Wednesday, May 31, 2006

You know, going by "Hank" wouldn't have been bad: "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

Maybe it was the wannabe feel of "National Treasure," but something moved me to pop the last of the Indiana Jones trilogy into ye olde DVD player the other night. It's not like I'm down with anything Harrison Ford has done recently, and just what was with the earring and overall creepy vibe in that Super Bowl pre-game segment, anyway?

Most agree that No. 3 is the second-best of the trilogy. It goes without saying that nothing comes close to "Raiders." (Of course, I just said it.) As for "Temple of Doom," sure, it seemed cool enough when I was a kid. But it's really more one-dimensional and full of gross-out stuff vs. clever scenes. Even with the fun opening -- a staple for these movies -- "Doom" runs out of gas and doesn't capture the grandeur of "Raiders."

Neither does "Crusade," but the father-son thing with Sean Connery and the quest for a mystical object -- this time the Holy Grail instead of the Ark of the Covenant -- keep things interesting. The movie certainly gets off to a rousing start, with River Phoenix (rest in peace) playing a young Indy in the 1910s and providing insight on how Dr. Jones got his chin scar, whip fetish, hat and fear of snakes. It's really kind of neat, I think.

From there, we find the 1930s Indy summoned to search for the Grail ... and his missing dad while he's at it. This takes us to Venice and Austria before we find out who's behind Connery's disappearance and serving as the Jones' rivals for the Grail. Who, you ask? The Germans, of course. That Hitler ... something's not right with him.

We eventually end up in the Middle East for our finale, which is a little overdone but not too bad. Alas, it's also not enough to cover some annoyances in the plot and among characters. One, the esteemed Marcus Brody -- Indy's dignified curator at the university/museum -- is turned into a cartoon, which is a little sad. Second, how exactly did Sallah from Egypt get to the Republic of Hatay? And maybe it's just me, but wading around in a pool of petroleum probably will leave you at least a little burned if said pool is set on fire. But hey, what do I know?

Still, the movie is mostly fun, with decent adventure scenes on boats in Venice, planes over Germany and tanks/horses in Hatay. It also seems like Ford and Connery are having fun. In short, it's not a bad end to the trilogy. And I really hope it remains a trilogy. This business doesn't sound good to me at all. Especially if Ford still has that damn earring.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Man ... you sprout a few feathers and all of the sudden you're "sick": "X-Men: The Last Stand"

Busy holiday weekend, what with company Friday night, Saturday night plans and an out-of-town wedding Sunday evening. (Yep, a wedding on Sunday. That's a Jewish couple for you. Mazel tov!) All this fun left me a bit tired this afternoon, but not enough to miss a chance to see what our favorite band of mutants was up to these days.

Although I never read the comics -- I preferred Spider-Man, myself -- the first two X-Men movies were generally entertaining. The first had some awkward, even bad dialogue, but seeing how Wolverine came to the group was all right. The second movie was better -- more nuanced, both in plot and character development -- albeit too long and sometimes too busy. But in both cases, the movies were easy to watch, and I've seen each a few times.

The third falls neatly into place behind Nos. 1 and 2. This time around, someone has discovered a "cure" for the mutant gene, which means for better or worse, mutants can become normal people. This causes some angst among the wide array of mutants out there, with the good guys unsure but willing to talk it out, while the bad guys not only refuse the cure but declare war on those seeking to dispense it.

The story has potential, and it's good to get the perspective from mutants like the furry blue Beast (Kelsey "Down Periscope" Grammer) and Rogue (Anna "Not Doing the Curvy Cute Thing For Once" Paquin), whose touch kills people. Sure, a mutant who looks like Halle Berry don't need no stinkin' cure, but if I looked like a Sesame Street character, I might drink the Kool-Aid.

Complicating this is the return of Jean Grey (Famke "Still Hot but Not as Much as in 'GoldenEye'" Janssen), who emerges from the lake where she died in "X2" but is more cuckoo in the head, making her powers dangerous to humankind. Well, mutantkind, too, as we see. Top bad guy Magneto (Ian "That's Sir Ian to You" McKellen) wants this new Jean on his side, but top good guy Charles Xavier (Patrick "Make It So" Stewart) hopes to keep her on the side of right. Oooh, the tension.

This mutant war delivers some decent action scenes and a host of other freaks with different powers. It would have been cool to see them playing "But can you do this?" in their spare time. Or maybe a "Mystery Men"-type audition with B-level mutants showing useless powers. "I am the Thermostatter, able to raise a room's temperature by three, even four degrees!" The inner battle of Jean Grey and its consequences also wasn't bad. You definitely get a sense of finality with this movie, and I'm not surprised to hear that producers now plan to tackle spinoffs, i.e. "Claw This: Wolverine's Bogus Journey."

That said, nobody will confuse this script with "Casablanca," and "Last Stand" is a step back in giving characters more depth. The above cases of Beast and Rogue aren't really developed, and another new character, Angel, also seems largely dismissed after being introduced with a flourish. Then we have the little mutant who produces the "cure." His plight is shown but not really explored, it that make sense.

Normally I'm all for trimming bloated blockbusters, but this movie isn't that long -- 104 minutes -- and another 5-10 minutes might have helped and still kept it shorter than the 133-minute run time of "X2." Worse comes to worse, we could have dialed back the noise a bit in favor of dialogue and emotion. I know, I know ... sounds like sacrilege. Michael Bay would have my head.

Rest in peace, Beeks

But did Barry Manilow know that he raided his wardrobe?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And to think I've been sticking those $1 bills in G-strings: "National Treasure"

I kid. Really ... I use $2 bills. You know, just to shake things up.

Can't say I was too pumped about "National Treasure" when it came out. First, as you'll recall from my review of "The Weather Man" not long ago, Nicolas Cage hopped on the Weirdo Train a while back and has been hit-or-miss when it comes to choosing movies lately. Secondly, "Treasure" looked a little too Disney for me, so much that I half-expected the kids from "Escape to Witch Mountain" to show up.

Our story has Cage as Ben Gates, whose father and grandfather and who knows who else hunted for some ancient treasure that somehow made its way from Egypt to the U.S. of A. The youngest Gates continues to chase clues -- there even some on our money! -- and finds out that a big one may be on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

The problem is that, unlike Gates, his shady partner, Sean "I swear I'm not always a bad guy" Bean has no qualms about stealing this important document. That means Gates needs to steal the Declaration -- after failing to convince a hot historian (Diane "Helen of Troy" Kruger) of the theft threat -- to protect it from Bean's character. Cue the chase music, boys!

Clearly there's a modern-day "Indiana Jones" thing going here, although Cage doesn't show wit as much as quirkiness. Even so, we get a few funny enough scenes and lines. We also get a sidekick (Justin "Yeah, I should have changed my last name" Bartha) inserted solely for more yuks -- painful at times, but it could have been worse. And don't forget the crusty dad, Jon "Yes, I'm available for anything these days" Voight. He's nothing great, but we've come to expect than from Voight at this point. Was this really Joe Buck?

All in all, the story is fairly entertaining if somewhat absurd. Sure, you could say the same about "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but there was a spirit to that movie and Harrison Ford's classic "Trust me" attitude to carry the day. Here, things oscillate from busy to silly, although the movie looks good enough and is generally wholesome.

Part of me wants to say "Boo! Bring on the blood, sex -- especially that hot historian -- and four-letter words!" But I don't mind the attempt to make an action movie that isn't gratuitous. It's sort of the same thing with "Napoleon Dynamite" being an anomaly among teen comedies. Think about it ... no sex or swearing there, unless you count Napoleon berating Tina. You fat lard!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cubicle or be killed: "Office Space"

I didn't see this in theaters. Then again, nobody did.

"Office Space" tanked at the multiplex. It grossed less than $11 million, or about what it cost to make the movie. But thank god for the VCR and DVD player, which made this something of a cult comedy. It's only fitting, considering director Mike Judge made his bones on TV -- first with "Beavis & Butt-head," then with the more mainstream "King of the Hill."

Our story has Peter (Ron "Burger/aspiring Goofy in 'Swingers'" Livingston) as a hapless employee at a generic computer company. His life is crap, but a hypnotherapy session fills him with peaceful apathy, setting into motion all sorts of fun scenes with co-workers, his boss and the cute girl at the generic casual dining chain restaurant (Jennifer "Leprechaun" Aniston). It also leads to him and his pals ripping off their company, while murmuring co-worker Milton (Stephen "Jimmy James" Root) gets picked on by their smarmy boss, perfectly played by Gary "Mike Brady/Cotton McKnight" Cole.

I won't lie: I love this movie. Whenever my wife says we should pop in the DVD, I don't hesitate. Sure, she's tried to watch it three times now and fallen asleep each time, but that's OK because every time I see the first few minutes -- setting up the everyday drudgery of mindless corporate work -- I can't help but laugh. The rest of the script is solid, too, and I can think of at least three lines from "Office Space" that I've used more than once:

1. "Peter! Whaaat's haaappening ... "
2. "I'm gonna show her my O-face. Oh! Oh! Oh!"
3. (Whenever someone says I'm missing something.) "Well, I wouldn't exactly say I've been missing it."

That last one comes in handy more than you realize, and just thinking about Peter saying it and the rest of "Office Space" makes me smile. Not sure why this movie is funnier than so many other late '90s comedies, but it just is. I could watch it over and over and still laugh. Even when I've got a case of the Mondays.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Because I've yet to find a movie about a jingle-writing dwarf who gets married

Not that "Under the Rainbow" didn't come close.

(Come on ... Chevy Chase ... Carrie Fisher ... hundreds of little people? Hee-larious!)

I've been bogged down at work but managed to catch a few random movies in recent days. None of which really warrants a full-fledged post, and besides, I'm tired.

Gee, you seem a little short-tempered today: "Tiptoes"

Weird movie, this one, and not just because the terminally cute Kate Beckinsale has a horrible tattoo on her arm.

Not sure how my wife came across this movie, but we have Beckinsale and Matthew "Alright, alright, alright" McConaughey as a couple who get pregnant. No big deal? Well, turns out McConaughey comes from a family of little people; he's the only full-size one among his parents and twin brother, played by Gary Oldman. Yeah, somehow they made Oldman look like a little dude, which was even more impressive than his makeup in "The Contender." (Seriously, I didn't know he was in either movie until the credits.)

So we watch the couple worry about having the baby, then actually have the baby, then continue fighting about the baby. While I admire the idea and applaud the attempt to look at what little people deal with, the movie isn't that good. The biggest problems are Beckinsale's character, who is hard to believe; the weird side story of Oldman's friend -- the guy from "The Station Agent" -- hooking up with Patricia "My Boobs Are Pushed Up to My Eyes" Arquette; and the overall pacing, which is too brisk to give the story any real meaning. On the plus side, it's been a long time since I'd seen a little person do the nasty.

Looking for some sappy crap? Here's some now, no need to clap!: "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio."

Damn those Blockbuster gift cards. They just open the door for movies that in retrospect you would have been fine without.

Oh, "Prize Winner" is OK, I guess. But it really is the schmaltzy true story of an Ohio housewife and mother of 10 (Julianne Moore) won a bunch of jingle contests, which kept her family afloat while Dad (Woody Harrelson) got drunk all the time. See, Woody ... working in that Boston bar led you down the road to ruin.

This movie breezed through theaters, and folks didn't miss much. It's mildly entertaining to see Moore as the family rock who also has a knack for rhyme. The portrayal of early '60s life in interesting enough, too. But the family dynamic, even with Woody's benders, is too simple and sweet. Still, Moore manages to cry yet again. Is there any movie in which this doesn't happen?

Hi, I'm John Cock ...tos ... ton : "Wedding Crashers"

To balance out the above, My Beloved and I also rented "Crashers," which was pretty funny the second time around. It's going to take a few more viewings to see if it can reach "Old School" territory. I doubt it, but even if it comes up short it's grand fun to watch Owen Wilson and especially Vince Vaughn go after women at wedding receptions.

There's no question the movie falls apart once our boys fall in love, but you can't deny the hijinks before then. From the strategy discussion and other banter at the main reception to the travails at the country house, Vaughn and Wilson do a decent job playing the immature guys on the make. That gives way to Wilson trying to land super-cutie Rachel McAdams while Vaughn wants to escape her horny sister -- formerly unknown but definitely hot Isla Fisher -- their gay brother and other hazards.

But really, can we not just pass a law that says Vaughn can only play this aging frat-boy character? Stick with your strong points, I say. Consider these catchphrases:

-- "I like where your head's at ... "
-- "Grab that net and catch that beautiful butterfly, pal!"
-- "No excuses. Play like a champion!"
-- "Are they built for speed or comfort?"
-- "Go out there and get some strange ass!"
-- "Erroneous! Erroneous!"

Sure, some of those might have limited usage, but you never know when one might come in handy. It's all deadly.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

All in the family: "The Aristocrats"

Sometimes my wife surprises me. When I got "The Aristocrats" from Netflix, I figured yours truly would view this solo. Hey, it's not like I want to sit through "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" with her. But the other night, she said, "I'll watch 'The Aristocrats' with you." So there we were, on the couch as this documentary about comedians telling an old, filthy joke started to roll.

Then we got to George Carlin.

Relatively early in the movie, Carlin meanders into his version of the joke, and right about the time he says something about a guy pooping into his wife's mouth -- the guy's wife, not Carlin's, if that makes a difference -- my wife grimaced and said, "I don't think I can watch this." Yeah, that's what I thought, honey. And we hadn't even gotten to the father-daughter-dog sex yet.

"The Aristocrats" is about a joke about a family performance act that comedians have told over the years, mostly to each other, in "can you top this" fashion. The start and the punchline are same, but the middle varies from comic to comic. The only constant is that the family's act is (in normal company) unspeakably disgusting, featuring incest, excrement, violence ... you name it. This sets up the punchline: "What do you call it?" (Pause) "The Aristocrats!"

If that doesn't sound all that funny, well, it's not. The joke itself -- even with all the taboos -- is rather dated. But it's an institution, and that's what the movie -- directed by comedian Paul Provenza with on-screen help from comedian Penn Jillette -- tries to focus on. As such, we get dozens of comics talking about, and in some cases telling their versions of, the joke.

It's an impressive collection, and rather than throw out a bunch of names, here's the cast list from IMDB. We get old ones and young ones, TV folks and movie stars. If nothing else, it's fun to see these people in casual settings, just opining on the joke and related stuff. (Or, in the case of Kevin Pollack, telling the joke as Christopher Walken.) I could have done without all of the quick cuts within scenes -- in some cases, it looked like a weird, disjointed clip job -- and I'm not sure why some comics were in some settings, i.e. the guy telling the jokes while wearing workout clothes in a men's room, or a long-lens take of Steven Wright in a hotel room hallway.

While entertaining, "The Aristocrats" ultimately is little more than a one-note vanity project. Even with the array of comics, the premise gets a little old after a while, and I think the filmmakers could have included some actual research and insight on the history of comedy and the (declining) relevance of the joke over time.

True, we get a "South Park" version of the joke, as well as the staff writers of "The Onion" working on a version. And some of the comics theorize on certain elements of the joke, i.e. Why would the talent agent even want to know this disgusting act's name? But in the end, it's opinion and theory, and that's not so much documentary filmmaking as letting people talk. Still, if you want to see Bob Saget dish on incestual pedophilia, this is the movie for you.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Actually, I prefer pie: "Layer Cake"

You know, something needs to be done about these British movies that some people think are hip, edgy, clever, etc. I'm not saying they're totally bad, mind you, but we ought to have an attitude of "now, now ... it's not all that" about them.

Take "Sexy Beast," for example. Some critics talked about how cool it was, but really it was "Gandhi Being Mean." Or "The Limey," which wasn't bad but wasn't much more than "General Zod Yelling at Easy Rider Dude." I dunno ... maybe because they add u's to some words, critics are fooled into thinking some British drama/suspense movies are awesome.

Which brings us to "Layer Cake," which wasn't universally acclaimed a couple of years ago but did take on that ultra-hip aura. Of course, now it may be most notable for having the next 007, Daniel Craig, in the lead. Before that, you might have seen him in the first "Lara Croft" movie, or as the nutso son of Paul Newman in "Road to Perdition." Not exactly a banner resume, I know.

In "Layer Cake," Craig plays a drug dealer who gets caught up in a big deal for some Ecstasy while also being dispatched by a mob boss to find a missing woman. Craig's character -- never named on screen ... ooohhhh! -- had wanted to get out of the game, but wouldn't you know it, he has to deal with this stuff. Ain't that just the way?

We follow Craig as he navigates his way among various crazy and unsavory characters, and it's all very slick and colorful, even if we can't understand everything that's being said with those accents. Still, it's fun to see him go toe to toe with Colm "Really, I've Done More Than 'Deep Space Nine'" Meaney, as well as get with Sienna Miller. Up to now, I knew her only as Jude Law's ex-squeeze, but she's more than that. Much more. Hi there!

We also get some fun mob boss-types in Kenneth Cranham (Pompey from HBO's "Rome") and Michael Gambon, one of those names you've heard but can't possibly name a movie he's been in. Or perhaps you're just now saying, "Ah yes, he was William McCordle in 'Gosford Park.' Of course!"

Even with these decent actors and a nice look, "Layer Cake" left me wanting. I guess I thought it was trying to be a little too clever, and I found myself waiting for both more action and more exposition. Keep in mind that I'm not saying this would have been improved by being Americanized. The last thing we need is Nicolas Cage trying to talk his way out of doing a drug deal for Donald Sutherland while trying to make time with Cameron Diaz. Yeah, I'll pass.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hey, couch jumping is a lot harder than it looks: "Mission: Impossible III"

You may recall reading something about me wanting to see this movie without putting money in Tom Cruise's pocket. I don't want to get into specifics, but let's just say the box office receipts for "Akeelah and the Bee" will be a little high related to people who actually saw the movie.

(That movie won out over "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and something called "Hoot." I figured "Ice Age" didn't need any more money, but that nobody else would be watching "Hoot," making my absence more noticeable. That left "Akeelah," which I didn't want to see but figured was a nice enough story to deserve financial support. Certainly more than that nutjob Cruise.)

With my conscience clear, I was able to fully enjoy "M:I III," which is perfectly fine big-screen entertainment. Sure, this series always has its share of holes, and the latest installment is no exception. Our story has Cruise trying for domestic life -- he's engaged to a hot woman more than a decade younger than him -- but dragged back into secret-agent duty when one of his former trainees gets captured in Germany. That sets off a rescue mission, followed by two globe-hopping pursuits -- first of the bad guy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), then of Cruise's woman, who is kidnapped by the aforementioned bad guy. We go from Berlin to Rome to Washington to Shanghai, with stuff blowing up and flying through the air all along the way.

Looking back, I'd say I liked the first "Mission: Impossible" more than a lot of people and was as disappointed as anyone in "M:I 2." (What's with going from normal numbers in "2" to Roman numerals in "III," anyway?) The first movie (by Brian De Palma) was briskly-paced and had lots of nice twists. The second (by John Woo) was sillier and relied on style, with a bunch of slow-mos and white doves flying everywhere. Also, Cruise's long hair looked stupid.

"M:I III" is closer to, maybe even as good as, the first one. The attempt to humanize Ethan Hunt isn't bad, although it starts to fall apart midway through and is impossible to swallow at the end. I kept waiting for everyone to shift into "True Lies" mode, i.e. "Honey, you're a secret agent? I thought you had a boring government job!" Still, nice try.

I also liked Hoffman as the villain. He does a great job looking bored and amused at Hunt, which plays to Hoffman's general presence. Going for menace and flamboyance would have been a mistake. Other pluses include some pretty decent action shots, especially on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and a couple of good twists. Even though the story centers on finding some nebulous doomsday device, it was written well enough to keep me interested and reveal some genuine surprises.

The writer and director here is J.J. Abrams, creator of "Lost," "Felicity" and -- most relevant -- "Alias." Indeed, there's a definite "Alias" look here, and the whole "agents-having-a-personal-life" angle was been beaten to death in that series. "M:I III" also could have done without so many handheld camera shots and closeups. Maybe Abrams will learn to use the whole screen beyond outdoors action shots in future movies.

For a big-screen directing debut, though, Abrams does all right. Having a solid cast helps, especially Laurence "Don't call me Larry" Fishburne and Billy Crudup as Cruise's bosses. And returning from the first two movies is Ving Rhames, who must be happy this series is still going strong. Seriously, has he done anything lately other than that "Kojak" series that nobody watched? Where have you gone, Marcellus Wallace? Maybe he should pay a young actress to marry him and jump a few couches of his own.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Just in case you need to see what total chaos and true tragedy is: "United 93"

You know, we watch movies like "Meet the Parents" and call some scenes "painful." Or we see that part of "Swingers" when Jon Favreau's character keeps calling the girl's answering machine and tell people it's "agonizing."

We're idiots.

You're not truly uncomfortable and anguished until you've seen people do things that make your life seem tiny and meaningless. Oh, you gave a homeless guy a buck? You yelled at someone who was being mean to someone else? Feel good about yourself, do you? Now consider whether you would sacrifice yourself to save the Capitol from hijackers.

As you might guess, "United 93" is not for everyone, especially those still having trouble with 9/11. But as strange as it seems to say this, I couldn't wait to see this movie. (This is where I considered making a joke about "Snakes on a Plane" -- something about that being a more anticipated movie that takes place on a plane -- but I don't have it in me.)

While I was in New York on 9/11 -- had moved there only three days earlier -- the story of the plane that didn't reach its target has always intrigued me. As we all know, the passengers, after learning by phone that planes had hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, tried to take back the flight. In response, the hijackers crashed the jet into the Pennsylvania countryside, killing everyone.

The courage it took for those passengers to act ... thinking about it always puts a lump in my throat. Seriously, we'll never know for sure what happened on that flight, but the outcome strongly suggests that at least a few people knew they had to do something, and then were brave enough to actually do it.

That's what director Paul Greengrass thinks, and he does an amazing job making "United 93" seem like an accurate account all the way through. Like I said, some stuff we know -- what happened to the plane, what happened in New York and Washington, what happened in various air traffic control and military offices. But beyond the accounts from those who spoke with Flight 93 passengers before the crash, we can't know what happened in the air. You wouldn't know it from this movie, though, in which the handheld cameras and lack of big-name actors give it a distinct documentary feel.

Those handheld close-ups misfired in "The Bourne Supremacy," but they were perfect for "Bloody Sunday." "United 93" is essentially the same kind of movie -- different perspectives of various parties as they head toward a tragic end. In "Sunday," you saw the buildup to a fatal riot. Here, it's the few hours leading up to Flight 93's crash. What's great is that we see everyone, from the hijackers to the flight crew to the passengers to the air traffic controllers to the military. Nobody is the lead; it's an ensemble cast in its truest form.

Helping this greatly is that lack of famous faces. Indeed, some guys are playing their real-life roles, most notably head air traffic guy Ben Sliney and military honcho James Fox. (They're pretty good, too.) On the flight itself, we get nobody I can recall seeing anywhere, and no one passenger or crew member ever becomes the center of attention. It really is quite an impressive accomplishment by both the director and the actors.

Those actors also do a good job showing the gravity of the situation. One character in particular, Mark Bingham, especially seems to represent what these people are facing. They know they have to act, but they almost certainly are going to die. Good lord ... how do you psyche yourself up for that? No wonder he was pacing and punching walls in the back galley before the counterattack.

I'm starting to ramble here -- starting? -- but just believe me that this is an incredibly well-made movie that, while hard to watch, is sensitive and appropriate. The hijackers are part of the story, but there are no excuses for their actions, just the basic point of view that they're carrying out a mission. The confusion in air traffic control offices and military command centers is captured, but nobody is blamed; this simply is something that few if anyone could have conceived, and it happened so quickly.

Finally, the chaos on Flight 93 before it crashed is vividly portrayed -- the cramped quarters, the crush of people rushing the hijackers, the assault on the cockpit. But again, there is no one hero, nor are there any scenes that some might call emotionally manipulative, i.e. voices of loved ones on the other end of phones, or -- and this is important -- post-crash wreckage. The movie ends when the flight ends. The passengers' heroism, however, will live on.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If this were a meal, my mom would call it a "smorgasbord"

And I swear I thought she made that word up ... at least until I was in college.

I know, I know ... I go away, I never write, I forget all about you, my loyal (seven) readers. I wish I could claim something extreme, like standing trial as the 20th hijacker or appearing beside President Bush at the White House correspondents' dinner. (It was funny because it's true.)

Alas, I merely had family and work obligations that sabotaged my evenings and last weekend. Even now, it's approaching the wee hours, yet I couldn't let my absence continue to fester here on the information superhighway. Even if this is but a barren pit stop a good 10 miles off the interstate ...

So we have another movie roundup, which should clear my plate and set us up (hopefully) for more regular posts in the days to come.

Cybill, all is forgiven: "The Last Picture Show"

Weird movie ... black and white and all 50s-like, yet released in 1971. That homage to yesteryear in look and tone may have been why critics fawned over "Show," and I won't argue.

Sure, it may poke along a bit, but it's interesting to see a young Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd fumble through teenage romance, as well as a young Timothy Bottoms -- known to some for his W schtick in "That's My Bush" -- anchor the movie as a callow youth in a tiny, dusty Texas town.

Of course, all of this pales to the sight of Cybill naked. Yeah, Madame Moonlighting bares all a couple of times, and let me tell you ... that's all right. Whew, she was something before electricity.

No, really ... this is the movie that will make him a star: "After Dark, My Sweet"

My dad nailed this: Jason Patric is one of those guys who delivers a good performance every few years and seems poised to become an A-level actor, but then nothing happens.

Granted, he's not even 40 yet, but hasn't he been around a while? Sure, he was solid in "Narc" and especially "Your Friends and Neighbors," but I remember him from "The Lost Boys" and "Solarbabies." (If you see one movie about kids on roller skates who find a weird orb with special powers ... )

Anyway, Patric is good again in this low-profile film noir, playing a washed up boxer who falls into a kidnapping scheme with a widow (Rachel Ward) and a con man (Bruce Dern). Ward doesn't look as good here as in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" -- her hair is kind of bad -- but overall the movie is passable. Not in the class of "Red Rock West," but the same ballpark.

There's another movie with a guy named "Ponyboy," but that definitely isn't based on a kids novel: "The Outsiders"

My curiosity finally got the best of me. After seeing a random scene or two over the last several years, I buckled down and TiVoed Coppola's teen star-studded adaptation of the S.E. Hinton book.

While the story of the poor kids vs. the rich kids in a 1950s Oklahoma town is OK, there's no question "The Outsiders" is more notable for the number of young stars who went onto bigger and better things. Where to begin? Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez ... oh, and some guy named Tom Cruise (before even "Risky Business"). Sure, these guys all were young in 1983, but it's pretty interesting to see them all together.

Anchoring the movie are two other young actors, Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell. Macchio actually isn't bad -- even with a weird voiceover at the end -- and it's funny how nobody talks about this movie, only "The Karate Kid." As for Howell, well, he had a nice run in the mid-'80s but ... have you seen him lately? Ouch. Never mind a resume that features a dozen movies that sound like they were in "Seinfeld," i.e. "Curiosity Kills," "Dangerous Indiscretion" and "Fatal Affair" (just to name a few). When he was on "24" recently, he looked all gaunt and weathered. And he's not even 40, either!

Now someone who has aged more graceully is my main squeeze Diane Lane. Here she's only 18 but already cultivating the older look that would get her grown-up roles in "Streets of Fire" and "The Cotton Club." (Before she shows us her stuff in "Lady Beware." Woof.) And you can't beat her character's name: Cherry Valance. Hey, Neil Diamond said it best ... she got the way to move me, Cherry ... she got the way to groove me. (What? Too much?)