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!