Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Drive-In (1977)

Directed by Rodney Amateau. I had never heard of this movie before until I saw it listed on a web site. It's the kind that takes place all in one night and has a lot of characters and jumps back and forth from story to story, while still managing to maintain a central character. George Lucas' "American Graffiti" is best of this genre, and it should be acknowledged that "Drive-In" is not particularly good. Still, for all of its flaws, it is worth seeing.

There are several flaws of "Drive-In." It's not particularly funny and the cast is not notable. Take movies like "Diner," "Dazed and Confused" or again, "American Graffiti" and the casts are full of people who end up becoming big stars either because talented people were attracted to the script, a smart casting director was assigned the project, or the film did well and catapulted the cast to stardom. "Drive-In" has none of this.

However! "Drive-In" is the story of one night at an Austin, Texas drive-in movie theater and could not look cooler. Because of when and where it was made I couldn't have less doubt that it is the true inspiration for the look of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused." That inspiration is summed up by Lisa Lemole or at least the hotpants she wears in the role of Glowie Hudson, as well as the van driven by Billy Milliken who plays Enoch.

Milliken is a decent actor but this performance is frustrating. With creativity and skill the role of Enoch could have been Milliken's Jeff Spicoli, but Milliken is no Sean Penn, and this movie predates "Fast Times," robbing Milliken of the opportunity to even understand the potential of a role like this. Consequentially, regardless of some talent Milliken ended up with a career as a film crew member after this. Instead, Gary Lee Cavagnaro (as "Little Bit") has the funniest, most professional performance in "Drive-In," but he ended up doing even less in the movies, though you are more likely to recognize him because he played the fat kid, Engelberg, in "The Bad News Bears."

"Drive-In" is short on laughs but long on style and charm, unlike similar flicks of its time, say, 1979's "Van Nuys Blvd." which tries to update "American Graffiti" but is just a mess. "Drive-In" is a rare movie mostly because nobody really wants to see it, but if you like this kind of thing, definitely seek it out.

Religulous (2008)

Directed by Larry Charles. It's really about time someone made a movie like this; not an objective examination of religious diversity but an outright indictment of its usefulness. Comedian Bill Maher's shows kooky religious followers, crooked religious leaders, maps this long legacy and speculates that not only is this headed for a deep dark future, it can be blamed for many current problems and feared as one source for our eventual collapse.

Maher is the intellectual superior of his subjects, so while his humor makes powerful points his smirky victimization of them is sometimes uncomfortable. I didn't care about the greedy TV reverends or people like that, but the simple people at religious theme parks that foolish enough to talk to him made me squirm a little. Cinematically, these people are sacrificial lambs.

Maher shows that in the Middle East oil provides everyone the luxury to argue about religion and allow that discord to impeded all other progress. In this country, religion is used to impede legal and commercial freedoms. For a comedy, "Religulous" makes ominous points, though nothing that hasn't been on my mind before. This is not a criticism, it's an accolade.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spirited Away (2001)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I was sort of surprised when Karen said she wanted to see this because I don't think of it as really her bag. Though I don't really think of it as much my bag either. I went through a brief anime phase in the early '90s and burnt out on it pretty fast. But this movie is different. It's colossally weird and beautiful, the plot is compelling and the story has almost literary depth. It's a dark take on the "Alice in Wonderland" tale with a very involved mythology that hangs together flawlessly. There's so much going on here that it's almost exhausting; it's full of great ideas and interesting characters.

My one complaint is that the plot resolves itself out of left field, using a conversation between two characters that refer to a bunch of events we never see and are never alluded to elsewhere in the story. It's sort of like struggling to get to the end of a version of "The Wizard of Oz" where they leave out the whole first act, where Dorothy is in Kansas. If you see this, and you should, you'll see what I mean.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Directed by Richard Linklater. I'm not a sci-fi fan at all but I do love Richard Linklater, so I thought that might compensate for my disinterest in the plot. But, while I'm not sure how good is the Philip K. Dick book on which this movie was based, I could not get into it at all. This, like Linklater's "Waking Life," was shot on videotape and then painted using computer animation. This technique is very attractive and presents a cool aesthetic in "Waking Life" but, for whatever reason, in this movie it's kind of ugly and just looks like it's there to compensate for the cheap tape it was shot on. Plus, Keanu Reeves is in this and that's a certain impediment to any movie. He just sucks. Last and most important, the story here is just boring. Run away from this and see "Waking Life" instead.

One on One (1977)

Directed by Lamont Johnson. "One on One" star and Tiger Beat cover boy Robby Benson co-wrote this movie, which tells the story of a heartland teen recruited into the sometimes dark world of college basketball. This feels a lot like an "ABC Afterschool Special" or at least a TV movie. Benson's acting style is very weird too -- it's hard to tell whether he's a decent actor playing a confused and overwhelmed kid or a lousy actor who is genuinely confused and overwhelmed.

So here's what happens -- and I'll tell you the whole movie because you're not going to actually see it -- Robby Benson plays Henry, who is smart enough to negotiate a no-cut clause in his college hoops contract but too dumb to understand its value. A player should negotiate a no-cut clause not because they don't think they're going to be good enough to make it on the team, it should be to protect themselves with time to get up to speed in case it takes longer than the coach thinks it should.

And this is exactly what happens to Henry. He doesn't meet expectations right away and the coach wants to cut him, but can't. Henry buckles down and the coach makes life difficult for him, trying to get him to quit. Sure enough, Henry finds his center and saves the Big Game. The coach admits he was wrong and extends his hand in what could be the beginning of a great partnership now that Henry has had the greatest character building experience of his young life. But instead, Henry tells the coach to kiss his ass for being such a dick. And that's the end of the movie.

I guess if you're who this movie was targeted to -- young girls with crushes on Robby Benson -- you'd sympathize with his character and cheer when he tells the big dumb grown-up where to stick it. But you don't need much maturity to see how short-sighted that is. Henry is a ungrateful little creep who doesn't recognize that the system is built to help him grow up.

A player smart enough to demand a no-cut clause anticipates that he might need a little time to get up to speed. If Benson's character really wanted to demonstrate maturity he wouldn't give up, he'd recognize that he'd just had the best character building experience of his life, shut up and play ball.

Still, I recommend this because Robby Benson is such a weird actor, you can't stop watching him because you can't wait until the next scene to see how he's going to handle it. Also, a 20-year-old Melanie Griffith is in the first ten minutes and looks great. So if that's worth anything to you, seek out the first ten minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Open Season (2006)/Open Season 2 (2008)

The family watched both of these movies in two days, though Max and I saw the first one in the theater when it came out. I went into the second one not expecting much because it was a straight-to-video release, but I have to say, these are both great.

Hollywood movies have moved their targeting to teens -- a lot of R-rated comedies are coming out that are billed as edgier adult comedies but when you watch them you can see that clearly they're hoping 15 year-olds are going to come in droves. There's something similar happening with kids movies. They also have an edge, with more gross-out comedy and more sophisticated themes that suggest, again, that it's really targeted to teenagers.

Though it's not all purely cynical. Hollywood now understands that they will see more long-term success making family movies instead of kids' movies. Yes, they like that teens and adults will come without children, but they also know that if the whole family enjoys a movie, it will have a more profitable long-term lifespan.

Fine, because even as a kid I didn't enjoy Disney's anti-septic portrayals of life. But it's also disillusioning to watch family movies that feel like the latest Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith flick. That's why the best family movies -- say "Finding Nemo" or "Toy Story" -- are created from a smart understanding that combines those two sensibilities rather than just walking the line, occasionally leaning to either side toward either extreme.

While that means they don't rate with the best of their class, this latter, vacillating approach is pretty much the flavor of these "Open Season" movies. There are lots of fart and poop jokes, and comedy mined from caffeine use and global warming, but within the context of very nice story with likable characters communicating a good message.

Though they do ask more of your child. Old Disney movies had two kinds of grown-ups portrayed: smart and nice vs. mean and dumb. Today's family films are more honest, adding to the mix grown-ups who are nice and dumb vs. mean and smart. They are parents and teaches who can be well-meaning but short-sighted or selfish. They suffer from obesity and watch too much TV. They're flawed. So when a more old-fashioned one-dimensional hunter character like "Open Season"'s Shaw shows up, it's a mixed blessing. He's easy to understand; he's the bad guy. But as part of what one might hope will be an enduring comedy, he sticks out like a bruised thumb next to better drawn characters with smaller parts.

But these are movies for kids first and the story moves fast and the jokes are funny. It's hard to admit that actors I don't enjoy, Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence, who using today's copy-and-paste techniques didn't even have to record their dialogue at the same time, do a fine job. Though overall I am still happier when the occasional animated feature is drawn rather than only programmed ("Curious George").

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grand Prix (1966)

Directed by John Frankenheimer. Three damn hours is the length of this massively flawed epic with gorgeously shot race sequences. It falls flat on its ass when it tries to please the little ladies in the audience with its soapy plot.

In another post I said that this movie doomed James Garner's career to TV, but then I looked at his IMDB posting and saw that he worked a ton in movies after this. The film follows the careers and love lives of four drivers: an American, an Italian, a Frenchman and a Englishman. I think we're supposed to be rooting for Garner, the American, except that he's kind of a prick. He puts his racing partner's life in danger on the track to increase his own chances of winning, which puts the guy in the hospital, giving him time to sleep with the guy's wife and make her his girlfriend. The concepts of motivation, remorse and redemption apparently did not cross the minds of the screenwriters here, of whom there must have been many because this movie wreaks of many cooks spoiling the batter.

This might sound crazy, but this might still be worth seeing for a few reasons. First, the film itself is beautiful. Everything looks great -- the cars and racing, the European architecture, the women's fashions. Second, speaking of the women, French singer/actress/model Francoise Hardy has a small part in this, and she was just awesome. Third, because the horrible length of this movie is split unusually across two DVDs, when I returned them to Netflix they immediately replaced them with two different titles in my queue, effectively providing me with five-at-a-time rentals instead of the four-at-a-time I'm supposed to get. This gravy train seems to have run its course -- they fixed it after a few weeks.

Le Mans (1971)

Directed by Lee H. Katzin. What is it about auto racing that it seems like only shitty movies can be made about it? Obviously "Days of Thunder" is the Elvis Presley of shitty auto racing movies, but for all of its quality this movie is disappointing. It's like wedding cake -- something a ton of time, thought, effort and money went into but pretty much still sucks.

I can't be troubled to validate this but apparently Steve McQueen hoped to be part of John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix," which came out five years before this. If he was bummed out at first, once he saw what a colossal, steaming pile of shit "Grand Prix" ended up being, he was probably very happy to step aside and watch James Garner doom his career to television.

But it also motivated him to make an auto racing movie that represents the sport accurately -- too goddamn accurately. This goes way too far in the other direction, with literally no dialogue in the first 35 minutes. It's like a documentary without narration or insight. The only plot is that driver McQueen is distracted by a broken love affair. One could ask whether the race is a metaphor for our pursuit of true love, but really, it's doubtful anyone involved thought that hard.

I suppose this movie deserves credit for being so unique, relaxingly paced and so focused on its subject. But it's hard to recommend a box office flick when its only message seems to be that if you let some chick distract you when you're trying to win a race you won't drive as well as you need to.

State and Main (2000)

Directed by David Mamet. I don't read much about movies so maybe this isn't much of a revelation but I didn't realize until seeing this how similar Mamet's directing is to Robert Altman's. The difference of course is that Altman, a major stoner, felt that the strength of a movie is in the actors, while Mamet obviously puts a hell of a lot more effort into the screenplay. Ultimately, Altman's principle resulted in a lot of mediocre movies, the good ones distinguished by stronger screenplays.

Anyway. I kept intending to see this but saw other movies instead until Karen finally chose to watch it by herself one day and I immediately found myself sucked in. It further confirmed for me that Alec Baldwin is awesome, but the overall strength here is in numbers. The huge cast spitting out Mamet's stylish but ultimately believable dialogue is just great. Other than a false ending in the third act that is ridiculously absurd, this one is tight as a drum and presents a cynical take on Hollywood types, coincidentally reminiscent of Altman's "The Player."

There's also a lot of "hey it's that guy" character actors in this, all of whom knock it out of the park. But I do want to point out how disappointed I am that Julia Stiles doesn't seem to make any movies I give a shit about. She's beautiful and has a voice I could listen to forever. I loved her in this, and I like those Jason Bourne movies she's in, but those are so caffeine-adventure flicks they almost don't count.

The Newton Boys (1998)

Directed by Richard Linklater. Linklater is one of my favorite directors, though for the life of me, I can barely tell you why. He's made two of my favorite movies, "Slacker" () and "Dazed and Confused" and since then has made some stuff I enjoy but is not what I'd call deeply affecting. That said, I love him because he seems to have integrity and was instrumental in a cinema renaissance in Austin, TX during the late-80s.

"The Newton Boys" is Linklater's big budget Hollywood film, prior to his remake of "The Bad News Bears" anyway. It's about the most successful bank robbers ever, defined by the amount of money they stole and how little time they got in jail once they were caught. This was due to three things: a clever lawyer, the smarts of the gang leader (played by Matthew McConaughey) and the courtroom charisma of his younger brother (played by Ethan Hawke). It's a very interesting story, and only the B-story, of a romance between McConaughey's Willis Newton and a woman played by Julianna Margulies slows the damn thing down.

Some critics may point to this as Linklater's come-down after a string of inarguably good smaller films, but I think that's only because this movie doesn't have any indie flavor to it. Look, the guy made a more than competent Hollywood dramatization of very interesting story. Well worth seeing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Back to the Future (1985)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. You know all about this movie, which I reviewed to see if it might be good for Max, who is now 8. The answer is no. I'd forgotten how much of the plot is driven by wanting to get laid.

This is significant not just because it means we won't be using this for Family Movie Night -- a big event in our household -- but the revelation put a whole new spin on the movie for me.

To review, Marty McFly goes into the past by accident, accidentally interferes with the past in ways that could have metaphysical repercussions that erase his existence from the present. He spends the rest of the flick correcting this, but in so doing, drastically improve his parents' character, thus alters his life in the present for the better.

But just below the surface of that plot, it's easy to see now that Marty's real motivation to guarantee his existence is to make sure he loses his virginity to his girlfriend in the present, Jennifer (played so forgettably by Claudia Wells she was replaced in the sequels by Elizabeth Shue). This effort is apparently hampered chiefly by Marty not owning a car. Meanwhile, Marty has to dodge a teenage version of his mother, Lorraine, who is either dying to not be a virgin or lost her amateur status long earlier. Further, class bully Biff is fully prepared to get Lorraine in the sack even if that requires rape. As you know, it all works out and the present is altered to provide Marty with the car he needs to bring his girlfriend "down to the lake" if you get their drift.

And while the moral is to live every moment knowing that your future depends upon it, the under-current is that a good portion of the confidence and clarity necessary toward this effort is bound to come from good sex. And here I blog about movies.

Six Pack (1982)

Directed by Daniel Petrie. Kenny Rogers was such a huge star, he made a movie. If you see this, you will understand how huge a star he must have been for people to go through with this absurd plan.

A few thoughts on this. First of all, by "huge star," Kenny brought some literal meaning to huge. The title "Six Pack" did not refer to the man's abs. If this movie had been made even five years later there were would have been tremendous pressure to lose a few pounds for the role. Though maybe he did. Maybe he was a colossal tub of lard before shooting started and he got pulled aside and ordered off the fried chicken. Either way, here he has a body type that could be said was probably personally identifiable among the core audience for this flick.

And believe me, there was an audience. On release, "Six Pack" grossed more than $20 million, which in 1982 bucks is damned decent. Though it might mark the moment when Hollywood cracked down on its stars to all develop eating disorders. There was a failed attempt to adapt "Six Pack" into a TV series, but Kenny's character was played by Don Johnson. Take that, Gambler.

The movie itself is unwatchable. By rights I really shouldn't be writing about it because I only made just past halfway. Part of the reason here is because it is so bad, but I also have to admit that after my initial excitement at learning that Diane Lane was in this, my spirit was crushed when she was unveiled to be just a child in '82. Erin Gray is in it too, who I can dig, but she really doesn't look special.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Directed by Jonathan Demme. Not that it's saying much but this might be the best concert movie. I was reminded to see it again after an email from Professor Lizie pointed out that the big suit is not as big as he remembered. He's right. But the suit is a cultural icon, a visual that made music fans better understand the blurry line between musical performance and the movie experience.

In this film, Talking Heads perform. That's really about it; there are no interviews, narration or crazy backstage footage, but if you like music, it's enough to make for a thoroughly engaging movie. I like that the shots here are patient. Even since this film was made, the number-one strategy for making concert footage not boring is cutting it so that no shot lasts more than a second. This does not make things interesting -- just exhausting.

While most directors of concert films will tell you that their goal was to "capture the excitement of the live performance" the reason this film isn't boring is because that doesn't seem to have been the goal at all. Rather, this was made to be a good movie, and it was helped along drastically by the fact that the concert it shows was produced for especially for the film. There is attention to the pace at which the band members are introduced (characters), the pacing of the set (plot) and the look of the stage (theme). It works in three acts. And it's full of good ideas, like the big suit.

Yet critical, naturally, is that this is the Talking Heads at the top of their game. They never sounded better than this and never cranked out better songs than the ones here. Every great band should wish they had a time capsule like this.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Directed by Monte Hellman. I first heard of this movie in the mid-90s, living in Seattle and frequenting the famous Scarecrow Video. The owner/manager of Scarecrow led a campaign to have this movie released for the first time on home video. He succeeded, and now a Criterion Collection edition DVD is the definitive version.

It's got the slow, almost stoned feel of a many films of the early-70s "new Hollywood" era but the casting is crazy. Pop music stars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys) play nomadic drag racers avoiding their future, the personification of which is played by the great Warren Oates. They both sort of wish they had a girl -- possibly Laurie Bird -- who is hitching a ride with them. But they know they're not cut out to make the sacrifices necessary to a relationship, and she knows it too.

The men race cross-country, believing their opponents are each other. But the young men are trying to catch up to their future, while and the middle-aged man knows his past is the real prize -- and has long passed him by.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

Directed by Peter Sollett. It feels like Judd Apatow has something to do with about half the comedies that come out these days, and I don't know if he had anything to do with this one, but it feels like it. That said, this flick is a perfectly good way to spend a couple of hours if you like this sort of thing, by which I mean a chatty, one-night-in-the-life type narrative about a bunch of hipsters. This is probably my favorite kind of movie, so I liked it.

That Michael Cera kid from "Superbad" and TV's "Arrested Development" is in almost every scene in this and he's just pleasant to watch. He seems to have no range as an actor but it's very easy to identify with his one on-screen persona, and he is actually a very good actor. His eyes and his dialogue pauses are great.

Also, am I a complete creep because in movies like this -- where the plot is built on a boy who can't appreciate the sweet, kind nice girl that he should be with instead of the unappreciative, bitchy girl -- I invariably find the bitchy girl way hotter? This portrayal is fairly accurate. In life the better choices -- male or female -- are bound to be less attractive. That's just life. But when I'm watching a movie, I'm committed only to watching the movie, not trying to build a relationship. So I'm allowed to dig the bad girl.

And you know what's weird? If you were ever a fan of those John Hughes movies made in the '80s, there was this odd disparity between reality and the stereotypes of the characters portrayed in the flick. Like, "Pretty In Pink" and "Sixteen Candles" portray geeky nerds, hipster indie rock kids and upper-class clique-types so that you completely get who they're referring to, but it always feels a little off, a little stagey. The wardrobe always looks a little too new, and the dialogue cues in the script feel a little too deliberate.

This movie is the same way but that's not the weird part. The weird part is that I surprised myself by enjoying that. I think when I was a teenager, when I saw a John Hugues movie, this disparity made me feel a little superior, "They think they get it, but they just never will." In this, my reaction was still in the gut, but it was pure affection. "It's sweet and movie-licious the way they're trying to be like people I know." It was kind of like enjoying a slasher movie because the blood and flesh looks just fake enough.

The Rocker (2008)

Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Rainn Wilson plays the original drummer of Vesuvius, a metal band that became big once he got kicked out. He let that ruin his life and this movie is about his character getting over that by way of joining his nephew's indie rock act.

Considering the premise is about a 40-year-old joining a band otherwise made up of teens that hopes to appeal to 20-somethings, there's not a lot of humor mined from that disparity. Instead, most of the jokes focus on Rainn Wilson's character being a has-been rock star and a current loser. I haven't decided whether that's a good thing or a bad thing because the movie's biggest flaw is that there aren't enough big laughs in it. It's still a highly entertaining flick because Rainn Wilson is just a funny guy and a strong comic presence.

I'm fond of a recent trend in independent films that have simple ambitions. Indie movies used to have an image as films too serious or artsy to make it as mainstream films, and that might be a little true, but I like that now it has become so inexpensive to make a movie that some independent films are genre flicks the big studios passed on. Comedian passion projects like Artie Lang's "Beer League" and Adam Carolla's "The Hammer" are not what people used to think of as typical for independent film. But if the big studios don't want to make those comedies if Will Farrell or Adam Sandler isn't in them, they can still get made for an appreciative audience.

One last note, Christina Applegate, who is also in this, was marketed as a hot broad when she was barely old enough to drive but is actually much more appealing now approaching 40.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bad Boys (1983)

Directed by Rick Rosenthal. I've liked this movie for such a long time that every time I see a poster or a DVD box for the 1995 Martin Lawrence buddy cop movie with the same title, it makes me stop for a moment. Not only can I not imagine sitting through a Martin Lawrence movie, I can't imagine sitting down to see a Martin Lawrence movie. The only way I'll ever see a Martin Lawrence movie is if someone hangs out of a car holding out a TV at me while I'm running down the street trying to get away. That guy sucks.

But this Sean Penn. I have to say, that was gentlemanly of him at the Oscars this year when he said that he appreciated being honored knowing that he often doesn't make it easy to like him. I respected that because I don't think I would particularly like him. He either doesn't strike me as much of a fun guy, or worse, one of those people who -- when people are around -- is serious and sullen and only thinks about very important things, but then when he's alone, becomes normal and pleasant. Maybe he watches "Survivor" or reads Archie comics or something. Just, you know, as dumb as any normal person.

But in this movie, he's a complete bad-ass. But he's not a bully, he's just looking out for himself in the Big House because he's got to. Don't mess with him or he'll buy you a soda. If you've seen this, you know what that means. If you haven't, get around to it.

Defending Your Life (1991)

Directed by Albert Brooks. What happens after you die? A lot of funny stuff. What if before you got to heaven you were forced through a crazy bureaucracy that made you prove the value of your time on earth?

This is one of my favorite movies not just because it is good but because I have a deep affection for Albert Brooks and this seems to be the moment that things came together for him with mainstream Hollywood. Relatively speaking, this looks big budget but that doesn't really matter when you consider just how many great ideas there here. This is just very imaginative stuff. Like, remember how "the Flintstones" tried to get laughs by creating some pun-filled prehistoric equivalent of every aspect of modern society? Brooks' afterlife does the same thing with death and eternity. It's much, much funnier. This afterlife is also where Rip Torn reinvented himself for this most recent phase of his career.

I think this movie has aged well, but it certainly has aged when you consider that comedies these days have to be really outrageous to exhibit any sort of edge. I like Judd Apatow and his cafeteria cool table of filmmaking friends, but the real magic of "Defending Your Life" is how straight-faced and sweet it is without ever going too far and feeling wussy or pedestrian.

Spy Kids (2001)

Screened week of February 17th, 2009. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Kid flick that errs on the freaky/scary side (like Burton's nutty 2005 remake of "Chocolate Factory"), but I like Rodriguez who just knows how to tell a story.

One thing you have to dig about Rodriguez is how he got a big pot of money to make this movie and he made it in Mexico, for both smart and honorable reasons. He knows the country, the labor is cheap, and he's loyal to his homeland, which got a bunch of movie money dumped into it. But it's funny to see action sequences happening in these Mexican cities when that's not portrayed as some wrinkle in the plot -- "Uh-oh, plus they're in Mexico!" -- it just happens to be there. It would be like watching a Spider-man movie and not acknowledging that he just swung past the Eiffel Tower.

Also, this is one of those movies where you can tell which A-listers they didn't cast because they make up their consolation prize to resemble the people they couldn't get. That might be why Alan Cumming, who is perfectly sufficient in this, looks exactly like Robert Downey Jr. through the whole thing.

Breach (2007)

Screened week of February 10th, 2009. Directed by Billy Ray. Normally I prefer a documentary on an amazing true story -- but something this top secret can't be documented and really has to be recreated: the tale of the most destructive US traitor and the agent who caught him.

Ryan Phillippe plays a CIA guy who works for this super-cold and creepy sex freak played by Chris Cooper. Chris Cooper is this actor you don't think you've heard of but as soon as you see him, you say, "Oh yeah, that guy." Ryan Phillippe is this actor you've totally heard of but when you see him you say, "I don't think I've seen this guy in anything." For all I know I've seen 200 Ryan Phillippe movies and I couldn't identify the guy in a police line-up, let alone recognize him on a magazine cover.

Nothing against Ryan Phillippe, the guy does a great job, though he's no Chris Cooper.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Screened week of February 10th, 2009. I love a great western and this is one. From the first ten minutes, when you see children amusing themselves by torturing a scorpion, and the main characters are introduced -- the Wild Bunch, who are civil war vets turned ruthless bank robbers -- you know you're living in a dark, insane time. And somehow, you gotta figure this is a hell of a lot closer to the real wild west than anything James Garner ever mugged his way through in an episode of Maverick.

Ernest Borgnine kills this one. If any film geek that you know ever says anything as weird as "You know who never got enough credit? Ernest Borgnine," it's because he just saw this movie (as opposed to, say, "Marty").

But you know what's even weirder in this. It also happens in one of my very favorite westerns, Sergio Corbucci's "Django" (1966). Everything's really savage but it makes sense, with the guns and the dynamite and the fighting and the shooting and everything, and then all of a sudden, somebody pulls out a machine gun. I mean, that's the point -- it's supposed to be a big moment, "bet you've never seen one of THESE before!!" -- and I'm reasonably sure this is historically accurate. The machine gun must have been a brand new innovation during this period, late 1800s, say just past 1880 or so. And if I had an ounce of ambition I'd look it up considering Wiki-friggin-pedia is a click away. It just always seems weird.

Heckler (2007)

Screened week of February 10th, 2009. Directed by Michael Addis but driven mostly by comedian/character actor Jamie Kennedy. Kennedy has always seemed to me like a nice enough guy but sort of a modest talent. That said, this is documentary is smart, funny and makes a good point -- the communication revolution provides everyone a voice. But does that mean that everyone has something worth saying?

It's also one of those films that asks comedians to answer real questions -- not like when they're on Leno and he asks, "So I hear you fly on airplanes a lot?" This means the truth is revealed as to which comedians are genuine thinkers and which are dumber than a box of rocks. I'd tell you which is which here but I saw this four weeks ago and already forgot. I do remember that I was pretty surprised by at least a few comedians who just seemed incapable of intelligent conversation. I mean, either these comics are dopes or they have no respect for these people who dragged all their gear over to your damn house and set it up and took the time to think what to ask you, etc. And you just lay an egg.

Anyway the movie spends a lot of time complaining, coincidentally about evolutions like this blog. New technology means any old idiot, including me, can spout opinions. That's liberating and a great enabling advance for a democratic society. But that also means there's a lot of shit critiques out there. The irony is that these filmmakers have to take the bad with the good, meaning I'm prepared to acknowledge that this is a very good point within a very good film, but that also means that, by their logic, my opinion isn't worth shit.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Screened week of February 10th, 2009. Directed by Harold Ramis. Needed to show this to Karen, who'd never seen it. Always enjoy Bill Murray's performance, which I thought was his first to show off some straight-faced drama chops but then I remembered "Razor's Edge," which is a lot earlier.

Is it sick is that the sequence that stays with me most is how he uses his situation to trick a good-looking girl into bed? Similarly, out of all three 'Back to the Future' flicks, the element of time travel they explore that most intrigues me is how it could be used to make a killing gambling on sports. Listen, movies can moralize all they want, if you have your basic priorities straight, you can't help but wish you had ways to trick the universe into more than your share of everything.