Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I will save you some trouble

Honestly, I'm too d*mn tired to put much into a post right now. That happens when you're less than a week from welcoming Kid No. 2 into the house. But hey, I'll get plenty of rest after he/she's born, right?

Anyway, here are two stupid movies that you need to avoid, because they aren't stupid in a good way.

C'mon ... don't you feel more than a little silly?: "The Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer"

Really, what's the point of your "superheroes trying to have real lives" thing when the recent Spider-Man and Batman movies have done this a whole lot better?

We had an HBO free preview weekend recently, so I recorded this follow-up to the lame original. It's just as bad if not worse. Yeah, it's kind of neat to see the shiny guy on the surfboard. And the predicament of the Four swapping powers here and there was interesting.

But for the most part, this tale of how our heroes must save the world while Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl try to get married was not only dumb, but kind of boring. You'd like to think the effects and action would help, but they didn't. The greatest travesty: Jessica Alba didn't look all that hot. Now that's just sad.

Read this carefully: Three Oscar winners are in this movie: "Fred Claus"

Nope, not a misprint, and not for the technical awards, either. We're talking Kevin Spacey, Rachel Weisz and Kathy Bates. Then there's Paul Giamatti, who has been nominated once and should have been a second time. Geez ... talk about slumming.

Our story: Nicholas Claus (Giamatti), who went on to become the Santa we know and love, has an older brother, Fred, who is a loser. Seems a good role for Vince Vaughn, right? And he does his Vince Vaughn thing. And how. I watched this, and I was picking out this bit from "Old School" and that bit from "The Break-Up" and that bit from "Wedding Crashers" (directed by the same guy here). And so on and so forth. Range? Yeah, no.

As Fred works with his brother to repay bail money -- or something like that -- an evil corporate type (Spacey) wants to shut down the North Pole. It's all rather stupid, and I felt sorry for pretty much everyone. (Well, except Vaughn, who by most accounts is an ass.) In the end, I counted exactly two things worth seeing here:

1. Elizabeth Banks looked hot in her little North Pole uniform.

2. The scene with the support group for siblings of famous people. Didn't see it coming, and loved the real-life sibs sharing their stories. Can't we all use a little more Frank Stallone in our lives?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All hail this holiest of days

Special thanks to regular reader slumus lordicus for flagging the significance of today's date. A mere 44 years ago, the Almighty bestowed onto the world one Diane Lane. You'd think this date would be burned into my brain. Alas, it isn't -- simply because I believe Diane Lane is not of this earth. (In a good way. A very good way.)

Enjoy this clip that, as much as anything, represents the genesis of my ... um, interest in Ms. Lane. I saw "The Outsiders" only recently, and "Lady Beware" came in my teen years. I guess I was into her in "Six Pack," but we were both a little young then.

"Streets of Fire," though. Well, I'll let the video speak for itself. Never mind that this movie is now 25 years old. And sure, that's someone else's voice. But the look! The showmanship! The slinky dress! Happy Birthday, Diane.

(Want more? I know you do. Here's her other big number from that movie.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Or ... werewolf vs. vampire: "Frost/Nixon"

Seriously, look it up. Michael Sheen played a werewolf in those crappy "Underworld" movies, while Frank Langella was Dracula in some cheesy '70s movie. Also, I'm pretty sure David Frost and Richard Nixon each had supernatural powers themselves.

We've all heard about this acclaimed adaptation of a play inspired by the (apparently) legendary post-resignation interviews of Nixon by Frost, up to that point known for his celebrity stuff. Ron Howard was at the helm, and along with the two leads, we get Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon in key supporting roles -- the first two on Frost's side (sort of), the last the right-hand man to Tricky Dick.

Our story: Nixon, disgraced, goes into hiding. Everyone wants an interview. Frost, doing his light schtick on shows in England and Australia, see a chance to make it big in America, where he had a show canceled. He's willing to pay big for the chance to talk to Nixon, but there are a couple of problems: U.S. networks don't want to air it, and as such, advertisers aren't signing on. Yet Frost persists, and the interviews eventually are set.

Act Two (Brute? Thank you, "Police Squad"): the interviews. Oh, it is SO on. Except Nixon, despite seeming the beaten-down man, doesn't roll over. And Frost, despite his bravado, finds he's in over his head. Can this controversial project be saved?

I won't lie: I went into this movie worried it would be just two guys sitting in leather chairs jawing at each other. But there's more to it, with all the stuff about putting this thing together and what we learn about David Frost -- and Nixon, although not as much -- in the process. And once we get to it, the jawing is pretty good. (Cliche alert!) The chess match between these two is fun to watch, especially since you know there are four interviews in the deal. Heck, it's not so different from a football or basketball game, with one side going up and the other under pressure to pull out a win.

Solid performances all around. The supporting guys all nail their roles and manage to show dimension beyond their prescribed places; Bacon is probably the best. As for the leads -- both of whom had these roles on the stage -- Langella is good, but you know, it's just hard to take anyone who plays Nixon seriously. He's such a caricature now, and while Langella is solid, there were a few times when that cartoonish air came through.

That's one reason why Sheen as Frost is more impressive. Another is ... Sheen is just more impressive. I'll admit that I couldn't pick Frost out of a lineup and therefore have no idea how spot-on Sheen is. But this situation isn't so different from "Walk the Line."

No, Frost and Nixon don't sing a duet on stage. But that movie had an iconic figure and another person (his wife) at its center, and Reese Witherspoon was better than Joaquin Phoenix. Here, Sheen not only nails the fluffy Brit thing but also gives Frost some depth. There's the glam exterior, and then the struggling core. I don't know ... just seemed more real to me than Nixon. And that's with Langella doing a pretty damn good job.

These a little things, of course. The movie is good and well worth seeing, even if you didn't know there ever were Frost/Nixon interviews (as I didn't). Probably Howard's best movie, too. Some might say "Apollo 13," and that's the one I'd consider instead. Others might say "A Beautiful Mind," which I've never seen. And then there's the truth. Someday, the Academy will look back and realize the grave injustice it committed by denying a Best Picture nomination to "Gung Ho."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We all know what his casket will be made of

Rich Corinthian leather.


This is shame. I'll have to break out my white suit tonight. And go find one of those bugs to put in Chekov's ear.

Also, enjoy the ad that introduced his leather fetish. Note that he actually prefers "soft," not "rich."

Now he's Number Six feet under


My pal Tex asked me to post this. I did so not because "The Prisoner" was the sh*t -- it was OK, not amazing -- but because I got to write that headline. It's the little things that give me joy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bing, bang, boom: It's on

Too many movies, too little time. Let's go.

Suicide Kings: Pretty sure I saw this tale of twentysomething punks who kidnap a mob boss and hold him for ransom, but I wasn't 100%. Too bad, because I wasted another two hours on it. Christopher Walken is the mob boss, and his schtick fits here. Otherwise, this is too cute by half, and otherwise noteworthy only for including an adult Henry Thomas. Yeah, Eliott from "E.T." After seeing this, you're not surprised he dropped out of acting for a while. (Although I still think "Cloak and Dagger" is the shiznit.)

Quiet Cool: Watched this only because notorious "that guy" James Remar was the lead. We love James Remar! Seriously, check his IMDb page and tell me you haven't seen at least a half dozen of these movies. Anyway, he's a New York cop who does battle with California pot growers. It's pretty bad, even by cheesy '80s action movie standards. From the obligatory hungover-cop-wakes-up shot near the start to the laughable villain with the hair-metal band 'do, there's not shortage of cringeworthy moments.

CQ: Thought I heard this movie by Francis Ford Coppola's kid -- no, not Sofia, but Roman -- was OK. I guess it is. Fun to look at, for sure. Jeremy Davies -- whom I like -- is working on a cheesy sci-fi film in 1969 Paris and also documenting his own journey. Then he's tapped to finish directing the sci-fi film ("Codename: Dragonfly"), right around the time he falls for the heroine (who is foxy). While there are interesting visuals and the ongoing challenge of how to end the movie is amusing, the whole thing is kind of light. Seeing as how Roman normally directs music videos, this isn't surprising.

Charlie Bartlett: Rented this one with a free Blockbuster rental because I figured The Ever Radiant One and I would both tolerate it. I'd say we did more than that. This story of a too-smart teen who becomes the shrink and medicator to his high school plays a bit like Ferris Bueller for the Prozac set, but it's redeemed by decent performances by Anton Yelchin as the title character and Robert Downey Jr. as his principal (and dad of Charlie's crush, the bejugged Kat Dennings. Don't point those things at me, missy). The acting is good throughout, and the story -- while hard to take at times -- isn't too nice and neat. If I were a critic, I'd say "a small winner." I'm not critic, so this movie is "a diminutive victor."

The Pope of Greenwich Village: With Mickey Rourke being universally praised for "The Wrestler," I couldn't miss a chance to go back almost to where it all began. After "Body Heat" and "Diner" -- but before "9 1/2 Weeks" started him down the weirdo road -- Rourke got one of his first leading roles in this movie about two guys who make the ill-advised decision to rip off money from a mob boss so they can invest in a sure-thing horse. Rourke is on the fence at first, but his screw-up cousin (Eric Roberts) persuades him, to the chagrin of Rourke's girl (Daryl Hannah, looking hot in leotards). Some old pros in here, too -- Kenneth McMillan, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Young, Geraldine Page -- but this is about the two boys. Rourke's OK, although he overdoes the brooding business. Roberts is pretty out there, but it worked after a while. Nothing magical here, to be sure, but worth seeing to see these two guys with fresh faces. And did I mention Daryl Hannah in leotards (plural)?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Seems like it was just yesterday that he said "Those guys are fags!": "Milk"

Yep, Sean Penn is all growns up (and he's growns up and he's growns up).

While I think Gus Van Sant has made a bunch of crap lately, it was hard to refuse this movie given the raves for Penn. Makes sense he would go for something like this. After four Oscar noms and a win, this guy wants to cement himself as one of the greats. So yeah ... you gotta go gay.

Actually, Harvey Milk's story is impressive, especially when you get a good look at how the San Francisco of the '70s wasn't like today. Our story follows Milk as he and his new boyfriend (James Franco) move to S.F., start a camera shop and get involved in local politics for the most basic of reasons: to give a voice to people like them.

Milk is the candidate, his beau Scott is the campaign manager, and nothing goes anywhere for a while (as we learn through the device of Milk telling his story into a tape recorder). In time, though, Milk -- with the help of a new manager (Emile Hirsch) and despite a new boyfriend (Diego Luna) -- wins a seat in city government. So does Irish Catholic conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin), which creates a tense dynamic and ultimately brings a pretty sad end to the story.

I never saw the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk," which I've heard is pretty good (and, I just saw, can be seen on IMDb, which is kind of cool). So it's hard to say how faithful "Milk" is to the real story, and more importantly, how realistic the portrayals are.

Regardless, Penn is impressive, and it's more than "Hey, he's kissing a dude!" I liked how Penn showed not only a unique combination of indignation, playfulness and defiance, but also how Milk was plenty flawed. The guy was a shameless flirt who picked up guys justlikethat. And once his star rose, he wasn't so different from other politicians. Yes, his was a truly unique cause. But his behavior once in office? Not so different with the posturing, deal-making and threats. It definitely would have been interesting to see Milk after several years on the job.

Some other good turns here. Franco -- who never wowed me as an actor -- does some of his best work, and Hirsch and Luna are both good for what they're supposed to me. I definitely believed everyone was gay, yet nobody seemed too over the top. Brolin also wasn't bad as the twitchy antagonist -- sort of. Up until the end, you actually sympathize with him quite a bit, which is a little surprising.

Ultimately, though, it's Penn's show, and no question he'll be rewarded with another Oscar nomination. Is it his best performance ever? Hard to say. I never saw "I Am Sam" -- nor wanted to -- or "Sweet and Lowdown." "Mystic River" was impressive, as was "Dead Man Walking." And right about here you're expecting a Spicoli reference. Uh-uh. Too easy. Especially since I'm guessing you forgot all about "Shanghai Surprise." (No punchline needed.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Just imagine if he had made it onto Card Sharks: "Slumdog Millionaire"

What's Hindi for "Higher!" and "Lower!", anyway?

I must admit that movies set in India usually aren't my bag. Alas, with every critic raving about this movie, I felt compelled to check it out over the holidays. Good thing, because it's the best movie I've seen in many months.

Our story revolves around Jamal, an Indian teen who is thisclose to winning the big enchilada on that country's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" That's right ... 20 million rupees. I don't know my exchange rates, but that sounds pretty good. The problem is that nobody can believe how a kid from the Mumbai slums has gotten this far on the show. So we find out by learning about Jamal's life to date. It ain't pretty.

Director Danny Boyle -- who probably doesn't get as much respect as he deserves but should after this -- shows us Jamal, his brother Salim and Jamal's would-be girl, Latika, from their early years all the way to today. It's a riveting odyssey -- perhaps too violent and depressing, but hey, that's life.

By cutting back and forth from Jamal explaining his success on the game show to events that shaped his life (and provided the answers), we also see how India has evolved over the last dozen years or so. It is, in a word, fascinating. The slums gave way to high rises. Begging gave way to call centers. Dollars flowed more freely than rupees. As I told my wife, the last movie that gave me such a great sense of place with a foreign country was "Lost in Translation," although that didn't have the passage of time element. Still, similar success in really showing the essence of a strange land.

The cast of no names is perfect. Dev Patel is the teen Jamal, but the two kids who played him at younger ages were just as solid, as were the young Salims. In the end, though, it's the story that really won me over. Here's this kid, under fire for doing something he shouldn't have been able to do on this game show. Yet it makes sense when you learn about his brutally tough life. And the real reason he went on the show -- which normally would be cheesy -- makes sense and is genuinely touching. You simply can't root against the guy.

So yeah ... "Slumdog" is the real deal. Never boring, often compelling and ultimately winning. When it comes to epic tales of unlikely people suddenly striking it rich, it looks like "Brewster's Millions" finally has some competition.