Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm shocked ... shocked, I tell you

I mean, she and Maverick had such chemistry. That's why we only saw them making out in the dark, right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You have to admit ... he's a less annoying Indian than Kumar: "Super Troopers"

I think when this came out I thought it looked pretty dumb. Never heard anything that made me question that assumption, but I did eventually see another movie by the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. I'm not saying "Beerfest" was great, but it had enough funny parts that I decided to give the first big movie by these guys a try. And hell, now I may have to see "Club Dread," too.

Our story: A state trooper post faces closure because of budget cuts and ineptitude. Meanwhile, these doofuses (doofi?) constantly get into it with the local town police, who have the gall to be real cops. The only path to redemption for our heroes? Solving a murder and busting a drug ring. Hijinks -- what's the the word I'm looking for? Wait, wait, it'll come to me. Ah, yes -- ensue.

One distinctive thing about these guys is Jay Chandrasekhar, the aforementioned Indian. Actually, it looks like he was born in the U.S., but I'm thinking he's of Indian descent. Anyway, he was one of the funnier guys in "Beerfest" -- I still laugh at the "ZJ" line -- and he's not bad here, if only for the mustache.

To say "Super Troopers" is uneven is being kind. But just when it was getting too dumb, something funnier than usual would come along, from the Euro couple stopped for speeding to the fat idiot trooper getting deloused. Plus, we get Brian Cox as the head trooper and Mr. Kruger from "Seinfeld" and chief of the town police. Those guys can do funny, too, and gave the movie a little gravitas. OK, not really, but still, they're not bad.

In the end, I laughed enough to make this not a total waste of time, and hell, it made me want to see "Beerfest" again. And I guess I really will see "Club Dread" at some point. Broken Lizard ... you had me at meow ... you had me at meow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Too bad Frank Stallone couldn't do the soundtrack: "Moving Violations"

Can't believe I didn't think of this movie during that post on "Fred Claus." Easily the most distinctive thing about this lame '80s comedy is how it includes so many well-known actors' ... siblings. The actual funny-funny? Not so funny.

In a nutshell, a bunch of bad drivers get sentenced to a traffic school run by a disgruntled cop (James "Stacy's brother" Keach). Why is he disgruntled? Because the misfits' leader (John "Bill's brother" Murray) tricked him. Drat! As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Also at the school is a saucy rocket scientist (Jennifer "Meg's sister" Tilly), plus a host of oddballs that reads like an '80s movie honor roll: Wendie Jo Sperber ("Bosom Buddies," "Bachelor Party," "1941"), Nedra Volz (the old lady in about a million sitcoms), Brian Backer (Mark Ratner in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") and Fred Willard (before he became cool in the last 10 years). Heck, we even get a cameo of sorts by Clara Peller. Yeah! Where's the beef?

It's all rather -- are you sitting down? -- moronic. But what's really sad is seeing Bill Murray's little brother do that same schtick except not nearly as well. Imagine Steve Guttenberg's pathetic "Police Academy" lines with a Murrayesque smirk at Factor 10. For a bit, it's amusing. Then it's distracting. Then, as I said, it's kind of sad.

I shall close with a message of hope, however. As the closing credits rolled, I spotted a familiar name: Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle? Really? Who did he play? Oh, the guy at the fast-food drive-thru. (For the record, it was called Juicy Burgers.) This was his second movie role, it turns out, a full decade before he won attention in "Devil in a Blue Dress," followed by "Boogie Nights, "Hotel Rwanda" and others. So have faith, all ye stuck in crappy comedies. Someday you can go on to play a porn actor named Buck. Dare to dream ...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh, those spunky kids, Take 2: "Remember the Titans"

I'm a little overdue for seeing this. Didn't realize until I saw My Name is Earl's brother how long ago it came out: 2000. Nine years later, it's a bit jarring to see Ryan Gosling and Kate Bosworth -- not to mention Kip Pardue, the cheerleader from "Heroes" and Avon Barksdale from "The Wire" -- as part of the young ensemble. It was almost enough to make me stop worrying about when Will Patton would flip out like in "No Way Out." Seriously ... that movie pretty much ruined him for me.

Patton is coach of a white Virginia high school that merges with a black school in the early '70s. Denzel Washington ("Carbon Copy") was hired to coach the black school and get the job of leading the merged team. So how do you think folks will handle integration? Tea parties and Twister games all around, right?

As you can guess, the players aren't keen at first about getting together, and Patton isn't so hot about losing his job. But that Denzel ... he's a sly one. He stays on everyone and mixes things up until -- ta-daaaa! -- we can all get along. Didn't see that one coming.

Predictable though it may be, there are some decent scenes about the tension and how folks get over themselves. Superficial? Yeah, mostly. But nice all the same. Ryan Hurst as the star of the white school's team is front and center, and generally does OK. His stubbornly racist pal is harder to swallow, but I suppose you gotta have that guy so it's not a total lovefest.

As for the adults, the supporting roles are simple caricatures. The two leads? Denzel has done better, many times. But he's fine here. Even restrained, which is good. Of course, nobody can outrestrain Patton, who barely opens his mouth to talk and keeps cool pretty much the whole movie. The dynamic between the coaches worked all right, but neither guy can hold a candle to Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers." Maybe if Patton had loosened up and knocked back a few like Shooter ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oh, those spunky kids, Take 1: "The Bad News Bears"

Not sure how many times I've seen this. Two, maybe? No more than three, I'm sure. Didn't stop me from another viewing, though, especially since (a) it had been a few years and (b) I wanted to see young Jackie Earle Haley after watching him get crazy in "Watchmen."

You know the story, you love the story. Because of some rule that I'm still not clear on, a Southern California youth baseball league is stuck with a team of misfits coached by a former pitcher-turned-pool cleaner and drunk. Walter Matthau is the coach, beer in hand in nearly every scene. Vic Morrow is coach of the league studs. (The Yankees, of course.) Tatum O'Neal is a girl with a mean curveball. Haley is a local punk and hell of an athlete who joins the team late. Everyone else? Just a bunch of cute, foul-mouthed kids.

It's actually kind of funny to watch this 1976 movie -- haven't seen the remake, and not sure I will -- in this era of raunch. Really, it's positively conservative. Sure, there's all the swearing, a ball-to-the-nuts scene and Tanner's famous racist line. Some sexism, too. But that's all tame now. What ... no puke scenes? No boobies? No pie f*cking?

That said, "Bears" is still a very easy movie to watch. A little too subdued now and then -- again, times have changed -- but Matthau isn't bad, Haley has a few funny lines, and the kids are great. And really, if you can't appreciate Chico's Bail Bonds as a little league sponsor, then just go back to Russia ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It ain't easy being fat, right and wrong all at the same time: "Sicko"

Ah, yes ... Michael Moore. I'm sure there are people who p!ss me off more than him, but it's a short list. It's not his politics or his intent, mind you. It's his execution and stupid stunts. Handle those better, Mikey, and I'd kiss your feet.

"Roger and Me" remains a fantastic, poignant documentary, and -- honestly -- the high point of Moore's work. Why, you ask, when subsequent movies have garnered so much more attention? Because the big guy began to believe his own press and do a bunch of distracting stuff instead of sticking to the meat of his very important issues.

"Bowling for Columbine" was solid up until he started goofing around with Charlton Heston; I just about retched when he stood there holding the photo of the dead kid. "Fahrenheit 9/11" was a bit better, but hey, W. is an easy target, and I still wish he would have been more biting and less grandstanding.

Which brings us to "Sicko." I absolutely cannot quibble with this subject and the need for a real documentary on the gross unfairness of the U.S. healthcare system. No, there's no reason the world's most prosperous nation should be No. 37 in quality of health care. No, there's no reason good people should go bankrupt paying for medical treatment. Moore spends the first hour talking about such travesties, and I was right there with him -- angry and eager for solutions.

Only .... there weren't any. Just as I feared during the set-up, Moore goes to great lengths to talk about what's broken and what's better by comparison but offers no depth, context or -- most important -- commentary from people on how this system can be fixed. You know, bitching and moaning is all well and good, but did anyone think U.S. health care was awesome before this?

No. We all know it sucks, and while we appreciate the human examples and statistics to that end, how about presenting ways to right this wrong instead of rubbing our faces in it? The second half of "Sicko" gives us more Moore on camera, which is a bad sign. He shows how other -- much smaller, mind you -- countries do health care better, but without any discussion of the tradeoffs. (Read: taxes.) Then he amps up the indignation by boating some sick people to Cuba -- first Guantanamo Bay, then Castroland -- and getting them the health care they've long sought.

But wait, there's Moore! In the ultimate "I'm being generous but really self serving and even kind of sh!tty," he talks about cutting an anonymous -- well, not anymore -- check to one of his harshest critics so that guy can pay some medical bills while keeping his anti-Moore site up. C'mon ... why mention it if it was anonymous? And if it wasn't going to stay anonymous, why not tell the guy before including it in the movie. Sorry, no. This was about you, not him.

So yeah ... "Sicko," like most Moore movies, p!ssed me off, and not in the way he intended. Yes, he makes a valid point. Yes, he's rightly tackling a big problem. Yes, I even agree with his politics. But dammit ... I also believe in the full story, and not even trying to look at the big picture simply hurts your argument that America should do better. We know the system is broken. But we have no idea from "Sicko" how to fix it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

100% pure bullcrap: "Point Break"

Yes, yes ... this is firmly in the pantheon of guilty pleasures. That doesn't mean it's not a bad movie. Oh, it's bad. Just watch it.

I did recently. There was some free movie channel weekend or something, and I couldn't pass up the chance to see young Keanu and surfer Swayze enjoy an early '90s bromance. Bonus when I saw how many familiar faces were dancing on the edges: Gary Busey, John C. McGinley, Tom Sizemore. It was almost enough to forgive the stunt casting of that Red Hot Chili Peppers singer as a psycho surfer and the harebrained notion that Lori Petty was an acceptable love interest.

I'm sure I don't need to refresh your memory, but here goes: Mr. Reeves is a fresh-faced FBI agent enlisted by aged Busey to track down some frequent bank robbers in El Lay. Busey thinks they may be surfers, leading Keanu to become one with the ocean (and Petty, if you get my drift). On the beach, he meets Our Man Pat and his gang, with Swayze hamming it up as a spiritual doofus named Bodhi. Before long, Keanu realizes his pals just might be the bank robbers. Whoa ... bummer, dude.

Technically, the movie is fine, with fun action scenes that earned a much-deserved homage in "Hot Fuzz." Cut from the same cloth as the Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer stuff, even though the director is Kathryn Bigelow (who also did "Strange Days" and "Near Dark," neither of which are bad). You likes the big waves and bang-bang? We gots it.

No, the problem here, as we all know, is the two leads. Swayze is merely silly as a blond Buddha of the Sea, while Reeves -- as Special Agent Johnny Utah -- is not nearly enough removed from his Bill and Ted days to take seriously. I know what you're thinking. (1) Like we take him seriously now ... and (2) how seriously could you take anyone in a dumb action movie?

Valid points, but you have to admit that by the time he got to "Speed" and especially "The Matrix," Keanu had learned to use that blank look more to his advantage. Not so much in "Point Break." Really, I cringed more than a few times, which is a shame given the chutzpah of this movie otherwise. Everyone goes to the "I'm an F-B-I agent!" scene as Exhibit A, but there's much more than that. By the time you get to the final confrontation on the stormy beach, Keanu's acting -- or lack thereof -- is a sight to behold. Maybe he should have worn one of those president masks during the movie.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Javier Bardem is officially the coolest guy in the world: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

And while I've never really thought, "Man, I wish I were European," the cojones the erstwhile Anton Chigurh brings to this otherwise middling Woody Allen movie are something to behold.

I really had no interest in seeing "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in the theater. Hearing that Penelope Cruz was Oscar-worthy didn't change that. Annoying, she is. Plus, I've always been iffy on Allen. Like his early stuff, didn't care for the '80s and '90s relationship tripe and recently have been split. "Match Point" wasn't bad. Neither was -- surprisingly -- "Melinda and Melinda." But I can't say "Cassandra's Dream" or "Scoop" intrigued me.

Here, we get two American friends (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) spending the summer in Spain. The former is engaged and studying Catalan culture or some such BS, while the former is adrift after making some dumb short film. Our heroines come across a Spanish painter (Bardem), who brazenly propositions him. Because he's Spanish and they're American, they don't reject him outright. Sure, Hall makes some noise. But c'mon ... we know how these guys make all-American girls feel down there.

Of course, as messy as a threesome -- not in the traditional sense, but still -- can be, we get a fourth player: Bardem's ex-wife, the aforementioned Cruz. Oh, and she's a little nuts. That doesn't mean bad things right away. I mean, if Hall has to go get married, we can just menage it with the former missus, right?

There's a lot of gabbing and some groping, and Bardem gets plenty of tail, god bless him. I also thought Hall was cute, despite the typical quiet-crazy woman stuff she displays, i.e. "No, I'm not interested, but why didn't you call?" Didn't think I had seen her beofre, but it turns out she was in "Frost/Nixon" and "The Prestige." Johansson and Cruz also look great, but neither interested me as much.

No, if there's anything worth seeing here, it's Bardem trying to manage the situation and -- I think -- doing a pretty reasonable job. Hey, he puts it out there and makes no apologies, and it's hard to argue his logic. The only problem: When has logic ever worked when its comes to sex? I don't recall my history classes going over how Aristotle was money with the ladies ...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The real crime, of course, was his role in "Carbon Copy": "American Gangster"

Was definitely interested in seeing this movie when it came out but never could find the time, seeing as how it runs for damn near three hours. Really, Ridley? Do you honestly think this is another "Godfather" or "Goodfellas?" Well, maybe you're right.

Nope, you're not.

Denzel Washington is a black gangster who secretly becomes the biggest bad guy in 1970s New York, thanks to selling high-grade smack on the cheap. Russell Crowe is a New Jersey cop trying to bring down the drug ring. Josh Brolin is a crooked NYC detective, previewing the creepy in "Milk." Carla Gugino, sadly, keeps her clothes on. Seriously ... have you seen those bosoms? They're real, and they're magnificent.

I actually like the (true) story, and it starts well enough, if a little slowly. Then, pow, we're zipping right along, and I kind of felt something was missing in Denzel's rise to the top. Sure, I got his belief system and rules to live by, which were somewhat intriguing. There's a good scene with him, his wife and a fancy fur coat. There's also plenty of other acting power here: Ted Levine as Crowe's boss, Armand Assante as an Italian mob boss, Ruby Dee as Denzel's mom and Chiwetel Ejijijijofofofofofofor as his brother. Plus, a Cuba Gooding Jr. sighting!

Even so, I never thought I was in the presence of greatness of seeing any of these folks do anything close to their best work. It's an entertaining enough story, but even when Russ and Denny finally have a meeting of the minds, there's no great tension or payoff. Hell, Brolin might have been the most compelling guy, if only because I couldn't tell how he would end up. I mean, after missing out on all that loot from the pirate ship in "The Goonies," you can't blame his greed here ...

You know what this means, right?

Given this news, it's just a matter of time before Neil Patrick Harris becomes secretary of health and human services. Better yet, Freakshow for attorney general!