Sunday, February 26, 2006

Not to be confused with an Oscar-nominated film of the same name: "Crash"

When David Cronenberg gave us "Scanners," it was fun to see people blow up each other's heads with their minds. (And you can't go wrong with Michael Ironside.)

"The Fly" was a gross but ultimately OK sci-fi movie, with a perfectly-cast Jeff Goldblum.

And just last year, Cronenberg showed he could deliver a critically-acclaimed and practically mainstream drama with "A History of Violence."

"Crash," on the other hand, sucks.

Almost anyone who's into movies has heard about the first "Crash," which predates the current Oscar-nominated film by more than eight years. One girl told me a year after "Crash" came out that "you'll never want to have sex again" after seeing it. Others merely say it's damn weird.

While I'm happy to report that I'm still all for doing the nasty -- ruling out the former claim -- I'll affirm the latter. The movie is weird, to say the least. But please don't mistake that for "quirky" or "intriguing." By "weird," I mean bizarrely stupid, and not in a cool way.

Our story -- and that's being generous -- has James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger as a married couple who apparently are bonking other people to keep their sex life hopping. After Spader is in a car crash, he discovers some oddball group in which members get off on car crashes. Hey, he thinks, that sounds neat! Hell, how could you not?

Also involved in Spader's wreck is Holly Hunter, and joining the proceedings before long are Elias Koteas (Duncan from "Some Kind of Wonderful") and Rosanna Arquette (who inspired a Toto song of the same name). Over the course of an hour or so, these folks get all excited about cars and sex and how they can have sex in cars, either wrecked or about to be wrecked. Koteas already is scarred from a wreck, and Arquette has some kind of leg braces. These disfigurements turn on heretofore "normal" people Spader and Unger.

But all this talk of "plot" really is just an excuse for three things to happen:
1. Each female lead to stare off into the distance and expose a breast every 20 minutes or so.
2. Spader to slobber over various characters' scars (including Koteas).
3. Everyone to crawl into a car at one point or another and fondle the interior.

It's all rather stupid, not provocative at all, and I'd be stunned if any critic saw this as "daring" and "groundbreaking." I'm not saying it's porn or disgusting, either, just dumb. Hey, nobody will confuse Cronenberg with Orson Welles, but come on, you're capable of a story, Dave.

I'd say it's a shame to see such actors wasted, but it's not, really. Sure, Hunter has an Oscar, but she's been known to brain-fart on roles. Spader always was looking for that breakthrough movie role but has slipped into a comfortable TV gig on "Boston Legal." (Still, I loved his smarmy turns in "Pretty in Pink" and "Less Than Zero," and "Secretary" was OK, too.)

Then we have Unger, who is plenty easy on the eyes but is mostly cursed to be seen and not heard. I may not have seen her entire filmography, but I bet Unger's most high-profile work was in "The Game," one year after "Crash." Don't recall her pressing a bare breast against the hood of a car in that one, but she was still OK.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Extra tartar sauce, please: "A Fish Called Wanda"

Jamie Lee Curtis is a curious actress.

While her mom, Janet Leigh, was considered a beauty -- look at how she got Norman Bates riled up -- nobody would say Jamie Lee has classic good looks. Heck, her long face and arched eyebrows can be downright creepy at times.

Yet there's something about the way she left behind her "scream queen" roots and proved herself adept at comedy. First came "Trading Places" -- also the big-screen debut of her bare breasts -- and later came "True Lies," an action movie in which she does some slapstick (and looks good in her underwear). I hear "Freaky Friday" wasn't bad, either, but I'm not exactly in that target demographic. (That's also before Lindsay Lohan fully blossomed, too.)

The apex of Jamie Lee's comedy exploits probably was "A Fish Called Wanda," a caper film also starring John Cleese and Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame), as well as Kevin Kline (more on him in a bit). We're coming up on 20 years since "Wanda" came out, but the movie -- and Kline in particular -- is still funny as hell.

Our story starts with Curtis, Kline and Palin stealing diamonds in a heist organized by Curtis's boyfriend, George (some British guy). It turns out Curtis and Kline are lovers, not brother and sister, but their plan to double-cross George hits a bump when George moves the diamonds before getting pinched by the cops. Enter Cleese, George's lawyer, whom Curtis hopes can get the location of the diamonds from George. Hijinks ensue.

All four main players are pretty funny, from Palin's stuttering animal lover to Cleese's buttoned-up barrister. But Kline definitely emerges as the wackiest of all, with his Otto fancying himself a philosopher but really just a sadist. While the scene with him, Palin and Palin's fish is quite funny -- "Avoid the green ones. They're not ripe yet" -- the best exchanges are between him and Cleese, including this one:

Otto (Kline): You pompous, stuck-up, snot-nosed, English, giant, twerp, scumbag, f*ck-face, d*ckhead, a$$hole.
Archie (Cleese): How very interesting. You're a true vulgarian, aren't you?
Otto: You're the vulgarian, you f*ck!

It was great to see Kline win an Oscar for this outrageous role, which I probably enjoy more than anything else he's done. That's saying something, considering "Dave" is funny, and I even liked "I Love You to Death." And while I haven't seen it, I understand "Cry Freedom" was hee-larious. Apartheid ... it's a riot!

Friday, February 24, 2006

This day would be a national holiday

Seriously, would anything unite people in this country more than this?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fletcher Christian, oh the time has come ... and you know that you're the only one to say ... OK: "Mutiny on the Bounty"

You gotta love Night Ranger ...

Two thoughts before we get to it:

1. Do you remember the first time you saw Tom Selleck without a mustache? I think it was "In and Out" with Kevin Kline, but in any case, it was just plain weird ... and wrong. I mean, only a few guys on the planet can pull off the mustache -- Selleck, Burt Reynolds, Alex Trebek -- and for any of them to shave it is just a crime. (Yeah, I know Trebek did, too.) I mention all this because Clark Gable has no mustache in "Mutiny on the Bounty," and that was a bit of an adjustment.

2. It took me a few movies, but I've decided that Gable reminds me of George Clooney. True, Gable has the more distinguished filmography, but both pretty much are roguish ladies' men who "don't give a damn" -- ha ha -- about what anyone else thinks. Yeah, Gable may have never worn a Batsuit with nipples, but Clooney probably has better breath.

As for the actual movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty" is usually considered a classic, and it probably fits the bill. While versions came before (1916) and after (1962 and 1984), this 1935 version remains the standard, thanks not so much to Gable -- who is good -- as Charles Laughton, whose Captain Bligh is the perfect sadistic villain, which I'm sure just cheered everyone up during Great Depression.

You know the story: Bligh is captain of the H.M.S. Bounty, but his abusive behavior ultimately drives first mate Christian to mutiny, leaving Bligh and a few others to fend for themselves on a lifeboat. Knowing this, the fun in "Bounty" comes from watching just how far Bligh will go, and just how much Christian will take before they kindly part ways.

Initially a little cartoonish and hard to take seriously, Bligh soon proves to be a real b*stard, and Laughton never once lets up through the whole movie. It's quite impressive. Given the chain of command in the military, it's easy to see how Bligh believes in absolute authority, no matter if he's right or wrong. Not helping matters is the fact that many sailors were criminals or other draftees, but Christian realizes this and tries to bridge the gap between officers and crooks so the ship can function.

Let's be clear: Gable doesn't make a convincing Englishman. I'm trying to remember if he even tried an accent. He did, however, make Christian more complex than a second-in-command simply hoping to seize control at the first opportunity. When the big mutiny moment arrives, it's because Christian has finally had enough after toeing the line for so long, and Gable does a decent job when it comes to conveying that loss of patience.

"Bounty" holds up well technically, too, with some nice ocean scenes and a mostly convincing ship setting. Not sure the Tahiti scenes are that accurate -- the movie was shot off the coast of California -- but that's not a killer. Gable's breath, on the other hand ...

Monday, February 20, 2006

What a piece of Shaq: "Blue Chips"

I'll admit my instincts aren't always right. In retrospect, I shouldn't have asked out Alison Levy, although I'm sure she really was sick when she canceled our date my senior year in college. (So sick she apparently had to go the hospital, since she wasn't home when I stopped by that night to see how she was doing.)

But in the case of "Blue Chips," I should have followed my gut. When the movie came out in 1994, I passed, thinking it didn't look like a "great sports movie" and hearing nothing that changed my mind. But when it popped up on an HD channel lately, I figured, "What the heck? Maybe it's not that bad."

It's not that bad, but it's not good, either. That's a shame, too, because there definitely is a good movie to be made in bigtime college basketball recruiting, corrupt boosters and the kids caught in the middle of it all.

"Blue Chips" gives us Nick Nolte as a legendary college hoops coach at the fictional Western University. Keep that in mind as the movie starts with Nolte's team facing another fictional school, Texas Western, coached by a real guy, Rick Pitino. The Texas Western squad also has real players going by their real names, i.e. Rex Walters, George Lynch, Chris Mills.

I wouldn't consider myself a cinema purist, but I had a real problem with this mix-and-match between real and fake teams/characters. To me, it should be all or none. Sure, it was distracting in "Any Given Sunday" when none of the teams were real NFL squads, but at least it was consistent.

"Blue Chips" gets even sillier when Western U. plays Indiana U. -- a real school that actually had its real coach, Bobby Knight, in the coach's role. They also had past Indiana players such as Keith Smart and Calbert Cheaney on the team, but then we get Bobby Hurley as a Hoosier. Bobby Hurley? Bobby Hurley? What the f*ck? Did you think nobody would notice this? Come on.

I'm not sure anything could have saved the movie from this stuff, but the script and characters don't help. This could have been a great role for Nolte, and he has his moments in the locker room. There's just not enough for him to work with as the successful coach who ultimately has to bend and break rules to keep winning. His internal conflict just doesn't come across well.

The supporting roles are even less developed. J.T. Walsh, great as he is, is silly as the big booster. Ed O'Neill's muckraking journalist is one-note and paper-thin. And while having real ballplayers makes for good on-court action, let's just say that as actors, they're good ballplayers. Penny Hardaway and Matt Nover are bland and wooden as two blue-chip prospects, while Shaquille O'Neal is amusing but nothing great. He just does the Shaq thing: "Hey, people, I may be a big dude, but I'm soft-spoken and thoughtful. Really. Now watch this dunk."

Like I said, it's too bad, because the subject matter is fertile for a gritty look at the darker side of basketball. You know, something like "Juwanna Mann," or maybe "Slam Dunk Ernest."

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Top 10, at least today

Continuing yesterday's one-year anniversary celebration, I give you my Top 10 favorite movies. But this list is hardly fixed in stone. Call me fickle. I've been called worse.

True, the No. 1 has been at the top for some time, and I feel good about others on the list. But hey, moods change, and who's to say "The Cable Guy" won't someday take its rightful place on this vaunted roster?

Enough chatter. Since you're dying to know whether "Showgirls" or "Starship Troopers" is No. 1, let's begin.

10. Alien (1979): Perhaps a surprise, but if this movie didn't invent the "monster picks off people one by one," it gave us a creepy entry and a truly unique dinner-table scene. Plus, I've got a soft spot for sci-fi. Why else would I pay money for "Event Horizon" and "Supernova?"

9. Die Hard (1988): I think my post not long ago said it all: No movie to date screams at me from the DVD collection more when it comes to answering the question of "What's a great action movie to zone out to late at night?" With his average build, receding hairline and wisecracking attitude, Bruce Willis became a different kind of action hero in an era of dull muscleheads.

8. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): You just saw this post, and sure, I'll admit my recent re-watching of this Kubrick comedy may have influenced this list. But few movies are as clever and outright hilarious, and it's all the more amazing given the year it was made.

7. Silence of the Lambs (1991): It's funny ... Hannibal Lecter is such a parody now. But before that happened, someone had to make him a character everyone would know. For proper Brit Anthony Hopkins to so thoroughly embrace the role is amazing, and this is an excellent thriller, best viewed while enjoying some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

6. Fargo (1996): It's been too long since I've seen this, but every time I do I find myself rolling at so many scenes -- all the more impressive given the characters are so deadpan and/or oblivious. When you think about it, it's really an odd movie, but that also makes it stand out. Bonus points for pegging Steve Buscemi as "funny-looking ... just in a general kind of way."

5. The Empire Strikes Back (1980): You saw my "Star Wars" listing yesterday, and it may seem weird to have a sequel out-rank the first of a series. But I'm with Dante from "Clerks": This movie rises above others because it's such a downer and added great depth to the various story arcs. I mean, everyone was f*cked up at the end of this one.

4. The Godfather (1972): Some people will do the same thing with these movies as the "Star Wars" ones and say the second is better than the first. And while I maybe should have put "Part II" on the honorable mention list, I've always gravitated to the first installment. To me, the final collection of scenes makes it all worthwhile, and I prefer watching how Marlon Brando gives way to Al Pacino than the dual Pacino-Robert De Niro storylines (good as they are).

3. Raising Arizona (1987): Quite simply, this still is the funniest movie I've ever seen, and even if the Coen Brothers have done more complex movies that also are funny (see No. 6), I will always, always, always laugh my ass off at the adventures of H.I. and Ed McDunnough. Bonus: Sam McMurray in the funniest small role in history. "Mind you don't cut yourself, Mordecai!"

2. Pulp Fiction (1994): I've got a "Reservoir Dogs" poster hanging in my home office -- which my wife just loves -- and some will say that's the edgier, cooler Tarantino movie to like. But "Pulp Fiction" is a more masterful story told with such brilliance that so many hack directors have tried to copy it in the short time since the movie came out. True, this did lead to Travolta getting more work. But he and everyone bought into Tarantino's story here, and it's a hell of a ride. I cried when it lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Forrest Gump," and in fact have refused to watch "Gump" ever since. I'm a small man, I know.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): A surprise? Probably not, given my age and fawning over this movie after seeing it again not long ago. For me, it's the perfect mix of adventure, humor, romance and fantasy/occult -- not an easy thing. Also not easy is to take the standard 1930s adventure story and make it readily accessible for modern audiences. Not only did Spielberg and Lucas do that for the early '80s, but this movie still looks great and is highly enjoyable today. Let's put it this way: Does anybody not like this movie? Even if it's not THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE (i.e. "Citizen Kane"), isn't it a great movie that's a hell of a lot of fun to watch and doesn't feel like homework (i.e. "Citizen Kane")?

In the end, of course, I don't have to defend my list, but just enjoy it. Let the dissection and debate begin. I'll be in front of the TV.


I already was going to see this, but with that naughty girl from "The Dreamers" in the mix, I may camp out for tickets.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Guess what, kids? Movievangelist turned 1 year old today! Hard to believe we'd make it this far. I'm sure all of your gifts are in the mail.

It's been a great ride, these first 365 days. Who would have thought a readership that started with just a few people would surge all the way into the teens? The revolution begins now.

To commemorate our first anniversary -- and because I'm in a bit of a movie dry spell -- I'm listing my Top 10 favorite movies. Not necessarily of all time, and not necessarily THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE (as will become evident). Just what I think are really swell and what I could watch over and over again.

But you know what? Let's wait a day on the actual Top 10. To build the suspense, here are 10 honorable mentions, in no particular order:

Aliens (1986): A fantastic sci-fi shoot 'em up, with Sigourney Weaver defining the tough-gal role for a generation. And between this and "Weird Science," Bill Paxton was one of my favorite actors of the '80s.

Sideways (2004): The most recent movie on either list, but a very funny buddy/road picture that manages to be intelligent and insightful about relationships while still featuring juvenile antics (courtesy of the brilliant Thomas Haden Church).

This is Spinal Tap (1984): We all know theirs go to 11, but there are so many more scenes and lines -- a lot of them subtle -- that make this a riot. Not sure Rob Reiner has done better, and yes, I'm aware of "The Princess Bride."

Jaws (1975): I never saw it in the theater, but few movies build suspense while injecting a little humor here and there. It's such a simple concept -- a big shark attacks people -- yet the psychological aspect is handled perfectly.

Casablanca (1942): Usually near the top of "best ever" lists, this classic holds up well and presents Humphrey Bogart in his purest form: not good-looking, but a wisecracking tough guy who had some sort of undefinable appeal. Ingrid Bergman wasn't hard to look at, either.

Goldfinger (1964): Can't see any one James Bond movie making the Top 10, but this is the best between Connery's command of the role, fun villains in the title character and Oddjob, and, of course, a Bond girl named "Pussy Galore." How they got away with that 40 years ago is beyond me.

Dirty Harry (1970): Before Eastwood got wimpy, he created an iconic tough guy ... and the movie was pretty solid, too. Another great villain, as well as the classic Harry Callahan line. Tell me ... do you feel lucky, punk?

Sunset Boulevard (1950): Didn't see this until recently, but it's a fascinating character study and impressively dark film for 1950. Gloria Swanson gets all the pub, but William Holden had a tough role as her kept man, and he was great.

12 Angry Men (1957): I mentioned Henry Fonda's righteous demeanor in my recent "Fail-Safe" post, and it's in full bloom here. Even if this is really a play masquerading as a film, it's hard not to be captivated by Fonda turning a jury around in his quest to save an innocent man.

Star Wars (1977): Maybe the toughest omission from the Top 10, if only because it launched a trilogy -- oops, franchise -- that has captured so many fans. The best part: Han Solo as a true me-first rogue before the Rebel Alliance softened him up.

Tomorrow: the Top 10.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's times like this I wish I smoked pot: "Heavy Metal"

This sure ain't no Looney Tunes, but it should be required viewing for every 15-year-old boy. I may have been a little older when I first saw "Heavy Metal," but I no doubt was entranced by the combination of animation, sci-fi, fantasy and bare cartoon breasts. Eat your heart out, Jessica Rabbit. You're such a tease.

Now a quarter-century old, "Heavy Metal" was one of those rare animated movies for adults, even if the plots and characters in this anthology were incredibly juvenile. What we have here is a collection of shorts over the span of 90 minutes, all of them related to a mysterious glowing green orb and most of them involving curvy cartoon women who can't help but be naked a good deal of the time. And here I was dreaming about a Blondie and Cookie Bumstead sandwich.

If it sounds kind of silly, it is. Maybe that's because it's based on a comic book before comic books became "graphic novels." In any case, I can totally see how adolescent males -- in mind or body -- eat this up, especially if under the influence of a little herb. I mean, come on ... you've got cartoons with a rock n' roll soundtrack, man!

As for the actual stories, "Heavy Metal" starts off strong, with the amusing tale of a cabbie in futuristic New York, "Harry Canyon," followed by a classic teenage boy fantasy, "Den." The latter features the voice of John Candy, who delivers one of the movie's better lines: "There was no way I was gonna walk around this place with my dork hanging out!"

Things drop off a bit after that but aren't totally boring, and it's fun enough to watch a couple of stoner aliens and a horny robot kidnap a Pentagon secretary. The warrior woman who carries the final segment isn't hard to look at, either, although by that time you're stunned if any women in this movie are wearing clothes. Like I said, it's an adolescent male fantasy.

Sadly, as I grow older the appeal of "Heavy Metal" diminishes. Now it's more fun to pick out voices, such as John "Dean Wormer" Vernon as an alien trial prosecutor and Eugene "Jim's Dad" Levy and Harold "Stripes" Ramis as the stoner aliens. But hey, any movie that incorporates a Blue Oyster Cult song into the proceedings is OK by me. More cowbell!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Help yourself to our cold war combo: "Fail-Safe" and "Dr. Stranglelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"

Talk about great timing. In the span of a week or so, TCM had a movie that showed how the 1960s arms race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. could go horribly wrong, then a satire of that very situation. Seems a natural to tackle both in one post, especially since we have the bizarre circumstance of the satire hitting screens before the straightforward drama. For the purposes of this discussion, though, we'll take the serious before the silly.

It all seems so quaint now, the worries about Communism, "Russkies," the Red Menace and general fear of Marxists ruining the good old American way of life. Sure, "Good Night, and Good Luck" serves as a reminder of the paranoia that built during the '50s. But in this era of suicide bombers, dirty bombs, etc. the idea of a nuclear holocaust is about as hip as a hula hoop. Hell, even "WarGames" seems way out of date, and not just because of those big floppy disks.

Still, "Fail-Safe" is a taut thriller with a few familiar faces. In short, a computer malfunction has led a U.S. bomber to fly toward the Soviet Union, where it is supposed to hit Moscow. As you might imagine in a time when tensions are high, nobody is particularly happy about this, and we get all sorts of uncomfortable maneuverings by Americans and Russians to stop the wayward bomber.

While some actors are obvious -- Peter Fonda as the President, Dan O'Herlihy as Gen. Black -- others were hard to recognize at first. A lot of people point to funnyman Dom DeLuise in a minor role, but we also get a congressman played by Sorrell "Boss Hogg" Booke. But the most fun was when I finally recognized who played the President's translator: Larry "J.R." Hagman. And he was really good, too.

Then there's Walter Matthau, before the "Odd Couple" and "Bad News Bears" solidified his comedy bonafides. Here, he's actually a creepy civilian military advisor who goes toe-to-toe with O'Herlihy in pushing for U.S. commitment to war. It's really strange -- not only seeing Matthau do drama, but be such a cold dickhead.

Ultimately, "Fail-Safe" delivers some good suspense despite that era being long gone, especially since the ending is something of a surprise. Not sure I totally bought it, and I also thought Fonda wasn't the best pick for the President, if only because he seems to decent -- see "12 Angry Men" -- to be a politician. Even so, not a bad little thriller.

Dr. Stranglelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
"Fail-Safe" came out Oct. 7, 1964. "Dr. Strangelove" came out Jan. 26, 1964. That's right, more than eight months before the very movie it seems to spoof. If that's not weird, I don't know what is. I mean, was "Fail-Safe" director Sidney Lumet throwing fits? "They're making fun of my movie, and it isn't even out yet!"

Regardless, "Strangelove" remains incredibly hilarious (a) even if you haven't seen "Fail-Safe" and (b) to this day, period. Like I said above, with the Cold War somewhat dated, it's easier to accept the paranoia when it's portrayed as outrageous. Say what you want about Stanley Kubrick -- "Eyes Wide Shut" managed to make an orgy seem boring -- but the guy had his moments, perhaps none finer than "Strangelove."

The story is roughly the same as "Fail-Safe," with one difference: The attack on Russia was deliberately ordered by a crazy general. Still, the President and his cronies need to fix it, and that leads to a host of great scenes and lines. Curiously, though, the title character wasn't the focal point or funniest person on screen.

Strangelove is played by Peter Sellers, who also plays the President and a British officer stationed with the crazy general. His Strangelove -- with accent modeled after Kissinger -- is amusing, and it's also fun to watch his British officer try to manage the general's insanity and then contact the President. But for my money, Sellers was at his best playing the Commander in Chief amid this madness. His call with Soviet Premier Kissoff remains a classic. "I'm sorry, too, Dmitri... I'm very sorry... All right, you're sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well... I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don't say that you're more sorry than I am, because I'm capable of being just as sorry as you are... So we're both sorry, all right? ... All right."

Sellers might be enough, but we also get three other fantastic characters:
1. Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden): The aforementioned crazy general, whose paranoia becomes hilariously evident when he starts rambling about the need to protect "precious bodily fluids," which are threatened, of course, by flouridation. "It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual."
2. Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott): The hawk who doesn't trust the Russians and has the hardest time doing anything about the wayward bomber, including letting the Russian ambassador into the war room. "I mean, he'll see everything, he'll ... he'll see the Big Board!"
3. Maj. T.J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens): Captain of the bomber, and a bonafide cowboy. He ride a bomb on its descent in what may be the most iconic image, but here's a fun fact: Pickens apparently was told to play the movie straight, meaning his yeehaw act isn't an act. Now that's comedy.

It's really an amazing set of performances in a killer script. If forced to choose, I probably liked Scott the best, although Hayden was really good in a deadpan role. In any case, this is one of the best black comedies ever, with or without "Fail-Safe" as a companion. And really, when you think about it, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Who needs fancy-pants computers when you have latex and mirrors?:"F/X"

This is what happens in February. While the theaters are full of crap, your intrepid blogger finds himself watching holdovers from the '80s. But let's not dwell on that.

Let us, instead, recognize the brilliance of Brian Dennehy.

Not sure when I first saw this barrel-chested bad man on screen. I know it was before "Cocoon," and maybe it was "Foul Play." Of course, for many he'll always be the sheriff who gives John Rambo a hard time in "First Blood." I, however, tend to favor his turn as another sheriff, "Silverado," where he plays slimy as well as dangerous.

Before the '90s brought a series of subpar movies -- ultimately leading to him playing Bobby Knight in an ESPN movie a few years ago -- the '80s were good to Dennehy, and I'll always confess a soft spot for the big bear. That, more than another Bryan (Brown), is why I'll check out "F/X" every now and then.

Our story has Brown -- two years before playing an advice-spouting bartender in "Cocktail" -- as a special effects expert hired to stage the murder of a wiseguy-turned-witness. That way, you see, the mob will think he's dead and leave him alone until -- surprise! -- he shows up at the trial. All goes fine ... well, except for Brown actually killing the guy. Or does he?

Enter Dennehy, a cop who helped put away the mob guy and now wants to investigate his apparent murder. As he does so, Brown is on the run, trying to find out what the heck happened and trying to stay alive while the feds hope to whack him, too.

A fair amount of this movie is annoying. Brown's dialogue is stilted much of time -- so much that it seems dubbed. His assistant is even worse, with the young blonde woman seemingly reading from cue cards. Also, I have a hard time believing that someone trying to stay undercover would drive a big cargo van with "F/X" painted on the side all over New York. I don't care if you do have your dye packs and smoke bombs in there, buddy. Go rent a Taurus. (Sure, Ford may not have made the Taurus in 1986, but it still sounds good.)

That said, this is a decently amusing story, and joining Dennehy are a few other members of the "That Guy" club: a pre-"Law & Order" Jerry Orbach, Cliff de Young and even Nathan Arizona himself, Trey Wilson. (Don't forget Wilson's other big role, either, you lollygaggers. Did you know he died back in 1989? I didn't. That's a shame.) All in all, passable entertainment for these trying post-holiday, pre-summer movie times. It's either that or "Hoodwinked," friends.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Guest who's coming to dinner?: "The Big Picture"

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this post because (a) I found this movie a tad disappointing and (b) I still haven't forgiven Kevin Bacon for the gratuitous penis display in "Wild Things." Dude, that movie was going pretty well with all the twists and turns -- and Denise Richards showing us her goodies -- before you unleashed your sausage. Keep it with Kyra, a$$hole.

Our story has the boyish Bacon -- post-"Footloose," pre-"River Wild" -- as a film student who wins an award and immediately gets wooed by producers and agents. Unfortunately, this also means he gets sucked into the whole Hollywood morass, where nothing is his own and he has to go along to get along. This includes flirting with a big-hair Teri Hatcher.

(Sidebar: Seriously, has she ever looked hotter than she does now at age 41 in "Desperate Housewives?" She wasn't all that back in the "Lois and Clark" days, and her nude scene in "Heaven's Prisoners" was hugely disappointing. But now that she's got four decades under her belt, she's smokin' -- that is, when she's not annoying, which is never. Let's move on.)

It's all rather fun to watch young Kevin be corrupted by the always-enjoyable J.T. Walsh -- rest in peace -- and eventually fall from grace, only to pick himself up, dust himself off and ultimately be in a position to triumph. Written (in part) and directed by Christopher Guest, there's all sort of wit and and a few inside jokes here; it's fun to see Elliott Gould in a student film and Martin Short as Bacon's bizarre agent. All in all, this is not a hard movie to watch and appreciate, if only for the knowing insight into the hoops one must go through to get a movie made.

My problem is that I've seen a few other Christopher Guest movies, and they all were better satires than this. It's not his fault, really, but it's hard to appreciate "The Big Picture" when he did such a better job with "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind." And it's not the same thing as saying, "Well, how can you enjoy 'Reservoir Dogs' after seeing 'Pulp Fiction?'" With an action/thriller movie, the rough edges almost work in its favor. But comedy is more hit and miss and harder to forgive, and I found myself wanting with "The Big Picture." But hey, at least Bacon kept his bacon in his britches.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What I said about the French? Never mind: "A Shot in the Dark"

For those of us who came of age in the MTV era, the Pink Panther was a cartoon character used in a commercial or two. I seem to recall him pitching insulation, or maybe paint. Although my dad rented one of the Peter Sellers movies a long time ago, I can safely say I had no appreciation of the man -- Sellers, not my dad -- beyond his unparalleled performance in "Dr. Strangelove." ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!")

Also released in 1964 was "A Shot in the Dark," the second installment of the Pink Panther series and considered the best by many, despite the irony of "Panther" not being in the title. In this movie, Sellers continues developing his iconic character of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, and after fidgeting for a few minutes early on, I eventually was won over by the silliness of it all.

Our story has Clouseau investigating what turns out to be a series of murders, with a beautiful maid (Elke Sommer) as the prime suspect. Alas, Clouseau refuses to believe this maid could kill -- dude, she's hot -- despite the growing number of bodies. All the while, Clouseau's boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, grows increasingly irritated at Clouseau's bumbling.

Directing this madness is Blake Edwards, who -- and it could just be me -- never seemed a bastion of high comedy. For some reason, I equate him with such stinkers as "A Fine Mess" -- paging Howie Mandel -- and "Blind Date," Bruce Willis' first stab at movie stardom. Little did I know that Edwards also brought us "Breakast at Tiffany's" and "Operation Petticoat" way back in the day. Neither may be my cup of tea, but they're certainly respectable comedies.

So is "A Shot in the Dark," although it's really due to Sellers. Like I said, his talent isn't readily apparent, but as I watched the movie, it became clear he was a master of slapstick. Where amateurs fall down and assume everyone will laugh, Sellers as Clouseau never broke character, and all the bizarre situations he got himself into -- usually punctuated by a ride in the police paddy wagon -- were pretty believable.

No question this movie may be a bit dated; hey, it's more than 40 years old. But I easily laughed at Clouseau's karate battles with his valet, Cato. And the non-physical stuff was good, too, from Commissioner Dreyfus's twitching annoyance at Clouseau to Clouseau and his assistant, Hercule (based on Poiroit, perhaps?), trying to synchronize their watches. But don't take my word for it. Go waste some cash on this hugely crappy remake of "The Pink Panther" -- Steve Martin must need rent money -- then rent "A Shot in the Dark." Then pour some of your beer on the floor for our homey Sellers. Awight?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sell! Buy! Scam! Betray!: "Boiler Room"

You may have heard about the Media Play retail stores going out of business. I wasn't really thinking about it when I stopped by the grocery store the other night, but lo, there was a Media Play in the same shopping center. About $70 later, I was carrying out an armload of marked-down DVDs.

While I was disappointed not to see "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" among the hot deals, my biggest prize may have been "Boiler Room." Sure, I scored "Sin City" for only $16 and "Rocky" for something like $8, but "Boiler Room" was a measly $4. Four dollars! That's a steal for "Wall Street" meets "The Outsiders."

Released in 2000, after the Millennium Bug had been safely dispatched, the movie has young Giovanni Ribisi as a college dropout running a casino in his apartment when a boyhood friend introduces him to the world of trading stocks. Well, trading may not be the right word. Turns out this brokerage, way out on Long Island, really just tries to hook "whales" who will pour a lot of money into an IPO. Can't say I recall any of the guys at J.T. Marlin advising clients to sell.

At first, our man Ribisi loves the life, and it's fun to watch him and other guys lay the high-pressure pitch on these hapless would-be investors, i.e. "Take me off your list." "OK, I'll take you off my list of successful people today." Hey, I've never been in the life; the closest I came was telemarketing, and it's not the same thing to pitch an extended car warranty or dating service. But I could see these twentysomething punks feeling invincible on the phone and doing whatever it takes to land a commission and get that Ferrari.

The other guys are all right, too. We get Vin Diesel as the tough-guy stockbroker, right around the same time he made "Pitch Black." Nicky Katt is a senior broker and Ribisi's rival for the affections of the firm's secretary, Nia Long. And finally, we have Sir Ben Affleck, playing the Alec Baldwin Lite role as the stud broker who tries to weed out the losers with a lot of swearing. Actually, he's not bad, mainly because he doesn't have much screen time and is easy to accept as a strutting dick.

All in all, this isn't a great movie, but it's entertaining to see the rise and fall of Ribisi as he realizes the firm isn't doing such great work. There's a nice parallel story line with one of Ribisi's clients getting hooked, then watching his life go down the toilet. I feel ya, man. But I just know this Enron company is going to bounce back. Trust me.

What a wookiee!

One of the funnier ideas I've seen in a while.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

If you see only one movie about arm wrestling ... : "Over the Top"

It came down to this: I couldn't keep making fun of a movie I had never seen, no matter how easy a target it was.

So it was that I TiVoed one of the sillier Sylvester Stallone movies, which is saying a lot. Really, compared to this, "Tango and Cash" is "Citizen Kane." But in the end, don't you have to see for yourself how Sly pulls off the role of "truck driver estranged from his young son who has to win an arm wrestling tournament to have any hope of keeping custody of the boy?" I smell Oscar!

Made in 1987, after his Rocky-Rambo success apparently made him think audiences would believe anything, "Over the Top" has Stallone playing a guy named Lincoln Hawk -- pause of laughter ... go ahead, get it all out -- a truck driver who hasn't seen his 12-year-old son for several years. He picks up the kid at military school so they can get to know each other, much to the chagrin of the boy's maternal grandfather, scuzzingly played by an overtanned Robert Loggia. As Loggia plots to get the kid back, Sly and Son bond while the truck rolls across the west.

Part of this bonding involves the kid learning of Stallone's arm-wrestling hobby, which Sly hopes to parlay into a big win at some championship in Las Vegas. I have to confess ... I was jealous of how Stallone taught the kid the finer points of competitive arm wrestling. Seriously, it's mental as well as physical, man. My dad never did that for me. Damn you, Dad, damn you!

(And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon ... )

Of course, everything comes to a head in Vegas, with Stallone advancing in the tournament as his kid shows up to say how much he loves him and wants to be with him, not his rich grandpa. But will that be enough for Sly to defeat his hulking arm wrestling nemesis? Oh, the suspense!

If there's an upside to this idiocy, it's the running time -- maybe 90 minutes -- and the cartoonish performances. Stallone is bad even for him, alternating between laid-back trucker and intense arm wrestler. See, you can tell which is which by how he wears his baseball cap. The kid, somebody named David Mendenhall, is super-whiny and annoying, but hey, he's a kid. As for the others, Loggia is slimy, the rival arm wrestler is insane, etc., etc.

The thing is, I'd love to say "over the top" applies to the characters and movie in general. But there's nothing tongue in cheek about this, which makes it a little sad and a lot bad. This isn't surprising considering it's part of the Golan-Globus Stable of Crap. These are the guys who brought you "American Ninja 2" and "Superman IV." But like I said, if I was going to keep bringing it up as a stupid movie, I had to see for myself. That rule, however, has its limits. Hey, would you sit through "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot?" I didn't think so.

I wish I knew how to quit you

I always thought there was more between them than the DeLorean.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Maybe the French aren't so bad after all: "Swimming Pool"

It goes like this: My wife says we should go to Paris, I roll my eyes. Every time.

I've been to Paris, and even if it was for only two days, with me just doing the tourist thing -- look kids, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame! -- that was good enough. Just not a big fan of the French, from the smoking to the rudeness to the B.O. That Jerry Lewis business doesn help, either.

After seeing "Swimming Pool," however, I'll go to France just to find Ludivine Sagnier. Sweet fancy Moses.

If you've never heard of Luddy -- I can call her that after the things we've done in my mind -- that's OK. I hadn't, either, knowing only that "Swimming Pool" had some hot young French girl often in various stages of undress. Turns out that was true, and at least for us non-"Brokeback" boys, that alone makes the movie worth your time.

Our story has a famous British author escaping to her publisher's French country home to write in peace and quiet, only to be interrupted by the guy's very naughty daughter. First, there's the walking around topless. Then we get the drinking and fornicating. Then more fornicating with another guy. Then the possibility of a threesome with the author as she gets sucked into the young girl's crazy world. Did I mention the fornicating?

The whole idea, I guess, is to see how this uptight fortysomething is corrupted by the wild young tramp, and both women are perfect in their roles. Charlotte Rampling ("Zardoz") really seems pissed at the girl at first, and remains stiff even as she can't help being drawn to her free spirit. As for Luddy, she arrives om screen with a flourish and is very European -- uninhibited, whiny and trashy. I gotta tell you, it really works for her. Really.

As for the plot, it was interesting enough before unraveling at the end. I won't ruin it, but let's just say I was left with a "huh?" feeling that didn't have to be. I understood everything, I think, but I liked where the movie was going before taking a left turn. It was kind of like -- but not as extreme as -- "Vanilla Sky." Well, and without the dipsh*t Scientologist as the lead.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tom Skerritt called ... he wants his look back: "The Matador"

Thanks to My Lovely Wife for planting the seed for this post title. We were almost through "The Matador" when she called out Pierce Brosnan with his little mustache and spiky, graying hair. Nice work, honey.

That aside, this was a fun movie. Not sure if you saw Brosnan's Golden Globe nomination, but just the premise of "The Matador" was enough to intrigue me. Pierce plays a weary hit man who meets a traveling salesman (Greg Kinnear) in a Mexico City bar. They become sort-of friends, first with Kinnear learning about Brosnan's seedy life, then with Brosnan needing Kinnear's help. All the while, Brosnan drops crude one-liners that you definitely wouldn't hear coming out of James Bond's mouth.

This isn't the first time Brosnan ("Nomads") put a different spin on his spy persona. Not many people saw it, but "The Tailor of Panama" had a pretty entertaining performance as a corrupt British agent. He's even more vulgar here, and harder to take seriously with the mustache and gigolo wardrobe. Kinnear ("Mystery Men") is a good match, given his average joe squareness. No question he has a normal life, which makes it perfectly understandable why he would be curious about Brosnan's.

If there's a problem, it's probably the uneven tone. The movie comes off as a comedy overall, but we're asked at times to be sympathetic to both Brosnan and Kinnear. I guess that makes for more well-rounded characters, but given the out-there premise in the first place, I'm not sure it totally works to have us feel sorry for the lonely hitman or struggling salesman.

Fortunately, the two leads were generally winning enough to keep me interested, and the story moves quickly for the most part. We also get some great music, and, like I said, crude lines from Brosnan. Then again, who among us hasn't looked "like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning, after the navy's left town?"