Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I am the smartest man alive

Well, at least in this house.

So I went five for six in Oscar predictions, missing only the wide-open Supporting Actress category. Even then, the winner was my No. 2 pick. So yeah, I guess I know my sh*t after all.

(Here's where you channel Affleck from "Dogma" ... "This from the guy who still owes me 10 bucks over that bet about what was gonna be the bigger movie - 'E.T.' or 'Krush Groove.'
And you have to love Damon's retort: "You know, f*ck you, man, 'cause time's gonna tell on that one ... ")

Anyway, I'm so exhausted from the brain strain of successfully picking Oscar winners -- and truth be told, a little ticked after paying bills just now -- that I'm going to do some really quick hits on a few recently-viewed movies.

The Chronic(WHAT?)les of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Speaking of Tilda Swinton ... This wasn't bad, I guess, but I was let down by the special effects and thought the whole tale of precocious youths in a magical land dragged on too long. Maybe if I had some Mr. Pibb and Red Vines ( = crazy delicious!)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Another epic, although I never do these movies justice. I saw the first one on a plane -- a plane! With the tiny screen! -- and the second one (this one) in TV format, not letterbox. Still, these movies are more fun that I expect, thanks to Johnny Depp making like Keith Richards and some nice CGI.

Mystery Men: I had seen this tale of misfit superheroes before and thought it wasn't bad. The second time around ... not so much. Some wit here, but also a lot of stuff that falls flat. And each year, the Jaeneane(?) Garafalo schtick gets more stale. Hank Azaria wasn't bad, though, and Geoffrey Rush and Greg Kinnear give good supporting turns. Still, check out the lesser-known "The Specials" for a more sly (slyer? slier?) superhero comedy. (Picture Thomas Haden Church saying this, with just the right inflections: "I'm not saying the Great Strobe is better than other humans. I am, but that's beside the point. I can shoot laser beams out of my arms, that's what sets me apart. Can other humans do that? (Pause) Can they? (Pause) Can they?")

Alpha Dog: I remember the trailer for this looking interesting, if only for Justin Timberlake doing the movie star thing. This story of a young drug dealer kidnapping the brother of a guy who owes him money was ... OK ... maybe. Despite all the style, I was left wanting more. To be honest, the whole thing was a little too Tony Scott for me: plenty of flash, not much character. If only JT had given his lady friend a D*ck in a Box ...

Friday, February 22, 2008

COPs: Best Director, Best Picture

All right, let's get down to the nitty gritty. Funny ... doesn't it seem like we've had some wide-open Best Picture races lately? Last time I can remember a movie being a lock was "Brokeback Mountain." Oh yeah, and it didn't win. With that ...


Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly": Um, no. There's some noise about how this guy could sneak in, but ... no. Your movie not only won't win, it can't win because it wasn't nominated. So ... no. (And yes, I have no idea what it's about.) ODDS: 15-to-1.

Jason Reitman, "Juno": The real question: Did Ivan Reitman ever get nominated for an Oscar? I'm thinking no. Still, he made some funny movies. Did I mention I just saw "Meatballs" again recently? Anyway, his boy won't win. They just threw him a bone with the nom. ODDS: 18-to-1.

Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton": It's a mostly mainstream movie, and this is a case, I think, of script writer busting out. Still, hard to see him nudging out the two -- well, technically, three -- guys below. ODDS: 15-to-1.

Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men": The dynamic duo go legit for the first time in many years, and this could be a chance for the Academy to finally give them some props, especially after "Fargo" was robbed. (More on that in a bit.) ODDS: 4-to-1.

Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood": There's a chance -- a slim one -- that the Academy will bypass the Coens again and take another guy with a cult following (albeit smaller). But it's hard for me to see the Hollywood farts liking PTA over E&J, so I think he comes up short despite his most critically acclaimed work to date. ODDS: 6-to-1.


"Atonement": Critics raved, yet no ordinary people have talked about this movie at all. I saw a Variety ad that said it's grossed more than $100 mil worldwide, but c'mon ... that's because of chicks and mouth-breathing dudes ogling Keira. So nothing doing here. In fact, I say it's the longest shot on the board. ODDS: 10-to-1.

"Juno": The people's choice, it seems, and we're hearing all sorts of talk about how this uplifting tale could carry the day. (Pause) I don't see it. I haven't seen it, either. But word is it's not as good -- meaning, as rich and nuanced -- as "Little Miss Sunshine," and that didn't win. In general, I think the Academy gave its awards for this movie with the nominations. ODDS: 8-to-1.

"Michael Clayton": Hmmmm ... maybe it's just me, but unlike "Juno," I can see this bad boy slipping in and stealing the prize. Not saying it will happen, but it really could. If the below two movies split the artsy-fartsy vote, the Clooney lovers and mainstreamers -- but not so mainstream to go with "Juno" -- could propel this safer bet to a win. I wish I had the stones to actually pick it. Instead, I'll say it just misses. ODDS: 5-to-1.

"No Country for Old Men": I'll admit ... I need to see this again. Maybe then I would appreciate the ending vs. being disappointed. Still, I remain pissed off because I loved the first 90 minutes of this. I suspect that the Coens' artistry, great performances and faithfulness to the book -- for better or worse -- will end up in a win here. Also, with "Fargo" not winning Best Picture -- seriously ... "The English Patient?" Have you ever heard anyone talk about that movie? -- the Academy owes them. Maybe in time I'll accept all that. For now, though, I'm thinking of the true masterpiece might have been with just a little tweaking. ODDS: 4-to-1.

"There Will Be Blood": Hey, I love the Coens. Ask anybody, or just read past posts on this blog. But this movie gets my vote. It's close, I admit. I also admit that period pieces don't normally grab me. But Daniel Day-Lewis is so amazing here, and this odyssey of an oilman with no soul is so compelling that I place it just a hair above "No Country." Sadly, because it's such a downer and will be written off as Day-Lewis and little else, it not only won't beat out "No Country" but probably will fall behind "Clayton." Not that we'll ever see the votes. Damn Academy. ODDS: 6-to-1.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

COPs: Best Actress, Best Actor

Because you couldn't get enough Clueless Oscar Predictions yesterday, here's some more uninformed forecasting. One of these categories seems wide open to me, while the other is a done deal. Either way, put your money down now.


Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age": Nominated much? On the plus side, I'm pretty sure she isn't on the list for Best Short Film. Since this wasn't in theaters long and sounds kind of like a straight-to-video sequel, she's out. ODDS: 10-to-1.

Julie Christie, "Away From Her": Don't know a thing about this, and I'm not sure I've seen Christie in more than two movies: "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Afterglow." She could get some sentimental votes here, I suppose. ODDS: 5-to-1.

Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose": Don't know why, but I'm thinking the Frenchie squeaks this out. There's no clear favorite, and apparently she was Edith Piaf. ODDS: 4-to-1.

Ellen Page, "Juno": Here's the one all the kids will root for, and she supposedly is pretty good. Meant to see this last weekend but but sidetracked. I liked Page in "Hard Candy" and even the third "X-Men" movie, but I can't see her getting both a nom and a statue. ODDS: 8-to-1.

Laura Linney, "The Savages": A critics' darling who always seems to get nominated. But has anyone actually seen "The Savages?" Like a lot of movies not named "Juno" or "Michael Clayton," this movie probably has grossed $35. ODDS: 8-to-1.


George Clooney, "Michael Clayton": This surprised me a bit, but then I saw the movie and figured it made sense. Didn't think Dr. Ross was amazing, but Hollywood loves the guy. Not enough, however, to give him another Oscar so soon. ODDS: 12-to-1.

Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood": The biggest lock on the board, and one of the best performances I've ever seen in a role that was tougher than it looks (and it looked tough). Seems inconceivable that he could lose. Of course, neither could the New England Patriots. ODDS: Even.

Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street": Have to admit I never figured out exactly what this movie was. All I know is that I didn't care to see it, and I generally like Depp. Maybe it was the whole Depp-Helena Bonham Carter-Tim Burton thing yet again. ODDS: 12-to-1.

Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah": If anyone pulls the upset, it's Al Gore's college roommate, who went from "The Fugitive" to slumming a bit before bouncing back with this and "No Country for Old Men" (which I did see, and where he was pretty good). Still, it's a longshot. ODDS: 10-to-1.

Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises": Another movie I know nothing about, and while I like Viggo, I think he's got a better chance of digging the One Ring to Rule Them All from under the lava of Mount Doom than going home with a golden man. ODDS: 15-to-1.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Here come the COPs: Clueless Oscar Predictions

Yes, it's very clever, in a ChiPs sort of way. (Frank Poncherello is my hero.)

So I've seen exactly one set of predictions for this Sunday's Academy Awards, and that was today in the local alt weekly -- not exactly Premiere magazine. Between that and my failure to see many of the movies included in the various categories, I can almost take pride in the sheer idiocy of the handicapping to follow. Almost. Let's warm up with some appetizers today before getting to the bigger dogs Thursday and Friday.


Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There": I hear she plays some version of Bob Dylan, apparently because she's already played pretty much any female role ever invented, from Queen Elizabeth I to Katharine Hepburn to Galadriel. Since she's been nominated a bunch of times before and won at least once -- right? -- I'm thinking she misses out this year. ODDS: 12-to-1.

Ruby Dee, "American Gangster": She plays Denzel's mom, right? Prime candidate for a lifetime achievement deal here, especially since the field is somewhat wide open. ODDS: 4-to-1.

Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement": Another young nominee, but really no chance, even in the category that often delivers surprises. And really, who's going to want to say her first name more than once? ("Soar-see? ... Say-or-see? ... Sayonara? ... ") ODDS: 20-to-1.

Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone": She supposedly crushed this role, playing some kind of fierce b*tch. I also like her in "The Wire" on HBO. Not sure that will get her beyond "It's an honor just to be nominated ... " ODDS: 10-to-1.

Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton": The only movie on this list that I've seen, and Swinton was rather nasty if unsure and unbalanced. Then again, I think she gets more props and passes from critics than she deserves. We'll see what wins out Sunday. ODDS: 6-to-1.


Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford": I know he didn't play Jesse James. Was he Robert Ford? Either way, this is kind of cool. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Benny's brother get an acting nom before he did? (Yes, we all know "Daredevil" was robbed.) No matter, as Casey likely will get a pat on the head but no statue. ODDS: 20-to-1.

Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men": Loved this role, loved this guy. Bardem has always been a critic's darling, and bad guys always seem to make good supporting actor nominees. Hard to see his airgun-toting a$$ get denied here. ODDS: 2-to-1.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War:" Big fan of Phil, and each nomination makes up for him being overlooked in "Along Came Polly." ("Raindrops!") Still, probably not enough juice here after he won recently for "Capote." ODDS: 12-to-1.

Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild": Heck, I thought this movie was just about Emile Hirsch hanging out in the woods. There were other actors? Besides bears and stuff? In any case, while there's the lifetime achievement factor here, it's not enough to beat Bardem. ODDS: 10-to-1.

Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton": Wow ... remember when he was the boss in "The Full Monty?" Seems like he's been in a million movies since then. I actually thought he was the best one in "Michael Clayton" as the lawyer who went off the deep end, but not so much that he wasn't dangerous to the bad guys. Another year, he could win. ODDS: 9-to-1.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Watch your back, Leonard Maltin

I know many of you had private celebrations Saturday. For what, you ask? How about the third anniversary of the very first post on Movievangelist? That's right ... step back, b*tch.

Hard to believe that this blog started on a lark wohas lasted this long. Seems like for every Gawker and Daily Kos there are a million (literally) of so-called blogs that flicker out in weeks or months. Or perhaps you thought "Mark's Awesome Bong Blog" had some staying power.

True, this little site could do better when it comes to frequency -- can't believe I posted five straight days to start -- and reach. Oh, I love you all, my seven regular readers. You just need to tell seven of your friends, and they each need to tell seven of their friends, and so on, and then Oprah will mention Movievangelist on TV. After that, it's only days until Entertainment Weekly or someone else in the Time Warner family comes calling. If not EW, then maybe Time. Ah, hell ... I'd get picked up by Coastal Living if there was a few bucks in it.

Until then, I soldier on. Stay tuned for Oscar picks this week. Somehow I'll manage to weigh in on the nominees despite the grievous oversight of "Who's Your Caddy?"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bite me: "The Apple"

For the first time ever, I'm scared to write a post. Quite simply, there's no way I can do this "movie" justice.

Most of you know I'm not prone to blanket statements and rampant hyperbole, i.e. "This is the best burger I've ever had!" or "'Night Eyes 2' is the best Skinemax movie ever!" Call me crazy, but I always like the hedge my bets, even when it comes to movies. I've been happy to hem and haw over the best and worst films I've seen. Got some time? Sit down ... let's talk.

Until now. Until "The Apple."

First, the backstory. My uncle Paul insisted I see this 1980 musical that applies the sell-your-soul-to-the-devil theme to a futuristic song-and-dance contest, pitting a wholesome couple from Moose Jaw, Canada, against a pop juggernaut guided by, it would seem, Lucifer himself. As Paul described it, "The Apple" was "Xanadu's retarded cousin." I beg to differ. It's Xanadu's inbred offspring.

Rather than have me elaborate on the plot, just read what's on the DVD jacket:

"Take a trip back to a time when rock ruled the world, with this mind-blowing, magical musical that's "a camp lover's delight" (American Cinematheque)! Deliciously decadent and exploding with glitter and glam, The Apple is a psychedelic sci-fi feast for the senses! When folk singers Alphie and Bibi enter the World Vision song contest, their wholesome appeal catches the evil eye of music mogul Mr. Boogalow, a Faustian fiend who promises the pair fame and fortune. Seduced byBoogalow's devilish denizens, Bibi surrenders her soul and soon becomes a superstar and a pawn in Boogalow's plot to take over the planet with the power of pop music! Now, Alphie must free Bibi from Boogalow and save the world from rock-and-roll ruin!"

That's right ... "a psychedelic sci-fi feast for the senses!" With characters named Bibi, Alphie and Mr. Boogalow! And this makes "The Apple" sound better than it is.

Honestly, I don't think I can concoct a coherent narrative of my shock and agony at watching this movie. So we'll resort to bullet points:
  • With zero setup, the movie starts with a big song and dance number that features the unholy trinity of crappy music, laughable choreography and silly costumes. (And I've seen "Can't Stop the Music.") Look at all the glitter and shiny-shiny!
  • Our villain is played by a guy who I swore was Izzy the snitch from the "Miami Vice" TV series. I was wrong, although he does play a Russian officer in "Red Dawn." Either way, the only way I stomached the scenes with "Mr. Boogalow" is by thinking of the far superior "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."
  • The director is Menahem Golan, prolific producer of bad movies (with partner Mr. Globus) whose resume behind the camera -- beyond this fine work -- extends to "Over the Top," "The Delta Force" and even more forgettable fare. Don't wait for that Lifetime Achievement Oscar, Mennie.
  • Apparently 1994 came and went without all of us wearing triangle-shaped clothes. (No comment on the gold-painted thong.)
  • As bad as the songs and dances are, the sets are even more awful. Shot in Germany -- garden spot of the world in 1980 -- the future of 1994 is made to look like ... Germany in 1980. Behold the bland architecture! Witness a big dance number in what appears to be a convention center atrium, complete with industrial carpet! We can fix this, though. More glitter!
  • Ludicrous as the movie was, there still is a bizarre left turn in the last several minutes, when we meet some hippies and finish with a literal deus ex machina. If you thought "Repo Man" wrapped up in an odd way, "The Apple" is for you.
Strike that. "The Apple" isn't for anybody. Really. No, it's not super campy fun. No, it's not so bad, it's good. It's so bad, it's really bad. Amazingly bad. Stupefyingly bad. (Insert other extreme adverb here) bad. So bad that I want Paul's DVD out of my house immediately. And yet, sending it to him would mean spending money on this movie. Talk about two sh*tty options. If only this were the future of 1994, when I could ask WWMBD: What would Mr. Boogalow do?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Smirking, smokin' and -- dammit -- a schmuck

So I recently saw what may be the worst movie ever made, but I need more time to process the experience before daring to post on it. Besides, I just paid some bills and am feeling pretty surly. (F*cking natural gas heating.) Better to knock out a few subpar movies with one fell swoop before bringing it home with a childhood favorite.

The highlight of his low point: "Hudson Hawk"

For years, this was the worst movie I had ever seen. Then came "My Father, the Hero." Still, the Hawk remains high on my list of painful viewing experiences. Why, pray tell, would I watch it again? Maybe I wanted to see if camp would win out over crap this time. Or maybe I'm just masochistic.

Either way, this action-comedy-musical still sucks. "Hudson Hawk" was released in 1991, after the first two "Die Hard" movies and before "Pulp Fiction," which some consider a comeback of sorts for Willis. That's because in the few years prior he starred in such junk as "Hawk," "Bonfire of the Vanities," "Death Becomes Her" and "Striking Distance." Yeah ... wow.

Here, Willis is a cat burglar who just got out of prison and is forced to rob various works by Leonardo da Vinci, aka the guy who had that code. Of course, there's more to the story -- namely, Bruce and buddy Danny Aiello singing showtunes during the heists, a CIA team led by James Coburn, a crazy billionaire couple behind the whole plot, and our love interest, none other than Andie "Zero Sex Appeal" McDowell. How can this movie lose?

Willis mugs nonstop, everyone tells bad jokes, Sandra "I Will Annoy the Holy P!ss Out of You" Bernhard is involved, and McDowell again proves you don't have to act to get screen time. It's really quite amazing, and I'd invite you to see this mess for yourself. But you know, people don't bounce back from bleeding from their eyes and ears simultaneously like they used to.

Kind of like "Ocean's Eleven," except with nothing remotely interesting or entertaining: "Smokin' Aces"

Can't remember if somebody told me this wasn't bad. If they did, they're now higher on my List of People to Kill.

Too bad, really, because I like some of the players. There's Jeremy Piven as a magician-turned-mobster-turned-witness/target. Ray Liotta is a Fed. Jason Bateman is a kooky lawyer. Alicia Keys is a hitwoman. Hell, we've even got Booger himself, Curtis Armstrong, as another lawyer. The cast includes other decent actors, but naming any more would suggest this movie has merit. It doesn't.

In short, a bunch of hitmen try to kill Piven, and hijinks ensue. Sadly, little of this is very interesting as either an action movie or a comedy. The director, Joe Carnahan, got people's notice with "Narc" earlier this decade. That was a straightforward crime drama. This attempt at a hybrid masked with crazy camera work doesn't work. And if that's not enough, we've had an Affleck sighting. Yes, I mean Ben, and no, he's not good. But he does die, which is nice. (Damn ... ruined it, didn't I?)

Something of an understatement: "Bad Lieutenant"

This came out right after "Reservoir Dogs" won Harvey Keitel a bunch of praise. Clearly the next move was to whip out your johnson in back-to-back movies -- here and "The Piano." What makes a guy decide to do that when he's older than 50 ... well, you got me.

Keitel plays a police lieutenant who shows us early on that he won't be posing for any grip-and-grins with the mayor. I actually lost track of how many substances Harvey abuses; it's a lot, trust me. Then there's the harassment of various citizens -- including a truly creepy episode with two Jersey girls -- and random gunfire. Can this man be redeemed?

If so, it may be through the case of a nun raped in a church. Yeah, more pleasant tidings. Helming this fun is Abel Ferrara, who -- sorry, Dad -- hasn't done anything good. It's been a while since I've seen "King of New York" and "The Funeral," but neither struck me as interesting. "Body Snatchers" was OK but forgettable. "Bad Lieutenant" was his last chance with me, and it's time to bid Abel adieu.

One of the more random titles in movie history: "Meatballs"

Because really, even with someone calling another person a meatball, what does that possibly have to do with a story about summer camp misfits?

Released in 1980, this movie was hee-larious when I was a kid. No question it would lose some luster now that I'm almost closer to age 50 than 20, but I wanted to be reminded of how Bill Murray was before all the dry stuff of the last decade, i.e. "Rushmore," "Lost in Translation," Broken Flowers." Some of those movies are good, but we miss the zany Bill.

Zaniness -- zanieness? -- abounds in "Meatballs," where Murray is a camp counselor who never gives a straight answer. This was his first movie after "Saturday Night Live," and he pretty much does the same mugging and smirking from that show. There's nobody else of note in the case, unless you count Chris Makepeace -- later of "My Bodyguard" fame -- as a depressed camper befriended by Murray.

There is, however, plenty of juvenile comedy, which wasn't as laugh-out-loud as when I was a kid but still amusing enough. You've got the de-pantsing at the basketball game, the hot dog eating contest, Spaz (Spaz ... Spaz ... Spaz ... ) and Murray's daily camp announcements. And if you still don't like this movie, remember ...


Sunday, February 10, 2008

And I thought the ice cold showers and paper-thin towels were bad: "Hostel"

Ah yes, time for some good old torture porn. Isn't that what they're calling this new wave of ultraviolent horror flicks -- the "Saw" movies and the like? I recall "Hostel" being in theaters but knew I was above the target demographic: 17-24 year-old mouth-breathers whose only movie-watching criteria are killing and boobies. Still, I'm not so proud that I wouldn't watch this on cable, simply to see what all the fuss was about this collaboration between Eli Roth ("Cabin Fever") and Quentin Tarantino (video store clerk).

Our story opens with a trio of young travelers -- two Americans and an Icelander -- living it up in Amsterdam (as required by local law). Despite having a grand old time, the kids are due to ship out for Barcelona soon. Not so fast, a young European man tells them. If you want hot, easy women -- "No, no thank you very much" -- you should go to Slovakia, he says. They're nuts for Americans there, man!

Surprisingly, our heroes need no further convincing, and they're soon on a train east. After meeting a weird guy on board, they arrive in Slovakia and soon find it very much as their friend said. Why, there are even hot, naked women in our room! What's Slovakian for "Score!"?

A night of revelry leads to an exchange of bodily fluids and most likely STDs, but sadly, this paradise can't last. First, the Icelander has gone missing, and another night of revelry leads to even worse tidings for the dynamic duo from the States. Soon we learn that this hostel isn't just another place for travelers to rest their weary heads. Grim tidings, indeed.

To say more could be considered ruining the "story," although we're not talking about "The Sixth Sense" here. Rather, there's all sorts of blood, evisceration, dismemberment, etc., etc. Yes, it's all quite gruesome. Yes, it's pretty silly. Yes, I felt more than a little stupid for watching it.

But you know what? This movie actually wasn't all bad. Not sure I'd say it was "not bad." OK, I guess it's bad. But I didn't dislike it as much afterward as I did while watching it. Hard to explain, I guess, but it you accept this as popcorn horror and pick up on a few sly parts, it's almost tolerable.

Some examples: a recurring gang of violent little kids, a smug American businessman, this funny quote: "Aren't there any Dutch people in Amsterdam?" Is this enough to make "Hostel" a good horror movie? Probably not, and certainly not on par with "Halloween" or one of my personal faves, "The Omen." ("It's all for you, Damien!!!") But it could have been worse. And oh yes, there are those boobies, courtesy of some smokin' Eastern European babes. God bless America ...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And somehow this became a synonym for not wearing any underwear: "Commando"

That's right ... the guilty pleasure of one Daniel P. George! I shook my head when I heard that, and I'm shaking my head now. (The 6 out of 10 group rating on IMDB.com doesn't help.) And yes, I'm the guy who swears by "Road House."

Most of us know the most basic story -- that is, the Governor of California kills a buttload of people. There's more? Really? OK, here goes: Arnie is John Matrix, a retired Special Forces guy whose daughter -- a prepubescent Alyssa Milano(!!!) -- is kidnapped by an exiled Latin dictator (of "Val Verde," so as not to offend a real country) who wants our hero to return him to power. Alas, Arnold has other ideas -- namely killing whoever he has to to get his daughter back. I'll give you a hint ... it's more than three people.

You know about Schwarzenegger. Let's review some of the other players:
  • Rae Dawn Chong: For some reason, she was the It Girl of '80s B-movies. You know what? Not that hot. (Not that there's any sexual tension. Gets in the way of the killin'.) Anyway, she's the token female, Cindy, who helps our hero -- reluctantly at first, before his boundless charm wins her over.
  • Dan Hedaya: You see, this is a big reason, I think, that my dad likes this movie. He's always been a Hedaya fan, and playing the villain here is one of Danny's bigger roles. Horrible, but big.
  • Vernon Wells: Was about to say I've never seen this guy anywhere else, but it turns out he was a bad guy in "Innerspace," "The Road Warrior" and "Weird Science." And "Phillip" in the Shannon Tweed movie "Sexual Response." (It was on cable late one night. I apologize for nothing.) Here he's another villain, and somewhat amusing in his obsession with Arnold.
  • David Patrick Kelly: Another consumate bad guy, and his usual entertaining self here as Sully. His demise -- oops, spoiler -- is one of the film's funnier moments. Just ask Dan.
Also, "Commando" is directed by Mark L. Lester, whose storied 30-year career ranges from "Truck Stop Women" in 1974 to "Pterodactyl" in 2005. So yeah, quite the awesome collection of talent. How can this movie miss?

Even by lame '80s action standards, "Commando" is -- and I don't use this word often -- ridiculous. Consider the opening scene where one of Arnold's former squad members is killed. First, it's by two guys masquerading a garbage men. Wow, good thing the guy strolled down the driveway as expected! Second, they use small machine guns instead of -- I don't know -- a pistol with a silencer. And they shoot him a lot. I'm sure that didn't draw any attention on the cul-de-sac.

It just gets better from there, all the way to the final scene, where Alyssa and Rae Dawn embrace on a beach despite having never met before in their lives, plus the overall trauma this young girl has suffered at the hand of her kidnappers. Makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, one scene didn't make it into the movie, according to IMDB. It turns out that after Arnold cuts a soldier's arm off, he originally was supposed to hit the guy with it and say "Need a hand?" "This scene was edited out as being too macabre," IMDB states. Or f*cking hilarious! You decide.

Of course, nobody watches this movie expecting Scorsese and De Niro. And hey, there's plenty of good killing -- individual victims in the first half, a slaughter in the compound in the second. But really, this movie is best watched in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, since it's actually painful to withhold observations and commentary on these solemn proceedings.

We close with what are, for now, my three favorite exchanges in "Commando." I say for now because clearly I have to watch this again. There were so many subtleties and nuances, i.e. was that an automatic machine gun or semi-automatic that Arnold used to kill victim No. 5? Until then ...

3. Cindy: Can you tell me what this is all about?
Matrix: Yeah, a guy I trusted for years wants me dead.
Cindy: That’s understandable. I've only known you for five minutes and I want you dead, too.

2. Gen. Kirby: Leave anything for us?
Matrix: Just bodies.

1. Matrix: You're a funny man, Sully. I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I liked it better when he just talked to the volleyball: "The Da Vinci Code"

OK, so I've now read the book and seen the movie. But I am not going to the opera.

I somewhat begrudgingly paged through "The Da Vinci Code" on the tail end of the nationwide fervor over the "book," which earned those quotation marks with its incessant teeny tiny chapters. Seriously, three or four pages, then bam! Next chapter. It really was annoying after a while, and that format and the overdone writing in general outweighed the halfway intriguing idea of a conspiracy that ties together Jesus, Leonardo (not the teenage mutant ninja turtle) and the Vatican, not to mention "Amelie" and Kip from "Bosom Buddies."

There was no way I was going to see the movie version in theaters, not when "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties" was also out there. I mean, Jon Arbuckle is my hero. On a free movie channel, though, "The Da Vinci Code" seemed worth consideration, at least until I could catch "They Live" for the 19th time.

Our story follows an American professor who knows all about symbols and such (Tom Hanks) and a cute French cryptologist (Audrey Tautou) -- I must have missed that one at Career Day -- after they find her grandfather dead inside the Louvre, that big-ass museum in Gay Paree. Turns out grandpa isn't just dead but positioned oddly -- the first of a series of clues that lead our intrepid pair around Paris and to other parts of Europe. Pursued by a weird albino monk with a thing for masochism (Paul Bettany), the couple learn about a mystery that could shake the pillars of the Catholic Church. For once, the controversy doesn't involve altar boys.

Along with Hanks and Tautou, we get a bang-up cast that includes Ian McKellen, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina. Helming this expose into Opus Dei is Opie himself, Ron Howard. (Still can't believe he didn't wash out after "Grand Theft Auto.") So yeah, plenty of talented people involved. Too bad the result is alternately boring and muddled -- rarely a good combo.

It's funny ... the short chapters in the book, while annoying, didn't keep me from getting Dan "Down with the Church" Brown's idea: that the Catholic Church has worked to keep the news that Jesus Christ has a bloodline lasting to this day under wraps. Sure, much of it was hard to swallow, but OK, we'll go with it.

In the movie, it's a lot harder to understand exactly what these people are talking (and talking and talking) about. And I read the book! Howard uses the technique of pseudo re-enactments while people are talking to show what they mean, but that doesn't help. Things really start grinding to a halt when our heroes meet up with McKellen, and the bursts of action before and after that don't do enough to offset the slog.

There's really no need to bring theology and doctrine and all that jazz into our discussion here when the rambling story and wooden performances -- c'mon ... smile Tom! And dude, what's with the hair? -- do quite enough to bring the movie down. Everyone here has done better work in other movies -- in some cases countless other movies.

By the end, I got the sense that they were in "Code" not because this is any great story because it was sure to be a blockbuster. And it was, grossing more than $217 mil in the U.S. and plenty more abroad. But no question that mark will be left far behind once Hanks greenlights "Buffy's Bogus Journey: The Bosom Buddies Movie."

POSTSCRIPT: Sometimes I read critics' reviews after a post just to see if they were as smart as me. With "The Da Vinci Code," this was hugely entertaining. If you have a few minutes, check out some of the top critics, who savage the book as much as the movie. The New Yorker may have been my favorite. www.rottentomatoes.com/m/da_vinci_code/?critic=creamcrop

I'll go along with this

And I love how the second paragraph mentions this is "unscientific." Really? There's no science of babeology?