Monday, September 29, 2008

Until I succumb to "Down Periscope," these will have to do

I almost titled this post "What's long and hard and full of seamen," but that would have just been vulgar. We're all class here, b*tch.

Along with crappy Nic Cage movies and zombie fun, free previews gave me a chance to see two submarine movies I thought we're just so-so the first time around. Happily, both held up better on second viewings.

I'm just glad Hackman didn't wear a fedora: "Crimson Tide"

I definitely remember being put off by this movie before I saw it, mainly because it came so soon after another sub actioner, "The Hunt for Red October," and even had a version of red in the damn title. C'mon, people!

After seeing the offending film, I thought, "eh," and moved on. It was 1995 -- or maybe 1996, if I saw it on video -- I was in my early 20s and had better things to do. As it turns out, though, this movie isn't bad. Solid cast, good battle scenes, nice test of wills and not as much overacting as I remembered.

Gene Hackman is an old sub captain, and Denzel Washington is assigned to his ship as the executive officer -- XO to you and me, Russ -- when the sub sets across the Pacific as tensions mount between Russia and some rebels. If the rebels get some nukes, the U.S. wants to be ready to shove an ICBM up their cornhole. Enter Hackman and Co.

Also on the boat are George "In no way can I be mistaken for an infant girl" Dzundza as the chief, James Gandolfini as a lieutenant and Viggo Mortensen as the head weapons guy, plus a series of "those guys": Danny Nucci, Steve Zahn and Rick Schroder. Everyone's loyalty comes into question when a communications glitch makes an order unclear, and Hackman -- who's ready to fire missiles -- is removed from command by Washington, whom some guys think is a big p*ssy. Ooooh, the tension.

All this actually seemed somewhat plausible, and I found myself going along much more than before with the plot and the performances. Gandolfini's a little one-note -- the guy has no range -- and Hackman has certainly done better. But he's not bad, and Washington is mostly restrained. Mortensen also is solid as the guy most torn by this turn of events. All in all, this underwater action is above average.

A-OK: U-571

After a little break, this sub movie popped up in 2000. This one has some basis in history, even if it essentially replaces the British with Americans as the guys who went after German code machines, called the Enigma, during World War II. Sorry, limeys!

Bill Paxton is the captain and Matthew "All right, all right, all right" McConaughey is the XO on a U.S. sub made up to look like a German U-boat so it can get close to a damaged U-boat and get the Enigma. David Keith leads the assault team, which also includes Harvey Keitel as the sub's chief. Look quick early on an you'll catch Jon Bon jovi in maybe the most random casting ever as another Naval officer. Wait ... isn't he wanted -- wanted! -- dead or alive?

The assault doesn't go off perfectly, and some of our heroes find themselves on the run in the damaged U-boat, chased by German subs and surface ships. This makes for some torpedo fun and even more mischief with depth charges. With the latter, director Jonathan Mostow does a fine job of making the barrage seem relentless, and it's cool to see how McConaughey -- denied his own command at the start of the movie -- matures as a captain.

I recall liking this movie better than "Crimson Tide" the first time around, and I'll stand by that now. Maybe it was the old subs and the skill that went into doing battle with those. Maybe it was McConaughey being more tolerable than usual. (He and Paxton reunited a year later in "Frailty," a film about a family that is definitely not family-friendly.) Maybe it was that Bon Jovi doesn't make it to the end. No, wiseass, he wasn't shot through the heart, so nobody was to blame.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dead men writhing: A zombie double feature

I actually had this nice little plan to have that Nicolas Cage two-fer launch a series of double features -- boom, boom, boom. Alas, too much sh*t going on, and now I'm left to bang out what I fear will be a lame recap of a couple of so-so (at best) movies before I head out of town tomorrow morning. I know ... get pumped.

As dumb as Derek Zoolander and twice as deadly: "Resident Evil: Extinction"

Sigh. Yes, I have a weakness for these movies. Hell, for just about any zombie movie, but especially ones where the heroine is an a$$-kicking model. Milla Jovovich ... whoa.

In the latest installment of the series inspired by a video game -- did I sigh already? -- Milla's Alice is a loner roaming the western U.S. As the Umbrella Corp. continues to search for a way to cure the hordes of infected, flesh-eating undead around the world, Alice just ... is. Meanwhile, a scrappy band of uninfected is trying to find some haven. They encounter Alice, who has kooky powers, and the whole gang soon encounters the Umbrella Corp. All the while, diseased baddies try to kill the nice, normal people. Got all that?

This is Grade A silliness, of course, but you usually can count on some good action, courtesy of the agile and limber Milla. Alas, this latest episode is pretty weak. Despite the change in scenery from Raccoon City, the proceedings are mostly boring, and the special effects aren't that special. Even the presence of Ali Larter -- whom I've had a crush on since "Varsity Blues," doesn't help. Heck, I didn't even recognize her without her whipped cream bikini. Shame.

Bloody good time: "28 Weeks Later"

Like the monsters in the above film, the folks here aren't technically dead, just infected. And how. We start with a refresher on how the rage virus swept England in less than a month, with an attack on a house and the flight of Robert Carlyle, still trying to outrun his turn as a crappy James Bond villain. Then, 28 weeks later -- after the rage virus has subsided -- he and his two kids are in London, which is being repopulated with the help of U.S. soldiers.

We pause here for introspection and many scenes of a city and a people trying to put their lives back together. It's certainly subdued, and I was wondering if and when the action would pick back up. It takes a little time, and I won't spoil it by saying how the rage virus rears up again, but when it does ... whoa, nellie. Cue the handheld camera, folks. We're going for a wild ride!

What once was contained breaks out again, and when the military loses control, the enemies become twofold: the infected and the soldiers ordered to kill everything that moves. That leaves the kids, a scientist and a sniper who doesn't play the extermination game to find a way out of London, dodging bullets and bloodsuckers at every turn.

For all the moodiness in the first half of the movie, there's pretty good tension in the second, although it's definitely a downer when all is said and done. Gee, I can't wait for "28 Months Later." What happens then? A bunch of infected kick me in the nuts and eat my dog?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

With staying power somewhere between "The Simpsons" and "Manimal": A Very Special Movievangelist Post

Welcome. So good to see you. How are the wife and kids?

Why the formality? Well, it's not every day that I invite people to read a blog that has hit 500 posts.

That's right. With these words right here, what started as one man's dream and evolved to draw tens of readers from across the continent has hit a major milestone. 500 posts. Wow. And I bet some of you thought I wouldn't make it past 241.

To mark this momentous occasion, we'll go back to the beginning. Post No. 1 -- way back in February 2005 -- referenced one of my favorite mediocre movies, "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins." As it turned out, this classic was on Starz or Encore or something like that last week. As those great rockers Poison once said while talking about needing nothing but a good time, "How can I resist?"

Our story has the immortal Fred Ward as a New York City cop whose death is faked so he can be recruited as an assassin for a top-secret government agency that follows the 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It. Clever, I know.

Anyway, Mr. Quaker Oats, Wilford Brimley, and a black guy with glasses and a fake arm steer Remo -- his new name -- to be trained by a diminutive Korean martial arts master, played by Joel Grey in heavy makeup. This odd couple gets off to a rocky start, but darn it if things don't come together as Remo tracks down a bigtime weapons manufacturer who's more crooked than an Alaskan politician. In the mix is Kate Mulgrew as a saucy female military officer, also hot on the bad guy's trail.

In essence, this is "The Karate Kid"-meets-"Enter the Dragon," with more wisecracks. Ward and Grey trade one-liners based on their respective attitudes. I still laugh when Remo wakes up in the hospital after his faked death and is told he was recruited because he was the best candidate available. "If I'm the best you've got, then you're in deep sh*t, pal!" Awesome. We love Fred.

No question, this movie has deficiencies. The villain is a joke, and his henchmen aren't any better. The script is, shall we say, hard to swallow -- even with Fred's funnies -- and some of the martial arts stuff is pretty hokey. Yes, that includes Remo's signature move.

That said, there's still some good action scenes, including a tiff on the Statue of Liberty. And the rapport between Remo and Chiun is entertaining. Throw in a soaring theme song -- which always stays in my head for days -- and I love this movie more than when I first saw it more than 20 years ago. Don't hold me to it, but you could be reading something just like this when we hit 1,000 posts. Dare to dream.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Together, these might have made a whole movie: A Nic Cage double feature

Actually, probably not.

If I ever get the stones to just quit my job and write a book, wouldn't a bio of Nicolas Cage be something? This guy started out with some serious cool cred, starred in the funniest movie of all time, then won an Oscar. After that ... whoa. Is he still married to Lisa Marie Presley? I've lost track.

Yet Cage manages to turn in good work every now and then. Sounds like "Bangkok Dangerous" blows, but "Lord of War" was solid. The "National Treasure" movies are mediocre at best, but "Matchstick Men" was all right. "Ghost Rider?" Um, no, but "Adaptation?" Hell, yes.

Sadly, the two movies below fall into the former, lamer category. Are they as bad as I expect the new version of "Bad Lieutenant" to be? Stay tuned.

Bored in 15 minutes: "Gone in Sixty Seconds"

I knew this sucked as soon as I saw the trailer way back in 2000. But I also knew the star power and production values would be solid, so I remained curious. Thanks to the recent free preview weekend -- HBO or Starz, can't remember which -- that curiosity was satisfied.

Wait. Strike that. "Satisfied" is a poor choice. This movie was not satisfying. Not even with Angelina Jolie, who -- damn it -- broke the "show t*ts" rule she had back in the day. B*tch.

Cage is a retired car thief who comes out of retirement to lead a crew that must steal 50 cars in one night or a piece of Eurotrash will kill Cage's little bro (Giovanni Ribisi). Some cars are very rare, and hot on their trail is Delroy Lindo and sidekick Tim Olyphant, a couple of cops. (Delroy. There's a good name if we have a boy.) Our crew of thieves includes Jolie -- with some very unfortunate blonde dreadlocks -- Robert Duvall and a collection of "those guys," such as Scott Caan, Chi McBride, Will Patton and Vinne Jones.

So yeah, decent cast. And lots of vroom, vroom, too. But nobody is doing anything close to acting here, and the action isn't all that great. I also wasn't impressed by the heisting abilities in general; Danny Ocean, these guys ain't. And the lame attempts to add emotion -- brother coming to a brother's rescue, would-be romantic tension between Cage and Jolie -- are just that: lame. But sure, cool leather jacket, Nic.

Actually, I'll stick with what I have: "Next"

The best thing about this movie wasn't even part of the movie. Rather, it was when the lead-in screen came up and it said "Next: Next." Trippy, man.

This movie came and went last year, and a bigger bust in Cage's career might be hard to find. With a budget of $70 million, it looks like it grossed about $12 mil in the U.S. Yow.

Cage is a Vegas magician whose act isn't a trick: He really can see into the future, with limits. Still, it's enough that the Feds -- Julianne Moore, in particular -- want him to help catch some terrorists who have a nuke in L.A. Meanwhile, all Nic wants to do is hang with Jessica Biel, who is the only person he's seen in his future beyond two minutes. Got it? Don't worry.

I'll admit the premise is intriguing, and this movie isn't as bad as it could have been. The seeing-the-future bits, followed by Cage's acting to avoid a future, are kind of neat. But beyond that one-trick pony, the plot is a mess, with villains who aspire to be one-dimensional and Moore looking mostly pained as she pursues Cage. I think I saw her paycheck sticking out from her gun holster at one point.

Other problems: Cage's hair; Biel's willingness not only to hang with Cage but fall for him; an ending that's just kind of there. On the balance, this movie is bad, even if it's not horrible. If only Cage could have seen his future while agreeing to do "Next." He could have saved all of us.

Good thing I'm sitting down here at work

Because for this, Megan Fox, I salute you.

(The Brian Austin Green thing, though, not so much. Even if he's kind of OK in that Terminator TV show, which I watch, because I'm a dork.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

You had me until ...

Thanks to cousin Justin for this highly entertaining rundown of decent and even great movies that nonetheless ask you to overlook something rather significant. As for another movie that could be on this list, ask me sometime about "Memento."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fine, fine, I'll say it: They're more than meets the eye: "Transformers"

But let's not get carried away. It's still about robots that change into vehicles for no real good reason, and I'm not 10 years old anymore.

There was no way I was seeing Michael Bay's take on the popular 1980s toys in the theater. But as luck would have it, we've had back-to-back free preview weekends -- first HBO and Cinemax, then Starz and Encore. You know how my DVR list was wiped out? Now it's more than 60 percent full, and that's not because of The Woman Who Gives My Sorry Existence Meaning's affinity for "Army Wives."

Anyway, so I figured seeing this big-budget fun for free couldn't hurt. Our story has warring factions of shape-shifting robots searching Earth for some magic cube, and not of the Rubik's variety. The bad robots -- Decepticons, like you didn't know -- just shoot sh*t up, while the Autobots befriend Indiana Jones' son (Shia LaBeouf, still a stupid name), who holds the key to finding Ye Olde Cube. Also involved in the fun are soldiers, code breakers, Jon Voight as the Secretary of Defense, John Turturro as a super-secret government agent and Megan "Man, Is She Ever a" Fox as Shia's would-be squeeze.

The storytelling is standard: Show some ominous scenes early on, then unleash an action scene that doesn't give away too much shortly after that. Then more build-up, the big reveal, exposition, action, romance, action, action, big finish. Hey, I got no problem with that. This is Michael Bay we're talking about, not Chris Nolan.

I actually liked some stuff in "Transformers." The build-up was handled well, and the effects are plenty good. It was especially cool later in the movie when robots would shift back and forth during fights. Made it seem more natural -- weird as that sounds -- vs. "everyone stop and watch this thing change." Also, LaBeouf wasn't that bad -- similar to "Disturbia" and a hell of a lot more winning than in "Crystal Skull" -- and Fox was appealing, and not just because she's, to use a technical term, f*ckin' hot. Dear lord.

But as much as we're here for the action, and as solid as the effects and explosions were ... this really isn't much of a movie for grown-ups. (Surprise, I know.) I'm sure it's just me, but once the robots starting talking, I began cringing. Instead of "ha ha," I thought "uh-uh." The dialogue was either too corny or too sappy, and that really took away from the throwdowns between the big guys.

Of course, with no personalities, the robots are just ... robots. So I'm not sure what, if anything, could be done differently. And it's not like "Transformers" is bad. It's just passable, which is good compared to what I expected. I just wish I had held onto my own Transformers, if only to recreate those epic battles with the Gobots. Man, was that a tussle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brave men, tough odds, funny stuff

Some of it intentional, some not.

Maybe I'll name my son Tim just so I can follow it with "The Enchanter": "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

No, this doesn't mean we know we're having a boy. I'm just saying that if we do ...

I actually fell asleep near the end of this -- and it's not even that long! -- but it still was hilarious to that point. As you know, our story follows King Arthur as he gathers his Knights of the Round Table and goes off in search of the cup that Christ used during the Last Supper. Alas, nothing comes easy these days, and ... you know what's coming ... hijinks ensue.

It's hard to say what the funniest part of this movie is. I've always been partial to the killer rabbit, but come to think of it, the real joy in that sketch is the very first time you see it. So now I find more humor in the more nuanced scenes, such as the "Old woman!" scene early on, or the would-be assault on the French castle. ("I fart in your general direction!")

Come to think of it, the business at the bridge is pretty funny, too. But like I said, I fell asleep. And I still don't know the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow -- African or European.

Laugh hard and think not: "Live Free or Die Hard"

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... if it weren't for a free preview weekend on HBO, I wouldn't have given this a second viewing after enjoying it in the theater. (Somewhat guiltily, if that's even a word.) While I opposed the principle of this movie -- in much the same fashion as the fourth Indiana Jones installment -- I admit that it was rather entertaining, in a hugely absurd sort of way.

Bruce Willis is back as John McClane, this time enlisted to protect a computer hacker who unwittingly helped cause chaos to The System and now has to help unf*ckup things. Justin Long, often annoying, is the hacker and actually has a pretty good rapport with our hero. It definitely could have been a lot worse.

But know this: When the gigantic computer clusterf*ck is the most believable part of a movie, you've got problems. There's good action, yes, but there's also some really laughable stuff. I mean, the part with the driverless car jumping a curb and taking out a helicopter isn't even in the top 3 mind-boggling scenes. This movie makes "The Transporter" series look like PBS.

And now for some real cowboys ... : "Ride the High Country"

Finally got around to this one, fortunately before the guys moving my daughter's playset to our backyard bumped our dish, requiring a tech visit that ultimately erased everything on my DVR. So yeah, it's time to finally buy the DVD of the 2008 NCAA basketball championship, since I no longer have it preserved for posterity.

(And the best part was that I had the last few seconds of regulation in its own little clip, so I could cue up Mario's shot at will. Shame.)

Dad's a big fan of this western, in part because he worships all things Peckinpah. And it definitely wasn't bad. No "Wild Bunch" or "Professionals," but I liked the edge that Peckinpah brought to it and the nobility -- or lack thereof, depending on the character -- that the two old guys showed.

In short, Joel McCrea is an old stud cowboy hired to bring some gold back from a mining camp. He enlists his old friend (Randolph Scott) and the friend's young partner, and they pick up a young farm woman along the way. Alas, not only are there villains in the camp, but the guy's friend ain't such a friend. So we've got the whole double-crossing thing and the bonafide bad guys thing going on. What's an aged gunfighter to do?

Not a bad story, but a tad slow on the front end. I guess that's because they really want to build to a climax, as we watch the two old guys have their big moment of glory. Doesn't make my Top 5 westerns -- "Timerider" counts, right? -- but worth seeing all the same.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

You know, the kids at Yale would never try this crap: "21"

I mean, they'd just pull some mindgame sh*t during Texas Hold 'Em instead.

I admit reading the book on which this lackluster movie is based a few years back and enjoying it. Far from well-written, and I surely didn't believe half of what I read. But it was fun to think about a bunch of MIT students working a card-counting system to get filthy rich off blackjack, only to run into some trouble when some casinos didn't cotton to their antics.

If parts of the book were farfetched, however, then "21" -- changed from "Bringing Down the House" -- is downright laughable. And not just because Kevin Spacey tries to be sinister.

Our story follows, Ben, a wicked smaht kid at MIT who wants to go to Harvard Medical School but doesn't have the dough. But he impresses his professor, played by Spacey, who recruits Ben for their scheme. They don't count cards per se, but rather types of cards. And they do it as a team, so no one person stands out as a shyster. (Genius! Thank you!)

Of course, counting cards isn't illegal. It's just bad for your health, since casinos don't like anyone taking too much of their money. Enter Larry Fishburne as an aging enforcer looking to prove himself against newfangled computers that read the faces of card counters. As our hero and his cohorts keep raking in cash, Larry is in hot pursuit, and eventually makes things tough for our guy. That is, after Ben makes things tough on himself by being an ass -- getting caught up in the high life and sh*tting all over his nerd friends back in Bahston.

There's no point in explaining things further since, well, the amusing idea gives way to annoying characters and -- shall we say -- questionable plot developments.

Spacey is OK at times but becomes increasingly hard to swallow, especially late in the movie when we're asked to believe he would do something I'm pretty sure he wouldn't. (But I did like his little disguise.) As the main guy, Jim Sturgess is charisma-challenged and doesn't have the weight to carry the role. As the love interest/fellow counter, Kate Bosworth is neither endearing not particularly hot. Honestly, it's all been downhill for her since "Blue Crush." I'm not kidding.

Among the other actors, Fishburne is on autopilot, while none of the young kids really stands out. Not even Jacob Pitts, who plays another stud counter and looks nothing like he did in another role you may remember: Cooper in "EuroTrip." I know! This isn't where I parked my car!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tough times like these call for a true war hero: "Drillbit Taylor"

What? You were expecting a certain presidential candidate?

We Redboxed this movie the other night along with "There Will Be Blood," and that's a double bill that likely won't ever be recreated. My Luminous One had never seen the latter, and the former was about the only other movie in the box that we could have watched together. For me, it was stupid comedy. For her, it was Owen Wilson. You've heard about her unhealthy crush, right?

As it happened, she didn't see "Drillbit Taylor," and I wish I could say the same. Oh, I knew it would suck. I just didn't expect it to depress me so.

Wilson plays a bum who passes himself off as an Army vet who can help some high school freshmen fight back against a couple of bullies. These three kids come straight from Central Casting: an awkward beanpole with glasses, a fat kid with a mouth, and a tiny twerp with braces. Stunning originality, I tell you. But at least the kids are winning, right? Um, no. Annoying is more like it. Not only was I not rooting for these guys, but I wanted the movie to do a 180 and have them end up worse off than ever. The End. Would have been awesome!

Sadly, we get the standard "things are bad, get worse, then get better, then everything falls apart, then redemption." It's all rather tired. And long. Among this mess, Wilson hooks up with the always cute Leslie Mann, a real teacher to Wilson's faux educator. Oh, and Wilson's bum friends -- upset that he stops bilking the kids for money and goods -- decide to help themselves to one kid's family's stuff. Ho ho ho.

My reaction to all this stopped short of visceral, but it definitely wasn't good. Wilson's turn here -- and the story in general -- makes "You, Me and Dupree" look like "Blazing Saddles." We all know the guy has one schtick as surfer-slacker-funny nose guy, and it's getting tired. I could take him in "The Darjeeling Limited" because he was part of a fun trio with Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman (both of whom were funnier). But as a lead, Wilson is lacking. Hell, even in "Wedding Crashers," Vince Vaughn got all the good lines.

Not sure what else I can say about "Drillbit Taylor." It was dumb, and not in a good way. Almost everyone was irritating. The ending was even dumber -- let's just say what should have been all glory for the kids had to make way for Mr. Wilson.

Even the cameo of Adam Baldwin from "My Bodyguard" (as well as "Serenity," which I liked) wasn't good. Guy looked like he rather be babysitting Chris Makepeace, and I have to wonder how much he squeezed from the producers for his turn. Then again, with such titles as "Gospel Hill," "Sands of Oblivion" and "The Thirst" on his recent resume, it's not like he can command much. Hell, he probably paid them. 

Monday, September 01, 2008

I was cool with the vanishing, but then Anakin reappeared. Bummer: "Jumper"

This movie follows a pretty typical arc here at "Movievangelist." I see the trailer, I think, "could be cool," I read poor reviews, I wait until it comes out of DVD. So it was that another $1.07 fell into Redbox's hands, and if hadn't been for one Hayden Christensen, I might not be so sore at the money being gone.

Our story has a teenage boy on the verge of a horrific death finding out he can teleport. He soon learns there are rules -- you need to have seen the place you want to go, or at least a picture of it -- and then we fast-forward to him as a young adult, living the high life thanks to his gift. If you think he sounds like a d*ck, seeing Christensen in the role pretty much triples that feeling.

Our, ahem, hero, eventually finds that (a) he's not alone as a "jumper," and (b) jumpers are being hunted by something called "paladins," led by ... wait for it ... Samuel J. Jackson -- with white hair. Oof. Jamie Bell is another jumper, Rachel Bilson -- not nearly as cute as in "The Last Kiss" -- is Hayden's love interest. Oh, and Diane Lane shows up in flashbacks and other scenes as Hayden's mommy. I can't say anything more about her because I really rather pretend she wasn't in this movie, her skills were so wasted.

Things I liked about "Jumper": Some of the teleporting scenes, Bell and ... um ... did I see a side shot of Bilson's boob? Can't remember.

Things I didn't like: Sorry, I'd have to start a whole new blog.

Christensen is unbearable as usual. Aside from "Shattered Glass," in which he was merely OK and still stomped on by Peter Saaaaaarssssgaaaaaard," the guy has blown chunks in everything. Jackson is collecting a check, as he often does these days.

I mentioned the other actors, although it's hard to know how much blame to assign them since this story is terribly one-dimensional. There's no explanation for how these guys got their gift, or what other jumpers have done, or why paladins hunt them. Most annoying of all is the director asking us to accept that Christensen can teleport all over the place and never be seen by anybody as he just appears out of thin air -- be it the top of the Sphinx or the hall outside his apartment. Sorry, my "go with it" attitude goes only so far.

That director is Doug Liman, which is a real shame. This is the guy who went from "Swingers" (great) to "Go" (not bad) to "The Bourne Identity" (very good) to "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (also not bad). Then we get this pile of crap. Even better: "Jumper 2" is listed as "announced" on his IMDB page. I have to assume that's short for "announced that the world will stop spinning before that movie gets made."