Sunday, December 10, 2006

Steven Seagal was "Hard to Kill," but I'll be ...

... hard to find over the next few weeks.

Some loyal readers know that my lovely wife and I are expecting. That day is upon us, friends, and I can't promise I'll be seeing too many movies or finding time to share thoughts on them anytime soon. Check back every now and then, though, and I'll crank out the posts as much as I can once we've gotten used to this whole baby thing. It's just like in "Look Who's Talking," right?

Five to one, baby, one in five

"No one here gets out alive." C'mon ... you know the Doors song. Anyone? Anyone?

I suppose if I got off my butt and posted more often, I wouldn't have this problem. But yet again, we've had a bit of a pileup on recently-viewed movies. And since my already low frequency of entries may drop off even more over the next few weeks (see above), I figured I'd go ahead and get these on the record. With that ...

For Your Consideration

While we love the Christopher Guest stuff, the buzz about this one seemed lukewarm at best. Still, it fell into that somewhat rare category of "movies my wife and I both can tolerate," so off we went today. Verdict: Not bad, but probably the least of the Guest's movies.

After tackling small-town theater, dog shows and folk music, Guest goes for independent films and the Academy Awards. All of the usual suspects are on hand -- some making a movie, others talking about its chance for Oscars. The big difference is that nobody actually speaks to the camera this time. It looks and feels like we're peeking in on a work in progress, but the fourth wall isn't broken.

Like I said, it's not bad, but I counted a lot fewer laughs than "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and even "A Mighty Wind." Also, it's pretty scary to see how much Jennifer Coolidge swells up with each movie. Stifler's mom? Yikes.

Nacho Libre

You may recall The Beacon of My World and I trying to catch this as the second half of a drive-in double bill over the summer. Unfortunately, the first movie didn't start until after 9:30 p.m., and we couldn't hang out for Jack Black in tights.

Black plays a monk in Mexico who wants to be a wrestler -- you know, one of those guys who wears the colored masks. He also is sweet on a nun who is new to the orphanage. There may be a few other elements to the plot, but this is all you really need to know, especially since I advise you to skip the movie altogether.

Between the potential for Black to fly around a wrestling ring and the presence of the "Napoleon Dynamite" director, you may think this could work. It doesn't. Black is too subdued, and his Mexican accent and the goofy-dry humor that worked in "Dynamite" falls flat here. Black asks the nun if she wants to eat toast with him. Ha ha ha!

In short, some sight gags, some mildly funny lines, some amusing tumbles, but nothing much overall.

Mr. Jealousy

Here's a movie most people don't know about. It's by the guy who did the first -- and far superior -- "Kicking and Screaming." That was about twentysomethings who couldn't adjust to life after college. In "Mr. Jealousy," our "hero" simply can't ignore his girlfriend's previous life. Specifically, her ex-boyfriends. More specifically, one famous ex-boyfriend.

Eric Stoltz is the jealous guy who ends up stalking a famous author (Chris Eigeman) who dated his girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra). Hijinks ensue, but not in a Stilleresque way. Stoltz ends up in a therapy group with the guy, but has to pretend to be his friend (Carlos "Ramon, the Pool Guy" Jacott, whom I've always liked). The friend's fine with it, since he needs help, too.

It's more than a bit talky, and the narration doesn't help. But I kind of liked the movie as it went along, mainly because I wanted to see how this would all turn out. Not for all tastes, no question, but not bad at all.

Night of the Living Dead

I vaguely recall seeing parts of this horror classic a long time ago, but never the whole thing. Considering how much I like "Dawn of the Dead," I felt obligated to see what spawned this zombie fun. Good thing, too. This movie is all right.

In short, the dead are coming back to life in western Pennsylvania, and we focus on a group of folks holed up in a farm house. As the zombies outside slowly grow in numbers and try to get inside the house, tension grows between a young black man and a husband-father trying to protect his wife and injured daughter.

It's pretty simple, right down to being shot in black and white, and it definitely looks like it was made for $10. (It was actually $114,000, IMDB says.) But at the tender age of 28, George Romero delivered not only a different kind of monster movie -- gross-out, yet suspenseful -- but a decent look at human nature. The ending is a bummer, too, which is kind of nice in this era of at least one person making it alive. Of course, if you die in this movie, just wait a few minutes. You'll be up and at 'em again in no time.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Another low-budget horror classic that I had never seen despite its legendary status. It's certainly worth a viewing, too, although my initial reaction was "That's it?"

A group of kids -- I know, it's always a group of kids -- is driving through the backwoods when they first encounter a demented hitchhiker, then a chainsaw-wielding giant who wears a mask of human skin. Turns out it's one big, happy family of cannibals, and these kids are probably not going to make it back to Central Perk anytime soon.

While the sequence of events in this movie is hardly original now, it was way back in 1974. Consider that this came before "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Other than "Psycho," I'm not sure any bigtime slasher movies predate "Chainsaw." Between the execution of no-name actors one-by-one and the use of various sharp and blunt instruments, this certainly had some influence on countless horror movies to come.

So yeah, while my first thought was "That's it?" -- and "enough with the screaming, already" -- I realized that when "Chainsaw" came out, it came out of nowhere. Also, and this is kind of important, bonus points for not using the killer-cam. That's right, none of this "Look out behind you! I'm right here! Turn around!"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Come to think of it, a rat and a mole don't look that different: "Infernal Affairs"

As I mentioned in my post for "The Departed," I had "Infernal Affairs" in my Netflix queue for some time before I saw the Scorsese dance remix. That version was pretty good. So is the original.

Our story is virtually the same. A crime boss takes a young man under his wing and steers him toward the police force, where he can be the bad guy's eyes and ears. Meanwhile, the police send a talented young officer way undercover to infiltrate the crime boss's operation. So begins a cat-and-mouse game in which we're left to wonder which guy will get exposed first.

It's such a good story that Marty S. couldn't help but adapt it just four years after it came out in Hong Kong. But while Our Great American Director allowed his take to swell to more than 150 minutes, the original weighs in at a trim 101 minutes. It's better for it.

While subtitles never make anything easier, it was pretty easy to follow what was going on with each of these guys. Sure, it may take a few minutes to figure out who is who, considering we don't have the famous visages of Leo and Matt Damon to transfix us. But once we see each mole/rat as an adult, it's no problem at all to buy the cop who's in too deep and the crook with the extra polish. In fact, not understanding their words made me study how they looked and carried themselves more, and appreciate how each actor pulled it off.

For the record, Tony Leung is the undercover cop, while Andy Lau is the crooked cop. Also doing a fine job with more subtle performances are Anthony Wong as Leung's supervisor and Eric Tsang as the crime boss. Wong is even more low-key than Martin Sheen in the "The Departed," which was kind of nice because I thought Sheen coddled Leo a bit. (That's why we got a hardassed Mark Wahlberg, I guess.) Tsang also holds back more compared with Jack Nicholson, which makes it more effective when he loses control. The face-off between the two higher-ups in the police station after Tsang is nearly busted is pretty cool.

That scene is better than the equivalent in "The Departed," and "Infernal" also tops its American counterpart by dispensing with much of the so-called love story. Sure, we see how each guy comes into contact with the same woman. But while "The Departed" kept throwing it in my face, this business is kept in the background here, which is good.

In addition to its shorter length, another plus for "Infernal Affairs" is the ending. I don't want to say "The Departed" took the easy way out, but considering all the carnage, you can say that justice was served. Not so much in "Infernal Affairs," but that's makes for a more powerful story, I think. When you sell your soul, apparently, all's not well that ends well.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Quantity, not quality

We've had some stuff stack up here at Ye Olde Movievangelist, so let's get to it.

A waste of a fat suit: "Just Friends"

This seemed like something My Forever Beautiful and I could watch together. Alas, she started zoning out halfway through, and I can't say I blamed her.

In this story of unrequited love between high school friends who meet again as adults, Ryan Reynolds struggles to be "not bad," while Amy Smart does nothing to dispel the rumor that she's not much of an actor. That leaves two supporting characters to steal the spotlight:
1. Anna Faris as an insane pop superstar Reynolds drags around his hometown. You may recall her hilarious turn as the kooky Cameron Diaz type in "Lost in Translation." She's even funnier here, I think. (My wife was a tad more annoyed, though.)
2. Chris Klein -- I know! -- as Reynolds' rival, another geek turned stud. It took me a few minutes before I recognized Klein, mainly because I've become used to him sucking. Here, he gives his best performance since his debut in "Election." It's pretty good, really.

Good enough to watch this movie? Well, no. But if you must, enjoy the scenes with the second bananas, since the main love story blows.

Bite me: "Shark Tale"

Another movie fit for family viewing. With the standard DreamWorks polish, our animated story presents a timid shark who doesn't want to kill and a mouthy fish with aspirations of greatness. Together, they help each other out. Alas, this facade can't last.

Good cast here: Robert De Niro as the boss shark, Jack Black as his wimpy son, Will Smith as the hero, Renee Zellweger as his would-be paramour and Angelina Jolie as the femme fatale. A few other names in the mix, too, most surprisingly Martin Scorsese as Smith's boss. Kind of weird to see Marty doing the acting thing, even if he's technically not on screen himself.

Not a bad movie ... plenty cute. But in the end, it's pretty light, even for this kind of thing. For underwater fare, "Finding Nemo" is better.

All together now ... : "A Cry in the Dark"


Technically, the famous line is "The dingo's got my baby!" Over the years, though, it's been tweaked a la "Play it again, Sam." And, of course, who can forget Elaine trying to liven up a boring dinner party by suggesting to a new mother, "Maybe the dingo ate your baby."

As for the movie that spawned the line, it's not bad, with Meryl Streep working her accent magic once again, this time as an Australian mother whose baby is carried off by a wild dog -- yes, a dingo -- during a camping trip. Over the next few years, she and her husband, Sam Neill, are subject to public scrutiny and suspicion that they killed the little girl themselves. Why would anyone think such a thing? Maybe because these folks are religious fundamentalists, which was just too weird in 1980s Australia.

That this is a true story makes for some compelling viewing, although the rumor-mongering and melodrama gets to be heavy at times. Take away Streep, and this very well could be a Lifetime movie. Still, she's good enough to keep you wondering what really happened. Even if she's innocent, I thought, she's cracked.

And then there is shame: "The Dukes of Hazzard"

We all knew I wasn't going to waste hard-earned money on this crap in the theater. So instead I wasted valuable time in my own home. Then I thought of all the time and money spent by all the people who made this, and I started to get a little angry. Then I flipped to "Wedding Crashers" and felt better again.

No need to outline the "story" here, other than to say the Family Duke is as crazy as ever. And I'm afraid if I spend too much time on this, I'll get not angry, but depressed. To wit:
  • The Duke boys -- Bo (Stifler) and Luke (Jackass) -- are neither funny nor interesting. Stifler has maybe a few funny lines -- "This was going to be my time!" -- but that's being generous.
  • As Daisy Duke, Jessica Simpson looks great (of course) but -- and I didn't think this was possible -- is blanker than usual. Didn't matter if she was trying to be sexy or tough. She was just there. But hey, I can't complain about that kind of scenery.
  • As for the old guys, Willie Nelson is stoned as Uncle Jesse, and Burt Reynolds is downright sad as Boss Hogg. No edge, no wit ... no anything.
  • That leaves a couple of solid supporting actors -- M.C. Gainey as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and David Koechner as Cooter -- as the only halfway entertaing guys here. Koechner may have had the funniest bit when he asked one of the Duke boys -- see, that's how much I forget this movie -- for a pair of Daisy's famous jean shorts.

Sigh. I'd like to say that at least the car chases were OK, but other than an impressive jump onto an Atlanta highway, nothing stands out. I'd also like to say the attempts to modernize the Dukes, i.e. feedback on the Confederate flag on the General Lee, and the "blackface" the Dukes wear into the 'hood, were clever. But they really weren't. So why did I watch this again? Oh, yeah ... the scenery.