Saturday, April 23, 2011

Anger Management

Year 3, Day 112 - 4/22/11 - Movie #842

BEFORE: I know it's Earth Day, but nothing appropriate is on the list - besides I have to give Birthday SHOUT-out #34 to Jack Nicholson. Exactly 1 Nicholson film has come into my possession since my chain last Sept/Oct. so here goes. Linking from last night, Cameron Diaz was in "Gangs of New York" with John C. Reilly, who has an uncredited role here.

THE PLOT: A businessman is wrongly sentenced to an anger-management program, where he meets an aggressive instructor.

AFTER: I've been fortunate that in watching 842 movies, I haven't accidentally watched the same one twice. Remakes are allowed of course, but movie #1 is now so far away (physically and mentally) that without proper organization, it might have been easy to slip and cover the same ground again. Well, this is as close as I want to get to that, since this is essentially the same film as "School for Scoundrels".

I'm honestly shocked that IMDB doesn't recommend one film if you're looking up the other - and if I were the writer of whichever film was released first (turns out it's this one) I would file some kind of injunction with the WGA, or however that works...
In both cases you've got a main character who won't stick up for himself, who attends a class/therapy session run by an older expert, who practices unconventional techniques, and might have designs on the main character's girlfriend. Plus there are a bunch of colorful/strange characters attending the same class. See? Same film, except for a few details.

Where this one fails to connect is in mis-diagnosing the main character - he doesn't really have an anger management problem, in fact he's got the opposite problem - he lets people walk all over him, and he doesn't get angry enough. And it's tough to tell if Nicholson's therapist is mentally all there, or just using unconventional techniques, since the self-help genre is so full of wacky crap. I realize we're meant to be kept guessing until the end - but does that allow a screenwriter to just make stuff up, as opposed to researching actual anger management techniques?

Then again, if someone had an actual anger management problem, they might not be a sympathetic main character - or if the older professional were completely sane, it would similarly mean that the main character is, by extension, insane. Still, it feels like a bit of a dodge.

Also starring Adam Sandler (last seen in "Grown Ups"), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "The Wrestler"), John Turturro (last seen in "Secret Window"), Luis Guzman (last seen in "He's Just Not That Into You"), with cameos from Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Semi-Pro"), Kevin Nealon, Heather Graham (last seen in "The Hangover"), Harry Dean Stanton (last seen in "Christine"), Lynne Thigpen, Jon McEnroe, Rudy Giuliani, Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens.

RATING: 4 out of 10 golf clubs

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Last Supper

Year 3, Day 111 - 4/21/11 - Movie #841

BEFORE: I've got a couple of choices tonight, after watching "The Darwin Awards". I could watch "Creation", a bio-pic about Charles Darwin, or "Sunshine Cleaning", a film about cleaning up crime-scenes. But this one has Nora Dunn, who had a cameo appearance last night, plus it provides a tie-in (through the title, anyway) to Easter week. If tomorrow's Good Friday, then tonight would be the (theoretical) anniversary of the (alleged) Last Supper.

I went to an interesting dinner event tonight, at the New York Athletic Club (a very upscale Manhattan health club, my boss is a member). They hosted a food + beer pairing event, in which the stations represented 10 baseball stadiums from around the country (chowder + baked beans for Fenway Park, fish tacos from San Diego's PETCO Park, etc.) I have to admit it was a unique idea - but I had to follow the club's dress code, which meant dress shirt, jacket, and no jeans or sneakers. Let me repeat that - I had to wear dress shoes to get into a GYM. And then wear a suit jacket while eating messy foods like hot dogs w/mustard, crabcakes with tartar sauce, baked beans and fish tacos. No, I can't imagine how that could go wrong at all...

THE PLOT: A group of idealistic, but frustrated, liberals succumb to the temptation of murdering rightwing pundits for their political beliefs.

AFTER: I think that I made the right choice (not that it's possible for me to make a scheduling mistake, but still...) because this film ended up name-checking both Darwin AND Hitler. One of the thought experiments used as dinner discussion in this film is that old saw about time-traveling and encountering Hitler when he was a young, naive art student. Should you kill him and attempt to alter history, or does he count as an innocent at that point? Can you hold someone accountable for their future crimes?

This film apparently believes so, because they end up inviting ultra-conservatives to dinner - and then dispatching them like a bunch of left-wing Sweeney Todds, before they have a chance to do more damage to the political landscape with their right-wing principles. Geez, I disagree with Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, but it doesn't mean I'd want to kill them...

There's much debate among the group about who deserves to die and who doesn't - from a racist PTSD veteran to a homophobic priest, and the group eventually gets over their feelings of guilt because they truly believe that they're making the world a better place. Hmmm...let's see, who else killed people who didn't agree with his ideologies, mistakenly believing he was making the world better. Could it be...HITLER? (And yes, this irony was apparently lost on the characters portrayed in the film)

The ending is left open to interpretation - so if you agree with these liberal murderers, you can just imagine they're still fighting the good fight. But if you disagree, you can easily imagine them getting their just desserts (pun intended) and it's possible that efforts produced the exact opposite result of what they meant to do, and they inadvertently created the next Hitler-like pundit. Oops.

What year was this released? 1995, in the middle of the Clinton administration? That doesn't seem right. It must have been written at the tail end of the Reagan/Bush years and took a few years to get produced and distributed, that's the only possible explanation.

Fortunately, one of the checks in our otherwise nonsensical two-party system is that it seems like the most liberal and most conservative candidates can't get elected as President - because each needs the support of mainstreamers and moderates to win a majority of votes. Pat Robertson, Ralph Nader? Un-electable. However, since office-holders need to make compromises to their ideals in order to pass legislation, it's virtually guaranteed that, once elected, no one can possibly please everyone, especially the extremists on whichever side worked so hard to get that person elected.

Starring Cameron Diaz (last seen in "The Mask"), Ron Eldard (last seen in "Black Hawk Down"), Annabeth Gish (last seen in "Double Jeopardy"), Courtney Vance (last seen in "Space Cowboys"), Jonathan Penner (later a contestant on 2 seasons of "Survivor"), with cameos from Bill Paxton (last seen in "Predator 2"), Ron Perlman (last seen in "Blade II"), Mark Harmon, Charles Durning (last seen in "The Man with One Red Shoe"), Jason Alexander (last seen in "Shallow Hal").

RATING: 4 out of 10 dirt-mounds

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Darwin Awards

Year 3, Day 110 - 4/20/11 - Movie #840

BEFORE: No films about Hitler's birthday, and no marijuana-themed comedy liked "Half Baked" or "How High". I've already got a theme going on karmic retribution and ironic deaths. Linking from "Switch", Jimmy Smits was in "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" with Natalie Portman, who was in "Black Swan" with Winona Ryder (last seen in "Great Balls of Fire!).

THE PLOT: A forensic detective and an insurance investigator trek across the U.S. to investigate potential Darwin Award winners.

AFTER: Of course, the Darwin Awards are an annual listing of people who helped human evolution along, by removing themselves from the gene pool in stupid ways. (You'd think the movie would take 30 seconds to explain the name, but you'd be wrong.) And Charles Darwin himself died on April 19, 1882 (Damn, missed that anniversary by ONE day...)

The film features the aftermath of some very ironic deaths, however some are based on noted urban legends, which don't qualify for the Darwin Awards, simply because they didn't ever happen. I should know, I spend a fair amount of time on sites like, checking to see which stories are true - the guy who supposedly strapped a rocket on his car and launched it into the side of a mountain? Didn't happen.

The loosest of narratives is applied here to connect the freak accidents - along with the addition of a documentary filmmaker who follows around the two investigators, making us feel like we're part of the action. However, the film is NOT completely made in single-camera documentary style, it quite often lapses into standard multi-camera coverage. So either that student filmmaker has three arms holding three cameras, or the whole thing's bunk - guess which. I wonder if most people would even notice the too-thorough coverage, since cross-cutting in a scene is such a standard. If you're going for a documentary feel, then commit, like "Blair Witch Project" did.

One of the investigators works along the lines of a Sherlock Holmes/Monk/The Mentalist hyper-observational type - but this is a fine line to walk, it's quite easy to turn an overly observant character into a quirky freak - and this one's well over the line, with his ability to see an accident through the eyes of the deceased, as well as an aversion to blood that causes him to faint (and yet he never considers a different line of work...odd).

I should love this film, since I'm a fan of urban legends - yet I should hate this film, since it gives credence to some of the more outrageous ones (Google "Dynamite Dog" or "Auto Pilot/Cruise Control"). Why couldn't the film use real Darwin Award incidents, which actually happened? So tonight I'm splitting the difference.

Also starring Joseph Fiennes (last heard in "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"), Wilder Valderrama (last seen in "Fast Food Nation"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "The Good Girl"), with cameos from David Arquette, Juliette Lewis, Kevin Dunn, Nora Dunn, Judah Friedlander (last seen in "I Hate Valentine's Day"), Lukas Haas, Julianna Margulies, Chris Penn (last seen in "Stealing Harvard"), D.B. Sweeney, Robin Tunney, Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, and the band Metallica.

RATING: 5 out of 10 vending machines

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Year 3, Day 109 - 4/19/11 - Movie #839

BEFORE: The theme of premature death and karmic reincarnation carries over - and the fact that this film is (essentially) also a remake, of a film I saw when I was a kid called "Goodbye Charlie", starring Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. I noticed last week that premium cable was running both films, so I couldn't resist putting them together on one DVD. Linking from "Down to Earth", Chris Rock was in "Nurse Betty" with Morgan Freeman, who was in "Teachers" with Jobeth Williams (last seen in "Kramer vs. Kramer").

THE PLOT: A sexist, chauvinist pig gets his just desserts when his angry ex-girlfriends murder him and he is reincarnated as a woman.

AFTER: Funny, I was just reading in Sunday's paper about how this is the week when NYC's rivers are warm enough for bodies to start floating to the surface. Ah, spring has sprung.

Technically, it's not reincarnation, because I think under that system, you come back as a baby, or an animal, or a baby animal or something. This is more representative of a struggle between God and the devil, and the whole afterlife seems to work on some kind of point system (I KNEW it!). And when you have just as many heaven points as you do hell points, you're up for grabs, and returned to Earth in the most ironic fashion possible. Who said God doesn't have a sense of humor? Of course she does...

There was something of an opportunity here, to work with a character who's female on the outside, but male on the inside - and I can't fault the performance of Ellen Barkin (last seen in "Tender Mercies"), because she carries herself in a manner that seems appropriate for the situation. But we get zero insight into the actual (imaginary) experience of switching genders - a Hollywood version of transexuality, minus the surgery. How does it feel, how is it different?

Logically, the male person in the female body is still attracted to women - but this was made back in 1991, when you couldn't even show two women kissing in a mainstream film. So the character refuses to identify as a lesbian (would that really be so bad?) and chickens out from going all the way with a very attractive female client. Problem is, he/she's creeped out by the thought of being intimate with men too, so what's a girl to do? (Why isn't celibacy even an option? Seems to be the only logical way to proceed.)

He's sent back in a woman's body to find just one woman who liked him (as a man) - and this will tip the scales and send him to heaven. Problem was, he was a real asshole, and even as a woman, nothing much really changes in that regard. It's only a happy (?) accident that fulfills the terms of the divine challenge - and even that seems like they changed the rules at the last minute.

But hey, if you like learning obvious points about men and women - men like boobies! And women's clothes are complicated... and you like seeing people punch each other in the face when they don't know what to say or do, then this is the film for you.

NITPICK POINT: They DO make women's shoes without high heels. If you're having trouble walking, you might want to pick up a pair.

Also starring Jimmy Smits, Tony Roberts, Lorraine Bracco (last seen in "The Dream Team"), Perry King, Bruce Payne (last seen in "Passenger 57") as the devil, cameos from Catherine Keener (last seen in "The Soloist"), Michael Badalucco, Tea Leoni (last seen in "Ghost Town") and Jim J. Bullock.

RATING: 2 out of 10 billiard balls

Down to Earth

Year 3, Day 108 - 4/18/11 - Movie #838

BEFORE: This time Chris Rock carries over, in a remake of "Heaven Can Wait", which I watched back in Year 1, and which was also a remake of a film called "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". And we go from a deceased basketball coach to a deceased (and reincarnated) comedian - so I might as well roll with the death theme for a few days.

THE PLOT: After dying before his time, an aspiring comic gets a second shot at being reincarnated as a wealthy but un-likeable businessman.

AFTER: In "Heaven Can Wait", Warren Beatty played a football player who got taken to heaven before his time was up, so his goal was to get back to Earth in another body, so he could play in the Super Bowl. In the re-re-make, Chris Rock plays a stand-up comic in the same situation, whose goal is to perform at the farewell concert for the Apollo Theater. It's a very clever way of working Chris Rock's routines into a narrative framework.

Problem is, the best body available is an older white millionaire - so his character has to struggle to get on the bill, and change his routine to accommodate his new appearance (for convenience's sake, he still looks like Chris Rock to the home audience, but to the other characters he looks like an old white dude). In addition he still has to run the millionaire's hospital board meetings, and find time to romance the woman who's protesting the hospital's corporate policies.

For this all to work, you have to concede the existence of heaven, and the inevitability of fate (people are scheduled to arrive in heaven on specific dates), but also allow the possibility that an angel can make mistakes (so, people sometimes don't arrive in heaven on specific dates - which is it?). Oh, and that heaven looks like a very elegant supper club, complete with bouncers, and run by an overly eye-talian manager. Or is that just the way heaven would look to an aspiring comedian?

NITPICK POINT: If, as a multi-millionaire, he could afford to buy a comedy club in order to practice his act, why couldn't he donate some money to keep the Apollo Theater open?

Also starring Regina King (last seen in "Ray"), Jennifer Coolidge (last seen in "Soul Men"), Greg Germann (last seen in "Clear and Present Danger"), Chazz Palminteri (last seen in "A Night at the Roxbury"), Eugene Levy (last seen in "Taking Woodstock"), Wanda Sykes, Mark Addy (last seen in "A Knight's Tale"), Frankie Faison (last seen in "Mississippi Burning"), with a cameo from John Cho.

RATING: 6 out of 10 fur coats

Monday, April 18, 2011

Grown Ups

Year 3, Day 107 - 4/17/11 - Movie #837

BEFORE: Maya Rudolph carries over from "Away We Go" as a happy accident. As does the theme of growing up and witnessing bad parenting skills.

THE PLOT: After their high school basketball coach passes away, five good friends and former teammates reunite for a Fourth of July holiday weekend.

AFTER: To use the basketball analogy, putting all these SNL veterans (plus Kevin James) together in one film should be the equivalent of an Olympic "Dream Team" - so why do so many shots end up missing the basket? Some land of course, but that's bound to happen when you throw so many up there - but shouldn't we expect a greater score? I guess you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, but still...

The five basketball teammates reunite as adults, and they (conveniently) happen to be in five different professional and romantic situations. The one who's still single is embarrassed about still being single, the one who's rich and successful is worried about how that looks to the others, the one who's a house-husband is embarrassed about that, and, well you get the idea. Everybody feels like they're some kind of screw-up, and no one seems comfortable in their own skin.

In addition, every one of them hassles the other four about their situations, breaking each other's balls in that way that only friends can. Not to be confused with the members of the losing basketball team, who all seem to live in the same town in upstate NY (what are the odds?) and break the winning team's balls in an unfriendly way, still disputing the outcome of the game 30 or so years ago (let it go, already!) By contrast, the wives and girlfriends of the 5 amigos have no issues with each other, despite vast differences in their ages and income levels (yeah, right...)

There is something of a message here, something about getting outside with your kids, switching off the cell phones and the Gameboys and teaching them how to skip a rock or jump into a lake, but it's mostly buried under the insults and slapstick humor, a situation all too common in Hollywood films these days. It's like someone couldn't decide between making a family film or a slapstick comedy, so they decided to split the difference - but trying to satisfy everyone often results in satisfying no one.

Starring Adam Sandler (last seen in "Funny People"), Chris Rock (last seen in "Bad Company"), David Spade, Kevin James (last seen in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"), Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello (last seen in "Secret Window" - damn, I missed her birthday by one day!), Colin Quinn, with cameos from Steve Buscemi (last heard in "G-Force") and Tim Meadows.

RATING: 4 out of 10 innertubes

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Away We Go

Year 3, Day 106 - 4/17/11 - Movie #836

BEFORE: Continuing with a theme of pregnancy meeting indecision - and I link through "Monsters vs. Aliens", with voices by both Seth Rogen and John Krasinski.

THE PLOT: A couple who is expecting their first child travel around the U.S. in order to find a perfect place to start their family. Along the way, they have misadventures and find fresh connections with an assortment of relatives and old friends.

AFTER: Again I have to sort of recuse myself, because I've never traveled around the country or really had to make a decision about where to settle down. Does that make me lucky, or lazy?

In this film, pregnancy forces a couple to re-think their lives, wondering if they're screw-ups, trying to do what's right - heck, trying to figure out what's "right", given the set of circumstances at the moment. And they both have jobs that can be done over the phone (Do they ever mention her profession? I must have missed it.) so in a way they have a luxury, they can live anywhere - most people probably have to just go where their job takes them, right?

So they visit a wide variety of crazy characters, some of whom are bad parents, so in a way they see a whole variety of roads they don't want to take, but I was never sure if that was leading them to determine the road that they DID want to take. It would be quite easy to write off the film as "pointless" as a result, but I think that's a little too easy.

After "Knocked Up", it's nice to see a couple whose togetherness is not in doubt - they're definitely in it for the long haul, however that is not the end of their problems (typical Hollywood fashion) but in fact is the start of a whole new set.

Meanwhile the film puts a different spin on a whole range of things, from strollers to breast-feeding, insurance, mock arguments, blended families, coping with loss of one's parents. And I'm glad that they pointed out that a pregnant woman shouldn't be traveling in an airplane, neatly avoiding my nitpick point.

Also starring Maya Rudolph (last seen in "A Prairie Home Companion"), Allison Janney (last seen in "The Ice Storm"), Jeff Daniels (last seen in "Dumb & Dumber"), Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Crazy Heart"), Jim Gaffigan (last seen in "The Slammin' Salmon").

RATING: 5 out of 10 space heaters