Sunday, October 28, 2007

When I lived there, my story may have been the most boring of the 8 million: "The Naked City"

Yeah, there actually was a movie behind that overused saying. Who knew?

I'd like to think I heard this movie from the late '40s was decent before it popped up on TCM. But while I knew the famous line -- all together now ... "There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and this is one of them" -- I can't say for sure I knew from whence it came. As it turns out, the eponymous film -- Am I using that right? Probably not -- is generally well-acclaimed, mainly for being filmed entirely on location in New York City. Yes, you can practically smell the urine-soaked sidewalks from your own sofa.

Our story is a fairly straightforward murder-mystery with some rather unusual narration. First, it's the producer doing the voiceovers. Second, he frequently channels the thoughts of various characters or serves as some kind of advisor-from-on-high, i.e. "Don't panic now!" It's a little jarring. Not just the script, but the timing. We get a lot of the narration up front, then forget about it until it awkwardly rears up as the plot unfolds. Hard to describe, I guess, but trust me, it doesn't hold up all that well nearly 60 years later.

Other stuff also is dated, but not horribly so. Our lead is a veteran homicide detective -- an Irish guy, to boot. His would-be protege is a fresh-faced guy with a wife and young son out in Queens. The other cops also seem like stand-up guys, which is pretty damn weird in this day and age. Where's Mel Gibson sticking a pistol in his own mouth when you need him?

The police are investigating the murder of a blonde model/actress/something, and we're treated to an inside look at their detective work and a bunch of outside looks at New York, which was kind of cool back then. Still plenty of tall buildings, but more stone, brick and concrete than steel and glass. And no Naked Cowboy in the naked city! Thank god.

As for the plot, the first half of the movie requires a good deal of patience. Between the character set-up -- the cast and the city itself, which is definitely a character here -- I found myself thinking, "OK, get on with it already."

But the movie is only a shade over 90 minutes long picks up pretty well in the second half, as clues start coming more frequently and various bad guys start cracking. Before long we're on the Williamsburg Bridge, and let's say one guy ain't coming back. One story down, 7,999,999 to go ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good thing Affleck is directing these days: "Hollywoodland"

Because as an actor, he still blows.

Maybe that's being harsh. After all, he's really trying to do the serious actor/arthouse thing here in "Hollywoodland." The problem is that neither he nor his character are all that interesting. I guess you could say that makes him good for this role -- they have so much in common! -- but I still came away thinking he's largely a waste of a chin.

Our story centers around the death of George Reeves, aka Superman from the old TV series. Seems that ol' George was something of a has-been by this time, but some folks seem to think he may not have killed himself as much as got himself killed. Follow? It's not that hard, really.

It hasn't been that long since I saw the movie, but even now I'm having a hard time remembering where it begins. I think with Reeves' death, which gets a cursory investigation by the police before private eye Adrien Brody is brought in. Then we get into the flashbacks with Affleck as Reeves and Diane Lane -- here's where I'd say "woof," but we'll get to that -- as the wife of a movie studio exec who gets involved with the Man of Steel. We also see Bob Hoskins as that studio exec, Molly Parker as Brody's ex-wife and Robin Tunney as another Reeves paramour. Not a bad cast, I'll admit. Too bad some of them were wasted. (And I don't mean drunk, which would have been fun.)

Parts of "Hollywoodland" are easy enough to like. (Not the title, though, which, from what I can gather, is meant only to sound hip by referencing the original version of what is now the "Hollywood" sign. Has nothing to do with the story, far as I can tell.) Brody is woefully miscast as the private dick -- that nose ... oyfa -- but still manages to have some fun and get off some good lines. The movie also looks good, and the bouncing between the current case and past events works well enough.

But more things are wrong. Lane somehow manages to not be hot, which is a crying shame. Um, she is hot, people! Or do I have to pop "Streets of Fire" or, better yet, "Lady Beware" into the DVD player again? Affleck is, despite his best attempts, mostly simple and not in an artiste-type way. Just never bought his whole tortured actor schtick. The movie also is too long, and the resolution ultimately is rather unsatisfying.

But let's end on a high note, shall we? By that I mean recognizing an actress who has been overlooked far too long. I speak, of course, of Robin Tunney. True, I'll confess to being sweet on her ever since those first few minutes in "Empire Records" where she hadn't yet shaved her head. Then came "The Craft," "Supernova," "Vertical Limit" and "Cherish" -- distinctly different movies united by their remarkable mediocrity (and that's being kind).

Still, fair Robin has something about her, and perhaps the most redeeming quality of "Hollywoodland" is that this actress -- now mostly relegated to TVdom -- gets a nice little role to flex her acting muscles. She's pretty good here -- her baby-doll voice is perfect -- and gets off maybe the best line in this exchange with Brody's private eye character:

Him: Lady, I can nail you with this.
Her: D'Artagnan, you couldn't nail me with roses and a trip to Vegas

You got me there. But let's give it a try, OK?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And I thought asking us to accept a 40-year-old virgin was pushing it: "Knocked Up"

Yes, another Apatow movie. This guy is putting them out every few months now, right? Looks like the cancellation of "Freaks and Geeks" really set him back.

When I saw the trailer for this movie about a one-night stand that results in a pregnancy and then courtship, I was initially on board. Seth Rogen? He's goofy. Katherine Heigl? She's hot. And hey, Paul Rudd! In a supporting role with good lines! We love Paul Rudd!

Then came the reviews, which were overwhelmingly positive. Good thing, no? I guess, but it gave me pause. What if the guy who was spot-on with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" was now too mainstream? What if the locker-room humor deftly combined with genuine sweetness -- plus some truly funny scenes -- from that movie gave way to more traditional stuff here? What if we didn't get to see Heigl's boobs?

Our story: Rogen is a loser trying to set up a semi-porn website with his loser pals. Heigl works for E! and has just been promoted to an on-air role. Let's celebrate with our older, married sister! Let's get drunk! Let's have sex with this chubby, hairy guy we just met in a bar! It's not like I'll get pregnant, right? Actually, it's not enitrely her fault, and these crazy kids -- despite learning in the light of day that they have virtually nothing in commom but an embryo -- decide to give the relationship a try. We all know what happens next. Yep ... hijinks ensue.

Plenty of funny stuff here. Rogen shlubs around trying to balance the idea of dating with his regular pastimes of smoking weed and being broke. Heigl gets hormonal and understandably p!ssed at her would-be boyfriend and actual child's father. Her sister, played by Leslie Mann, looks on disparagingly while arguing with her own husband, the incomparable Mr. Rudd. Rogen and Rudd bond. Rogen's friends -- foremost among them the hilariously creepy Jason Segal -- provide comic relief. And so on and so forth.

(One surprise: Ryan Seacrest can do funny. Of course, he lampoons himself. Makes sense when you think of it that way.)

Those things, plus the fact that much of the dialogue is improvised or close to it, make it easy to watch and laugh at "Knocked Up," which is more funny than not. It's also longer than it needs to be -- more than two hours regardless of whether you watch the theater or unrated version. That's too long for this kind of thing, no matter how clever it is.

Two other issues:

1. Some dialogue got a little too cute and forced at times. I liked a lot of the pop culture references -- "You're going to be embarrassed when you realize I'm Wilmer Valderrama!" -- but thought they could have let up a bit. "Superbad" was better on this count. Then again, those guys really were kids instead of twentysomething losers.

2. The overall premise -- that Heigl would (a) not abort and (b) try to date Rogen -- is farfetched to say the least. I can see her keeping it, sure; even with her new TV gig and career taking off, she still could have the baby. Totally makes sense. But staying with Rogen, especially after multiple pieces of evidence pointing to his inadequacy as a mate and father, is asking a lot of the audience.

But hey, don't get me wrong ... I was rooting for the guy. I've liked Heigl since "Under Siege 2" and "My Father, the Hero." Can't blame any loser for hitching his wagon to that star.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So here's the deal

I've actually seen a few movies lately. Really! Alas, I've also been out of town and am leaving yet again. And when I've been home, I've been busy. Hey, that Dana Wheeler-Nicholson shrine won't update itself.

(Yeah, still digging her more than two decades after "Fletch.")

Anyway, I'll be back this weekend and hope to knock out a post or two. Patience, grasshopper.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The perfect movie to watch with your wife right before her birthday or your anniversary: "Blood Diamond"

"Because really, honey, you don't want any new diamond jewelry to come at the expense of so many African lives. That's why I got you this Outback Steakhouse gift card instead. Bloomin' onion, anyone?"

Sorry for the lag in posts. Been watching a little more TV and a little less film these days. Then there was the unfortunate double-dip of having "Blood Diamond" from Netflix right as it also came on HBO. Oooh, I hate it when that happens. Just on principle I finally wrapped up the movie on DVD tonight before it was scheduled to next be on HBO on Tuesday. That'll show 'em.

Our story has everyone's favorite noble African actor, Djimon "Don't call me Duh-jy-mon" Hounsou, as, well, a noble African -- specifically a fisherman in Sierra Leone circa 1999. The year is important because that's when rebels are making a mess of things, as they often do in Africa, it seems. Hounsou gets captured and forced to work in the mines, where he finds a big honkin' diamond that he manages to hide before the rebel camp gets invaded.

In jail, he comes across the King of the World, Leonardo DiCaprio, who happens to be a diamond smuggler. We know this because he gets caught smuggling diamonds into Liberia. Leo wants Djimon to get the diamond, and says he can help find Big D's family in return. Enlisted in this effort is an American journalist, played by Jennifer Connelly and looking a hell of a lot better than any other American journalist I've ever seen.

(Seriously, she looks really good here -- much better than when she's prettied up in other movies. I like the natural look, even if she kept her shirt on here. Have you seen "Mulholland Falls" or, better yet, "The Hot Spot?" Woof.)

Handling the proceedings is Edward Zwick, who generally seems to deliver the goods, mixing drama, action and politics in such movies as "Glory," Courage Under Fire" and "The Siege." (He also handled Jim Belushi in "About Last Night," but better to not mention that.) He does another solid job here, juxtaposing good dialogue and poignant scenes with gunfire and explosions. The first several minutes are actually pretty hard to get through between the family being ripped apart and the punishment -- physical and psychological -- meted out by rebels. But hey, it's a movie about illegal diamonds and genocide. You expected lots of laughs?

All three big names give top-notch performances. Hounsou has just the right combo of confusion, woe and distrust. Connelly overcomes her hotness to make a somewhat convincing journalist, especially when it comes to comprehending the hopelessness of it all. And Leo -- like Hounsou, nominated for an Oscar -- is the perfect antihero. He's really not a nice fella, and you constantly wonder if he'll cut his pal loose as soon as the diamond is in his hands. Nice accent, too.

Yeah, all in all this was well-done film that may not have been easy to sit through but definitely was worth watching. But I have to say, coming not so long after "The Last King of Scotland," I'm starting to think I need to find a movie set in Africa that's a little more uplifting. Maybe I'll try "The Ghost and the Darkness" again. Hey, the lions seemed to be having a good time for most of that movie.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mann, this sucked: "Miami Vice"

Seriously, if you ever wanted to better appreciate those two "Charlie's Angels" movies, this is the film for you. (I didn't think they were so bad anyway. Really.)

I had no illusions that this update/adaptation of the seminal '80s series would be bad. From conception to execution, everything screamed "dud." I vaguely recall some mediocre reviews last year, but that didn't make a difference. I don't care how respectable Jamie Foxx has become ... you ain't getting me to put down hard-earned money to see some drunk Irishman try to fill Don Johnson's shoes.

But hey, if it's going to be on HBO, I guess I can see just how bad Colin Farrell is, and how big a mistake Michael Mann has made.

Our story is nominally the same as 20-odd years ago. Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are South Florida vice cops itching to bust some drug dealers. They're part of a crew with the names you know and love: Trudy, Gina, Switek, Zito and, yes, Castillo. The bad guys are again Colombians. And, of course, there are fast cars, fast boats and fast bullets.

There's maybe a little more to the story -- Tubbs and Trudy are involved, Crockett falls for a Chinese woman working with the baddies, some white supremacists are involved -- but for the most part it's not so different from the whole "vice cops in deep" thing that the original series frequently showcased. Well, except for one thing: This version blows.

Let us count the ways. Foxx is restrained and largely punchless. Farrell growls and comes across more dopey than dangerous. The cops' supporting crew is just there. The bad guys are laughable and not in a good way. The Chinese woman (Gong Li) is hard to understand. Get the picture?

Maybe you don't, because the whole movie apparently was shot in the dead of night. Yeah, it's dark all the damn time in "Miami Vice," which is pretty much an insult to the original. Remember all the sun, bright colors and general paradise-type scenery? And how that made the violence and seedy side of working vice resonate that much more? We get none of that here. Instead, it's just a bunch of night shots, indoor shots ... any opportunity to just have people mumbling or growling at each other in dim light.

It's a shame, too, because Mann, we know, can do much better. Yes, he was the guy behind the original "Miami Vice," but he's proven himself as a bonafide movie director, too. "Heat," "The Insider," "Ali," "Collateral" ... not a bad decade, you have to admit. But while the new "Vice" has a lot of Mann elements, it doesn't add up to much. Actually, it was boring. If only they had gotten these guys back into the mix.

(Want to have even more fun? Check out Philip Michael Thomas' bio page here. Whoa, baby. If you don't have time, just consider these three priceless pieces of advice:

1. Look deep into the mirror of your soul and discover a wonderful truth, the greatest book you'll ever know is written and lived by you.
2. Once you get to the mountain top that's where you really begin to climb.
3. Some people never live a day in a lifetime. I live a lifetime in a day.

That is, as long as Don Johnson is taking my calls.)