Cinema Psycho

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Archive for September, 2005

Inside Deep Throat (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 23, 2005

Directed and written by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato/narrated by Dennis Hopper/Universal Home Entertainment

A documentary about the infamous 1972 porno movie Deep Throat and the impact it had on mainstream American society.

You know, I’ve never actually seen Deep Throat. Not in its entirety anyway, just clips here and there over the years, but never the whole thing. I know some people might find that hard to believe, but I was 3 when it came out – I’m not that ancient.

From what I’ve heard, apparently I haven’t missed that much. People who have seen it generally seem to think that it’s not even particularly good porn, even by the relatively tame standards of the time. Honestly, once you’ve seen the likes of Taylor Rain and Aurora Snow in action, you don’t have much of a desire to go back to the old days. I know some people prefer “classic porn”, with its film quality, laughably bad music and weak attempts at plot, but I have a difficult time getting excited about women who are either dead or grandmothers now. But at least we still have the bad music.

Anyway, given the passage of time, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the impact that Deep Throat had when it was released. It was literally the blowjob heard ‘round the world. This was the porno movie that changed everything, that took hardcore sex flicks out of the seedy underground and into popular American culture. It was, for lack of a better term, huge. No X-rated film that came before or since has ever been so notorious.

It’s no wonder, then, that Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer wanted to make a documentary about it. The amazing thing is that he actually did it. What’s even more incredible than that? The doc includes footage from an oral sex scene that got it rated NC-17. Now you really want to be shocked? It was released by a major studio and actually played in some theaters uncensored. And no one, except for journalists and critics whose job it is to take note of such things, even batted an eye. As far as I’m aware, there were no protests, no cries of outrage or threats to boycott Universal for “corrupting society”. Some people chose to see the film, some people chose not to, and the world kept on spinning. It was no big deal.

Holy Christ, somebody should make a documentary about that.

The great thing about all this is that Inside Deep Throat is fascinating stuff, probably more so than the film it’s actually about. Acclaimed documentarians Bailey and Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) manage to cover all the bases in a mere 90 minutes, from the making of the film to its record-breaking theatrical run to the various controversies surrounding the film during and after its release. Anything you could possibly want to know about Deep Throat, they’ve crammed it in there (so to speak).

Plus there are brief soundbites from various celebrities and “deep thinkers”, everyone from the usual pro-sex pundits (Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, Dr. Ruth Westheimer) to noted intellectuals (Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Dick Cavett) to ‘70’s porn performers like Georgina Spelvin (herself known for performing a blowjob gag in the original Police Academy) and the film’s co-star, Harry Reems. There are also counterarguments from anti-porn feminists and the prosecutors who tried to have the movie banned and even have Reems thrown in jail simply for being on the receiving end of star Linda Lovelace’s mouth. Try to figure that one out, boys and girls!

This is where most critics would simply regurgitate each point that the film makes, one by one, in order to demonstrate how effective the film is at making said points. I’m not going to do that, simply because I think doing so would dilute the impact of the film – the whole point is to watch the story the way the filmmakers tell it, after all. If I told you everything that’s in the film, there would be no reason for you to watch it, now would there? Nor do I particularly want to get into the whole porn debate here. It’s out there, it exists, and it’s not going away as long as women are willing to do it. At this point, it’s like debating whether or not the birth control pill should be sold – that ship sailed a long time ago. Get over it.

Even though they give screen time to both sides, it’s clear where the filmmakers’ sympathies lie here. They’re particularly aggressive in their defense of the film as it concerns its persecution by the government. It’s clear that Deep Throat, with its celebrity endorsements and cultural shockwaves, was an easy target for the corrupt Nixon administration. And there’s a delicious irony that one of the film’s most ardent prosecutors, Charles Keating, would later be famously indicted and imprisoned for securities fraud. Hypocrisy abounds in this case, but thankfully Bailey and Barbato don’t hammer these points into the ground – they simply make note of it and move on, assuming the audience is smart enough to understand the implications on our own.

Politics aside, there’s a lot to be said for Deep Throat as a cultural touchstone, a point of no return for sexual discussion in America. As difficult as it is to believe now, oral sex was a taboo subject back then, and the movie pretty much blew that wide open (I’m really trying to avoid these bad puns, believe me). When people watched Lovelace do her thing on Reems’ monster cock, it was an eye-opener (still is, based on the clip we see here) and mainstream America was suddenly turned on to sexual possibilities besides the good old missionary position. So was Deep Throat beneficial to society? I don’t know – ask any man or woman who’s ever enjoyed giving or receiving oral sex.

Not that the film’s director, Gerard Damiano, and company had any inkling of the impact their little dirty movie would have. As the doc makes clear, they were just going to make another porno flick, but they stumbled onto a gimmick when they saw what Lovelace was capable of. That’s all it was, and they had no aspirations beyond that. It was the culture that picked up the ball and ran with it, to the complete shock and disbelief of everyone who was actually involved with its making. Deep Throat was that rare thing: a cheap little underground flick that became a mainstream sensation. It was the right movie at the right time, just at the point when the culture was ready for it.

Three decades later, porn is a multibillion-dollar industry thanks in large part to home video and DVD. Actual porn theaters are a rarity, and various distributors churn out thousands of flicks a year based on various sex acts, fetishes and perversities. None of this would be happening if films like Deep Throat hadn’t paved the way. Yet old-schoolers like Damiano seem disillusioned with the business’ current lack of artistry (despite the fact that Throat, with its vaudeville shtick and silly premise, was anything but art). It seems strange to me that someone who essentially helped pioneer a cultural revolution, intentionally or not, would go on to condemn the kind of sexual expression that he fought for in defending his own work. I guess that’s the ultimate irony, but it’s certainly not the only one where this film is concerned.

Deep Throat may not have been a great film, or even a great porn film. But in its own weird, warped way, it was a film that helped change the world. Inside Deep Throat is an essential document of that film, and of the specific time and place in which it grew into an unlikely but necessary smash hit. Even if you’ve never seen the original film and never intend to, this is a documentary well worth seeing. It certainly doesn’t suck.

***1/2 9/23/05

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Dirty Love

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 16, 2005

Directed by John Asher/written by Jenny McCarthy/starring Jenny McCarthy, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Carmen Electra, Kam Heskin/First Look Pictures

A Los Angeles photographer goes on a mission to make her ex-boyfriend jealous after being cheated on and dumped, and finds true love along the way.

Yes, this was actually written by Jenny McCarthy. That’s not a mistake in the credits. It was also directed by her husband, and apparently the two have split up recently. Should make for an interesting press junket, don’t you think?

Dirty Love is one of those movies that make you think – about committing suicide. Seriously folks, this may in fact be the worst movie I’ve ever reviewed for this site, which means it tops (or bottoms) the previous low of Bad Girls from Valley High. And that disaster went straight to DVD. This indie comedy somehow got picked up for a limited theatrical release beginning on the 23rd. I imagine First Look thinks they’ll sell a few DVDs to guys who were horny for McCarthy back in 1993. The publicists actually tried to compare this to my beloved Clueless, to which I can only respond: Whatever. (Seriously, how dare they???) It’s closer to a female Deuce Bigalow, and if that idea appeals to you, seek professional help immediately.

Jenny is one of those celebrities whose personality doesn’t seem to translate to the screen. Her problem is that she seems to suffer from a kind of variation on body dysmorphic disorder. But instead of being a pretty girl who thinks she’s ugly, McCarthy is a sex bombshell who thinks she’s the “cute, funny girl”. Her insistence on this borders on the pathologically obsessive – you can practically feel her desperation coming through in waves. “I’m not just a one-dimensional former Playboy Playmate! I’m funny, dammit! I’m really, really funny! See, I’ll prove it by making fart noises! I’ll write a book about how childbirth hurt my vagina! Why isn’t anybody laughing?”

This routine is OK for a few minutes on a talk-show appearance, but it’s not enough to sustain a half-hour sitcom, much less a 90-minute movie. McCarthy’s attempts at TV stardom have ranged from the mediocre (Jenny) to the excruciatingly awful (this summer’s The Bad Girl’s Guide). Her brief appearances in films ranging from Scream 3 to Scary Movie 3 have done nothing to convince anyone of her potential. Yet no one seems to have the guts to break it to her that she’s just not funny.

See, here’s the problem: no one wants to see an incredibly attractive woman discuss or mimic her bodily functions. Nor does anyone want to see such a woman pretend to be just like everyone else and have the same kinds of problems as everyone else. Men just want to see a hot girl being hot, and I think most women actually resent the implication that they’re all in the same boat. It’s like expecting me to believe that Brad Pitt has the same problems getting dates as your average bespectacled geek. Come on, we all know that’s not true. The reason previous bombshells ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Angelina Jolie have worked on screen is because they get that they’re way hotter than us mere mortals. They revel in their genetic good fortune; they play it up and use it to their advantage. Having those attributes and trying to pretend you don’t is just, well, insane.

A large part of the reason Dirty Love simply doesn’t work is because it’s a vehicle for the Jenny McCarthy image that she wants to perpetuate, not the Jenny McCarthy that actually exists. Her character, Rebecca, is a photographer who looks like a model, acts like a model and has friends who could easily be models. Why is she a photographer? Because people can’t relate to models. Photography is, like, a real job. Yet McCarthy still set the movie in the sordid and shallow world of LA showbiz. I guess she didn’t think this through.

Anyway, Rebecca has a studly male-model type fiancée who, of course, cheats on her and dumps her for another hot chick. That’s what guys like that do, because they can. That’s why you don’t date guys like that if you have any brains. So instead of realizing she got off the hook easily, Rebecca is crushed and sets out to make said fiancée jealous so he’ll want her back. This leads to what’s apparently intended to be a series of misadventures that are somehow supposed to be both hilarious and romantic in that “the heroine finds her destiny” sort of way. Instead, they just come off as a series of sketchy vignettes that only reveal how lame McCarthy’s sense of humor is.

Most of these interludes involve Rebecca’s encounters with stereotypical Hollywood executives and wanna-be’s and feature clumsy attempts at raunchy humor. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s comic sensibilities seem stuck in the 10th grade, and she doesn’t provide anything particularly new or interesting to justify the juvenile jokes. Various bodily fluids are mentioned and/or excreted, and the comic high point (if you can call it that) features a naked man with a large fish shoved up his ass. Which I imagine would be pretty damn painful (if not impossible), and led me to wonder, “why a fish, exactly? Why not a lamp or a small TV set or maybe a motorcycle?” I imagine this scene may have been written during or just after the summer of 2000, in which we experienced the comic delights of a chicken up a guy’s ass (Me, Myself and Irene) and a giant hamster up a guy’s ass (The Nutty Professor 2). If only McCarthy had pulled a funny script out of hers.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the tastelessness of the humor that I object to. I enjoy a good dirty gag as much as anybody. It’s the fact that nothing in this entire movie is actually funny. This kind of comedy requires more than just willful “outrageousness” – it needs inspired ideas and skillful direction, and Dirty Love features neither. It’s just one lame, random punchline after another with barely any effort put into the set up of each gag. I thought Asher did a decent job with his road comedy Diamonds (which featured McCarthy in a small role as a prostitute), but here everything is staged with all the subtlety of a softcore porn movie on Cinemax (not to mention the bad lighting). There’s no sense of timing or rhythm in this movie – every single joke just lands with a loud, cold thud.

Not that the jokes were that great to begin with. The worst thing about Dirty Love is that McCarthy actually thinks she’s making some kind of deep, powerful statement about the quest to find true love in big, bad Hollywood. Never mind that she adds nothing original to this shopworn theme (the video stores are practically overflowing with low-budget indie romantic comedies set in LA, as if anyone outside the city really cares). Her view of the industry and the people that work within it is so relentlessly dated in a bad ‘70’s sitcom way. Every producer is a short, balding Jewish man who makes Woody Allen look like Charlton Heston, and every director is a fat, sleazy greaseball with a breast-implant obsession. I don’t doubt that those people are out there, but come on, give us something more inspired than that. There’s a ludicrious scene in which Carrie (Heskin, who could be appealing in better films), a vapid actress friend of Rebecca’s, tries to scam a director for a part in his latest movie in a bar, then gets upset and tells him off when he rebuffs her for a larger-chested woman. This is the part where we’re all supposed to raise our fists and yell “girl power!” Please. If she wants respect, how about auditioning like everyone else? What did she expect when she approached this guy out of the blue, a three-picture deal and a dozen roses? This is indicative of how misguided the whole movie is – we’re supposed to feel righteous indignation all of a sudden for someone who displays a complete and utter lack of dignity.

Then there’s Rebecca, who isn’t the most sympathetic protagonist either. As much as she complains about the men in Hollywood, she and her friends are every bit as shallow and superficial as they are. It’s difficult to feel sorry for someone who keeps making the same stupid mistake over and over again and blames everyone else for it. Her initial goal is an incredibly stupid one – to make her ex jealous by being seen in public with any man who comes along – and by the time she finally wises up, we’ve lost all interest in whether or not she finds happiness. Who cares? She’s done nothing to earn it, and we have no reason to think she deserves it.

At the end of the movie, Rebecca apparently “learns something”, much like Cher in Clueless (the only comparison I could possibly make to that much better, much more appealing movie). But not because of anything she says or does – because John (Thomas, taking a big step down from the American Pie movies), her brainy assistant, finally declares that he loves her. Which led me to ask “why?” because besides the fact that she looks like Jenny McCarthy, there’s literally nothing appealing about her. So suddenly she realizes this is the guy she should be with, even though they are completely different and have nothing in common, simply because he thinks he’s in love with her for whatever reason. Not that she even knew he existed before that.

So what does Rebecca learn from all this, and what can women learn from it by extension? They learn that once they’re tired of fucking around with handsome, shallow idiots, there will always be some poor dumbass around who’s hopelessly in love with them that they can fall back on when they get desperate. Nice. That’s the poisoned cherry on top of the whole shit sundae. Maybe some people will actually fall for that garbage, but for me that’s about as “romantic” as the fish in the guy’s rectum.

I hate to keep picking on McCarthy, but her limited skills as an actress are only magnified by comparison to the performance here by Electra. Believe it or not, Carmen Electra is the best thing about this movie (not that there’s much competition). She plays Michelle, a friend of Rebecca’s who is convinced that she’s black despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance, but she embodies the character in a way that McCarthy seems incapable of. She plays it so naturally, whereas McCarthy isn’t even convincing as a variation on her own image. It’s kinda sad to be overshadowed by Carmen Electra in your own movie, but there you have it. Now, if they’d actually given Michelle anything funny to say or do, she could have partially saved this thing. Instead, she’s just a tiny bright spot in an otherwise unbelievable mess.

In the end, if Dirty Love is remembered at all, it may be as the worst movie ever written by a former Playboy Playmate. And the first, and quite possibly the last. It’s the kind of movie that Tara Reid would be embarrassed to appear in, and that’s quite an achievement in bad filmmaking. There’s literally nothing redeeming about this movie. Even guys who are horny for McCarthy will be disappointed here – there is one shot of her breasts, but they happen to be covered in vomit at the time (and if that idea turns you on, seek professional help immediately). It’s that kind of bad movie, the kind that won’t even let you enjoy it on any level. It just sucks.

Alicia Silverstone, where are you when we need you the most?

*   9/16/05

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An Essay on Cultural Awareness; also, Naked Pictures of Your Mom

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 7, 2005

I’m going to try to keep this one short. Sometimes, even for a guy like me, writing about movies just seems trivial in comparison to what’s going on in the world. Obviously, this is one of those times. There’s a bit of stuff I could have written about in the past week or so, but I honestly just didn’t feel like it. For once I actually had the time, just not the motivation. Of course, just being in the dog days of late August – early September provides enough excuses to slack off, but the current state of things here in America hasn’t added to my enthusiasm. And Nero fiddles away while Rome burns.

I’m also approaching my next birthday in less than a week, as if I wasn’t depressed enough already. But enough about that. This is why people see therapists, so someone has to listen to their bitching and whining. You don’t need my issues unloaded on you, and that’s certainly not the purpose of this column.

These are the kind of times, however, where I find people need their entertainment more than ever. We’ve all heard this before – in “times of crisis”, people need a good laugh, a little light entertainment, a little genuine fun. Not that people don’t indulge in such things all the time anyway. But I’m the last person to begrudge anyone their mindless fun – the highlight of my week was discovering a semi-nude photo of Kristen Bell from Jane magazine on the Net (and can I just say…wow). I know, I need professional help. But we all have our little glitches, don’t we? I just happen to have a good one.

For me, I find that during bad times a little Monty Python always does the trick in lifting my spirits. Call me a geek, but those guys were fucking funny. I love pretty much everything they did together, but this past weekend I watched The Meaning of Life on DVD (make sure you get the 2-disc set) and I really, honestly think it’s an unheralded masterpiece (if you skip past Gilliam’s overblown, self-indulgent short film, that is) despite what John Cleese thinks. They started out their career doing sketches, so it’s only fitting that they ended it with a sketch movie, isn’t it? Come on, tell me that “Every Sperm is Sacred” isn’t the best joke on the Catholic Church ever. Anyway, I think what I really respond to is their twisted takes on the general absurdity of life and society in general. Why do we do the stupid things we do, and say the stupid things we say? Why do we put up with all the idiotic crap we go through in our lives? Isn’t it all just a big cosmic joke in the end? There’s a perverse comfort in knowing that someone, somewhere sees through all the bullshit and isn’t afraid to say so, and I wish we had comedies that brave now (and no, Team America doesn’t count, because great satire is about challenging the status quo, not supporting it).

On the other hand, I’m constantly amazed by the general cultural myopia among people I know. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t know why I like it, I just do”? I started really thinking about this after the series finale of Six Feet Under, in which the very unlikely character of Ted made a derisive comment along the lines of, “hipness is generally an adolescent concern”. The implication being that “grown-ups” shouldn’t pay any attention to what’s going on in the world around them.

What Ted fails to understand is that “hip” is a relative term which depends solely on who you are surrounded by, and who’s using the term. Ted is one of those people who just “goes along” with whatever’s popular at the time. He’s the kind of guy who listens only to Top 40 radio, doesn’t see any movies that don’t debut at #1 at the boxoffice, and probably watches reality shows and actually thinks they’re entertaining. He is fiercely proud of his lack of “hipness”, despite the fact that, in certain crowds, he would actually be considered hip. But let’s leave that aside for now.

It occurs to me that Ted’s tastes (or lack thereof) are not at all “adult”, as he apparently thinks they are, but are instead very adolescent-minded. Adolescents, after all, generally like to follow the crowd, and “go along” with whatever’s popular. If all of his friends jumped off a bridge, Ted would jump off a bridge too. People like Ted don’t think for themselves when it comes to popular culture; they let trends and fads dictate their tastes and never develop any personal preferences of their own.

Adults, however, generally develop their own tastes and preferences as they get older and find a sense of their own identity. At least that’s the way it works with smart adults – I know plenty of supposed “grown-ups” who are still stuck in that Ted-like state of adolescent fad-worshipping. But generally speaking, an adult would be more likely to seek out foreign films, listen to alternative radio, read novels that aren’t on the bestseller lists, or watch a TV show that isn’t at the top of the Nielsens, than your average teenager would. An adult is more likely to read reviews to find out about new things. They’re more likely to give something a chance, and make up their own minds about whether or not they like it, rather than take their cues from what their peers are doing. I’m sure there are teenagers who do these things too, but I’d say they are the exception to the rule.

However, I don’t think that people do this to be considered “hip”, though perhaps some do. I think they do it because they want the good stuff. They want to see the best films, watch the best shows, and hear the best music. At least that’s my motivation – I like things that are new and interesting and, well, good. Of course I have my old favorites that I fall back on from time to time, but generally I like to mix it up. It always baffles me when people don’t seem to want to experience the best that the entertainment industry has to offer, preferring instead to settle for the relentlessly mediocre (or worse). Why not try something out if it looks or sounds interesting? If you don’t like it, at least you gave it a shot. What do you have to lose?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I have an inherent disdain for anything that’s popular. I like a lot of movies, shows and bands that are considered popular, and I like a lot of things that aren’t considered popular. Some of the things I like would be considered “hip” by so-called “hip people”, and other things I like would not be considered “hip” by those people. But I really don’t give a fuck. I’m an adult, and I can make my own decisions about what I like and don’t like. Many people consider rap music “hip”, and I can’t stand most of it. I don’t dismiss it as a cultural phenomenon – it’s just not for me. But I guess I wouldn’t be considered hip among those people. That’s fine with me. I don’t care. And I don’t like the music I like because it’s hip to like it – I like it because it sounds good to me, and I relate to it in some way. Isn’t that what matters? I’ve had people ask me things like, “how can you like The Ramones and Metallica?” as if I’m schizophrenic or something. It’s because I have a brain! They’re different bands playing different kinds of music, and I respond to them for different reasons. If someone has a problem with one or the other, well, that’s entirely their problem. Life is too short for that kind of bullshit.

I just think there’s something to be said for having taste. Your taste doesn’t have to be the same as mine, as long as you actually have some. People who claim to like everything don’t have taste – they have a lack of critical faculties. They have no filter separating them from obvious crap. Hey, if you like Britney Spears, or reality shows, or Rob Schneider movies, fine – but know why you like it, and be able to defend it. Don’t just say, “hey, a lot of people like that stuff”, because, believe it or not, millions of people can be wrong. Look at Milli Vanilli. They were hugely popular, and they were a complete fraud. Was that something worth defending on the basis of popularity alone? I think not. New Kids on the Block were huge 15 years ago, and their entire fan base has now grown up and disowned them. You don’t “outgrow” something if it’s good.

In the end, I think it’s the Teds of the world who are missing out. Hipness may be an adolescent concern, but quality is an adult concern. That’s even more true for busy adults who have less leisure time on their hands – why wouldn’t you want to spend that time experiencing the absolute best stuff that’s out there, rather than the worst? That’s the part that I’ll never understand. It’s not just the people who don’t know – it’s the people who do know, but aren’t willing to open themselves up to a new experience, something unfamiliar, different and exciting. People who wouldn’t watch a great film like City of God (one of the most essential pieces of cinema this decade, in my book) because it has subtitles. People who won’t listen to a song by a band they’ve never heard before. People who would rather watch Full House reruns until the end of time than take a chance on something new.

I don’t understand those people, and I probably never will. I want to have those new experiences and mind-blowing discoveries. I go to the video store to find things I can’t see at the local cineplex, not to get the big blockbusters from months ago. Yes, there’s a comfort in the familiar, but there’s also something thrilling about exploring new territory. To deny yourself that is, in my opinion, the least adult thing you could possibly do. Being a Ted would really suck. I don’t think that’s what growing up is really about, but if it is, then I hope to be filled with “adolescent concerns” for the rest of my life.

Well, so much for keeping it short. Anyway, here’s a quick roundup of the movies I’ve seen lately but haven’t reviewed, in the order I saw them:

Red Eye – Craven does the pseudo-Hitchcock thing, and winds up making his best movie in years? Who would have thought? Yes, the ending is a bit cheesy (imagine if the ad campaign hadn’t given it away though), and I kept wondering how the passengers around them failed to hear their conversations. But McAdams and Murphy totally sold the thing. I wasn’t that familiar with Rachel McAdams before this, but wow – not only is she gorgeous as all hell, but she can act like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll be paying attention to her in the future, that’s for sure. Is it odd to anyone that we’re suddenly inundated with airplane-based thrillers? Or is this just Hollywood’s way of dealing with post-9/11 anxieties? Discuss. Not a great movie, but a very effective one. ***

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – While it’s not a supreme mindfuck like Oldboy, the first chapter in director Park Chan-Wook’s “revenge trilogy” has a lot to recommend it. A story of a desperate kidnapping gone horribly wrong, this is bold and brutal stuff, and absolutely fascinating. Seek it out. You won’t be sorry. ***1/2

The Brothers Grimm – Terry Gilliam has made some great movies. This isn’t one of them. A sad, sorry mess on every possible level, the only possible reason to watch this is to see a brilliant director try to go mainstream and trip over himself. I wish I could lay all the blame on the Weinsteins, but I can’t see how this disaster would have worked even without their interference. It’s one of those movies where every single actor seems completely miscast, where every line of dialogue is painful to the ears and even the set design seems intended to cause severe eyestrain. It’s dour, ugly, vulgar, irritating, and worst of all, it’s boring. The real crime is how conventional the whole enterprise is deep down, from the stupid plot to the lame sibling-rivalry theme (who cares?) to the weak attempts at humor that fall completely flat every time. I expect this kind of cheese from the likes of Stephen Sommers (and frankly, he does it better), but watching Gilliam attempt it so half-heartedly is like drinking a gallon of spoiled milk. He deserves better material, and so do we. I honestly could not wait for it to end. There’s no sign of Gilliam’s usual twisted wit, nor the one thing the movie desperately needed – his unbridled enthusiasm for magic. It just sucks. Better luck next time, Terry. *

The Great Raid – John Dahl took modern actors and digitized them into an old WWII rescue movie! At least, that’s what I would think if I didn’t know better. I’m apparently in the minority here, but I actually thought this was pretty good! It’s very old-fashioned in its sensibilities, but I found that refreshing. It looks and feels like a movie from the time period, and it achieves a kind of fascinating verisimilitude that took me by surprise. The actors are surprisingly well cast, it’s a true story that’s worth telling and is done very well. It’s a war movie with noble intentions and not a trace of cynicism (when’s the last time you saw that?). What’s not to like? It may not be particularly politically correct in its depiction of the Japanese soldiers (not at all, in fact), but sometimes people have to own up to having been bad guys. Can’t there be any villains in movies anymore? I’d be interested in seeing a film about this subject from the Japanese perspective, but until then, this will do nicely, thank you. This is the kind of movie my Dad would really like, and it worked for me, too. Not a classic, but much better than it’s been given credit for. ***

The Transporter 2 – is Luc Besson becoming the new Joel Silver? No one else seems to be churning out these slick action flicks anymore, and he’s doing it quite well. Jason Statham has the stoic badass thing down (why can’t he be the next Bond?), and while the plot is basically an excuse for some cool action scenes…I’m OK with that. Completely ridiculous and over-the-top, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. ***

The 40-Year-Old Virgin – I was skeptical, but this turned out to be the best comedy I’ve seen so far this year. There’s a real heart to it, it’s not just a bunch of raunchy sex jokes (although there are plenty of those). I like that it’s not about laughing at the guy who isn’t getting any, but actually feeling for him and rooting for him to finally get some. Steve Carell is a much better actor than I would’ve thought, and he makes Andy a real person, not a walking joke. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of funny stuff here, because there definitely is (it may be the most quotable movie I’ve seen this year), but the movie works because Carell and company allow you to give a damn. I never thought I would say that Catherine Keener actually brightened up a movie, but damn if she doesn’t do just that. The three guys are very funny, but they all seem real in their own warped ways, which just makes them funnier (wow, remember when Paul Rudd was a serious actor? That seems like a lifetime ago). And it’s not every movie that can make drunk driving, indiscriminate promiscuity and infidelity amusing. I do think it kinda cops out towards the end, with the whole “true love conquers all” deal (horseshit), but otherwise this is a real winner. And Elizabeth Banks…damn. ***1/2

That about covers it for now. I’ve got a couple of screeners for upcoming indie movies I want to get to, so I will be back soon. Don’t give up on me just yet.

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