Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm so there. (Meow.)

You know, if this were a real movie. Let me know how many actors/movies you see captured in this fan "trailer." I almost lost count.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What about the guy who played Cameron Diaz's brother in "There's Something About Mary?" He went full retard ... and was brilliant!: "Tropic Thunder"

It's not a stretch to say this was the most excited I had been for a new DVD release in some time. It was the one movie from the summer I wanted to see but didn't. Well, that and "Sex and the City." People always say I'm a Miranda, but these days I feel more like a Charlotte ...

Our story: A bunch of spoiled actors and an in-over-his-head British director are filming a Vietnam War movie on location in the jungle. Behind schedule after only one week and under pressure from the producer -- more on him in a bit -- the director (Steve Coogan) follows the advice of the war hero who wrote the book (Nick Nolte) and takes the cast deep into the sh!t to film them guerilla-style. Alas, the sh!t really is the Sh!t, with drug runners mixing it up with our hapless heroes.

Who are these actors-turned-soldiers? Glad you asked:
  • Action movie star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), trying to keep his career alive after a bunch of stupid sequels to his first big movie, "Scorcher," and an ill-advised attempt to gain respectability by playing a retarded guy in "Simple Jack." Whoa.
  • Acclaimed award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Australian who has his skin pigment darkened to play a black character. Double whoa.
  • Comedy star and serial farter Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), who also comes with a serious drug habit. Bonus!
  • Rap star Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), focused on pitching his advertising tie-ins, most notably a drink called Booty Sweat. Yum.

Also part of the fun are a geeky straight man played by Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up") and a special effects guy (Danny McBride). Oh, and Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise

Wait. What's that?

McConaughey is Tugg's agent, and while it's fun to see him goofing in this role -- "You didn't get the TiVo?" -- Cruise as the movie producer is a sight to behold. Words simply do not do him justice.

I remember some of the reviews saying he was unrecognizable. Wrong. You can tell it's Cruise -- not only the voice, but those eyes and the glare behind the bald head and bulky body. That's what makes him all the more hilarious. Here's Mr. Movie Star not only looking atrocious, but spewing venom and being a Grade A Dipsh!t. And on purpose for once! I can't decide what I loved more: his rant against the drug runners holding Tugg hostage or the overture to McConaughey, complete with gyrations to "Low" by Flo Rida. As Mr. William Ocean might say, "Simply ... awesome."

There are more laughs, of course. Downey is pretty good, refusing to break character even as the filming falls apart. Stiller seemed weak at first but comes through nicely, especially after being captured and forced to re-live his "Simple Jack" days. Black doesn't get as much to do but has a couple of funny scenes, including his desperate offer to Alpa Chino while in withdrawl. I know this is the holiday season, but he ain't talking about turkey and potatoes when he says "swallow the gravy."

My dad had a good point when he said "Tropic Thunder" would have been really funny if it had come out after "Platoon" and that wave of Vietnam movies in the '80s. Even so, this is a pretty good commentary -- on war movies, yes, but moreso on actors' egos. Hell, the fake trailers before the movie -- each for a "movie" starring one of the "Thunder" actors -- were spot-on and maybe funnier than the movie itself. As soon as Netflix has "Satan's Alley," I'm there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Anything that keeps Benny Boy from in FRONT of the camera ... : "Gone Baby Gone"

Wanted to see this drama/mystery in the theater but never made it. So it jumped to the top of the Netflix queue -- rare in these days when She Who Lights My World has taken over the management of our roster. Yeah ... you know who wears the pants in this family.

Our story begins with Boston transfixed by a missing little girl. After a few days, the aunt and uncle go to a boyfriend-girlfriend detective team -- no, not Hart to Hart -- for help. Why didn't the missing girl's mom ask? Because she's a colossal loser. Really ... she must be seen to be believed, all the way to the end. Meanwhile, the police aren't jazzed about the private dicks being involved.

That in itself might be enough drama, but our story takes a few twists and turns starting at the halfway point. Probably one too many, but the payoff is interesting. At first I thought it was too neat. Then I learned I was quite wrong, and this is one time that the term "moral dilemma" is very accurate.

Great cast here, starting with Casey Affleck as the P.I. Mostly known as Ben's little brother, Casey is by far the better actor, mainly because he actually can act. Witness the recent Jesse James movie, as well as supporting turns in the "Ocean's" movies and "The Last Kiss." Michelle Monaghan is his girlfriend, Ed Harris is a cop, Morgan Freeman is a higher-ranking cop, and solid supporting actors Amy Madigan (the aunt), John Ashton (cop) and Titus Welliver (the uncle) are also on hand.

Then there's Amy Ryan, the sleazy mother whose mouth puts Lenny Bruce to shame. Whoa, baby. She never disappoints -- from "The Wire" to "The Office." Still, this is a new level, and god bless her chutzpah. Good for the Academy for noticing her and doling out an Oscar nom.

Directed by Ben Affleck -- not a typo -- "Gone Baby Gone" seems to have the Boston atmosphere and mannerisms down pat, and I definitely appreciated the mood, even if it seemed a little too much like "Mystic River." No surprise, since both were Dennis Lehane novels. Yet you wonder if Affleck had it easier following Eastwood's "River." No matter, since he does a fine job here.

If I could complain about anything, it would be the way all is revealed. Didn't care much for it in "River," and it's the same style here. Seems a little made-for-TV, even if the story is still good and things -- as in "River" -- are not wrapped up all nice and neat. A minor quibble, to be sure, and nothing to keep anyone from watching and appreciating this movie. Like I said, Affleck's the real deal. He's come a long way from swallowing a bug as Damon wooed Driver.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

While waiting for the release of "Moneypenny: The Experimental University Years" ...

So you know I saw "Quantum of Solace" recently, and had another viewing of "Casino Royale" right before that. In addition, I'm always popping in an older James Bond movie every other week, it seems. Ergo, it's time for another ranking of Bond films.

(Note: I actually looked at my last ranking recently, and while I've since forgotten where many films placed, this list is sure to be different. Maybe it's because I'm older. Maybe it's because I've seen certain movies more recently. Maybe it's because I'm off my medication. You know what? Doesn't matter. Don't like what you see? Bugger off.)

23. Moonraker: Always been disappointed with this, and time has not treated it well. Even a Bond woman named Holly Goodhead doesn't keep it out of the basement.

22. A View to a Kill: What p!sses me off most about this is its kickass start -- the snowboarding and the theme song -- and that it's all way downhill from there.

21. Die Another Day: Or, "Why We Had to Drop Brosnan." Similar to Roger Moore, things were getting tired with Pierce, and Halle Berry and a stupid diamonds/North Korea/laser satellite plot didn't help.

20. Tomorrow Never Dies: Saw this again recently -- it's one of the few I don't own -- and was pretty bummed. Michelle Yeoh can't redeem this ridiculous story.

19. The World is Not Enough: Yeah, Brosnan doesn't fare too well on the list. This movie looks good and has a nice opener, but Denise Richards and a somewhat silly villain are big drawbacks.

18. The Man with the Golden Gun: Kind of boring, actually, plus a villain you really can't hate too much, and the unfortunate return of that redneck sheriff from "Live and Let Die."

17. Live and Let Die: I like Jane Seymour, and Moore isn't bad in his first turn. But the voodoo/New Orleans/Harlem stuff didn't seem a great fit with our favorite Brit.

16. Diamonds are Forever: Speaking of bad fits ... I don't like Bond in Vegas. And I don't like Connery looking his age. But I'd be remiss if I ignored an overlooked Bond girl: Plenty O'Toole.

15. You Only Live Twice: I need to see this again, but I've never been jazzed about the Japan setting and passing Bond off as an Asian guy.

14. Never Say Never Again: A "Thunderball" remake, but Connery looks better than in "Diamonds," and is kind of funny in his old age. And Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush ... woof.

13. The Living Daylights: The Timothy Dalton era, short as it was, has grown on me, and I like his first turn more each time I see it.

12. Quantum of Solace: This seems about right for an entry that everyone agrees is a drop-off from Daniel Craig's first turn but isn't bad at all, especially with the early action and the revenge theme.

11. Octopussy: As Dalton has risen, Moore has fallen in my eyes, and I don't dig this salaciously titled movie as much as before. Still, the knife-throwing twins are cool.

10. GoldenEye: Brosnan actually debuted well, showing more edge than I expected. Good combo on emotion and gadgetry, with a couple of hot women and the introduction of Dame Judi Dench as M.

9. Licence to Kill: I've really come around on this one. Much more down with the revenge and rogue agent stuff, even if some of the other folks are cartoonish here.

8. For Your Eyes Only: I'll confess a soft spot here, appreciating Moore's bounceback from "Moonraker" and the cool ski chase scenes.

7. On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Speaking of skiing, some good action here, too, although the story -- Bond gets married! -- and George Lazenby holding his own after the Connery legend are the real story here.

6. Thunderball: Some people say this is bloated, but I think it slows down only in the water, and by that time we've had plenty of good action and a smokin' redheaded villainess. Oh, mama.

5. Casino Royale: Too high? I say no, considering it's a successful reinvention of the franchise when the odds were stacked heavily against a 1960s Cold War spy surviving in theaters. Craig handles his debut perfectly.

4. Dr. No: The first and one of the best, with Bond a little rough around the edges -- although not as much as in "Royale" -- and Connery setting the tone for a tremendous run.

3. From Russia With Love: Watched this again this week, and it's solid after all these years. Great Cold War back-and-forth, and perhaps the strongest sidekick to Bond in Ali Kerim Bey.

2. The Spy Who Loved Me: Easily Moore's best, and an amazing combo of plot, gadgets and arguably the best Bond girl, Barbara Bach as Triple-X. Not enough? How about the introduction of metal-mouthed Jaws?

1. Goldfinger: It's been a while since I've seen it, but I still can't think of anything that knocks it from the top spot. Villain, plot, girls, henchman, gadgets ... this has it all. Not to mention Connery at his finest, before he started to get bored. Yes, you could say it has the Midas touch.

So now I'm wondering where this leaves us when it comes to the best Bond. Conventional wisdom is that it's Connery. Let's check the averages, based on the above (highly scientific) ranking. Remember, the lower the number for a movie, the higher the ranking. So a lower average would bode well for the actor hoping to claim the title.

Connery: 16+15+14+6+4+3+1 = 59 / 7 = 8.43

Lazenby: 7 = 7 /1 = 7

Moore: 23+22+18+17+11+8+2 = 101 / 7 = 14.43

Dalton: 13+9 = 22 / 2 = 11

Brosnan: 21+20+19+10 = 70 / 4 = 17.5

Craig: 12 + 5 = 17 / 2 = 8.5

Since we pretty much have to throw out Lazenby, that leaves us with this list of best to worst Bonds, based on their respective movies:


I can live with that. Dalton didn't stick around long enough to turn in any dogs, and Craig still needs to prove himself a little more. Heck, he could dip just as Moore and Brosnan did (and Connery for that matter). I guess we'll just have to see. James Bond will return.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's all about strategery: "W."

So My Forever Luminescence and I stole away to see this movie one recent Saturday. Had some free passes to Ye Olde Moviehouse, and since both of us are big old welfare queen-enabling liberals ... heck yeah we wanted to see if Oliver Stone savaged the prez in the same way he did the NFL!

Verdict: entertaining, but nothing life-altering here.

As we all know, Stone took on the unorthodox task of doing a movie about a sitting president that wasn't a documentary. Nope ... it's all Stone doing his Stone thing. In this case, we jump back and forth in time, with scenes from George W. Bush the formative years in Texas mixed with Bush dealing with the aftermath of 9/11. Talk about two different sets of circumstances. To say nothing of the stakes ...

Our cast is impressive. Josh Brolin as W, and Elizabeth "I'm in EVERYTHING these days" Banks as Laura Bush. Ellen Burstyn as Babs. James Cromwell as Poppy. Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. Scott Glenn as Rummy. Thandie Newton as Condi. Toby Jones as Karl Rove. Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. And many others, including Bruce McGill, a personal fave, as CIA director George Tenet. So plenty of bonafide actors here.

And for the most part, they fill their parts well -- some better than others. Dreyfuss is definitely the best. He really becomes Cheney, thanks to the physical resemblance, and it's damn spooky. Wright and Newton are pretty good, too, with Newton especially having the Condi style -- not so much the speech -- down. Glenn, Burstyn, Banks and Cromwell don't look as much like their characters, but they're pros, so no harm done.

Of course, what we all want to know is if Brolin delivered the goods (with Stone's help). I'd say 75% yes. The physical resemblance isn't great. I mean, he's better looking than Bush, and putting a gray wig on him and having him ape the prez doesn't obscure that. But he gives it a good go, and there were times when the performance went beyond parody to really channeling the guy. One example that comes to mind is him trying to dress down Cheny -- whom he calls "Vice," which is hilarious -- after group meetings. I can totally see that happening in Bush's first term, as he tries to wrap his head around all this Al Qaeda-Iraq-thingamajig.

In the end, "W." was interesting enough but not shocking or thought-provoking. Yes, it was nice to see how young George's life and missteps helped shaped the man he is -- and isn't -- today. But I wasn't surprised by any of it, and it all kind of just made me sad. And maybe wondering when change would come to America ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On football, parallel universes and damned dirty apes

Stay tuned for posts on more substantive movies soon. Until then ...

The lack of adequate skull protection explains a lot: "Leatherheads"

Part of this was shot in North Carolina, and I like George Clooney. Neither of these facts persuaded me to see Clooney's take on the origins of pro football in the theater, but we rented it for when the in-laws were in town for Thanksgiving. I should have stuck with not seeing it.

Clooney is an aging pro football player back in the 1920s, when pro football was for bums and teams were folding left and right. Our hero gets the bright idea of recruiting a star college player and World War I hero (Jim from "The Office) to give the pros some credibility. Meanwhile, a scrappy newspaper reporter (Renee Zellweger) is investigating the war hero to see if his story is true. Gee, any chance that sparks will fly among these three?

Clooney does his charm thing, although it's even lighter than usual. Zellweger is OK, I suppose. Jim is ... Jim. Not much range there. Otherwise, we get some oddball supporting guys and a lot of 1920s atmosphere -- cars, gamblers, speakeasys, etc. It looks good enough, I suppose, but I didn't care much about the story before I saw the movie, and nothing I saw changed my mind.

Hell, if Van Damme can play twins ... : "The One"

I vaguely recall this coming and going several years ago, when Jet Li's star was on the rise. This movie didn't exactly help that, and it's not hard to see why.

Li plays multiple roles, but mainly two guys who are the same guy in parallel universes. You see, there are a bunch of different universes in existence at once, with the same person leading different lives in each. But one guy (Li) is killing off the other guys in the other universes to make himself stronger, faster, deadlier and so on. Soon it comes down to him (the villain) and one other version of him (our hero). And if we learned anything from "Highlander," it's that there can be only one.

Other players include Delroy Lindo and a pre-"Transporter" Jason Statham as trans-universe cops and Carla Gugino as Li's woman. While "The One" is generally silly -- and short; felt like a TV pilot -- I have to admit I liked the concept a little, and there were some decent fight scenes. And hey, any world in which we can imagine a President Al Gore in 2001 ...

Chucky see, Chucky do: "Planet of the Apes"

I love this movie. Charlton Heston overacting, creepy music, talking monkeys, that final scene (see Heston overacting) ... just love it.

You know the story. Heston and a couple of astronauts crash on a strange planet in the distant future, and soon learn it's ruled by apes, and that man is the primitive species. This leads to all sorts of down-is-up moments, and eventually to Heston conspiring with a couple of ape scientists to get away. But who knows what secrets lie in the Forbidden Zone?

Two things worth mentioning until the next time I see this and inevitably post something on it again:

1. The buildup in the first half-hour of this movie is great. After the crash landing, we get this barren landscape and spooky music. Then we see some humans. Then ... well, we learn the reason behind the title. I've always loved the unveiling of the apes.

2. I notice something new each time I watch this movie. This last time, it was the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" bit during Heston's trial. Awesome.

Yeah, I have a definite soft spot for this one. "The Omega Man," too. "Soylent Green," not so much. Still, you can't deny that my fellow Northwestern grad -- best known as Moses -- delivered the goods when it came to late '60s and early '70s sci-fi. Funny how that didn't lead his obit ...

Monday, December 08, 2008

How about everything that would make at least a halfway decent movie?: "Wanted"

I like dumb action movies. You know this. Or do you need me to pontificate on "The Last Boy Scout" some more?

Here's the thing, though. I didn't think "Wanted" would be that dumb ... or all that bad. I distinctly recall seeing the trailers for both this and "Jumper" several months ago. Both trailers were OK, but I knew "Jumper" would blow. "Wanted?" Eh, could be OK, and it even made my list of movies to see over the summer -- the lucky half-dozen that would be worth my preciuous time should I steal away from the redheads. Alas, "Wanted" was the one big movie I missed.

Wait ... hold the "alas." Like I said, the movie wasn't good. Thank goodness I didn't pay a dime to see it, scoring a free pass to a new theater opening that was showing second-run movies. Turns out they were second-rate, too.

Our story: After a bam-pow intro showing what will be the movie's signature effects, we meet James McAvoy as an office drone whining about his life in truly annoying voiceover. Along comes Angelina Jolie, who says she's an assassin, and that his daddy was an assassin, and that another top assassin killed his daddy and is trying to kill him. And here Jimmy just wanted some pills to take his mind off his wife getting boinked by his work buddy.

We soon learn about the Fraternity, a brotherhood of assassins trying to hunt down the rogue assassin who killed Jimmy's dad. Jimmy apparently has the touch and is trained to go after this guy. Between this story and some of the slo-mo special effects, comparisons to "The Matrix" aren't far off. Just sub out dodging bullets with making them curve, and voila! Rip-off time.

Of course, things aren't as they seem, and our hero finds himself facing some tough choices and calls to action. While the big twist was the only halfway decent thing about this movie, everything else was bad enough that I audibly laughed multiple times. And nobody was telling jokes.

Let's see ... the narration undermines any drama and action. Every actor has done better stuff by far. So good in "The Last King of Scotland," McAvoy really is slumming here. Hell, his character is named Wesley. Wesley? Our hero ... Wesley? Ugh. Jolie is mailing it in, getting by on her smolder-smolder thing and throwing us an a$$ shot -- but no t!ts ... all respectable now. But because she's named "Fox" and has a bunch of tattoos, we're supposed to be ga-ga for her. Not this time.

Most disappointing of all is Morgan Freeman as Jolie's boss. For a while, he's just doing the Morgan thing, which is a bummer in itself. Really? More of this? Can't you even try? But then he goes in another, sillier direction, and I just about threw up my hands. I mean, Morgan has done some mediocre stuff, but this is definitely down there.

What's that, you say? Who cares about the acting in an action movie? Well, I agree. Too bad, the action sucked, too. Aside from a couple of semi-clever car stunts, all the whiz-bang is pretty dumb, including the slo-mo gunshots. Throw in the inane backstory on this assassins group and how they get their targets -- it's stunning, really -- and this movie is not far from a total failure. Remember, I saw it for free. And yet, I definitely paid a price.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Good thing I had +12 empathy and was wearing my Cloak of Pity: "Darkon"

And if I screwed up the D&D lingo, well, silly me for having a life in high school. That's right ... I wasn't a role-playing geek. Too busy conquering the world in Risk.

If you've seen "Role Models," this documentary is a fantastic complement. If you haven't, "Darkon" is still fascinating. I don't recall the exact wording when I stumbled across this movie recently -- I had never heard a thing about it -- but it was something like "Adult gamesters turn Baltimore into a medieval battleground." Oh, I am so there ...

Our story is simple: Regular people of various occupations, ages, etc., participate in ... well, let's just go to the Web site: "A full-contact medieval fantasy wargaming group, active in the Baltimore/Washington area since 1985. Every other Sunday, between 150 and 300 members gather in costume and armor to fight unchoreographed mock battles with padded weaponry."

Yeah, I know. And yes, these are a bunch of dorks. But that's OK. This is what they want to do. And really, just because society says guys who wear pads and helmets and try to move an oblong ball back and forth on a field are idols, while guys who wear pads and helmets and beat each other with swords are geeks ... well, that's just not fair.

The movie focuses on four principal characters: the top dog in Darkon who has grown as a man along with the game; his would-be usurper; a stripper-turned-single mom living in her parents' basement; and a chubby teenage boy. Of those, the woman's story is the least interesting, while the kid's is the most touching. With little going for him in the real world, Darkon is his refuge, and when he talked about the game giving him courage to maybe one day talk to a girl, my heart just about broke in two.

Fear not, though. There's still a lot of silliness here, especially when it comes to the battle for power. You see, Keldar and country of Mordom have been on top for a while. Bannor of Laconia, however, thinks Mordom isn't really concerned about the realm as much as just keeping everyone else down.

In this world, Bannor is Skip, a househusband and father who's background is a little on the pathetic side. Keldar is Kenyon, who comes across as a self-made businessman who generally has his act together. To say their real-life roles cross over into Darkon is not an overstatement. We see other examples of this, too, with one great scene in which a guy complains about the politics and cliques in Darkon, and how there didn't seem to be a place for him. Dude ... isn't Darkon the place for people who don't have a place in the real world? If that doesn't work out ... whoa.

I can't recommend this movie highly enough. It's not the best documentary I've ever seen, but the subject is highly entertaining. Sure, the "battles" are funny; gotta love the minivans and soccer goals in the background, as well as the plywood fort for one big clash. But the politics are better. My favorite part may have been Keldar calling out Bannor on his power grab, and Bannor trying to talk tough in Middle Ages speak. High comedy. Clearly Bannor had a -6 smack-talking.