Saturday, January 10, 2004

Movieblogging: Don't Say a Word
A rather odd double feature tonight thanks to HBO... After the execrable Just Married, I'm actually looking forward to watching the dark psychological thriller and Michael Douglas vehicle Don't Say a Word (2001), also starring Brittany Murphy in the female lead. Hence the double feature.

Murphy does a tremendous job here. It's pretty dark, and it's hard to be a beautiful woman playing a psycho convincingly. Lovely cinematography--somebody went to the Ridley Scott school of shooting dark, blue-tinted scenes, and graduated with flying colors.

A quick note on the other actors... Sean "Boromir" Bean is in it, and does a great job as always. Famke Janssen--what more need be said? And I'll watch just about any movie with Oliver Platt in it. Unfortunately, none of them have much screen time.

It's good for the genre... It's not the kind of thing that I'm particularly in the mood for right now--a dark psychological drama--but it's a good film nonetheless. The plot is predictable in points, but still engaging. Overall I wouldn't recommend, it, but it's not bad either. Is that vague enough?
Movieblogging: Don't Say a Word
A rather odd double feature tonight thanks to HBO... After the execrable Just Married, I'm actually looking forward to watching the dark psychological thriller and Michael Douglas vehicle Don't Say a Word (2001), also starring Brittany Murphy in the female lead. Hence the double feature.

Murphy does a tremendous job here. It's pretty dark, and it's hard to be a beautiful woman playing a psycho convincingly. Lovely cinematography--somebody went to the Ridley Scott school of shooting dark, blue-tinted scenes, and graduated with flying colors.

A quick note on the other actors... Sean "Boromir" Bean is in it, and does a great job as always. Famke Janssen--what more need be said? And I'll watch just about any movie with Oliver Platt in it. Unfortunately, none of them have much screen time.

It's good for the genre... It's not the kind of thing that I'm particularly in the mood for a dark psychological drama, but it's a good film nonetheless. The plot is predictable in points, but still engaging.
Movieblogging: Just Married
(Warning: some spoilers in this post, but the movie sucks, so it might save you a few bucks.)

I've got a host of blogging resolutions for the new year, though I won't post them all for fear of being called on it later in the year. But two things I'd like to do with regards to movies are continue to systematically plow through the IMDB Top 250/AFI Top 100 and to give movies that I hated but everyone else loved a second chance. Expect more of the former than the latter, but tonight I'm giving just such a second chance to Just Married (2003). I rented this when it first came out, and tonight it's coming on HBO for the first time.

As I've said previously, with romantic comedies I walk a fine line between laughing heartily and screaming at the screen. This one didn't elicit much of either, mostly boredom the first time around. A couple gets married, they go to Europe on their honeymoon, hilarity ensues as they grow to hate each other. I think I would have liked it more if they didn't get back together at the end (nobody's going to greenlight a picture like that these days). But even the wacky fish-out-of-water business in Europe wasn't that entertaining. European Vacation did it better.

I should probably admit here that I generally enjoy the work of Ashton Kutcher. He's a big goof, but plays the role well and has managed his career brilliantly thus far. Dude, Where's My Car? is a Rum Smuggler Classic. He went from sweeping up Cheerio dust at the General Mills factory to being a male model to becoming a popular young TV/movie star, all in a short period of time and without any embarrassing scandals. Likewise, Brittany Murphy always does a great job in whatever she's in. I still admire her voice work in King of the Hill for the character Luanne. She captures the dumb Southern redneck blonde in a way that's not a caricature or demeaning.

Might as well comment on some of the other actors... David Rasche plays Murphy's father, though I'll always remember him as the Scandinavian jerk hair stylist in the great mockumentary The Big Tease. Veronica Cartwright plays Murphy's mom and is a prolific actress, but I immediately associate her with her role as the mother in Flight of the Navigator, a great 80s sci-fi kids' movie. Monet Mazur plays Murphy's sister, and I've enjoyed her work in Comic Book Villains and the previously blogged 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Two running themes annoyed me, and it has more to do with the writing than anything else. The first was the running joke about them not being able to consummate their marriage. Despite the fact that we see them having sex before the wedding, it doesn't seem like it would be that big of a deal. As much as they get on each others nerves, you would assume they'd eventually do the deed at one of the hotels. There's a bunch of stupid crap that happens, but they do share many beds together for many hours, and on a good day with a tailwind two minutes is all that is required... Ahem. The second problem was that Kutcher's character is obsessed with sports. Yes, he works for a sports radio station, but he doesn't actually report sports scores--he does traffic. Yes, he's a superfan, but even the most dedicated enthusiast could hold it for a few days or satisfy him with a quick scan of the paper. (And apparently Einstein and wife aren't aware that the International Herald-Tribune is available throughout Europe and is up to date, but if you need information faster, there's always that... what's it called? L'internet or something.)

Which brings me back to the third annoying theme that I failed to enumerate in the previous paragraph. The movie is a celebration of being an "ugly American" in Europe. Murphy's character has been there before and speaks the lingo, but Kutcher is the worst possible stereotype of an American tourist that is, unfortunately, sometimes accurate. I'm not the most cosmopolitan guy in the world, but I spent a week in Amsterdam and three weeks in Italy. In both cases, the locals were convinced that I was German or British--they couldn't believe I was American. Also in both cases, I had locals come up to me and ask for directions, which I take as a good sign that I was blending in. Yet in both countries I frequently observed Americans doing stupid stuff like following the rule of "If they don't speak English, try LOUD ENGLISH". (In Italy, I translated a few times, but in the Netherlands almost everyone spoke perfect English, better than mine. That didn't keep a few numbskulls from acting stupid...)

I might as well brag about this here since I get few opportunities to do so in real life... On a train in Italy somewhere in Tuscany, my girlfriend and I were going over our travel plans for the next few days. (We were making it up as we went along.) Across the aisle, four little old Italian women in furs were chatting and drinking coffee and whatnot. Along the ride, I picked up quite a bit of their conversation, and one woman in particular couldn't stand American college students and kept gesturing towards us. (To be fair, her opinion was probably well justified.) When we arrived at our destination--keep in mind I'd been speaking English the entire trip to my girlfriend, who spoke no Italian--I stood up, bowed slightly, and addressed the woman who hated American college students. In my most polite and formal Italian, I offered the kind ladies assistance with their luggage which was stored in the overhead compartment. She stammered out a quick "Si!" and I pulled it down for them, bowed again, and wished them a good day. Now obviously there are a million stories like this from people that are better at foreign languages than I am, and although I got some small evil satisfaction from it, I honestly did it in order to serve as an "ambassador of good will" in hopes of improving our nation's image abroad.

I've always felt that if you're in a foreign country (or around a lot of foreigners in your own country), then you should behave as if you were a guest in someone's house. Know a lot before you go in, bring gifts in case the occasion merits it, and start formal before easing into the more familiar relationships. Never fails.

Halfway through this movie, I don't like it any more than I did the first time, but I think I've worked through the reasons why I didn't like it. Therefore, it hasn't been a waste of my time.
Movieblogging: The Bad News Bears
I haven't seen this since I was in my single-digit years... One of the greatest kids' baseball movies ever made, The Bad News Bears (1976). (Insomnia's a problem in the early morning, too!) I didn't start playing baseball until '84, when I was in our church league team. But a lot of this movie looks painfully familiar, yet odd when compared to today. Take the late Walter Matthau for instance. He frequently swears at and ridicules the children, smokes cigars constantly, and not only drinks beer and hard liquor in front of the children but does it while driving them around. And the kids--they cuss, use racial epithets, and one kid smokes cigarettes. (Let's not forget the end when he gives the entire team beer.) Made today, this movie would be given an R rating and the filmmakers would be arrested. But I find it a surprisingly accurate portrayal of being a kid back then. It was considered character-building to get chewed out by your alcoholic coach. Damned kids today and their sensitivity training...

Aside from Matthau and Tatum O'Neal, there's not a lot of notable actors in this. The actors do a great job, but by notable I mean few of them did much work that is recognizable twenty-seven years later.

I love the score ripped from Bizet's Carmen, though I don't know if it was a stroke of genius or simply a cost-saving measure (public domain!). Much like the classical works in the Warner Brothers cartoons, it inadvertently gave kids some culture.

Though this movie was based off of classic underdog movies like The Dirty Dozen and served as the inspiration for all of the kids' sports movies that followed (like The Mighty Ducks), a faithful and hilarious parody of this movie was done as an episode of the Clerks animated series--the same episode that was a spot-on parody of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (trust me, it works).

I normally don't watch movies (or any TV for that matter) in the morning, but I'm stuck with this sinus infection and this is just the sort of light entertainment I'm capable of handling right now.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Movieblogging: Le Voyage dans la lune & S.W.A.T.
Double feature tonight while hanging out over at Ring Bearer's crib. It would have been a triple feature, but my sinuses have left me with crappy endurance this weekend, and I didn't want to drive home sleepy. First up was the silent classic Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), known as A Trip to the Moon in English. It was directed by Georges M�li�s (who also starred as one of the professors). He was a prolific director, with over 500 titles to his name, from 1896 to 1914. (To be fair, nearly all of these were short films under 20 minutes.) In fact, the second to the last film he directed was an animated version of Le Voyage dans la lune--and I'd love to see it at some point. This was a pioneering work of science fiction and special effects, as well as making low-budget adaptations of incredible literary science fiction. It also has the distinction of being one of the few well-known silent films among the general population.

The second movie was more appropriate for a guys' night gathering. S.W.A.T. (2003) was a big-budget remake of the 1975 TV series of the same name, starring Robert Urich in the role now played by Colin Farrell. And just because I look these things up, the actor who played Hondo in the original series was the S.W.A.T. truck driver at the end of the movie. Also, the actor who played LL Cool J's father in this movie played LL Cool J's character in the original series. That being said, I have no memory of the series--it was around during the first year of my life, though the theme song sounded very familiar. That may be because of parodies in other shows later on. (I have a feeling that the Naked Gun movies borrowed some elements from this series.)

It was a pretty standard action flick, though the first hour and a half was really stupid. Every cliche in the book... The final thirty minutes were pretty exciting, and overall it made for a fun stupid guy movie to make fun of while drinking beer.
Movieblogging: Catch Me If You Can
Chalk this one up to "Watching Movies I Missed Since Avoiding Theaters". I've heard nothing but good about Catch Me If You Can (2002), the big Dreamworks picture directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, and a incredibly strong supporting cast. Ellen Pompeo, who played the lovely blonde girlfriend of Luke Wilson in Old School plays a flight attendant wooed by DiCaprio. She also had a bit part in Daredevil, which starred Jennifer Garner as Electra. Garner plays another love interest of DiCaprio in this film. There's also a cameo appearance by the real life Frank Abagnale, Jr., as one of the French police officers. He also wrote the autobiographical book upon which this movie is based.

It's a fantastic movie that was enjoyed by critics and audiences alike, so I'll not go into detail about the plot. I will note that the set design is phenomenal--a classy 1960s look without being gaudy or ironic. As those who lived through the decade like to remind us whippersnappers, only a small percentage of people were hippies. The rest of the nation looked a lot like it did in the late 50s. And from a graphic designer's perspective, I'm impressed by the time-consuming, fully-manual layout work he had to do in order to forge IDs, checks, and other documents. Still a criminal, but that stuff's hard. I take a pretty firm stance against forgery at work, and have called the police a few times on customers who were stupid enough to come to me to try and get work forged. I'm also pretty good at spotting forgeries that are brought in, though obviously I'm not an expert in the criminal investigation side of things. Nowadays any idiot with a scanner and an inkjet printer thinks they can create a convincing forgery. I think the sleaziest I ever saw was somebody making fake handicapped parking tags and coloring them in with blue magic markers.
Movieblogging: After Hours
(I'm experimenting with my titles on these posts--I have yet to settle on a format I'm 100% happy with.) This afternoon, with a bit of a sinus problem and not a lot to do, I'm lying down and watching After Hours (1985). This is one of those movies that I was only vaguely aware of. I think I passed by the box at Blockbuster several hundred times (it's at the beginning of the alphabet in the comedy section) without ever taking a look at the back for a description. Nor had I ever looked up who was in it before now. And I can now say that my lack of curiosity was pretty appropriate.

It was directed by Martin Scorcese and has an impressive cast, including Cheech and Chong in a weird Rosencrantz and Guildenstern role. Griffin Dunne plays a New Yorker having the night from hell, being tossed into one unpleasant situation after another in a fruitless attempt to get back home. There are a lot of talented comedic actors in it, but I wouldn't call it a comedy. Maybe a black comedy, but the cinematography, music, and general feel are more of a drama bordering on psychological horror. Nothing's wrong with that, but you get the impression from the IMDB description that it's actually funny.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Election 2004: Noonan on Dean
Peggy Noonan weighs in on her feelings towards Howard Dean in a Wall Street Journal article today. In her opening paragraph, she sums up my feelings succinctly:
I want to like Howard Dean. I don't mean I want to support him; I mean I want to like him, or find him admirable even if I don't agree with him. I want the Democratic Party to have a strong nominee this year, for several reasons. One is that it is one of our two great parties, and it is dispiriting to think it is not able to summon up a deeply impressive contender. Another is that democracy is best served by excellent presidential nominees duking it out region to region in a hard-fought campaign that seriously raises the pressing issues of the day. A third is that the Republican Party is never at its best when faced with a lame challenger. When faced with a tough and scrappy competitor like Bill Clinton, they came up with the Contract with America. When faced with Michael Dukakis they came up with flag-burning amendments. They need to be in a serious fight before they fight seriously.
I disagree with her conclusion, though--the Dean campaign will be an entirely different beast when and if he's nominated. Right now the Dean supporters are a little different from the Clark supporters and those backing the other seven nominees. Immediately after the nomination, expect some grumbling and anger from the supporters of the 8 losing candidates, but within a week, I think it's likely that everyone will close ranks regardless of who wins.

The reason for that is that there's a stronger drive among Democrats to vote against Bush than to vote for a specific Democrat. There's nothing wrong with that--a lot of Republicans were in the same boat with the 2000 election. There's also a load of Greens and other folks on the far left that are willing to hold their nose and vote Democratic this time. (Nader is not running as the Green candidate this year by his own choice, though he might run as an independent.)
Election 2004
The Democratic primaries are going to be a lot of fun to watch--the first one is going to be Iowa on January 19 followed by New Hampshire on January 27. And then things will be crazy for about two months, and expect to have a clear winner decided by late March, even if all of the primaries haven't been held. But what about the Republican primaries? I knew that the official GOP line was that nobody would challenge Bush, but it appears that there are still going to be little primaries scattered about. So far the challengers appear to be the type you see in any election--a housewife, a few businessmen looking for free advertising, etc.

This is a big strategic win for the Bush team, as they don't have to spend a dime during the primary season, and can just allow the Democrats to attack each other for a few months before the official nominee is decided. (A running joke is that the GOP can just use the Democrat attack ads on each other for their own campaign in the summer and fall.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

End of Classical Music Recordings?
Norman Lebrecht muses that 2004 might be the last year for new classical music recordings. I have to agree with him, though I think it will sputter on in some form for a while. Classical recordings occupy a really strange place in the market--nobody buys modern compositions, and there's only so many recordings you can do of the same piece before demand is completely satisfied. The only thing that sells well are creative collections that draw from a lot of artists, but tend to focus on only well known individual songs.

If nothing else, we've got a wealth of recordings to choose from in CD format, and at some point in the future when interest grows again, I'm sure it will become profitable to make new recordings again.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Filling in gaps again, I'm watching One Hour Photo (2002). This is one of the many movies that intrigued me when it came out, but I positively refused to see it in the theater. Why? Audiences typically get really annoying in the presence of a dramatic Robin Williams role (except for Good Will Hunting). Which is unfortunate, because he's a damned good actor. I was one of only six people in the theater during a showing of Being Human in 1993, and three of the viewers were old folks complaining about the missing jokes, and "Why isn't this funny?" It used to be that you could tell his serious and funny roles apart by whether or not he sported facial hair; in this dramatic piece he's uncharacteristically clean-shaven, but is balding and has blond hair, so I suppose it counts as "weird hair = drama".

He's quite creepy in this role, and the filming is amazing--particularly since much of it takes place under fluorescent lights. (I'm certain they used additional lighting, but it's still tricky to keep people from looking like corpses.)

To point out the second tier actors... Gary Cole (the boss in Office Space) plays the boss here. The female lead is played by hot Danish actress Connie Nielsen, who was in Gladiator, Mission to Mars, and the Rum Smuggler Classic Rushmore. Dylan Smith, who plays the little boy in this film, played the young Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean. Eriq La Salle is in it as well--most people know him as Dr. Benton from ER, but he also had a prominent role in the Eddie Murphy flick Coming to America.

The story is unnerving, yet well played out. It's not the kind of thing I'd watch again, but I would recommend it for those willing to be patient.
Greg Easterbrook muses about the existence of extraterrestrial life in his blog on The New Republic's site. His tech-related articles are always interesting, but I perked up at this note about SETI-related searches:
Researchers have looked for the spectral lines of artificial nuclear reactions, and not seen them.
That makes a lot of sense, but I don't think I'd ever seen it mentioned before. Even though they haven't found anything, that's good thinking. I found a scientific paper on the subject that provides some more info.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Filling in gaps here... Having grown up on watching War Games and Ferris Bueller's Day Off about a hundred times each, I was an early fan of Matthew Broderick. And thus we arrive at tonight's viewing, Max Dugan Returns (1983). I've passed this by many times in the past, but tonight is the first time that I'm getting around to it. This was Broderick's first movie, as well as the first movie starring Kiefer Sutherland--his father Donald has one of the main roles in this. (The only other movie they starred in together was 1996's John Grisham adaptation A Time To Kill.) Since I've listed many of the main actors, I'll go ahead and point out Marsha Mason and Jason Robards, the latter in the titular role.

Like I said, I've seen this title a lot of times, but I always thought it was a dumb 80s movie. Oddly, that usually encourages me to see something, but I just never actually saw it. Now that I'm taking a look at it, I realize that it was written by Neil Simon. I think I had it confused with the similarly titled Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Morgan Stewart's Coming Home. To make note of a few connections, Neil Simon and Marsha Mason were married for almost ten years, though divorced before this movie came out.

I get the impression this film isn't that popular, as it's slightly too high brow to be an authentic bad 80s movie, yet isn't good enough to be a standalone classic. In short, Marsha Mason is a single mother to Matthew Broderick who has told her son that her father is dead. But then the wealthy father (Max Dugan, played by Jason Robards) appears and announces that he only has a few months to live and wants to spend it with his grandson, but incognito! The plot is fairly predictable, but sweet in places, as one may expect from Neil Simon. Overall, it's not bad, but aside from the trivial value of the performances involved, I can't really recommend it on its own merits.

(One side note: the copy shown on Fox Movie Classics was horrible in the audio department. I have pretty sensitive hearing, but the audio frequently dropped below the range of normal human audition.)
Site News
I've been off work for the past four days straight (though I was out of town three days on two separate trips, and spent the fourth day running errands). As a result, today was my first venture back into the world of news and the blogosphere after a long hiatus. Lots of little stuff happened, but nothing earth-shattering. Which is nice, I suppose... Natural disasters and potential terrorist activity aside, things are going to be quiet until the Democratic primaries, and then expect things to be quite exciting until November, possibly beyond (heaven forfend!).

As of this week I'm finally returning to a schedule that is somewhat normal (for me). Things should return to normal shortly, and I hope to include more non-movie/non-book stuff here.

Huzzah for the new year! May we enjoy a locupletative few months in the near future!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

On a whim, I'm watching The Doctor and the Devils (1985), branded a horror movie by the IMDB but really more of a historical fiction movie set in the early Victorian era of England. The real study of human corpses was frowned upon in that age, though grave robbers were more than happy to provide corpses to medical students who actually wanted to learn about the human body rather than that of sheep or cattle. This movie concerns that peculiar trade. (Alas, the film suggests that murders were committed to meet the demand, but there were certainly enough deaths at the time to keep the doctors supplied.)

A quick glance through the credits will lead one to understand why I decided to watch it: Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Julian Sands, Stephen Rea, Patrick Stewart... Though the list of actresses includes Twiggy near the top (I could care less*), I was amazed to see Phyllis Logan in the top ten. Ah, Phyllis Logan... She starred as the elegant redhead on Lovejoy, a BBC television series that ran for eight years adapted from the series of mystery novels about a roguish antiques forger by the same name. I loved that series, and I was quite fond of the books, written by Jonathan Gash (a medical doctor in real life who fakes antiques--for sale with full disclosure--for charity auctions). Her part here isn't that great, and she's a brunette, but I'm still glad I saw her in it.

A bit o' trivia... The original screenplay for this movie was written by Dylan Thomas--yes, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" Dylan Thomas, everyone's favorite depressed alcoholic Welsh poet whose last words were "I've just had 15 double whiskies. I think that might be a record."

On the whole, the movie isn't very good. As much as I love the time period, the actors, and everything else upon which the movie rests, it just isn't compelling or enjoyable. Not offensive in any way, just boring and a complete waste of all of the talent involved.

For the sake of pointing out connections, the director of this movie, Freddie Francis, appears to have had a much more distinguished career as a cinematographer, including the previously reviewed Glory, the as-yet-unreviewed-here Dune, and several other good movies.

*A representative line from Twiggy: "I'm a whore, but I'm not your whore."

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