Movable Type 2.65
The King of the Goofballs, Ashton Kutcher, wants you to know he’s more than just a guy that yells a lot on his “That 70s Show” T.V. show or the guy who “punks” people on MTV. In the sci-fi/adventure/love story THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, Kutcher’s character, Evan, is a disturbed guy who has been prone to irregular black outs since he was a child. Well, they’re not so much black outs as they are lapses in memory. He’s been friends with a girl named Kayleigh (played as an adult by Amy Smart) since they were little kids, and thanks to her twisted father (played by Eric Stoltz), she grew up fated to fail in life. Evan’s father lives in a mental hospital suffering from on unknown disease that drives him to think he can somehow shift time. The film’s early scenes of the kids (who also include Kayleigh’s disturbed brother Tommy and Evan’s best friend Lenny) have sort of a STAND BY ME quality to them. The children see and do things kids shouldn’t have to go through. A misadventure with a large firecracker in mailbox results in the death of a woman and her baby. Kayleigh’s father decides to use his video camera and some of the kids in despicable ways. All of these events shape who these people will become later in life.
John Hamburg has written some movies that I enjoyed quite a bit: ZOOLANDER; MEET THE PARENTS; and vastly underrated SAFE MEN (which he also directed). Hamburg’s return to directing comes in the form of the new Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy ALONG CAME POLLY, which is also funny at times (thanks largely to an impressive supporting cast) but suffers from being like so many other mainstream, lightweight girl-meets-boy flicks.
This one’s too easy. TORQUE is total junk, top to bottom garbage. In fact, the only thing that makes the movie remotely watchable is seeing Ice Cube and Fredro Starr, as two brothers in a high-tech motorcycle gang, act circles around the rest of this cast…and that’s not saying much. I have a vague recollection of star Martin Henderson in his role as Naomi Watts’ ex-husband in THE RING, but any acting talents he may have displayed in that film are forever lost to me after seeing him pathetic turn as Cary Ford, a biker on the run from the law after being accused to drug possession. He disappears for a number of months and resurfaces at a bike rally to reclaim what’s his: his woman (Monet Mazur). Both the feds and other gang members (the true owners of the drugs) frame him for murder, chase him for about 80 minutes, everything blows up, the end. The high-speed chase scenes through the streets of Los Angeles looks incredibly fake, the dialogue is laughable, and perhaps the greatest offense to acting comes in the form of Jaime Pressly as “bad girl” China, who licks her lips and sneers for the entire film in black leather. Pressly’s a pretty woman but every time her face appeared on screen, I wanted to vomit. Actually, varying degrees of nausea was the constant feeling I experienced while watching the abysmal TORQUE.
I wasn’t even a teenager yet when coach Herb Brooks led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to its shocking victory over the undefeatable Russian squad, but I remember it vividly. Of course, just having watching a beautiful, by-the-number re-creation of the events leading up to that historic day in American history make it a lot easier to recall how excited everyone was at the time. I was too young to care about or remember what the world was like leading up to that day in January. The Vietnam War was still fresh and stinking in everyone’s mind, Watergate, gas shortages, President Jimmy Carter’s famous speech about American malaise. American morale was sinking fast. What better place to look for escape and inspiration than sports?
On the other end of the true-sports-story spectrum today, I present you with the long-delayed Meg Ryan vehicle AGAINST THE ROPES, also slated to open on February 6. Based on the real life of groundbreaking female boxing promoter Jackie Kallen, this film feels about a bogus as a three-dollar bill, which is surprising because Kallen was at my screening in the flesh peddling this movie hard. I’ll grant you that a movie based on real stories doesn’t have to be accurate to be interesting, but in this case, every plot twist feels manufactured and apparently they all were. For example, when the events of this film happened in reality, Kallen was married and had two kids. The woman that Ryan plays is single with no kids. There’s even a conversation between her and her only boxing client, Luther Shaw (the bored-looking Omar Epps), about why she doesn’t have kids. It’s almost like taking a highlighter to the lies.
Once in a very rare while you watch an actor’s performance and you consciously are aware that you are seeing something that will forever change your perception of not only that actor but of how deeply certain performances can stir your very soul. The first time I remember going through that experience was my first time see Robert De Niro in RAGING BULL, especially in the scenes where he and his wife are fighting. You feel like a third person in the room who is seeing something you shouldn’t be. You’re almost tempted to avert your eyes. Al Pacino in PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK or DOG DAY AFTERNOON are other good examples. For slightly older folks than me, Marlon Brando in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was said to change the thinking about acting styles in the eyes of many. For female actors, I recall Meryl Streep in SOPHIE’S CHOICE, Liv Ullman in SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, and Gena Rowlands in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE. But in recent memory, no one comes close to what Charlize Theron pulls off in MONSTER. They shouldn’t even bother nominating her for an Oscar; they should just hand it to her now.
Life is hard being the hot, 18-year-old daughter of the President of the United States. Always being followed around by Secret Service agents, being recognized everywhere you go, travelling all over the world for free, never having to worry about money, having access to the best of everything, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to lose that pesky virginity that you’ve been just itching to get rid of. I feel about as sorry for her as I do Paris Hilton. This is the premise we’re asked to buy into in the new Mandy Moore film directed by sitcom super-director Andy Cadiff, whose only other feature work was the LEAVE IT TO BEAVER movie. I wish I’d known that going into the ROMAN HOLIDAY rip off known as CHASING LIBERTY.
The less you actually think about director John Woo’s PAYCHECK, the more you’ll like it. Only upon a logical dissection of this film loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (whose works have been turned into BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, and MINORITY REPORT) do you start to get frustrated with the plot’s gaping holes and utter lack of sense. If you simply choose to watch the movie and eat popcorn, you’ll probably have a blast. Woo delivers what he tends to deliver on every film: top notch action. There’s a motorcycle chase here that I thought was better than the one in THE MATRIX RELOADED only because it wasn’t done using special effects (as far as I could tell). What is missing from PAYCHECK that I tend to like in other Woo films is the psychological depth that he often breathes into his leads. There is next to nothing here that resembles character development because that would get in the way of the impressive explosions. I can live with that.
Director Robert Altman never ceases to amaze me. His films aren’t always great, but you can’t help but watch them intently before you come to that conclusion. His latest film, THE COMPANY, is perplexing for a couple reasons. Giving a slice of life look at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet Company, the film is not exactly a documentary because there are actors playing characters among real members of the company. Chief among them is Malcolm McDowell as the exaggerated Alberto Antonelli, the head of the top-notch company. He’s never seen without a white scarf around his neck, and he can’t leave a room with throwing its occupants into total chaos. Among his legions of incredible dancers is Ry, played by Neve Campbell, whom I have a newfound respect for as an actress and especially as a trained dancer after seeing this film. There is absolutely no difference between Campbell’s dancing and the performances of the rest of the troop. She fits right in.
There are certainly worse things in the world than this movie. And the good news about MY BABY’S DADDY is that you’ll probably laugh a handful of times while watching it. If anything, this PG-13-rated urbanized variation on THREE MEN AND A BABY suffers greatest from that feeling of holding back (an R-rated version of this movie would have been a lot better). But as it stands, DADDY is a no-brainer work punctuated by a handful genuine laughs. Three guys who have grown up together (Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson, and “The Sopranos” Michael Imperioli) and live together each get their respectively girlfriends pregnant on the same day. Naturally, the three women each give birth on the same day too, and none of the men are prepared to have their “playerhood” taken away so abruptly. The truth is the three are certified losers holding on to childhood dreams of becoming a boxer (Anderson), a record producer (Imperioli), and an inventor (Griffin). Over the course of the film, they learn the responsibility and value of fatherhood and pursue careers more appropriate to their strengths. Along the way, we get a bevy of dirty diaper jokes, ethnic humor, and ham acting; some of this is funny, much is not. In the final third of the story, we’re also introduced to Anderson’s in-and-out-of-jail cousin played by rapper Method Man, who introduces some much-needed energy into the proceedings, but by then it’s too late. MY BABY’S DADDY suffers most from half-hearted film making. I never got the sense that any of the actors really believed what they were saying, and none of the male leads every looked comfortable holding their babies. What’s almost more disappointing is the above-average cast of supporting players and cameos from the likes of Tiny Lister, John Amos, Bai Ling, Amy Sedaris, and Scott Thompson; but none of them are given anything funny or interesting to do. But I did laugh. I have a soft spot for Griffin’s humor, but not usually in tame vehicles like this (his concert film from last year was a riot). Still, some of Griffin’s gritty appeal comes through and those are the times I laughed the most. Overall however, MY BABY’S DADDY—like the many loaded diapers featured throughout—is a stinker.
Almost half of those who guessed in this year’s “Guess How Many Films Steve@theMovies Saw in Theatres in 2003” Contest, picked a number in the 380s. I have no idea why that range was so popular or why the most popular range was so far below my 2002 total of 405, but all of you who guessed in the 380s were way the hell off. In fact, those of you that guessed in the 390s were way off too. This year, we not only have a clear winner, but this person hit the number right on the head. (I should add here that my wife also picked the number exactly right, and although I’m sure I didn’t tell her the final number, I’m fairly certain I gave her updates over the months as to my progress.)
Anyway, the exact number was the personal best of 430, and the winner is my Butt-Numb-a-Thon partner in crime Simeon Peebler. Since Simeon lives in Chicago, at some point I’ll drag him to a preview of his choice (I already have a few in mind). Congratulations Simeon!
Alrighty then. It’s time to start counting, folks. It’s time for the 3rd annual “Guess How Many Film Steve@theMovies Saw in Theatres in 2004” Contest. Here are the tallies for the last few years: 1998—375; 1999—369; 2000—390 films; 2001—375; 2002—405. As you can see, the number jump all over the place. Only one clue: although I didn’t get married or go on a honeymoon in 2003 (like in 2002), I did spend a fairly sizeable portion of many weekend in the second half of 2003 looking at homes to purchase. This factor absolutely kept me away from certain films I would have liked to have seen.
Start sending your guesses in and I’ll announce the winner in about two weeks. If the winner lives in Chicago, I’ll give you a free movie pass to some upcoming film. If you live elsewhere, tough cookies. You get squat on a cracker and the knowledge that you guessed the right number. Yay for you. On to the reviews…