Sunday, August 3, 2008

Batman and Joker, Mulder and Scully, Meryl and Pierce, Hellboy and that Fire Chick

Been away awhile again! Lots of excitement! I got fired from the job I bitched about all the time. What a relief. Well, at least for me. My creditors aren't so thrilled, but they'll get over it eventually. Like when I give them some money, which will probably happen one of these days.

In the meantime, though, I can catch up on my movie blogging! And, by the way, anyone out there looking for a full-time movie critic (someone whom you would actually pay)?

Anyway, on with the show. Hellboy II was great fun. Ron Perlman is perfect in the role of Hellboy (all that Beast training I guess). Guillermo del Toro obviously has a knack for making movies with a lot of non-human characters! The action is fast-paced, the dialogue is quick and smart, the humor is sharp and clever. Not an award-winner but definitely a good time worth the price of admission--even if you go at night instead of to a matinee!

What can I say about The Dark Knight that hasn't already been said? It was a three-hour thrillride and if it hadn't been for the fact that I REALLY had to go to the bathroom (damn sodas again), I would never even have looked at my watch. It was one of those movies that you just don't want to end. As I'm sure you already heard, and probably seen for yourself, Heath Ledger's Joker is amazing. As I mentioned in a comment on a previous post, Ledger's performance is breathtaking. Ledger didn't play the Joker; he was the Joker. But it wasn't just his performance that makes this movie so amazing that it's breaking all the records--everything about the movie is good. It's like a perfect storm of writing, acting, directing, filming, editing, timing, etc. While Ledger is in a class by himself, the other performers were nothing to sneeze at (what a weird cliche--anyone know the origin of that one?). Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhall, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman--Wow. Most of these actors are on my "favorites" list. (Especially Gary Oldman--this guy is brilliant in his own right, although it's not that obvious in this movie. I've been a big fan for a long time, and I believe he was destined to be one of the truly great leading men, but I think a substance abuse problem got in the way somewhere along the road, and he doesn't seem to have ever regained his earlier momentum. He's still a brilliant character actor, though, and if Robert Downey, Jr. can make a leading man comeback (and WHAT a comeback), Gary can too! I'm pulling for you, man! Oh, and I'm single and looking. Oops, I digress, again.) Most of you have seen the movie, but for those of you who haven't, I won't say anything about plot details. I will just say GO SEE IT. I'm planning to go again. And maybe again after that.

And then there was Mamma Mia. Not being an ABBA fan, I wasn't all that open-minded about this show. I didn't even go see the road show when it came through Memphis, and I'll usually make an effort to see the big ones, or I'll at least bitch interminably because I can't afford to go. But when the movie was cast with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, I was committed (not that I have anything against Stellan Skaarsgard; I just haven't seen enough of him to get excited about his name on a movie poster). It was actually a lot of fun. I think the actors were obviously cast for their name recognition rather than their singing and dancing talents (and it worked--it got me there), but the movie was delightful for me nonetheless. I left the theater with a smile on my face. I actually sang ABBA songs (shudder) in my head for a few days afterward. Fortunately for my friends, family and all innocent bystanders, I didn't sing them out loud, just in my head. If you haven't been yet and you're planning to go, be sure to stick around during the credits to see the men dancing in rhinestones and platform shoes--it's like a very entertaining floorshow in a very silly gay club.

Before I say anything further about The X-Files: I Want to Believe, let me point out that I'm a diehard fan from the early days right through Robert Patrick. Just seeing Mulder and Scully in the same bed and making out and stuff would have been enough for me. But the story is actually suspenseful, and it kept my interest and the interest of the people I went with, at least one of whom was decidedly NOT a diehard fan. I think she barely knew who Mulder and Scully were (inconceivable, and I DO know what the word means). But she liked the movie, too. The other person I went with was a diehard fan like myself, and she was disappointed that the movie did not include much, if any, of the "mythology" (fans know what I'm talking about). I had read enough about the movie to know that the mythology wasn't going to be there, so I was prepared. I think the stand alone storyline was a good thing. It's been a long time since the series left us. Even my diehard friend had forgotten about Mulder's and Scully's child. So a less diehard audience would have been lost with anything but a stand alone. I was entertained, and I got enough of Mulder, Scully (and even Skinner) to feel as if I'd had a sufficient fix. The movie is not for the squeamish, though. It contains some body-hacking and dismembered limbs and unattached heads and such.

So, there's my update. If anyone has any paying work for me out there, by all means, leave me a comment! Especially if you're looking for "snarky movie reviews" as one blogger friend of mine describes my blog. Oh, yeah, and Terminator: Salvation!!! Omigod! Next summer. I'm such a dork.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hey, Scaredy Cats--Give The Happening a Break!

I finally saw The Happening over the weekend and it left me wondering: What is all the bitching about? Could it be, gods forbid, that Phil Gramm is right? (Okay, I just slapped myself for that one.)

Seriously, I thought it was a good movie. It’s not a GREAT movie, but it’s good. It’s suitably intense and horrifying. SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to give away the whole movie, so do not read any further unless you REALLY want to know! If you still want to see the movie, I can recommend it with a clear artistic conscience. Just don’t read any further.

I’ve heard people all over the place saying with mock horror things like: “Ooooo . . . it’s the scary plants!” or “Oh my god, the grass is attacking! Run for your life!” Come on, people. No one had a problem with the man-eating vines in The Ruins. There is certainly cinematic historical precedent for plants that kill: When I was a kid, Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) scared the fungus out of me and my little bro! 1963 was clearly a landmark year for killer plants—it also gave us Day of the Triffids, which I still hear people talk about. And how many versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are there? Off the top of my head, I can count four! And when that tree crashed through the window and grabbed up Carol Anne's brother in Poltergeist, don't tell me you didn't scream like a little girl. So, WHY do so many people have a problem with these killer plants? Personally, I think these folks are in denial.

Mushroom people and pods from outer space just aren’t that believable, now, are they? But an ecological event of the type shown in the movie? That’s believable. It or something very similar really could happen. Life forms on this planet do adapt; they evolve in response to their survival instinct, survival being a key word there. Considering how abusive we have been and still are to the planet and its other inhabitants, we probably should be scared. To slightly alter some consumer manipulation from the distant past: “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature!”

Believable stuff is just plain scarier than the unbelievable. Hence the need for mockery. It’s hiding the real fear.

Armchair critics everywhere (except me) are also complaining about Mark Wahlberg’s performance. I thought his performance was more than acceptable. I think the problem is that we’re all used to seeing our Markie Mark as a tough guy, a cool guy, but in this film he’s, dare I say it, a science nerd. The public has apparently typecast Wahlberg and won’t be happy unless he’s shooting someone or blowing up something or doing something with his shirt off. Come on, let the guy stretch a little! He’s probably capable of so much more.

I do have to admit, though, that Zooey Deschanel’s performance was a little on the weird side. I mean more weird than usual.

Anyway, M. Night Shyamalan, I still love you, dude! Don’t mind all the whiners out there. They’re really just scaredy-cats.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Incredible Hulk Is Too Good to Deserve My Immediate Digression

Superhero movies seem to be attracting a higher caliber of actors these days, and my life is all the better for it! First we had Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and then we had Edward Norton as The Incredible Hulk. And of course, we can’t forget the upcoming Dark Knight which stars Christian Bale as Batman and the late, great Heath Ledger as the Joker in what I’m hearing is an Oscar-worthy performance. Oscars for comic book villains? Cool.

Don’t get me wrong, Christopher Reeve as Superman stole my young collegiate heart at the time and made me want to be Lois Lane. When several people told me I looked like Lois Lane from the Superman movies, I was thrilled. At least until years later when poor Margot Kidder was found wandering, toothless and crazy and dirty, in the shrubbery of Southern California. That was kind of a buzz kill. But I still watch that series of films with a bittersweet thumping of the heart (the second movie was the best—we got a little Superman/Lois Lane action). The other actors who did turns as Batman—Micheal Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer—are all definitely on my personal A list. And those Batman movies started raising the bar on the level of superhero actors, so that we now have the likes of Downey and Norton, two of the best at their craft. I love America.

Well, this was supposed to be a review of The Incredible Hulk, so I guess I’m just a little unfocused today. Kind of like every other day. Anyway, let’s get to it. Just as Iron Man is an exceptional movie for its genre, The Incredible Hulk is likewise a cut above. I have nothing against Eric Bana and I enjoyed the last Hulk film, but this one is just so much better. With Norton and William Hurt and Liv Tyler and Tim Roth, it has an impressive line-up of talent, but it’s also well-written with a plot that is much easier for the audience to connect to. I felt much closer personally to the characters in this Hulk than in the last one. (In fact, on some days at work, I actually feel like I’m becoming the Hulk!) The movie is well-paced and has a nice mix of explosive action and characters connecting. I really enjoyed it. Go see it.

I just hope Ed Norton’s rumored tiff with the fledgling Marvel studio over the final cut of the movie doesn’t keep him from reprising his role in a sequel. I guess that's one of the dangers of having a higher caliber of actors. What’s the male equivalent of “Diva”?

Monday, July 7, 2008

John Hancock and Independence Day

No, not him. I'm talking about the other John Hancock, the one played by Will Smith (who is also of Independence Day fame for that matter).

Hancock ended up being the number one movie for the July 4th weekend which isn't surprising because who doesn't love Will Smith? He's Mr. Everyman. So I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. Apparently I'm in the minority, though, along with most of the REAL critics (the ones who get paid). Five of us went to the movie on the 4th, and four of us walked out loving it. I was the odd man (woman) out.

SPOILER ALERT--I may talk about the big "twist" in the movie and give other things away in the rest of this post.

I loved the way the movie started out. What a great concept--a miserable, alcoholic, rage-filled, amnesiac superhero who doesn't appear to like anyone! And the feeling is mutual--he's almost universally despised. Then along comes professional PR guy Ray Embrey (great performance by Jason Bateman) and gets stuck on a railroad track with a train speeding his way. Hancock rescues Ray, but rather than just lifting Ray and his car off the tracks, Hancock manages to smash up the train's engine and cause a massive derailment. The bystanders react with loud and earnest contempt. In fact, Hancock is so destructive in his heroic endeavors that a warrant is eventually issued for his arrest. In the meantime, Ray has convinced John Hancock to let Ray give him a PR makeover.

So far, so good. The movie flows well, it makes sense, and Smith and Bateman give endearing performances. Ray's wife, played by Charlize Theron, is a bit off-putting toward Hancock, but that's not surprising given his reputation. But then everything changes. The big "surprise" of the movie comes and, yes, it is startling. But the movie loses all cohesion at this point and starts to make less sense out of what was already working well. It kind of makes you want to ask the producers, writers, director, etc.: if it wasn't broke, why did you (try to) fix it?

The entire tone of the movie changes, and it seems to be a totally different story after the big twist. What appear to be attempts to explain who, what, and why Hancock is actually only confuse. Potential explanations are baffling and at times contradictory. We're never told who he is; we only get a vague answer that starts with talk of gods and angels but quickly degenerates into "who knows?" His purpose is even more indiscernable. Is he here to search out his opposite, who happens to be his soulmate/partner, whose presence will turn him human, so that then "they" will go after him to kill him? We're never told who "they" are either, and if his purpose is to become human, then why didn't his creator just make him human in the first place? Or is he here for the usual superhero objectives of saving mankind and teaching people to be better people? Both purposes are suggested at different times in the movie. I still have no clue what the answers to any of the questions are, and I'm usually damn good at figuring out the surprise twists in movies before they happen--movies like The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Village, etc. If I remember correctly, I think I even figured out the truth about Luke's dad before it was revealed. The Usual Suspects got me, though. I love it when one gets me. But I digress (how unusual, huh).

The post-surprise portion of the movie left me dissatisfied and disappointed. I wanted more of the first half of the movie. But in someone's defense, the other four people who went to the movie with me LOVED the twist and LOVED the movie, and apparently most of the viewing public who saw the movie over the weekend LOVED it. I'm clearly in the minority.

Oh, well, I didn't like The English Patient, either, and I think Gone with the Wind is absolutely dreadful. Come on with it; I can take it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday Tiny TV Tidbits

How many Rescue Me fans are out there? I love this show. I love Denis Leary. He and his creative baby Rescue Me are both so politically incorrect that I titter at the thought. Irreverance is my middle name (but I spell it M-a-r-i-e), which makes this show and me kindred spirits. Since last year's painful Hollywood writers' strike pushed the new season of the show all the way out to spring of 2009, Sony Pictures or FX or Dreamworks or someone is throwing fans a bone in the meantime. Starting two Tuesdays ago, FX is airing 10 original, stand-alone "minisodes" (not my word, by the way--I do have some literary dignity left) every Tuesday night at 10 Eastern/9 Central. The first two 5-minute episodes have been great fun and have provided a small fix for fans in withdrawal, but I feel like I'm being toyed with by the dope man. I need more and he's not giving it up. C'mon, C'mon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Robert Downey, Jr. Gets Hard, Kim Catrall Doesn’t Get Laid, and Other News from the Movies

Okay, so it’s been awhile; I’ve seen lots of movies, and you’ve already seen them all, too. Movie reviews aren’t all that much in demand a month or two after movies open. But, then again, I’m not really writing to help people make decisions about movies anyway, am I? Nope. I’m writing for purely narcissistic motives, to show how clever I am, and charming and funny and talented, and did I mention grandiose?

Sorry I’ve been away—life overwhelmed me. It does that from time to time—even to clever, charming, funny and talented people. Even the grandiose. But enough about me . . .

To catch everyone up on some of the theatrical (and one non-theatrical) offerings of the blockbuster season so far, I’ll give you a few little, bitty reviews—let’s call them quickies.

Ironman rocks, and Robert Downey, Jr. is just plain hot.

Nim’s Island is a great movie for little girls (both inner and outer), and Gerard Butler is just plain hot.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers exactly what you’d expect—lots of fun and implausible action sequences, and Harrison Ford is just plain not that hot anymore. Shia LaBeouf is working on it, though.

The Strangers is an unsettling but successful exercise in sustained tension, so if you like riding the edge of your seat, this movie is for you. I’ve seen Scott Speedman hotter.

Uncounted is a fascinating and frightening documentary by David Earnhardt about voting improprieties which focuses mostly but not exclusively on the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The movie is not in theatrical release, but is available at www.uncountedthemovie.com. It’s definitely worth getting and watching. You can watch the movie trailer and get more information at the website. It attempts to be nonpartisan, but I don’t. George Bush is oh-so-definitely NOT hot. In fact, I’m not entirely sure he’s even human.

Sex and the City is surprisingly good and true to the feel of the HBO series, although watching Kim Catrall getting chunkier and not getting laid was an unexpected shocker. And, while certainly adorable, Mr. Big aka Chris Noth, has always fallen into the tepid range for me. McDonald’s coffee he ain’t.

And speaking of Sex and the City, I give the TV series the credit or perhaps I should say the responsibility for the obsession with designer purses and shoes in this country. Not that I’m above it, because I’m not. I would probably be willing to go to quite embarrassing lengths to snag a pair of Manolos. And my friends refuse to help me move ever again unless I agree to get rid of some of my many, many shoes. HOWEVER, when I was sitting in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s at lunch today, and I watched a young woman no more than 17 or 18 years old get out of a first degree klunker of a car and put on her McDonald’s employee shirt over her top as she trudged into the restaurant to go to work dropping fries or maybe squirting secret sauce, all while she carried a large Louis Vitton purse on her arm, I just had to ask myself: do we maybe have our priorities all screwed up in this country?

Nah.

See you next time! I promise to be more diligent in my postings!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cinderella Redux

Okay, in all honesty Apocalypse Now Redux is much more my style. But desperately needing something light and airy last night, I watched Enchanted on DVD. To me, life is much more like one big napalm storm than one big fairy tale. However . . . I have to admit, I had a big time watching Enchanted.

Amy Adams as Giselle, a cartoon storybook maiden waiting for her Prince to come, is perfectly cast. The movie starts in cartoon mode where Giselle sings and works with all the little creatures of the forest to clean house and do whatever else it is that fairy tale cartoon characters do. She then meets Prince Edward (James Marsden) when he rescues her from a maiden-eating troll. They immediately prepare to get married and live happily ever after. Prince Edward's mom, however, is the current Queen (played by one of my favorites, Susan Sarandon), and she has no intention of letting some other girl come along and take her Queenly crown from her. She's a totally evil Queen of course. Giselle shows up at the castle the next morning for her wedding with all her animal friends putting the finishing touches on her wedding gown, which they of course helped fashion for her. The Queen, disguised as an old crone, lures Giselle to a "wishing well" where she promptly pushes the young bride-to-be in. (Old crones really get a bad rap.) Giselle falls and falls, and then ends up popping out of a manhole in Manhattan in the real world, as a real person.

For my part, the whole cartoon sequence related above could have been a good bit shorter. I found myself getting impatient for some real world action. Okay, maybe what I really was getting impatient for was some eye candy in the form of her real world prince-to-be, Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey. Not being a Grey's Anatomy fan, I don't get much McDreamy. Dempsey's character is a world weary, love worn, divorce attorney and single father of a 6 year old girl. When she asks for a book of fairy tales, he brings her a book about the most important women of the 2oth century instead, wanting her to grow up a strong, independent woman with no illusions about any "happily ever after" nonsense. The 6 year old is so not impressed. The two of them end up finding Giselle perched atop a billboard franticly knocking on the door to a palace pictured thereon begging for entry. Why they didn't take her straight to the Bellevue Psych Ward I don't know. Artistic license I suppose.

I'm sure you can guess where the action goes from there. Prince Edward, Giselle's chipmunk friend Pip, an evil denizen of the Queen (a now apparently typecast Timothy Spall--Peter Pettigrew of Harry Potter fame) and finally the Queen herself all eventually come to the real world. Despite some very silly and I thought unnecessary singing and dancing, the movie is a lot of fun and has some genuine laughs. (I can still see Prince Edward in full fairy tale prince regalia, sword and all, with one of those green foam Statue of Liberty crowns on his head.)

And, guess what! Ultimately, everybody lives happily ever after. On a scale of five talking chipmunks, I give this 3.75 of the little buggers.

Now, normally this type of thing would make me want to dig out my own eyes with a nail file. But last night, just for a while, I needed some make believe, and Enchanted delivered. Nothing wrong with that. I wasn't afflicted with any long-term delusions.

When I awoke this morning, I was right back to loving the smell of napalm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Remembering My Youth

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is funny--really, really funny. Go see it.

The short version storyline is that composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is suddenly dumped by his TV cop show star girlfriend, the Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). He goes to Hawaii to get away from it all and lick his wounds, but--oopsie--Sarah is there, at the same hotel, with new boyfriend, rock superstar Aldous Snow (the unforgettable Russell Brand). Hotel employee Rachel (Mila Kunis) tries to help Peter out by spending time with him. All manner of rom-com hijinx ensue. (I just tried to look up "hijinx" in a dictionary, and it's not even in there. Where's the OED when you need it? Not that I have an extra room to house the thing anyway.)

Aside from the frequent full frontal nudity shots of Jason Segel (who also wrote the script so he's clearly a perverted exhibitionist--but a totally lovable one), the most visually disturbing thing about this movie is that it takes place in Hawaii. How, you ask, could Hawaii be visually disturbing? I went to high school there, that's how. Imagine a skinny, pasty white, socially inept teenage girl who prefers mountains and forests, or even a library for that matter, over the beach partly because she has a tidal wave phobia (no one called them tsunamis back then) and partly because she knows that there are things in the water that want to eat her. Now take that skinny white girl and condemn her to three years on a tiny peninsula on the tiny island of Oahu in the middle of the great big Pacific Ocean. They called me "shark bait" and wouldn't swim with me, their theory being I was so white that my legs glowed in the water and sharks could see me from miles away. They made me live in a house on said tiny peninsula where, from my bed at night, I could hear the waves crashing on the beaches on both sides of the peninsula, and I waited breathlessly to be washed away by a 100-foot tidal wave every time the waves went quiet for a minute. Maybe even a 200-foot tidal wave. And did I mention that the house also sat at the foot of a maybe extinct, maybe dormant volcano? My friend at the time, Mr. Kona Gold, helped take the edge off a bit, but I have nonetheless supported many a therapist in the years since then.

But enough about me--back to the movie. Jason Segel is tummy-aching funny, but Russell Brand is freakin' hysterical as the very limber, very uninhibited, very sex-obsessed Aldous Snow. The movie is worth the price of admission just to watch his performance (be afraid, be very afraid for the giant chess pieces--you'll see).

The women easily take the back seat to the men in this one, with WAY entertaining supporting turns by Jonah Hill as a socially awkward server infatuated with Aldous Snow, Paul Rudd as a surfing instructor who has some short-term memory issues (can't imagine why . . . hmmmm), and Jack McBrayer (Kenneth of 30 Rock) as a sexually repressed, religious, virgin newlywed who decides that sex is just plain nasty and that what his bride is prepared to do to make it good is, well, simply unspeakable and undoubtedly against all the laws of God. Hell, just looking at Jack McBrayer makes me giggle like a resident of Bedlam.

I and everyone else in the theater laughed almost non-stop through the whole movie. It was funnier than other products from the Judd Apatow machine, and in many other ways it was better than the likes of 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up (don't get me wrong--they're both awesome). It was just more grown up, if you can say that about a movie which starts with the main character getting dumped by his girlfriend while he's stark naked, sobbing, begging, and moving around his apartment doing memorable things like sitting on and rising from a leather sofa, sound effects included. And he spends a large portion of the movie crying like a little girl (which was actually very endearing).

The movie is filled with great lines and scenes that will stick with you for weeks, maybe longer, causing you to break out in spontaneous giggles at awkward times. My downfall is going to come everytime I think about the "rock opera" that Peter is working on. It's a rock opera about a love-sick Dracula. And he thinks it would be best performed by puppets. And he's perfectly serious. I really can't say any more about that except that every time Peter performed an excerpt from his opera, I laughed so hard I was gasping for air and trying not to wet myself.

The Hawaiian backdrop really is strikingly beautiful, albeit traumatic for me. I was sometimes distracted from the action in the film because I was transfixed on the watery horizon in the background, looking for that giant wall of water that would wash away Peter Bretter's tears, along with Peter Bretter.

I repeat: Go see this movie. On a scale of five tsunamis, I give it 4.5 big waves. Aloha!

Haven't Forgotten Sarah Marshall

Hey! I did see Forgetting Sarah Marshall this weekend and can't wait to give you my thoughts! I have been held hostage by my 3 jobs, though, and haven't had a chance to do it! (This whole work thing is really getting tedious.) Tonight, I promise!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Red, Blue, and No Movies for You!

The weather in Memphis is spectacular this morning. It's the kind of perfect spring morning that we just don't get very often in these parts. Memphis really has only two seasons: (1) suffocatingly hot and humid or (2) 38 degrees and raining. This morning we have bright sunshine and a temperature in the mid-60's with low humidity and a light southerly breeze. It's hard to force myself into a dark movie theater on a day like today! Especially since I live on a lake--sparking blue water, ducks floating by, purple martins swooping across the surface looking for tasty bugs (yum), overweight rednecks in undersized fishing boats puttering by, the hum of their struggling, gurgling, trolling motors like the sounds of late summer dying cicadas, the bright red and blue of their beer coolers adding an impressionistic swath of color to the scene. It's idyllic. Life is good.

I do hope to catch Forgetting Sarah Marshall tomorrow evening, though, so be sure to check back on Monday for my views on the latest "it" movie. My god, can the entertainment talking heads talk about nothing else??? I've got some big expectations here! Don't let me down, Judd Apatow! I'll put a big sign in my backyard facing the lake telling all my endearing redneck neighbors to Forget Sarah Marshall. I mean it. Don't push me.





Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Ruins, and I’m not talking about our economy (or maybe I am)

I’m a horror movie junkie. I can’t help myself. I don’t want to go to Horror Junkies Anonymous. I’m a slave to adrenaline, the way it explodes in my head every time I scream in terror, waking me up, jumpstarting my heart, making me feel alive, arousing me sexually . . . oh, never mind. The point is that I LOVE the rush I get from being scared. It’s the monkey on my back, or in this case, the vine on my back.

I went to see The Ruins with limited expectations. Yeah, yeah . . . another scantily clad group of young adults doing something moronic in a foreign country and as a result meeting with some kind of unspeakably horrific demise which these days is usually drawn out, long and slow and fascinating from an FX point of view. (No, really, how DO they make having one’s insides dug out slowly with a tablespoon look so real! Don’t worry—I made that up.)

But I’m happy to say that The Ruins delivered a bit more than I expected. The plot premise offered something a little different (well, with a bit of a nod to Creepshow) and the performances were definitely a cut above the usual running, boob-bouncing, arms-flailing, silly screeching. With Jonathan Tucker and Jena Malone heading the cast, the acting ability was there. (I really miss you, Tommy Donnelly!) And did you ever notice that both of them do this little scrunchy, puckery, pointy thing with their mouths? Check it out. It’s like they’re from the same gene pool or something.

So Jonathan’s and Jena’s characters (who happen to be boyfriend/girlfriend—makes that whole same gene pool thing a little creepy) along with another couple, and a German guy, and some Greek guy (you know right away that he’s going to be the Ensign Johnson) go deep off the beaten path into the jungle somewhere in Mexico to search for German guy’s brother at some ancient ruins that don’t show up on any Cancun postcards. German guy’s brother was on some archaeological outing and never came back. What they encounter at this vine-covered Mayan pyramid are (1) man-eating, talking plants (not nearly as cheesy as it sounds) and (2) really mean gun- and bow and arrow-wielding natives who refuse to let the kids get away from the ruins covered with man-eating, talking plants. Tough spot to be in (okay, I could be talking about our economy).

Bloody, seat-squirming, stomach-churning but predictable things happen. I had a few genuine “Oh, HELL no” screaming moments (getting that adrenaline fix). The tension is maintained for about as long as it could be—at 91 minutes, the movie’s length is almost, but not quite over the edge of horror sustainability, at least the sustainability of this particular horror. I and my movie-going companions left satisfied that we had been sufficiently terrorized for the evening. On a scale of five carnivorous talking plants, I’d give this one three—again, not great, not bad, just scary enough to get the adrenaline pumping and novel enough not to bore us to tears. (Saw 15, anyone?)

Now, about the economy . . . to steal a horror movie quote from a while back: “Want to see something REALLY scary?”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Welcome! Oh, and 21, anyone?

Welcome! You are fortunate enough to be among the first to experience “Movies, Memphis, Madness”—offering a little something for everyone! You are no doubt witnessing history in the making here. No, really. History in the making. Centuries from now, this blog will be reviewed by 26th century literary honchos, historians, archaeologists, maybe a few psychologists, biologists, and even a cryptozoologist or two—and they will know what life in the 21st century was like. They’ll write volumes about me. I’ll be like the “Lucy” of the future (except they won’t have my remains and I would look better than Lucy even if they did).

It could happen.

In the meantime, let’s talk movies. I don’t know whether it was the movies, the Memphis, or the madness that attracted you here, but don’t worry. In the long run, there’ll be plenty of all to go around. And then some.

The movie 21 was recently released in theaters. The trailers promised a lot, drew me in like sirens at the door of the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, our own little Delta version of Vegas (sans the bordellos and the great Ted Binion murder scandals and such). In truth it doesn’t take anything nearly as mythic as sirens to draw me into a casino, just enough gas in the car to get there and enough cash in hand to squander without danger of losing my home, car, appliances, first born child, etc.—you get the idea. So, a movie about mathematically inclined college students counting cards at the blackjack tables in Vegas and taking home lots and lots of said cash held a certain attractiveness for me. I went hoping for both entertainment AND enlightenment.

Entertainment I got. Eye candy makes up the nucleus of said mathematically inclined college students (MIT students at that—oooh, ahhh—smart folk). And who doesn’t like pretty people at the picture show? Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth as the two lead students are also adequate enough in the acting department. The grown-ups in the movie, however, are disappointing. I always try to be understanding when actors the caliber of Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne do light, non-challenging fare—hey, we all need an easy gig to make some quick coin once in a while, right? Maybe for said casinos. Who knows. Nonetheless, it’s painful for my deep artistic higher self to see actors who are capable of SOOOOO much more do this stuff. But, entertaining they are; Oscar bound they aren’t.

Oh, yeah, and let’s not leave out the guy that played the fire chief on Rescue Me who killed himself on the show last season. That would be Jack McGee, who plays a convincing enough aging, semi-tough sidekick to Fishburne’s aging, a bit-more-tough casino “loss control” consultant. This movie could’ve used some of the knock-you-to-your-knees-with-humility-cause-it’s-so-good writing from Rescue Me’s scribes. 21 is mostly predictable and full of clich├ęs. Say, while we’re on the subject, when is Rescue Me coming back, anyway? The recent (totally justified and fully supported by me) Hollywood writers’ strike has my annual TV natural rhythms all effed up. But I digress.

So 21 is an entertaining movie, probably a good date movie since it has something to make the boys and the girls happy. I understand that there is one sex scene, but I missed it when I went to the restroom (damn those gigantic soft drinks). Beyond that, the premise, while seemingly a bit outlandish, is apparently based on some real-life MIT genius types who helped pad their future with casino cash. I had hoped for a little more enlightenment in that respect. From the film, I understand in general their system for “counting” the cards sliding out of the 5-deck shoes that casinos now use (to make it harder for the card counters of the world), but I’m not sure they ever give away the essential portions of the plan. From watching the movie, I could now count like they do, but I don’t think I would know what it means. I think I missed that part—or it was intentionally left out. So . . . if the count is +17, is a high card or a low card more likely to come? Hmmmm. . . . Maybe my gambling IQ is challenged and that’s why I have concerns about losing my belongings to guys with names like Big Jimmy or Guido.

Anyway, tension among the students, and among the students and their mentor, Kevin Spacey’s arrogant MIT professor (Kevin Spacey acting arrogant . . . my, there’s a stretch), and among the students and the loss control guys, and among the arrogant professor and the loss control guys all keep the plot moving. The scenes showing the college students indulging in the (oh so many) excesses Vegas has to offer (from designer boutiques to retro strip clubs—definitionally, anywhere with a disco ball is retro as far as I’m concerned) play like a TV ad designed to lure professional athletes and young celebs into a life of self-indulgent decadence. Okay, I was jealous. Whatever.

21 is fun and easy. On a five-star system (and by the way, I need my own special system—any suggestions?), I would give it 3 stars—not great, not bad, just fun and entertaining. Unlike my life—which is demanding I return to it immediately. Work. humphh. Didn’t the Geneva Conventions say something about work?

If I could just figure out what +17 actually means.

Next time!