Sunday, July 30, 2006

Before Goose ... before Greene ... there was ... : "Gotcha!"

Words can't describe the excitement I felt when I saw this movie would be on HBO.

They also fail to capture the disappointment I felt while watching it. Not since "Strange Brew" has a movie lost so much from the time I saw it as a young teen to my current stage of adulthood.

I think I was 13 when I first saw "Gotcha!" on HBO, and it was cool. Dude, that guy's shooting people with paint pellets! I've never seen that before! And now he's caught up in some spy thing with Russians and East Germans! I wish something cool like that would happen to me!

Twenty years later, millions of people are running around shooting each other with paint guns, and there's no more Berlin Wall. Worse, Anthony Edwards has been bald for a long, long time, making the sight of him with wavy blond hair almost as laughable as this silly plot.

Edwards plays a college student who plays a game in which he and other crazy kids shoot each other with the aforementioned paint. Astute cineasts will note this idea is borrowed (to say the least) from "TAG: The Assassination Game," which came out a few years earlier and had college students using toy guns that shot those little suction-cup darts. (I love those!)

But the game isn't really the point, since Tony E. and his pal -- the guy who also played Cerulo, the locker-head-butting player in "Wildcats" -- are off to Europe. In Paris, Edwards meets the exotic and mysterious Sasha (Linda Fiorentino, post-"Vision Quest," pre-"Last Seduction"), who takes a liking to this "weirgin" and entangles him is her secret affairs. That includes a jaunt to East Berlin, where Edwards gets all paranoid. (I gotta tell you, that Iron Curtain stuff seems totally weird now.) Our hero eventually has to escape and work his way back home to L.A., but the bad guys follow, leading to a showdown on his college campus. I wonder if this fun little game he plays suddenly will be relevant?

Watching "Gotcha!" as a thirtysomething was kind of painful. I mean, this movie is pretty stupid. Sure, Edwards and his buddy have a few funny lines. Sure, Fiorentino's accent is kind of hot. Sure, it's fun to see the college dean from "Revenge of the Nerds" turn up as Edwards' professor. But as a whole, the movie is just dumb. And you know what? I'm not even sure that was Edwards' real hair.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Speaking of brevity ...

I've had a few movies sitting on the shelf for a while, and I might as well get them out there. Let's do this, all quick and dirty like.

Fistful of Dollars
The first of Sergio Leone's famous spaghetti western trilogy, which went a long way toward making Ol' Squinty Eyes a big star. I've never been a big western fan -- my dad is cringing right now -- but this had enough flair to keep me entertained. Clint Eastwood plays a nameless stranger seemingly playing both sides of the fence when it comes to two warring families in a small town. Maybe the most memorable bit happens early on when Clint tells the undertaker to get three coffins ready, only to up the body count by one. The big question, though: Why is he the Man With No Name when a guy clearly calls him Joe?

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Now this is more my speed: science fiction. You can have your deserts, rivers and valleys. Here's my idea of the untamed frontier. And who better to lead us there than the U.S.S. Enterprise? Sure, I'm a classic Star Trek fan, and I couldn't resist another viewing of the last movie featuring all of the original crew. Here we have Kirk and McCoy imprisoned by Klingons after an ambassador is killed en route to a peace conference. Sets up maybe the best line, from McCoy after Kirk has kissed an alien woman for maybe the 563rd time: "What is it with you, anyway?"

The Cincinnati Kid
I may have said this before, but I've never totally understood why some people think Steve McQueen is all that. I mean, "Bullitt" is OK, and "The Great Escape" is fine, but he generally seems kind of blank and nowhere near the actor that Paul Newman is. Maybe I need to track down old episodes of "Wanted: Dead or Alive." Anyway, this movie has Stevie as a young card shark taking on the king of stud poker, played by Edward G. Robinson. We also get Karl Malden as McQueen's buddy, Ann-Margret (woof) as Malden's wife, Tuesday Weld as McQueen's girlfriend, and a young Rip Torn -- who I didn't recognize at all -- as a high roller. Pretty good cast, merely OK movie. I like the card stuff as much as anyone, but things got boring here and there before the climax. Even that was a bit disjointed, thanks to weird close-ups and voice-overs.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Yeah, remember this one? It was HBO not long ago, and I was curious to see how this landmark film combining live characters and cartoons would seem in this Pixar age. Answer: pretty damn dated. Oh, the animation is still good, but old-style Disney and Warner Bros. characters are so ... well, two-dimensional. It's quaint, really, and a little sad. The story? Eh, not bad. Roger Rabbit is supremely annoying, and Bob Hoskins as a drunk detective isn't much better. True, there's enough adult jokes to earn this a PG rating, but even those don't have the same zip and wit you see nowadays. That leaves us with creepy Christopher Lloyd as the villain and Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit, the femme fatale. Sorry, Rev. Jim and Joan Wilder, but I'll stick with Nemo and The Incredibles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brevity? Don't get me started on brevity ...

At the risk of losing readers -- all three of them -- here's a site I stumbled across today that seems hugely entertaining:

Of course, I went right to the best of the best:

Not even through the first two rows and I'm rolling ... and a little worried I won't ever come up with anything this good. We'll see.

Monday, July 24, 2006

If he were a real badass, he'd drive a Chevy Cavalier: "The Transporter 2"

You know, to give the ultimate automotive middle finger to the bad guys. "I just kicked your ass in a Cavalier! How you like that?"

(I still can't believe Thifty Rent-a-Car tried to tell me it was a midsize just because it had four doors and a CD player.)

I'll confess to enjoying "The Transporter" more than I should have, mainly because of how tiny Jason Statham seemed. Turns out he's not really that small -- 5' 11'', according to IMBD, which is taller than Van Damme and Stallone. But in that little suit and skinny black tie, he just comes across as an ordinary bloke, albeit one without a sense of humor. Then, the butt-kicking begins.

"The Transporter 2" is more of the same, with the added plus of a passable plot. This time, our man Frank is in Miami, driving a rich kid around town when some baddies try to snatch the tyke. Frank doth protest, then finds out it's not a simple kidnapping, and that the kid's dad -- Matthew Modine! -- and his anti-drug friends are the real targets of the drug kingpin behind the plot. Meanwhile, Frank has to fend off the amorous advances of one hot woman -- the kid's mom, played by Amber Valletta, the poor man's Cameron Diaz -- and the blazing guns of another hot woman, played by someone named Kate Nauta.

As in Round One, we get car chases and chop-socky, with Statham really getting into it now that he has a DVD hit under his belt. Strange, but I'm having a hard time remembering any specific fights or chases beyond an absolutely absurd scene in which Frank's car does a little mid-air spin and pulls off a move with Swiss precision. I also seem to recall the climax also was rather laughable. Surprise, surprise.

Still, this fits perfectly into the "late-night, no-need-to-think" category, and I recommend it highly in that regard. I'm just pissed that Statham and Modine didn't go at it on the wrestling mat. Sure, Statham can kick and punch, but we all saw how Louden Swain took down Shute in "Vision Quest." (Lunatic fringe ... I know you're out there ... )

Thursday, July 20, 2006

He became governor, she hung out with Lion Face before being jilted by Cameron: "The Terminator"

Seriously, that "Beauty and the Beast" series sucked. It didn't help that my mom watched it all the time.

Where do we start with this undisputed sci-fi classic? With James Cameron introducing his mastery of lean, mean and loud futuristic shoot-em-ups? With Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the model for the unstoppable force, a role that made him a bigger star than the "Conan" movies ever could? With Michael Biehn in the first of many roles as an average looking yet unbalanced kook?

Hard to say, but there's no question that "The Terminator" remains a seminal sci-fi movie, not to mention a staple for any current thirtysomething. Seriously, I remember watching this on VHS while spending the night at a friend's house at age 12, a year after it came out. Rated R? Who cares? It's Arnold kicking ass, man! We even opened the phone book to see if anyone named Sarah Connor was listed. (No? Dammit.)

We all know the story: An unstoppable cyborg who looks human is sent back from the future to kill a woman who will later give birth to the leader of a revolution against machines that have taken over the world. OK, stop right there. Read that last sentence again. How can you not love this premise? The future ... time travel ... cyborgs ... this has it all. Yet James Cameron keeps it simple. Robot must kill woman. Man must save woman. Woman must scream and sleep with man trying to save her. Bare bones, baby. (And a little boning, too.)

Rather than talk about how good the movie is -- not "The Godfather," but highly entertaining -- let's point out the real pleasures now that "The Terminator" is two decades old. I'm speaking, of course, of the supporting cast. Hey, that's Slider from "Top Gun" as Sarah's roommate's boyfriend! Hey, there's Bill Paxton as one of the punks whose asses Arnold kicks right after his time travel trip! And, of course, there's Lance Henriksen as a cop. What, you had to play a human after someone else got the cyborg part?

This stuff is always fun with older movies, but "The Terminator" holds up well more than 20 years later because it's a crisp, clean story of pursuit and escape. Even if -- I mean, when -- you know what happens, it's still fun to watch Arnold keep coming and coming and coming, complete with quips. True, he utters maybe 50 words total, but that's what's so good. If only his State of the State speeches followed this model ...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

De Niro ... DiCaprio ... Dushku?: "This Boy's Life"

Not cool. That girl who was so hot in "Jay and Silent Bob," "Bring It On" and even "Wrong Turn" -- you may know her as Eliza Dushku -- plays a geeky stepsister here. Not cool.

Otherwise, decent movie, but with some flaws.

I could be wrong on this, but "This Boy's Life" probably is known for helping the future King of the World capture the eye of various Hollywood executives. It sure as hell didn't capture a big audience with the general public, since I can't remember people on the street raving about the movie when it came out. Then again, I was in college, and aside from "Pulp Fiction" and "Clerks," I'm not sure any movies came out those four years.

(Sidebar: It's a near-certainty that "Clerks II" will bite, but I can't help laughing at the end of the trailer where Jay starts dancing to the Buffalo Bill music from "The Silence of the Lambs." Hey, I'd f*ck me ... )

Anyway, our story has DiCaprio as the teen son of Ellen "I was in demand in the late '80s and early '90s, baby!" Barkin, who apparently had poor taste in men and careers. We open with them rolling to Utah -- great shots of Monument Valley -- but before long we're in Seattle, where Barkin starts dating and eventually marries De Niro's character, a seemingly polite but actually hardassed blue-collar type who lives in a small town not far away. That leads to a test of wills between the once and future thespians, with battles both verbal and physical.

To this point, Leo was mostly known as a "Growing Pains" add-on -- when young Ben Seaver became too old and awkward -- and his only film roles were as Josh in "Critters 3" and Guy in "Poison Ivy." Now I've seen "Poison Ivy," and I have no idea if he played a guy, someone named Guy or someone named "Gee." You know, with a hard "g," like the French say it. My point is this: "Boy's Life" was Leo's coming-out, and between this and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" -- ask my friend "Greg" about that one -- DiCaprio was a Young Actor to Watch. Four years later, he's dodging icebergs and Billy Zane. Well played.

But how good is he here? Pretty good, I guess. There definitely are scenes in which he seems poised and talented beyond his years -- 18 when "Boy's Life" was made. I bought both his tortured youth thing and the smart-assed bits. The voiceovers, though, were a little much, as was some of the more questionable relationships with other characters, such as the gay kid who he doesn't get intimate with. Hard to believe any high schooler is that enlightened, especially in a small town and with such a dysfunctional home life.

But DiCaprio is better than De Niro, although I'm probably not being fair because I'm judging Bobby D. based on his work since then. Not the good stuff, but the caricature he's become. I suppose had I seen this back in 1993 I would have been more impressed with De Niro and his juggling the polite courtship of Barkin with the rougher marriage. But I mostly thought his character was two-dimensional and kind of hard to believe -- surprising considering this is a true story. I guess he just seemed too fake with his personalities -- the fake one for the ladies and the real one for the family. It's hard to explain, but let's just say he's done better work.

Still, not a bad movie, if 20 minutes too long and with some slow spots. You can make a case that there's a little passing of the torch here, but it's not like De Niro totally screwed the pooch after '93 -- "Casino," "Heat" and "Wag the Dog" come to mind as decent -- nor has DiCaprio been universally good. (Um, "The Beach?") Regardless, having a good young actor with a proven pro is usually worthwhile. Sure, De Niro's no Alan Thicke, but he's not bad ...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

And I get whiplash on the bumper cars: "Murderball"

If I recally correctly, the reviews of this documentary were tree-mendous. Sadly, it seemed to breeze through my burg before I caught it on the big screen. Fear not ... Netflix to the rescue.

Cutting to the quick, this movie is awesome.

Any story about quadriplegics who play rugby figures to be interesting. But "Murderball" succeeds not because it's the "feel-good hit of the summer" or an "uplifting tale of people who overcame amazing odds," but because it shows how guys whose bodies have been radically altered can still be major hardasses and assholes.

Seriously, I'm not sure what was more impressive in this movie ... the insight into what it's like to be a quadriplegic who plays this game or the politics and attitudes surrounding the Paralympics in Athens. Sure, I like learning how these guys went from "normal" people to wheelchaired athletes. But I loved the accusations of betrayal and quests for revenge.

The movie follows the U.S. quad rugby team from 2002 to 2004, focusing on certain players and their paths to the team. At the same time, we see the Canadian team coached by a former U.S. quad rugby star, who some might say "defected" after a falling-out. Finally, we get a third story arc with a newly paralyzed man contemplating his future, including the possibility of murderball.

All this is in a nice tight package, and if that sounds a little risque, well, so were the quad rugby players. That's another great thing about "Murderball": no sugarcoating. Along with the physical slamming and banging, we see the rough side of these guys off the court. That includes their attitudes about their sport vs. the Special Olympics -- "We're not going for a hug ... we're going for a f*cking gold medal" -- as well as the questions everyone wants to ask but usually doesn't. (In a word: sex. It's hilarious.)

Like I said, hugely entertaining all the way around, and one of the better documentaries I've seen in recent years. It helps that it's a true documentary vs. that Michael Moore bullsh*t. Here's a tip, fat man: Let people in front of the camera do they're thing. If not, I'll sick Zupan on your ass.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Truly I am a renaissance man

At least more than Danny DeVito, I'm, sure.

After something of a dry spell (remember the "Star Trek" reruns?), I've bounced back strong in recent days and caught several movies -- some for the first time, others just because I like them. As Jim Carrey said before his hoops rampage in "The Cable Guy" -- which I still don't have on DVD -- "Let's get it on!"

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Fantastic effects, passable story, terrible acting. That's all you need to know. Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson and Frank Oz/CGI (as Yoda) are decent enough, but Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen suck balls. Both have been good in other movies, so this isn't all on them. In fact, it's clear that George Lucas is to dialogue what the U.S. is to soccer -- disappointing, to say the least. This begs the question: Was he always this bad and we forgave him because we were young and the first "Star Wars" trilogy was so cool? Or has he just gone into the crapper with Trilogy Two? You know, let's forget that and focus on the flashing lights.

True Grit
While not John Wayne's best movie, it's one that many identify with the Duke because he (a) won an Oscar and (b) wore an eye patch. Hey, you never forget a guy with an eye patch. In fact, I often think about wearing one in my daily life, perhaps switching it every hour. One day, when I'm going to a party or meeting where I don't know anybody, I'll actually do it, I swear. As for the movie, Wayne is entertaining. He's also big as hell. Now I can see why he was such an icon. Sure, he's got a gut here, but even without that he's a tall, strapping man. Alas, he's also hanging around with Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. The former is a singer who plays a Texas Ranger; Chuck Norris would drop him in two seconds. The latter is a young woman who wants Wayne's character, bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn, to help bring her daddy's killer to justice. She's annoying as hell, though, and I couldn't forget she would go on to play Lane Meyer's mom in "Better Off Dead." "It's got raisins in it ... You like raisins ... " Now that's acting!

The Skeleton Key
When I'm running Hollywood, one of the first things I'm going to do -- right after greenlighting big-screen versions of "Bosom Buddies" and "Airwolf" -- is require movie ads to include mediocre reviews. Seriously, what carries more weight, something like "Super awesome cool!" from Tom Thompson, or "Not as bad as it could have been" from A.O. Scott, The New York Times? I mention this because "The Skeleton Key" could have been a lot worse. It's not good, either, but the whole Louisiana bayou black magic thing was mildy interesting, and it's not painful to watch Kate Hudson bolt from bed in her underwear. She plays an in-home nurse who thinks something's up with the mute invalid she's caring for in a big mansion. It doesn't help that the guy's wife, played by Gena Rowlands, is nuts. Also lurking around is Peter Saaaaaaaarrrrsssgaaaaaaaard as a lawyer. There's a whole lot of "boo" in this that isn't much in the first half, and Hudson's character is generally annoying. But the climax is somewhat decent, and like I said, this could have been worse (i.e. "Hide and Seek").

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
First, the negatives: It's too long, and for a juvenile comedy, there aren't nearly enough one-liners that you can drop into conversation, a la "Old School." Heck, the only ones that come to mind are "Be like David Caruso in 'Jade'" and "You know how I know you're gay?" But even with those minuses, this is a funny and, yes, even sweet movie. (You know, except for all the swearing and sex talk.) Steve Carell is good, of course, but so are all the supporting players. (Is it weird to say I'm a Paul Rudd fan? Between this and "Anchorman," he's genius.) It's also great to see Catherine Keener as something other than a frosty b*tch. As for the lack on quotable lines, we get a lot of subtly funny scenes, like when "The Bourne Identity" is playing in the background of a conversation and Rudd's character opines, "You know, I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he's rocking the sh*t in this one!" That's funny because it's true.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I still say his best work was with sausage: "Rebel Without a Cause"

Wait ... James Dean and Jimmy Dean aren't the same person? Who knew?

(Just saw on IMDB that they're cousins, though. Now that's a surprise.)

Here's another movie I should have seen before this week -- both because it's rumored to be a classic and because we've had it from NetFlix for about a month. What can I say? There have been a lot of Star Trek reruns on lately, and I'll fight any man who says Bill Shatner isn't the interstellar James Dean.

Ah yes, Dean ... the ultimate live-fast, die-young movie star. I mean, making three good movies and then biting it in a car crash before two of them open? Forget River Phoenix dropping dead at The Viper Room ... this is the quintessential "who knows what could've been" case. Of course, all that wistfulness and idolatry has a price. I couldn't stand Dean even before I'd seen any of his movies, I was so sick of the posters and other paraphernalia.

Of course, that didn't last, and eventually I buckled down and watched the movie that (a) most identify with him and (b) has the best title. Seriously, doesn't it seem tailor-made for those '50s-era titles that screamed across the screen? Another thing about "Rebel Without a Cause": It came out four weeks after Dean's death. I can't imagine how creepy that was, or how big the crowds were.

Dean plays Jim Stark, an unruly/misunderstood kid starting a new school after getting into trouble with police. Nothing serious, just general teen bitterness about his family. Jim says he doesn't want trouble, but he nevertheless gets tangled up with a gang and a girl (Natalie Wood). Meanwhile, an even more confused and forlorn boy (Sal Mineo) yearns to be Jim's friend. But being a teenager in L.A. ain't easy, and let's say not everyone makes it to the final credits.

Now more than 50 years old, "Rebel" probably deserves credit for showing the world what it's like to be a troubled kid. "The Blackboard Jungle," also released in 1955, is another. Both movies are hopelessly dated now, with the knife fight and guys playing chicken in cars in "Rebel" more cute than thrilling. ("Hey, maybe after it's over they can meet Potsie and Ralph Malph for malts!") "Rebel" also suffers a bit in retrospect by having Jim Backus as Jim's dad. Oh, he's a fine actor, but since 99.9 percent of the world now knows him as either Mr. Magoo or Thurston Howell III, he's even less of an authority figure than meant to be. That's saying something considering how emasculated his character in "Rebel" is.

Offsetting these drawbacks, however, is Dean, who sure seemed to be the real deal. Not so much as a teenager; he was 24 when this was made, and I wasn't sure he was supposed to be a high school student until he actually showed up at school. (Wood and Mineo were more convincing.) But his attitude and balance of raw emotion and brooding silence worked pretty well, and suggest he could have been something great if given the chance. Among actors of his era, you can definitely see Brando, who was his idol. As for today's crop, I couldn't shake the comparison to Brad Pitt. His eyebrows also reminded me a bit of Colin Farrell, but remember, we're talking about people who can act.

So yeah, watching "Rebel" makes it hard to deny that Dean burned bright and faded too soon. It's too bad that people are left mainly with the image of that red jacket. Then again, had Dean lived and found himself schlepping around on "The Love Boat" or "Hollywood Squares," would there still be all those posters?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Must ... not ... puke: "Must Love Dogs"

In general, I think I'm an OK husband -- help out around the house, pick up after myself, pleasure my wife, even do a little cooking.

But if The Light of My Life continues to inflict these D-level romantic comedies on me, we're going to have problems.

Actually, I may have myself to blame for suffering through "Must Love Dogs." I'm on record as being forever devoted to Diane Lane -- she's on the list -- and I've generally considered myself a John Cusack fan. While I made a point to avoid this drivel in theaters, I'm sure I let slip at some point that I'd watch "Dogs" on cable, if only for those two actors.

Sadly, they not only fail to make this movie tolerable, but Cusack has now officially gone from "geeky cool" to "annoying as f*ck." Harsh, perhaps, but bear with me.

"Dogs" has newly divorced preschool teacher Lane awkwardly re-entering the dating scene and eventually coming across Cusack through an Internet personal ad placed by her sister. He's also on the rebound -- each of our leads was dumped -- but his wooing of Lane contends with a few snags between the would-be lovebirds and competition from the dad of one of Diane's students. He's a supposedly dreamy professor type played by ... wait for it ... Dermot Mulroney.

(Motherf*cker! I can't get away from this guy! Goddamn you, Dirty Steve!)

So yeah, not much of a story. Also, while the first round of dates for Lane's character provides a few humorous moments, it was easy to predict what would happen when. Oh, this date is with an older guy? Wonder if it'll be her widowed dad? Oh, this other older guy looks uncomfortable? Wonder if he thought she would be younger? This holds up throughout the movie, with the misunderstandings between Lane and Cusack and the ultimate outcome of the Mulroney Affair all taken from Romantic Comedy Antics 101.

One thing that wasn't standard but was even more irritating: the now-trademark Cusack philosophical bullsh*t. Seriously, it's getting hard to find a movie in which our boy Johnny doesn't spend a few minutes at a time rambling on about all things cosmic. It wasn't bad in "High Fidelity" because (a) he broke the fourth wall and addressed the viewer and (b) he was dead-on with a lot of the relationship stuff. But it was overboard in the otherwise amusing "Grosse Pointe Blank" and intolerable in "Serendipity," as was that movie in general.

The rambling doesn't help things here. But wait, it's not like Cusack wrote the script, right? No, but get a load of this note from IMDB: "According to director Gary David Goldberg, he gave the script to John Cusack and encouraged him to change any of his character's dialogue to better suit him. Goldberg was surprised by Cusack's response, who later sent the director about 35 pages of new dialogue for his character."

Gee, thanks, John.

It's all kind of sad, really. Diane Lane is such a cutie and, yes, decent actor, that she deserves a decent romantic comedy. She totally could have done something that didn't involve "Three's Company"esque miscommunication and a finale that has her jumping into a river. (Sigh.) Hopefully "Unfaithful" still carries enough weight that she can find a few more good roles. You know, like "Judge Dredd."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Where else would we see "Cars" but at ...

... the drive-in. That's right, kids! It was back to the big screen outdoors for your trusty blogger. Turns out My True Love has a thing for going parking. Just too bad there's no Inspiration Point around here.

We actually tried the drive-in a couple of weeks ago, but I guessed wrong on how late we could arrive and still get in. Who knew this holdover from the '50s could still draw big crowds? When we gave it another shot Saturday, the good news was that we got in. The bad news was we had to wait more that two hours for "Cars" to begin.

They say it's because they start the first movie after sunset, but as we baked in the car -- can't run the A/C with the engine off -- we were convinced it was to make people keep buying crap at the concession stand. (I shouldn't complain. They had corn dogs.) In any case, since "Cars" didn't start until 9:30 and took about two hours -- too long for a toon -- we skipped out on the second feature, "Nacho Libre." I understand we aren't missing much, although I'm peeved we didn't get full value for our $8/car entry fee.

Still, "Cars" was probably worth it. I don't make a point to see all the gee-whiz animated movies that come out these days; I still haven't seen the two "Toy Story" movies, which is a shame. Of course, having a kid almost certainly will change that, so I guess seeing "Cars" is a nice tune-up. (Pa dum dum.)

Our story -- in which all of the characters are talking cars and trucks -- has a hotshot rookie race-car driver heading to California after a he, his rival and a racing legend finished in a tie in the "Piston Cup" race. Alas, our hero, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), gets hung up in a dusty desert town, where he's forced to pave a road he messed up while trying to get back to the interstate.

Wouldn't you know it? Lightning comes across a host of oddball characters (a la the fishtank in "Finding Nemo") in this town, from a grizzled old Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman) to an out-of-place Porsche (Bonnie Hunt). Will this brash hotshot manage to win over these small-town folks, yet still get to his big race on time? Is Walt Disney's head still tucked behind the DiGiorno pizzas and that pint of Ben and Jerry's?

While not groundbreaking in plot, "Cars" does have some cool animation. Yeah, what a shocker when it comes to Pixar. Wilson, Newman and Hunt also are engaging enough, and we get all sorts of fun stunt casting with Richard Petty as the racing legend and the "Car Talk" guys as race-team owners. We also get the requisite bad puns with Darrell Cartrip (Waltrip), Bob Cutlass (Costas) and Jay Limo (Leno). (Apparently Camaro O'Brien was unavailable.)

It's all good fun, although it was a little disappointing to see the Italian tire shop owner played by Tony Shalhoub and the Latino low rider played by Cheech Marin. C'mon, guys ... you can do better than the easy ethnice role, even if it is talking cars. And while having Paul Dooley play a military jeep and George Carlin play a WV van was funny, the inclusion of Larry the Cable Guy in the proceedings is a tad unfortunate.

Like I said, a cute little movie, and the puns and other references are enough to keep adults interested. But I can't say this is any better than "Monsters Inc." or "Finding Nemo," and it pales compared to "The Incredibles." Of course, if Lightning's grille had looked like Owen Wilson's real nose, that would have changed everything.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sly? Um, no: "The Family Stone"

Here's what we'll do to with this POS of a movie, which My Normally Sane and Reasonable Wife selected in her quest to spend our free Blockbuster gift card on worthless crap. I'll tell you the basic story: Guy brings girlfriend home to family for holidays with intention of proposing to her with grandma's ring. Hijinks ensue.

But since this movie pretends to be en ensemble piece, let's just run through the cast and see how each does here compared with elsewhere:

Diane Keaton: While I've never been a big fan, she generally is a good actor. Heck, I could even tolerate "Something's Gotta Give." Unfortunately, her game effort as the mom here comes off as alternately bitchy and coddling -- an odd and unsuccessful combo.

Craig T. Nelson: Probably the highlight of this movie, and I always wished he was a bigger star in general. Seriously, between the dad in "Poltergeist" and the coach in "All the Right Moves," the commish has chops. In "Stone," he's the dad again, and generally tolerable.

Rachel McAdams: The cutie from "Wedding Crashers" and heroine from "Red-Eye" is insufferable here. OK, I can stand the plain-jane look -- even the glasses -- but no need to slam my head in the door of your smarter-than-thou attitude. It's unbecoming, dear, and frankly hard to believe. I get it ... you don't like your brother's girlfriend. It's not like she killed your dog, though.

Luke Wilson: Apparently he didn't want brother Owen getting all the laid-back, 21st century sensitive philosopher roles. Ooooh, he's so effortlessly decent and unpatronizing compared with his family! How can you not love him? Well, easily, it turns out. Stick to being the straight man, Mitch.

Claire Danes: Ugh. She may be the biggest disappointment of all. Not because of her acting, which has been solid throughout her career. She just doesn't get to show any of that in "Stone," which gives her a character (the girlfriend's sister) with no real depth and a would-be epiphany near the end that is harder to swallow than Tom Cruise being straight. It actually made me angry, and I hate feeling that way about my shopgirl, especially since she ends up with ...

Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, I don't like this guy, and I really don't care if I gave away a spoiler just now. (Gee, maybe you won't see this movie. No need to thank me.) Anyway, nothing you can say can convince me he's the good-looking dreamboat this movie and others ("The Wedding Date," "My Best Friend's Wedding") purport him to be. Uh-uh. Now, the loser in "About Schmidt?" That's more like it.

Sarah Jessica Parker: Guess what? I like her even less than our man Dermot. Didn't like her in "Sex and the City" -- I was a Charlotte man, myself -- and don't know if I've liked her in anything else. OK, maybe "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," but that was because of the whole Catholic high school girl-gone-bad thing. (And she was only competing with a young Helen Hunt on-screen.) After the success of "Sex," it stands to reason that Sarah's film career could suffer, and here's a great first step. She sucks in this -- her character, her acting, her general presence. If the movie had the balls to cast her out after the family holiday debacle, I might have cut it some slack. Alas, she's redeemed along with everyone else, and that made me want to put my foot through the flat-screen.

So yeah, not the best movie I've seen. Three stars.

Kidding. It sucked. Bad. Go rent "Home for the Holidays," which isn't great but seems like "Casablanca" compared to this crap.