Thursday, July 31, 2008

Uncle Paul is a liar: "The Darjeeling Limited"

I mean, India looks like a perfectly nice place. And I didn't see one bowl of bean slop in this entire movie!

The third time was a charm when it came to the Redbox, and the latest from Wes Anderson turned out to be his best effort since "Rushmore" got everyone in a lather a decade ago.

From where I sit, "Bottle Rocket" was amusing enough, while "Rushmore" was really good. "The Royal Tenebaums" was a disappointment, and "The Life Aquatic" was just kind of there. Based on that, I'll confess I didn't have high hopes for "The Darjeeling Limited," and didn't make a point to catch it in theaters. Last week, however, it was the best $1.07 that I spent, hands down.

Our story actually starts with a short film showing a shaggy guy (Jason Schwartzman) and Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) having a weird interlude in a French hotel. It's all very French and tres artistique, and ... whatever. Yeah, you kind of see Natalie's boob, but let's move on to the real movie.

Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson play three brothers who grew apart after their father's death but come together a year later for a train trip across India -- to what purpose later becomes clear. And that's it. We follow their adventures on what Wilson wants to be some spiritual quest. Alas, it's not that easy, and things take a few turns -- one tragic -- before our heroes achieve their goal. It should be said that Wilson is really the only one who wants this, fulfilling some kind of oldest brother role.

Like I said, the plot and the fact that Anderson's recent movies kind of blew didn't pump me up for this. But it turned out to be quite entertaining, and here's why: I liked all three of these guys, which I wouldn't have guessed for various reasons.

First, aren't we all a little tired of Owen Wilson? The guy's range doesn't exactly call to mind Brando, and as much as I like "Wedding Crashers" and his roles in "Meet the Parents," "Zoolander" and even "The Cable Guy" (don't blink), I can take or leave him at this point.

Second ... Schwartzman? Eh. Again, "Rushmore," solid. Since then ... "Shopgirl," maybe? I hated "I Heart Huckabees."

Third, we have Brody. Sure, he won an Oscar. But did you see "King Kong?" The movie was OK, but his role? Pffft. Also didn't think much of him in either "The Village" or "Hollywoodland," despite those two being very different roles. Aside from "Summer of Sam," Brody has never done it for me.

But guess what? All three of these guys and their characters were actually pretty appealing -- not admirable, but appealing -- in "Darjeeling," with Brody probably the best. I don't know ... I just liked his whole stoic bit and irritation at Wilson. And I liked all three brothers manuevering against each other at different times. Compare that with Tenenbaums, where I didn't like anybody. OK, maybe Gene Hackman.

Throw in some funny episodes on the train, some sobering stuff later on and a hot Indian babe -- or HIB, and a guy named Rajiv once told me -- and you've got a movie that's both quirky yet fully accessible. That's a tough thing to pull off, but our man Wes did it here. And he didn't even need bean slop to do it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Well, Nicholson looks a little silly now, doesn't he?: "The Dark Knight"

Really, how does it feel to have a gay cowboy/rock-n-roll knight make your version of a legendary villain look like a cartoon, and not in a good way?

OK, everyone ... before we get into this, let's all just calm down a bit. Take a deep breath. Another. Maybe a Xanax.

I was excited as anyone to see "The Dark Knight." Loved "Batman Begins," loved what I heard about Heath Ledger. Then came the hype and the record crowds, and I couldn't get away from people jabbering about the damn movie. Didn't turn me off, mind you, but it made me think this think better be really, really good or ... well, I'd complain a lot.

And you know, it was pretty good. Probably better than the first one, which is no easy feat. Was it THE BEST MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN (GASP! GASP!)? (It's No. 1 among IMDb users right now.) Nah. But ask me again after another viewing or two, which it definitely deserves. Who knows what could happen?

For those of you living in a cave -- apparently one with a nice Internet connection -- our story opens with the daring robbery of a bank that holds mob money. That same mob has been the focus of our Caped Crusader (Christian Bale), who has done a solid job of hitting the guys where it hurts. At the same time, Gotham's new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) hope to take down the mob legally.

With all this trouble, the bad guys turn to a loony dude in clown makeup (Heath Ledger), who promises to eliminate the do-gooders and bring Batman down with them. Loitering throughout are past Bruce Wayne girlfriend and present Dent girlfriend Rachel (Maggie Gyllllllenhaaaaaaaal; bye-bye, Mrs. Cruise) and Bruce/Batman's helpers, Alfred the butler (Michael Caine) and Lucius the CEO (Morgan Freeman). Does that cover it?

Of course, things aren't so simple, and this storyline is fraught with deep stuff. First, Batman isn't heralded as a hero, but a vigilante. Second, the Joker isn't motivated by the usual bad-guy things. He just wants to raise a ruckus and unleash chaos. It doesn't help that he's pretty sharp. Demented and sad, but sharp. Third, we got the love triangle with Bruce-Rachel-Harvey. Fourth, we got the whole duality of man in Batman vs. Joker. Fifth, we got the duality of man in Batman (The Dark Knight) vs. Dent (The White Knight). Sixth, we got the duality of man in just Dent, who doesn't make it through the movie without problems.

So yeah, there's a lot going on here. Too much? Eh, I guess not. It was a solid two-and-a-half hours, and I might have cut only a few scenes or two. But that's a quibble. Overall, it's an impressive mix of plot and ka-pow, which good action to start, throughout, and at the end. And unlike a lot of the usual comic-book tripe out there, this definitely is grim. You can take your happy endings and stuff them in a sack, Sally!

But you know, that's good. I'm at a point where nice, neat packages really piss me off, and "The Dark Knight" was in no danger of that. Throw in some dazzling stunts and fine acting, and any complaints I could come up with would be picking the tiniest of nits.

In closing, a few words about Mr. Ledger.

First, was that Heath Ledger? Seriously (pun intended), if they had kept his casting confidential, would we ever have recognized him? Credit obviously goes to Chris Nolan for the direction and the script (the latter done with his brother). Still, ultimately a great performance can't happen without the actor, and Ledger's embrace of this role was clear.

I hesitate to use words like "transcendent" and all that, but ... wow. I mean, we knew the guy could act; even before "Brokeback," he impressed me in "Monster's Ball." But yeah, this is something else. I'm not going to touch that crap about whether this drove him over the edge. All I know is that he sank his teeth in and didn't let go, and the result is a truly fascinating character -- all the moreso because he never really learn his backstory. He shows up and takes over, and you're transfixed. Whatever demons he dealt with, Ledger left his mark with this one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not unwatchable, actually: "Untraceable"

Now, you know how I love Diane Lane. Hey, she's on the list. Brings kind of an elder stateswoman role to the group that also includes Jessica Alba and Charlize Theron. (Oh, Charlize ... ) Even so, I skipped this thriller when it was in theaters because nothing suggested it would be first-rate.

But did I mention the Redbox down the street? With My Radiant Beloved again in a movie mood and nothing from Netflix but "The Tudors," I was off in search of something we both could handle, and my main squeeze Diane answered the call.

Our story has Lane as a widowed mother of one -- hubby was a cop -- who works in cybercrimes in Portland, Ore., tracking down people who do bad things online, from the kid who rips off credit card numbers to child predators. Or some sicko who kills people in elaborate fashion live on the 'Net, with the pace of death determined by how many people visit his site.

So yeah, there's a whole commentary-on-society thing going on here, which becomes even clearer as details of the bad guy emerge. Well before then, however, we get a few gruesome deaths in cyberspace and plenty of angst from our heroine. Doesn't help that the villain targets her, too. Oooooh, creepy.

As for THE BIGGER POINT ... eh. There could have been something here, maybe. No question that the world is full of people who watch sick sh*t on the Web from the privacy of their own homes. Duh, that's why we love the Web. We can see and do stuff we never would out in the real world. You think I'd actually go to a Miley Cyrus Fan Club meeting?

Yet I can't say "Untraceable" would have been better if it had mined that social commentary more. It's decent for a while, then the story unravels two-thirds of the way through, mainly because a key player's motivation fails to make sense. I'd lump this in with "Disturbia" as mildy interesting thrillers that ultimately don't satisfy before becoming wholly forgetable a few minutes after the final credits. And yes, the producers have my permisson to use that description on the DVD case.

Unholy matrimony: "License to Wed"

Sure, that may be the easy pun, but this movie doesn't warrant my creative juices. It sucked that much. So why even watch it? Well, we discovered the Redbox.

If you don't know, Redbox is a company that has standalone machines in various businesses -- your neighborhood grocery store, for example -- that dispense a limited selection of movies, each for $1 a night. Just pick your movie(s), swipe your credit card and out pops your selection.

Pretty neat, and pretty cheap. Despite our family being a Netflix subscriber, My Eternal Light sometimes doesn't like what we have or doesn't want to wait for the next DVD. Whenever she mentions going to the video store, I grit my teeth. Who wants to pay $4+ for a movie on top of Netflix? But $1? Yeah, I can handle that. Also makes it easier to rent something you know will be crap, thanks to your wife wanting something dumb and easy to digest.

Which brings us to "License to Wed."

Jim from "The Office" and Mandy Moore decide to get married, but there's just one problem. No, not her parents. Do you see Ben Stiller anywhere? No, it's her childhood pastor, the oh-so-irreverent Robin Williams.

See, he requires each couple to go through a special class before he'll marry them. As you might guess, this class is fraught with peril. Not helping matters is the preacher's ruthless little henchman, a teen minister-in-training. Oh, and did I mention the wedding is only a few weeks away? That's because Mandy really, really, really wants to be married at her church, and the next open date after that one is two years away. Why wait?

Even for this ilk, the whole thing is pretty weak. John Krasinski is a one-note schmoe who does nothing to suggest any range beyond his "Office" character. (And I like the guy!) Moore is cute as always but unconvincing as a real person. First she thinks nothing of doing everything her pastor says, then she has zero understanding when things fall apart. (Oops, spoiler alert. I'm sure you thought that pre-marriage course went just fine.)

As for Williams, he mails it in, comfortable in his typical goofy role, just dialed down. You know what, Robin? Dialed down doesn't work for you. Not your thing. Sorry.

All in all, "Wed" just gets dumber as it goes along, and it wasn't "Syriana" to start. It made me long for similar movies -- not only decent fare like "Meet the Parents" but middling stuff like "The Break-Up." By the time Wanda Sykes showed up, I essentially threw up my hands, thinking that $1 -- $1.07 with tax -- may have been too high a price after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More stuff to vomit into cyberspace

Wow, can't wait to read more, can you?

A candle in the sin: "The Misfits"

Otherwise known as the "See you later" movie, since we didn't see much of the three big stars after this.

Marilyn Monroe is a divorcee in 1960-61 Reno who comes across a mechanic (Eli Wallach) and a cowpoke (Clark Gable). Despite the mechanic giving her his desert house, she takes up with the cowpoke. This odd couple -- trio if you count Eli -- soon become a foursome when an old cowboy friend (Montgomery Clift) shows up.

Other than a bunch of hanging out and sexual tension, nothing much happens until the true nature of Gable's work comes to light, and Norma Jean sees her faith in man dashed yet again. Helming this introspection is John Huston, one of our more accomplished American directors. Or perhaps you missed "Annie!"

Actually, Houston -- who has directed a ton of real movies, of course -- does all right here, and it's certainly interesting to watch Monroe as she's spiraling down to her demise. I've also decided that I'm a Clark Gable fan. Didn't much care for "Gone with the Wind," but you have to like his signature line there given all the crap Scarlett has put him through to that point. (The "should be kissed" bit is good, too.) I thought Gable was all right in "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Run Silent, Run Deep," too. Reminds me of George Clooney, especially when Clooney was in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Must be the mustache.

Anyway, "The Misfits" is OK. A little too deliberate and preachy at the end, and I can't say Clift was anything special in it. But Wallach actually was, and it's a shame you don't hear people mention him when it comes to this movie. His bad luck for staying alive another 47 years (and counting).

We gotta fast car ... : "Vanishing Point"

I fully admit that I watched this movie because it came up in "Grindhouse: Death Proof." Never heard of it before, and I was curious to see what this white 1970 Dodge Challenger was all about.

Our story is simple: Guy has to drive the car from Denver to San Francisco. He bets a pal he can get there in 15 hours -- which is insane, really -- then speeds off. Hijinks ensue, in the form of cops chasing him as he comes across various folks: a desert hermit, some revivalists, some gay hitchhikers, a naked woman, etc., etc. All the while, a blind, black DJ serves as his eyes on the road. It's all very existential, man. Dig it.

Yeah, things get a little too heavy at times here, and this is definitely a movie from 1971. (See above for the people this cat meets.) But I did like the flashbacks that tell us who our hero is and why he's burned out. And the car chase stuff -- of which there is plenty -- is good. And hell, the car is cool, too.

Verdict: Not bad. Could have been better, and I might like to see a remake done just right. Our luck, though, it would be some bullsh*t with Colin Farrell, Wanda Sykes and a BMW roadster.

And yet I still must make the obligatory teenage Asian stepdaughter reference: "Take the Money and Run"

This movie is still pretty funny. Even after everything Woody Allen has been through in the nearly 40 years since. Hell, the cellist in a marching band bit is brilliant enough to make it worth watching.

In what IMDb says is the first-ever mockumentary, Woody Allen is Virgil Starkwell, a nebbish -- no! -- who also is a hapless criminal. A prelude shows how Virgil ended up in jail; how he tries to break out is another great bit. Then we just follow his life and times, from meeting a girl to having a kid to never being able to leave his life of crime.

So yeah, it's essentially a reason to string together a bunch of gags. But hey, the gags are good, and the script is sharp. (I mean, the thing with the bank robbery note? C'mon.) It's a crime -- pun originally unintended, but keeping it in here -- that there isn't more stuff in the quotes section of IMDb. I should have taken notes, some of Allen's dialogue and internal monologue was so good. Then he had to go all relationshipy on us in the next three decades. Boo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No rhyme or reason, just getting these off my plate

And dammit, some of them probably deserve their own posts. But I'm a lazy sumbitch these days. And by that I mean, I'm too damn busy. Yeah, that's it.

Thank goodness for Sam Jackson: "The Long Kiss Goodnight"

Because otherwise, I would have laughed even more at this movie, and not in a good way.

This movie is special to me because it plays a key role in my movie-viewing decisions. I call it the "Long Kiss Goodnight-Big Night argument."

Both movies came out at roughly the same time, and "Big Night" was received much more favorably. And I'm sure it's a much better movie. But "Long Kiss" had a lot of bang-bang, kablooey, and if I'm going to see a movie in the theater, I want the whole benefit of the big screen and big speakers. I can rent artsy-fartsy food movies at home. And yes, it's this kind of logic that leads a person to pay full price for "Assault on Precinct 13," starring Ethan Hawke.

Anyway, "Long Kiss" is dumb fun, at best. Geena Davis is an amnesiac who learns she was a spy. Jackson is a private dick who helps her. Brian Cox, David Morse and Craig Bierko -- who is pretty funny -- are agent/spy types. Some funny lines from Samuel J.J. and Bierko keep things going, but this is pretty stupid in the end. And the beginning. And during.

Also, I know it was the mid-90s and all, but I'm not sure what was harder to swallow: Davis as an assassin, or Davis as a sexpot. I mean, come on.

No, it went like this: "Rashomon"

One of the Kurosawa classics, and definitely worth seeing. Really, you don't even have to read the movie for more than 90 minutes. It's not hard.

After a very deliberate set-up that involves a few guys taking shelter in a pouring rain, we learn a man has been murdered. From there, we hear the tale of how it happened ... then another tale of how it happened ... then another tale of how it happened ... then ...

You get the idea. Bottom line: Everyone has a different version, and we don't know what really happened. The idea, of course, is that the truth is not universal. Or truth is not fact. Or ... aw, hell, I don't know. I guess it's just that everybody has a story, and you can choose who you believe. That deep enough for you?

In any case, definitely an interesting movie, especially given the short time it takes to tell the story(ies) and the influence it had on other movies. "Courage Under Fire" comes to mind, but there are many more, I'm sure. Heck, the term "Rashomon" is now used to describe different accounts of the same event. That's influence right there, baby.

I'm a-Walken, down the street ... : "The Dogs of War"

So I see this on IFC or something and think, "Hey, Chris Walken and Tom Berenger in some kind of action movie." And that's as good as it got.

Walken is a soldier of fortune enlisted to research a Third World African nation for some Brits who want to depose the dictator and install their own lackey. Walken goes in, but darn it if he runs into some trouble. Eventually he extracts himself and returns to cry havoc ... and let slip the dogs of war! Yeah. Shakespeare, bitch.

While I liked the idea of Walken getting the sh*t beat out of him, here's what bothered me about this movie: (1) Walken is just too skinny to be taken seriously as a badass soldier. Nope, sorry. Even his bug eyes during the action didn't convince me. (2) Despite the "action," this movie seemed long ... and it's maybe an hour and 45 minutes.

In short, for diehard Walken fans only, and even then, maybe have something to read nearby for the slow parts.

* * *

Got a couple of more, but gotta walk the dog. (Literally, not a euphemism.) Maybe I'll post again Thursday. Ooooh, the suspense!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I thought the "X-Files" movie came out later this summer ... : "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Look, I really want to see "The Dark Knight." But the prospect of battling crowds and being elbow-to-elbow with the masses on opening weekend ranked up there with trying on a barbed-wire thong dipped in Texas Pete hot sauce.

So I took the opportunity late Friday night to see a movie that has been out for a while and -- better yet -- was at a theater that wasn't showing the batcapades. And boy, it was obvious what wasn't showing. I counted maybe six other cars in the parking lot, and the theater staff were so disinterested that they didn't bother to clean my theater between shows. Nothing like shelling out $9 and seeing drink cups and popcorn bags littered all over the seats. Classy.

Of course, you may wonder what took me so long to see the latest adventure of our favorite whip cracker. The short answer: I wasn't really looking forward to the new "Indiana Jones," and the reviews -- while OK -- didn't change my mind. In the end, I figured it was probably worth seeing on the big screen, and maybe I'd find my way there eventually.

Why so blase, Jeff? Isn't "Raiders of the Lost Ark" your favorite movie of all time? Yep. But you know what? It's been 27 years since that came out. Twenty. Seven. Hell, it's been almost 20 since "Last Crusade." I mean, I was fine with the franchise just going away. Actually, I thought it did. But nooooo ... they had to have one more go around, even though Harrison Ford is retirement age. Wow.

Our story catches up with the swashbuckling archaeologist in the 1950s, after the Germans have been vanquished and the Russians are the new bad guys. (Old to us, of course, but new in the Indyverse.) Turns out the Russians are collecting weird artifacts -- including some stored on U.S. soil -- and are especially hot for some crystal skull that a guy Indy knows (John Hurt) also was trying to track down.

After his own brush with the Russians and their dominatrix leader (Cate Blanchett), Indy is enlisted by some punk kid (Shia LaBeouf) to go find the skull. Why? Because the missing man was with the kid's mom, and mommy also has been snatched. Or something like that. So our heroes set off, bumping into past friends and flames while dodging Russians and native baddies in South America, the skull's home (on this planet, at least).

As stories go, it could be worse, I guess. True, I liked the mystical and biblical stuff from the older movies better, but OK ... I'll go along with ancient tribes and aliens and all that jazz. Hey, it's the '50s, and everyone was into that stuff then, right? Also, "Skull" looks just fine and doesn't drag at any one spot. Many other movies in the two-hour range have more lulls than we get here.

But there are problems. First, I can't say I cared about any of the characters. Fresh face LaBeouf could have been more annoying, yes, but neither his character nor his performance really made an impression. It doesn't take much imagination to see how this kid fits in, especially when Karen Allen -- Marion from the first movie -- turns up. Gee, that's not a running theme for Spielberg. But the whole thing comes off kind of hollow, and even feisty Marion doesn't shake things up very much.

Blanchett nails the Russian accent, but her role also is two-dimensional and more flash than substance. Maybe I expect to much from a villain, but she's merely OK. And c'mon ... it's Cate Blanchett! If you're going to have a great actress in the cast, give her something great to do! As for Ford, he looks in decent shape but never convinced me that he was really getting away with all this stuff. Nor did I find his so-called emotional ties with others very convincing.

The biggest flaw, though, is the action and special effects. There's some pretty cool stuff at the beginning that recalls the Jones of old. But the climax to that is rather ridiculous, even for a movie that traffics heavily in fantasy. Sadly, there would be more such episodes, with me thinking, "Um, no." Action sequences in the other movies might have been elaborate, but I don't think they were outlandish. Here, however, we get no fewer than three or four cases that really went too far.

It also didn't help that Spielberg and Lucas brought CGI to the table. I guess you have to, in this day and age. But it didn't help and it made me think more of movies like "The Mummy" than the previous Indy installments. Wow, look at those ants! Hey, get a load of that big pyramid! Worst of all: We're not 20 minutes into the movie before we've had not one but two sightings of digital groundhogs. Yes, groundhogs. Forget stealing the Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail. That sh*t right there deserves a thunderbolt from the big guy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What, no "Grease 2?"

Because as good-looking as she was, Michelle Pfeiffer always makes me cringe when she sings "Cool Rider."

Anyway, check this list, forwarded to me by Uncle Paul, who did so just because it includes "The Apple," which deserves its spot. But that's only because "Death Race 2000" didn't have any dance numbers.

(Here's the story for the hyperlink-challenged:

FOLLOW UP: I stand (somewhat) corrected. Turns out "Grease 2" is included in the "Vote for the worst musical" poll at the bottom. And when I just cast my vote -- for "The Apple," because it sucks -- "Grease 2" was No. 3, well behind "From Justin to Kelly" but ahead of "Xanadu." Take that, Olivia!

(Also glad to see "Rent" in the mix, but what's up with "Little Shop of Horrors" being on the list? That movie's all right, if only for Steve Martin's big number. "You'll be a dentist! You have a talent for causin' things PAIN!" Love it.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bang the drum, mopey: "The Visitor"

Finally got a chance to use some of those free passes I got when the movie theater cut off the last 10 minutes of "There Will Be Blood." Remember? "There isn't any more," the theater employee said. I think Paul Dano would beg to differ.

Anyway, My Beacon of Heavenly Goodness and I stole away for a late Sunday afternoon showing of "The Visitor," of which I recalled knowing two things: (1) It starred the dead dad from "Six Feet Under," and (2) it was supposed to be like "The Station Agent," which made sense because it was directed by the same guy. Go figure.

Our story opens with Richard Jenkins as an econ prof in Connecticut who is sleepwalking through life. His wife is dead, he can't figure out how to play the piano, and he doesn't care about his classes or his book. Then he gets forced to go to New York City to present a paper, and upon entering his apartment finds it has been rented illegally to two illegal immigrants, a guy from Syria and a woman from Senegal. Awk. Ward.

Our hero decides to let the folks stay a couple of days. What, he's got something better to do? He soon learns the guy plays the bongo drums, or African drums, or whatever you want to call those drums you hold between your knees and slap with your hands. Our hero is intrigued. This may the rhythm he's missing in his life. And the couple isn't bad. And when a crisis brings the guy's mom to town, Jenkins decides she isn't too shabs, either.

It's an odd but good story, and ironic in a way. Drums and rhythm play a key role, but the movie felt quiet throughout. Just seemed like people were always thinking and contemplating all the time. Not just Jenkins' character, who clearly is trying to find a reason to break out of his funk. Also the woman from Senegal, and the Syrian guy's mom ... and heck, I guess the Syrian guy, too. A lot of scenes of people looking at each other and thinking about them. And it worked.

All four main players are good, but Jenkins really shines. Here's a guy who has been around forever and, to me at least, has been a funny guy on the side. I first noticed him in "Flirting with Disaster," and loved his tiny role as a shrink in "There's Something About Mary." But you know what? He's a real actor. Did you see "North Country?" Damn solid as Charlize Theron's dad. And the "Six Feet Under" role wasn't a breeze, either.

In his first lead role, though, Jenkins reaches a new level, and it's a shame "The Visitor" came out this early. Had it been released in the fall, people would definitely be talking Oscar. I have no idea what else will be in the mix, but I really hope our man Rich can overcome the odds and stay on enough people's radar to score a nom. Even better, if he wins, Jenkins can step to the mic and remind everyone that highway rest areas are the bath houses of the '90s ...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just because some guys killed your boyfriend, raped you and tried to get you hooked on drugs doesn't mean you have to get upset: "Foxy Brown"

Well-rounded as my movie-watching may be, one weak spot has been blaxploitation. Sure, I've seen and enjoyed "Shaft. " ("Why don't you stop playing with yourself, Willy?") I think I started to watch "Super Fly" once and fell asleep. And that may be it. Well, unless you count "I'm Gonna Get You, Sucka," which I'm not sure you can.

Anyway, all this is to say that when I saw IFC airing "Foxy Brown," I knew I should see it, even if I didn't know anything about it beyond Pam Grier kicking a$$.

Released in 1974, our story has Grier as ... someone. There's not really any detail about her life (see IMDb trivia for an explanation), other than she has a brother and a boyfriend. Her brother is a deadbeat drug dealer. Her boyfriend is an undercover cop who just got a new identity. But when brother dear decides to settle his debt by turning in the cop, Foxy gets a little upset and goes looking for revenge -- from posing as a prostitute to enlisting a vigilante gang.

As you might guess, there's all sorts of foul language and racist slurs -- on both sides of the color line. Your suspicions that the acting isn't cited in the Julliard curriculum also would be correct. Sure, Grier is a known name, and we also are treated to Huggy Bear from "Starsky & Hutch." (He's her brother, and yeah, I know ... as opposed to Huggy Bear from "Hamlet.") But this movie was shot in 17 days on a half-million dollar budget. So no, they weren't paging the Academy after this one.

What was surprising, at least to me, was just how low things got for Foxy. Unlike "Shaft," which had a male hero -- as if the name "Shaft" doesn't give it away -- "Foxy" really gets run through the ringer. It's one thing to get beat up. It's another to get degraded all the way around. I'm sure there's a fascinating debate in her, and at least one thread on the IMDb boards seems to explore it: Is this movie demeaning or empowering? I mean, you know Foxy's going to win, and the bad guys are going to pay. But what she goes through along the way ... whoa.

In the end, this isn't a very good movie at all, but it's not boring, and it's worth seeing to get the full blaxploitation effect. It can be hard to watch at points, but that's less a product of the violence and more because of the bad dialogue. Or maybe you can keep a straight face when Foxy lets loose with this one:

"You pink-ass corrupt honky judge. Take your little wet noodle outta here, and if you see a man anywhere send him in because I do need a MAN!"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

All right. Let's do this.

A lot of movies in the can, so we'll cover some now, spending no more than 100 words on each. Unless I go over. I'm not stopping to count.


The first James Bond movie featuring Remington Steele, and better than I expected when I first saw it. Still holds up all right, and more fun now to see Famke Janssen as the bad girl before she got all X-Men on us. The plot deals with the hijacking of a Russian space-based weapon, and there's another hottie in the mix, of course. All in all, Brosnan does all right, and I find myself coming back to this one more than I thought I would.


I remember when this foreign film came out several years ago and got some good reviews. During the Bosnian-Serbian conflict, a solider from each side ends up in the same trench in between lines. There's some back and forth as each has the upper hand at different times, and it's a decent look at what a mess this sort of thing can be. We also get the whole media's role aspect, too, which is good. All in all, an interesting little movie, even if you have to read a lot of it.


It wasn't until after I finished this movie and heard that TCM guy say Alfred Hitchcock remade it with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day that I realized, "Hey, there are two versions of this, and I just watched the wrong one." Very odd that the same director would do the movie twice, but I guess Hitch wanted a do-over after making it in Hollywood. This original is tight, if a little uneven. In short, a British couple whose friend died, leaving them a mysterious note, finds their daughter kidnapped. They try to get her back, but nasty Peter Lorre -- in his first English-speaking role -- isn't cooperating. Slow to start, but once it gets going, it's not bad, especially for being almost 75 years old.


Everytime I saw this in my DVR list, I thought of that HBO documentary series on porn. It's not, but it does have Evan Rachel Wood looking hot, especially when riding Eddie Norton. He plays an aimless hick in the San Fernando Valley, while Wood and her brother, a Culkin kid, are also adrift, none too happy to be living with David Morse, who is either their dad or stepdad. I never could tell. Anyway, these kids latch onto Norton, Morse doesn't like it, Norton proves weird in the head, and things eventually go bad. Intriguing for a while, but Norton's schtick got old, and the movie didn't go anywhere for a long time, then took a turn that was fairly predictable before ending kind of stupidly. So ... eh.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Craptastic voyage: A trilogy of truly terrible movies

And get this: Two of these three were on TCM, not IFC. I think it was their "Underground" thing, but still ... you can stretch the definition of classic only so far.

I had seen two of these movies long ago and remembered them as being awful in a special way. Awful and special enough that if and when they ever reappeared on cable, I would feel obligated to watch again. And now I'm set for another 20 years or so. With that ...

Who needs a hockey mask?: "Sleepaway Camp"

I'm thinking I was in my mid-teens when I first saw this low-budget, no-name camp masquerading as a horror movie. It definitely left an impression, although to say more would ruin the movie for you. Yes, it would ruin a terribly bad movie. Makes no sense, I know.

Several years after a horrible boating accident, a teenage girl and her boy cousin go off to camp, where the usual adolescent politics rule. Oh, and there's a killer on the loose. (I know, who knew?) The real story, though, is the outrageously hammy dialogue and stunningly bad acting. Really ... this makes "Meatballs" look like "Citizen Kane."

That alone isn't enough to rate this as a camp classic. No, the thing here is the ending. True, that means you have to sit through almost 90 minutes of crap, and I'm not going to be one of those people who insist the ending is worth it. But I will say this: I've seen a lot of movies -- good, bad, short, long, funny, sad, loud, quiet -- and the finale of this one stuck with me something fierce. It's the whole package: a feast for the eyes and ears. I can say no more.

And they're off ... their medication, apparently: "Death Race 2000"

Considered a cult classic by some, this movie is merely dumb. Sure, there's some funny stuff, and you can write the whole concept off to camp. Plus, there are boobies. But from the obvious matte painting at the start of the race to the dumb resolution, this "film" left me wanting.

The plot: In the future, the most popular sport is a cross-country race in which drivers get points for fatally running down people. Sounds like a wry commentary on sports and brutality and society, right? Wrong. There's very little clever about this. Instead, we're left to think things like, "Hey, Sylvester Stallone before 'Rocky!'" and "Is that John Kreese from 'The Karate Kid?'" (It is.)

IMDb puts the budget at about $300,000, and it shows. Not only are the killer cars cheesy, but the costumes and sets reminded me of ... wait for it ... "The Apple." My favorite scene: our hero (David Carradine) and his lady navigator in their bedroom during a race stop. What's meant to be a big ol' boudoir is easily revealed as some kind of auditorium or cafeteria. How? Maybe it's the double doors with the iron handlebars in the corner of the room! Awesome.

Wow. I mean ... wow: "Yor, the Hunter from the Future"

Look up "delightfully bad" in the dictionary, and you'll see a smiling Yor.

I remember this being pretty bad when I was a kid, and I was a kid! The trailer sure looked cool, with a blond caveman jumping around and using a pterodactyl as a hang-glider. But yeah, it was bad. Then I saw it again, and realized "bad" is way too generous.

We meet Yor as he bounds down a mountain while his pop anthem plays over the opening credits. Soon he's saving other loincloth-wearing types from a dinosaur. Never mind the dinosaur is a triceatops, which every third-grader knows wasn't hostile like a T-Rex or raptor. Anyway, Yor does some more saving, then learns there's an island that may hold the answer to where he came from and how he got the cool medallion hanging around his neck. The suspense!

Things go from bad to worse, or to great, depending on how much you like bizarre plot turns and bad special effects. What was once prehistoric goes all sci-fi, but that doesn't bother Yor, who proves as proficient with a laser gun as with an ax. That Yor!

As with these other movies, you have to see this for yourself to believe it. Fortunately, there's plenty of action -- including cool trapeze stuff -- and when there's not, there's plenty of bad acting to keep you interested. Even better, the movie ends with a voiceover that opens the door for a sequel. Twenty-five years later, we're still waiting.