... "Run Silent ... Run Deep." Dun-dun-DUN-duuunnnnn ...

But yes, there's actually a whole movie, and it's pretty solid, holding up well even after almost a half-century and all these other sub movies. We also get the treat of seeing Clark Gable play the grizzled old sub captain. Sure, Gable has been in a bunch of movies, but it's hard to think of him now as anyone other than Rhett Butler. As least it is for me.

"Run Silent" came out just a couple of years before Gable died, when it was clear he was in his 50s. That made him a great fit for the sub captain nearing retirement, especially after losing his boat in the movie's opening scene. He later gets another boat, to the chagrin of a rising young captain played by Burt Lancaster. Sure, Lancaster was in his 40s at the time, but he did look sort of fresh-faced. And this is coming from someone who doesn't really think Burt was all that.

Anyway, Gable doesn't go over too well with Burt and crew as their sub patrols the Pacific, pausing to blow of Japanese ships here and there. Some decent supporting players help build the tension, most notably Jack Warden and Don Rickles(!). Equally notable are the battle scenes, which seem pretty good for that period. I especially liked when Clark, Burt and the Gang finally went up against a Japanese sub. Good shots of the two playing cat and mouse in the days of simple sonar.

All in all, this was pretty easy to watch and moved along rather nicely, which isn't something you can say about old movies and even old war movies. I probably still favor "Red October" as my sub movie of choice -- "Das Boot" was too long, "U-571" and "Crimson Tide" were OK, and I haven't seen "K-19: The Widowmaker." As for comedies, I haven't seen "Operation Petticoat," either, and probably won't ever see "Down Periscope," although I hear it was robbed by the Oscar committee.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Where are Potsie and Pinky Tuscadero?: A drive-in double feature!

That's right, kiddies. My better half and recently took a time warp back to the early 1960s and saw two -- count 'em, two! -- movies at a drive-in last weekend. The place was maybe 10 miles out of town and 40 years into the past.

Really, it was pretty weird. Even with being able to listen to the sound over the car stereo vs. tinny -- not tiny -- speakers, it's downright strange to sit in your car for four hours or so. You might think it's like a road trip, but it's different when you don't go anywhere. Then you really get to know just how comfortable your car seats are. (Ours? Not so great.)

On the plus side, the concession stand was pretty cheap compared with a regular movie theater -- 75 cents for Raisinets! -- and the crowd was surprisingly civil, with only the occasional shadowy passing figure distracting us from the movies. As for the movies, we got a classic mix of something for the kids and something for the adults (sort of):

Were-Rabbit? There rabbit: "Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit"

Have to admit I wasn't going to see this otherwise. Oh, I was sure it was well done and great fun, but there just wasn't a big pull factor for me. Not sure why, since I saw "Chicken Run" and liked that. Anyway, no matter.

The verdict: Pretty amusing, and damn impressive considering it took five years to make. (Some people need a hobby.) Apparently Wallace and Gromit go back a ways, and here they find themselves having trouble keeping rabbits from eating the townspeople's vegetables.

Gromit, who I'm betting never has anything to say, is the funniest one here, clearly smarter than all the others and plenty expressive even without uttering a word. Not that other dialogue isn't clever at times, and this looks like one of those movies you can watch a few times and discover all sorts of little details, i.e. a naked Wallace covered up by a box that reads "May Contain Nuts." Actually, there were plenty of good pop culture references, too. To top things off, the 85-minute run time made my wife a fan; she grimaces when anything goes over two hours.

You little devil: "The Exorcism of Emily Rose"

Here's another I would have passed on but seemed perfect for the drive-in. If I recall correctly, this got mediocre reviews at best, and that's being generous. Sure, there might be a few scares here and there, but for the most part this was too preachy -- pun intended -- and a little sad in general.

Not much in the way of basic plot. We start with a girl being pronounced dead and a priest being charged with negligent homicide in her death. Turns out she was possessed by the devil, and efforts to save her ended up with her wasting away. Yeah, there's a fun way to start a movie, even if it's a true story.

Tom Wilkinson is the priest, and he, quite frankly, can do this stuff in his sleep. I mean, it's not so different from "In the Bedroom." Laura Linney plays his defense lawyer; you may recall she played a prosecutor in "Primal Fear." Here, she has better hair. Perhaps most disturbing was Campbell Scott as the prosecutor. Oh, his performance is fine, but his mustache most definitely is not.

But what of the possessed girl? She's played by someone named Jennifer Carpenter, and I guess she does a good job. I don't know ... it's just hard for me to be impressed when there's such a high standard for this kind of thing. I'm speaking, of course, of "All of Me" with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. OK, OK ... not that. (Although it is funny.)

I mean "The Exorcist," which still gives me the willies. I mean, Linda Blair sold that performance, and the two priests -- an old one and a young one -- were pretty amazing, too. In fact, I've found that chanting "The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!" works in almost any situation.

But yeah, as good as a few scenes of "Emily Rose" were -- the actual exorcism was spooky enough -- it just paled compared with little Regan yelling, "Your mother sucks c*cks in Hell!" I mean, that's classic. If only Emily had given us a 360 with her head ...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I kept waiting for the Boone's Farm tour: "Sideways"

Even if you don't like Icehouse, how can you not like Thomas Haden Church?

Sure, his Lowell character on "Wings" may have gotten old, although that probably was due to "Wings" being in reruns on USA 24/7 for three or four years. Seriously, it was like a marathon with no end, and no one can take that much Crystal Bernard. But consider some of THC's other work, such as the underrated "Ned and Stacey" (with Debra "Grace" Messing) and "The Specials," a superhero comedy seen by pretty much nobody.

On second thought, let's just consider "Sideways," Church's unqualified comeback movie. When I heard he played a prominent role and was actually pretty good, I was pumped for this movie last year. It didn't disappoint, and I'm pretty sure it was my best film of 2004. My wife TiVoed it from HBO recently, so I got to enjoy Church and the Gang once again.

As any decent cineast -- had to look that up to make sure I spelled it right -- knows, "Sideways" presents the amazing Paul Giamatti as a struggling writer who's friends with middling actor Church. Giamatti also is a oenophile -- that's "wine freak" to you and me, Russ -- who takes Church to Central Coast wine country the week before Church's wedding. Giamatti hopes to drink wine and play golf. Church hopes to get laid. As you might guess, hijinks ensue.

The two boys come across a couple of women, perfectly played by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Madsen is a waitress and kindred spirit to Giamatti's character, while Oh is a naughty girl who gets Church's motor running. The four pal around for a few days, all while Church's wedding date looms.

On paper, this could sound kind of boring. What, two guys hanging in wine country? The foursome sitting around and yakking to each other? But when you have great writing and good actors, it's amazing how a movie can be grown-up and pretty damn funny. The writing comes courtesy of Alexander Payne, who did the excellent "Election" and not-bad "About Schmidt." Really, "Election" is a fantastic movie -- remember when Reese Witherspoon actually bothered to act? -- and if you haven't seen it ... well, shame ... shame on you.

As for the cast, Giamatti really is one of the best actors out there today, and I'm not just saying that because his dad was commissioner of Major League Baseball. Ever since "Private Parts," he's almost always been worth the price of admission. "American Splendor" ... "Cinderella Man" ... "Man on the Moon" ... hell, he was even good in "Planet of the Apes!" But this is his best, playing the worn-down man still capable of some passion ... at least when it comes to wine.

Then there's Madsen, whom I've been sweet on ever since "Electric Dreams" more than 20 years ago. She was a cute young blond in a few movies before "The Hot Spot" officially announced she could be a bad girl. Oh, man ... anyway, she never made it big, which made it all the better to see her in "Sideways," playing the subtle older woman with a soft spot for a wounded man like Giamatti.

Before I get too sappy, let's get back to Church, who is nothing short of hilarious in this movie. Hell, just listening to the guy talk, especially when he gets all puffed up and sarcastic, is great. But his shamelessness here is a real treat, from the neanderthal stuff to the pathetic comeuppance. It's hard to imagine who could have done this better, since he essentially is playing himself when it comes to the "middling actor" aspect. Now if he'd only managed to sneak an Icehouse into a scene ...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Now would L. Ron approve of this?: "Cocktail"

Personally, I favor Patrick Swayze when it comes to guilty movie pleasures -- "Red Dawn," "Next of Kin" and especially "Road House." But a strong contender for "So bad it's good, but not really" is "Cocktail," and here's why:

1. Tom Cruise ("Endless Love") coming off of "Top Gun" and essentially saying, "I can take a big crap on screen and gross $100 mil!"
2. The tagline: "When he pours, he reigns." Gag, and I like bad puns.
3. Elisabeth Shue, who looked amazing in "Adventures in Babysitting" but not as good here. Why? Well, "Babysitting" took place in Chicago in the winter, when we couldn't see her in a swimsuit. Yeah, I know. Ouch.
4. Bryan "FX" Brown, chewing up every single scene he's in while Cruise looks like a goof.
5. Some horribly great lines -- words of "advice" -- including one I often cite to this day: "All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end."

So yeah, this tale of a young would-be entrepreneur who ends up becoming a superstar bartender while never really giving up his dreams offers all sorts of delights. While I would never recommend anyone set aside 104 minutes to watch "Cocktail," if you should come across it one late weekend morning while reading the paper and watching over your sick wife, it's a highly entertaining time-killer. Hey, it's not like I couldn't pay attention and still read the sports pages. We're not talking "Casablanca" here.

As I mentioned, Cruise finds himself tending bar in New York with Brown, who shows him the ropes and makes the two of them local stars, thanks mostly to the whirly-twirly of bottles, batting of eyes and belting out of "poems." It's all rather festive, never mind that the elaborate routines put on by these guys mean that a person gets served, oh, maybe every five minutes. Sure, that's good business.

Anyway, Cruise and Brown have a falling out, Tommy heads to Jamaica, meets Shue, runs into Brown again, hooks up with some rich woman, goes back to New York, breaks up with rich woman, finds Shue again, finds Brown again, and finds all sorts of trouble before we reach the end. If that sounds like a lot, it is, and "Cocktail" certainly doesn't lack for action. Character development? Aw, that's for sissies!

Like I said, Brown is somewhat entertaining, but everything else is merely laughable. It's not like Cruise did any great acting in "Top Gun," either, but this is truly mindless fluff. Consider that by this time he also had done "Risky Business" and "The Color of Money," and "Rain Man" and "Born on the Fourth of July" were just around the corner. In other words, the guy can act. Just not with bottles flying through the air, I guess.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I see dull people: "The Village"

Seems to me most people consider M. Night Shyamalamalamalaman a mixed bag. "I loved 'The Sixth Sense' -- that Haley Joel was so cute! -- but what was the deal with that 'Unbreakable' movie?" they say. Hey, I used to ask the same thing. When I saw "Unbreakable," I thought it was deadly boring and have to confess I just didn't "get it." But even though I haven't seen it a second time, it was one of those rare movies I kept thinking about, and it's grown on me. Weird, I know.

Anyway, between those two movies and "Signs" -- which wasn't amazing but still OK -- I was willing to give M. "Don't call me Manoj" Night the benefit of the doubt before checking out "The Village." Now I'm not so sure.

Our story has an Amish-like community, apparently in the late 1800s, living in a village surrounded by woods inhabited by some sort of creatures. The villagers and the creatures apparently have some sort of truce, but that agreement apparently is becoming shaky, just as young troublemaker (relatively speaking) Joaquin Phoenix tells elders he wants to pass through the woods to get "medicines" in the "towns" for sick people in the village.

You may have noticed multiple cases of "apparently" above, and that's a good indication of the questions that come up during "The Village." Setting aside the whole "who are these people" thing, we are left to wonder what's in those woods, what's so great about those towns and why we should even care.

The whole thing is pretty heavy-handed, with elders such as William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver talking about "The Bad Color" and "Those We Do Not Speak Of" and "The Place We Do Not Go." Geez, lighten up people, and give these things a name while you're at it.

Meanwhile, Joaquin and Bryce Dallas Howard -- Ron Howard's daughter -- provide the spunkiness of youth, even if they're pretty damn boring, too. Generally, I like the former Leaf Phoenix, and I'm looking forward to the Johnny Cash movie. And Ronnie's daughter seems a solid actor as well. But I generally wanted to reach into the TV and smack them around a bit. C'mon, wake up!

Of course, there's a twist. If M. Night really wanted to break new ground, he would not have a twist. Another movie, perhaps. Anyway, this one isn't a big surprise -- I figured it out maybe 20 minutes before it was revealed -- and it's merely OK. Don't worry, I won't ruin it for you. All right, what the hell: Haley Joel Osment is Those We Do Not Speak Of. But you already knew that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Have you ever loved and lost it all?: "Before Sunset"

Between this and my dogging of "Dodgeball," I almost certainly will be kicked out of the He-Man, Woman-Haters Club.

OK, let's get it over with: I liked "Before Sunrise." Sure, it may be a chick flick with wussy-boy Ethan Hawke and French miss Julie Delpy walking around Vienna blabbing to each other before they ultimately hook up. But there was a real connection between those two -- not "ooh, I love you," but more like, "we're both full of sh*t, and that's OK." And believe me, I'm no Ethan Hawke fan. He really is becoming a poor man's Tom Cruise, and that's not such a good thing.

So I'm already in the hole by saying I like "Before Sunrise" when the director, Richard Linklater, is responsible for other fine films, i.e. "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock" (not to mention his breakthrough "Slacker," even if it's more of a curiosity piece). But wrap your head around this: "Before Sunset" -- Wuss Movie: The Sequel -- is pretty good, too.

Listen, I'm agonizing about this as much as anyone, but there's no getting around it: Linklater -- with the help of Hawke and Delpy -- really has nailed these characters and their wistful would-be romance. For those of you who were busy watching crap like "Batman Forever" in 1995 -- OK, I saw it, too -- "Before Sunrise" had Hawke and Delpy on the same train that stopped in Vienna, leaving them to hang out before Hawke flew back to the U.S. They made plans to meet six months later, but we never knew if that happened. I distinctly recall being a little pissed at this. Come on! Does he score with her again or not?!?!?

"Before Sunset" takes place nine years later, with Hawke in Paris for a book signing when Delpy drops by the bookstore. Right away you can tell where this is headed: Confusionville, with a layover in Awkwardtown. The two immediately go into bullsh*t-spouting mode, trying to sound cool and collected while they size up each other. He's more gaunt looking and twitchy, she's chubbier and less radiant. In other words, they're older. Hey, it happens, people. It's not like I wanted more back hair or anything.

For the first half-hour or so, it's highly amusing to watch what happens all the damn time in these situations, including with yours truly when he meets up with old flames. You've got the perma-smile going, and there are absolutely no gaps in the conversation for fear that any silence will suffocate you. You know what I mean ... the whole, she-asks-a-question-then-I-ask-a-question thing. Keep talking! Keep talking!

Of course, this can't last, even with their brief time together. Eventually Hawke and Delpy wear down and reveal more of their lives -- as they are now and as they were affected by that magical night nine years ago. As goofy as each person looks, they're totally authentic, and it's great to see the BS give way to somewhat brutal self-examination. It's probably worse for Hawke, given he's again on foreign soil. (And this after Delpy has been in New York while he was there, too!)

As the end approached, I was pretty interested in whether these two kids would hook up once again, even with all the baggage they now have. Rather than ruin the ending for you, I have only this to say: F*CK YOU, F*CKING RICHARD F*CKING LINKF*CKINGLATER. I don't mean that in a bad way, but let's just say nine years isn't too long to use the same trick. At least he didn't have Jack Black and those rock 'n roll playing kids parachute into Paris for the finale.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Apparently, someone already had the rights to "Tetherball": "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story"

Not to use a technical term here, but this movie sucks.

Bear in mind I have a high tolerance -- nay, preference -- for juvenile humor. "Eurotrip," anyone? But to list "Dodgeball" alongside "Old School" and "Wedding Crashers" ... well, as Socrates once said, "Dem's fightin' words."

I know I didn't see "Dodgeball" in the theater, but I'm not quite sure where I did see it for the first time. Maybe on an airplane. Anyway, it's in the HBO rotation now, and I caught it in pieces over a few nights. I broke it up not because it was long or anything, but because it was hard to take more than a half-hour at a time.

You know the premise: Deadbeat with a heart of gold Vince Vaughn ("Rudy") tries to save his rundown gym from being bought by an evil Gold's Gymesque outfit led by Ben Stiller ("Mystery Men"). To do so, Vince and his customers -- what a kooky crew! -- enter a dodgeball tournament. Believe it or not, it comes down to them vs. Stiller and Co. in the title game. Who knew?

Like any Frat Pack comedy, this is an excuse for stringing together funny scenes and one-liners. The only problem: The scenes aren't funny. Really, I don't recall laughing out loud much at all, and any chuckles from the general idea of adults training for and entering a dodgeball tournament lasted, oh, five minutes.

So the "script" is one problem. An even bigger one is the cast -- specifically the two leads. I like Vaughn and Stiller just fine, but these roles were totally wrong for them. Vaughn playing the straight man is like Clint Eastwood doing slapstick. He's a much better as a supporting guy with only a few funny scenes. (Especially when he's got a microphone in hand ... not just "Old School," but also "Starsky and Hutch.") Stiller has more range -- which isn't saying much -- but his villain here, even if tongue in cheek (hey, his name is "White Goodman" ... how silly!) was more annoying than amusing, and not in a funny way.

This might be bearable if any of the supporting guys were funny, but they're not. That guy acts like a pirate! How zany! Hell, if I had to pick, the best guys were the commentators for ESPN8 -- "the Ocho" -- at the dodgeball tournament. Jason Bateman's comeback continues!

Like I said, it's no reflection on juvenile comedy. "Old School" remains the standard among Frat Pack movies, but even "Anchorman" and "Starsky and Hutch" trump this crap, and by a decent margin. Now if this movie was about professional hopscotch, it could be a different story.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

In space, nobody can hear you be a smartass: "Serenity"

I came late to the "Firefly" party, catching the show only recently when the Sci-Fi Channel aired its limited run from a few years back. The series about a ragtag spaceship crew flamed out then but apparently became big enough on DVD that the creator, Buffy wunderkind Joss Whedon, got the green light for a Major Motion Picture. Hence, "Serenity."

Of course, there's a whole mess of folks who never saw "Firefly"; if they had, well, it probably wouldn't have been canceled. Fortunately, "Serenity" should work for them, since it combines a pretty decent story with a light touch by the mostly unknown actors. Compare that with a recently completed George Lucas trilogy in which the only joke was a cast so wooden that Vegas posted 2-to-1 odds that someone would burst into flames onscreen.

In "Serenity," we get the same ragtag crew harboring a brother and sister from some space government called the Alliance. The girl, it turns out, is some kind of killing machine, which is rather entertaining considering she's as big as my thumb. Really, the woman is tiny, but she gets a few chances to deliver the thunder, and it's pretty cool.

As for the crew, we get a poor man's Han Solo, played by the guy who was the girl's boyfriend in "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place." His No. 2 is a poor woman's Angela Bassett, whose husband, the pilot, is played by the robot from "I, Robot." The tough guy is Adam Baldwin, who actually is not a Baldwin brother but may be familiar from such movies as "Next of Kin" and "My Bodyguard."

You may have noticed I didn't mention many names in the cast. Don't worry, you wouldn't know them. You may not recognize the name of the guy playing the main bad guy, too. That's Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose name I have no idea how to pronounce but who was fantastic in "Dirty Pretty Things." He's solid here as well, playing a samurai-like assassin chasing the crew of Serenity -- the ship's name as well as the title.

Now keep in mind that I'm a sci-fi fan and, sadly, can go easy on such movies from time to time. Hey, this is a guy who paid good money to see both "Supernova" and "Event Horizon." But "Serenity" is legitimately good, and not just because of spaceships whizzing hither and yon. (Although there are some cool chases/battles.) There's also an odd Western tinge to the happenings, with characters wearing dusters and boots and saying stuff like "I aim to misbehave."

Most important, though, is the humor. While this isn't a yukfest -- rightly so -- there's a lot of subtle wit that comes naturally to the cast, especially as the movie goes on. The lead guy -- OK, he's played by Nathan Fillion -- carries himself well as he shifts from jokes to punches. Baldwin also is pretty amusing, and others get into the act along the way.

It may seem like a little thing, but levity and sharp wit make a big difference in this kind of movie. Sure, we ooohh and ahhhed at the Death Star and the lightsabers in "Star Wars." But it was Han Solo's wisecracks and devil-may-care demeanor that made him supremely cool. Without that attitude, there's no way the Millennium Falcon makes the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.

Friday, October 14, 2005

For those who need a little help getting jiggy wit it: "Hitch"

For reasons somewhat difficult to explain, this movie sat on our shelf for quite a while. I figured it was a no-brainer for me and The Light of My Life to watch together, seeing as how it's a breezy comedy-romance with winning personalities. But then we got sidetracked by various other viewings -- look, honey, "My Father, the Hero!" -- and it wasn't until last weekend that we gave Will Smith his due.

I guess I'm a fan of the former Fresh Prince. Haven't seen all of his stuff, but I do think he does a decent job carrying the popcorn movies. Sure, we all want to ignore "Wild, Wild West" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance," but how could you not root for Smith in "Enemy of the State" or "I, Robot?" Maybe the highest compliment is that it's just hard to hate Willie, what with the goofy grin and smooth moves.

So he should be able to handle romantic comedy just fine, right? Yeah, pretty much. "Hitch" isn't going to make anyone forget "The Philadelphia Story," I suspect, but it was mostly amusing, thanks not only to Smith but also Kevin "The King of Queens" James.

That's who Smith, as a "date doctor," helps woo a superstar actress/model/something. As you might imagine, she's hot, he's fat, and normally never the twain shall meet. Meanwhile, as he helps James, Smith meets a hot gossip columnist played by Eva "I'm not Rosario Dawson" Mendes. The two plot lines overlap a good deal, and ... wait for it ... hijinks ensue.

Like I said, the main characters are pretty likable, even people we've never seen before, such as Amber Valletta as the object of James' affection -- she apparently also plays an ass-kicker in "Transporter 2," which is a little surprising -- and Julie Ann Emery as Mendes' friend. The story, while cutesy at times, moves along well enough and goes on only about 15 minutes too long. The wrap-up at the end is a little too neat, but what did you expect, Smith to cut off Mendes' hand and say he's her father?

In the end, Hitch is pretty much like Smith: hard to hate, even if it's not anything amazing. I'll confess I haven't seen "Ali" and therefore can't comment on his Acting with a capital A. But as long as he sticks to the lighter stuff -- action, comedy and romance -- odds are he won't be totally horrible. At least not if we agree "Bad Boys II" never happened.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Let's get ready to bumble: "Alien vs. Predator"

I now present to you Reason No. 304 to have HBO: There's no way in hell I would spend money to see "Alien vs. Predator" in the theater, nor would I use one of my precious Netflix spots to watch it on DVD. That leaves cable TV, and I recently succumbed to this pointless exercise of a movie that sounded good on paper ... 15 years ago.

Really, this "movie" actually was a video game five years ago, and it's not like there's a great track record of major motion pictures coming from the Nintendo ranks. (Although I understand "The English Patient" video game was awesome.) No question I enjoyed "Predator," "Alien" and "Aliens" as much as the next guy, but like I said ... if you wanted to capture the magic of those movies, you should have tried that when the first President Bush was in office.

Our "story," as it were, has a group of people journeying to Antarctica to investigate what appears to be a giant pyramid buried under the ice. It's a ragtag group, of course, with a bunch of no-names filling the roles of guide, archaeologist, engineer, bankroller, etc. True, we have Lance Henriksen in the mix, but that's almost sad. Not only does he look like he'd rather be anywhere else, but I'm positive he ended each day of shooting by going to his trailer, pouring a shot of cheap tequila -- Don Q usually works -- and muttering, "I don't need this. I was in 'Stone Cold,' dammit!"

Anyway, this pyramid turns out to be where the Predator race we know and love from their run-ins with Arnie and Danny -- that would be Glover in "Predator 2," which was f-ing robbed at Oscar time -- holds a hunt every 100 years. The hunted? The Aliens, thanks to an Alien queen the Predators keep on ice. But when things start to go awry, the humans find themselves caught in a war between the species.

The humans eventually pick a side, not that I cared what happened to them. Aside from Lance, we get Sanaa Lathan -- maybe best known for "Brown Sugar," "Love and Basketball" and as Wesley Snipes' mom in "Blade" -- and Tommy Flanagan, the dude with the scar on face who's made a career with bit parts in "Gladiator," "Braveheart" and "Face/Off" (no pun intended). Yeah, quite the honor roll.

It's all rather silly, and the special effects ease the pain only a bit. Sure, it's cool to see a horde of Aliens racing up the pyramid and overpowering the Predators a couple of thousand years ago. And who doesn't love a Predator catching a baby Alien when it springs from a human body? But as much as I enjoyed the movies that gave us these creatures, this battle royale pretty much sucks. Here's a hint, boys: It helps to actually care about one side in a fight if you're going to watch it for two hours. As Hudson from "Aliens" might say, "Game over, man! Game over!"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Apparently you missed me at Helms Deep: "A History of Violence"

Now here's something I thought I'd never see: David Cronenberg making a mainstream movie.

Don't get me wrong. I like Cronenberg. He may get weird, but he's never boring. Most of us have seen "The Fly" with Jeff Goldblum, which is grand -- if gross -- fun. Perhaps you've also seen "Scanners," which remains the best movie with exploding heads I've ever seen. ("Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a close second.) "eXistenZ" was amusingly bizarre, and let's not forget "Dead Ringers," in which Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists who definitely won't be at the top of any woman's list.

While I'm told "Crash" will cure anyone of Cronenberg, I'm usually game for his weirdness. Imagine my surprise when the reviews for "A History of Violence" were positively glowing, heralding Cronenberg as introspective and provocative without being gory. True, we do get some classic Cronenberg touches, from shots that linger on bloody body parts to spirited sex scenes. But this movie really does have wider appeal, and it's pretty riveting.

The plot has everyman Viggo Mortensen going about his perfect small-town life when two very bad men stop his diner. Viggo springs into action, killing the bad guys and becoming a hero. But then some more bad men show up, convinced Viggo is their old mob pal from back east. Is he or isn't he? What will he do now? Where's Barney Fife when you need him?

While it takes time to build steam, "History" provides a simple yet compelling tale of "Is this guy who he says he is?" Mortensen is pretty good as the lead; everyone knows him from "The Lord of the Rings," but he's shown his chops before, i.e. "G.I. Jane." (As well as, I have to assume, "Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.") Playing his wife is Maria Bello, who's carved out a nice little niche with roles like this and those in "The Cooler," "Payback" and "Auto Focus." It may help that she doesn't mind showing some skin. I know that works for me.

Rounding out the lead roles are Ed Harris as the guy who knows he knows Viggo and William Hurt as his boss. All of these actors do solid jobs, and the story conjured up enough questions to keep me pretty interested. For instance, because Viggo used violence to resolve a situation, is it OK for his teenage son to do the same? Or why is it OK for Viggo's wife to do a little roleplaying one night in the bedroom -- hello, cheerleader! -- but not for him to pretend to be someone else for several years? I mean, come on! Next thing you'll tell me is that I can't introduce myself to people as Heywood Jablome.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

If I get really lucky, one day Mel Gibson will remake me as his pet project ... well, before he finds Jesus: "Point Blank"

It's totally not fair, but how can you watch a Lee Marvin movie and not think of Mr. Blonde from "Reservoir Dogs?" You know, when he and Mr. White are getting into it, and Blonde says, "Boy that was really exciting. I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't ya? Yeah, me too." That line doesn't get as much attention as "Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?", but it's still good.

(And can we agree that Michael Madsen should have just hung it up right then? Hey, it was nice to see him in "Kill Bill," and I thought "Tilt" was OK. But there's been a lot of crap around those roles.)

For my generation, "Point Blank" is the movie Mel Gibson remade -- or shamed, depending on your point of view -- as "Payback," with Marvin playing the original role. I'm probably in the minority, but I actually like "Payback." It was kind of fun to see Gibson try his hand as a rogue well after his "Mad Max" days, and the simple revenge story was entertaining enough. But folks who had seen "Point Blank" couldn't shut up about Lee Marvin, so I figured it was my duty to see the original version when it came on TCM.

Our story: Marvin is double-crossed, shot point blank and left for dead by his partner and his wife after the three rob another couple of crooks during a drop-off on Alcatraz Island. He somehow pulls himself together and goes after his partner, then his partner's bosses -- an "organization" to which his partner repaid debts using the stolen money. As you might imagine, Ol' Lee really isn't interested in making up with these guys up as much as getting some green.

A few names are different, but it's essentially the same story retold in "Payback," but with more flashbacks and mood setting. Maybe that's supposed to be more complex, but I think the story could have been leaner. Still, Marvin makes a decent protagonist as he disposes of various bad guys. The best was his old partner, whom you may recognize from "Animal House." I bet you never expected to see Dean Wormer flying through the air naked, huh?

In the end, this movie probably was ruined for me by its remake. Like I said, I liked that leaner story, and it was funny to see Gibson set up as a not-very-nice guy before he starts exacting revenge (stealing from the homeless, not leaving a tip). We don't get too much of that with Marvin. Sure, he's a hard ass, but his grumpiness is mostly limited to the bad guys. Also, he's somewhat manipulated by a mysterious guy who may or may not be part of the very gang he's chasing. I liked it better when the wronged man was all alone.

That's too bad, because Marvin is intriguing, and I need to see more of his stuff. Still haven't caught "The Dirty Dozen" or any of his Westerns, i.e. "The Professionals," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" and "Cat Ballou." (He won an Oscar for that.) But I also haven't seen "The Delta Force," so I got that going for me ... which is nice.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Since they canceled "Judging Amy": Movievangelist Takes on TV

As I wrote earlier, it's been a little tough to fit many movies into my schedule, what with the new TV season. Yeah, yeah ... you never here Ebert whine about this. But you know what, I would kick his ass in a footrace, and I didn't give thumbs up to "Spartan."

Anyway, here's a rundown of what I've been watching the last few weeks:

ROME (HBO): A convoluted but relatively compelling account of the rise and fall of Julius Caesar. Especially riveting is his invention of a frothy orange drink.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC): The clock's ticking on this trendiest of shows. Sure, I dig Felicity Huffman, and Teri Hatcher has never looked better. But her bumbling makes Jack Tripper look like Mikhail Baryshnikov.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIAM (HBO): Seems to lost a little kick but still is worth watching just to see that envelope pushed. It helps that Larry's wife is somewhat foxy. (Yeah, I said it.)

EXTRAS (HBO): The new sitcom with that guy from the BBC version of "The Office." Anytime you can get Kate Winslet simulating phone sex, you've hooked me.

PRISON BREAK (FOX): Still not sure about this one, but how can you resist Stacy Keach, Peter Stormare and Movievangelist fave Robin Tunney in supporting roles? Apparently Newman, Pacino and Streep were unavailable. (And we know about Winslet.)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (FOX): From Jason Bateman out front to Ron Howard with the narration, this is hands-down the funniest show on TV, even better than "Curb." OK, OK but not "America's Next Top Model."

MY NAME IS EARL (NBC): Jason Lee usually steals every scene he's in, but the breakout star here is Jaime Pressly. Who knew the hottie from "Poison Ivy: The New Seduction" -- that's the third one, FYI -- could do funny?

THE OFFICE (NBC): "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" may help win this a bigger audience, which would be nice. Sure, it's weaker than the British version, but it sure as hell ain't no "Men Behaving Badly."

LOST (ABC): Missed the first season but caught up over the summer. Did that help me understand anything about these people or that island? Um, no.

INVASION (ABC): I love a good aliens-among-us yarn as much as anyone, but this baby better pick up soon. Even with Bill "Confederated Products" Fichtner around, I'm tired of watching people clean up after a hurricane. I get plenty of that on the news.

THE APPRENTICE: MARTHA STEWART (NBC): Before you get too crazy, let me explain. My better half and I used to watch the original Trump version -- not proud of it, just saying -- but frankly got tired of him hamming it up. (No!) With Martha on the scene, we switched over. The verdict: It's not a good thing, so far. We'll give it a few more weeks.

CSI (CBS): Keep your Caruso and Sinise. I'm rolling with the original crew, including the saucy Marg "Rhymes with PILF" Helgenberger. (Then again, if they get the balls to do "CSI: Paducah," I'm there.)

NIGHT STALKER (ABC): Just seen one of these, a loose update of a '70s show. That one apparently was quirky and amusing. This one ... not so much.

EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (UPN): Wait a minute ... UPN? UPN? That's still on the air? Did they have to sell it to Chris Rock to get him to do a show? Whatever the reason, this is a promising little sitcom. But how long before Bill Cosby has Rock killed for treading in his territory?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Thai is on my side: "Ong-bak"

First, an apology. Not only was I gone over the weekend, but the new TV season is kicking my ass when it comes to watching movies. Sure, I've got plenty of fine films TiVoed, and "Hitch" has been sitting in the Netflix pile forever. (Figured the missus and I could agree on that one.) But all of the season and series premieres have taken up a good chunk of my nighttime viewing. In fact, don't be surprised to see a post on that before long, because I know you care.

(Program note: That may be the last time you see my wife called "the missus." Turns out she not only reads this blog -- hey, it surprised me -- but doesn't particularly like that term of endearment. She's also not high on being called "the wife." I say it's better than "my" or "a" -- you're THE wife, the one and only! -- but she doesn't see it that way. We'll see what else I can come up with.)

Fortunately, one Friday night offered a movie opportunity, with the mis- ... I mean, My Reason for Being ... out of the house for a couple of hours. Seemed like a good time to check out a movie that won rave reviews but flew under the radar earlier this year, "Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior."

Maybe the best way to set this up is by sharing one of the taglines: "No computer graphics. No stunt doubles. No wires." What we get instead is a martial arts movie from Thailand with plenty of whirly-twirly, flippy-dippy but none of that "Matrix" tomfoolery. Sounds interesting, right?

Well, it wasn't, at least at first. Following a fun opening scene with the village boys engaging in some weird Capture the Flag game, things crawl along. The basic story is that some guys from Bangkok steal the head of the village's stone idol/god -- that would be Ong-bak -- and our hero, Ting, ventures from the village to the evil big city to get it back. Turns out Ting is some kind of monk-in-training, too, which means he knows a lot of cool martial arts moves but really shouldn't use them. What are the odds that policy holds up? It worked so well for Caine in "Kung Fu," right?

Once in Bangkok, though, the action picks up, and the second half offers plenty of impressive fights as Ting gets roped into more and more violence. (The alternative title for "Ong-bak" was "A Future of Violence," I believe.) Probably the most distinctive ting -- I mean, thing -- other than the lack of wires and stunt doubles is the frequent use of elbows and knees in muay thai, the martial art featured here. I guess we've seen that in other martial arts movies that involve Southeast Asia -- "Kickboxer" comes to mind -- but it was weird to see so much of it here.

No question that Tony Jaa, who plays Ting, is well-versed in the art of smackdown, and his innocent face works well in the role, too. He's not hamming it up like Jackie Chan nor using wires like Jet Li. (The football scene in "Romeo Must Die" made me howl.) But this movie mostly is a curiosity for martial arts fans, which explains why it didn't show up in the U.S. until this year despite being released in 2003. It's like someone said "Chan's getting too old, Li's cheating ... who else can we find from the Far East?"

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Ong-bak" features a fairly entertaining villain: a wheelchair-bound guy who speaks with one of those little microphones on his voice box. After Ned from "South Park," it's pretty damn hard to take this guy seriously, and I think the folks who made this film know it.