Movie Report: How To Be A Latin Lover (2017)

Book coverWell, after watching Don Juan DeMarco, I thought watching this film (bought in my massive haul in September) would fit in thematically. Well, sorta, but not really.

This is an independent comedy, which means it has a large number of name actors working in what turned out to be an overlooked film. Maximo, a Mexican whose father was a hard worker but who died comically in the intro flashback, decides he wants to be a trophy husband as a career. So he charms and seduces an older widow who visits a resort where he’s working. The bulk of the film takes place twenty-five years later where Maximo, played by Eugenio Derbez (not a recognized name actor here in the U.S.), checks every morning to see if his elderly wife has died. He leads a pampered, spoiled life, but he finds that he has been cuckholded and supplanted by a McLaren dealer (played by Michael Cera). He’s thrown out without a penny. He turns to his fellow trophy husband Rick (played by Rob Lowe), but Rick does not have room to help as he has to satisfy his wife Millicent (Linda Lavin) who likes a lot of role-play sex. So Maximo goes to his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and moves in with her. When he finds that his niece nephew attends an expensive school on a scholarship, he vows to help the boy win his crush whose grandmother (played by Raquel Welch) is loaded and single. It all goes awry, of course, comically.

So I laughed a couple of times–the Weird Al cameo was unexpected and very welcome.

Did I say Salma Hayek? I did, and not Salma Hayek Paz Vega.
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Movie Report: Don Juan DeMarco (1995)

Book coverI was vaguely aware of this film when it came out. I was just about a year out of college, and either my friend Mike mentioned it, or perhaps the premise reminded me of Mike. But I did not see it in the cinema, nor had I seen it any time before now.

Johnny Depp, fairly fresh from 21 Jump Street, plays Don Juan DeMarco, a man who dresses in black and wears a mask like Zorro. He is a great seducer, but he has decided to end his life. So after one last conquest, he scales a billboard and plans to end it all in a duel with his greatest adversary. However, the responding police send up a psychiatrist played by Marlon Brando who plays along with Don Juan to get him into the bucket of a bucket truck and from thence to a mental hospital on a ten-day hold for evaluation.

Dr. Mickler, Brando’s psychiatrist, goes against the wishes of his colleagues and does not drug DeMarco but instead listens to his fanciful story of his life. The child of an American and a Mexican property owner who falls in love with his tutor but the affair leads to his father’s death in a duel and DeMarco’s running away and his mother’s entering a convent. He then has a variety of adventures told in flashback, including being in the harem of a shiek and then meeting a beautiful woman on a beach after a shipwreck who would go on, after their parting, a centerfold.

The authorities locate his grandmother, who tells a different story. The father died in an automobile accident, which might have been a suicide based on his wife’s affairs, and the mother did enter a convent. The fanciful stories that DeMarco tells have enough touchpoints with the grandmother’s story to introduce some ambiguity as to whether his stories, although fantastic, have some truth to them, or if he is really deluded.

Meanwhile, Mickler is learning from the stories to alter his outlook on life to be more romantic and legendary even in the everyday. This helps him to rekindle his marriage with his wife, played by Faye Dunaway.

So I liked the film more than I expected. Thematically, it questions our every day epistemology and outlook. How do the stories we make of our everyday life make our lives better? How did I save the planet today by defeating the invading mildew in my bathrooms? I guess the movie did not cover the last case explicitly, but it’s implied.

I’m surprised that this film is not more fondly remembered today. Perhaps its fanciful nature limits its Seriousness, so it is not thought of as meaningful as, say, Girl, Interrupted. Which I am not inclined to watch twenty-five years after its release because it was so serious and probably more a product of its time.

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Movie Report: A Night at the Opera (1935)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, I suppose since I just watched a couple episodes of You Bet Your Life on DVD, it was inevitable that I would watch this videocassette shortly thereafter. It’s been almost exactly two years since I watched Horse Feathers and Duck Soup which I liked so much that I bought this film the next spring. And it’s likely I will buy all three of them again when I find them for fifty cents or a quarter just to make sure I have them. And backup copies thereof.

But enough about the reification of my related watching and purchase activity. This is a movie report, ainna?

Groucho Marx plays Groucho Marx Otis Driftwood, a grifter working as a… manager? for a rich woman (played by Margaret Dumont) who wants him to introduce her to the heights of New York society. They open in Italy, where Driftwood introduces her to the leader of a New York Opera company director who is in Italy to bring Italy’s greatest tenor to New York. The tenor, Lassparri, insists that the New York Opera company also sign his female co-star whom he’s trying to woo. She agrees, parting with her lover, Ricardo Baroni, who is also a tenor. When Driftwood discovers how much opera singers make, he signs Baroni to a dubious contract to serve as his manager as well. Instead of waiting for his lover, though, Baroni and two Marx brothers stow away on the ship to New York and hijinks ensue, including what was apparently an iconic stateroom scene and a near-destruction of the opera house.

It’s an amusing film, probably moreso for me because I was an old soul even before I got old, and I lived in the Before times and even then had a bit of a predilection for old movies and whatnot. But perhaps the Marx brothers’ slapstick is more universal than that, especially as the film relies on a thin base plot and archetypes.

I’ve mentioned before that Marx’s impact carried on into the 21st century, in so far as you can still (or could still as of six years ago) find Marx glasses in the party store to put into elementary school birthday party gift bags. When I was watching You Bet Your Life, the following Facebook memory came up:

I told him I loved his work and asked for his autograph. Which he spelled like the plural of mark because he had not yet gone to a public school or university.

Six years? But my youngest is still that boy. He’s all of the boys he was and the young man he is now. Simultaneously. I am not sure how that works.

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Movie Report: Ad Astra (2019)

Book coverThis weekend, gentle reader, I spent a moment to take the DVDs that in September at the Friends of the Library Book Sale (fifty or more) out of the box in which I brought them home. I fit some of them into the to-watch cabinet, a repurposed old stereo cabinet, and others into the ones atop the video game cabinet (including fitting some into the box atop the cabinet that I brought home my purchases from the April Friends of the Library Book Sale). I have been watching television DVDs of late, so I had a little space to condense the cubic feet of media. But something occurred to me. I have kind of made peace with the fact that I have more books than I will ever read (and, to be honest, some are just reference works and not readers, like books on trees of North America or weeds of the Midwest). But with these films piling up, for decades in some cases, I might be getting to having more movies than I will ever watch. Unless I make a concerted effort. Which I have here recently. I bought this film in September amidst the aforementioned fifty-some films because my oldest picked it up. And then I watched it without him.

Being a 2019 film, this is one of the more recent films that I have seen–Spider-Man: No Way Home and Top Gun: Maverick might be the only others I’ve seen as recent. And if you’re looking for a 2001-like film where at the end of the day it’s not an artificial intelligence that the hero must destroy but his own father, his hero, and perhaps his past (although I guess thematically, I am taking it one step too far there).

Brad Pitt, whom I saw recently in Mr. and Mrs. Smith from fourteen years earlier, shows some lines on him. He plays Roy McBride, an astronaut/space worker. When mysterious pulses devastate the electronics on Earth and in space, including sending him falling from–a space elevator?–he is tasked with going to Mars to send messages to a space station in orbit around Neptune which looks to be the origin. The Lima project, which was supposed to look for extra-terrestrial intelligence, went that far out to escape interference from the sun, and Roy’s father headed it up, but the project has not been heard from in 30 years.

A couple of side quests ensue on the moon and on Mars, from which Roy is supposed to send pre-written radio messages to the Lima project, but he breaks protocol and sends a personal message instead which causes Space Com to keep him from joining the mission heading to Neptune. He learns from Reina the station director the truth about the project: how McBride the father went mad in his obsession to find other intelligences out there–and that he killed her parents when they tried to leave the Lima Project. So Roy tries to stow away on the mission to Neptune–not a rescue mission, but a search and destroy mission with a nuclear weapon designed to destroy the Lima Project. The other astronauts discover him as he comes aboard, and Space Com orders them to dispatch him, so he kills them instead. He travels to Neptune (currently the furthest known planet from the sun even when you count Pluto) and finds his father, and the unfortunate truths.

As I said, it tracks kind of closely with 2001 in spots but without alien intelligence to guide or to provide the deus ex maquina. Roy returns with a lot of knowledge of Space Com’s wrong doings and cover-ups, which it seems to me would end the film on a bit of a sour note, but instead the film wraps up with McBride returning the data collected by the Lima Project over the decades, which includes exoplanets to explore and colonize, and he reconciles with his estranged wife, whom we see in numerous flashbacks as Roy has pushed her away in his drive to be autonomous.

A slower paced movie, but not a waste of time. Its depictions of life in space and space travel are very detailed and nicely filmed.

In addition to recognizing Ruth Negga (who played Reina in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), I thought I recognized Liv Tyler as the wife even though her face is obscured, out-of-focus, or blurred in the flashbacks.
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Movie Report: The Producers (2005)

Book coverWait a minute. Somehow, I got it in my head that this was a Mel Brooks movie, and it is. Sort of. This version of The Producers is the film version of the Broadway show, starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. The Broadway show, of course, was the Broadway show version of a Mel Brooks film from the late 1960s (The Producers starring Gene Wilder). Sweet Christmas, the only way this could peg the things Brian J. reads/watches meter would be if it were the novelization of a video game based on a novelization of a film of a Broadway show based on a film. Based on a Shakespearean play in the original Klingon or something.

So: Nathan Lane plays a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, who was something sometime in the past, but whose latest shows have flopped. Broderick plays a timid accountant, Leo Bloom, who comes to do his books and mentions that a flop could make more money for the producers than a hit if dealt with the right way. So Max presses Leo to join him, and Leo eventually does, and they look for the worst possible play to produce. They settle on Springtime for Hitler, written by a former Nazi (played in the film by Will Ferrell). A Swedish actress (played in the movie by Uma Thurman) wants to audition, and she captures Max and Leo’s, erm, lower heart, and she gets to act as their receptionist until the show comes off. They hunt up the worst director they can think of, a flamboyantly gay man, who wants to make the show gay (along with his Village People staff). The Nazi comes to the audition and impresses everyone to take the part of Hitler, but on opening night, he actually breaks a leg and cannot go on. So the flamboyant director, who knows the role, takes the part. Although the audience gets restive and offended during the opening number, when the director hits the stage and vamps it up, they think it’s satire. And the show is a smash, which puts Max and Leo in a bind.

As a movie based on a Broadway show, there’s more singing and dancing than I generally prefer in films, but I could tolerate it since it was a Mel Brooks musical. It ends with the putting-on-a-show-in-prison trope which has become fairly common–was the original The Producers the source of this? The Blues Brothers came along later.

At any rate, an enjoyable bit. But I am still not generally a fan of musicals or Broadway shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (he said, making allusion to a 30-year-old television program, old man). Of course, one wonders how a younger viewer not raised on Mel Brooks would do with this job given that a lot of the humor is based on homosexuality and even some cross-dressing.

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Movie Report: D.O.A. (1949? 1950?)

Book coverWhen I mentioned that I was watching this film to my beautiful wife, she associated the title with the 1988 Dennis Quaid film of the same name (which is now almost as old as the original was in 1988). But, no, I was watching the original, which is (does math) 74 years old now. But it doesn’t seem dated to old people who remember life before computers and cell phones. Of course, the Quaid film also comes from the before time, but shots probably included office environments with PCs, so it would look slightly less alien to kids.

Also, I have seen this film listed as 1949 and 1950 in various sources, so I am not sure whether the film was released in 1949 or 1950. I guess I could watch it again and convert the Roman numerals, gentle reader, for proper accuracy in this movie report, but I am far too lazy for that.

In it, Edmond O’Brien plays Bigelow, a California accountant who decides to have a holiday away from his town and his receptionist/flame Paula in San Francisco. He joins a group of convention attendees on a night out and is unknowingly given poison by a figure in a suspicious looking get-up. When he falls ill, the doctors tell him he has only a short time to live. So he investigates and learns that someone from San Francisco named Philipos has been trying to reach him–and said fellow has committed suicide. It looks to be tied into a bill of sale that Bigelow notarized for Philips, almost forgotten because it was a while back and a routine transaction for someone passing through Bigelow’s home town, and that leads Bigelow to encounter some organized crime types who might have stolen the sold good–iridium–and whose theft put Philips into a legal jam.

There’s a twist ending, but the twist is not that Bigelow survives. The film has a frame story which seems to have been popular at the time (Double Indemnity had a similar one) where the main character tells someone the story in flashback–in this case, Bigelow is telling it to homicide detectives.

So if you’re a fan of original noir films, this one will please you. If you’re a damn kid, you’ll probably be bored through it.

I mentioned the main actor, Edmond O’Brien. You know, he won an Academy Award (for his supporting role in The Barefoot Contessa) and was nominated for another (for Seven Days in May), and he appeared in films I’ve seen like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and a bunch of other notable films. But he’s not a common name now. He was that guy for a long time, but the world has moved onto its insipid streaming series instead.

Still, it has made me curious to watch the Quaid version. Which I think I will have to find on videocassette. Online sources indicate there are three other iterations of this film, although it counts the Jason Statham film Crank among them, so the connection to this film as the source looks to be more inspired by than remake.

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Comedy Report: Ron White: A Little Unprofessional (2013)

Book coverThis is a comedy special by Ron White. You know, that other guy from the Blue Collar Comedy Tours from the turn of the century. No, the “Here’s your sign” guy is Bill Engvall (whose book Just a Guy: Notes from a Blue Collar Life I listened to in 2019). Of course, the big two are Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. I get the sense Ron White is really the forgotten man in the bunch.

And, to be honest, that rating probably matches the reality. I have enjoyed Jeff Foxworthy for decades; I’ve seen a Larry the Cable Guy comedy special or two; and I enjoyed the couple of Blue Collar Comedy tour specials I’ve seen. But that’s probably despite White, not because of him.

You know, I get it: Comedy shows are going to have their off-color moments. Gallagher had a couple moments. Charlie Berens, the Manitowoc Minute guy, whom I saw earlier this month, even Charlie Berens had a moment or two that made my poor wife cringe because she was at a comedy show with her children, and she was afraid she would have to explain a joke or maybe she was afraid she would not now that her boys go to public school.

But Ron White’s show, or this one perhaps, did not offer many topical insights into the foibles of human nature that did not involve being drunk, having sex (especially receiving oral sex), or drugs. One party situation or sexual situation after another, and finis!

Not my bag, baby.

I do have to wonder if comedy has followed a similar arc to pop music: that it increasingly has to cater to an audience who comes out to the clubs, and those are the party people and not the, you know, adults. Or maybe there are diminishing adults in the world to entertain.

One good thing came from watching this: I discovered a new jazz artist, Margo Rey.
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Movie Report: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Book coverOld movies had Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr or Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. The (early) 21st century had this film bring together two attractive and popular stars–Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie–for what they might have hoped would be similar chemistry. I guess it kind of worked–this film broke up Brad Pitt’s first marriage and led to his relationship and eventual marriage to Jolie (which also ended in ongoing acrimony).

Pitt plays John Smith, an assassin for a government agency of some sort, who has a cover of a construction engineer who has to travel to various projects. Jolie plays an assassin for a different agency whom he marries after meeting her in Bogotá after one of them–or both, or neither–has done a job (the flashback is ambiguous). Five or six years into their marriage, they’ve settled into a routine that has led them to counseling (the counseling bit is a frame story that begins and ends the movie). They’re both tasked by their agencies to take out a prisoner during some sort of exchange, and each approaches the job in their own way. Mrs. Smith has a tech trap set up, and Mr. Smith comes at it from a more hands-on approach. But they interfere with each other’s attempt and vow to eliminate their rival–only to eventually discover it’s the spouse. So they come together to grab the prisoner from a super-secure facility and discover that he’s bait in trying to get the Smiths to kill each other which leads to a shoot-em-up climax and finis!

I guess Pitt and Jolie might have some chemistry here, but it’s not developed as in an old movie. This is an actioner, so it’s a series of set pieces with practical effects and it looks to be some wire work. So it doesn’t look quite as video-gamey as today’s fare but is does employ on some video-gamey camera work. One wonders if what it would look like if made today–probably Mr. Smith would be a punchline and not an equal to his wife, although when they have a long hand-to-hand combat sequence that destroys their house, Mrs. Smith equals her husband already for drama’s sake which is, erm, stylized? Idealized? A physical confrontation like that would only take place in a movie. In real life, it would be a lot shorter and likely less favorably for Mrs. Smith.

At any rate, not a bad film. A product of its time. Which is a bit now, but mostly then.

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Movie Report: Trading Places (1983)

Book coverThis film comes from the early middle 1980s, and it’s definitely a product of its time.

Eddie Murphy was beginning his ascent to being a box office superstar–he’d done 48 Hours the year before, and Beverly Hills Cop was a year in the future. Wait, then it was Coming to America in 1987, but The Golden Child in between, and maybe that was it–Boomerang and The Distinguished Gentleman and Vampire in Brooklyn were kinda flops, so aside from a couple of sequels which did okay, it was onto the silly family movies and remakes in the middle 1990s. Maybe Eddie Murphy’s heydey coincided with my youth and watching Raw and The Golden Child over and over on Showtime whilst in the trailer.

Still, one detects a certain theme in Murphy’s works: The fish out of water. The con out of jail. The Detroit cop in California. The PI in Tibet.

And, in this film, a con man swept up into a life of luxury. Dan Ackroyd, who is also in this film (I say that a bit facetiously–both he and Murphy star in the film and have equal billing), plays a commodities trader named Louis Winthrope who aspires to be respected by the old money men, played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. They, on the other hand, don’t think much of him. And when one of them reads an article about Nature vs. Nurture, he thinks that any man in the commodity trader’s environment would thrive, and that if Winthrop were out of his environment, he would not thrive. So they make a wager on it and they turn Winthrope out and replace him with Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), a con man arrested after bumping into Winthrop outside the club. When Winthrop and Valentine learn of the scheme, they set about to reverse their fortunes and to bankrupt the Duke boys. That is, the old money brothers, not the Dukes of Hazzard.

Maybe I just haven’t watched enough period pieces set in the 18th or 19th century or much of recent times, but something about the club and the snooty people there and the social circles and the locations smack of the 1980s. One could almost imagine Judge Smalls from Caddyshack in the film. But unlike perhaps some recent things, it does not depict commodities trading or making fortunes as evil in and of themselves. Thematically, that will change, and by 1983, probably already is.

An amusing film which stands the test of time if you’re of a certain age. Undoubtedly, younger people might find it an anachronism. But maybe not–I caught my oldest re-watching The Secret of My Success. Maybe kids these days can appreciate aspirational comedies.

Oh, and the film also had Jamie Lee Curtis as a financially savvy prostitute. But, to be honest, I’ve never found Jamie Lee Curtis all that. Maybe it’s the short haircuts. But Kristin Holby, on the other hand, plays Winthrope’s fiance who abandons him in his time of need. She, I like, although she’s made up in this film to be a caricature of a shallow society girl.
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Movie Report: An Affair to Remember (1957)

Book cover“Didn’t you just watch this movie?” my beautiful wife asked as she passed through the den the evening which I watched this film. No, gentle reader; we know I watched Indiscreet a couple weeks ago. I am internally aghast that my wife might think that all Technicolor Cary Grant movies from the late 1950s look the same.

C’mon, man, you know the plot, ainna? Grant plays a suave playboy engaged to an New York heiress meets a woman engaged to a wealthy man on a ship crossing the Atlantic. They strike up a friendship, which everyone else on board thinks is an affair. They visit his grandmother in her home in a beautiful Mediterranean setting, and the engaged woman (played by Deborah Kerr) starts to fall for him–and he for her. As they reach New York, they make a pact to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months if they’ve broken away. On the day of their reunion, she is struck by a car and cannot make it, and he feels jilted. But he eventually meets her again and discovers her secret. Sorry if I spoiled it for you, but the film has been a part of our culture from its debut up until the end of the time when we had a culture. Sleepless in Seattle relies on it heavily, for crying out loud.

I have seen this film before some time ago, and although I enjoy it, I did not get into it so much as apparently, at least fictional, Baby Boomer women might have. I still want to be Cary Grant when I grow up (and, as he said, “So do I.”).

I don’t think I have many other Cary Grant films hidden amongst the stacks, so I will have to hunt for them in the wild. But Cary Grant movies for the home video market seem to be more videocassette than DVD, and the VHS tapes are getting thin out there all ready.

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Movie Report: The Ghost Rider Collection: Ghost Rider (2007), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Book coverGentle reader, I will ask you to indulge me here a bit. I saw Ghost Rider recently, but I cannot tell you how recently that would have been since I’ve only been doing movie reports since 2020 here (recently). I mean, I am pretty sure I watched it at Nogglestead, but it could have been on a DVD I rented in my most recent movie store membership days (within the last decade) or on a DVR version I recorded before the last time I cut the cord (also within the last decade, but more last decader than when I had the video store card). Or, gentle reader, it could have been somewhere in the middle where I bought the movie on physical medium, watched it, and put it on the “watched” shelves which are not as deep, extensive, or inscrutible as the Nogglestead bookshelves, but are quite deep never the less.

At any rate, suffice to say, I have watched Ghost Rider recently. But not in the cinema, so my time between viewings is less than 300.

Most notable about watching the two on successive nights is the great chasm between 2007 and 2012. No, not the political chasm. Not the personal chasm (Old Trees >mother dead > Nogglestead). The whole aesthetic approach to comic movies. Maybe the studios’ understanding, or not, of them.

At any rate, in Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze works with his father in the circus as a stunt rider. Johnny hopes to leave the circus to be with Roxy, who doesn’t think much of circus folk. When Johnny learns his father is dying of cancer, he signs a deal with the devil to heal his father–and the devil does, but the father dies immediately in a stunt gone bad. Because, you know, the devil. But he says he will call on Johnny when he needs him.

Years later, Johnny is still a stunt rider although a la Evil Knievel, packing stadia with people who want to see his outlandish stunts. Johnny can’t die, so no matter how badly the jumps go, he is all right. But then the devil needs him to help find and prevent another demon loose on the planet from getting his hands on an unfulfilled contract. Sorry for the late notice, but the film starts with Sam Elliot narrating the legend of the Ghost Rider, the devil’s bounty hunter, who was supposed to execute on a contract for 1000 souls but who did not. Blaze gets the powers of the Ghost Rider (on a motorcycle, not a horse).

The film is mostly a series of set pieces where Ghost Rider has to take out the minions of the demon and finally kill the main boss. The subplot revolves around Blaze reuiniting with Roxy–he left her after signing the contract, but she returns as a reporter who scores an interview with him before a big jump.

This film comes from the Before period, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as did The Punisher). Mark that.

Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance (2012) comes five years later and does not extend the story of the first so much as reboots it, albeit with the Nicholas Cage again as the Ghost Rider. The film tells his origin story again, albeit differently, which is much more jarring when you have just seen the original film just the night before. Maybe it worked better after five years, and perhaps people watching this film did not see the first one. At any rate, Idris Elba portrays a holy man of some motorcycle-riding order who comes to an armed monestary of some sort just an armed force attacks it, looking for a boy who is part of some prophecy. The boy’s mother escapes with him, and Idris Elba finds Johnny Blaze hiding out in Europre, trying not to be the Ghost Rider or let the Ghost Rider out. He reluctantly agrees to find the mother and to protect the boy, who is the spawn of the devil and into which the devil eventually wants to put himself in exchange for Elba lifting the curse on Johnny. So that’s what happens with a twist at the climax.

As I mentioned, the two films have a completely different feel to them. The first has a touch of CGI to it–well, okay, a bunch–but it at the core has a certain heart to it that the second does not. The second feels like a series of CGI spectacles stitched together loosely with a plot. Both have Nicholas Cage doing the gonzo Nic Cage thing, but the second is gritter, pared down to the bone and a touch pessimistic or brutal. The second ignores some of the constraints put on the Ghost Rider in the first film–only coming out at night, for example–which might only matter if you watch the two films in close succession, which perhaps only I and Nic Cage do in 2023.

So I liked the first more than the second.

Violante Placido played Nadya, the mother, in the second film.
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Movie Report: The Family Man (2000)

Book coverLike 300, I saw this film in the theater, but this time it has no controversy because I know I saw it with my beautiful new bride. My goodness, we went to a lot of movies in those early years BC (before children). Now that we’re getting to the AC years, I’m less interested in the offerings at the cinema and like a sad old man like to watch the films I have already seen at home because I think they’re better than what’s getting made now adays. And I’m probably correct, but I’ll leave it to Christian Toto, John Nolte, or the Critical Drinker to argue why.

At any rate, the movie starts with college sweethears Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni at the airport. He’s going to London for a one-year-long internship with Barclays which should set him on his career path, and he vows to return to her. The story picks up thirteen years later–he did not, in fact, return to her, and has instead become a wealthy finance guy on Wall Street, and he’s keeping his team in the office over Christmas to work on a big multi-billion dollar merger. He decides to walk home on Christmas Eve and stops by a convenience store for some egg nog when he has to step in and defuse a tense situation. The street thug, played by Don Cheadle, is actually some sort of angel who, in speaking with Cage (the character’s name is Jack Campbell, but the character is the understated Cage), does not believe the businessman when Campbell (I will try to get better about using the character name instead of the actor in these movie reports) says he is not lacking anything in his life.

So Campbell wakes up on Christmas morning in a strange place: A house in New Jersey where he is married to Kate (Leoni) and they have two kids. He tries to return home, but the doorman and resident at his apartment do not know him, nor does the security man at the firm where he worked. So he tries to navigate his new environment, and he learns that in this reality, he returned from London the next day and ended up working for–and saving–his father-in-law’s tire store when the father-in-law had a heart attack. And Campbell learns the value and love in this life that he was missing.

It ends a bit abruptly and unsatisfyingly when he’s returned to his old life and contacts Kate, only to find that she is moving to Paris. But he meets her at her airport gate in a scene clearly designed to mirror the opening scene, and the ending is but perhaps an opening.

Still, it occurred to me as I watched this that this would have been the last new movie I saw in theaters with the World Trade Center in the New York skyline and where you could go to an airports gates without standing in line and presenting a ticket. World events made the movie an anachronism in less than a year.

Also, I wondered what my perspective would have been watching the film then. I was a newlywed, and I did not sacrifice anything when I married–if anything, it was during my courtship of my wife that I moved from being a printer to being a professional in IT. The film takes place thirteen years after the initial parting of the protagonists. I’ve been at Nogglestead longer than that, and in rewatching the film after having children (not in the plans in 2000) who are almost grown up now. And I look back to see if I made sacrifices. Did I? Would I have been so different had I not married my wife now? I know a couple of people who have not married and climbed various ladders. Would I want to trade places with them? No.

So I guess that’s a nice reminder.

With re-watching this film, I have rather covered a lot of Téa Leoni’s oeuvre in the last year or two (see also Bad Boys, Spanglish, Fun with Dick and Jane). Combined with Deep Impact and A League of Their Own which I saw in the theaters, that’s her major movies.

I’ve also seen most of Lisa Thornhill’s major movies as well. Which is a tacit admission that I have not yet seen Time Cop. Continue reading “Movie Report: The Family Man (2000)”

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Movie Report: 300 (2007)

Book coverYou know, I saw this film in the theater. I want to say it was at Crestwood Plaza, and my initial assessment was that it was with El Guapo, but given the timing of the film–it was four years past working with El Guapo, and but we were working across the street from each other downtown at the time. Perhaps I saw it with Gimlet, as I would have just finished working with his wife at the time. It’s only sixteen years ago, and already the memory is fuzzy.

At any rate, this is a retelling of the story of the Spartans fighting the Persians at Thermopylae. Jeez, do I have to explain what that was? The Persians were looking to invade Greece, and a small contingent of soldiers from Sparta hold off the invasion at a narrow pass. The Spartans are all killed, though, but the Persian victory cost them–it was a Pyrrhic victory before Pyrrhic victories were named after Pyrrhus. Gerard Butler plays the Spartan king Leonidas, and he plays it with an Australian accent.

I mean, it’s based on a comic book, and they managed to capture a comic book feel to the film with its colors, some stylized slow-motion and different shots. It has a subplot about Leonidas’ wife trying to raise a Spartan army to bolster the 300–who are not an army per se as paid-off oracles prohibited gathering an army for battle–which kind of serves to pad the story a bit, but I’m sure the film cut a bunch from the comic books. They’re different media, of course, and the film is pretty good for what it is.

A strange bit–I found I had two copies of the DVD from various film-buying frenzies, which came in handy. I had some trouble with two DVDs I tried to watch one night–The Return of the One-Armed Swordsman didn’t play, and then I put in a copy of 300 which was balky before the title menu and then froze about half way through. So I paused my viewing for the evening, and I popped in the second copy of 300 the next night. Not only did it play flawlessly–alleviating my fear that the DVD player was getting wonky and I would have to deploy one of my several backups already, but the second copy played immediately from the same spot. Because, for the DVD player, it was the same disc.

The film also fits in with my reading, as I am into the second volume of The Story of Civilization, The Life of Greece. And like Reservoir Dogs, this book makes me want to rewatch another film. Or, rather, this film and what I’m reading. That film: The Warriors, a retelling of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand. Coming soon to a movie report near you? Time will tell! (But probably not as I have so many other films to watch, so rewatching DVDs and videocassettes is unlikely–unlike rewatching things I’ve seen in the past before buying them, sometimes again, on media.)

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Movie Report: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Book coverI got this film in February, and I popped it in because my oldest, who now has a job, income, and–from his perspective–everything one needs to be an adult so he can’t wait to move out and not have to clean his room–has gotten himself a Netflix subscription and is catching up on all the R-rated movies I’ve missed. Like this one.

I have to admit that I’m not much of a Tarentino fan. I mean, I’ve seen Pulp Fiction, and I’ve seen From Dusk til Dawn. The only movie that I’ve enjoyed enough to rewatch is Jackie Brown. Come to think of it, this means I’ve seen his first four films (this was his first) and nothing after. I rented Kill Bill Volume 1 back when I had a video store membership, but I didn’t make it past the opening titles, or maybe the pre-title narration in the dark. I thought, “I don’t have to watch this brutality,” and I ejected the DVD and returned it unwatched (at $.50 a rental, I did that a couple of times with other films). But some years later, and having watched this film, I wonder how inured I have become to brutality in film–I remember thinking the most recent Conan revival wasn’t that bad. So maybe I will take a flyer on Kill Bill some other time.

But that’s a long digression.

The critic hearken this film back to noir thrillers from the olden days, and I can see it, albeit it’s in color and the actual cinematography doesn’t capture that. Instead, it reminds me a little more of the old black-and-white films which were quite clearly adopted from a play. After all, the film takes place in a single location, a “warehouse” that looks more like it would have been a garage, with only some other locations appearing through flashback.

At any rate, for those of you not familiar with the plot, a local crime figure has gathered a number of crime specialists to do a diamond heist. The first bit of the film takes place in a diner before the job. But then we switch to the warehouse after the job has gone bad–the police were apparently waiting for them. One of the bad guys has been gutshot and is brought in by a strongarm man who has befriended or befathered him in spite of the rules. Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink arrives and says that someone was a fink. That’s the basics. We get flashbacks from some of the main characters telling both how the robbery went wrong and how they prepared for it, and we find out fairly early who the undercover policeman is but have to wonder what will become of him.

There’s a brief torture scene–my beautiful wife said I’d never hear Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” the same way, but watching this film must have been her first and formative experience with the song and not mine, so it won’t affect my appreciation of Gerry Rafferty–and there’s a Mexican standoff and some amibuity in the end.

So it was not as brutal as I thought (although that might be me watching the film 30 years later–maybe it was indeed brutal for its time). An okay movie, but not necessarily something I’ll rewatch a bunch. It does make me want to rewatch Jackie Brown, though. For the Pam Grier, certainly, but also because it introduced me to Bobby Womack, whose CDs and records I’ve since acquired when I can.

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Movie Report: Indiscreet (1958)

Book coverI bought this film in June in Arkansas, and as it had been almost two months since I’d seen a Cary Grant film (three, actually), it was time.

Ingrid Bergman plays a London actress who comes back from a holiday early after yet another suitor cannot hold her attention. Her sister and brother-in-law stop to use her flat to change before a formal dinner and are surprised to find her back. They invite her along, but she demurs because she finds those dinners and their speakers boring. But Cary Grant shows up as the American economist scheduled to speak, invited to also change at the flat from his trip into his evening clothes, and Bergman is smitten. Pardon me if I don’t bother to include the character names–I’ve already forgotten them.

So Grant and Bergman spend a wonderful evening together, but at the end of the night, Grant says that he’s married, separated, but cannot get a divorce–right after Bergman says she hears that from all the men.

But they take up an affair anyway. Wait, what? Blatant immorality in the 1950s? Get out of town!

So the film is them flirting, bantering, and pitching woo until it is revealed that Grant’s character is not actually married–that he just says that because he does not want to get married, and when he has said that in the past, women always thought they would be the one to make him change his mind. Bergman is just such a woman, and she hopes to change his mind. When she finds out, though, that he is not, in fact, married, she is scandalized and plans a surprise when he is to surprise her for her birthday–she plans to be caught in flagrante delicto with an old flame who falls ill, so she has her elderly chauffeur play the role briefly. But it ends happily, though.

You’re watching it to see Grant and Bergman flirt and caper about (well, not as caper as in some other Grant films).

I’ve seen Bergman in a number of films, but something about the color in this film really emphasized the lines between her teeth, and it was distracting.

Weird. Probably not on a real woman–now watch me as I stare at women’s teeth in the real world until I’m tased–but not something we generally see nowadays on actresses and influencers due to orthodontia and veneers.

So I got to thinking about the leading men/heroes that played opposite of Ingrid Bergman who I most closely resemble in my own mind. Gentle reader, those include Cary Grant (this film and Notorious which I have yet to see), Humphrey Bogart (from Casablance), and Bing Crosby (The Bells of St. Mary’s which I’ve seen a couple of times and include it in my Christmas film rotation). Of all them, of course, I would prefer to be Cary Grantish, but I am pretty sure I am mostly Humphrey Bogartish (I have had a picture of him on my office wall for…. well, probably not decades, plural, yet, but for a long time). Of course, in this accounting, I have forgotten For Whom The Bell Tolls with Gary Cooper, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen that. I would hunt it down for a re-watch but I have other films I’ve not yet seen to get to first.

At any rate, best viewed by a Grant or Bergman completist, but kind of pedestrian and of questionable moral worldview otherwise.

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Movie Report: Funny People (2009)

Book coverWell, I have often–well, I have once or twice–talked about the Sandlerverse and the Ferrellverse and even the Apatowverse. I’d say this is a crossover event, but really it’s an Apatow movie with Adam Sandler in the lead role, and it relies on actors from the Apatowverse (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill), so this has nothing to do with the Sandlerverse at all. And it’s not even a comedy–it is a drama about comedians, so it has some jokes, but the situations themselves are not comic.

Sandler plays an older, established comic who went from stand-up to movie success who learns he is dying of a blood cancer, so he sort of adopts a younger comic to be his protégé and assistant and…. friend. Sandler’s character also tries to reconcile with his ex-fiancé who is now married to an Australian businessman and has two children. When he learns that his cancer is cured by the experimental treatment he received, he almost convinces her to leave her husband, but ultimately everyone learns that Sandler’s character has not really grown from his experience and is still very self-involved.

Unlike, say, Step Brothers, this lack of growth is not celebrated–it’s recognized as tragic. But, eventually, in the dénouement as the credits roll, we see a bit of a reconciliation.

Like Spanglish, this is an early dramatic turn for Sandler, but the character is not sympathetic enough to draw us in, and the Rogen-based assistant is, well, played by Rogen. He just doesn’t draw me in.

As I have mentioned, I’m probably going to miss a lot of Sandler’s later œuvre as it’s on streaming platforms and not in wide release, although perhaps if the streaming market implodes, they’ll be available elsewhere. Also, you are correct in guessing that I was disappointed that œuvre did not give me the opportunity to pretentiously use another word with accents, although I did get a chance to use one of those smashed-together letters.

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Movie Report: Step Brothers (2008)

Book coverWell, this is another film in the Ferrelverse, and a 21st century film at that. I watched it without my boys even though they tend to favor Will Ferrell movies.

At any rate, the film deals with two forty-year-old manchildren, played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, whose single parents meet and marry, making the, what, protagonists (Are you kidding me? We have to use that word for their characters?) as step-brothers. And they have childish spats until they discover their similar interests, when they team up for something childish, and then they have another falling out. There’s a subplot about Ferrell’s character’s younger, more successful, brother who acts as a foil for his childishness, and the younger brother’s wife who is crazy hot for the Reilly character for some reason. At the end, they all reconcile.

But they do not grow up.

I guess that’s why I prefer Adam Sandler films rather to Will Ferrell films. The Adam Sandler characters tend to start out boyish–okay, immature and grating–but they’re called to some cause outside themselves, and they grow up over the course of the film. Whereas Ferrell characters do not. The denouement is that the father of the family puts the boat that the boys wrecked into a tree as a treehouse for them to play in, and their love interests accept their, erm, foibles. So, yeah, not much inspiration to be found in this film.

A product of its time, right down to the George W. Bush quote that appears on the screen at the beginning of the film. C’mon, man, kids today don’t identify George W. Bush as the boogeyman anymore.

I cannot say that I will never again watch a Will Ferrell film–I mean, some of them which were a bit more topical had their moments–but overall, probably more of a marker of our decline than funny.

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Movie Report: Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Book coverAs I thought Grosse Pointe Blank was a very 1990s movie–or at least one that captured if not the feeling of being in your twenties in the 90s, at least an archetypcial representation of the same, this film captures a 1980s New York upper class zeitgeist–if not a representation of the actual experience, at least a representation of how this particular situation was presented in the 1980s. Followed in the 1990s by Sex in the City and other stylized representation of glamorous life in the big city packaged for those who are not there.

Tom Hanks plays Sherman McCoy, a bond trader, son of a bond trader, who is on top of the world. He’s making millions, he’s married to a socialite played by Kim Cattrall…. But it’s not enough, or something. His wife is more into being a socialite than in being a wife. So he has taken up with a married woman played by Melanie Griffith. He picks her up from the airport and is taking her to their love nest when they miss their exit to Manhattan and end up in the South Bronx. When Sherman leaves the car to move a tire in their way, a couple of black kids approach, probably with bad intent. Maria (Melanie) slides into the driver’s seat, and in the process of their getaway, hits one of the youths. Sherman wants to go to the police, but Maria talks him out of it.

When police don’t seem to be doing much to seek justice for the incident, an Al Sharpton-style self-aggrandizing preacher grabs onto the incident, as does a Jewish district attorney who is running for mayor–and a new assistant D.A. wants to make his mark (and maybe Maria). Bruce Willis plays Peter Fallow, a talented but often drunk journalist who gets hold of the story and helps to drum up the pursuit of the driver (but his paper just wanted the press of the injustice of it all, as the preacher and the struck boy’s mother just wanted a lawsuit payday). When they catch Sherman and look to hang it on him, Fallow looks deeper into it, and even though Sherman’s life falls apart, he is exonerated.

The film cuts between the different players and their individual storylines in the overarching story pretty well–I was kept interested through the film. I know it comes from a thick Tom Wolfe novel (which I have here somewhere), and I could see where the characters might have been better developed in a novel. I was kind of looking forward to trying the novel or another Tom Wolfe novel (I have several, of course), but my beautiful wife said she started the book but put it down. And, you know, I could see how none of the characters would be likeable. A film can move this along–and this one does–but if a writer feels contempt for his characters and doesn’t give the readers anyone to like…. Well, I don’t know that I’m going to go looking for the book, anyway.

But as a film, it’s not bad. It bombed at the box office, though, so perhaps it fell into a crevice between the 80s zeitgeist and the upcoming 90s zeitgeist. Or maybe I just am on a kick of using the word “Zeitgeist.”

You might be expecting a Kim Cattrall vs. Melanie Griffith battle tucked under the fold here, but to be honest, I am kind of a Kim Cattrall partisan even though I’ve learned her biography is a bit, erm, varied.

Instead, I’m thinking if, overall, I’m more of a Tom Hanks character or a Bruce Willis character guy. Even aside from the types of films they’re in (comedy then drama, comedy then action), I think I’m more of a Bruce Willis character guy. His characters have a working man vibe to them that Tom Hanks’ characters do not.

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Movie Report: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Book coverI guess it cannot be said that I’m on a John Cusack kick since the last film I watched of his was High Fidelity three months ago. Or maybe two movies in three months is a kick. Regardless, we mentioned Grosse Pointe, or something, at Nogglestead which prompted me to watch this film last weekend. Not this last weekend. The weekend before. Maybe a lost weekend, or maybe that’s all the weekends in the past.

Regardless, my oldest had a friend over for the night, and when they came downstairs at one point, my oldest said, “Is that Elvis?”

“No, get out of here,” I tenderly responded. Although maybe in his defense Cusack had a curl in the middle of his forehead in the scene, and also in his defense the variety of the qualities of transfers his father watches might have made Technicolor look like modern DVDs (or more likely, modernish movies on VHS looked worse than Technicolor).

At any rate, in this film, Cusack plays a hitman who might be losing his edge who is working with a therapist who feels threatened into keeping Cusack’s Martin Blank who has revealed that he knows where the doctor lives after he, Blank, has shared his profession. He’s trying to work something out, find some meaning to his life, and so he decides to return to his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for his 10th class reunion since he has a job in the area. Meanwhile, Dan Ackroyd is another hitman trying to put together a guild–and when Blank won’t join, he launches a plot to eliminate him. While in Grosse Pointe, Blank reconnects with an old flame played by Minnie Driver and an old friend, now a real estate agent, played by Jeremy Piven. As Blank tries to work things out, a variety of unsavory types including a hit man whom Blank humiliated show up seeking revenge, justice, or whatnot.

So it’s a bit of a black comedy/actionish film targeted right at the heart of Generation X as they were getting old in their mid-to-late twenties. Blank’s home has been replaced by a convenience store. His father died and his mother is in an asylum. He has been away for ten years when he’s been in the military, the CIA, and then a contract killer. So detached from home. I understand as I never really had anything I considered a home and not much of a family. So, yeah, when I first saw it when I was almost ten year reunion age, it rang bells. It still does, but more of a that’s what it felt like to be almost thirty twenty-five years ago thing.

Remember, gentle reader, I watched High Fidelity earlier this year. As Cusack is but a couple years older than I am, I’ve found his films from the middle 1990s to the early 2000s to track better with my personal zeitgeist (a concept for which the Germans have an adequate word without having to make a compound phrase out of an English and a German word) than things like Reality Bites or, certainly, the Brat Pack movies of the 1980s.

So it was good for a rewatch, but I’m not sure how younger audiences would like it as they did not live through that time, and I’m note sure how timeless the themes really and their presentation really are.

Also, this was the second film short succession that I saw which had Alan Arkin in it shortly after his passing (Glengarry Glen Ross being the other).

Enough about Alan Arkin. More about Minnie Driver, the local radio personality love interest.

Continue reading “Movie Report: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)”

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Movie Report: The Road to Rio (1947) / The Road to Bali (1952)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, it was but four years ago when I discovered the Bob Hope two-pack that included The Road to Bali was mislabeled at the factory and instead contained ten episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. As it and The Road to Rio fell out of copyright protection, so they’re pretty easily available in transfers of sometimes dubious quality from “nostalgia” houses which specialize in copyright-free fare. Somewhere along the line, I picked up this two DVD set. I watched The Road to Bali with my boys some time ago (back when they would watch movies with their old man–now the oldest prefers to watch Netflix alone in his room and the younger prefers an endless river of YouTube videos on a handheld device).

They’re part of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour series of “The Road to….” movies which are not really a series, per se, as they play different characters in each but all have a certain type: Hope and Crosby are vaudevillians/con men/performers on the run from (usually) woman trouble who end up going to an exotic location and encountering and trying to woo the Lamour character. They’re also very self-conscious and meta-movies, where they spoof film conventions and sometimes break down the fourth wall.

The Road to Bali from 1952 finds the two performers in Australia from which they must flee to avoid a couple of shotgun weddings. They go to Darwin where they sign up as deep sea divers on an expedition looking for lost treasure. Their employer is a prince whose sister, the princess (Lamour), the boys try to woo. They find treasure and try to escape and then end up shipwrecked on another island where the natives take them in, and instead of having to choose, the princess learns she can marry multiple husbands–so she wants to marry them both. But she ends up married to the chief, and Hope and Crosby end up married to each other. A volcanic eruption seems to indicate displeasure with this turn of events, and as often happens, Crosby ends up with Lamour. This film is the only one of the series in technicolor–and represents the penultimate entry in the series, which is a weird place to start, but they’re all stand alone films.

The Road to Rio finds the boys down on their luck when they sign up at a circus. After doing their vaudeville number, Crosby tells Hope he also has to perform a high wire act–which goes awry and burns down the circus. On the run from the circus owner, the boys stow away on a ship bound for Rio. There, they encounter an heiress (Lamour) scheduled to marry her “aunt”/caretaker’s cousin unseen. The caretaker is controlling the heiress and facilitating the marriage using hypnosis. They expose Hope and Crosby as stowaways, hijinks ensue, and when they reach Rio, the boys have to break the caretaker’s hold on the girl and get the “Papers,” a MacGuffin they later expose as nothing but a MacGuffin (remember the meta nature of the films).

I suppose if you’re of a certain age and probably a bit of an old soul even then to really appreciate the films, but then again, I am both, so I’d be happy to discover more in this series out in the wild, but given how 1995 or 1996 is the Year Zero of modern culture, I won’t hold my breath.

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