Movie Report: Yes Man (2008)

Book coverIn speaking of the Sandlerverse, the Stillerverse, and now the Ferrellverse, is there such a thing as a Carreyverse? I don’t think so. He played with a lot of A-listers. Also, Tone-Loc. But not the same rotating actors in different movies.

At any rate, in this film, Carrey is a recently divorced man who has withdrawn from his friendships. However, a friend takes him to an empowerment seminar, and the guru tells Carrey that he’s got to say “Yes” whenever he’s asked a question. He does not and has some bad luck, and then starts saying yes, starting by allowing a homeless man to use his phone and to give the homeless man a ride to a remote park, where Carrey runs out of gas and cell phone charge. He’s rescued by a manic pixie girlfriend to be played by Zoey Deschanel, and she likes how spontaneous he seems–they take a weekend getaway to Lincoln, Nebraska, because it’s the first flight out. And his yessing leads to the TSA suspecting he’s a terrorist.

It’s not as crass as a Ferrell film; Carrey’s not at the over-the-top energy of his younger years (what, twenty years from this movie’s release and a full thirty years ago now, old man). His character changes and learns something at the end, something that you don’t always get with a Sandlerverse or Stillerverse picture (and hardly ever with the Ferrellverse).

Too often in my life I’ve said no when asked to do something, go out, or try something new. I have gotten better about it these days, although the things I’m asked to do have diminished somewhat. I’ve tried to instill that wisdom into my children, to take the opportunities to do things when they can instead of staying home and playing video games and reading books as those pastimes can wait. I didn’t watch this movie with them, but the oldest has spotted it and has expressed interest in it, so I might watch it in the coming weeks again. Which is about as good of an endorsement that you get on this blog.

Like Sandler, Carrey has taken some dramatic roles in his time–I saw The Truman Show two or three times in the theater and have seen The Cable Guy. So he brings some depth and intelligence and, well, growing up to his roles or playing grown ups who grow, too. So perhaps I should look more into his later films and get caught up.

Oh, and did someone say “Zooey Deschanel”? Continue reading “Movie Report: Yes Man (2008)”

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Movie Report: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Book coverI had seen this film before–hopefully on cable or rental and not on a DVD since I just bought a DVD for a buck or two and don’t need a backup copy. I recently hit an antique mall and bought a number of DVDs for $1.50 or $2.00 each–cheaper than at a Branson thrift store, but maybe not for long once they start drying up or people start dropping streaming services.

At any rate, this film is the story of a racecar driver, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), who wanted to be a driver like his father who abandoned the family. He’s given a chance on a last-ranked team to take over mid-race when the apathetic driver abandons the car and crew. It starts his rise to fame and fortune and marrying a cocktail waitress and their family. Along for the ride is his best friend from boyhood played by John C. Reilly who often comes in second behind Ricky Bobby. When the team hires a French Formula 1 racer, Bobby has an accident that leaves him unable to drive. Which causes his wife to leave him for John C. Reilly. Until he can race again, when he is redeemed. C’mon, man, the plot’s not really the point.

The point is to watch Ferrell, Reilly, and the cast behaving outlandishly and boorishly to comic effect. It’s crass, and it would probably not get made today, but it’s amusing in spots.

You know, I think I have mentioned the Stillerverse–the comedies with Ben Stiller and his normal crew, and the Sandlerverse, with Adam Sandler and his crew. But the Ferrellverse is also a thing, with the films that he makes with John C. Reilly. Of course, the more I revisit these films, the more overlap I find, although none of the Sandler or Stiller crews appear in this movie.

Will I rewatch it? Well, I did this time. And I did not watch it with my boys as I was not sure whether it was too crass for them. But probably not. So one of these days perhaps we’ll watch it together.

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Movie Report: The Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

Book coverWell, apparently I went on an Ethan Hawke streak after my Andie MacDowell streak (MultiplicityFour Weddings and a Funeral). I watched this film not long after Reality Bites, so I got more Ethan Hawke in one week than most people. And I lived to tell the tale.

This film is a remake of an older film (from 1976). I am pretty sure I saw the older film a long time ago, but I got it confused with Fort Apache, The Bronx, a Paul Newman film that I found in my video library pretty easily, accidentally even while dusting this weekend. I’m not sure I have the older Assault on Precinct 13 on physical media, but one never knows. My video library is in worse disorder than my books.

So: It’s New Year’s Eve, and the police department of Detroit (not LA, as in the original) is decommissioning a station house. Everything has been moved out, almost, since the new precinct house opens on January 1, but a couple of police officers have to maintain presence until midnight. Ethan Hawke’s character once led a team of undercover detectives working narcotics, but after a bust gone bad that left his team dead and he wounded, he ended up with a desk job. Brian Dennehy is the guy retiring. Drea de Matteo is another cop. Maria Bello plays the Mary Ellen Trainor role, the police psychiatrist treating Ethan Hawke’s character. Originally not supposed to be at the station, her car has trouble outside as a Storm of the Century is brewing. A local crime lord, played by Larry Fishbourne and named Bishop for the irony (not just in being named for an ecclesiastical office, but the lead police officer in the original film was named Bishop) is getting transferred before trial, but the sheriff’s bus has to find a port in the storm, so it brings its load of prisoners to the soon-to-be closed, nearly empty police station for the storm to abate. And the people trying to silence Bishop can attack with impunity.

So it’s a bit of a castle defense movie–the cast arm themselves with whatever sidearms they have and whatever they can pick up on assailants. The attacks come in waves, each getting repulsed, but numerous name stars die. The head of the precinct releases and arms the prisoners to help with the defense. Someone inside the building is a traitor! And a handful of people, including the top cop and the top bad guy, who is not only a bad guy but also speaks witha Buddha-like wisdom. You know, kinda like Morpheus.

The film is updated from the 1976 version: It’s set in Detroit, which allows them to set it during a Great Blizzard which, in all honesty looks like a few flakes. I mean, there’s like two inches of snow on the ground, max. But it’s a big deal and cars are sliding off the road, it’s too dangerous to travel, but, hey, watch this sniper climb to the peak of a snow-covered roof and run across it like it’s nothing. Also, instead of gangs, the armed assailants are crooked cops who fear Bishop will testify against them in his trial. So it’s updated to a more modern feel, yeah–reading the Wikipedia entry for the original, one can sense the 70s zeitgeist–the sort of washed out colors, the looming threat of unchecked crime and lawlessness and decay, where the antagonists are criminals and not cops. Of course, if the film were made now, it would be unvaccinated white supremecists shambling toward the precinct, and all the police inside would be social workers who would somehow prevail.

Not a bad actioner, and not a lot of Message in it, which was nice.

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Movie Reports: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1993) and Reality Bites (1994)

Book coverApparently, I had a brief Andie MacDowell movie kick; I watched Multiplicity, and then I followed it up with this film. As you might remember, gentle reader, I read the screenplay in May 2020. Now that I’ve read the screenplays for Firefly, I can see that I am not cut out to be a film writer as I have a train of thought that generally would barrel right through a bunch of these scenes/shots/snippets of dialog.

But that, gentle reader, is further comment on modern screenplays and not so much on this film qua film. Well, it’s definitely a self-contained universe. Hugh Grant’s Charles is late (always) to weddings, and when he goes to one where he’s the best man, he forgets the rings and then falls in love with the American Carrie (different from the Kingian Carrie) played by MacDowell before or during hooking up with her. When friends who get together at this wedding marry a couple months later, Carrie and Charles meet again–and Carrie introduces her fiance. At her wedding a couple months later, the guy that I remembered dies dies; at his funeral, they recite an Auden poem. At the fourth wedding, Charles with an old lover with whom he’s gotten betrothed only to discover Carrie is separated from her husband, and he leaves his fiancee at the altar to rekindle his romance with the American woman with 33 total sexual partners. Because that’s how we do things in America, y’all.

As I mentioned, I probaby saw this film when I was single, dating a girl who liked these kinds of movies (and took a movie appreciation class which meant I’ve also seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and when the film was relatively contemporary. Looking at it now, I think the characters are all rather superficial. Perhaps that’s a bit of the structure of it–just the four weddings and a funeral–but, c’mon, man, you get a better sense of who everyone in Wedding Crashers or The Wedding Singer is outside of the formal ceremonies.

Yeah, I didn’t like it. And I fear I’m still more Hugh Grant than Cary Grant.

Book coverRight on the tails of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I popped in Reality Bites to see how shallow popular culture presented us as/wanted us to be in the early middle 1990s. I had just read Severian’s recommendation of this movie, although I guess he said:

But since thinking about Singles only reminds me of Reality Bites (1994), which, in an uber-90s meta move, is a near-contemporary sludgy parody of Singles, let’s move on.

[I’ll leave it to y’all to discuss the merits of Reality Bites as a slice-of-90s-life. I got dragged to it by my college girlfriend, and y’all, it was painful. For one, it’s a bad movie — one of the least funny “comedies” you’ll ever see. For two, Ethan Hawke really nailed his character; that pseudo-badboy douchebag was everywhere in the 90s; that part is spot on, and imagine really living with that guy. For three, my girlfriend truly believed she was the Wynona Ryder character, but she was really the Janeane Garofalo character, and though Garofalo wasn’t as insufferable about politics back then, she was twice as insufferable about everything else. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that we broke up not long after this date.

I guess that’s not a recommendation after all, but I got what I came for in punishment and self-flagellation.

I had not seen this before, being not of the urban contemporary cool cohort. I didn’t watch Friends, either.

So. The overarching story is that Winona Ryder’s Leliana gives the valodictorian speech from her college (although Valodictorian is a high school thing, ainna? I remember who my college graduation speaker was only because it wasn’t me, but that’s because the university didn’t even consider me as the speaker when I nominated myself) and says she’s going to change the world. She’s taking videos of her friends throughout, so that will be important. She ends up working as a producer on a morning program with an old man and an old audience, and she hates it; she lives with a girlfriend played by a young Janeane Garafolo. Another friend, Ethan Hawke’s starving, conflicted musician character, moves in when he loses another entry-level job. Steve Zahn is the other bit of their quartet, but he turns out to be gay. Leliana throws a cigarette out her window into the car of a young YUPPIE (alright, you cannot have an old Yuppie, I know, it’s redundant) who crashes into her while trying to put out a small fire in his convertible. Okay, there’s your thing: The young woman with pretentions meets an executive at a cable network. Does she love the guy with the job or the guy with the guitar? C’mon, man, follow your heart. Or maybe it’s best if you have a liberal arts degree to do so. She shows the tapes/edited documentary called Reality Bites to her boyfriend with the network, and the network cuts it to, you know, television, so she ends up with the guitar guy.

I mean, in 1994, I would have been about to be or freshly out of an expensive university (so expensive, gentle reader, that you know I say When I was at the university). I worked a full-time job through most of college, and then a job or a job and a half after college not working in my field, but making enough to keep gas in my car and my student loans paid (thanks to my sainted mother and aunt for the use of real estate for a couple of years until I lucked into a career). So when Leeloonooomrbill quits dramatically from a good job where she thought she was the stuff, not the on-air talent with years’ of experience and a dedicated audience, I balked. When she chooses the guy who can quote old television shows and some books over the guy with the job, I was all like, “Nah.”

You know, it’s probably a matter of time more than a matter of class distinction, but I don’t sympathize with these kids, either.

Jeez, was mass culture trying to make us that simple even then?

The aforementioned Severian has postulated that pop culture tends to be made by the previous generation, for the most part, and I add that sometimes it might be them trying to relive their callow youth in the present. The movie presents a couple of anachronisms for sure. The songs “My Sharona” and “Tempted”, for example; for someone who graduated in 1993-1994, we’re talking something that came on the radio when they were nine or ten. They discuss individual episodes of Good Times which went off of the air when they were, what, eight years old? Sure, it was in syndication for a bit, but not that much. I saw it a couple of times in the 1980s. This irked me in 13 Going On 30 in 2004. It irks me now.

So, yeah, I was not impressed with either of the films. Which is weird: One would think that I, a man who met his beautiful wife through poetry would appreciate a smart-talking, artsy guy getting the girl. But, gentle reader, even then, I had a job. Or two.

So enough of these “serious” movies. I’m back to comedies and actioners from before the turn of the century.

 

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Movie Report: Multiplicity (1996)

Book coverYou’re right, gentle reader; I am watching a lot of films lately. In the olden days, I only got to watch a film or two every couple of months. The exception was VBS week, when I could watch one or two films every night for five nights. This summer, though, my beautiful wife has taken our boys to an amusement park once or twice a week (wearing out season passes) which gives me a chance to watch one or more. In addition to VBS week, where they volunteered as my boys have aged out of the program itself (already?) Also, I’m watching a film or so a week with my boys. So I am getting so many films in that I’ll want to take a break sometime and, I don’t know, read a book. Likely a book based on a television program or a movie.

Some blog I read mentioned Multiplicity recently, so I watched it on an evening when I was looking for a comedy to fill the VBS time. The film is from 1996, but it’s a bit of a throwback to 1980s comedies (and some shades of Mr. Mom). Michael Keaton plays Doug Kinney, a man burning his candle at both ends and the middle–he’s got a taxing job, and he’s trying to keep up with his wife and children and perhaps some hobbies. While supervising a job at a research facility, he encounters a man who offers to create a clone so that Michael Keaton can share duties with him. So he does; the clone gets to handle all the work part of Kinney’s life. He finds that his family life is also taking up a lot of time, leaving him no time for golf, so he creates another clone for homemaking. The first clone then creates a clone of himself, but it turns out to be simple-minded–a bad copy of a copy. So the three clones, each with a different personality aspect of the original, have some lojinks–adventures not up to hijinks as Kinney reflects upon his life. He takes some time to learn to sail and then takes a day to sail to Catalina Island on a boat with Bill Murray’s brother and the love interest from Happy Gilmore; during that time away, his wife (Andie MacDowell, aka Rita from Groundhog Day) rekindles her romance with her husband. Or his clones, successively (not all at once).

Yeah, that last bit kind of squicked me out a bit.

So it’s amusing at times; it’s not a laugh-out-loud funny film, but it’s a comedy for grownups. According to Wikipedia, it only made about half of its budget back at the box office, so clearly, adult comedies would be a no-go in the 21st century.

So I’m happy to have seen it to hopefully retain something from it for trivia nights, should they ever again happen.

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Movie Report: Maverick (1994)

Book coverAfter we watched Horse Soldiers, I thought I’d show the boys a slightly more modern Western, this one a comedy from the mid-1990s (released a year after Tombstone). When you think about modern films mining old properties for material, remember that this movie was an update of James Garner’s television series from the late 1950s.

In the film, Mel Gibson plays Bret Maverick, a gambler looking to make enough to stake a place in the first world championship of poker. He’s a little short, but he tries to gamble and grift his way to St. Louis. He meets the Jodie Foster character, who is also a poker player and bit of a con artist, as we come to know. James Garner himself is introduced as a well-known lawman. Someone is trying to stop Maverick from getting to the card game, and the movie goes through a number of set pieces where Maverick tries to collect old debts only to encounter some trouble or another. He finally makes it to the card game on a riverboat, and when he wins the pot, the lawman steals it, so Maverick goes to hunt him down and finds the lawman was partners with the organizer of the tournament.

So it’s a pretty fun romp filled with outlandish situations and featuring numerous cameos by Western movie stars, country singers, and Danny Glover as a bank robber who is getting too old for this shit. My boys didn’t understand a lot of the references and the “Hey, there’s that guy!” element of the movie, but the oldest did recognize Waylon Jennings (good boy!) but only from being in The Highwaymen (well, it’s something).

So I enjoyed it, and I was pleased to see that the problems I’d experienced with the picture in Tombstone was because that VHS was so worn; this one looked good, which means it’s not in the electronica again.

So I might watch this again sometime, and I have the physical media to make that possible for as long as the lights stay on.

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Movie Report: Tombstone (1993)

Book coverAs it turns out, betting on my watching this film before Her Alibi would have lost you money. Which is why I never bet against myself: I am unpredictable.

Okay, so this film has become some sort of cultural touchstone or something. It’s an early 1990s western, when those resurged on the big screen perhaps thanks to Dances with Wolves (1990) or Lonesome Dove (1989) more than Young Guns (1988). So it’s serious and dramatic. It tells the story, basically, of Wyatt Earp coming to Tombstone with his brothers and families, ending up the marshal, and then taking on the Cowboys, a large gang ranging over the southwest. It stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Sam Elliot as Virgil Earp, Tom Paxton as The Earp That Dies, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Dana Delany as a traveling actress, Powers Boothe as the leader of the Cowboys, and a bunch of other people you’d recognize.

So, as I said, it became a bit of a touchstone amongst people who like Westerns, which is a euphemism for men for this modern age, of a certain age. Gen X, maybe, with some younger Boomers perhaps. Some people continue to quote it, although “I’m your huckleberry” is the only line I remember, although I see this GIF around from time to time:

via GIPHY

I dunno; I did not see it when it was fresh. I must have seen it on cable at some point, as I just bought the VHS I own. So it didn’t hit me with a culture-hitting-you-when-you’re-growing-up resonance. It’s okay; the first part is fairly linear, but after the surviving Earps decamp from Tombstone, it gets a little montage-y until the final climax and denouement. So not on the top of my list of Westerns.

It didn’t help that this VHS was pretty well used, with some jumping on playback. Clearly someone watched this film over and over before me.

This film starred two pretty Danas. Continue reading “Movie Report: Tombstone (1993)”

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What He Said

Author Treacher’s current Column? Newsletter? offers a bit of musing on comic book movies passing their expiration date again:

But a Black Widow movie? After they already killed her off? It just feels like an afterthought. Maybe it would’ve been a huge hit if it had come out in 2016, which is apparently the year it’s set. But now? Nah.

I wonder if the Marvel movies will have the same problem the comics had back in the ‘70s, after being such a commercial and cultural phenomenon in the ‘60s. Once the novelty wore off, the brand name alone wasn’t enough to keep fans forking over their dough. Pumping out titles with second- and third-string characters didn’t cut it. The magic was gone. You could still find some gems here and there, but the golden age was over.

You know, I kind of felt that after the Avengers story arc ended with Avengers: Endgame. I have not yet seen the most recent Spiderman movie. I only saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this month because the resort we stayed at let us borrow the movie for free to watch in our room. The Black Widow? Doctor Strange II? I don’t think I’ll see those in the theaters either. Nor am I hastening to get a streaming service to watch Loki, Paul Bettany, or any of the Star Wars properties over there.

Is it because I’ve grown up? Unlikely. This weekend, I stopped at the local game shop as I mentioned, and I bought a stack of one dollar comics (but not Sarah Hoyt’s Barbarella since it was not in stock). Given what I have seen from modern Marvel comics that I bought at the Comic Cave for a buck each back in the day, I’m probably best served by buying older comics with more elaborate stories than simple stories with Comic Art.

(Ace also offers commentary on the movie’s box office performance.)

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Movie Report: The Horse Soldiers (1959)

Book coverAfter watching The Three Musketeers, when the boys called for a movie, I thought about showing them a real John Wayne film. I thought first of McClintock!, but its VHS tape was not rewound, which sometimes means that it will take some effort to get it rewound. I thought about The Sands of Iwo Jima, but I recently was spoiler-alerted on another site that this is not the first John Wayne film to show your growing boys. So I settled on this film which was also in the to-watch cabinet.

The film is based on a true story (so Wikipedia tells me). Wayne leads a cavalry brigade deep into Confederate territory to attack a town which is the railhead supplying Vicksburg. He is saddled with a regimental surgeon who is caught between his duty to the Union and his duty as a doctor–and Wayne’s commander has reasons to distrust doctors. When the brigade holes up at a nearly abandoned plantation for the night, the mistress of the house, played by Constance Towers, the mistress of the house and her slave eavesdrop on the soldiers’ plans. To prevent them from reporting them to the rebs, the brigade brings her along. Much of the drama comes from the journey as the mistress tries to escape or alert the Confederates. Much of the tension comes in the clashes between the colonel and the surgeon as they come to respect one another. After the battle, as they try to flee south instead of north to throw the enemy off, the enemy susses out their plans and a second climactic battle takes place at the ambush laid for them.

The boys liked the film, and I pointed out how it was not a simplistic, jingoistic picture from the 1950s. Men on both sides are portrayed as men, with complexities and differing motives who are trying to get through the war and who are doing their duty–or padding their resume for a future political career.

I made the older one defensive when he didn’t know what Vicksburg was. I mean, I only know some of the names of the battles and the highest level overview of the war in total, but kids these days spend two or two and a half weeks on the Civil War (he said defensively–as in defending that his schools had, in fact, covered the Civil War). Eesh, they both could probably have better explained the Marvel Civil War in better detail–and we live less than a mile from a Civil War National Battlefield, and they have been there many times.

Ah, well. A nice picture, and a good intro for the lads into the John Wayne world. Although at the beginning, they asked me which one (the commander or the doctor) was John Wayne. In their defense, he was almost thirty years older than in The Three Musketeers and that older serial was in black-and-white. But I have failed as a father that they have only now, in their teens, seen John Wayne. I will do better.

Now, about Constance Towers, the lead actress in this picture.
Continue reading “Movie Report: The Horse Soldiers (1959)”

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Movie Report: The Three Musketeers (1933)

Book coverWell, after watching the first four episodes of this twelve-episode serial on a budget DVD from way back, I ordered the whole set on a DVD from Amazon.

I’m pleased to say that its transfer was also a little cleaner than the cheap DVD, which is nice.

So the three “musketeers” of the title are three members of the French foreign legion: Reynard, Clancy, and Schmidt. Their unit comes under fire from Arab raiders, and a man in a biplane saves them. He is Tom Wayne played by John Wayne. They’re the only survivors from their unit, and they call themselves the modern Three Musketeers and Wayne their D’Artagnon. So it’s not based on the Dumas book at all.

Wayne is an American Army(?) aviator visiting his sweetheart at her brother’s house. As Wayne arrives, the brother is writing a letter exposing a gun-running ring that he was part of, but an Arab rebel leader nicknamed El Shaitan (the Devil)–the recipient of the guns–shows up to kill the brother. A member of his band cuts the letter that the brother had been writing to implicate Wayne.

So the storyline, then, is Wayne has to prove his innocence and expose El Shaitan. He has the help of the Three Musketeers who believe in him. Apparently this conspiracy to supply arms to the Arab rebels who want to fight the French might include American intelligence agents, officers in the French military, or perhaps the leader of a purportedly friendly Arab tribe. What! Intrigue in a serial from ninety years ago? Get out of town! Wasn’t that sort of thing invented in 2001 or 2002 or maybe all the way back in 1990-something? One might think so if one were young and undereducated.

At any rate, the running time was a little under six hours–we essentially binge-watched it over four nights. The episodes on this DVD seemed shorter than the others, but that might be because some of the repeated/replayed material in each episode. For example, they generally replayed the last scene and cliffhanger from the previous episode to catch people up who might not have seen the previous episode. Then it twists to show how Wayne got out of the scrape, and then we get some new action for ten or twenty minutes. In the later episodes, we get other flashbacks, too, as the filmmakers stretch their material into the full twelve episodes.

So, was it worth watching? You know, the boys thought it was entertaining enough–or better than reading books which would have been their alternative when video game time was over. Or perhaps they really do enjoy watching old films with their father. But if you want to kind of think of yourself as kind of knowledgeable about films, serials, and whatnot, it might be worth watching. I remember television stations in Milwaukee in the 1970s played old serials like Buck Rogers on, what, Sunday mornings? I remember my father watching them and being engaged with them. So perhaps it’s also if you want to connect with your children over something you connected, slightly, or at least remember from your brief time on earth with your father (spoiler alert: when I say “you” here, I mean “I”). Or, I suppose, if you want to have something to post about, a couple times if you’re me and for weeks on end if you’re Lileks.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, and if you want to be a John Wayne purist. It’s slower than modern pacing, really, and although intriguey, less intriguey than, say, The Blacklist, the last season of which I haven’t even watched because, come on, the intrigue has folded back in on itself in a Möbius fashion that hurts my eyes.

Alrighty, then. I think I have answered all of your questions. Thanks for coming. Sorry, no further pictures of Ruth Hall today, although in the last episode or two, a few female extras appeared briefly, so she was not the only woman in the desert with the whole movie crew.

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Movie Report: Her Alibi (1989)

Book coverThis film comes from the 1980s, when Tom Selleck was trying to make the leap to being the leading man in pictures instead of just being Magnum, P.I.. It ultimately didn’t work, though, as he had a couple of lead roles in films including this one and, what, Runaway? (Research indicates he also headlined Lassiter, An Innocent Man, and Quigly Down Under, which I enjoyed, and later Mr. Baseball which I saw in the theater in college.) He never really made that transition and kept busy in television.

In this book, Magnum gets to play the Robin Masters character: A successful author with bestsellers to his credit, but who’s on a bit of a stale streak. He goes to watch a trial for inspiration, meeting up with some other authors who do the same, where he sees Paulina Porizkova getting arraigned for murder. Convinced that she could not be a murderer, he acts as her alibi, claiming that they were having an affair (which meant something a little different sometimes in the 1980s, as neither character is married). So they go away to his home in Connecticut while the Romanian secret police are out to capture or kill Porizkova’s character.

Much of the film is in Selleck’s character writing a novel based on their ongoing misadventures–the difference between what’s actually happening and how the author portrays it in the book providing much of the humor of the film along with doubts as to whether the young lady is an actual murderer–accidents and incidents that could have innocent explanations might actually be murder attempts! The humor is a little thin, though, and it fails to reach amusing–it holds at the level of I see what you’re doing there.

Well, it’s an okay film; it turns out that she’s not a secret agent, but part of a circus family looking to defect. The climax happens at a circus, and everyone lives happily ever after presumably.

I mean, I like Selleck, but I have to wonder why he did not make the move to films successfully. Too much connective charisma perhaps? Not enough detachment that the distant movie screen requires? I don’t know.

Oh, and no Paulina Porizkova pictures for you. If you want to see her without any clothes on, you’ll have to read the New York Post like the rest of us. Uh, probably NSFW, but it is an article in the New York Post.

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The Joke Is On Me

After watching The Man In The Iron Mask, I decided to jump the boys right into another recounting of the film. Not the 1973/1974 versions of The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers with Michael York as D’Artagnon. The John Wayne version of the 1930s.

As we started to watch it, it became clear that it’s not a film, but a serial in 12 parts. And it took us an hour to watch the first two installments–since we started watching at about 8pm, I called a lid after watching two chapters because I didn’t want to watch six hours of ninety-year-old cinema on a weeknight.

After the lights came up, I saw the back of the DVD, where it says the running time is 114 minutes. Ah! I thought. It’s the recut feature film version from 1946 (which I learned of on Wikipedia).

Oh, but no.

We started watching again the next night, expecting to get to the end of something, and right after chapter four, a color set of previews for other public domain discs you could buy from this company (including Africa Screams, so I nudged my younger son who has seen it with his dear old dad).

And that was it.

Apparently, somewhere in the last two decades, I paid maybe up to a dollar for this DVD, maybe even new at Schnucks back in the day, for the first four episodes of the serial. Nowhere on the packaging–a full sized DVD case and not a cardboard sleeve–does it say it’s only the first four episodes of a serial–it refers to itself as an action film, which would indicate it’s an intact unit. Nothing indicates part II and part III are available. Basically, I got rooked.

Well, I can’t just leave those boys hanging since they’re kind of enjoying it–fortunately, Amazon has the whole serial available, and it should arrive today for our review over the weekend. Maybe even with a–dare I hope it?–better and cleaned up transfer.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about Ruth Hall, the lead actress.

Continue reading “The Joke Is On Me”

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Movie Report: Soul Plane (2004)

Book coverYou know, in the modern era, and by “modern,” I mean contemporary tribalist era, I am not sure if I should laugh at anything in the film here. I mean, like a lot of humor, the movie plays on types. Stereotypes? Archetypes? Abstractions of people acting in recognizable but exaggerated ways in different situations? That’s been at the root of humor for history, from the city slicker to the rural clown in Shakespeare. But they’re evil, and especially since the types in this film are of different tribes than mine (really, one meta-tribe), it might be evil if I am amused by the urban-anything-for-a-buck almost con man, the oversexed people, the always high guy, or the sassy thirty-something women. Surely if I made a joke playing off these types, I would be evil and blacklisted. The blacklist is the most inclusive space in the modern world, ainna?

At any rate, Kevin Hart wins a lawsuit against an airline with a $100 million verdict. He’s a serial entrepreneur with no luck so far, but he decides he’s going to start his own airline. With the help of his grifting cousin, he starts an airline. A token white family, headed by Tom Arnold, his pretty but annoying girlfriend(?), his daughter on her eighteenth birthday, and his younger son have their flight cancelled, so their airline books them on the next available flight–on Kevin Hart’s airline, where they can be stereotypical white people for the humor. It turns out that the pilot is Snoop Dogg, who might have exaggerated on his resume–he’s afraid of heights–and he’s high all the time. And Kevin Hart’s old flame happens to be on the plane.

So we have various set pieces and various tropes, including gags that vast numbers of people want to have sex with the newly eighteen year old; white women dig black men with large genitalia; young white people embrace the gangsta lifestyle and look silly when they do so; also, Snoop Dog does a lot of drugs. A bit raunchy, but what’s what you get in an unrated comedy from the 21st century. A few amusing bits, and the dramatic climax where Snoop Dogg dies from a drug overdose (which hardly glamorizes drug use, ainna?) and Kevin Hart has to land the plane and wins back his girl is a bit tacked on, but where else could it go?

So: Okay, I suppose, if you have to watch something. But not something I’m likely to watch over and over again, but I own it on DVD just in case.

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Movie Report: The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Book coverIt has been two years since the boys and I watched the Douglas Fairbanks film The Iron Mask, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the tale with the more modern (well, to be honest, this film was almost seventy years after the Fairbanks version, so it counts as more modern even though it was twenty-some years ago, old man).

Okay, so how up am I on the Three Musketeers Universe? In addition to watching The Iron Mask, I have mentioned that I read the original novel in 2007 and the tie-in to the 1973/1974 movie versions in 2008 (in addition to seeing the 1973 and 1974 films both in the middle 1990s and probably ten years ago after reading the book). I also have a nice old copy of The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later which I have only picked up and contemplated reading once or twice in the last decade. So pretty good, all things considered.

Apparently, this story comes from the last part of Dumas’ Ten Years Later, although by reading the summary on Wikipedia of the book, I see that it has taken some liberties. “The deux!” you say (keeping with the French theme). Well, yes.

The film takes place after the three musketeers have retired; only D’Artagnon remains in the service as the head of the musketeers. Aramis has become the leader of the Jesuits, a rebellious sect looking out for the hungry. Porthos is pathetic, retired and feeling washed up. Athos has a son, Raoul, who is looking to marry a lovely young woman. The king of France is a bad, bad boy-man whose eye falls upon Raoul’s girl–so the king sends Raoul to the front instead of making him a musketeer (one of the boys commented that it was the story of David and Bathsheba–clever boy to see the allusion!). When Raoul dies, Athos vows revenge on the king and tells D’Artagnon that, if D’Artagnon continues to serve the king, the fourth musketeer will be his enemy as well. Aramis has a plan: There’s a prisoner in an iron mask who looks just like the king–because it’s his twin brother, secretly hidden away from the public eye and then placed in the iron mask in prison when the king ascended. So the three musketeers (Porthos, Athos, and Aramis) plot to put the twin on the throne, and almost get away with it. The big reveal is that D’Artagnon is so loyal to the king because the king (and the twin) are his sons, as he trysted the night away with the Queen when he was the head of her guards.

Spoiler alert: D’Artagnon dies when the king tries to stab his brother, but D’Art steps between, which was the main quibble that my boys had with this film. I don’t think it will spoil my enjoyment of the book, though, as the plot in the book seems to differ quite a bit–it is the third part of a larger book, so some things are hooked into it that the movie disregards completely.

At any rate, a nicely paced adventure film with intrigue, but not of the more modern One Of Us Is The Spy variety. Which was a much more pleasant plot in my humble opinion.

So now the question is, do I continue showing the boys Three Musketeersiana? After all, I do have the 70s versions with Michael York and Charlton Heston. Tune in later to find out!

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Movie Report: Short Circuit (1986)

Book coverThis film played on Showtime over and over in the mid-to-late 1980s when I was confined in rural spaces and had little to do but to watch the films over and over again, so I have seen it many, many times although not in some decades. It comes from a time when Steve Guttenberg was a bankable star, and I probably wanted to be Steve Guttenberg more than any other character. Smart, funny, a bit self-depricating and fundamentally unserious–I actually have grown up into that and with a beautiful co-star. So I guess the imprinting worked.

At any rate, in this film, robot-looking robots designed for military use put on a demonstration by big wigs. After the demonstration, one is struck by lightning and jumbled; through a comic mishap, it gets taken off the base and starts wandering. It falls in with the owner of a food truck (in the 1980s? What? Food trucks were not invented in 2015?) played by Ally Sheedy. She’s used to taking in strays. The robot, Number 5, seeks input, so it ends up reading all the books she owns and watching all the television it can. Meanwhile, the scientists from the military lab (Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens, soon to be cancelled if not already for playing a stereotypical Indian) look for the robot at the same time as the head of security leads a team to capture it. Eventually, the Guttenberg scientist (who polymathically created and engineered the software and hardware for the robot) decides that the robot has become sentient and tries to keep the company from disassembling Number Five who then fakes his own death to live freely.

So it’s an amusing movie which spawned a Guttenberg-less sequel and fed a number of catch phrases that I might have worked into conversation then and even more recently (“Number Five is alive!”, “No disassemble!”, and “Nice software!” among them).

The film also has supporting characters played by character actors who were all over. Austin Pendleton plays the head of the lab–we last saw him as the bumbling public defender in My Cousin Vinny. G.W. Bailey plays the head of security for the lab, a role he was probably typecast as he played the head of security in Mannequin and the sergeant in the Police Academy movies, most of them with Steve Guttenberg. I am pretty sure if I watched modern movies, I could make similar connections, but honestly, all I see these days are superhero movies (Chris Evans was Captain America and the Human Torch! Ben Affleck was Batman and Daredevil!). Maybe the eighties connections stick with me more because I was young then, and because I watched those films over and over.

I watched the first part of the movie alone last weekend, but my youngest wandered in a little later with a gaming device in his lap to watch, sort of, the last bit of it. After it was over, I apologized that we watched the same movie twice. After all, DARYL has a very similar story: A military project robot that becomes self aware and cute and/or wise-cracking; after faking its own death, it is free to live with its favored humans. Man, the 80s. What an optimistic time to be alive. Except for the threats of hyped nuclear war and the post-apocalyptic settings in an awful lot of movies.

Of course, the film has Ally Sheedy in it, which must have led to a lot of contemporaneous Internet discussions of Ally Sheedy versus Molly Ringwald, but none of us were on the Internet (well, I was not except for some access to Internet email through dial-up BBSes).

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Movie Report: The Ref (1994)

Book coverI have made a gag in the past, probably on Facebook, that now that we have settled that Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are Christmas movies, we have to move on to proving that The Ref is a Christmas movie. After all, it has family coming over for the holiday meal and a story about redemption. Well, maybe not redemption.

Within it, Denis Leary, fresh from his stand-up comedy special success but before the award-winning program Rescue Me, stars as a burglar whose job on Christmas Eve is thwarted, and the local police bottle the town up to try to catch him. He kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) on their way home from marriage therapy and keeps them prisoner in their home as he tries to figure out an escape. Complications arise as their malcreant son is on his way home from military school and the man’s mother and other relations are coming for dinner. The burglar deals with the bickering and family drama as the film takes on, as so many do, suburban decay.

So amusing at times, but not a high comedy–better than Hot Tub Time Machine 2 but not as good as the National Lampoon movies I’ve seen recently (see this and this).

But it’s still worth bringing forth as a Christmas movie and arguing on the Internet about it.

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Movie Report: Anger Management (2003)

Book coverThis movie is a two-fer, at least for where Brian J.’s Rule 5 movie report posts go: It has both Marisa Tomei (from My Cousin Vinny) and Heather Graham (from License to Drive). However, although it probably is the best part of these movie reviews, I am not posting more pictures of these ladies at this time.

The film also features Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. In it, Adam Sandler plays an executive assistant working for a pet supply company who is mild mannered and less of a man boy than his normal roles. On a flight to St. Louis, he sits next to an obnoxious man and touches a flight attendant to get her attention–which she calls assault, so Sandler’s meek character is tased and arrested. In lieu of jail time, the judge sentences Sandler to anger management therapy–run by the obnoxious man (Nicholson). So he joins anger management group therapy with the usual collection of Sandler character actors (John Turturro, Allen Covert) and, after another incident, gets personal high-contact therapy–Nicholson’s character moves in with him. It leads to some amusing set pieces–Dave (Sandler) picks up Heather Graham in a bar and goes home with her, only to reject her sexual advances because he has a girlfriend; a confrontation with a childhood bully who is now a Buddhist monk leads to a brawl at a monestary; a trial separation between Dave and his girlfriend (Tomei) leads to Tomei’s character dating Nicholson’s character; and finally, the climax at a Yankees game stocked with cameos as self including Rudy Giuliani, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, and so on.

So it was amusing, which is honestly the rating I give most comedies. It’s not raunchy (PG-13), but there’s some sexual humor in it. It was a bit different to see Sandler playing a more sedate role and having Nicholson chew the scenery. You know, I am going to run up to the Netflix barrier some day, where Sandler’s films are only available, maybe, online. But I’ve got plenty of his oeuvre to catch up on before then.

Also, in searching the Internet for anger management several times, I might have set myself up for a Red Flag something or other. Which is the risk I run to bring high quality content like this to you.

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Movie Report: DARYL (1985)

Book coverI saw this film early in the trailer park years–it seems to me that I saw it over and over, which probably meant it was on Showtime but rotated out pretty quickly. Of course, we got our first VCR right after we moved into the trailer, so I suppose we could have gotten it as a rental in the days when every grocery store and some gas stations rented videocassettes. Which, conceptually, is about as dated as this film.

Basically, the film starts en media res–a car is getting chased by a helicopter, and the man driving the car lets a boy out before driving over a cliff; the boy is picked up by an elderly couple and taken into town. My youngest, who was watching the film with me while trying to simultaneously play a video game, got confused immediately because the thought he’d already missed a plot point or two–but that got him watching the film. At any rate, the boy apparently has partial amnesia, so he’s placed with foster parents (Lenny and Mary Beth Hurt). They discover that he’s good at a lot of things, but he’s a little lacking in social skills. He befriends a neighbor boy who teaches him a little about being a kid, and when it’s going good, his “real parents” show up to claim him.

They’re scientists who essentially “built” him. He’s not a robot, really–he’s got the body of a human and will grow and whatnot, but a computer for a brain. They learn that he has become almost human (not that Almost Human) with emotions and preferences. The military shuts the program down and orders the scientists to terminate Daryl. Instead, they break him out of the military facility.

You know, I misremembered the doctor who breaks him out as being played by Dabney Coleman, likely because I saw a lot of Dabney Coleman in those days; however, the kindly doctor is played by Josef Sommer who has played similar characters his whole life (I remembered him from 2000’s The Family Man).

At any rate, kind of a neat film, not high art, but if you’re a kid about Daryl’s age, it might speak to you a bit. I liked it when I was that age, and my youngest son liked it well enough. And the lad did not offer any comment on the “ugly” people in it since the film does not include romantic plot points or women in bikinis, but it did include Colleen Camp.

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Movie Report: Air America (1990)

Book coverWell, this should have been a blockbuster, ainna? A young Mel Gibson in his heyday, a young Robert Downey, Junior, version 1.0 fresh from the Brat Pack days. A buddy film set, part comedy and part adventure, with corrupt government officials as the bad guys, flying action scenes and stunts, and….

Well, it’s a bit underwhelming.

The plot is that a helicopter traffic reporter (Downey) loses his job and gets his license to fly revoked stateside, but a secret government agency recruits him to join an outfit in Laos that flies and drops supplies to various locations in southeast Asia, from guns to friendlies and aid to outlying villages. He meets the crazy pilots who are already in country, who do the flights by day and party really heartily at night. One (Gibson) takes the new pilot under his wing, and the new guy learns that the old hand is amassing arms to sell to finance his retirement. After Downey and another pilot crash, the local warlord, an ally of the leaders of their outfit, rescue some “flour” and leave the fliers stranded. So Downey plans his revenge on the local opium processing plant, which involves setting up a couple of grenades–but it only throttles production for a little bit and kicks up a hornets’ nest of revenge. Subplots involve a senator (Lane Smith, last seen in My Cousin Vinny) on a fact-finding mission looking for evidence of drug smuggling and an American aid worker working with refugees whose underdeveloped storyline only exists to provide a redemption story for Gibson’s character (the refugee camp is located in poppy fields that rival factions converge on to harvest).

It’s hard to say why it doesn’t really work. The pacing? Are the characters just outside the relatable range? Is the pacing a little slow? Is the main problem or conflict under-defined so we don’t really know what’s at stack until the middle or end of the movie? I mean, Gibson and Downey should be at the height of their charisma, but it’s kind of wasted. A script that is not sure how buddy it is or how serious it is with a message? Probably all of these things.

So it will go into the library and not represent something I watch over and over again, but I guess it’s good for completeness’ sake in the ouevres of Gibson and Downey.

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Movie Report: Gran Torino (2008)

Book coverYou know, gentle reader, I am so old now that I think of things from long ago as recent–so I think of this as a recent Clint Eastwood movie, perhaps because it’s from the 21st century, and Eastwood’s filmography goes way back. But he has been making and acting in films up to the present day (I posted a Toby Keith song with clips from the really recent movie The Mule here, although it’s only really recent now–if you’re reading it seven years from now, maybe not recent any more).

At any rate, I will explain the plot for those of you who are later to the 21st century movies than I am. Eastwood plays a recently widowed Korean War veteran whose Detroit neighborhood has changed around him. It’s become a bit dangerous, and Hmong immigrants have moved in, including next door. The first scenes deal with his wife’s funeral and its aftermath, including Walt (Eastwood) watching his children and grandchildren’s behavior at the funeral and the cold cuts at his home after. The priest of the parish church wants to look after Walt as the priest promised the late wife that he would, but Walt rebuffs him.

A local gang tries to initiate the teenaged son of the next door neighbors by having him steal Walt’s pristine Gran Torino, but Walt prevents it. To atone, the Hmong neighbors offer the boy as a worker to help work off his offense; Walt doesn’t think much of it and tries to rebuff this gesture, but then takes the boy on, tasking him with helping to clean up and repair houses in the neighborhood, which makes Walt a little more popular with the new neighbors and introduces him to them. Walt takes on mentoring the young man and protecting him from the gang with escalating violence which leads to the ultimate violent conclusion.

Spoiler alerts, kinda.
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