Inventing the Abbotts

September 30th, 2005

Inventing the AbbottsFeaturing Liv Tyler, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Baker. Directed by Pat O'Connor. In a small Illinois town in 1957, the Abbott daughters are attracted to the widowed school teacher's sons, but can't break away from their father and his money. The sons have their own reasons for wanting to bring the father down.

Billy Crudup plays Joaquin Phoenix's big brother as they grow up down the street from the Abbotts, a family that is the talk of the town. The Abbott family name has more social equity than either of the two boys can fathom, yet it fascinates them.

Everyone in town has stories of how and why the boys' father died so many years ago and why their mother has no friends. The boys themselves also have differing opinions on each subject and they lead to different opinions of the Abbotts in turn.

Can these two boys ever make anything of themselves? Can they elevate themselves to the status of the Abbotts?

Seeing this cast, put together back in 1997 (when Liv Tyler was the biggest name among them), work together was neat. I really like Billy Crudup, since I thought he did an AMAZING job in Jesus' Son, but was surprised by this movie. He was still good, I am just used to rooting for him...and against Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator), but it was the opposite to some extent in Inventing the Abbotts.

I also have a slightly difficult time watching any movie with Liv Tyler in it. Really the only movies I have liked that she's been in are Jersey Girl and Plunkett & Macleane (and she had a pretty small role in the latter). The beautiful Jennifer Connelly played a character more in line with the end of Requiem for a Dream, and the polar opposite of Labyrinth, which stands as my favorite of her work. The girls play two of the Abbott daughters, talk of the town and object of each boy's desire.

There is one person in particular who I am sure had an "it's about time" look on her face when I admitted to finally having see Inventing the Abbotts. I thought it was good. The plot is much deeper than they let on in the synopsis, and I tried not to go into too much more detail as it is really a story you should see unfold for yourself. Did you catch that? Or should I repeat that you should see this one?

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Movie of the Month - October, 2005

September 20th, 2005

Mel Brooks Appreciation Month!

Blazing Saddles | Buy it from Amazon |

Blazing SaddlesMEL BROOKS' COMIC SAGA OF COWBOYS AND IMBECILES.

The railroad's bound to run right through the sleep town of Rock Ridge. Land there will be worth a fortune - but the townfolk already own their land. How do you drive them out? Send in the roughest, toughest, meanest, leanest gang you've got...and appoint a new sheriff you figure will last about 24 hours.

But that's not really the plot of Blazing Saddles, just the pretext. Once Mel Brooks' lunatic film - many call it his best - gets under way, logic is lost in a blizzard of gags, jokes, quips, puns, howlers, growlers, and outrageous assaults upon good taste - or any taste at all.

Cleavon Little as the new lawman, Gene Wilder as the wacko Waco Kid, Brooks himself as dimwitted politico and Madeline Kahn in her Marlene Dietrich sendup that earned an Academy Award nomination all give this sagebrush saga their lunatic best. And when Blazing Saddles can't contain itself at the finale, it just proves the Old West will never be the same!

Young Frankenstein | Buy it from Amazon |

Young FrankensteinMel Brooks' monstrously crazy tribute to Mary Shelley's classic pokes hilarious fun at just about every Frankenstein movie ever made. Summoned by a will to his late grandfather's castle in Transylvania, young Dr. Frankenstein (GENE WILDER) soon discovers the scientist's step-by-step manual explaining how to bring a corpse to life. Assisted by the hunchbacked Igor (MARTY FELDMAN) and the curvaceous Inga (TERI GARR), he creates a monster (PETER BOYLE) who only wants to be loved. CLORIS LEACHMAN, MADELINE KAHN, KENNETH MARS, and GENE HACKMAN co-star in this inspired vision of lunacy.

Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I | Buy it from Amazon |

Mel Brooks' History of the World Part IMel Brooks' uproarious version of history proves nothing is sacred as he takes us on a laugh-filled look at what really happened throughout time. His delirious romp features everything from a wild send-up of "2001" to the real stories behind the Roman Empire (Brooks portrays a stand-up philosopher at Caesar's Palace), the French Revolution (Brooks reigns as King Louis XVI) and the Spanish Inquisition (a splashy song-and-dance number with monks and swimming nuns.) It's Mel and company at their hilarious best.

Spaceballs | Buy it from Amazon |

SpaceballsMay the farce be with you in this hysterically funny space oddity, created by comic genius Mel Brooks, that will send you into hyperspace with fits of laughter! Lampooning everything from Star Wars to Star Trek, this outrageous send-up of epic sci-fi movies is full of cosmic crazies who score "eight trillion on the laugh meter" (Gene Shallit, NBC-TV)!

Fearless - and clueless - space heroes Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half man/half dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) wage interstellar warfare to free Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from the evil clutches of Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). On the way to the rescue - in their Winnebago - they confront the huge, gooey Pizza The Hutt (voice of Dom De Luise), sassy robot Dot Matrix (voice of Joan Rivers) and a wise little creature named Yogurt (Brooks), who teaches them the mystical power of "The Schwartz" in order to bring peace - and merchandising rights - to the entire galaxy!

Hitch

September 19th, 2005

HitchA man who teaches dateless wonders how to become irresistible to women learns just how hard it can be to do it yourself in this romantic comedy. When a guy in New York City wants to make the right impression with a certain lady, Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Will Smith) is the man he calls. Hitch has made a career out of coordinating a man's first three dates so that they'll show him to his best advantage (for a price, of course), and more than a few have taken women to the altar they first started courting with Hitch's help. But Hitch discovers his own romantic limitations when he falls for Sara (Eva Mendes), a journalist who has her own ideas about romance, and might just expose Hitch's underground business to the world. In the midst of all this, Hitch has his hands full with Albert, a sweet but socially inept man who has enlisted Hitch's services.

Two funny men team up to bring you a funny movie. Kevin James enlists the help of Will Smith, the "Date Doctor", to impress the woman he desires. James is not the only man in New York who seeks out Hitch. He does not give all of the tools, just the tips necessary to get you through the first three dates, then you are on your own.

Will Smith throughout his career has played characters so smooth, so charming, that you cannot help but smile at some of the moves he makes. Where Hitch fell short for me was not doing enough of this. Only one scene has Smith at the bar, with Michael Rappaport of all people, where he approaches a beautiful woman. What I wanted was Hitch, a romantic comedy, to focus more on the comedy and less on the romantic.

Kevin James, a hilarious stand-up comedian and star of TV's King of Queens, was more awkward than funny. They could have cast someone far less talented in his role and done just as well. He was overqualified.

Quick spoiler, so close your eyes if you've not yet seen the movie. I was very disappointed that Kevin James actually got the girl he sought after. I thought the right move would be to show her as more than meets the eye, to the disappointment of James, then have him meet the unlikely love of his life in Casey, friend of Hitch's girl.

The movie started out very well, but then slowly tapered off. Was it good? Yes. Could they have simply done more with it? Absolutely.

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September 18th, 2005
Empire RecordsWarren: Who glued these quarters down?
A.J.: I did.
Warren: What the hell for, man?
A.J.: I don't feel that I need to explain my art to you, Warren.

The Life of David Gale

September 8th, 2005

The Life of David GaleAcademy Award winner Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) stars with Oscar nominee Kate Winslet (Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in a powerfully gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller hailed as "provocative!" (ABC-TV) An electrifying, suspenseful journey into deadly conspiracy and murderous deception begins when a respected professor who may - or may not - be guilty is charged with a brutal crime. The Life of David Gale is a brilliantly unpredictable thriller, which builds relentlessly to a shocking final twist guaranteed to blow you away!

For two years I have had a coworker asking me on a semi-frequent basis, "Have you watched The Life of David Gale, yet?" I finally told her I have now seen it. I hope she is able to sleep better.

We have a man who has been a well known public figurehead (Spacey) in opposition of the death penalty (in Texas no less) sitting, rather ironically, on Death Row for murder. He has remained silent about his case, though now wants to talk. He offers exclusive rights for an interview to one publication and requests the journalist by name (Winslet).

She is given the opportunity to speak with him in a series of three two-hour blocks. One each day for the three days prior to his execution. What he tells her over the course of these talks is a story of his divorce, not having custody of his son, and his life as a professor of philosophy. When she walks in to meet with him the first time, she has a pre-determined opinion of him and his crime. Will that change as they talk?

Gale tells her that he wants her to find the truth, though she denies there is any more truth than what has been introduced at trial. Maybe he can make her believe otherwise.

The movie was ok; nothing to write home about. The acting was surprisingly poor. For two people who had received such impressive accolades, I would generally expect much more. Nothing seemed at all rehearsed. It was as if everyone was reading their lines for the first time. There was a lack of feeling in almost every word spoken. The saving grace was Laura Linney (<3). I thought she was good.

The story itself was entertaining enough, though a touch predictable. I am not one to sit and try to figure things out ahead of time. I do not want to ruin the story for myself, but this time I didn't have much choice. The pieces all practically fell right into place. I hate to say the quote in the synopsis touting the movie as "a brilliantly unpredictable thriller" is not entirely true...

I was entertained. I will not try and pretend I wasn't. I cannot deny the feeling I had when the movie was over that they could have done a lot more with it, however. I am not in a huge rush to see this one again, but I cannot think of any good reason(s) why most people wouldn't enjoy it.

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The Cat Returns

September 7th, 2005

The Cat ReturnsFrom the creators of the Academy Award winning Spirited Away comes the visually stunning The Cat Returns.

Haru, a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. The Cat King rewards her good deed with a flurry of presents, including a very shocking proposal of marriage to his son! Haru then embarks on an unexpected journey to the Kingdom of Cats, where her eyes are opened to a whole other world and her destiny is uncertain. To change her fate, she'll need to learn to believe in herself and, in the process, she will learn to appreciate her everyday life.

Featuring the sensational voice talents of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle and Elliott Gould, The Cat Returns is a magical animated adventure that will delight and inspire everyone.

Another film from Studio Ghibli, The Cat Returns is a fun little film about believing in yourself. With that as the theme, the movie spent surprisingly little time portraying this lesson and focused more on the rest of this far-fetched, if not enjoyable, story.

A young girl saves a cat from being run over by a truck. This unusual cat turns out to be son of the Cat King. One of the many generous gifts she receives from the king is the offer of his son's hand in marriage.

Before she knows it, she finds herself enlisting the aid of another unusual cat, known as Baron. Baron, with the voice of Cary Elwes, is a very distinguished and daring gentleman (gentlecat?) who goes the extra mile to save young Haru.

Bored by her "normal" day to day life, Haru struggles to believe in herself. It is this change within herself, coupled with the help of the Baron, which saves her from the Cat Kingdom.

Like Kiki's Delivery Service and others, The Cat Returns has a low rating (G, PG). I will not necessarily go so far as to say they are children's movies, though they are geared more towards children. They are fun to watch and are cute stories. There is not much more than that to take away, even though as with everything Studio Ghibli has given us, The Cat Returns was very visually pleasing. The animation was beautiful.

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The Big Empty

September 4th, 2005

The Big EmptyAcclaimed writer/director Jon Favreau stars as a struggling actor about to enter a weirdly comic twilight zone. After agreeing to deliver a mysterious suitcase to a remote desert truck stop in exchange for $25K, John Person (Favreau) finds himself trapped in a bizarre world of unusual characters. Is the whole town mad, or are the loony locals the only sane things about this strange parallel universe called The Big Empty?

Jon Favreau, ironically or not, plays an actor who has not found work in awhile. Between casting auditions, he scrapes by as a courier. As he was just sitting down to calculate just how many thousands of dollars he is currently in debt, a knock comes at his door. The "crazy" neighbor from down the hall comes to Favreau with the proposition of a financial clean slate. If he will deliver a package to Baker, California, he will be given the money to pay off his credit cards.

Accepting the job, the story is about the people that he meets while waiting to make his "drop" to a mysterious man known only as Cowboy. The small desert community is full of crazy people who speak frequently about alien abductions. Are they crazy, though? Or are they the only ones that know the truth?

Ok. I know the plot does not sound like a movie that is terribly exciting, but at least it was really really bad. It is not a long list, nor is it a distinguished one, but The Big Empty has made my list of Worst Movies.

I decided to watch The Big Empty based solely on cast. Jon Favreau, in this man's opinion has done good things (Swingers, Made, PCU). And...I may or may not have somewhat of a schoolboy crush on Rachael Leigh Cook. Is that such a crime?

So my desire to dunk Rachael Leigh Cook's pigtails in my inkwell is not a crime, but making this movie should have been. I know I am being harsh, but I can see no reason why either Jon Favreau or Joey Lauren Adams would agree to be a part of such a film. The way I have it figured out is that Favreau owed the Director a favor. Sort of a "get me a date with your sister...and fine, I'll be in your stupid movie" type of favor. Ms. Adams has bills to pay like the rest of us. She just needed a little something to tide her over until the next Kevin Smith picture. And yes, I will admit it, Rachael does not really have a strong track record with making good movies. It makes sense to me that she was in this one. There is no mystery there.

If I can keep just one other person from making the mistake I did in seeing The Big Empty, then I have succeeded as a person. The hours spent watching movies and toiling over my reviews will at that point all be worth it. On the contrary, if I cannot deter you from seeing this movie then I apologize in advance for failing you. But it is not my apology that you should seek, it is that of EVERYONE who played part in making this movie.

And now let us never speak of this one again...

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The Movie Theater Ovation.

August 30th, 2005

Why?

Clapping in the theater at the end of a good movie is as effective as yelling at your television as you watch your team play poorly, yet if I had to pick one of the two that bothered me, it is the applause.

It does not happen frequently; at least not in my experience (and I attend my fair share of movies). But when it does, boy does it get under my skin. The last time it happened was when I saw The Aristocrats! and before then was The Polar Express.

Do people expect the director and/or lead to come out from behind a curtain for a bow? Is there a subculture of theater clappers? Is this something learned from parents? How does one develop into a theater clapper? Is there an elaborate recruitment process by which new generations of theater clappers are selected? I think answers to some of these questions might lead to a seedy underbelly of cinema. Maybe the path to the theater clapper elite would reveal organized crime and corruption that goes all the way to the top! Imagine the possibilities...

Leave well enough alone, you say? Not me.

Oh how I would love to pick the brain of one of them. Do you think it would be frowned upon if I began to go to the movies with a harpoon in hopes of capturing one? Imagine the studies that could be conducted. All in the name of science! I wonder if my prisoner would then be able to be reconditioned. Could we train them to NOT clap after movies? That certainly would be ideal.

Maybe it is not even for the movie itself, but rather the projector operator. This I can get on board with, I guess next time I will applaud you, too. You sure switch the reels well.

Did I really lay out parallels between clapping at the end of a good movie and La CosaNostra? Ok, maybe I am a little too hung up on this.

Movie of the Month - September, 2005

August 20th, 2005

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen  Director Terry Gilliam ("Brazil") and an all-star cast, including John Neville, Eric Idle, Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman, deliver this tale of the enchanting adventures of Baron von Munchausen on his journey in a hot air balloon to search for his old comrades-at-arms.

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The Aristocrats

August 19th, 2005

A man walks into a talent agent's office to promote his family act. He describes for the agent what the act consists of and when asked what they call their act, the man says, "The Aristocrats!"

I know it doesn't look funny. It also has one of the weakest punch lines since the creation of humor, but that is not the point. The point is that for a story that lasts anywhere between 30 seconds and upwards of 15-20 minutes, it is not about the punch line.

That is a joke that has been passed through the close circles of stand up comedy for generations. Comedians tell this joke when they get together with other comedians. Every veteran comedian not only has heard it at some point in their career, but now even has their own adaptation which they tell frequently, though never on stage. They go on to say that stand up comedy is not about jokes, it is about telling funny occurrences. Jokes are for hack comedians. Few exceptions have been made, one of which was Gilbert Gottfried at the Hugh Hefner Roast.

Comedians Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette decided to make a documentary involving 100 of their friends; the biggest names in comedy. The idea was to have everyone talk about the aura surrounding this joke. Everyone knows it. Everyone has an opinion on it. Everyone has their own version. Some tell their version, some tell stories about the first time they've heard it. A few even offer variations on it.

It doesn't matter who was talking (or in one case, miming) this movie was hysterical. Oh, one small disclaimer is that you may not like the movie if you are in any way offended by jokes about incest, familial abuse, urination, defecation, vomiting, bestiality...well the list goes on. It is these things that are used as components of the "family act" in the joke. Aside from that, there is nothing offensive in this movie...

More shock value than in the joke itself comes in the delivery. The movie says it is the "singing, not the song." As the comedians are interviewed, some explain that the beauty of The Aristocrats is that you have complete creative license as joke teller to try and induce as much shock value as you can. It also tells a lot about who tells the joke as to how dirty their mind is.

Take actors you have seen on television for years. Now place them in front of a handheld camcorder and ask them to tell you the dirtiest joke ever told. I know I didn't expect to hear some things from certain people. In some cases you associate the actor with the character they play(ed) on TV; a character that would not tell a joke that involves a stage act of freaky circus sex between a man and garden variety barnyard animals.

A few specific moments stood out from the rest. As hinted above, The Aristocrats was told by many, but also performed by a mime. He was on the street at the time, his "telling" was perfect and my only have been rivaled by the looks on the faces of passers-by. Kevin Pollock probably did a better job of sounding like Christopher Walken than Christopher Walken would have when telling a version of the joke. And who could forget Bob Saget? He starts off admitting that he has a reputation in the industry as being a dirty comic, which you do not expect to hear from Danny Tanner. I will leave it at that.

ALL of the biggest names were present in this documentary. Robin Williams, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Jeni, Richard Lewis, Gilbert Gottfried...well you get the idea. But if you are curious, the full cast listing is available here. I did think that there may be some hesitation on part of some of the comedians to participate in a publicizing of this unique staple to the laughter industry, but everyone seemed eager to participate. The Aristocrats brings people together. It was fascinating to see such big stars humbled by their own thoughts of something as simple as one joke. The sincerity with which they spoke about The Aristocrats was amazing.

For once I did not stick out nearly as much as usual in a theater for a funny movie. I have this bad habit of laughing out loud. Couple that with a decent set of lungs, I can get pretty obnoxious. I apologize to everyone who has ever been there for it and all of you whose experience(s) lie ahead. Last night was not so awkward, though. Everyone was laughing out loud. All inhibitions about being loud were left at the door. You could not help but belt out with laughter at this movie.

To somewhat of a surprise, no one (that I noticed) got up and left the theater. I am glad that no one was so deeply offended by the content that they had to leave, even though there is something to be said for a movie that can be so funny and so offensive at the same time that maybe at least one husband and wife complete with teenage daughter walk out (Team America - World Police). The theater in which I saw the movie was mostly filled with older viewers though, there were no children. And yes, The Aristocrats is more offensive than Team America. Much more.

I already have plans to see it in the theater a second time.

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