Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not that there's anything wrong with that, Part II: "Chuck and Buck"

Simple coincidence that I ended up seeing another somewhat disturbing movie with homoerotic undertones so soon after "Strangers on a Train." Actually, this makes three if you count "Road House." And then there was "They Live" with that big alley fight clearly masking some forbidden desires. Tell you what ... let's move on.

"Chuck and Buck" had been on my list for a while, I guess since the various rave reviews from the indie circuit. I've seen the writer/star Mike White in a few things, most notably "School of Rock" and "The Good Girl," where he plays a holy-roller who delivers one of the best lines after Jennifer Anniston's character says she likes her nights to herself: "Well, maybe you'll have night after night of eternal hellfire all to yourself. Just kidding you. Drive safe. Bye-bye."

"Chuck and Buck" was the first movie to generate any buzz for White, and that's understandable. He plays Buck, a childlike twentysomething -- not childish, but childlike -- whose mother dies at the film's start. When Chuck, his best friend from childhood -- now a normal guy -- comes to funeral, Buck fixates on him to the point of moving to L.A. and stalking Chuck, who is engaged and has a thriving career in the music industry. As you can guess, hijinks ensue.

Actually, the movie is more disturbing than amusing, with White coming across perfectly as the stunted Buck. He's always sucking a lollipop, he makes a collage for Chuck, he scribbles a play about his life on a pad ... yeah, he's not getting a job or girlfriend anytime soon, especially since he considers Chuck more than a friend, if you get my drift. (And I think you do.)

As Chuck, Chris Weitz sort of looks like Tom Cruise, which is funny on a couple of levels. He's not as good as White but does a decent job trying to be polite while being creeped out. Weitz may be better known as one of the guys -- along with his brother, who also is in "Chuck and Buck" -- behind the "American Pie" movies, and he's probably a better director than actor.

But the bigger problem with this movie is the resolution, which can be tricky when it comes to stalker stories. Kill the stalker, and it's a cliche. Reform the stalker, and it's a copout. Let the stalker win, and it's a bummer. Don't worry, I won't ruin the ending here. Let's just say I was left even more disturbed and somewhat disappointed. OK, you really want to know what happens? Well, it turns out Buck was Keyser Soze!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Not that there's anything wrong with that, Part I: "Strangers on a Train"

TCM had this run of Alfred Hitchcock movies not long ago, and I was kind of pumped to finally see "Vertigo." And I did record and start watching that so-called classic, but it didn't immediately grab me for some reason. So while it sits in my TiVo list, I decided to give another film from the Master of Suspense a shot. Smart move.

Fully recognizing I haven't seen all or even most Hitchcock movies, "Strangers on a Train" has jumped to near the top of my list of Ol' Alfred's works. Since it's outside the pop culture realm populated by "Psycho," "The Birds" and "North by Northwest," I wasn't sure what to expect. For instance, "Spellbound" was supposed to be pretty good, but I found it a little boring and weird. But no worries with "Strangers on a Train," which before now I knew only as the sort-of inspiration for "Throw Momma from the Train." (Another classic, right? Um, maybe not.)

Hitch wastes no time setting up the basic plot: A friendly guy on a Washington-to-New York train starts chatting with a fellow passenger and eventually comes around to the idea of how two guys could commit murders for each other. That way, he explains, each could get away with it because the main suspect would have an alibi while the murderer would have no motive. "Criss-cross." And he's not talking about getting caught between the moon and New York City, kids.

Of course, both men need to be committed to this scheme for it to work, but that's not the case here. While the guy -- named, well, Guy -- approached with the idea dismisses it as idle talk, the other fella, Bruno, has more sinister ideas. That leaves Guy in a pickle for most of the movie, with Bruno not wanting to let him off the hook for his part of the "deal."

Pretty simple, huh? Yet Hitchcock delivers several great, twisting scenes as Bruno ups the ante throughout the movie. Played by a guy I don't think I'd seen before, Robert Walker, Bruno is a terrific bad guy, whether it's following people from a distance or charming them up close. Really, it's a pretty nice performance, even if Bruno seems a little too taken with Guy. Come to think of it, I don't recall Bruno flirting with the ladies much, and he did look a bit like Liberace.

As for Guy, he's played with clean-cut innocence by Farley Granger, another guy I didn't recall from anywhere. Turns out he was one of the two young guys in "Rope," another decent Hitchcock film that also stars Jimmy Stewart, whom Granger somewhat resembles. Still, neither Granger nor Walker were big, big stars, which makes "Strangers on a Train" an even more impressive Hitchcock effort. But it's been long enough ... what say we remake this? Maybe we can get Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. You know, to recapture some of that "Money Train" magic.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Come on ... you know you never count your money when you're sittin' at the table: "Owning Mahowny"

Part of me wanted to ignore this movie simply because of the title. Have you ever seen "Mahowny" spelled that way? Why not just the normal "Mahoney?" Then again, that's how Steve Guttenberg's character spelled his name in the "Police Academy" movies, and that's hardly a model for our children.

You may recall me mentioning this movie as a supposedly sterling performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Twister"), coming a couple of years before his Oscar-calbier turn in "Capote." Here we have Hoffman portraying another real-life person: a mild-mannered bank officer whose gambling habit gets him in deep trouble. Even worse, he's Canadian.

It doesn't take long to learn about the double life of Dan Mahowny. First we see him as a shlub who nevertheless knows what he's doing when it comes to bank loans. Then we see him as a shlub who likes to place bets on the horses and games. And Hoffman has the shlub part down pat, from the nerdy glasses and wispy mustache to the rumpled suits and mussed hair. Sure, he may clean up for a client meeting, but for the most part he's just a lovable loser.

"Loser" is an understatement. For all of Mahowny's skill at banking, he's not so good at gambling. It doesn't help that he can't stop, either, leading him to start abusing his bank position to bankroll his extracurricular activities, which take him from Toronto to Atlantic City and even Las Vegas. As the stakes get higher, so does Mahowny's anxiety. Even the love of a good woman -- the mostly unrecognizable Minnie Driver ("GoldenEye") -- doesn't help.

Hoffman does a nice job as a man balancing two worlds, never playing Mahowny as hapless despite his appearance. It's also clear that Mahowny really is compulsive -- to the point that his every action is focused on allowing him to gamble, from the fraudulent bank loans to the passing up of various casino perks. With the latter, it starts with no booze on the casino floor and continues to dismissing the hooker in his AC hotel suite. When he does give in -- taking the casino jet to AC -- it's just because that means he can be at the tables sooner.

Of course, the party has to end sometime, and that's what kept me watching to the end even if the movie as a whole was a bit understated. For instance, we know that Mahowny is a good worker, but it's hard to tell he was a rising star (like the real person this movie is based on). I also started to lose track of exactly how much Mahowny lost. Maybe the low-key nature is because all these people were Canadian. On the plus side, they say "a-boot" a lot.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

For those of you who thought The Rock was the first wrestler-turned-actor: "They Live"

I have no excuses for this one. It's all on me.

Sure, I can champion this lesser effort from John Carpenter as a guilty pleasure, which it is. I also can note that it most definitely bests even more subpar Carpenter films, such as "Ghosts of Mars." But hey, when you're watching a movie with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as the lead/hero, you clearly have problems.

It's hard to remember when I first saw "They Live," but I suspect it was when I was in college, when other like-minded young men and I could fully appreciate Piper's strutting through this rather silly plot. The basic idea isn't so bad, but the abundance of holes and amount of faith Carpenter asks us to have while watching events unfold make this a curiosity at best.

Our story has unnamed drifter Piper just getting by in L.A. when he comes across some sunglassses that allow him to see the real world. That is, a world controlled by some kind of ghoulish aliens who are manipulating humans with subliminal messages, i.e. subsonic "Sleep" commands and hidden orders such as "Marry and Reproduce" in advertisements.

As you might imagine, this unsettles Roddy a bit, but instead of cowering, he decides to bring down the aliens, who are conveniently unnamed and largely unknown. Hey, they're aliens and they're controlling us! That's all we need to know, dammit!

Like I said, it's pretty flimsy and simple, but it does allow Piper to deliver some pretty hilarious lines. My favorites:

3. "Mama don't like tattletales."
2. "Life's a bitch, and she's back in heat."

and ... wait for it ...

1. "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I am all out of bubble gum."

Another great thing about this movie: It has one of the best fight scenes ever. None of this whirly-twirly, wire-team crap ... not a lot of blood flying around ... just good old-fashioned two guys beating on each other in an alley. Roddy and classic "That Guy" Keith David go at it for several minutes, and you'd think it was over a few times before it finally is. Really, it's something to see.

Otherwise, this pretty much depends on how much you like Carpenter and are willing to accept his simplistic storytelling. Me? Well, I think I paid to see "Ghosts of Mars," so there you go. "They Live" might not be "Halloween" or even "Starman," but it's not "Memoirs of an Invisible Man," either.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Eviction, anyone?: "Rent"

Some people say when a man and woman get married, they become more than husband and wife. They become a team.

Tonight, I took one for the team.

I really never planned to give "Rent" a shot, but I was willing to consider it if the reviews were good. They weren't, but My Reason For Drawing Breath said she wanted to see a movie as part of our Thanksgiving holiday. "I want to see a movie with you!" Never mind that we already had seen almost everything else that interested us. We were off to "Rent!" Damn.

As those of you with a passing familiarity with Broadway may know -- don't worry, I didn't -- "Rent" follows eight New Yorkers for a year, from Dec. 24, 1989, to Dec. 24, 1990. They're artsy-fartsy bohemians in the East Village -- gee, that won't get annoying -- and this is when AIDS has become some serious sh*t, meaning some of these folks may not make out too well.

As a Broadway musical, this was a celebrated story. As a movie, this kind of sucks, in large part because it comes off as horribly melodramatic and somewhat dated. Bear in mind I like some movie musicals, including period pieces. "Chicago" was pretty good, and "Oliver!" is probably my favorite. And don't forget "Little Shop of Horrors," which may be a parody of sorts but still is a movie musical, and one with Steve Martin at his finest.

I do have to give "Rent" credit for three things:
1. The answering machine for two characters who live together. It has them simply saying "Spe-e-e-e-ak" in a stoner voice.
2. Rosario Dawson, who wasn't in the stage version but looks damn good here. And she can dance, too. (Hello, high leg kicks!)
3. The dorky would-be filmmaker, who was bugging me in a "Where have I seen him?" way before I realized he was in "Road Trip," playing the teaching assistant who sort-of stalks Amy Smart. Yeah, that guy. Now imagine him hopping on tables and singing. Weird.

Aside from these very small pleasures, "Rent" largely annoyed me, from the opening scene of the main characters singing on stage to the multiple cheesy songs and hammy performances. Most of the eight leads were from the original stage version in the mid-1990s, and most of those folks haven't done much else. That also makes this tough to swallow vs. "Chicago," which had bigtime stars who also were pretty good in their roles.

But hey, at least this mess took a whole two hours and 15 minutes to sit through! Yeah, that's pretty ironic given my wife is queen of the 85-minute movie. Why couldn't I have gotten dragged to one of those? We could have seen "The Wedding Date" almost twice!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Small world ... I, too, shot a man in Reno just to watch him die: "Walk the Line"

You know people are good actors when you forget about the distracting things on their face.

You might think I'm talking about Joaquin Phoenix ("SpaceCamp") and his harelip scar (actually a birthmark). I am, but what about Reese Witherspoon ("S.F.W.")? Sure, she's super cute, but have you ever noticed her weird forehead? It's seems kind of dented to me.

Of course, since both of these actors can be really, really good, it doesn't much matter what's going on with their mugs. "Walk the Line" is the latest evidence, with both Joaquin and Reese doing everything they can to inhabit their roles as Johnny Cash and his singing partner/wife/true love, June Carter Cash.

While I think his songs are O.K., it's probably a stretch to call me a big Johnny Cash fan. (It's not like I weigh 300 lbs. or something. Pa dum dum.) The only CD I have is his greatest hits, and I can't remember if My Reason for Being or I brought that to our blessed union. When there was a revival of sorts for Cash in the 1990s, thanks to MTV looking for cult figures, I merely nodded my head and said, "Good for him." In short, I like "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" as much as the next guy, but not any moreso.

Even so, I had heard good things about "Walk the Line," and unless you're really opposed to Cash and singer biopics in general, it's worth a look. Some people have noticed how this comes on the heels of "Ray," but that was all Jamie Foxx. Here we get a one-two punch in Phoenix and Witherspoon, with the latter probably getting the best of the former.

That's no slight to our man Joaquin. Since he doesn't look that much like Cash, it took a little time for him to grow on me. But once he made it big and was performing, especially on the bigger stages, it was clear Phoenix has studied Cash's moves and mannerisms. Along with perfecting the guitar across the back and the hunch while playing, Phoenix also unleashed a fairly decent voice. Not dead-on, but that's a pretty tall order given the Man in Black's distinctive bass.

Witherspoon, on the other hand, didn't have to worry as much about mimicing June Carter because most non-country music fans (like me) couldn't tell you if she sounded more like Patsy Cline or Porky Pig. She also gets the benefit of arriving on screen later in the movie, showing up with a flourish vs. growing into her character like Phoenix. That allowed Witherspoon to not only be a bundle of energy -- and pretty funny -- but also surprise me with her voice. The girl has some pipes.

These two performances compensate for a script and plot that seemed a bit standard -- poor boy makes it big, wrestles with demons and eventually gets his act together. Even with the demons, this seemed a bit glossed over. The Cash-Carter love affair was real enough, I guess, although the one hole in Witherspoon's performance may have been that she didn't 100% sell me on what she saw in Cash. It's nothing glaring, and it's possible she was meant to be too jaded to just fall for Cash, no questions asked. But the back and forth ... I wanted a bit more about why she agonized over him.

Meanwhile, Cash just got hooked on drugs and did the predictable bad-boy stuff, complete with crying "Daddy didn't love me." Still, it was fun to see him partying with other rising stars of the time -- Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings and even the King, Elvis Presley. This results in the funniest line I've ever heard connected to Elvis. Let's just say it refers to Elvis's obsession with the ladies, with a reference to one of the aliases from "Fletch." You know, the Comanche Indian one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hands-down the best movie about a philosophy-spouting bartender who drives a Mercedes and lives in a barn: "Road House"

There are certain unquestionable joys in life: finding a $20 on the sidewalk, watching your team come from behind to win, having a first date that ends with breakfast and catching "Road House" in its full, not-edited-for-TV glory.

Really, when a movie has become one of the staples of TBS/TNT, it's downright bizarre to see the unfiltered version. Yet that's what I stumbled across when scanning the high-definition channels on my cable system recently. I don't think the movie itself was high-def -- hey, we can get only so lucky -- but there was plenty to take in when not taking break to learn about how TNT knows drama, comedy, etc.

First, the movie was in widescreen -- all the better to really feel like you're in the Double Deuce. Then there was all the swearing, which didn't seem out of place by any stretch but still flowed a lot more freely than in the edited version. As for the violence, we got one key scene at the end of the movie -- when our hero, Dalton, inflicts a kill move -- that almost never makes it on TBS. Some people just can't handle a guy's throat being ripped out.

But without a doubt the most jarring difference between versions was my personal favorite, nudity. Not only do we get a little more exposure to Dalton's girl, played by Kelly Lynch, but the impromptu striptease by the "bad girl" is carried out to its conclusion vs. a cutaway shot. Hello, blondie! Even more enjoyable might have neen the other, random boob shots, from a bouncer banging a girl in a backroom to parties at the villain's pool.

But perhaps I'm getting too off-focus here. After all, "Road House" is always good fun, in any version. Let us count the ways:
1. Our hero, played by Patrick Swayze ("Steel Dawn), is the toughest guy around and can tame any crappy bar. Never mind that he's a philosophy major from New York with fancy clothes, flowing locks and waaaaay too much oil on the chest while doing his Zen-yoga-ta chi workout on the riverbank.
2. His buddy/mentor, played by Sam Elliott, seems more the classic bouncer/cooler but is impossible to take seriously thanks to his dialogue (more on this in a bit) and general Sam Elliott-ness. (Not to be confused with Eliot Ness) You know what I'm talking about. Just rent "The Big Lebowski."
3. The girl, the aforementioned Lynch, has some of the most unfortunate hair I've ever seen in my life. Really, Aquanet should give her a lifetime endorsement contract. But the romance between her and Dalton? Totally believable.
4. The villain has two fatal flaws: (A) His name is Brad Wesley. Yeah, Brad. (B) He's played by Ben Gazzara, who may have played Al Capone in the '70s but has never struck me as a tough guy. Just consider his clothes, especially the straw hat and amount of pink he wears. Call me old-fashioned.

As any 25-44 man should know, "Road House" has Dalton trying to make the Double Deuce a nice bar. Alas, the local kingpin, Mr. Wesley, would rather keep Dalton under his thumb with the rest of the sh*tty little town. Oh, and did we mention Dalton's new girlfriend used to be with Wesley. Do you think there's going to be some kind of showdown?

You get a sense from the above comments how good this movie is -- not very -- yet it remains one of the greatest guilty pleasures of all time. Why? Maybe it's the dialogue. There are too many great lines to choose from, but consider these five:
1. "Pain don't hurt." (Thanks, college boy.)
2. "I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice." (Oh, I see.)
3. "That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that." (Someone's been watching Dr. Phil again.)
4. "It's my way ... or the highway." (I forget, did Confucius or Aristotle say that?)
5. "What am I supposed to do?" "There's always barber college." (This one actually was kind of funny.)

Good stuff, huh? Maybe that's why I keep coming back. Well, that and Ben Gazzara.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?: "The Seven-Year Itch"

Well, that was a lot to go through just for one scene.

I'm speaking, of course, of the famous Marilyn Monroe shot with her skirt flying up around her hips, thanks to the fortuitous passing of subway trains beneath a grate. No question this is the iconic MM image, and I figured it was my obligation to see it in the proper context. After all, if it was enough to make her husband mad, it's good enough for me.

Just not right away, apparently. I TiVoed "The Seven-Year Itch" way back in March -- yeah, more than seven months ago -- and for some reason kept putting it off. I don't know ... guess I just wasn't ever in the mood. (Unlike Marilyn. Thank you folks, I'll be here all week.) But when my wife recently took off for the weekend, I buckled down and braced myself for skirt-flying fun.

Alas, as often is the case, I was a little disappointed. The film has Monroe living upstairs from an older man whose wife and kid have left New York City for the summer. Because men were only a few steps removed from caves in the 1950s, they usually spent the summer chasing other women while their wives were away. What follows is the man's internal battle over whether he'll be good or bed Monroe. As you can guess, hijinks ensue.

Some of this is funny enough, I suppose. If Monroe truly is playing the dumb blonde, she does a decent job, sharing that she keeps her "undies in the icebox" and calling almost everything "elegant" (and not using the word right). The guy, Tom Ewell, also eats up his role, channeling his anxiety into various daydreams -- good (romancing Monroe) and bad (getting caught by his wife).

But there's a pretty big disconnect from when this movie was made and today, and it has not aged well. Hey, I love infidelity comedy as much as anybody, but when the movie is based on a widely-accepted practice of husbands cheating on wives en masse over the summer, it rings a tad hollow.

While our hero wrestles with whether to do the deed, we see a few other guys going about their merry way with other women. If that really was the situation, then it didn't make sense why the guy didn't get with Marilyn in the first 15 minutes. Of if he loved his wife so much, why agonize over and over about the blonde bombshell upstairs? It was just too cute for me.

But hey, Monroe does look good. The blank face doesn't suit her well, but just when she was about to get annoying she would unveil that smoky, eyes-half-shut look. Woof. As for the skirt scene, it's rather tame by today's standards, and I really can't relate to that being such a big deal. I guess you just weren't supposed to get a good look at a girl's thighs in the '50s. That's a little hard to swallow in this era of Girls Gone Wild. Not that I'm complaining. Not at all.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Never, ever, ever, EVER let your wife pick out a movie by herself: "The Wedding Date"

Looking back, I would have rather been dragged by my scrotum through a rose bush.

This movie made me angry. On more levels than I can count.

It cost $15 million to make. Good god. How many families in Africa could that feed? How many houses could Habitat for Humanity build? How many vaccines could you make for Third World countries? And you have to go build an idiotic 78-minute movie around f*cking Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney?

If I write any more, I'm liable to punch a hole in my monitor. As the great Abraham Lincoln once said, "F*ck these f*cking f*cks."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why so red-faced?: "Good Night, and Good Luck"

It's hard to believe there was a time when an idiotic, badgering windbag with absolutely no facts could command so much attention from so many small minds. But enough about Bill O'Reilly. (Pa dum dum.)

Even Gen Xers like me know the basic story of Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare, when the bloviating junior senator from Wisconsin threw around allegations of communists in key positions of government and elsewhere. I was less familiar with how McCarthy was brought down, in large part by legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. We can thank George T. Clooney for educating our ignorant souls.

Clooney, apparently not happy with"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" as his only turn behind the camera, directs a solid ensemble cast in a curiosity of a movie: It's black and white, set almost entirely in CBS studios, and features virtually no women. (The excellent Patricia Clarkson gets little to do, and the only other member of the double-x chromosome set is a jazz singer whose songs provide breaks in the action.

Our story has Murrow and Co. deciding to take on McCarthy after he goes too far by picking on a poor military guy. But rather than bellow and insult people like today's top talking heads, Murrow essentially lets McCarthy hang himself, even if there's a bunch of hand-wringing along the way. You know, given that people actually did not like Communists in the 1950s.

Perhaps this is just a glorified history lesson, but it's more than a little applicable today, between the pandering by some media instead of actual stories and the witch hunts we see from time to time. ("You know Samir down the street? I swear he was the 21st hijacker!") Murrow was a real journalist who, true, got stuck doing some cheesy interviews; the Liberace one in "Good Night" is a hoot. (Yes, I just channeled Wilford Brimley.) But he also knew right from wrong and that he could make a difference if his boss would just keep those sponsors off his back.

There's probably more significance here, but I don't want to get too carried away. In any case, the performances are good across the board. David Strathairn, a well-known "that guy" who has done plenty of good stuff ("L.A. Confidential," "Eight Men Out") seems to have Murrow down pat. Clooney ("Return of the Killer Tomatoes") is his sidekick/producer Fred Friendly, Jeff Daniels ("The Butcher's Wife") is their immediate boss, and Frank Langella ("Cutthroat Island") is the top guy at CBS. All comes across naturally, as does the period in general, i.e. a bunch of white guys in white shirts and dark ties smoking all day at the office.

No question "Good Night" isn't for everybody, but it also gets the job done rather briskly, moving through the Murrow-McCarthy follies in about 90 minutes before leaving us with Murrow's biting criticism of television failing America. Again, something to think about today. Now if you'll excuse me, "Elimidate" is about to start.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My so-stalled life: "Shopgirl"

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and that a bag of sugar has nothing on Claire Danes.

Really, is there a sweeter actress around? I say "actress" because we're just talking about women here. If we consider all actors, well, we know who the sweetest is. Right, Colin Farrell.

Anyway, it was a big weekend at the movies for yours truly. With my better half out of town, I managed to catch a couple of movies on my own. Before she escaped, though, we took in "Shopgirl," which is a fine date movie that I probably would have seen on my own at some point. That's because it (a) has been generally well received and (b) has the lovely and genuine Ms. Danes, who lights up the screen in almost anything. (That is, as long as we agree that "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" never happened.)

For many, Danes always will be the angst-ridden teen of "My So-Called Life," the TV series whose short existence led to a intolerable level of bitching among the tissue-toting set. And to be honest, there's some angst and plenty of heartbreak in "Shopgirl." But Danes is dead-on as a twentysomething Saks Fifth Avenue sales clerk who just wants to be happy. Even though this takes place in Hollywood, it's an all-American story of a woman who wants to find love and finally gets some options but finds neither is perfect.

(Yeah, just go ahead and take away my Manly Man Club membership after reading that.)

As Danes' character -- the improbably-named Mirabelle Buttersfield -- muddles along, we meet Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a slacker who nevertheless has enough energy to ask her out. Their date is far from perfect, but Mirabelle lets Jeremy hang around a bit anyway. That is, until she starts dating Ray, a wealthy older man played by Steve Martin. Ray's a little awkward compared with Jeremy's bravado, but he also can pay for stuff and seems decent overall. What the heck, Mirabelle thinks.

As you might guess, she eventually chooses between the men, although not in any showdown-at-high-noon way. The movie is more about Mirabelle discovering what she needs vs. what she can get, how she can get what she needs and who can give it to her. (Follow all that?)

On this level, Danes is great. With each man, she's hopeful things will work out eventually, until she realizes that she also can have some control. That's not easy to represent on screen, but Danes oft-wounded face does it well. Other little touches, i.e. wearing glasses while she drives her pickup around L.A., work well, too.

The men aren't quite as good. I'm still not convinced that Schwartzman's career hasn't gone downhill since "Rushmore." For instance, I did not (heart) Huckabees. He also really annoyed me at the beginning of "Shopgirl," and I'm not convinced it was just his character. Still, I guess he grew on me.

As for Martin, he wrote the movie, which I assume is something of a vanity project. That might explain why he plays the older guy, and why it might have been better for someone else. Sure, Ray had a dry wit at times, but he's mostly boring, and I'm not sure that's Martin's forte. In fact, I kind of wonder if he wanted to ape another aging comic who hit it off with a young woman: Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." Not the same kind of relationship, true, but still. What's next, Chevy Chase macking with Kirsten Dunst?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

This could make people think of Dustin as "the other Hoffman": "Capote"

Rare is the movie that makes you want to read a book afterward. I mean, that's why I go to movies: so I don't have to read. As soon as subtitles come on the screen, I think, "Well, damn."

I actually did read "In Cold Blood" several years ago ... in my early 20s, I think. Great book, although the significance was lost on me then. In an era when true crime nonfiction books are pretty common, it's hard to fathom that style of writing as never existing. Yet that apparently was the case in the 1960s before Capote unleashed the story of a Kansas farm family's murder on the masses.

"Capote" gives us insight to the man behind the book as he discovers the story of the Clutters and, more importantly, the two men who killed them. After starting with the discovery of the bodies, we follow Capote as he treks from New York to Kansas -- and subsequently back and forth several times -- during the investigation, trial and long wait for execution. (Oops, spolier. Yeah, they were guilty.)

More notable than the plot is Capote as a character, with "character" a colossal understatement. Having neither seen nor heard Truman Capote myself, it's hard for me to say how dead-on Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Patch Adams") is in the title role. What I can say is that he's damn good at showing a strange man who seems out of place yet somehow commands attention whenever he's in a room. He also impressively conveys Capote's purpose in documenting the murder case -- that is, Capote's selfish bid for glory under the guise of being truly interested in everyone involved in the situation.

Other players are solid, too -- Catherine Keener ("Death to Smoochy" as Capote's friend and fellow author Harper Lee; Chris Cooper ("Breast Men") as the local sheriff; and Clifton Collins Jr. ("Road Dogz") as killer Perry Smith. But this is Hoffman's show, and if you thought he was good in other stuff, he's even better here. The best aspect may be how Hoffman carries out Capote's dance with Smith, befriending and even falling in love with the killer -- Capote was gay, not that there's anything wrong with that -- while staying focused on what he needs to hear to write the book he was meant to write ... and build on his fame.

I've liked Hoffman pretty much from the time I saw him in "Boogie Nights." ("I'm a f*ckin' idiot! I'm a f*ckin' idiot!") Since then, he's played all sorts of fun roles. Consider 1998, when he had a little part in "The Big Lebowski" and a main role in "Happiness." Or the next year, when he was a spoiled rich kid in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and a male nurse in "Magnolia." Then you've got bit parts in "Almost Famous," "Punch-Drunk Love" ... even "Along Came Polly." He's hilarious in that movie! "Raindrops!"

As for other lead roles, I hear "Flawless" and "Owning Mahowny" are pretty good, but I guess "Capote" might be the first time I've seen him be the big man on the movie poster. Well, he deserves it, and it's a safe bet they'll be talking about him come Oscar time. If not, well, they're f*ckin' idiots. F*ckin' idiots!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

But it's not like he got any weirder after this: "Purple Rain"

Like a bazillion other kids, I had a copy of the "Purple Rain" soundtrack when I was growing up. I didn't, however, see the R-rated movie back in 1984, nor had I seen it at all until recently. After recording it from HBO, I finally checked out the Paisley One in all his glory last night, right after I had seen the little dude in "Everybody Hates Chris" dress up as Prince for Halloween. Pretty funny, trust me.

Now let's get something straight: I'm not really a Prince fan per se. Sure, I'll turn up "When Doves Cry" when it comes on the radio, and some other tunes aren't bad. But I've never shelled out an absurd amount a money for a concert ticket, nor do I have an "Under the Cherry Moon" poster on my wall. That said, you gotta admit the guy isn't boring, between the quirky costumes and that whole changing his name to a combination male/female/French horn symbol. In fact, I submit that he and Madonna -- who rose to prominence around the same time -- have been the most entertaining/annoying musicians to watch the last couple of decades.

Anyway, with "Purple Rain" being a seminal '80s pop movie -- MTV-plus, as it were -- I felt obligated to give it a whirl. Sadly, I did so 20 years too late. It may not have been a total loss, but as a relatively boring thirtysomething white guy, my tolerance for Oh Ye of Much Puce and Lace mugging for the camera was about as long as his wispy mustache hairs.

As you may know, Prince really branches out by playing "The Kid" -- that's right, no other name given -- a band frontman who regularly plays a well-known Minneapolis club. (First Avenue; I've seen it.) While he struggles to make great music, his dad (a failed musician) beats up on his mom, leading to some really awkward moments in which The Artist Who Becomes The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (TAWBTAFKAP) tries to do drama. Not so good.

His attempts at romance aren't much better, although the love interest, Apollonia Kotero, doesn't bring much to the table. Well, I shouldn't say that. After all, she did end up with some pretty great roles after this, playing Zarah in "Ministry of Vengeance" and Hot Tub Woman in "Anarchy TV." Nice lungs in the lake scene, though.

Which leaves us with two things: the villain and the music. The villian -- America, have you heard? -- is Morris Day, frontman for the Time and idol of Jay and Silent Bob. Day is relatively entertaining and gets the best lines, although he's not exactly channeling Brando here. Still, he and Jerome getting down during "Jungle Love" never gets old.

As for the music ... hey, it's good. What did you expect? Prince and Morris have some good stage scenes, while Apollonia prances around in her underwear. (No complaints there.) If you're not into Mr. Raspberry Beret, you won't watch this anyway. But if you're on the fence, you'll probably think he does a decent job when it comes to putting on a show. Hell, it beats watching him try to look tough on a motorcycle. What, was the little red corvette in the shop?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

And Kirstie Alley has never been the same since "Star Trek II," either: "Sunset Boulevard"

It's always weird to see movies responsible for famous lines after you've heard those lines a million times. Consider "Casablanca." I'm pretty sure I had heard "Play it again, Sam" -- not the actual line, but sue me -- as well as "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" a good hundred times before I actually saw the movie. Fortunately, the movie was pretty good, and the lines came across naturally even if they were old news.

It's a similar story with "Sunset Boulevard," the Billy Wilder classic I had never seen until a few days ago. TiVoed from TCM, of course, and well worth the time. First, I hadn't seen William Holden in many things -- maybe only "The Wild Bunch" and "Network," which reflects poorly on me -- and he was a pretty good young actor in 1950. But more important, this Gloria Swanson chick was most definitely bonkers, and it was pretty fun to watch.

(As for the famous lines and their influence, just Google "ready for my close-up" and see how that has pervaded pop culture.)

Our story has Holden as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter dodging bill collectors and considering a return to Ohio -- horror of horrors -- when he stumbles into an old mansion occupied by a washed-up actress with an iron grip on delusions of grandeur. His initial agreement to fix a script she thinks will return her to glory becomes something more, as he gives in to the money she showers on him. Meanwhile, she not has only gone off the deep end but is paddling out to the ocean.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Hey, Tom Cruise also gave into the old lady's millions in 'Cocktail!' I detect a theme in this blog, and I don't like it!" You weren't thinking that? Really? Must have just been me. Anyway, it's creepy fun watching Holden wrestle with being a kept man while Swanson devours the role of a woman who can't get over why movies changed from silents to talkies yet wants back in the game. When it comes to actresses who are thisclose to going full-on nuts, she's right up there with Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest." (All together now ... "NO WIRE HANGERS ... EVER!!!")

Of course, you know Holden won't sell out completely, and his effort to get out of the relationship at the same time Swanson's character, Norma Desmond, thinks she's getting a comeback role elevates the tension. I'm betraying nothing to say things end badly, since you figure that out from the first scene -- one of the more creative I've seen, especially for an older movie. (The poor dope - he always wanted a pool.) And yes, Norma eventually was ready for her close-up.