Friday, March 31, 2006

Apparently LIGER #1 was taken

Saw a nice license plate the other day for all you "Napoleon Dynamite" fans out there:


That's right ... the strength of a grizzly, the reflexes of a puma, and the wisdom of a man.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Awww ... isn't that sweet?

I mean, it's not any guy who will help his little girl with her machine gun aim ...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This title + no nudity = inappropriate!: "sex, lies, and videotape"

Seriously, I don't go into something like this expecting the most risque scene to be a potted plant covering Peter Gallagher's nether regions.

I saw this so-called indie hit a long time ago, but The Light of My Life never had. Thanks the Netflix, we've changed that, although I'm not sure we're better for it.

The story explores the warped relationships among four people:
-- Ann (Andie McDowell), a housewife uninterested in sex with her husband.
-- John (Gallagher) , the husband and a lawyer who is having an affair with ...
-- Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), Ann's sister and a wild-child bartender.
-- Graham (James Spader), John's college friend who stays briefly with him and Ann upon arriving in town.

While the relationships among the first three are clear, Graham is an outsider who confesses that he's no longer intimate with women. Instead, he videotapes women talking about sex, accumulating dozens of cassettes. This fascinates the two women, while John merely wonders what he and his friend still have in common.

Back in 1989, much was made of this movie's subtle "intelligence," courtesy of young director Steven Soderbergh. And in some ways, "videotape" is an impressive film. Soderbergh was only 26 and had a tiny $1.2 million budget. That officially makes this a small, independent movie, and I salute his accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the movie is ... what's the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes ... boring. For such a provocative title, there's a whole lot of talky-talky-talky. Maybe that's called "irony," but I found myself wondering why I really should care about any of these people, especially when we don't get a whole lot of background or insight into why they do what they do -- namely, focus on sex in different ways.

True, I certainly couldn't have done that with any script I would have written at age 26. Hell, I'd be lucky to draft something like "Snakes on a Plane." But now that Soderbergh has done much better work -- not just "Traffic," but lighter fare such as "Ocean's Eleven" -- his breakthrough effort suffers a bit in retrospect.

I also wasn't sold by all of the actors. Gallagher was fairly believable, and San Giacomo was sufficiently naughty. It was easy to accept they knew what they were doing was wrong but couldn't help themselves. As for Spader, his might have been the most praised performance, and I guess Graham was an interesting character. But he also came across as full of sh*t at times when he was supposed to be "deep," and I still enjoy Spader much more when he's a punk. (See "Less Than Zero" below.)

Then there's Andie McDowell, who as an actor is a great model. While I don't think she's incredibly great-looking, I can see how others might. I can't, however, see how anyone could mistake her for an actor. She's, um, not good. In fact, make that "bad." Really bad. Pick a movie ... "Hudson Hawk," "Short Cuts," "Groundhog Day" ... and she's easily the worst thing about it. (And that's saying something when it comes to "Hudson Hawk.") She's in the annals of bad movie lines among my friends for her bakery tantrum in "Short Cuts" -- "My son is DEAD! He is DEAD!" In fact, the surprise in "videotape" isn't that Gallagher's character cheats on her, but that Spader is drawn to her. C'mon, man ... you were in "Tuff Turf!"

Monday, March 27, 2006

So wait ... you're saying he ISN'T a lizard-like alien under that mask?: "V for Vendetta"

The obvious sophistication I regularly display on this high-culture blog may fool you, but I've been known to read the picture books from time to time.

True, I side with those who call "graphic novels" what they really are: comic books. That didn't keep me from reading one of the first Batman/"Dark Knight" books when I was in high school. I also read "Watchmen" and own a copy of that today.

In addition, those formative years saw me peruse "V for Vendetta," the tale of a kook in a grinning, mustachioed mask who takes on a totalitarian British government in some kind of alternate near-future. It's been, geez, 16-17 years at least since I read it, so the details were fuzzy when I saw a movie version was coming our way. For instance, I couldn't remember who V's love interest was, Betty or Veronica.

Also piquing my interest was the involvement of the Wachowski brothers, who made a little thing called the "Matrix" trilogy. You know, that art-house deal. Even if Keanu Reeves had no part in "V," I figured the special effects and overall action stuff would be good on the big screen.

As I mentioned, Britain is something of a fascist state, and we meet V as he rescues the lithe Natalie Portman from some nasty secret police officers. The masked man goes on to blow up a building, incite revolt over the airwaves and pick off people connected with some shadowy government project from the past, which clearly had a profound effect on him. Meanwhile, young Evey (Portman) debates how much she should help this weirdo as the secret police pursue her.

Some intriguing elements here, as well as three actors who generally capture my attention: Portman, Hugo Weaving (V) and John Hurt (Britain's leader, usually seen ranting on a big screen). Also in the mix is Stephen Rea, who probably just hopes Evey doesn't have a penis. (C'mon ... "The Crying Game!" Talk about one of your great "HELLO!" moments in movie history.)

Good cast, seemingly intelligent story, a nice look overall ... sometimes, that's more than enough for a solid movie. And I guess "V" was OK, even if I got screwed out of the matinee price because the movie was at 4:05 pm and you only get the lower price before 4. Yeah, what a rip.

Still, I had a few problems with the translation from comic book to big screen. In no particular order:
1. The mask was just too distracting. Sounds silly, I know, but it's hard to hear a character talk so much and not see his lips move. (Weaving's voice also was muffled a bit.) Nitpicky? Maybe, but it's my blog.
2. Some dialogue didn't ring true when spoken vs. read. An early bit with V using all of the v-words might have been meant to show his whimsy but was kind of goofy. And when he told Evey that he called his home "The Shadow Gallery," I expected her to say, "Really? And where you keep the D&D stuff, dorkwad?"
3. Why V does everything that he does ... well, I'm not sure it all added up. Hey, I just may not be smart enough to process everything, but it seemed to me that V both wanted to take down the fascist state and exact revenge on those who wronged him. And even if the people responsible were one in the same, and everything else was connected, that didn't come across clearly enough for me. (Keep in mind I liked "Syriana.")

I dunno ... there's a decent chance I'll see this again and appreciate other/deeper aspects of it. I do think it was an ambitious undertaking by the Wachowski boys, and even if things dragged a bit at times, I always appreciate movies that require a little thinking. (Well, beyond such thoughts as "What the f*ck was I thinking watching 'The Wedding Date?'")

It's also a game effort by the actors; Portman's British accent was good and cute, although Demi Moore was a hotter bald chick. If only Natalie had done some one-armed push-ups and gone a$$-kicking with V herself. Like Sir Anthony Michael Hall said in "Weird Science," "What can I say? She likes the rough stuff."

The nickname "Butthole Mouth" takes another hit

Sure, she looked good in "Match Point" and "The Island." But can't she do anything for those bee-stung lips?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Who knew then that Robert Downey Jr. wasn't acting?: "Less Than Zero"

Well, this wasn't a total waste of time. I mean, I watched half of it while on the treadmill.

When I saw "Less Than Zero" on an HD channel, I thought, "Hey, I remember that movie. Robert Downey Jr. gets f*cked up!" And I was right. What I forgot, though, was that Andrew McCarthy ("Weekend at Bernie's II" notwithstanding) and Jami Gertz (ditto "Solarbabies") can't act.

(OK, they couldn't act in those movies, either, but isn't it fun to bring them up?)

Another annoying thing about this movie: It's based on a (no-doubt sh*tty) Bret Easton Ellis book -- you know, the guy who did all that '80s debauchery stuff. The thing is, "American Psycho" is a pretty good movie, thanks in large part to Christian Bale. "Less Than Zero?" Not so much.

Our plot has three high school friends reuniting six months after graduation. Blank-faced, boring McCarthy is ... well, the boring one, having gone to college. (Ass.) Blank-faced, boring Gertz is the model who doesn't know she's a f*ck-up, due in part to the coke always flowing into her nostrils. Downey is the would-be record producer and club owner and simply cannot get his act together. It may have something to with the insane amount of drugs and utter lack or responsibility that dominate his life.

The trio really is hugely annoying, united only by Downey's descent into a drug-addled, indebted hell. Downey actually is decent -- fairly convincing and rather impressive considering he was only 22. Best quote: "Do I look like I'm ready for homework?" Also good is James Spader as the unholy trinity's friend-turned-drug dealer and money lender, with Downey on the hook for big bucks. That leads to even more unpleasantness in Downey's life, with Spader keeping the d*ckhead vibe from "Pretty in Pink" in full force.

I almost said Spader was "entertaining," but really nothing about "Less Than Zero" -- directed by the great Marek Kanievska ... is that even a real person? -- is entertaining. Sure, the look back into the decadent '80s is amusing; McCarthy at a party: "Do you know that you girls have televisions between your legs?" Hardy har har. But our two "heroes" are so one-dimensional and just bad that the movie generally sucks. Tell you what ... the next time I want to check out something like this, steer me to one of McCarthy's better efforts. You know, like "Mannequin."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Not many people know that "Hasselhoff" is German for "Bitchin' T/A, dude": "Knight Rider"

I may have covered this before, but it's a given that not everything you enjoyed as a child remains enjoyable once you're an adult. "Strange Brew," for instance. In sixth grade, we walked around calling each other "hoser." It was hilarious. Then I saw the movie again 15 years later. Not so funny. Good thing Rick Moranis moved on to those "Honey, I ... " movies. Can't wait for that box set.

Same thing happened when my friends and I saw "Land of the Lost" recently. Everyone was pumped to see Bill Laimbeer as a Sleestak. Before we even got to that part, though, the "special effects" and inane acting -- not to mention monkey-boy Cha-Ka -- were just too excrutiating. It really wasn't even campy, just painful.

You might think "Knight Rider" would fall into this category, especially since David Hasselhoff went on to greater, international glory -- defying all logic along the way -- with "Baywatch" and a German singing career. But you know, early '80s action shows and iconic characters -- not Hasselhoff's Michael Knight, but rather KITT, the supercar -- never really get that old. I mean, who among us doesn't appreciate the uncanny ability of "The A-Team" to keep breaking Murdock out of the loony bin, and the villains to avoid all those bullets?

I recently was given the first season of "Knight Rider" on DVD, which gave me a chance to see the pilot movie. I must have seen it the first time around, but that would have been, geez, almost 25 years ago, when I wasn't even 10. Now I'd be able to absorb all the subtle nuances of Hasselhoff's relationship with KITT -- that's the Knight Industries Two Thousand, to you and me, Russ -- as well as his amazing red turtleneck/black leather jacket wardrobe.

Our story has Hasselhoff starting out as Michael Long, an undercover cop double-crossed and left for dead in the desert outside Las Vegas. He's rescued by billionaire Wilton Knight, who has doctors reconstruct Michael's face -- making him Michael Knight -- while engineers put together a souped-up Trans Am: bulletproof, superfast, can drive itself and jump over things. Oh, and did I mention it talks?

Knight and KITT go after the bad guys as their first adventure, getting involved in such tomfoolery as a charity demolition derby and a jailbreak. Meanwhile, a couple of car thieves provide comic relief by trying to steal KITT. Hey, it's a T/A, baby!

(One quibble: I can't believe I didn't notice before now that KITT's back-and-forth red light and the corresponding sound are totally borrowed from the Cylons in the first "Battlestar Galactica." I know that both shows were by Glen A. Larson, but c'mon ... break a sweat, man. And yes, I'm a complete nerd. Shocking, I know. Who wants to play Risk?)

In addition to the generally silly acting by Hasselhoff and blow to dignity suffered by KITT's voice, William Daniels, I enjoyed spotting people I had seen elsewhere. Hey, that doctor working on Michael played Oscar Goldman, the Six Million Dollar Man's boss! Hey, one of those car thieves was "My Main Man Vern" in "Rain Man!" Hey, that hired thug played a cop who gets gutted by Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs!" (You also may recognize him as the front man for the Good Ole Boys in "The Blues Brothers." You know ... the guy who tells Jake, "You're gonna look pretty funny tryin' to eat corn on the cob with no f*ckin' teeth!" Yeah, that guy!)

Of course, another benefit was no commercials, meaning I breezed through the two-hour pilot in something like 90 minutes. Nice. As for the rest of the first season, I'm not sure I'll dive in right away. I need a little more time to digest the pilot, as well as the future. My only question with this new version is whether everyone will speak German given Hasselhoff's only remaining fan base. Achtung, baby.

Monday, March 20, 2006

One movie that can never be shown on basic cable or network TV: "Reservoir Dogs"

I mean, when the word "f*ck" is used 252 times, it's not like cutting a nude scene. That much bleeping would be a tad distracting.

(Let me check IMDB again, though. How many times is the word used in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back?" Ah, 228 times. Wimps.)

I watched this indie classic again recently while on a train. Yep, a train. You can keep your fancy flying machines and horseless carriages. Locomotives are the real wave of the future. (Said the man who watched the movie on his portable DVD player.)

Not sure what compelled me to grab Quentin Tarantino's full-length debut for the ride, but, as usual, I wasn't disappointed. No question "Pulp Fiction" is his best work, and I thought the "Kill Bill" movies were pretty entertaining. But there's something undeniable about the raw-retro style of "Reservoir Dogs." C'mon ... there's a reason a million video store clerks have tried to copy it, even if Tarantino -- a video store clerk -- was copying and mixing a whole bunch of stuff himself.

In simple terms, our story is about a diamond heist gone bad, and the group that came together for it falling apart. But Tarantino's emphasis on character quirks and non-linear storytelling -- we jump from before the heist to afterward, then back and forth learning about different players while post-heist events unfold -- are pretty impressive. Think about it ... have you ever heard someone talk about "Reservoir Dogs" by calling it a heist movie? Not really. Instead, you get a bevy of iconic images and memorable scenes/lines, such as ...

1. The characters having aliases that are colors -- Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange -- borrowed from "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."
2. The characters all wearing black suits, white shirts and black ties, taken from some Japanese movie.
3. The Mexican standoff, also taken from Japanese movies.
4. The Madonna "Like a Virgin" explanation by Tarantino.
5. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi, in his breakout role) and his no-tipping policy. ("I got two words for that: learn to f*ckin' type.")

And then we have Michael Madsen, who may have been cursed by this role.

Pretty much everyone is great here -- Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Lawrence Tierney. But Madsen as the psychotic Mr. Blonde has always stuck in my memory. Not just the obvious lines -- "Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?" -- but the general smirk and quiet combination of bloodlust and glee he carries around. I mean, after he and Keitel's Mr. White almost go at it -- thanks to the "doggy" line -- Blonde follows up with this: "I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't ya? Yeah, me too." Now that's funny.

Of course, Madsen's most famous scene has him giving a cop the Vincent Van Gogh treatment while "Stuck in the Middle with You" played on the radio, which was more than a little startling the first time around. But overall, this fraternity of crooks things is incredibly well done, and I enjoyed "Reservoir Dogs" as much as ever. Now if I could just find K-Billy on my car stereo ...

I stand (or rather, lie down) corrected

Apparently, I made multiple errors in the below post on "Run Lola Run," according to the person I watched the movie with a few years back:

1. We watched it in Kentucky, not New York.
2. We weren't living together at the time, just dating.
3. We didn't finish it not because we fell asleep but because we became, ahem, otherwise occupied.

You'd think I might be embarrassed by sharing that, but not as embarrassed as when my wife set me straight. Here I thought we nodded off. Instead, we were knocking boots. Yay, me! (Well, I guess her, too.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hello, I must be going: "Run Lola Run"

First, this will be the last post until next week, as I plan to do nothing but watch a lot of college basketball over the next few days. Oh, and eat a bunch of crap. Beer also will be served.


(Then again, maybe it was my wife recording a bunch of junk that forced my movies into the ether. Nah, it's better I rant at TiVo, since I don't have to share a bed with it. Although if I could, would it be all that bad?)

Excuse my anger, but I had recorded "Run Lola Run" with the express intent of finishing it, once and for all. When my wife -- then live-in girlfriend ... that's right, living in sin, baby -- and I rented it a few years back, we fell asleep midway through and had to return it to the video store without seeing the climax. When "Run Lola Run" was on cable recently, I seized my chance to see what ended up happening to our fire-engine-red-haired heroine.

Our story -- based in Germany, complete with subtitles -- has Lola getting a frantic call from her boyfriend, Manni, who botched some kind of illegal transaction and now needs a lot of money or some crooks will kill him. Lola takes off running, and it's a race to see if (a) she can even get the cash and (b) she can get to Manni before he does something stupid, like rob a store.

What's notable here is that Lola has only 20 minutes, and the movie shows three different versions of her dash for the cash. It's definitely a fun idea, with subtle and not-so-subtle differences among the three scenarios. This extends to the people Lola blows by, with a rapid-fire series of still shots showing what happened to each after crossing Lola's path. That changes with each version, too. Like I said, kind of fun.

Lola is played by Franka Potente, later seen briefly in "Storytelling" (see below post) and "The Bourne Identity." Even if I didn't understand a single word -- well, maybe "Nein" and "Schnell" -- she's well-cast as a punk girl trying to help her man. I wouldn't say she's cute with that bright hair and weird tattoo around her belly-button, but certainly intriguing.

Of course, I'd like to give a careful review of the three different versions of her race. But I drifted off during the third and final act, and when I tried to watch it the next night, poof, it was gone. Now how am I going to find out what happened to Lola and Manni in the end? C'mon, TiVo! The Casio digital watch I had in 8th grade had more memory.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Funny ... I don't recall hearing these around the campfire: "Storytelling"

Few directors are as polarizing as Todd Solondz. Even here in my humble abode, he's got two people on completely different pages. I thought "Happiness" was great. My Lovely Wife couldn't get through the first 15 minutes. This boggles my mind ... how can watching Jon Lovitz tear into someone right at the start not suck you in? ("I'm champagne, and you're sh*t!")

(And that, friends, will be the only time you hear me praise Jon Lovitz. Well, that and maybe his bit part in "The Wedding Singer.")

I had seen "Storytelling" a few years ago, and it's probably the least of Solondz's three best-known efforts, with "Happiness" at the top and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" -- the 1995 movie that put him on the map -- getting the silver. By comparison, "Storytelling" is a disappointment, and I watched it again for only two reasons:

1. To see if the first story, "Fiction," would feature a big orange box covering two characters in a rough sex scene.
2. To remember what happens in the second story, "Non-Fiction." I think I fell asleep the last time.

Regarding No. 1, "Fiction" has white college student Selma Blair -- who usually plays the fully-clothed prude in movies -- being quietly manipulated by her black English professor, played by Robert Wisdom. He's been in a lot of stuff and is pretty scary here as a big, silent a$$hole.

The scene everyone talks about is a rape/roleplaying/just uncomfortable sex scene in general, and the first time I saw "Storytelling" it was presented in all its glory. As shown in theaters and on IFC, though, we get that orange box, which is pretty weird. You hear everything, but you don't see the full picture of rough sex. That's just as well, believe me.

In "Non-Fiction" -- the longer story -- Paul Giamatti is a shlub who fancies himself a documentary filmmaker, and the story opens with him pathetically working up the courage to call in a favor to an old high school friend. It's really painful and quite good, but hey ... it's Giamatti.

Our man Paul comes across the perfect example of today's aimless youth in Scooby Livingston, a lazy high school senior who maybe wouldn't mind being a talk show host like Conan O'Brien. Not that we wants to work for it, of course. Scooby's family is plenty weird, from uptight dad John Goodman to jittery mom Julie Hagerty -- who's always jittery, come to think of it -- to smarty-pants little brother Jonathan Osser, who also torments their Latin housekeeper with his observations and questions. That's pretty uncomfortable, too.

You see the pattern here: Solondz likes to make people squirm. The problem in "Storytelling" is while the characters are amusing and some scenes are well-done, I didn't get a good sense of an overall theme as with "Happiness" (sad people dealing with obsession/addiction) or "Dollhouse" (awkward coming of age). The whole "Fiction/Non-Fiction" thing seemed to be just some weird structure, not any kind of lesson. And without that, this kind of movie kind of leaves you wanting. Not wanting Jon Lovitz, mind you, but wanting.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Falling down on the job

Yeah, it's been a little slow here at Movievangelist. Not sure why ... maybe a few late nights at work, maybe some college basketball, maybe some TV shows running fresh episodes. Whatever the reason, I don't have much of a backlog of movies, and it's been a loooong time since I've been to ye olde cinema. But really, between "Ultraviolet" and "The Shaggy Dog," it's not like there's any big draw. Even possibly passable fare, i.e. "16 Blocks" and "Freedomland," really hasn't been more than a blip on my movie radar.

About the only thing I could offer to recap is "Gorky Park," which pretty much ensures a big collective, "Huh?" For the record, it's an early '80s murder mystery set in Moscow, when the Cold War was in full flower. William Hurt plays a police officer trying to figure out why three people were found dead sans faces in a park. Not bad, but since I fell asleep three or four times while trying to finish it, there's really no point trying to give a nuanced review. Sorry, Bill.

Instead, let's see what I've stumbled across in the wee hours in lieu of watching an actual movie from start to finish:

Napoleon Dynamite
You may have seen my post a while back on this one, and it's back in the HBO rotation. I own the DVD yet can't help flipping over just to see what scene is on, such as ....
"Tina, come get some ham!"
"Your mom goes to college."
"Is that a new kid or something?"
"You ever take it off any sweet jumps?"
"Stay home and eat all the freakin' chips, Kip!"
"We both know that I'm training to be a cage fighter."
"I see you're drinking 1 percent milk."
"The strength of a grizzly, the reflexes of a puma, and the wisdom of a man." (Gotta love Rex Kwon Do.)

And of course ...

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

Modern Problems
Caught just a bit of this the other day. It's very early Chevy Chase, and really not that funny. Basic story is air traffic controller Chase gets contaminated by nuclear waste or something and takes on weird powers. How clever! But hey, you get a little Nell Carter -- well, a lot of Nell Carter -- and I do enjoy Dabney Coleman as his usual jerkoff self. Funny ... "Deal of the Century" -- another humorless Chase vehicle -- also has gotten HBO play lately. What, is there some kind of ban on "Fletch," people?

The Chronicles of Riddick
This movie sucks pretty bad, but it looks good, and Vin Diesel is always good for a laugh. Besides, every time I watch a bit of this I imagine Judi Dench waking up screaming, thinking, "Dear God, what have I done?" Also, after "Lazy Saturday," I can't stop singing, "The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Riddick-ah."

(It's all about the Hamiltons, bay-bee!)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Forget me Nazi: "The Boys from Brazil"

Some people go over the top. Others get a little extra lift, maybe with a pole vault.

Then you have those who go to Florida, climb into a rocket and blast into orbit.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Gregory Peck in "The Boys from Brazil." Atticus Finch, he ain't.

I'll confess I didn't know much about this movie other than it dealt with Germans in South America. As it turned out, it's based on a book by Ira Levin, who also wrote "Rosemary's Baby." The odds that I'd see two movies based on Ira Levin books in a week's time ... well, let's just say I wish I could have bet on that at the Bellagio.

Our story has Peck playing Dr. Josef Mengele, who -- I ashamed to admit I don't know the details -- did some really bad experiments on Jews in Nazi prison camps during WWII. Now Mengele is in hiding but has come to Paraguay for some nefarious plan. Spying on him at the movie's start is a young Jew played by ... wait for it ... Steve Guttenberg! Yes, the pride of "Police Academy," Cocoon" and "Short Circuit" is a mere 20 years old here, playing an idealistic Nazi hunter. And you thought he was all about the jokey-jokey.

Alas, the Great Guttenberg needs help, and he enlists a famous Nazi hunter played by Sir Laurence Olivier to help investigate. Larry takes his time getting involved, but eventually he discovers what Mengele is working on from the jungles of Paraguay, and it ain't good. Again, with all the killing ...

Don't get me wrong. Peck and Olivier are great actors whose bonafides are established. But here ... well, calling them cartoonish is an insult to Daffy Duck. When Peck's mustache is far from the most ridiculous part of his performance, you know you're in trouble. Meanwhile, Olivier -- who, it should be noted, played a Nazi in "The Marathon Man" just two years earlier -- is more than a little overdone himself, kvetching about Guttenberg's character, then Mengele, then pretty much anything else. And this guy took down Eichmann?

No question the idea in "The Boys from Brazil" is interesting; I don't want to ruin it, but let's say Mengele has a hard time letting go of his old boss. But even if you embrace the far-fetched plot, the performances are a too overboard to take seriously. Then again, maybe this should be accepted as pure camp. It's not "Springtime for Hitler," I'll admit, but who knows what those kooky Nazis will come up with next!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Upon further reflection ...

... a few more Oscar thoughts, after a full day of digestion:

-- I mentioned the many montages but forgot the faux attack ads that surely were assembled by Stewart and Co. The best was the backlash against foreign women and women with weird names. Instead, the voiceover implored, "Vote Reese." Well done.
-- Count me among those who think Ben Stiller has mailed it in lately. Hell, when you do 47 movies a year, something's gotta give. That said, he still can be sharp, as evidenced by a recent guest spot in HBO's "Extras," in which he frequently dropped references to his movie grosses to impress people. I share this now because Stiller also was funny in his green-screen bit, slinking around in a green leotard to show visual effects at work. "Spielberg is loving this!"
-- Stiller was much better than his mates the Brothers Wilson (boring) and Will Ferrell and Steve Carell (whose makeup bit was mostly flat). Didn't see Vince Vaughn around. He must have been holding Jennifer Anniston's purse backstage.
-- Lastly, I don't normally comment on Oscar fashions -- I still think plaid flannel shirts are hip ... you know, "grunge?" -- but when you're as hot as Charlize Theron, there oughta be a law against having a big bow perched on your shoulder like a parrot. C'mon, lady, you're all better after "Monster" and "North Country." Find the right dress!

If there were so many Democrats there, why wasn't there a blue carpet?: Post-Oscar thoughts

First, apologies for not sharing Oscar predictions over the last few days. Not sure why I brain-farted on that. But guess what? I picked everything right!

OK, OK ... that's not entirely true. I did miss Best Picture, and I'm enjoying the backlash about everyone in the Academy living in Los Angeles, where "Crash" takes place. Yeah, that's the reason. I also hear there are no gay people there.

While I was surprised by "Crash" winning Best Picture, I wasn't horribly disappointed. I liked "Capote" better than "Brokeback Mountain," anyway, but since it was a longshot, I can't get upset with "Crash." I was more ticked when "Fargo" lost to "The English Patient," and especially when "Pulp Fiction" lost to "Forrest Gump." Oh, man, don't even get me started on that. Stupid Tom Hanks! Why couldn't you stick to "The Man with One Red Shoe?"

Besides, the win by "Crash" shook things up on a night that was kind of tame and long. Funny, I thought the show was moving along quickly enough, but it still took three-and-a-half hours. Good thing we watched it on TiVo, starting after 8 p.m. and catching up to real time right around 11. That's what I'm talking about ...

Other musings on Oscar:
-- Jon Stewart ... funny guy, but his schtick didn't work all night. As expected, the more political stuff was on target, and there were some nice impromptu quips -- "I think it just got easier for a pimp," after the "Hustle & Flow" song won Best Song. Another good line after several different clip shows: "Next up, Oscar's salute to montages."
-- I also liked how they introduced Stewart, especially the Crystal-Rock tent scene. It also reinforced how bad Whoopi Goldberg was compared with other hosts. She's just not funny, even for a center square.
-- You couldn't ask for a better first winner than George Clooney. He just seems like a good guy, even if he gets a little preachy now and then. But his speech was pretty solid -- even moreso compared with more traditional (and lamer) ones from Philip Seymour Hoffman and other acting award winners.
-- Even more fun than seeing "Wallace and Gromit" win were the little bow ties the two guys brought for the statues. More subtle than those folks toting penguins, and they got to stage first.
-- Finally, I would kill to have a download of that montage of Westerns in which fellas seemed just as close as Ennis and Jack in "Brokeback." It was hee-larious, from "Mind if I look at your Winchester?" to a shirtless Charlton Heston telling a smoldering Gregory Peck, "I don't know why you felt you had to come in here to say goodbye."

Anytime you have Atticus Finch and Moses in a "wish I knew how to quit you" moment, that's gold, Jerry ... gold.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sorry, I'm too white to come up with a clever intro: "Hustle & Flow"

Actually, my wife is even whiter. How white is she? We watched this movie -- in which everyone speaks English, mind you -- with subtitles. I half expected Barbara Billingsley to show up and offer to help. "Oh stewardess, I speak jive ... "

This was the only Best Actor-nominated performance I hadn't seen, and we squeezed it in last night, just before the Oscars. Of course, Terrence Howard still is a bit of a longshot, probably because some older Academy voters think he's another of Ron Howard's brothers. (I'm still miffed that Clint Howard, prolific bit player in "Austin Powers," "Tango & Cash" and other movies hasn't gotten his due.)

I had seen Terrence Howard in "Crash," and he might have been the best of that big ensemble. (Michael Pena was pretty good, too. Sorry, Matt Dillon.) I loved the way Howard played a man trying to be decent while feeling powerless and generally neutered, and he could have easily been nominated for Best Supporting Actor as well.

His "Crash" turn is all the more impressive considering "Hustle & Flow," in which Howard plays DJay, a middle-aged Memphis pimp who wants to be a rapper. The movie opens with him philosophizing a bit, but in reality DJay is just getting by until he runs into a guy from high school who now has some recording equipment. Between that and the imminent return of a Memphis native who became a rap star, DJay hopes he can channel his anger into song and then fame.

It's a different twist, the pimp going through a mid-life crisis and wanting something more than a sleazy life of selling women from his Chevy. But everyone seems to be on board, including the producer (Anthony Anderson, the big dude from "Barbershop" and "Romeo Must Die") and mixer (DJ Qualls, the skinny white guy from "Road Trip"). The scene where the three of them first get together and create a rap that actually could work is kind of inspiring. You totally believe they're into this and desperate to make magic.

Howard does a nice job carrying that desperation through the movie, whether it's getting the right equipment or generally trying to keep "his mode on." I might have wanted just a little more menace in his performance, maybe something that made it not so easy to sympathize with him. Still, there are a couple of scenes where he's cruel enough -- putting a baby out on the street, for instance -- so maybe I'm just being picky.

While I'm being picky, I thought the movie copped out a bit when it came to the moment of truth with Djay approaching the famous rapper, Skinny Black (Ludacris). First, I totally saw one key scene -- the fate of DJay's tape -- coming from a mile away, which bummed me out a bit. And I knew what would happen after that, which not only was a little too neat but also doesn't send the best message to other aspiring rappers. If you really want to get technical about it, the same thing sort of happened in "Airheads," although I'm guessing that wasn't the idea.

In the end, "Hustle & Flow" is definitely worth watching. Decent story -- even with those holes -- and OK music if you can handle rap. The big draw, though, is Howard's performance, which I'd still rate behind Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote" but neck and neck with Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain." Of course, if they had gotten Clint Howard to play DJay, it'd be another story.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Speaking of seeds of deception ... : "Rosemary's Baby"

Very weird to see this after that Lifetime movie. Heck, compared with what happens to Rosemary Woodhouse, being inseminated with a fertility doctor's sperm might not be that bad ...

(Yeah, easy for a man to say.)

Even if you haven't seen "Rosemary's Baby" -- and I hadn't -- you know the story. A young New York woman feels something just isn't right about her baby or her neighbors, despite her husband's apathy. Turns out she was right, and let's just say there were no Glendas among these witches.

Two things stand out here: the cast and the slow building of suspense. With the former, our heroine is Mia Farrow, who early in the movie seems to be saying, "Why won't anyone call that Paltrow girl on stealing my look 30 years later?" Seriously, it's uncanny when Farrow's hair is below her ears. She gets it cut later, and between that and some rough times during pregnancy looks pretty damn skeletal.

Her husband is John Cassavetes, better known as a hip director but OK here. More notable are the couple's kooky neighbors, played by Sidney Blackmer -- never heard of him; looks like a TV guy -- and Ruth Gordon. Of course, Gordon would go on to "Harold and Maude," as well as "Where's Poppa?" -- which I've heard my dad tout and no one else -- and "Every Which Way but Loose." You know her, you love her. It's a little hard to see her as satanic, but hey, I'm willing to roll with it.

There are others here -- Ralph Bellamy as an old doctor and Charles Grodin as a young one -- but let's tackle the tone of this movie. It's clear early on that something bad will happen, so watching "Rosemary's Baby" is more an exercise in how director Roman Polanski handles the leading lady's growing paranoia. In general, not bad. The movie is slow to start -- those New Yorkers, with all their talky-talky -- but that works as the tension around Rosemary grows. Soon she realizes maybe those vitamin shakes from Ruth aren't so good, and that she might want to get another doctor who doesn't smell like fungus.

I might have ratcheted up the action a bit more to keep things moving, and we probably could have trimmed a little bit of length. I also wanted a bit more from the finale -- Cassavetes' role didn't quite fit -- but can see how keeping things understated, save a chant or two, kept with the overall atmosphere of the movie. When it comes to '60s and '70s horror movies, I'll still take "The Exorcist" or "The Omen" -- "It's all for you, Damien!" -- over "Rosemary's Baby." But I'll also have to rethink what the crazy old lady who lived next to me in New York -- her name was Frieda, by the way -- was doing on the other side of that wall.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Yessir, that's my baby!: "Seeds of Deception"

It took a year, but I think we have our first Lifetime movie on Movievangelist. And starring Melissa Gilbert, no less. Yep, just go ahead and stab me in the eye.

Normally when My Beloved Bride TiVos something from Lifetime -- the channel for women and gay men -- I scoff ... loudly. In fact, I need to get cracking on the rules for "The Lifetime Movie Drinking Game." Really, wouldn't this be a great way for men to enjoy these crappy movies? "Based on a true story: drink two ... adultery: drink one ... one person slaps another: drink one ... crying: social!" This totally could work.

So yeah, like most red-blooded males, I laugh at Lifetime. I laughed the hardest at the details of "Seeds of Deception," which read something like "Woman learns her son has fertility doctor's DNA." That's awesome, and in a moment of weakness, I told my wife I would watch this with her.

As you'll see here, this also is based on the true story -- drink two -- of a guy who called himself "the Babymaker." Seriously, how can you not laugh at this? It turns out this "doctor" used his own sperm instead of that from donors to father several babies through artificial insemination. That may not be funny to those families, I'll grant you. But when you have teddy-bear actor George Dzundza -- a perpetual sidekick better known from such movies as "No Way Out" and "Basic Instinct" -- hamming it up at the doctor, it's a riot.

I won't belabor this point and pretend this is a real movie, but let's just say Dzundza is hilariously slimy, Gilbert is over-the-top melodramatic -- I counted four or five Emmy-type clips -- and the other unknown actors all are one-note bad. But hey, how many movies do you get to see a kid wearing an eye patch and not pretending to be a pirate? Gotta love that lazy eye, especially when it came from your doctor.