Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I don't know ... that 56/100 makes a big difference: "99 and 44/100% Dead"

Ever since seeing the VHS tape cover in the video store way back in the mid-1980s, I have always wondered what this movie was about. I mean, what a dumb title. Imagine my surprise when I saw it on TCM of Fox Movie Channel or whatever recently. A chance to solve of of life's great mysteries, second only to why poor rural people vote Republican? Sure, let's do it!

We open with some mob heavies dumping a guy with -- I kid you not -- concrete blocks on his feet into a river. Then we see this is fairly common. That is, throwing people into the river. How else to explain the underwater footage of all these dead people?

We're told how it works in this unnamed town -- the various gangs and the wars and all that. Before long, we meet Harry Crown, an enforcer played by Richard Harris, which sounds a little weird but actually works OK as long as you forgive his sloppy pageboy haircut.

Harry -- who carries a couple of automatic pistols with roses on the pearl handles (ergo, guns and roses) -- takes one side in a gang war and proceeds to make his way through town with a young guy who seems to be apeing Warren Beatty as his sidekick. Harry's also got a girl, the comely Ann Turkel, while the kid latches onto a hooker named Baby who is, as Ty Webb said, rather attractive for a beautiful girl with a great body.

One other person of note for all you western fans: Chuck Connors as "Claw" Zuckerman, the bad guy's enforcer with ... wait for it ... a missing hand! Wonder how it went missing. Think Harry had anything to do with it? Still, there's a fun scene where Claw shows Baby all the things he can attach to his stump. Maybe he and Dr. Klahn from "Kentucky Fried Movie" can swap accessories.

Ultimately, this movie is the weird cousin of "Get Carter," with Harris as smoldering Irishman to Caine's smoldering Brit. He has plenty of tough guy scenes that are just kind of odd given that hair, and the movie overall is just a little bizarre. John Frankenheimer directed, and he's obviously done better, i.e. "The Manchurian Candidate." But this one also is no "Reindeer Games." Maybe group it with "Ronin." Not as serious, but more of a curiosity. And a better-looking girl named Baby than in that damn "Dirty Dancing."

No snatching, just puking: "The Invasion"

Hard to think of a movie that has been remade more the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." This version makes at least three since Kevin McCarthy ran rampant in the streets back in the '50s. Can't say it's any better than the other two, but it was worth a comparison, I guess.

Nicole Kidman is some kind of psychologist with a precocious little boy whose dad -- her ex-husband -- has gotten all weird. That's because he's a scientist called in to check out some gooey stuff found in the wreckage of a space shuttle. And when it comes to alien organisms spreading among the human race ... we're off!

Soon Nikki and son are feeling a little left out among the stoic weirdos walking around. Her buddy Daniel Craig, a doctor, and his buddy Jeffrey Wright, another doctor, feel the same way. Alas, more and more people get the bug, and it's clear that those who are a little bit off soon will be the majority ... unless our heroes can find some way to thwart them. Let the thwarting commence!

While I appreciated the changes to the story -- let's just say we never hear the word "pod" once -- there's still not much new here. The movie is done well enough, with some suspense as to just what will happen with the former Mrs. Cruise and the current Mr. Bond. But no, it's nothing momentous. Which may explain why I was completely unaware of this remake until stumbling across it on cable. Kind of shows you where Kidman -- an Oscar winner, mind you -- is in the Hollywood pecking order these days.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You'll never think of pubic hair the same way again: "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"

And really, isn't such life-changing stuff all you really want from a movie?

I remember being amused at the least and borderline enthused when I saw the trailer for this comedy earlier this year. No, it wasn't an event a la "The Dark Knight," but there seemed to be a decent amount of funny. Even if the name "Zohan" and "Borat" seemed awfully similar coming in such close proximity, the story looked funny enough.

Adam Sandler ("Airheads") is a top Israeli supersoldier, master of all things physical, social and sexual. We get an entertaining setup in Israel establishing this, then learn his dark secret: He wants to cut hair in the U.S. of A. So he fakes his death and steals away to New York, where he has a rough go at first but lands at a hole-in-the-wall salon where he can ply his trade. That is, hairstyling with some nookie in the bathroom for dessert.

While Zohan becomes a hit, some Palestinians who recognize him -- including ever-present Rob Schneider -- want to kill him for real. They're inept, though, which treats us to more ha-ha. In the meantime, sparks fly between Zohan and the salon owner, a Palestinian played by Emmanuelle "Much Hotter than in 'Entourage,' and That's Saying Something" Chriqui. Oh, and the main villain from back in Israel (John "I'll Be in Anything" Turturro) isn't totally out of the picture, either.

So yeah, all sorts of fun. Too bad the laughs aren't there. First, the whole hairstyling schtick has short legs to start with. So all that jazz about the need to cut hair and make people "silky smooth" wears thin fast. The "Zohan as Sex God" thing also is too one-note to keep going with. What made for a funny intro in Israel gets old before long. So do all the Middle Eastern digs, like the omnipresence of hummus. I get it. Really.

The stunt casting of Michael Buffer and Dave Matthews as bad guys, the bits parts by Chris Rock and Charlotte Rae (Yeah ... Mrs. Garrett), and the obligatory celebrity cameos (Mariah Carey, Kevin James and, sigh, John McEnroe) don't help at all. Nor does the semi-political message woven throughout and punctuated at the end. Think Rodney King.

In the end, sure, there's some funny stuff here, mostly at the start. But this is far from Sandler's best and probably would have been better if it didn't have all the usual Sandler crap -- from Schneider to the repetition of jokes/references that really aren't funny. Needed to be more biting and less boilerplate. But I'm sure Sandler will break the mold the next time around. What range!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank goodness it wasn't Daylight Savings Time that weekend: "High Noon"

Finally caught this classic western, which doesn't seem to be on TCM as much as others. Not only did I feel obligated to check this off the list as a would-be cineast, but I wanted to exactly see how a theme song with the refrain "Do Not Forsake Me" worked. As it turned out, surprisingly well.

Our story opens with the meandering song playing while three rough-looking fellas get together outside a dusty town. Turns out they're waiting for a train that will bring an even worse guy to town: a murderer who not only avoided the death penalty but got turned loose from jail. Drag.

Word of his arrival gets to the town marshal (Gary Cooper), who has just turned in his star after marrying a gorgeous blonde who looks totally out of place here (Grace Kelly). As much as he'd like to get on with his life, the marshal can't let this villain roam around town. So he's back on duty -- a decision virtually everyone opposes: his wife, his deputy (Lloyd Bridges) -- who feels cheated that he's not the new marshal -- and most of the town, where the outlaw has a bunch of friends.

So the story becomes Cooper running around trying to rustle up a posse to confront the bad guys when the train arrives at ... wait for it ... high noon. This means the bulk of the movie consists of two shots: (1) pained looks on Cooper's face, and (2) clocks. Lots of clocks. More clocks per capita than any town west of the Mississippi, I reckon.

Critics will tell you this is an allegory for the Joe McCarthy anticommunism witchhunts of the 1950s. That may be, but the movie works just fine as a simple countdown to a confrontation. It works so well that with all the tension about what this old marshal is going to do, the actual climax is a bit of a letdown.

Still, "High Noon" is a nice, uncomplicated western presented almost in real time, which is impressive for more than a half-century ago. Not my favorite of the genre, but better than many others, even without Bridges saying, "Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit sarsaparilla!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Anything to keep Willis from singing: "The Whole Nine Yards"

Yeah, I never saw this back in 2000. Must have been a matter of not really caring enough to hit the theater, and then never seeing it in the video store and saying, "All right!" But when it showed up on a free preview weekend for Movie Channel X -- can't remember which one, maybe Encore -- I thought, sure, why not? And you know what? No regrets.

Matthew Perry -- always annoying, but not painfully so here -- is a dentist in Montreal. His new neighbor is a former mob hitman gone into hiding, played by Pauly Shore. OK, it's actually Bruce Willis. When Perry recognizes the bad man, his wife (Rosanna "Playing French, but Looking Kind of Hot" Arquette) persuades him to go to Chicago and rat out Willis to the top mobster, Kevin Pollack, collecting a finder's fee along the way.

While there, our hero meets Willis' wife, the comely Natasha "All Downhill Since 'Species'" Hentsridge. But then things get all sneaky-deaky, with plotting and scheming and other fun players involved, namely Michael Clarke Duncan as another mob enforcer and Amanda Peet as Perry's secretary. Hold onto your hats, folks!

Actually, it's not a bad little story, and everyone seems to be having a good enough time. Like I said, Perry isn't so bad, and Willis is ... Willis. Nothing special, but not overboard, either. Arquette and Pollack are amusing enough, and Hentsridge is pretty but not as hot as in other movies.

The real gem here -- and I recall this from the reviews -- is Peet. She hadn't been around too much before this movie, and she's not only funny but pretty much smokes the other women for sexiness. And I'm not just saying that because she's the only one who shows her goodies, although that helps. Don't know if it was her hugely wide smile or her bright eyes or her general kookiness, but she's easily the best thing in this comedy-caper movie. Throw in the nice Montreal touches -- bridges and jazz -- and this movie is better than you might think.

I'm so gay for Tina Fey: "Baby Mama"

So she's a chick. I like the rhyme.

Even pre-Palin, I dug the glasses and didn't mind the scar. Heck, I didn't mind the little bit of back, either. So yeah, I didn't have a problem watching what seemed to be a so-so comedy featuring Fey and her partner in crime, the also kind of hot Amy Poehler.

Our story: Fey is a female exec who can't have a baby. So she gets a surrogate, the crazy Poehler. Meanwhile, can our heroine find love with Greg Kinnear, a juicer? And what of Poehler's redneckness and idiot husband? Hijinks ensue.

Some funny stuff here, thanks mostly to the two goofy ladies. But don't think this isn't pretty formulaic. Happens with almost any situation where two unlike people are thrown together. Usually it's cops, but same principle applies here. We don't get along. Then we do get along. Then ... crisis! You lied! I hate you! Then, reconciliation, with a splash of "a-ha, surprise!" (Which my wife saw coming a mile away, and I was right there with her.)

So yeah, not bad, but not revelatory. Bonus points for Steve Martin as a kooky health-food company founder. ("I want to reward you with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact.") And I'll say this about Dax Shepard: The guy does dumba$$ well. (See "Idiocracy" for more proof.) But demerit for the typical pimping of other SNL folks, such as Will Forte and Fred "Be Any Creepier?" Armisen. Still, love the glasses, Tina.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just glad they didn't go with the long title: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Yes, I was curious about this movie mostly because of the silly title. Then I saw that it was really long, and didn't see any reviews that made me think I SIMPLY HAD TO SEE IT IN THE THEATER, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY! So I waited, and there it was on one of those movie channels. Score.

Brad Pitt ("Cool World") is the first title character, and Casey "The One Who Can Act" Affleck is the second one, a sniveling little guy who idolizes the legendary outlaw ... right up to the time he kills him. If that sounds simple, well, it kind of is. But since this is a character study, we have to chew up more than two hours before we get to the big fat kill.

In the meantime, we see how the coward falls in with the James gang, how Jesse handles different guys' degrees of loyalty after their last heist and how guys do a lot more talking and staring than shooting. In case you get lost, a narrator pops up to point us in the right direction.

Among our supporting players are Sam Shepard as Frank James, Sam Rockwell as Affleck's older brother and another gang member, and Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt and Paul Schneider as other gang members. Schneider probably is the best, but they're all actually solid. So is Pitt, albeit largely restrained. I guess that's the idea - that Jesse was low-key guy with a family ... who could still kill folks as needed. I might not read too much into that as others, but sure, Pitt was OK.

Affleck, though, is the key, and he proves again that he's not afflicted with the same wooden nature as his better-looking brother. His Bob Ford is a hopeless worshipper who somehow thinks he's destined for greatness despite no evidence. How his character evolves to wimp to accidental assassin to celebrity to has-been is interesting, and Affleck pulls it off well.

Enough to make me love this movie? Not really. It's not necessarily too long for what it is, but it's still work to watch, and I wonder if we could have gotten the same character study with fewer scenes of silence. But it does look good, if only for all the different hats Affleck wears. Stovepipe ... bowler ... where's the beanie?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Until I find time to recap better movies

Please accept these rundowns of some rather middling features from the last couple of weeks. Have I built your excitement? Can you stand the suspense? Your wait is over!

How does this guy direct movies while wearing that straitjacket?: "Videodrome"

Because seriously ... David Cronenberg is one f*cked-up mother. And no, I'm not excusing "A History of Violence." Good movie, but some weirdness there, too. Don't get me wrong. The guy is never boring. But for every entertaining entry like "The Fly" or "Scanners," we get "Crash" or "Naked Lunch." Blech.

I remember seeing a little of "Videodrome" a long time ago. Now it's 25 years old. Whoa. James Woods is a TV programmer back in the days of big-ass satellite dishes and Betamax. He stumbles across some kind of snuff series and wants to find out more so he can get it on his Toronto channel. They're so enlightened north of the border.

Of course, his quest turns into a descent into weirdness. It's kind of hard to describe, with the rampant use of hallucinogens leading us to ask what's real and what's not. I'll admit some mild interest in seeing Debbie Harry of Blondie in a key roles, as well as Woods finding out that he suddenly has a kind of zipper belly. No more bikinis for you at the beach! In the end, though, it's all too bizarre, and in a mostly annoying way.

"Ghost" meets "River's Edge," except worse than either: "The Invisible"

First, crappy title. Too cute. It was the same thing with "The Forgotten." Works much better as an adjective, people. As a noun, you sound like a dipsh*t.

Our story has some kid who's got everything going for him, aside from having a dead dad, when he runs afoul of the high school toughs -- intriguingly led by a girl. After some deceit, the kids leave our hero for dead in the woods. But lo! It seems our guy is in limbo. That's how his ... soul? Essence? Avatar? Whatever it is, he's able to walk around like normal, except nobody can see him. Nice trick.

Once he learns he's not dead, he has to figure out a way to get through to the living so people can find his body. Along the way, his friend turns out not to be such a good friend, and that eeeeee-vil WO-man may not be so bad after all. You know, aside from the nearly killing him.

You know it's trouble when the metaphysics aren't the most farfetched thing in a movie. I don't think I can pick out a single believable character here, and it makes sense that there are few names of note in the cast. Well, one name: Marcia Gay Harden as our hero's mom. She made this the same year as "The Mist," and while that horror movie was actually OK, Harden was nutty. That Oscar for "Pollock" is fading in the rearview mirror, lady.

Not-so-great Scott: "Dan in Real Life"

Um, Mr. Carell? Jim Carrey called. He wants his schtick from "The Majestic" back.

Oh, OK ... this movie and performance aren't THAT bad. But they aren't good, either. Steve Carell is a widower with three kids who takes them to a family vacation in ... New England somewhere. Cape Cod? Who cares. Anyway, he bumps into a charming Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche) in the local bookstore. He goes back to tell the family about her, but lo! She's already there, on the arm of his younger brother. Bummer.

Unlike your standard crappy romantic comedy, we get a different kind of crappiness. You see, this extended family does all sorts of kooky stuff together. Games in the yard. Bowling. A ... ahem ... talent show(!?!??!?). I already was having problems with this movie -- mainly the age differences between Binoche and little brother (Dane "Nope, Still Can't Act" Cook) and Carell and a would-be paramour played by Emily Blunt, who's hot but a good 20 years younger, I think.

But when the age gaps and personality gaps aren't nearly as hard to swallow as all the family crap, well ... problem. Binoche and Carell try, but ... no. Put it this way: It reminded me of "The Family Stone," and usually the very mention of that movie makes me physically cringe. Really, I'm cringing right now. Cringe.

This, on the other hand, is some casting: "Extreme Prejudice"

Nick Nolte, sure, but get a load of this collection: Powers Boothe, Rip Torn, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe. Throw in Tiny Lister and the gay black guy from "Revenge of the Nerds," and we're cooking! Hell, you had me at Ironside and Brown ...

Directed by Walter "More bullets! MORE!" Hill, our story has Nolte as a Texas Ranger and Boothe as his former pal and current drug lord across the border. Most of the rest of the fellas are former military guys who now do black-bag ops -- like the lingo? -- and have a particular interest in Boothe. We get plenty of talky-talky up front, but you just know the sh*t is going to go down OK Corral style when all is said and done.

Among all these fine actors, Boothe probably is the best, doing his sh*t-eating grin thing while strutting about in a suit on loan from Mr. Roarke. Nolte is OK, but a little hard to take seriously with his cowboy hat pulled down so low. The other guys all do their usual thing -- Ironside as a hardass, Brown as a redneck, Forsythe as a slob -- and do it well.

In the end, there's not as much to this movie as I would have liked. It's far from Hill's best -- that would be "48 Hrs." -- and I'll always have a soft spot for "Streets of Fire." (Two words: Diane Lane.) But hey, it's not bad, and if you've ever wondered what Maria Conchita Alonso looked like in the shower 20 years ago ...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Average nose, average actor: Luke Wilson double feature

Because really, can you think of a movie in which you said, "Wow, that Luke Wilson really knocked it out of the pakr!" Sure, he was amusing as the somewhat straight guy in "Old School" and had a funny little cameo in "Anchorman." Beyond that? Eh, not so much. And these two movies don't exactly change my thinking.

Maybe if the bed had Magic Fingers ... "Vacancy"

Never heard of this movie but was intrigued when it popped up on cable the other night. That had less to do with Lukey Boy and more to do with Kate Beckinsale -- woof -- as well as the seedy plot: unsuspecting couple checks into remote motel and finds that they're to star in a snuff film. So do I get a AAA discount or what?

(And I love that it's yet another unsuspecting couple. Just once, we need to see a suspicious couple. "You know, honey, this looks like a big set-up by some bad people. I know it.")

Wilson and Beckinsale bicker in their car, clearly carrying some baggage. Of course, people trying to kill them on videotape tends to bring people together. Overall, it's a pretty simple story that could have been told in a half-hour or so; the couple's background and a lot of the atmosphere shots seemed unnecessary padding.

But hey, we get Frank Whaley as the twitchy motel clerk, and I'll admit to being curious how these crazy kids would get out of this mess. Dumb stuff, true, but you'll never look at motel videotapes the same way again. Mainly because nobody has videotapes anymore. (And this movie was made last year.)

A scarier and more possible future than "Blade Runner" or "Robocop," that's for sure: "Idiocracy"

This one I had heard of, but only passingly. Not sure it was ever in theaters, but I guess it's got a bit of a cult following. Figures, since it's a Mike Judge movie. Considering how much some people worship "Office Space," they'd watch him have Butt-head read "War and Peace" on screen.

Another simple plot: Wilson is an average, maybe slightly dim soldier who, along with a hooker (Maya Rudolph), becomes part of a top-secret hibernation program. Instead of a year, though, they wake up 500 years later, when humankind has devolved to the point of everyone being idiots. (Note: It took me three tries to get that last word right just now. First idoits, then iditos. Clearly this movie had an impact.)

In this future, people love the TV show "Ow! My Balls!" and the movie "Ass." Wilson stumbles around a bit but is soon revealed to be the smartest man alive, and as such must solve big problems, like getting crops to grow. Easier said than done, and hijinks ensue.

Lots of clever little funnies here, from the aforementioned programming to the solider in charge of the hibernation program -- "A pimp's love is very different from that of a square" -- to my favorite bit, the cigarette billboard: "If you don't smoke Tarryltons ... F*ck You!" That was kind of awesome.

I wouldn't say there's anything bad about "Idiocracy," but there's also nothing amazing. Like I said, some funnies here and there, and some gags that fall flat. Hey, we're not talking about "Schindler's List" here. IMDb shows the runtime at 84 minutes, but I think it was more like 75. Still a good 15 minutes more than it needed to be, but passable comedy all the same. (Can't wait to see that on the DVD cover: "Passable comedy!" -- Movievangelist. Someday ... )

Sunday, October 05, 2008

But I always get the ones with all cherry cordials: "Forrest Gump"

I'll spare you the long version, but suffice it to say I've had a problem with this movie ever since it beat out "Pulp Fiction" for the 1995 Best Picture Oscar. Oh, I had never seen "Forrest Gump." Didn't see it before the Oscars, and I damn sure wasn't going to see if afterward. I mean, what the f*ck? Say what you want about Tarantino, but "Pulp Fiction" is a masterpiece, and nobody can argue which movie was more influential and holds up better today. Meanwhile, ask someone about "Gump" these days, and it's just a bunch of horsesh*t about chocolates. Good god.

(Bet you're glad you didn't get the long version.)

Anyway, so yeah ... I never saw "Gump" out of protest. It helped that I also never hung around anyone who said, "Hey, I'm in a 'Gump" mood tonight. Pop that baby in!" But you know, as a person gets older, he reflects on the childish stubbornness of his youth, and I guess 13+ years was long enough. After recording this notorious movie from HBO or Starz or something like that, I finally sucked it up, sat down and gave it a whirl.

Verdict: Eh.

We all know the story. An affable low-IQ guy (Tom "He Knows You're Alone" Hanks) ambles through life, comes into contact with all sorts of famous people and is revealed to be the inspiration behind many cultural landmarks, from Elvis Presley's gyrations to the "Sh*t Happens" bumper sticker. All the while, he pines for his childhood love, Jenny, who generally sucks. And that's it.

Oh, but it's not. You see, this simpleton is actually wise in his own way. And he changes so many lives as he just goes along, simply doing what he does. Much of the movie is told in flashback, with Forrest sitting on a bench at a bus stop, regaling seatmates with his stories and wisdom -- starting with that damn box of chocolates line.

Among our characters: Robin Wright Penn as Jenny, Gary Sinise and Mykelti Williamson as fellow soldiers in Vietnam, and Sally Field as his mama. Then there are the real historical figures: JFK, LBJ, John Lennon, George Wallace, Dick Cavett. You see, the neat trick with this movie is how Forrest is inserted into real archive footage, so as to really drive home how this dolt popped up through history.

By this point, you probably think I'm down on "Gump." Not entirely. Hanks is good. Annoying, true, mainly by nature of his character. But the guy ran with the role, and rare was the time I thought he fell short. His Oscar, I can live with. I'd say all the supporting folks were fine, too, and sure, I liked little Forrest with the leg braces. And the story? I suppose it was nice.

But if I no longer have a visceral hatred for this movie, I can't call it anything amazing. First, it's too damn long. We definitely could have done with fewer episodes from Forrest's whirlwind life. Second, and related, the Forrest-Jenny stuff -- even if it's all about the true love of a simpleton -- was too dragged out and irritating. Honestly, the chick really did suck. I guess that's the point; Forrest loved her no matter what and didn't know better, and would wait forever for her. In fact, I'm sure that's the point. Guess what? I really didn't care.

Maybe that's my problem with the movie. It was fine and watchable -- given the time -- and all that. But this whole "a child shall lead them " and the key to redemption -- not just with Jenny, but Sinise's Lt. Dan -- is in the love of a dullard just wasn't for me.

It's really interesting that this came out the same year as "Pulp Fiction," which is most decidedly not sweet or inspiring. There's probably a good film school thesis to be written about the world being divided into "Gump" people and "Pulp" people. Chocolates in the box vs. who-knows-what in the briefcase. Vincent Vega vs. Bubba. I'll get right on that. Right after I get Jules to go all Ezekiel 25:17 on Forrest. We'll see just how fast you run, dumbass.