Saturday, December 20, 2003
After a night of crap, I'm watching something good, or at least highly regarded, 2002's Adaptation, #183 on the IMDB Top 250, directed by Spike Jonze. While I didn't really enjoy Being John Malkovich, I do think that Jonze's video "Sabotage" for the Beastie Boys was one of the greatest things ever committed to film.
This movie is quite good, and at the halfway point, I'm realizing that I really need to rent this on DVD and watch it in its widescreen glory and then along with the various commentary tracks. A few highlights:
- The subplot of orchids is quite engaging.
- Ron Livingston, the male lead from Office Space (one of The Greatest Movies Of All Time) has a decent role.
- Judy Greer, who was most recently viewed by me in The Hebrew Hammer has an important role in this. I still admire her from her work in Jawbreaker.
- This movie stars Maggie Gyllenhaal. 'Nuff said.
- Brian Cox is in it. He's been great in every movie he's been in, but I'll point out the three that I own: Rushmore, Super Troopers, and X2.
- Chris Cooper plays a major role. He's a great actor--just look at his portrayal of the father in October Sky. It's unfortunate that he almost always plays Southern guys who happen to be assholes, but he's damned good at it. (Which is interesting, because he's from Missouri, which is really more Midwestern than Southern.)
The third movie of the evening is easily the least enjoyable... 2002's Eight Crazy Nights. In order to really understand this movie, you need to first hear the spoken word drama "Whitey" on Adam Sandler's 1999 comedy album Stan and Judy's Kid. The character is identical to the one used in the movie, though the plot is entirely different. I actually loved "Whitey", and felt that it showed a surprisingly deep and emotional side to Sandler.
It sounds like I hate a lot of the movies I blog about, but that's not the case. I try to watch movies that I haven't seen before, and obviously I won't like some of those. Others are movies that I've seen before but am giving another chance. Some are movies that I hate, but they're on, and I don't mind having them on while I'm doing something else. This one falls in the second category, and no, I didn't like it.
I was in a prime position to love this movie when I first saw it on DVD. I'm a big Adam Sandler fan--I own copies of Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and Mr. Deeds. I also love animation, and I loved "Whitey". So what went wrong here? Let me spell it out for you:
- Too serious. Parts of it were too dramatic, and while I don't think that drama is out of place in an animated feature, it is out of place in a Sandler film. It just doesn't work. And yes, Punch Drunk Love sucked mightily.
- Sandler cast his wife (then girlfriend) Jackie Titone in the female lead. She's a gorgeous woman, but not a great actor, and she doesn't have a good cartoon voice.
- Too many heartfelt musical numbers. This isn't a goddamned Broadway musical.
- The animation just wasn't that great. It was made by Meatball Studios, a new production company formed by Sandler, and appears to be mostly made of veterans of Fox's defunct studio as well as old Don Bluth animators. All of those guys did good stuff, but none of it was spectacular, and since there isn't a good script to begin with...
- For many reasons, an old guy having a seizure isn't funny. It's even less funny after the fifth time.
Continuing with the bad movies, here's one that's looking pretty good. Tonight is the premier of the 2003 film National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure. I'm a big fan of the Vacation movies, and this one has a great deal of potential in that it doesn't star Chevy Chase.
(Side note: This is showing on NBC, and it's the first made-for-TV movie I've seen on one of the original "big three" broadcast networks since some time in the early 90s.)
Here's what's good about this movie:
- Randy Quaid stars as Eddie Johnson, reprising his role from the original Vacation, Christmas Vacation, and Vegas Vacation. Randy Quaid is awesome, and even though his brother Dennis is a better dramatic actor, I'll take Randy any day of the week.
- Miriam Flynn, who played Eddie's wife Catherine in all of the above movies, returns here. I've recently enjoyed her work on the great show Grounded for Life as Sister Helen. She also has a distinguished career doing voice work for animation. (I always like pointing out good voice actors.)
- Eric Idle makes a return as his character from European Vacation!
- Perhaps most surprising, Dana Barron returns as Audrey Griswold (in a major role in this movie). She played Audrey in the first Vacation. The character of Audrey was played by Dana Hill in European Vacation, Juliette Lewis in Christmas Vacation, and Marisol Nichols in Vegas Vacation. They did the same thing with the character of Audrey's brother Rusty, who was first played by the great Anthony Michael Hall, appropriate because the first movie was written by the magnificent John Hughes.
- Stephen Furst, who played Flounder in National Lampoon's Animal House, makes a cameo appearance, and his son Nathan wrote the score for the movie.
- Knoxville, Tennessee's own Jake Thomas plays Eddie's son. He also played the biological son in A.I.
- The movie also features the lovely Sung Hi Lee, well known as a Korean model for Playboy. Interesting personal history--read her biography here. In this movie she plays a Hawaiian who works for the nuclear waste testing facility that employed Eddie until... I don't want to spoil anything for you.
- Last but not least, let's point out that Ed Asner has a large role in this movie. While I'm happy to see all of these other B-list and character actors getting work, I find it hilarious that noted Communist Ed Asner is reduced to working in movies like this.
While I'm pointing out obscure trivia, here's a list of all of the movies, TV shows, and TV movies bearing the National Lampoon name. One realizes that most of these movies are bad, bad, bad, and only a few were any good, and those are the ones that became classics (Animal House, the first Vacation). Statistically speaking, it's a bad idea to tag that name onto a movie.
I'm in the mood for some bad movies tonight, so prepare for the worst in the hours to come. It's been a long week, and even a long day off for me that was supposed to have been spent in quiet relaxation. Needing a break, I've decided to sit back and let my brain curdle during a viewing of 1998's Almost Heroes. It's best remembered as a Chris Farley-Matthew Perry buddy movie, but nobody really enjoyed it for that. Farley and Perry attract wildly different audiences. It's also the last real Chris Farley movie--he had a brief cameo in Dirty Work before he died, but this was the last with him in a starring role. He was much better in the two David Spade buddy flicks, Black Sheep and Tommy Boy, both of which are classic screwball comedies, though this movie is still better than Beverly Hills Ninja. Looking over the resume, it would appear as though I've seen every movie that Farley made.
Matthew Perry is funny on Friends, but for the most part I haven't enjoyed his movies. The Whole Nine Yards was quite good, but he had a really strong cast around him. Three to Tango was good, but for different reasons, and it was also a little different role than he normally plays.
At the time I first saw this, I didn't realize that it was directed by Christopher Guest. It's also yet another Christopher Guest-Eugene Levy collaboration. (Levy resurrects the beloved stereotype of the lecherous French trapper.) And I'm always happy to see Patrick Cranshaw in a movie. (He played "Blue" in Old School.) He's always good for a laugh, and it's not just because he's older than dirt.
If you're looking for historical accuracy, political correctness, or logic, you probably shouldn't watch this film. But it is good for several laughs. My favorite part by far has to be the scene in which Farley's character has to steal an egg from the nest of a bald eagle, if that tells you anything about the level of sophistication.
Friday, December 19, 2003
I'm finally getting around to watching 2001's The Majestic. One of the many movies that everyone told me I'd love, but I avoided seeing. Again, with Jim Carrey movies, I often have to wait a few years before I can enjoy them.
This has a pretty strong supporting cast--Hal Holbrook, Martin Landau, David Ogden Stiers... While this should have been a classic, I think that having Jim Carrey in the lead actually hurt it. He does a great job here, but since a lot of this is an homage to Frank Capra movies, an actor that could bring in the senior citizen audience would have been a smarter move. (Tom Hanks would have been ideal, but I'm assuming he wasn't interested or was already involved in another project at the time.) This is a movie that old folks would love, but would turn away from having only known Carrey from his usual gross-out work.
The story is sweet for the most part, and the bits with the Communist/McCarthy stuff seems tacked on. Yes, I think it was a stupid thing to persecute Communists. I just wish they had been ridiculed in everyday life rather than being made into a martyr of the first amendment. I think it's a greater sin to be a Communist sympathizer than to be a Nazi sympathizer; certainly the Communists (even if you only count Stalin) killed more people over a longer period of time than Hitler ever did. But for some reason it's socially acceptable to salute the hammer and sickle...
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Tonight's movie is brought you by Cruzan light rum. Good for what ails ya. Due to said chemical influence, I've decided to get around to watching 1985's Red Sonja. And it looks pretty bad. I enjoyed the Conan movies with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also has a role in this film. I haven't read a single Robert E. Howard novel, so I can't comment on how faithful or not Red Sonja is.
I will say that an unintended consequence of the magnificent Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies is that by comparison, all other fantasy movies look like utter crap. And I don't use that word lightly. Craptastic or craptacular would be better words. This one, however, was considered bad at the time and hasn't improved with age.
(As I'm typing, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just chopped off some guy's head, with the cheesy shot of the head flying up in the air directly following said decapitation.)
When this was made, it was supposed to be a career-maker for Brigette Nielsen, but that didn't really pan out. She looks good in this film, but it's hard for a tall Danish woman to look bad. And I prefer her in her natural blonde; the red doesn't quite look right on her, though it was obviously essential for the part. To paraphrase a Southern saying about nouveau riche, "faux rouge is better than no rouge at all". Nielsen is a beautiful woman, but not a great actress. She speaks flawless English, but it's too clear. A Danish accent would have been far sexier, but when English is spoken with the precision of Germans or Scandinavians, it often loses emotion.
I do have to point out the presence of Ernie Reyes, Jr. in this movie in the role of Prince Tarn. From 1986-1987, I considered the TV series Sidekicks to one of the greatest shows I'd ever seen. When you have Gil Gerard as a grouchy cop acting as the foster parent of a spunky Asian kid (who happens to be a great martial artist), what can go wrong? That great show also starred Keye Luke, who starred in over a hundred movies and TV shows, including the Charlie Chan movies, though most people will know him as the guy who sold the mogwai in Gremlins. He also had a distinguished career in providing voice work for really bad cartoons of the 70s and 80s.
Christ, I can barely follow the plot of this movie, and that's not just because I'm tanked on rum.
This afternoon over lunch I completed 2003's Love Me by Garrison Keillor. I've been a big fan of his for my entire life, and while I don't listen to A Prairie Home Companion every week, I've caught it at least once a month for the past fifteen years, though it was off the air for a while there and appeared under a different name for a few years. In addition, I've read most of his books, except for the Jesse Ventura satire (and that's just because I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy when I was in the mood to read it). I even wrote a term paper on Keillor for my 11th grade English class. That being said, this book is awful.
It's a quasi-autobiographical story that contains just enough hyperbole to be confusing and annoying. A central gimmick to the book is tossing in fake advice columns throughout the story, with our hero, Larry Wyler, writing under the pen name Mr. Blue. Keillor did just that for Salon.com (though Mr. Blue was the name of the column, the byline was Garrison Keillor). Reading real advice columns is boring enough; reading fake ones is excruciating. And they don't really move the plot, they just fill in space.
He also has an annoying habit in that every 20 pages or so, he tosses in a sentence about hating Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular. I've known about his political views for years, and I wouldn't have minded if it made any kind of sense. It reminded me of some old washed up comic who, performing in front of a group of rednecks, will occasionally throw in a brutally racist joke just because it's the only thing he knows will resonate with the audience. (Note: I'm not by any means calling Keillor a racist, just desperate.)
There's a weird subplot involving the mafia, that like many other features of the book illicits not joy but a hearty "WTF?" The most disappointing aspect for me is that I know he can write better than this. I know he can put together a better story than this. His worst "News from Lake Wobegon" monologue is better than this.
Though nothing in Love Me reminded me of his earlier work, I found myself longing for WLT: A Radio Romance, which I think was his first novel. An amazing, well written, funny and nostalgic book. I might go back and read it again just to get this taste out of my mouth.
Wired carries an article about a proposed Cable Science Network. It's got some big and respectable names behind it, and I'd love to see it. But I don't know how popular it will be. And if it's an ad-driven network, all hope is lost.
Discovery was a great science channel when it started, but has drifted pretty far away. The article makes note of this. What irritates me the most is not the Monster Garage or other goofy stuff, but the stupid pseudoscience and chicanery that's presented right alongside real science without any distinction. Stuff like endless specials on Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs and whatnot. It's sort of like how A&E hasn't had anything to do with Arts and Entertainment for years--it's now mostly a place to show reruns of Law & Order and Murder, She Wrote.
Hola amigos... It's two in the morning, and I've just finished watching 1997's Chasing Amy with a female friend of The Roommate. (Don't get excited, she's married and a film nut and I'm an old friend of her and her husband.) At some later date I'll post a long treatise on Kevin Smith, but I'll happily note this as my favorite of the Smith films and easily one of The Best Movies Of All Time. Mainly because it's a romance without a happy ending, and that's the most accurate story that can be told.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
From The Atlantic Monthly, an interview with Andrew Meier, author of a new book about life in Russia after the fall of Communism called Black Earth.
Lots of good stuff here, but I loved the bit about air travel in Russia:
The Atlantic Monthly: I traveled to Russia in 1991, and if I think back to my experience, we did fly back from Helsinki to Moscow on Aeroflot. And when we flew back, when I was boarding the plane, I swear to God, I looked at the tires on the plane and the rubber had worn right through to the white canvas. People can't believe that that's true, but it is true. And for that reason those pilots can land those planes light as a feather.
Meier: I always used to tell myself, and I still tell myself, these guys all fly Soviet Migs. They learned how to fly dodging bullets. That gives you confidence, but anyone who has lived in Russia has horror stories from flying. I think my favorite is from my wife. She was flying into some very small town in Siberia in the winter, and they got out (they couldn't even walk on the runway, it was covered in ice), and she noticed that the pilot had goggles on and was wearing an old, World War Two-style leather flyer's cap.
Right at this very moment, Ben Affleck is on The Daily Show making fun of Saddam and Osama and also praising Philip K. Dick, the author of the story that's the basis for his new movie Paycheck. Even cooler, John Stewart noted the psychological thriller appeal of PKD novels. <Keanu>Whoa</Keanu>.
While I don't look at Ben Affleck and think "OMG! MANBABIES!", he'll always have a place of honor on my DVD shelf thanks to Mallrats, Chasing Amy (one of The Greatest Movies Of All Time), Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Daredevil. Since my collection has grown in recent months, I had to take a moment to peruse the discs to make that list. Sweet Jesus, I own five Ben Affleck movies. But at least I have enough self respect to realize that I own exactly zero Jennifer Lopez movies.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
An interesting article suggesting that today's society forces boys to become either wimps or barbarians.
I disagree with parts of it--his attitudes towards music are a little weird--but overall a thought-provoking piece.
This excerpt irritated me:
In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen.Women may complain about this, but evidence shows that they'll keep going after the barbarian until they're either dead or living single with a brood of bastard children. Frankly in modern society there's no incentive for gentlemanly behavior; more importantly, there's no social pressure against ungentlemanly behavior. As long as women continue to reward the actions of the barbarian, simple Darwinian pressure will only encourage matters in that direction. Let's face it, the barbarian will sire many children, and while behavior is more complicated than mere genetics dictate, when the society is full of those barbaric genes you're going to keep seeing more and more of that behavior popping up, both in the number of men that exhibit that behavior and in the number of women who are attracted to it.
Wow, it only took seven hours after getting off work for me to start feeling normal again! When you keep unusual hours and don't sleep much, it's easy to lose all touch with any sort of a normal circadian rhythm. So now that I'm back to my usual (albeit weird) self, I finally feel like watching a movie. And at this hour, the pickins is slim. So let's shoot for an indie flick... 2001's Kill Me Later.
This is a movie that, if it gets any attention at all, will be only for the presence of Selma Blair in the lead role. She's an interesting actress--constantly and convincingly playing characters much younger than herself. For instance, in Cruel Intentions, probably her best-known movie, she was playing an innocent teenager, but she was nearly thirty at the time, and five years older than the "older, more experienced" character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar.
She's a good actress, but has been in some non-spectacular movies. This one would have been an indie classic had it come out five years earlier; it suffers from the curse of the angsty 90s movie made half a decade too late. Which is a shame, because I don't think the 90s produced many angsty movies with female leads. Or maybe the decade did, but I just never paid attention.
I will say that the sound editing on this sucks ass. There are a few movies in which the music is pumped up to 11 while all of the dialog hovers around 3. This is one of those rare disasters. Such a movie demands that you keep the remote nearby, ready to modulate the volume as required.
The movie is about a suicidal woman who is taken hostage by bank robbers, and she wants to get killed after the robbers get away from the police. The plot's not really that important, though, because somebody went to the MTV school of editing and decided to have a field day.
Because I notice these things... There's a small role played by Sarah Chalke, who played Becky on the TV series Roseanne after Alicia Goranson left the show. Chalke also stars in Scrubs, but I've only seen that once or twice and can't comment on it.
Since many of the actors are Canadian and it was obviously shot in Vancouver, I assumed this was a Canadian movie, but apparently it's an American one that's supposed to be set in Seattle.
Despite my griping, this isn't a bad movie. If you like pointless 90s movies that are short on plot and long on dialog, you'll probably enjoy it.
Only if you grew up during the Cold War would you understand this comic.
By the way, I would highly recommend adding this site to your list of weekly visits: I've spent most of the evening reorganizing my personal bookmark list and scanning through a bunch of web comics that I've neglected for the past year...
Monday, December 15, 2003
Today at work was one of those long, hard, soul-draining days that doesn't leave you with a sense of accomplishment or relief at the end. Instead, you find yourself in shock, drifting like an empty husk. Not a bad day, just the perfect combination of insanely difficult assignments and lots of heavy thinking. As such, I can't really concentrate on much at the moment. I might try to watch a movie later, but right now I'm just mindlessly surfing the web and listening to the alternative music station on the digital cable audio tier. It's a good station--in the past few minutes I've heard the Chemical Brothers and the new track from Simple Minds. And no commercials. Thank God, no commercials. Or DJs.
Now that I've been doing this blogging thing for a few weeks, I've developed an amusing habit: in my regular non-web typing, I've started inserting HTML tags around words that I want in bold or italics.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Did you know that Steve Buscemi was a New York City firefighter in the early 80s, and right after 9/11 he reported to his old firehouse and worked 12-hour shfits for the next week? It's true.
This is quite a milestone, because National Geographic was one of the last holdouts on a the film to digital switch. (Here's the story from the National Geographic website, including several of the photos.)
The Ring Bearer called me around eight this morning to alert me to the news... It's being covered everywhere, so there's no links here, but I'm just noting it for blogging purposes. I found out about 9/11 in the exact same way, though this was a much happier announcement.
I haven't done much reading through the various political blogs yet, but I imagine that this throws some interesting kinks in next year's presidential election. If the economy continues to grow and we somehow manage to capture (or find the body of) Osama bin Laden, I think Bush will be nigh-unbeatable.
For some odd reason that only a state-appointed psychiatrist will uncover years from now when I'm forcibly committed, I'm watching 1997's flop Steel, #34 on the IMDB Bottom 100 and one of the few Shaquille O'Neal movies ever made. For obvious reasons. Ladies and gentlemen, Rum Smuggler brings you the best and the worst of the world's cinematic offerings.
I have nothing against Shaq, but the guy can't act worth a damn. One major problem is that he's over a foot taller than everyone else in the scene with him, which makes the framing and blocking awkward.
I don't exactly know all of the backstory on the comic book character Steel, but apparently a big muscular black guy named John Henry Irons was rescued by Superman and charged with using his talents for the good of mankind. I give DC credit for trying to adapt the American legend of John Henry into a modern story line. Maybe the comics were great, but I don't see a lot of evidence that the character has endured. And aside from a Superman logo tattoo sported by the lead, there's no mention of Superman in this movie.
One joy in this movie is the appearance of Charles Napier, playing yet another generic military role. He's been in more than a hundred movies and TV shows, but I'll always think of him as the megalomaniacal media magnate Duke Phillips in The Critic. There are other good actors in this movie--Judd Nelson, Richard Roundtree (who does contribute to a Shaft joke), Annabeth Gish--but they all have crappy lines and a worse story to wade through.
I'm generally fond of comic book to film adaptations, and am willing to give them leeway that I wouldn't provide under normal means, but this one was a bad idea made into an even worse movie.
This movie accomplishes something incredible, in that it's not only widely offensive to black people, but it also includes one of the worst-written wheelchair-bound characters ever realized on screen. I'm by no means a PC policeman, but this shit is demeaning even to my jaded, cynical soul.
There are websites available that give more detailed information on the comic book character, and I can truthfully say that I'd rather read every Steel comic book twice rather than watch this disaster again.
P.S. His signature weapon is the sledgehammer. Big whoop. If you've ever had to do any real work with a sledgehammer, you'll have a much less romantic view of the tool.