Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Finally, a movie for absolutely nobody: "The Adventures of Pluto Nash"

You know how it is. When a movie that makes a strong bid for the biggest flop ever finds its way onto your cable system, you pretty much have to watch. Since I've seen "Battlefield Earth" -- um, twice -- and am still waiting for "Gigli," we're left with this Eddie Murphy "vehicle."

I actually remember when this movie came out five years ago. I saw a newspaper ad for it and was scratching my head. Why haven't I heard about this? Where have the trailers been for this movie? I soon learned the quick backstory about how "Pluto Nash" cost a lot of dough but was really bad. Since then, the movie's distinction of being the biggest financial loser ever -- $100 mil to make, less than $5 mil gross -- has become legend. But hey, how bad it is really?

Bad. Really bad. "Hudson Hawk" bad.

Our story has Murphy as a nightclub owner on the Moon about 80 years into the future. OK, sure. As it happens, some heavy hitters want to buy him out, but Pluto ain't having it. Too bad, since the club then goes bye-bye in a big bang. That leads Pluto and Co. -- a pity-me Rosario Dawson and Randy "I look like John Locke from 'Lost'" Quaid (Pluto's robot bodyguard) -- on a quest for answers, and ultimately to a big ol' twist ending that is no stupid I that my dog started laughing.

It hasn't been that long since I sat through this debacle, and already I've lost track of the myriad ways in which it sucks. It's got a "Men in Black" feel yet has no neato special effects to speak of. The jokes fall flat. The story is absurd (and not in a go-with-it way). Quaid is annoying. Murphy is annoying. Jay Mohr is annoying. Joe Pantoliano is bored. Many normally credible supporting players -- Luis Guzman, John Cleese, Pam Grier, Peter Boyle, Burt Young -- are wasted. And so on and so forth.

The best part about "Pluto Nash?" Trying to figure out this movie's target audience. There are attempts at humor, but it fails as a comedy. There's some bang-bang, but it fails as an action movie. It takes place on the Moon, but it fails as a sci-fi flick. Murphy is in it, but it fails as a Murphy movie. Get the picture? It's like they took a bunch of stuff from a bunch of '90s movies and worked hard to figure out how to not make it all work. Hell, even the music blew.

Like I said -- and like it is with any really, really bad movie -- it's hard to capture the true crapfest that danced across my TV screen. If you really want to have fun, though, check out the message boards on IMDB. Not because people are panning "Pluto." No, you'll find people posting stuff like "This wasn't so bad" or "I actually liked it!" Did I say "people?" My bad. I meant "dipsh*ts."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bloody good fun: "Dead Alive"

When I first saw this movie way back when, Peter Jackson hadn't even met Kate Winslet or Michael J. Fox, much less moved to Middle Earth. When I saw "Dead Alive" again this weekend, well after Petey boy had been lionized by legions of LOTR geeks, the movie was even more hilarious. Still pretty messy, too.

While more people have discovered this movie over time, "Dead Alive" -- also called "Braindead" -- remains mostly a cult film, and with good reason. There's nobody remotely famous here, and it's pretty low budget, yet it's easily the best combination comedy/gross-out horror movie I've ever seen. Yes, even better than the "Evil Dead" movies, although I still say "Army of Darkness" is funnier. Not nearly as gross, though. Not even close.

Released in the early '90s, this movie is set in 1950s New Zealand and starts with some scientist trying to bring a rare, vicious monkey back from the jungle. At the zoo, the monkey -- not very cute, mind you -- bites an old woman, who proceeds to become something less than human. That's right, kids ... it's zombie time. As it turns out, the woman already was an overbearing mother to poor Lionel. Now she's really a pain, as her boy tries to keep her undead butt in check while dealing with the romantic overtures of a young Latina in the 'hood.

Of course, why have just one zombie when dozens will do? Lionel's problems ultimately multiply as more people get bit, and each of the walking dead provides a new opportunity for gore galore: decapitations, amputations, impalings ... you name it, Jackson tries it. It's actually a lot of fun to see how he'll top the last thing -- I think the fist punching through the back of a head and out an open mouth was my favorite -- as well as keep the lenses clean from the gallons upon gallons upon gallons of fake blood. By the time Lionel shows up at a zombie party with a lawn mower strapped to his chest, well, you just know they're going to need at least a few wet naps.

Clearly this isn't a movie for everyone, i.e. women. My wife stumbled into the last few minutes, and it took just seconds for her to ask, "How much longer until this ends?" Still, it's really something to see -- silly, messy and funny. For the last, I'll leave you with these three snippets as evidence:

1. "That's my mother you're p*ssing on!"

2. "I kick a$$ for the Lord!"

3. "Your mother ate my dog!" (Pause) "Not all of it."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I've changed my mind ... there IS something wrong with that: "Superbad"

Kidding! I love gay people. Well, I don't love them. Wait ... I'm not a homophobe. Wait ... oh, never mind.

I laughed mightily at the trailer for "Superbad" a few months back -- love that kid from "Arrested Development" -- and the generally good reviews added to my desire to see the teen comedy when it hit theaters last month. So when I found myself with a little spare time Tuesday in Phoenix before a redeye flight home, I decided to catch this movie and then grab a double-double at In-N-Out Burger. Those are good burgers, Dude.

Our story follows two geeky kids, Michael Cera (from AD) and Jonah Hill (the tubby kid who wanted to buy the shoes in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), at the end of their senior year in high school. They're gearing up for their last summer before going to different colleges, with Hill obsessed about getting regular sex with a girl (or so he says) before going away. How to do so? Why, buy alcohol for a party where hot girls will be drunk. Genius! Thank YOU!!!

In the words of Aristotle, "Hijinks ensue." Our heroes enlist their even geekier friend (someone named Christoper Mintz-Plasse) to buy the alcohol, but he gets shanghaied by a couple of oddball cops (Seth Rogen, also one of the co-writers, and Bill Hader), leaving the dynamic duo to find other avenues for alcohol. Suffice it to say, their misadventures take them all over town before landing at the party, where things don't go as expected, either.

To nobody's surprise, there's a wee bit of raunchiness in these proceedings; one person is credited as "Period Blood Girl." (Yikes.) That didn't bother me. Some of it was funny, some of it was just there. And the performances by and large were good. Hill looks too old to be in high school -- he's about 24, or two years younger than Rogen -- but Cera is pretty winning. Neither was as hilarious as Mintz-Plasse, though, who eats up his role and enjoys the best transformation of anyone in "Superbad."

No, my problem with this movie is that it starts out strong and has funny scenes throughout but ... there's the we're-not-gay-but-just-close thing. No, nobody's goes "Brokeback" here. Nothing overt at all. But the whole best friends thing between our heroes, while well-intentioned and meant to genuinely show how much these guys love each other, is quite distracting.

It's weird. You've got these guys talking about girls, watching porn, wanting to get drunk. But you've also got all these episodes showing the bond between the guys, and it just didn't quite work. Even the final scene, where the boys are riding high, you still get this longing glance and weirdness. I don't know, maybe it was just me. I have no problem with the idea. I just don't think it went right.

In the end, that doesn't take away from a generally entertaining movie. There's the whole "McLovin" thing, and rest assured I'll never listen to "These Eyes" the same way again. Plenty of other really funny stuff here, too. And hey, great dick drawings. Yes, I said dick drawings. You'll have to see for yourself.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Puppet sex! F*CK YEAH!!!: "Team America: World Police"

This movie has the honor of being the first one I watched from Netflix on my computer. Have you seen this deal? They've put some movies out there for subscribers to watch for free on Ye Olde Internet. Pretty neat, even if the offerings are, ahem, a bit limited. "Hellbound: Hellraiser II?" Hell, fire up that puppy!

Actually, there are some real movies in the lineup, and while The Light of My Pitiful Excuse for a Life was watching the big TV in the den the other night, I decided to give "Team America" another whirl. You may recall my post from way back when, as well as the somewhat sketchy details due to my drifting in and out of slumber while watching the movie. Now, almost two-and-a-half-years later, I had a chance to do justice to possibly the best puppet/locker-room humor/political satire film ever. Eat your heart out, Kubrick.

Our story is a dead-on send-up of Bay/Bruckheimer movies with a healthy dose of subversive skewering of sanctimonious assh*les ... all done by puppets. And not a bunch of old socks, either. (Beat it, Lambchop!) No, we're talking marionettes with little motors for the facial expressions. A tremendous undertaking, perhaps, but a hell of a lot easier than working with some of the "real" stars who get dragged into this story.

Team America is an elite fighting force trying to eradicate terrorism. After tragedy, they draft a Broadway actor to be part of the team, then take a serpentine path -- with more tragedy ... oh, and explosions -- in their pursuit of WMDs. All the while, haughty liberal Hollywood stars and North Korean dictators -- OK, one particular North Korean dictator -- try to stop our heroes, who also must face the obligatory intra-team tensions, both romantic and violent.

Did somebody say "violent?" Yes, we get all sort of bang-bang and blood-blood, but hey, it's a bunch of dolls and models, which is hilarious. Then there's the sex, which is damn funny, too. And the songs, which are pretty hard to not sing for a few days after seeing this. For instance, consider this gem when Gary realizes he needs to buckle down and help the team:

We're gonna need a montage
Ooh, it takes a montage
Show a lot of things happening at once
Remind everyone of what's going on
In every shot, show a little improvement
To show it all would take too long
That's called a montage

Still, the would-be title track is the best. Don't believe me? Well, I've got just one thing to say to that ...

America, F*CK YEAH!
So lick my butt, and suck on my balls
America, F*CK YEAH!
What you going to do when we come for you now
It’s the dream that we all share; it’s the hope for tomorrow

McDonalds, F*CK YEAH!
Wal-Mart, F*CK YEAH!
The Gap, F*CK YEAH!

(You get the picture.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I've got HD channels, dammit, and I'm going to get my money's worth

No dancing around it. If I'm going to watch movies in part because they've floated across my flatscreen in high-definition glory, you're going to have to listen to me ramble about them. Don't worry, though, just two for you today.

No, really, you can sit down: "Last Man Standing"

Not sure it's accurate to say I was intrigued by this movie as much as I wanted to see how a smirking Bruce Willis would play a stoic antihero in a quasi-Western. Sound like a mess? It wasn't. It was just boring.

In this adaptation of "Yojimbo" and "A Fistful of Dollars," Willis strolls into a desert town where two gangs are at war. With nothing better to do, our rogue decides to play both sides off each other while running into women-in-need on both side. Oh, he's an honorable one, our Bruno.

I knew this was likely to be weak going in but hoped there was some pulp/cult potential. I mean, you've got Walter Hill at the helm, plus his favorite actor David Patrick Kelly and character guys William Sanderson and Michael Imperioli. You also have the incomparable Christopher Walken and Bruce Dern. Alas, all that is far from enough. Hell, Walken is downright laughable, and not in his Walkenesque way. I mean, what's with that scar, Chrissy?

Throw in Willis' cheesy narration, and this would-be shoot-em-up is no good all the way around. Looks OK, I guess, but I was checking my watch less than halfway through and grimacing at multiple scenes after that. Sounds like a winner, right?

Yes! Yes! Yes!: "Flash Gordon"

Sidebar before we begin: Did any other geeks besides me see there was a new "Flash Gordon" series on the Sci-Fi Channel? After becoming a devoted fan of the reinvented, very excellent "Battlestar Galactica" -- seriously, it's good -- I figured I'd give the new "Flash" a shot. One pilot and half of another episode later, I was out. A quick Google search of reviews confirmed I wasn't the only one sunk by this tripe's suckage.

Now on to more important stuff, such as .... the 1980 "Flash Gordon" in glorious HDTV! (Pause. Catch breath. Calm down.) Hey, you know I'm not one for exclamation points (aside from sarcasm, of course). But after the bastardization of this movie I watched almost two years ago, it was nothing short of heaven-sent to see one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures pop up on a high-def channel. Don't tell my wife, but it may have to get "Save Until Manually Erased Status" for a while ... or forever. I love the movie that much.

You know and love the story: Pro football player from Earth -- "Flash Gordon, Quarterback, New York Jets" -- ends up in rocket with cute girl and mad scientist, and they end up on Mongo, where Ming the Merciless wants to destroy Earth. Flash and friends learn about Mongo's kingdoms and meet such fun guys as Barin and Vultan, and eventually Flash takes down Ming. Oh, sorry ... spoiler alert.

One could argue that there are various redeeming qualities, i.e. director Mike Hodges made some decent movies such as "Get Carter" and "Croupier" or the soundtrack kicks ass or Princess Aura's pet went on to become the Oompa Loompa guy in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." But really, you either embrace this silliness full-force or you don't. Clearly I'm beyond the point of no return. Don't believe me? Check the updated profile photo to the right. What can I say?

He's for every one of us!

Stand for every one of us!

He'll save
With a mighty hand
Every man
Every woman
Every child
With a mighty

(Impressed? I thought so.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Defying gravity? Try logic: "Cliffhanger"

Still, how can you not love this movie, especially in high-def? When it popped up on an HD channel recently, I couldn't resist the chance to see if "Cliffhanger" was as ludicrous as I remembered.

It was. And how.

You know the story. Our man Sly Stallone is a mountain rescue guy who -- as the opening scene shows us -- has a somewhat bad experience on a rescue. This episode sets the tone for the whole movie in two very different ways. One, gorgeous scenery. Sure, it's Italy standing in for Colorado, and some later scenes look a tad too soundstagey (if that's a word). But the big, sweeping shots? Very nice. Kudos to you, Renny Harlin.

Sidebar: Of course, after this movie Harlin did "Cutthroat Island." Ouch. Then again, he also did "Deep Blue Sea," and you know how I feel about that movie, just for that one Sam Jackson scene. Awesome.

Alas, with the scenery in "Cliffhanger" comes some plot developments that are more preposterous than the possibility of W getting his face on Mount Rushmore. Why Stallone even has to rescue a woman who has no business being on that mountain is only the first leap of faith needed to stomach this movie.

After that business, Sly retreats to full-on brooding mode. Alas, he ends up getting back in action when a gang of thieves crashes in the mountains. They pulled a daring mid-air robbery of a kajillion dollars in big bills, and now they're trying to find three big cases of money that fell out of the plane. Stallone's former buddy (the always enjoyable Michael Rooker) gets roped into helping the baddies, but that don't fly with Sly.

Forget the general plot. Consider these far-fetched turns of events. How about a plane crash landing on what seemed to be a pretty flat stretch of land in the middle of the mountains? How about Sly being able to magically find cases before the bad guys, who have an actual tracking device? How about Stallone not freezing to death when stripped of his gear?

It gets better. The head bad dude is John Lithgow, and this has to be one of his best performances. Not the acting itself, but him just keeping a straight face. Oh, he's a prize here. This part fell between his Oscar-nominated days in the early '80s and Emmy-winning days in the late '90s. You also could call this Lithgow's "bad boy" phase, with "Cliffhanger" joining "Raising Cain" and "Ricochet" -- all roles no doubt being cited in America's finest acting schools as we speak.

So yeah, a whole lot to swallow with this movie. But that doesn't mean it's not fun. That's right ... watching Sly play cat and mouse in the mountains once again wasn't too bad. And as the above examples prove, it was a lot funnier than "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Good morning, Vietnam Veterans Memorial: "Man of the Year"

No way I would have watched this without HBO, and no way I'm getting those two hours back, either. Damn.

Oh, Robin Williams. You were so much easier to take when hopped up on cocaine. Now you're bloated and more than a little pompous, and it seems like I've seen your schtick a thousand times. Not saying it's all bad, but it's getting a bit gray, Mork.

I remember seeing the trailer for "Man of the Year" and thinking, "Could be decent, but probably not." Our premise: A nutty talk show host/comedian somehow gets elected President. I'd say "Hijinks ensue," but there are plenty of hijinks before our boy RW even gets to the Oval Office.

You see, a subplot has this hot tech company landing a contract to supply voting machines for the whole country. (Yeah, I know. If you've ever voted in more than one state, you realize how preposterous this is.) Only there's something wonky about the machines, says would-be heroine Laura Linney, no doubt thinking, "I've come so far since 'Congo,' and now this?"

Lurking around the edges is Jeff "Paycheck, please" Goldblum, daring audiences to watch this with "Great White Hype" as the ultimate double bill of Sh*tty Performances of My Career. Back in the Williams camp are his manager, Christopher "I Can Do My Thing Until I'm 124, You A$$holes" Walken, and Lewis "I Need to Cash in While I Can" Black as a writer. On paper, not a bad lineup. In the movie, well ...

As you know, Williams somehow wins the election, but all is not well for a few reasons. There's really no need to go over the various plot twists, because it's, for the most part, kind of boring and a little sad. Williams gets off some good lines, of course, but his whole character and motivation are weaker than a $1 margarita. I mean, I never thought this guy was anything close to a real person, and yet the movie doesn't come close to satire. By the time Williams dons a white wig for his visit to Congress, I wasn't so much cringing as checking my watch. For the third time.

Barry Levinson directed this movie, which came out almost a decade after the very watchable "Wag the Dog" and nearly 20 years after "Good Morning, Vietnam," when Williams was actually relevant and the "message" stuff wasn't so trite. It also bears mentioning that Linney had a bit part in "Dave," another "imposter as president" story that I'd watch 100 times before giving "Man of the Year" another spin. Take my advice: Just say nanu-nanu.