Saturday, June 18, 2011


Year 3, Day 168 - 6/17/11 - Movie #895

BEFORE: Well, since "Commando" was essentially a parody of itself, here's another parody of the action-movie genre. And yes, I'm sending out Birthday SHOUT-out #47 to Will Forte (last seen in "Baby Mama"), born June 17, 1970. I thought linking from last night's film would be a problem, but it's actually simple - David Patrick Kelly, one of the villains in "Commando", was in "Flags of Our Fathers" with Ryan Philippe, who plays one of MacGruber's team members here.

THE PLOT: Ex-special operative MacGruber is called back into action to take down his archenemy, Dieter Von Cunth, who's in possession of a nuclear warhead and bent on destroying Washington, D.C.

AFTER: Can a parody be too much of a parody? Can a parody not take itself seriously enough? I dig films like "Airplane" because they take comedy so seriously that it becomes funny again - but this one can't seem to stay true to any one style, or set of gags.

Of course, it's based on a recurring Saturday Night Live character, one who's constantly blowing himself up, and then (somehow) reappearing in another potentially explosive situation in which he gets distracted (AGAIN) from disarming a bomb, and so on in a never-ending episodic cycle. I understand that they can't maintain that same storyline in a movie - Reel 1, MacGruber blows up, the end - but they replaced it with a bunch of different things that don't seem to cohere together.

Thinking back to films like "Spies Like Us" and the "Austin Powers" series, both of which had former SNL performers as spies, this one doesn't seem to be in the same league. And I can't really point to any one thing and say, "Oh, HERE's where the film ran off the rails." Rather, it just seems generally misguided, like someone had a bunch of ideas to make the film funny, and then just failed to run them by anyone to see if they actually were.

I recall the other night the way that Jim Belushi's character in "Red Heat" was described - his boss said he was "a good cop" and "a total screw-up", which didn't make much sense. Similarly, MacGruber is portrayed as a messed-up idiot for most of the movie, and then somehow has the expertise to save the day when it counts the most - so how does he get to be both things? What gives him the power to fail upwards?

I wish this movie were a little more coherent, and I wish it were a little funnier - no, make that a LOT funnier. While I didn't feel it was a complete waste of time, it didn't feel like it was worth seeking out either. Swing and a miss, I think.

Also starring Val Kilmer (last seen in "Top Gun"), Kristin Wiig (last seen in "Adventureland"), with cameos from Maya Rudolph (last seen in "Grown Ups") and a TON of WWE wrestlers: Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, Kane, the Big Show, the Great Khali, etc.

RATING: 3 out of 10 bullet wounds

Friday, June 17, 2011


Year 3, Day 167 - 6/16/11 - Movie #894

BEFORE: Getting really close to Movie #900 now. Schwarzenegger carries over from last night's film - well, he did say that he'd be back...

THE PLOT: A retired elite commando has only a few hours to find and rescue his daughter from an exiled dictator.

AFTER: This is an appropriate movie to watch on a hot summer night - with action taking place on a tropical island, as Schwarzenegger acts as a one-man vigilante squad on a revenge mission. The movie's kind of like Arnold was at the time - big, muscle-bound and mostly brainless.

We take it as a given that this man has a long history of international covert ops, but he's retired from the game and just wants to live on a mountaintop in a quiet cabin with his daughter, splitting logs and flexing his enormous muscles. But someone starts killing off the members of his squad, and his former army boss arrives on the scene to (correctly) predict that he'll soon be a target himself.

NITPICK POINT #1: Why does a man who's given up the soldier-for-hire lifestyle have an entire shed full of weaponry on his property? I mean, sure it comes in handy, but I think he never really was as far out of the game as he claimed to be.

NITPICK POINT #2: The film's villain needs him to do one last covert op, so to motivate him, he kidnaps the hero's daughter. Were there no other operatives in the entire world willing to do the job for cash, you just had to get THAT guy? And did you really think he'd just roll over and do the operation, rather than target the men holding his daughter hostage? Idiots.

NITPICK POINT #3: You have to love the bunch of cops who catch Arnold's character robbing an army/navy store that has a hidden back room full of automatic weapons. (Why couldn't he just go back to his shed?) They completely ignore the woman in the parking lot who's watching the car packed full of guns and ammo - and it's an open-top convertible! Nor do they seem to have any interest in the cache of (presumably) illegal weapons behind the secret wall in the store. That's some quality police work, there.

NITPICK POINT #4: Arnold strips down to a speedo just to row a liferaft from a seaplane to the shore, then immediately suits up when he reaches the beach - umm, he realize its a time-sensitive mission right? So he stops to change his clothes TWICE?

NITPICK POINT #5: He reaches the compound, and immediately sets up explosives to take out two buildings - despite not knowing exactly where they're holding his daughter. He could have easily blown her up by mistake!

Jeez, I could do this all day long. Based on the list of goofs and inconsistencies on the film's IMDB page, I've just barely scratched the surface. This film is so ridiculous, it's pretty much a parody of itself. The scene with Arnold's character taking on 20 security guards in a mall while pursuing a terrorist is totally laughable.

Also starring Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Alyssa Milano, and David Patrick Kelly (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers") with a cameo from Bill Paxton.

RATING: 3 out of 10 army helicopters

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Red Heat

Year 3, Day 166 - 6/15/11 - Movie #893

I've got a bit of a "buddy" theme going on this week - from Gene Wilder + Harrison Ford in "The Frisco Kid", to the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and Joe Buck and Ratso last night. So let's keep it going with a buddy cop film, which as a bonus is also a "fish out of water" story, and as a 2nd bonus, Birthday SHOUT-out #46 goes out to Jim Belushi (last seen in "The Man with One Red Shoe"), born June 15, 1954.

THE PLOT: A Russian policeman is sent after a Georgian drug dealer who has escaped to the United States and is awaiting extradition in Chicago.

AFTER: This is a pretty serviceable action film, the kind that Arnold Schwarzenegger (last seen in "Predator") made before getting sidetracked by comedies, and politics. So it's nice to be reminded of that time. When acting for him just involved being a big dumb slab of beefcake and speaking in one-syllable words. Not that his character is dumb here, but he is unfamiliar with American culture and Chicago police techniques.

Belushi plays the foil character here, a wise-cracking fairly effectual cop - his boss describes him as "a good cop" but also "a complete screw-up" - well, which is it? How can he be both?

Of course, the two are thrown together (saw that one coming, did ya?) and have to track down a Russian gangster and drug-dealer before he completes a deal that will (apparently) flood the Soviet Union with cocaine, and bring communism to its knees (because enough coke will do that...). Can these two very unlike cops work together - without driving each other crazy?

As in "Cop Out", the police captain takes away the cops' guns - but that doesn't stop them, it just makes them more determined. Plus they have no problem getting more guns, they just happen to have spares in the glove compartment. Gee, I feel so much safer knowing that cops keep extra unlicensed guns lying around within arm's reach.

NITPICK POINT: People shoot at Schwarzenegger all through the movie, and everyone misses. How do you miss a target that big?

Also starring Peter Boyle (last seen in "Honeymoon in Vegas"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Class Action"), Ed O'Ross, Gina Gershon (last seen in "Face/Off"), and cameos from character actors Brion James (last seen in "The Fifth Element") and FOTB Peter Jason (last seen in "Milk").

RATING: 5 out of 10 police reports

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Midnight Cowboy

Year 3, Day 165 - 6/14/11 - Movie #892

BEFORE: Well, it's Flag Day, and I just watched a movie based on a comic-book, so the next logical movie would be the "Captain America" film, so I'll just...wait, it's not released yet? Well, that's a missed opportunity right there for a holiday tie-in. I guess I'll have to watch another cowboy film, though a different kind - anyway, this one helps me transition back to city life.

Of course, now I wish I'd watched "The Electric Horseman", because I could have so easily linked from Jane Fonda to Jon Voight through "Coming Home". But I lucked out anyway, since Megan Fox from "Jonah Hex" was in some movie with big transforming robots (haven't seen it, don't want to) with Jon Voight (last seen in "Four Christmases").

THE PLOT: A naive male prostitute and his sickly friend struggle to survive on the streets of New York City.

AFTER: This film is 42 years old, and you can still feel how scandalous it probably was in 1969, what with all the sex and the drugs, and more sex (the gay kind). Trivia buffs know it's the only X-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar - though if released today it would probably only warrant an "R".

Joe Buck (Voight) comes to NYC with dreams of being a hustler (way to aim high) because he figures that the city's full of rich, lonely women, and there are so many gay men in town, there's no one to satisfy them. There's a flaw in that logic somewhere... But he apparently lacks the social skills to connect with any...umm, clients, at least not of the preferred gender, and he himself gets swindled by his customers, a man he meets at a bar, and, well just about everyone.

But he forms an unlikely friendship with Rico "Ratso" Rizzo, who's got a sweet deal squatting in a broken-down building, and they find out that two can live as cheap as one. They also learn a few tricks, like how to load up at the buffet on a film shoot (I figured that one out myself while working as a P.A. in the early 90's).

I don't know, I'm just sort of whelmed by this one. It feels like a one-act play drawn out to movie length, there's no real third act, and it's ultimately depressing - yes, I understand sometimes life is depressing, and movies reflect life, but still...
Plus, what's with the weird dream sequences, what did they bring to the table? We get some glimpses of Joe's early years in Texas, but since they're a dream it all seems very cryptic. He had a freaky-ass grandmother, and there was some sort of incident with a teen girl (Crazy Annie?) but I just couldn't latch on to the specifics.

And how come prostitution is the only viable career choice? I can understand if he doesn't want to wash dishes, but if times are tough there must be some odd job you can do in the vast island of Manhattan to raise some cash - why is it hustling or nothing? Is this some character flaw, caused by his past sexual experiences, or is he just not qualified (or interested) in doing anything else?

I always tell the college kids, when they ask me for career advice, never make your avocation your vocation. I see aspiring chefs on the Food Network who say they've always enjoyed cooking, so they plan to open a restaurant. OK, come back after a few months working the line in a busy kitchen, and tell me if you still enjoy cooking. For Joe Buck, if he enjoys having sex with older rich women, that's fine - but it's a hobby! If you try to make a career out of it, you will come to hate it - ask any woman making x-rated films or working in the sex trade if they still enjoy sex, and you'll see where I'm going with this. I enjoyed movies as a teen, so I figured I'd make a career out of it (though I admit at 17 I was a little fuzzy on the details), and went to film school. After graduating and working in the film industry for a decade, much of the magic of watching movies was gone - I say now that movies are like laws and sausages, you don't really want to see how they're made. After another decade I started to come around, and I carved out some time to watch films again, but still it takes a big-budget effects-driving spectacle like "Watchmen" or "Avatar" for me to truly appreciate the wonder. This is why I don't go work for companies that make comic books or beer, because I want to maintain my enjoyment of those things.

Why can't Joe Buck learn a few guitar chords, and strut around Times Square singing in his underpants? Because I hear that works. Actually, if this film did inspire our local celebrity, the "Naked Cowboy" - who is neither naked nor, I'll wager, an actual cowboy - then I'm afraid I'll have to hold it accountable for that and deduct at least 2 more points.

It works as a portrait of New York City in the late 1960's, a time when you could get just about anything on the streets, legal or not, when there was an underground culture of sex and drugs (not skateboarding and bootleg DVDs) and Times Square was seedy, and not filled with family-oriented theaters and chain restaurants. Back when you could play three-card monte on the streets, and get hustled by small operators, not by large corporations (have you SEEN the price of a Broadway show these days?).

I moved to NYC in 1986 to attend college, and at that point Times Square was still pretty nasty (but nasty in a good way, if that's your bag...) but the sleazier businesses were relegated to the edges. The big clean-up took place in the mid-1990's under Mayor Giuliani, arresting drug dealers, closing porno theaters, and I'm guessing that any remaining cowboy-themed hustlers were relocated along with the "squeegee men". Now it's a tourist mecca and an advertising nightmare (just walked through there on Monday, and didn't see one blank square inch of space) and hey, all it cost us was our personal freedoms. Was that really too much to ask?

Also starring Dustin Hoffman (last heard in "The Tale of Despereaux"), Brenda Vaccaro (last heard in "The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones"), cameos from Sylvia Miles (last seen in "Wall Street") and Bob Balaban (last seen in "Absence of Malice").

RATING: 4 out of 10 saltine packets

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jonah Hex

Year 3, Day 164 - 6/13/11 - Movie #891

BEFORE: I was all set to watch "The Electric Horseman" tonight, but then I got a feeling that I had seen that film before - which is reason enough to put it on the back burner, with some other films that I'm fairly sure I've seen. I'll watch them if I get desperate. (It's a shame - Jason Robards would have linked to Robert Redford so easily, through "All the President's Men"...) Instead I'll go from one comic-book Western hero to another. And I'll link through Christopher Lloyd, who was in "My Favorite Martian" with Jeff Daniels, who was in "Blood Work" with Clint Eastwood, who was in "In the Line of Fire" with John Malkovich (last seen in "Changeling"), the villain in tonight's film.

THE PLOT: The U.S. military makes a scarred bounty hunter with warrants on his own head an offer he cannot refuse: in exchange for his freedom, he must stop a terrorist.

AFTER: Most Westerns use the same playbook, so naturally you might see the same elements again and again - carrying over from last night are Civil War veterans, Indians, trains, justice, revenge, loss of family members, and, of course, President Grant.

But can a Western put these tired elements together in a new way? Well, yes, if the main character can speak to the dead...and the main villain has a cool superweapon (even if I didn't really understand how it worked).

There was a middle section that got a little too metaphysical and symbolic, and I found the action scenes a little hard to follow just because they were so dark (not in tone, I mean they were night scenes and I found it hard to see anything!)

This film didn't dwell as much on the main character's back-story as last night's film, but like "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" it feels like the introduction to a character that never really develops into a full, meaty story. Even given the short running time, it feels like they could have done more with this character. I'm not familiar with the Jonah Hex comic books, but based on this movie, he seems merely like the Punisher transplanted to the Wild West.

Starring Josh Brolin (last seen in "Milk"), Megan Fox (last seen in "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People"), Michael Fassbender (last seen in "Inglourious Basterds"), Aidan Quinn (last seen in "Michael Collins"), Will Arnett (last seen in "G-Force"), with cameos from Wes Bentley, Tom Wopat.

RATING: 6 out of 10 crows

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Legend of the Lone Ranger

Year 3, Day 163 - 6/12/11 - Movie #890

BEFORE: Sticking it out in the Old West tonight - these Western films are also great films to watch on hot summer nights, since they take place in those hot, sandy deserts that look great on film. Linking from "The Frisco Kid", Harrison Ford was in "Patriot Games" with Anne Archer, who was in "Raise the Titanic" with Jason Robards (last seen in "Crimson Tide"), who appears here as President Grant. Got lucky with that one.

THE PLOT: The sole surviving Texas Ranger of an ambush arranged by Butch Cavandish returns to fight back as a masked hero.

AFTER: This is a pretty basic re-telling of the famous Lone Ranger origin, setting it firmly in Texas (Texas Rangers, ah, I get it...). But the movie takes its time setting up all the elements of the legend (silver bullets, silver horse, etc.) and spends a full hour on the back-story, so we don't even see the man in the mask for the first hour.

That leaves just barely enough time to avenge his dead brother, rescue President Grant, and take down the Cavendish Gang. Pretty by-the-numbers, except he doesn't end up with the pretty girl at the end - I guess some sacrifices have to be made if he wants to keep his secret identity.

It seems like this 1981 film left the door open for a sequel, but one was never made, probably due to bad box office. But essentially this is a comic-book movie, that was released before the current explosion of comic-book films. Word is that another Lone Ranger movie is in the works, with Johnny Depp set to play Tonto - look for Tonto to be the real brains of the operation in that one, I bet. Hey, they made a Green Hornet film, they can make another Lone Ranger film - the two characters are supposedly related, after all.

Starring Klinton Spilsbury (who?), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk from "Twin Peaks"), Christopher Lloyd (last heard in "The Tale of Despereaux"), with a cameo from Richard Farnsworth (last seen in "Misery") as Wild Bill Hickok.

RATING: 3 out of 10 sticks of dynamite

The Frisco Kid

Year 3, Day 162 - 6/11/11 - Movie #889

BEFORE: I could have easily followed up "Rob Roy" with a couple of "Robin Hood" films - but that's almost too easy, and then I wouldn't get to send Birthday SHOUT-out #45 to Gene Wilder (last seen in "Another You"), born June 11, 1933.

Almost forgot the linking - Liam Neeson was in "Star Wars: Episode I" with Anthony Daniels, who of course was in "Star Wars" Episodes 4-6 with Harrison Ford.

THE PLOT: A Polish rabbi wanders through the Old West on his way to lead a synagogue in San Francisco.

AFTER: At first glance this seems like a simple film, something of a quest film, mixed with a typical "fish out of water" story. But there's a little more to it, since it's an honest, non-cynical look at a religious character who sticks to his beliefs, no matter what. Plus it works as a portrait of America, a true melting pot from the Amish to the Indians, the honest pioneers to the thieves and con artists.

It also works as a buddy film, since Wilder's rabbi forms a bond with a train robber, played by Harrison Ford (last seen in "Presumed Innocent"). The two are like a frontier Odd Couple, the aggressive take-what-you-need thief paired with the more passive religious man, who believes that the Lord will (somehow) provide.

This was filmed after the first "Star Wars" film, and if it seems like Harrison Ford is an odd fit, it's worth noting that before he was a movie star, he appeared in a few TV westerns like "Gunsmoke" and "The Virginian".

What rings true about the rabbi character is that every experience he has, good or bad, on the journey becomes a little bit of a teaching moment, or perhaps a learning moment, since he's also a student learning the culture of America. It's only when he reaches San Francisco that he has a crisis of faith, and for a short time it looks like the experience has changed him for the worse. I appreciate classic Hollywood six-act structure when I see it - the 5th turning point should come at a time when things look completely hopeless.

But ultimately it's a film about following through and completing one's personal journey, something I need to be reminded about occasionally. Funny coincidence, both this film and "Rob Roy" start with a swindle and end with a duel (sure, one's with swords and one's with guns, but same principle).

While it's no "Blazing Saddles", the presence of Gene Wilder and the Jewish themes do give it an air of a Mel Brooks-style comedy, but without the cheap laughs.

With cameos from Clyde Kusatsu (last seen in "Rising Sun") and Vincent Schiavelli (also last seen in "Another You").

RATING: 6 out of 10 raccoons