American Folk (September 12)


Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth are fine musicians but they’re not above being corny.

(2017) Drama (Good Deed) Joe Purdy, Amber Rubarth, David Fine, Krisha Fairchild, Bruce Beatty, Elizabeth Dennehy, Miranda LaDawn Hill, Emma Thatcher, Holger Moncada Jr., Julian Gopal, Lawrence Mandley, Noah Craft, Bradford Barnes, Paul White, Shelly West, Maryann Strossner, Andrew Walton (voice), Greg Williams, James Perry, Ricky Aynes, Isabella George Brown. Directed by David Heinz

 

The road movie is an institution as American as, well road trips themselves. Exploring our own country is something we often fail to do in our busy lives but there is something that is truly uplifting about getting in a car and driving down the open road in whatever direction you happen to fancy, particularly when we take the back roads and avoid the Interstates which are, I grant you, soulless and Godless.

Elliott (Purdy) is a folk musician in an L.A. hotel room with maybe the thinnest walls ever – or a neighbor in the adjoining room with the worst temper ever, constantly banging on the wall whenever Elliott softly strums his guitar and sings into the cassette deck, working on a song. He has to get to New York City to begin a gig as a member of a band called the Hairpin Triggers, a gig that he’s not overjoyed about but as his agent intimates, may be his last opportunity to continue to make a living as a musician.

He’s not much of a people person so as the flight takes off he puts on his headphones and zones out. However the bright perky woman sitting next to him, Joni (Rubarth) whips out a splitter and listens in. I’ve never had that happen on a flight before but I suppose in all the annals of transcontinental air travel it must have happened o someone. Anyway, rather than punching her in the face, he strikes up an awkward conversation with her that is cut off when the flight is turned around and forced to land back at LAX. It’s not because of engine trouble or a medical emergency – all flights are being grounded. The date is September 11, 2001.

Elliott desperately has to get to New York and Joni has to return to take care of her ailing mother who is under the auspices of a none-too-reliable sister so Joni invites Elliott back to the house she was staying in with family friend Scottie (Fairchild), an ex-hippie and former touring musician herself. She lends the two a 1972 Chevy Van (and only children who grew up in the 70s will appreciate the Sammy Johns reference) and off they go.

The van has a tendency to overheat so the Interstates are a non-starter. They take back highways instead until the van gives up the ghost in the desert. They are pointed in the direction of Vietnam vet Dale (Fine) who lives out in the sand dunes by himself but can fix just about anything. The two travelers begin to bond over music and a shared love of traditional American folk – the music of Pete Seeger, Odetta, Joan Baez and John Prine among others.

Along the way they run into other people who grab their attention but particularly a lesbian couple from San Francisco named Bianca (Hill) and Emily (Thatcher) who are on their way to Virginia to meet Bianca’s parents…and to come out to her very stiff-necked father (Beatty). Getting to New York the two begin to realize that it was truly  all about the journey and not the destination – and it would be a journey they’d remember forever.

I went into this movie thinking that it would be about folk music but in many ways it really isn’t. Think of the title for a moment – it’s not about American Folk but about American folks. This is a snapshot of a moment in our history when the country was drawing together and unifying in the face of a dreadful, horrible attack. That the unity that we experienced in those days and weeks following 9-11 has been completely lost makes it doubly tragic only 16 years after the fact.

Purdy and Rubarth make strong leads; Purdy is quiet and introspective, Rubarth outgoing and open-hearted. They are an opposites attract sort of couple but then again this is no rom-com; this is definitely a road movie and while they do bond there’s never a sense that they will remain together once they pull up in New York. Some viewers may end up wishing they had.

There is some great music on the soundtrack, much of it played and sung by Rubarth and Purdy (the two are touring together in support of the movie doing folk dates throughout the country). It is well that the filmmakers actually shot on the road rather than in a single state or soundstage; we get the flavor of the couple’s travels and that adds a lot to the enjoyment of the movie overall.

While the film gets a little flat in the middle, it does keep the interest high throughout. It has a gentle heart and a dulcimer’s soul, and the harmonies that Purdy and Rubarth make while singing echo in the very DNA of the film. I can’t say that there is anything particularly revelatory here – the healing power of music is well-known and road movies are nothing new, but still I found myself enjoying the journey. I think you just might, too.

REASONS TO GO: Purdy and Rubarth are surprisingly strong leads. The music the two make is really very good and the classic folk on the soundtrack works as well.
REASONS TO STAY: There are a few indie clichés scattered here and there. The movie loses some momentum in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some sophisticated themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Purdy and Rubarth are veteran singer/songwriters in folk and other American music forms. This is the first onscreen acting role for the both of them. In addition, this is Heinz’ debut as a feature film director after a long and distinguished career in film editing.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Easy Rider
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Tikli and Laxmi Bomb

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Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes)


This guy could teach Mad Max a thing or two about vengeance.

This guy could teach Mad Max a thing or two about vengeance.

(2014) Comedy (Sony Classics) Ricardo Darin, Rita Cortese, Maria Marull, Cesar Bordon, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Oscar Martinez, Osmar Nunez, Maria Onetto, Erica Rivas, Diego Gentile, German de Silva, Dario Grandinetti, Monica Villa, Julieta Zylberberg, Nancy Duplaa, Lucita Mangone, Alan Daicz, Hector Drachtman, Margarita Molfino. Directed by Damian Szifron

Revenge, it is said, is a dish best served cold although it must also be said that in Latin American countries, there’s nothing cold about good ol’ hot-blooded Latin revenge. It is a cultural imperative, as a matter of fact.

This collection of vignettes each looks at vengeance from a different angle, all of them funny and some of them downright hilarious. Mostly set in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires (although at least one is set out in the hinterlands of Argentina), there is a delicious quality to all of them which goes against what we normally see in American movies in which we are taught that an eye for an eye tends to leave everybody blind.

Herein we see a variety of different scenarios, with the first one begins with a beautiful model sits down on a strangely uncrowded airplane and strikes up a conversation with a neighbor. Soon, all of those aboard the plane discover they have a connection and that they aren’t aboard the plane by happenstance.

From there on we go to a waitress, discovering that the corrupt politician who ruined her family has sat down in the deserted diner in which she works is egged on by her somewhat diabolical cook to take her justice, then to an incident of escalating road rage, followed by a demolition expert whose car gets towed, setting off a chain of events that grow more and more devastating. Then we see the results of a drunken hit and run by a spoiled scion of a wealthy man who, sickened by the corruption of those who want to cover up the deed, is torn between saving his son and not contributing to the corruption. Finally we end of with the ultimate Bridezilla who makes a devastating discovery on her wedding day.

Each of the vignettes is told with a sense of humor that has a distinct Latin feel; some of it is quite subtle while some of it is broad to the point of slapstick and there is even some grossness that would make Apatow shudder and exclaim “Now, that’s going too far” – as in the road rage vignette in which one of the combatants defecates on the auto of another. Many auto-worshiping American men would rather have their genitals cut off with a butter knife than have that happen to their own car.

I was fond of the opening vignette which may be disturbing to some because of recent events in France which have some similarities to what you see here. The second one set in the diner isn’t nearly as clever as the others and briefly made me wonder if the rest of the movie would be like the first scene or the second; it turned out to be the former which was quite the relief.

My favorite was that of the munitions expert who is caught up in a corrupt, greedy scam of a towing company and his quest for justice ends up costing him nearly everything. However, in this particular case, his redemption turns him into something of a folk hero as a little man takes on the big machine and wins out. I think we’ve all felt like that at one time or another.

There is definitely a class element here; the road rage incident, for example, involves an upper class man in an expensive sedan versus a working class man in a beat up truck, while the case of the hit and run drunk driving we see the police and lawyer conspire with the wealthy man to have a groundskeeper in the wealthy man’s employ take the fall for the action committed by the wealthy man’s no-account son, which seems to indicate that justice is never truly served when it can be bought by the rich.

If you can see elements of the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar in the movie, you are to be congratulated for your insight. In fact, Almodovar served as a producer for the movie although he didn’t direct it. Certainly his influence as a filmmaker can be felt in every scene.

This truly isn’t for everybody, I will admit. Americans don’t always find the Latin sense of humor palatable, although I think that we have more in common with it than not. Still, I enjoyed this very much and laughed throughout. It can be absurd and sometimes gross and even occasionally thought-provoking but there is some real superior filmmaking here.

REASONS TO GO: Howling with laughter funny. No weak vignettes.
REASONS TO STAY: Some might find some of the scenes crass and the opening vignette has elements in common with a recent tragedy that might make it offensive to some.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of violence, a little bit of sexuality and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh film from Argentina to make the final list of nominees for Best Foreign Language film and the third straight to star Ricardo Darin.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: It Follows

Warm Bodies


Love is not only blind, it doesn't have much of a sense of smell either.

Love is not only blind, it doesn’t have much of a sense of smell either.

(2013) Zombie Romance (Summit) Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, Cory Hardrict, Daniel Kindress-Kay, Vincent Leclerc, Clifford LeDuc-Vallancourt, Billie Calmeau, Adam Driscoll, Robert Reynolds, Christine Rodriguez, Debbie Wong. Directed by Jonathan Levine

Zombies are in these days with the success of The Walking Dead television show (one of the best things on television right now) and movies like Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later. For the most part we see those imperiled by the zombie apocalypse. But what are the zombies thinking?

A young man wanders around the airport, listlessly. He doesn’t work there; he’s been dead for some time but has been reanimated by forces unknown. He has some memory but can’t remember his name, other than that it starts with R. So R (Hoult) it is. His best friend (if you can call it that) is another shuffling undead flesh-eater whose name might have begun with M (Corddry).

R’s life kind of sucks but then it kind of doesn’t. He collects things and puts them in the jumbo jet he’s converted into his home, a kind of zombie man-cave. He listens to old LPs on a turntable (where’s the power coming from for it?) and stares at little knick-knacks he picks up around the airport. Occasionally, he goes hunting for food with M.

There are zombies and then there are Bonies who are kind of like hardcore zombies who have given up. One day they just start tearing their own flesh off. They’re superstrong, super-aggressive and super-grouchy. There are a few humans left who live in a walled-off section of town. They are led by the military-stiff Grigio (Malkovich) whose daughter Julia (Palmer) and her boyfriend Perry (Franco) are leading a party of scavengers to get medical supplies for the survivors.

That’s where R’s hunting party finds them. The attack is brutal and the outcome inevitable. Perry is a big talker but not a great shot – and as you know from your zombie 101 that zombies can’t be killed with anything other than a head shot. Perry’s shot hits R in the chest which just pisses R off and he chooses Perry to be his brain snack.

When a zombie eats the brains of a victim, they are able to access the memories of that victim. R sees Perry’s memories of Julia and decides to save her, managing to smuggle her out and to the relative safety of his airplane. After an aborted escape attempt convinces her that it is terribly unsafe to go out of the plane, she agrees to stay with this most unusual zombie.

The presence of Julia is changing R rapidly. His vocabulary improves. He begins to have tender feelings towards Julia (although are they his own or a product of Perry’s memory? an intriguing question the movie doesn’t bother to pose) and there are physiological changes as well. What’s more, M and the other zombies are beginning to change as well.

The Bonies don’t like that one little bit and want to find R and stop this “cure” before it gets too far. Julia needs to get back home but her father and his fanatical soldiers would shoot R on sight (and it’s for damn sure that they’re better shots than Perry). What’s more Julia has developed some powerful feelings for R as well. Is this love as doomed as that of Romeo and Juliet?

It’s no secret that the story here is loosely based on the Shakespeare play with several characters referencing characters from the play (R=Romeo, Julia=Juliet, M=Mercutio, Perry=Paris etc.). That no doubt suits the audience that this is intended for just fine – the preteen/teen girls who adore Twilight and their moms. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most of the target audience is only aware somewhat of the R&J connection and have had little contact with the original play itself if any.

One of the things that works really well here is the chemistry between Hoult and Palmer. Hoult, who as a young man has become a seasoned veteran of the movies (some of you might remember him as young Marcus in About a Boy), is rapidly turning into a star. This might be the film that propels him to the next level. Palmer, whose done several genre films targeted towards young adults (I Am Number Four and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice among them), plays a plucky independent sort that the young teen girls seem to flock to these days. She and Hoult make an attractive couple (even if one of the is rotting away).

There are some pretty funny moments, particularly with R’s inner monologue. There is also a nice sweetness here that while not going to get you running out to the nearest zombie apocalypse to find yourself a boyfriend, it will at least touch the teddy bear softness of your heart. The only real complaints I have about the movie are the CGI Bonies which are unconvincing (which is a rather charitable assessment) and several plot points that kind of get little play, like Julia’s reaction to the news that R ate her ex. Not something most girls are going to get past very quickly I would think.

Still, this isn’t a bad movie at all. In fact, it’s a pretty good one – much better than I thought it would be, wondering if the filmmakers would be pandering to that target audience (they do but they don’t – Levine and cohorts seem to be of the opinion that teen and preteen girls appreciate a good movie more than a mediocre one). It’s actually a movie that I wish more Twihards had gone to see – I think those pining away over the absence of Bella, Edward and Jacob might find this right up their alley.

REASONS TO GO: Endearing and funny when it needs to be. Nice chemistry with Hoult and Palmer.

REASONS TO STAY: CGI Bonies are weak. Glossed over some important plot points.

FAMILY VALUES:  As there are zombies, there are extensive scenes of zombies eating people as well as getting shot in the head, although the gore is relatively mild (think The Walking Dead). There’s a lot more bad language though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Nora character was part-Ethiopian with brown skin in the book but was changed to a Caucasian for the movie.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100; I’d say the reviews are slightly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fido

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Amour

Out of Africa


Out of Africa

Actors will do just about anything to be in a movie with Meryl Streep.

(1985) Drama (Universal) Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Joseph Thiaka, Stephen Kinyanjul, Michael Gough, Suzanna Hamilton, Rachel Kempson, Graham Crowden, Leslie Phillips, Shane Rimmer. Directed by Sydney Pollack

 

Africa is a place that stimulates the imagination. It is a continent largely untamed in our imagination, full of wild animals and exotic tribes. Those who travel there find sometimes that it exceeds the imagination; to others it is a savage, uncivilized place. There are those who hate the heat and the culture of Africa; others fall in love with it and retain a kind of obsession.

Karen Blixen (Streep) was a young Danish woman who found her life in Denmark lacking in adventure. One of her friends, Baron Bror von Blixen (Brandauer) was single and similarly bored. They decided to marry, even though Bror had misgivings about his ability to remain faithful.

They decided to buy a dairy farm in what is now Kenya in the Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi. Bror was sent on ahead to set things up with Karen following thereafter. When she arrived in Nairobi, she was met by Farah (Bowens), an even-tempered member of the Kikuyu tribe who would become her personal servant. Farah escorted Karen to her new home. She is surprised to discover that Bror had purchased a coffee plantation rather than the dairy farm they’d agreed upon. This irks Karen mainly because it was her money he had used to do it.

Neither Bror nor Karen knew much about the coffee farming business and quite frankly the land they had chosen wasn’t really conducive to growing the plant but with the help of their plant overseer Belknap (Rimmer) they manage to at least make a go of it. However, Bror isn’t really interested in being a plantation owner; he is more interested in big game hunting and womanizing, which leads to Karen contracting syphilis which at the time was incredibly dangerous. She is forced to return to Denmark and undergo a painful and debilitating treatment which ends up with her being unable to have children.

She returns to Africa where she meets Denys Finch Hatton (Redford) and his friend Berkeley (Kitchen). She regales them with stories and they provide her with some company during Bror’s absences which aren’t all due strictly to big game hunting. At last she asks him to move out when it becomes clear that his philandering isn’t going to stop. In the meantime she has developed feelings for Hatton which lead them to move in together and become lovers.

However, Denys proves to be as untamable and elusive as Africa herself and the coffee plantation, never a money-making proposition, is on the verge of bankruptcy. A good harvest could save it, but in order to make a relationship with Denys work Karen will have to give up much of what is important to her. Can she make both the plantation and her relationship work?

I have always considered this the last great Hollywood epic. Sure, there have been other movies with the same sheer scope and grandeur as this one, but these days it’s achieved with CGI and other digital trickery. Out of Africa is a bit of a throwback to movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Gone With the Wind in that the size is achieved by set design and a lush backdrop.

The cinematography here is nothing less than spectacular. Vistas of veldt and plain, meadow and mountain show the beauty that is the Dark Continent. Lions and other wild animals inhabit this world much more comfortably than man. Set designer Stephen Grimes took a year to build a replica of early 20th century Nairobi and of Blixen’s home (not far from where it actually stood) and the look and feel is authentic.

Streep’s performance was virtually flawless. She captures the essence of Blixen – who would become better known as author Isak Dinieson – as a strong woman used to bending to the men in her life, which was not unusual for women of the time. She is determined and at times stubborn but at the same time she is lonely and wistful. She is not above dropping to her knees and begging when the occasion calls for it. She was by all accounts an amazing woman and Streep brings those qualities to life. There is a scene late in the movie where Bror informs Karen of the death of someone she loved very much. She says nothing for a moment but brings a cigarette in shaking hand to her lips to smoke. Everything is in her eyes and in the movement of a single hand but the gesture alone tells you everything you need to know. It’s as amazing a piece of acting as I have ever witnessed.

Redford once again proves himself a charismatic movie star. Although Finch Hatton was in fact British, Redford plays him as an American and almost as a cowboy in a lot of ways. Self-reliant to a fault, Denys values his freedom above all else and that makes a relationship with someone who values commitment very difficult. The two don’t seem to be a good pairing but the chemistry is undeniable and when you have two great actors in roles like this, magic is bound to happen – and it did.

Brandauer, better known in Europe, plays Bror with a playful twinkle. Even though he is a bastard at times, Brandauer is so likable we can’t help but see why Karen was so affectionate towards him even after everything he did. It’s a terrific performance and it is a shame that Brandauer hasn’t done a lot of American movies since. There are many that would have benefited from his participation.

This is a classic movie that stands the test of time. While Streep’s curls are more reminiscent of the 80s than the early 20th century, still this looks like a Hollywood film that could have come from the 50s and 60s just as easily. It is a great romance and a great adventure rolled up into one and represents the best of what Hollywood was and still can be. This is the type of film that you can get nostalgic for – and should.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the last great epic films. Outstanding performances by Streep, Redford and Brandauer. Gorgeous cinematography and score.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too feminine-oriented for those who like a little more testosterone in their films.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sensuality as well as some light violence and mature themes. There are also a few choice words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Streep was originally not considered for the role because she wasn’t “sexy” enough. She showed up at the audition wearing a low-cut blouse and a push-up bra and won the part. Streep would study recordings of the actual Karen Blixen reading her own works in order to get the accent and rhythms of Karen’s speaking voice down.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a documentary about Karen Blixen and her time in Africa. There is a collector’s series Blu-Ray with a “digibook” that contains behind-the-scenes photos, script excerpts and personal letters which is fairly expensive.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $128.54M on an unreported production budget; given the adjustment for inflation, I’d bet this was a blockbuster in its time.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dr. Zhivago

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Matchstick Men

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The mine train ride from hell.

(1984) Adventure (Paramount) Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Rushan Seth, Philip Stone, Roy Chiao, David Yip, Ric Young, Chua Kah Joo, Rex Ngui, Philip Tann, Dan Aykroyd, Raj Singh, D.R. Nanayakkara, Stany De Silva. Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom can only be kindly called a miscalculation. With Lucas wanting to go with a darker mood, which served him successfully in the Star Wars trilogy, writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz were brought in (Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was unavailable) and came up with a dreadful mishmash that is set prior to Raiders (of course if Lucas had been thinking properly, he might have remembered that The Empire Strikes Back was the weakest entry in the original trilogy). Yes, there were some dark moments in Raiders, but nobody was ripping anybody’s heart out, and in fact because of this movie the MPAA created the PG-13 rating as a stopgap between PG and R ratings which this movie clearly fell between.

As Temple of Doom opens, Indy is in China, trying to sell the remains of the first emperor of China to Lao Che, a Chinese gangster (Chiao). When the gangster tries to kill Indy, the hero escapes, using unwilling accomplice (and nightclub singer) Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) as a shield, and a kid, Short Round (Quan, who also appeared in The Goonies) as a driver. Indy’s agent at the airport (Aykroyd in a cameo) books Indy, Shorty and Willie on a cargo plane which turns out to be owned by Lao Che.

The pilot and co-pilot bail out over the Himalayas, causing the plane to crash in India. After a thrilling bail-out and a ride down a mountain in an inflatable raft, Indy, Willie and Short Round reach an impoverished village where the children have been stolen — along with a sacred stone — by the local maharaja (Singh). Indy takes his team to a palace to try to retrieve the stone, and uncover a hideous Thuggee cult, led by Mola Ram (Puri, one of India’s top actors) which is using children as slave labor to uncover the remaining two Sankhara stones, to become tremendously powerful. Indy is briefly drugged and becomes a slave of Mola Ram, but Short Round saves him and the trio escapes, only to find themselves trapped by Mola Ram’s troops while on a rickety suspension bridge over a crocodile-infested gorge.

This movie never feels quite right.  For one thing, instead of retrieving the Lost Ark of the Covenant, he’s basically after three rocks that have some power that is never really defined. There were other problems with the story; it was evident that without the support system of Brody and Sallah, Indy seemed a trifle lost. Also, having the precocious kid save the hero’s bacon again and again also smacked of cliché. I think all in all that it wasn’t able to capture the feel of the old time serials the way Raiders did.

Capshaw’s character whines so much that she’s become truly despised by many fans of the trilogy. Capshaw is a fine actress who performed better in other films (although she basically left acting behind her after marrying Spielberg whom she met and fell in love with during filming of Temple of Doom) and her chemistry with Ford never really meshes.

While Puri makes a terrific villain (maybe the best in the series in many ways), the way he is dispatched at the end of the film is far too easy and convenient. In fact, the movie’s last reel is a real howler, with Ford telling a village elder “I understand the power of the stones now,” which makes one of us. As MacGuffins go, the stones are pretty weak; both the Lost Ark and the Holy Grail at least have some specific uses. Of course, Hitchcock might have said that it really doesn’t matter what a MacGuffin does as long as everybody is after it.

 That’s not to say there aren’t things to recommend in the movie. The mine train chase scene is frankly amazing (although the special effects are a little bit dated) and there’s a riff on the famous swordfighter scene in Raiders. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shows off Sri Lanka’s natural beauty (standing in for India, where government officials refused to give the production permission to film because of objections to portrayals of Indian culture) to great effect. Although this isn’t his best work of the series, it’s still Harrison Ford (and yes, he takes his shirt off here and he looks pretty good) and while it’s arguable whether this will be the role he’s most remembered for (some will say Han Solo is and I can’t bring myself to disagree) it certainly is in the top two.  

This was clearly the weakest entry in the series (at least before the most recent one). With the participation of Short Round, the writers kind of made Indy a bit emasculated; one wonders if they wanted to make the second film more kid-friendly. If so, why have scenes in which human sacrifices are performed where a heart is torn out of a person’s chest still beating and then have the victim lowered still alive into a lava flow? Not exactly Disney now is it?

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s Indy; great action scenes and Harrison Ford shirtless which wasn’t a bad thing back in the day.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much kid saving the day. Dark tone clashes with attempts to make it more kid-friendly than the first. Capshaw whines far too much. Fails to capture the serial spirit of the first film.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scenes of intense torture and violence; could be nightmare inducing for wee ones.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first sequel that Spielberg ever filmed, although technically it was a prequel since it took place the year before Raiders of the Lost Ark was set.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: All of the special features on the DVD are on the fourth disc of the four-disc collection and include a massive Making of the Trilogy featurette that is more than two hours long and includes much behind the scenes footage. There are also featurettes on the stunt work, the music, the special effects and Ben Burtt’s amazing sound work. There is also a promo for the new (at the time) Indiana Jones video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $333.1M on a $58M production budget; the movie was an international blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Lucky One

Bridesmaids


Bridesmaids

For losing the bet, Wiig has to give Rudolph a manicure with her teeth.

(2011) Comedy (Universal) Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Jill Clayburgh, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Franklyn Ajaye, Rebel Wilson, Matt Lucas, Jon Hamm, Richard Riehle, Mitch Silpa. Directed by Paul Feig

There’s something in the female hormone that just goes ballistic when it comes to weddings. Smart, capable, logical women turn into absolute emotional maniacs when confronted with the nuptials of a friend. Gather together an entire bridal party and you have enough cattiness and one-upsmanship to fill up thirty seasons of “Project: Runway.”

Annie (Wiig) and Lillian (Rudolph) have been the best of friends since childhood. Annie’s going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment. Her bakery, co-owned with her then-boyfriend has gone belly-up and her ex walked out out on her, leaving Annie holding the bag. Deeply in debt, she works at a jewelry store owned by a friend of her mom and rooms with a pair of English siblings, Gil (Lucas) and Brynn (Wilson) who would make Ellen DeGeneres homicidal. Annie is the regular booty call of Ted (Hamm), an egotistical jerk who wants no part of Annie other than to get his rocks off and Annie is more or less accepting of this relationship.

Things are looking up for Lillian however. She is engaged to her sweetie Doug and she wants Annie to be her maid of honor. Annie is only too happy to do it, not realizing the expense and frustration that goes hand-in-hand with the job. The bridal party includes Megan (McCarthy), Doug’s big-boned sister who shoots from the hip and has a somewhat skewed view of life; Rita (McLendon-Covey), Lillian’s cousin who is married with three kids and is horny as all get out; Becca (Kemper) who’s a newlywed and blissfully in love and finally Helen (Byrne), the wife of Doug’s boss and one of those rich people who thinks the world not only should revolve around them but in fact does.

Of course, Annie tries to keep costs under control but that’s simply not possible with Helen around. Annie and Helen regard each other with wary distrust, each vying for Lillian’s affection and to be top dog in the pack. As Annie initiates disaster after disaster (a pre-dress fitting meal causes a very nasty case of food poisoning which leads to a scene that isn’t for the squeamish and a drunken incident on a plane to Vegas for the bachelorette party which results in Annie not only making a fool of herself but for the plane not to reach its destination) the strain grows in her relationship with Lillian. Not even reconnecting with her mom (Clayburgh) and connecting with a sympathetic Irish cop named Rhodes (O’Dowd) can help Annie in her downward spiral towards an inevitable rock bottom.

This was produced by Judd Apatow and early indications that this is going to be another big box office hit for him. Like most Apatow movies, there is a good deal of vulgarity and a tendency to not skimp on sex or cussing which is the kind of thing that some folks are going to shy away from.

There are some genuine laughs here, and Da Queen pointed out that any woman who’s ever been involved with a wedding – their own or someone else’s – is going to find a lot of common ground here from the bridal party back biting to the absolute disasters that befall any wedding.

This is Wiig’s first leading role and the SNL veteran shows that she has the ability to be a charming and sympathetic romantic comedy heroine. Not only is she sexy and beautiful, she’s got great comic timing and she gets the audience squarely behind her for the most part, even when she’s sabotaging her own best friend in a fit of self-pity.

McCarthy often steals the show here and could wind up being the Zach Galifianakis of this little posse. Plus-sized women get the shortest of shrifts from Hollywood and it would be a shame for someone this talented and this funny to not turn a performance like this into a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Byrne plays the tightly wound Helen note-perfect and while I haven’t seen much of her in comedic roles (she’s best known for the cable hit “Damages”) she has a future in comedy as well as drama. O’Dowd has also been receiving raves for his role and could well wind up as a leading man somewhere down the road although he seems better suited to comedy than drama.

The movie overuses the awkward situation as laugh template, leaving me feeling uncomfortable more than anything else. However, thankfully, there’s enough genuine humor here and coupled with the genuine chemistry between Wiig and Rudolph (honed by years of working together on SNL) makes for a movie that hits the right notes most of the time. It’s good to see a movie that primarily focuses on the female point of view that can be enjoyed by both sexes equally – that’s a fairly rare bird in the Hollywood aviary.

REASONS TO GO: Enough laughs to keep things moving along. Good chemistry between Wiig and Rudolph.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the bits go on too long. A few too many awkward moments masquerading as laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of bad language and tons of sex, not to mention a few disgusting images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Jill Clayburgh’s final film before she passed away from leukemia last November.

HOME OR THEATER: No need for a big screen on this one.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fish Tank

Snakes on a Plane


Snakes on a Plane

Rachel Blanchard reacts to the news that she's been cast in Snakes on a Plane.

(New Line) Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, David Koechner, Bobby Cannavale, Todd Louiso, Byron Lawson, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thompson, Keith “Blackman” Dallas, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, Sunny Mabrey, Terry Chen, Emily Holmes. Directed by David Ellis.

I’ve got two words for ya – guilty pleasure. That’s all you need know about Snakes On a Plane. The internet buzz on this was incredible as fans or would-be fans design trailers, posters and merchandise in perhaps the most interactive marketing campaign in the history of movies. All the hype has really kind of obscured the fact that there is a movie behind it.

Young Hawaiian surfer dude Sean (Phillips) has witnessed a murder and not just any murder. He watched crime boss Eddie Kim (Lawson) use a baseball bat to bludgeon the district attorney that is prosecuting his case. You know that’s gonna leave a mark.

Unfortunately, Fast Eddie and his generic thugs realize that there was a witness and go to do unpleasant things to him. However, he is saved by the unfortunately-named FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson), a curmudgeonly all-business kind of guy. Hey, if I was named Nelville Flynn I’d probably be in a perpetually bad mood too. Nelville convinces Sean to fly back to Los Angeles from Hawaii to testify against Kim and put him away for good.

However, the nefarious crime lord has arranged a little surprise. He has managed to smuggle a load of poisonous snakes into the cargo hold of the flight that the FBI agent and his witness are taking, and not even ordinary poisonous snakes. No, he has arranged for the deadliest snakes from around the world to be the special guests aboard the flight (but he’s so cheap he makes them fly coach). These are the exotic snakes for which the anti-venom is terribly rare and hard to find in the States.

Basically that’s all the plot you need to know. The rest of the movie is made up of the terrified passengers and crew trying to keep the plane aloft while they get snakes attacking any and every orifice on the human body, not to mention every bit of genitalia they can find. Admittedly most of the human cast members are walking, talking cliches – the plucky stewardess (Margulies), the spoiled rich girl (Blanchard), the quirky rapper (Alexander) and his bodyguards – the big one (Dallas) and the video game-obsessed one (Thompson). Then there’s the matronly mentor stewardess (Shaye), the effeminate steward (James), the oversexed nymphet (Holmes), the slimy co-pilot (Koechner), the kick-ass FBI agent (Cannavale) and the nerdy snake expert (Louiso). The fun comes in trying to figure out which ones will still be vertical at the end of the movie.

Don’t think too hard about anything onscreen or your head will just explode, and who wants to see blood and grey matter on the couch? This is all concept and no plot, and logic takes a backseat to pacing. Once the snakes get loose, it’s a rollercoaster and the best thing to do is just sit back, enjoy the ride and ask no questions. How did Nelville know to rescue Sean at his apartment when he hadn’t reported the murder to the police? Don’t even think about it. You can feel the C-4 in your head beginning to burst if you do.

This is Jackson’s movie to carry and he does so with panache. He does the movie straight which is actually a good thing. Too much of that grin and wink stuff and the movie turns into self-parody and suffers because of it. Instead, he’s just serious enough to keep the movie in the realm of semi-serious. Most of the humor comes in the over-the-top approach the filmmakers and effects crew take. Why film a dozen snakes when you can film 450, and why have snakes chow down on human adults when they can swallow them whole. Are you questioning it? I can smell the smoke coming out of your ears all the way from here. Not worth it man. Just go with it.

This is pure empty-headed fun, the kind of thing that you watch, enjoy and forget about 15 minutes later. There was never a possibility of any Oscars for Snakes on a Plane unless they started handing them out for marketing campaigns, which they didn’t, but that’s okay by me. This is the kind of summer movie fun that wears it’s intentions on its sleeves and let’s face it; there is nothing wrong with a bit of harmless brainless visceral pleasure.

WHY RENT THIS: Pure empty-headed fun that never tries to reach beyond it’s grasp. Perhaps the walking talking poster boy for guilty pleasures. This is the ultimate Samuel L. Jackson movie with his ultimate line – “Get those motherbleepin’ snakes off my motherbleepin’ plane!”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Anyone who requires a dose of logic with their plot will find themselves banging their heads against the living room wall after seeing this.

FAMILY VALUES: To put it succinctly, no family has these kinds of values but let’s face it – it’s all in fun. Older teens will think it a bit dated (despite only being four years old) but enjoyable; just about anyone younger than that will have nightmares over the snakes, the drug use, the language, the sex, the violence and the acting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s title originated at an after-work get-together at a local watering hole by several studio employees who played a game where each tried to come up with the worst possible pitch; the winner was Craig Berenson, who then worked at DreamWorks and eventually served as producer on the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Some of the fan films that helped fan the initial internet hype are included here.  There is also a gag reel, a music video of Cobra Starship’s title song and a making-of featurette of the music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $62M on a $33M production budget; the film broke even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Wendy and Lucy