REVIEW: "Beauty Shop"

DISCLAIMER: I was in a really, really lousy mood today when I saw this. I’d had a terrible day, and assumed that going to see what many had assured me was a terrible movie was the appropriately masochistic thing to do. Thusly, my opinion of the film may have been affected by my less-than-happy mindset, which might mean that “Beauty Shop” is either a bit better or a bit worse than I am about to report.

Okay, so this pretty damn pointless.

“Beauty Shop” is presented here as a “female” offshoot from “Barbershop,” a sitcom-pilot-as-movie comedy from two years back who’s well had already run noticeably dry in it’s own “official” sequel. The sole connections that hold this film to it’s predecessors is that Queen Latifah’s character of “Gina” was introduced in “Barbershop 2,” and that she keeps a briefly-glimpsed photo of her Barbershop crew pals taped to her mirror while on the job as a top stylist in a trendy Atlanta hair salon (we’re told she relocated here following her daughter’s acceptance to an exclusive music school.)

The Salon is owned by Jorge, an impossibly-evil jerk of a boss whom the film asks us to despise on the merits that he is (possibly) gay and speaks with a European accent. Jorge is played by Kevin Bacon, an actor too good for this movie doing work on very much the same lines. The male villians are usually the “best” characters in bad female-empowerment comedies, because unlike the heroic female leads the actor playing them is freed from the constraints of having to constantly embody a righteous avatar of feminism and social-justice. In any case, Jorge sets the plot in motion by finally “crossing the line” in his verbal abuse of Gina that motivates her to quit and strike out on her own.

Adhering stridently to the “every-other-movie-like-this” handbook, Gina buys a run-down beauty salon in the middle of Tha’ Hood, tries to turn it into a high-class joint, meets it’s staff of self-conciously colorful stylists and hires two comedy-caricatures of her own: A handsome street-tough ex-con with a gift for braids and a white country-gal (Alicia Silverstone, so THAT’S where she’s been!) who provides both opportunity for the film to wallow in uncomfortable (and unfunny) racial humor and for the other stylists to learn a powerful lesson about tolerance of others… unless, of course, those “others” happen to be possibly-gay, since the film indulges openly and unashamedly in mocking both Jorge’s apparent drama-queeniness and also the dubious sexuality of the “metrosexual” ex-con braiding expert.

Djimon Honsou is also on hand, playing an electrician who lives above the shop and turns out to be not only an eager love-interest for Gina but also a master pianist, thinker of deep-thoughts, good with kids, a great dancer and a Cyrano-level expert at old-school wooing. Eventually, someone will cast Honsou as something other than “Impossibly Perfect And Noble Man,” but until then let it still be held that he can play these parts better than almost anyone.

Not much really goes on in this film. People hang out in the beauty shop, talk, tell jokes, etc. There’s some business about a curiously overbearing City Inspector giving Gina’s shop too many fines (and GUESS who’s behind THAT), but primarily the film is concerned with coaxing laughs not so much by being witty, insightful or clever (because it’s not) but instead through an endless parade of cartoonish caricatures who’s “humor” seems based not on being funny but by being familiar in an “I know someone JUST LIKE THAT!!!” way to what “Beauty Shop’s” producers assume is their primary audience.

There’s really not much more to say about this. It’s just not good, plain and simple. I can offer that, while I was no great lover of “Barbershop,” the film could at least be admired for it’s lack of political correctness and it’s zeal for attacking (or, rather giving voice to characters who were attacking) the kind of sacrosanct PCism of popular culture that “Beauty Shop” holds up as a kind of ideal. Cedric the Entertainer’s angry loudmouth from the original film would likely be driven to rail for hours against the mindlessness of a film like this, and those hours would be much more interesting to watch than “Beauty Shop.”

FINAL RATING: 2/10

Update: Spider-Man 3 Villian COULD be…

According to AICN and a growing amount of “chatter” on the web, Thomas Hayden Church’s bad-guy role in “Spider-Man 3” may indeed be… The Sandman.

There’s a pretty decent writeup of his history (and some good Official Handbook-style character images) to be found HERE…
http://www.alaph.com/spiderman/enemies/sandman.html
…but as you might guess, the basic idea is that the guy is made of sand.

First reaction: I’m still just glad it’s NOT Carnage.

Second reaction: This is actually an interesting choice. Sandman (aka Flint Marko, aka William Baker) is one of those fun sort of “second-tier” comic baddies who’s called a Spidey villian because thats where he originated but has come to be more of a perennial Marvel Universe “jobber” who wound up in scuffles with almost every costumed hero at one time or another, mostly because (as already stated) he’s made of sand, which is kind of automatically cool and must be a lot of fun to write and draw.

Thus, what we (apparently, since no one from Sony or Marvel can confirm this) might have here is a main baddie who’s essentially always been a “hired thug” character, (though last I checked he’d reformed and become a good guy,) short on pyschology or complexity. So, then, what’s his function in the film? Retooled into a more potent threat? A hired-thug used by Harry Osborne? It’d certainly make sense if he was only ONE of two or more bad guys, being more of a “grunt” than the big-picture-oriented Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus, which would lend tantalizing credence to all those rumors about Chloe Sevigny and The Black Cat awhile back…

I live for this stuff.

The "Fantastic Four" ShoWest trailer

The “Fantastic Four” movie site now has the link up to the “ShoWest” trailer (aka “the one that doesn’t suck, we promise this time”) as a sort of funky hidden easter-egg. Don’t want to jump through Fox’s hoops to see it? Here’s a quick shortcut link:
http://www.fantasticfourmovie.com/us/flash/vondoom/archives/video.html

We’ve been waiting on this for awhile folks, the first “big wide-open look” at the film; representing both fans’ first opportunity to try and get a handle on the real overall tone and feel of the film and the latest in the producers’ dwindling number of opportunities to reverse the almost universally negative buzz the film has had since, well… pretty much since they started signing the talent, really. Make no mistake, this thing is right now on the web for the sole and sufficient purpose of getting internet film-fanatics and web-centric Geekdom in general thinking (and posting) the happy thoughts that Marvel and Fox know will form the pre-blitz grassroots marketing that can mean the difference between “Daredevil” and “Spider-Man” in terms of boxoffice and franchise potential.

So how’d they do, in the opinion of this particular exemplar of web-centric Geekdom?

Well…

Dammit.

Seriously, I mean. Dammit. I’d almost have prefered something that made it look “bad,” as opposed to this which, while all very impressive and shiny-looking is none the less imbueded with the feeling of “dissapointing,” that more queasy of unpleasant reactions incurred when a lackluster film’s landscape is dotted with moments of brilliance or signs of unrealized potential for greatness. If this trailer is an accurate reflection of the film, then that seems to be exactly what we could be in for…

It’s definately better than last time, sure… but “better enough” to change the pre-existing bad buzz? Sadly, no.

There’s stuff in here that works: The Human Torch looks great (fire FX are hard!) The Thing looks great, and Chilkis is really conveying the appropriate sadness and self-pity through all that makeup. What little we’re being allowed to see of Mr. Fantastic looks impressively realized. It’s nice to see what appears to be Dr. Doom’s mask (instead of the metalized-look being his “face” as previously reported.) It looks injected with a certain degree of “fan bait” lines and images; and boy, it looks like Fox’s budget department was willing to spring for a lot of trucks, cars and pyro.

But there’s also too much that just looks “iffy… and more disturbingly it’s a lot of the same stuff that’s looked “iffy” all along: Jessica Alba is still reading loud and clear as a major casting mistake. Iaon Gruffud is still looking too far on the young side for Reed Richards (and the gray temples look sort of silly on him, bad sign.) The dialogue coming out of Johnny Storm is still sounding really annoying (memo to writers: Dialogue that sounds too obnoxious coming from The Human Torch is pretty damn obnoxious, indeed.) Dr. Doom retooled into yet another eeeeeeeeevil corporate creep is still looking like nothing but a bad idea done badly.

In more general terms, the whole thing is just looking so… typical. All this big, noisy, spectacular stuff is going on and it all just looks like so much been-there-done-that. The crashing-cars, big citywide explosions, bad guys tossing lightning all over the place, people falling out of skyscrapers… proficiently accomplished, sure, but not really looking all that different from the similar scenes in dozens of films-prior.

A few months back the big story was Fox being hugely worried about the film winding up looking too much like “The Incredibles.” Seeing more of the movie now, I’m given to wonder why they weren’t equally concerned about looking too much like “Armageddon.” Or “ID4.” Or “The Core.” “Supernova.” “Spider-Man.” “Blade 3.” “SWAT.” “Taxi.” Getting the idea?

The best thing in the new trailer is that great little shot near the end of (presumably) Human Torch “sky-writing” the F4 logo in the night sky over NYC. (Or maybe it’s the “calling the F4 for help” flare-gun that came back into use in the recent comic stories.) In either case, cool.

The worst thing in the new trailer is pretty much anything involving Dr. Doom. Sorry Fox, just not feeling it.

The likelihood that Marvel has a pretty big dissapointment soon to be on their hands remains… a lot higher, in my humble opinion, than the studio would like it to be at this point.

But the sky-logo is pretty cool.

REVIEW: Miss Congeniality 2

SPOILER WARNING is in effect, you have been warned.

The New Word of the day is: “McMovie.” Refering to a film that bares overwhelming similarity to a McDonalds menu item as opposed to any other sort of food, i.e. any film that plays exactly the way that it’s pitch, poster and title would indicate. Intentionally devoid of anything surprising, unexpected or “off” that might result in the audience getting a slightly different experience (good or bad) than they had anticipated upon seeing/hearing said pitch, poster and title.

Was anyone really so fond of “Miss Congeniality” that a sequel was really necessary? I don’t know, thats why I’m asking. Occasionally certain McMovies (of which the original “Miss” was a prime example) attain a kind of following, which is impossible to predict because it defies all logical sense: By design, McMovies are bereft of the depth or layering that is usually essential to the formation of a fan-base. But, then, since there are people who are “devoted” to the Big Mac, (delicious, yes. worthy of worship? no.), I suppose it’s possible that there is a grassroots groundswell of fans that were counting down the minutes till the next adventure of Gracie Hart. To such folks I can only say that A.) I mean no offense and, B.) you desperately need to see more movies.

Since I’m sure some of us have forgotten the premise (or, more luckily, the existance) of the original “Miss Congeniality,” to recap: Tough, tomboyish FBI agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) foiled a threat against the Miss USA pageant by going undercover as a contestant; an act which facilitated much alleged comedy and Hart’s discovery that ::gasp!:: it’s okay to be feminine, after all! As this unasked-for sequel opens, Hart’s elevation to nationally-known celebrity following the pageant case has made her too recognizable to continue working as an undercover agent. Afflicted with the same crippling Pavlovian fear of a desk job!!!! that troubles all law-enforcement personel in derivative action-comedies, Hart agrees to be reassigned as the FBI’s new top publicity-laison, where her fame will instead be an asset. First assignment: Las Vegas, where some thugs have abducted ::gasp!:: Gracie’s buddy the current Miss USA and the pageant host (William Shatner) for ransom!

Hm, y’know something? I’ve got a feeling plucky Gracie Hart won’t be content to just do her publicity job with her pals in trouble, no matter how much trouble it gets her in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she even conveniently stumbles onto a case-cracking clue that the non-publicity agents refuse to believe, forcing her to take matters into her own hands. Call it a hunch.

The sequel offers a pair of additions to the franchise, both of whom are mistakes in their own way. First is Diedrich Bader as Gracie’s clearly “Queer Eye”-inspired stylist. He replaces Michael Caine from the first film, and thus serves mainly as a broad unfunny joke trying to fill a hole left by the departure of the only modicum of class the original had. Really, folks, is the “effeminate gay stylist” bit actually still funny? Maybe, maybe not, but certainly Caine’s character was funnier because he wasn’t something totally worn out: The “stylist” character as an Obi-Wan style wise mentor was something (almost) sorta-new.

The second mistake is a new “foil” for Bullock, an even tougher, meaner and more tomboyish female agent with serious anger-management issues and an instant intense dislike for Gracie Hart which, by the logic of derivative action-comedies, makes her the obvious choice to be Hart’s bodygaurd. The character, played by Regina King, is named Sam Fuller; and I’m willing to bet that almost no one who’s willingly going to see this outside of critics and masochists knows why that’s sorta funny. I could be wrong though. Fuller is a mistake because she’s too shrill and hard to like for such a thinly-sketched character, and given too much screentime to boot.

It occurs to me that there was a way to make a much better movie out of Hart and Fuller’s chemistry (such as it is) that the film almost seems willing to go for but never quite makes it. Frequent readers to this blog and friends of mine will easily deduce my thoughts, and are already rolling their eyes, but this time I’m being serious. Really.

Here me out on this: The film presents us with two female characters, one decidedly more “womanish” but both focused consistently on proving their proficiency at violence and aggression. They dislike eachother, they fight, they come to blows but slowly a mutual respect grows from their back-and-forth attempts to physically dominate one another. Both are single, and none-too-thrilled at men in general, (Fuller: “Men, can’t live with `em… nope, thats all.”), and while there is an available male character hanging around extraneously his love-finding ending doesn’t occur with either of them. In fact, Fuller and Hart wind up with no one but eachother, exchanging post-victory action-heroine affections that no male action-duo would get away with straight-faced (if you’ll pardon the pun.) Getting the idea?

In whats meant to be the “big” character scene, the two lady agents bed down together on a hastily-assembled guest-bed couch, and in pre-slumber smalltalk they bare their souls in the traditional manner of action-comedy lawpersons, i.e. exchanging stories of youthful skin-hardening and beloved, long-lost parents. Understanding grows, sympathy is exchanged, the subject turns to their innability to hold stable relationships with men, and… They go to sleep.

Okay, now am I really the ONLY ONE who can easily imagine a much more interesting, surprising and flat-out better way for that scene (and, thusly, the rest of the story) to play out? Hm? Cause I don’t think I am…

But whatever, in the end thats just a little flight of fancy on my part. As it stands, the film goes exactly where it looks like it’s going, exactly what you think will happen happens, and nothing has really been lost or gained but time and one more stinker in Sandra Bullock’s column.

See something else.

FINAL RATING: 2/10

REVIEW: Guess Who

“Guess Who” presents us with a light family comedy that isn’t great mostly because it doesn’t make any effort to be so. On the one hand, that means that the film suffers from unrealized potential, but on the other hand it can’t precisely be said to “fail” as a movie either. Instead what we have is a film content to be “okay,” sporadically superior to (the impossible to avoid comparisons to) “Meet The Fockers” and certainly better than any film that began life as a remake of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” had any right being.

What it lacks is ambition, largely because what it has to begin with is a situation-comedy premise which, as goes the saying, “could write itself.” For those who’ve missed the trailers: Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher) is a hot young stockbroker involved in an interracial relationship with a photographer (Zoe Saldana.) The story follows the pair as they head for the home of her parents (Bernie Mac and Judith Scott) for Simon’s official introductions, with Simon feeling intensely on edge due to his in-laws to-be being as yet uninformed that their daughter is dating a white man. That both Kutcher and Mac are inhabiting characters identical to their usual “default” onscreen persona can tell you all you need to know about how the rest of this will play out.

It’s essential to getting “into” the film, I think, to understand that Mac’s character of Percy (played by Mac with precisely the swagger and hard-won self-confidence of a man who had to go through adolesence with the name “Percy,”) is not specifically a racist: He’s a feircely overprotective father who’s looking for any excuse to test the mettle of his daughter’s boyfriend, and Kutcher’s whiteness provides him with a constant wellspring of ways to do so. If the prospect of his daughter dating outside her race really bothers Percy on any kind of deeper level, it’s one that never comes to play in the film. At one point, after discovering that the hotel he’s being put up in as a “change of plans” had been booked weeks in advance, Simon asks: “You knew you were going to throw me out a week ago?” To which Percy matter-of-factly responds: “I knew I was gonna throw you out twenty-four years ago when the doctor told me it was a girl.”

The interesting surprise here is that, while the subject of race seems to always be on the minds of certain characters, the setup is engineered thusly that it seems seldom to occur to the film itself: Whereas the culture-clash of black and white America was the very forefront of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Guess Who” is insistent that the world of it’s predecessor is long gone. Were that as true as the film would like to believe, it would render a “races flipped” version entirely irrelevant (really, wouldn’t a “true” modernization of this premise involve the daughter bringing home another woman?) but nevermind that. The point is, the original film criticized the racial views of it’s characters, whereas this new incarnation criticizes it’s characters for having racial views.

Unless this is the first review you are reading, you’ve by now heard that the film’s funniest scene is the “family dinner” sequence. This is true, but what many are missing is that the reason the scene is the film’s funniest is because it’s also the film’s most honest. Percy, a master of subtle psychological bullying, goads Simon into telling some “black jokes” over dinner. Instantly, we all know how this is destined to go, don’t we? The first few jokes go over surprisingly well, until Simon inevitably gets a little too loose and tells one that offends everybody. That’s what happens, yes, but the devil is in the details: The film doesn’t just randomly assign a joke to be the one that goes to far, it’s chosen very carefully one that is markedly different from the others on a very specific current. In this case, it’s a fine but visible line between harmless and hurtful, and while Simon was certainly “led” into crossing it the point is he did cross it.

When “Guess Who” is running with this material, the awkward interplay between a man convinced that his girlfriend’s father is out to get him and a father only too happy to oblige him, it has a good thing going. Unfortunately, it ends up devoting too much time to less fully-formed subplots: Percy’s fascination with Nascar racing, preparations for an anniversary party, the genre-required “all the womenfolk get together and get hammered” scene, Percy’s contentious relationship with a “metrosexual” party-planner and Simon keeping some sort of secret about work from everyone (which eventually pays off very well but not well enough to excuse how dull the “mystery” was otherwise.) The film wisely relegates these lesser elements to third-act plot-complications, which gives the character-comedy middle-act plenty of helpful breathing room but results in a mis-paced and overloaded final twenty minutes.

With a little more care and attention to the basics of pace, storytelling and structure, the elements are all here to have made a great and lasting comedy. Instead, we’re left with a decent but unspectacular family film; better than it needs to be but far from achieving it’s true potential. At most it’s a noteworthy pre-Summer distraction, with several funny gags, a single inspired scene and a pair of accomplished lead performances. Mostly-reccomended.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

"Religious" Movieguide critic attacks Aint-It-Cool-News!

Frequent readers may or may not be familiar with Movieguide, the so-called “Christian” film review site from whence activist Dr. Ted Baehr issues his reviews/political pronouncements. If you’re unfamiliar, check out my previous expose on the organization and their misinformation-spreading during the Oscar season here:
http://moviebob.blogspot.com/2005/03/movieguide-misinforms-on-oscars.html

Well, Dr. Baehr is at it again in his review of the South Korean smash-hit “Oldboy.” Check it out:
http://www.movieguide.org/index.php?s=reviews&id=6831

Now, it would be wrong of me to proceed with this post without mentioning one of the elements of real praise I can offer to Movieguide. That is to say, while I’m largely opposed to almost everything they stand for and use their reviews to promote, credit must be given to Movieguide for frequently turning their attention to non-mainstream releases like this that most such sites otherwise ignore. Yes, I’m pretty much in disagreement with everything Movieguide has to say about the film, but it’s still worth noting that they are making the film known to an audience that probably wasn’t otherwise aware of it.

But then we come to a small… problem.

Right in the midst of calling the film “abhorrent,” Baehr takes a totally out-of-left-field shot at Aint-It-Cool-News web guru Harry Knowles. From Baehr’s review:

“No wonder so many secular, politically correct movie critics, like Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool, like this movie.”

Um… huh?

Okay, first, for those who don’t speak fluent Fundamentalist, “secular” means “anti-Christian” and “politically correct” means “liberal.” Their usual definitions, not mine πŸ™‚

What’s WRONG here is that Baehr and company are taking a cheap and unwarranted shot at Knowles, and for no better reason as far as I can see than to make Movieguide look more “hip” by referencing a more “sub-celebrity” critic than Roger Ebert etc.

What’s kinda FUNNY is, it’s obvious that they’re doing so without much research, or they’d find that Knowles’ criticism (whatever else it may be) is so easy to categorize. In fact, not only did Knowles and his site host what turned out to be the public debut screening of Movieguide’s beloved “The Passion of The Christ,” but the “secular” and “politically correct” Knowles gave the film a GUSHINGLY positive review! Don’t believe me?…
http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=17152

Ahem.

The lesson here is not to rush to judgement. If I wanted to be coy, I think there’s a couple of passages in a certain old, popular book that I think Movieguide’s staff is pretty familiar with that has some choice things to say about judgement I could quote…

If I wanted to be coy, that is πŸ™‚

REVIEW: The Upside of Anger

Here’s the new one from Mike Binder, an writer/director/actor who’s very existence places me in a fairly exclusive group of people; namely folks living outside of the film industry who had heard of him before about a year ago. If you followed the brief spate of early-1990s films with an eye on being “the next ‘Big Chill,” you might have seen a charming little film he wrote and directed called “Indian Summer,” (which was likely more widely-seen for the presence of Sam Raimi as an actor than anything else.)

My aquaintance with Binder’s work begins about three years back via a low-budget indie comedy he made called “Sex Monster,” starring Mariel Hemingway as a woman who becomes “addicted” to lesbian-sex after being talked into a threesome by her husband (Binder.) The “hook” to the film is that we see almost none of the sex scenes, instead concentrating on the allegedly-humorous reactions of Binder’s hard-luck hero. As you might expect, this movie plays like a Jet Li movie where they close the door on all the fight sequences.

I “got” what Binder was going for with “Sex Monster,” in trying to examine the “dynamic” of the situation devoid of the distractions that would come from visualizing the film’s more “exploitative” elements, (i.e. Mariel Hemingway executing a flawless faceplant into the lap of a dinner guest’s comely college-age daughter.) Trouble is, the film just wasn’t terribly interesting outside of it’s premise, playing too much like “Live Nude Girls,” “Just a Little Harmless Sex” and all the other little indie comedies operating under the mistaken impression that they have something new and profound to say about adult relationships. Following this, Binder had a brief HBO series, “Mind of the Married Man” which suffered from more of the same problem.

That being said, whatever may have been wrong with Binder’s work prior has evaporated from this film: “The Upside of Anger” is the best Romantic Comedy/Drama for grownups in a long, long time. The actors are terrific, Binder’s script is spot-on and it’s genuinely funny, moving and interesting. It’s a damn, damn good movie, and you owe it to yourself to go see it even if it looks about as far away from “your thing” as you can imagine.

The story, in truth, plays like a thoroughly-modern take on Douglas Sirk’s cycle of 1950s “women’s pictures” (as opposed to Todd Hayne’s retro-reworking of the same, “Far From Heaven,”) in which classy, socially well-off women struggled to maintain dignity and composure amidst foundation-shaking emotional crisis. Whether intentional or not, the film mirrors Sirk’s entries beyond just setup and theme; it shares with them the visual fondness for idyllic, pastoral upper-class suburban enclaves perpetually “glossed” by autmun foliage or fresh-fallen snow. What Binder brings to the material is subtle but important, a life-informed subtext that understands that these characters are not inhabiting a Norman Rockwell world but rather a “real” world which they themselves have attempted to sculpt-into a Rockwell reflection.

Joan Allen, that radiant actress able better than anyone to embody a beautiful older woman as opposed to a beautiful woman who happens to be older, stars as the above-described classy, socially well-off woman; here Terry Wolfmeyer, a mother of four daughters (three college-aged and a teenager) who’s husband has fled the country with his Swedish secretary, leaving no trace and seemingly no desire to be seen again. She slips in a perpetual (but always presentable) alcoholic-haze, which gradually alienates her daughters but more-quickly earns her a new best friend: Denny, (Kevin Costner,) a similarly-alcoholic neighbor who, through encounters that surely make perfect sense to those thusly innebriated, becomes first her drinking buddy, then regular dinner guest and eventually lover but never quite her “boyfriend,” as if some silent agreement has been struck between them that two people in what looks to be their 50s really oughtn’t bother with youthful dating-pleasantries.

It shows a certain maturity and unique understanding (read: he knows people just like this) on Binder’s part, I think, that Terry and Denny exist not as comical movie-drunks or self-destructive “Leaving Las Vegas” tragic-drunks but as the more rarely-seen breed of the Functional Alcoholic. This, of course, is just like a regular alcoholic save that they possess the financial comfortability and modicum of restraint to avoid serious trouble. Granted, Terry and Denny are hardly Nick and Nora Charles, but it reads clear that they’re much less harmed by their drinking than they are by avoiding the problems driving them to drink in the first place. In their more lucid moments between casual substance-abuse, they share casual walks and enjoy casual sex, and it’s easy to see that for all that it isn’t their relationship “works” in the casual way they both need it to…

…except that it can’t, because Terry’s girls with their whole lives ahead of them need a mother who can nuture them and a father figure to help, and while neither Terry or Denny is well-suited to either of these roles they gradually get their acts (mostly) together to help the girls through a difficult two (or more) year period which the film covers.

What’s best about the film’s branching storylines involving the Wolfmeyer daughters is that they are played smart and without need for unnecessary shouting and histrionics: In no particular order, Terry is asked to deal with one daughter’s sudden marriage, another’s dating a much older man and another’s development of an eating disorder. It’s obvious that these problems are all reactions to their father’s absence, but the film trusts you to get that and never really vocalizes the concept. What’s more, the film deftly avoids falling into a rythym by which all of the problems are an excuse for Terry to explode into comedic fury. Oh, she gets mad all right… but for the most part her reaction is entirely in-character and realistic: She usually just leaves the scene, immediately intuitive of situations where there’s simply nothing she can do. The three daughters with the biggest problems are all adults, after all, and if nothing else the film is ABOUT learning to live with life’s imperfections.

On that note, kudos to the film’s handling of the subplot of the youngest daughter experimenting with drugs, or rather that the film DOESN’T deal with it. The character is shown using a bong with a friend, and… that’s about it. The film has bigger fish to fry, and it wisely avoids the mistake of treating this indiscretion as anywhere near worth the “drama” of the near-fatal eating disorder, the hurried marriage or the exploitation of a younger girl by an older man. It’s a character detail, a small piece of a larger arc for the girl, and the film is smart enough to know that an extraneous scene of Costner or Allen crashing through her door, raising a righteous finger to heaven and mouthing D.A.R.E. slogans (not in the least because Terry and Denny are in NO position to lecture anyone else about substance abuse, after all.)

And hey, let’s here it for Kevin Costner, in what could end up being the career-reboot he needed. He hasn’t been this good in a movie for a good long time, so good for him!

This is just a fine film, even better than I hope I’ve made it sound (for reasons it would be wrong for me to tell you here.) There’s not a smarter movie about romance, relationships, family etc. playing in theaters right now. Highly reccomended.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

And the villian in "Spider-Man 3" is…

…still as of yet undetermined πŸ™‚

But we now know who the actor filling the costume (or latex makeup appliance, or whatever) will be: Thomas Hayden Church, who if he knows whats good for him is right building a golden idol in graditude to his “Sideways” director Alexander Payne.

This comes pretty-much out of left field, as the only prior rumblings to be heard on the subject was a widely-reported story last week that Chloe Sevigny was (supposedly) aching to play a “sexy blonde villianess” that (supposedly) is scheduled for the next film. This pointed hard in the direction of a heroine/villianess character called The Black Cat, whom spider-fans have been aching to see in the live-action films for awhile now. Here’s why:
http://www.hillcity-comics.com/poster_misc/black_cat.jpg

‘Nuff said.

Sony etc. are keeping it still very close to their vest as to exactly whom Church would be playing, but since they now have an actor we should know fairly soon. Naming Church before releasing his role is a good strategy on Sony’s part, I’d imagine, as it allows fans to digest the notion of him as an actor without having the added variant of how “right” he is for the role. But until then, let the speculation begin!

So far, only one potential baddie (not counting the previously-dispatched Doctor Octopus and Green Golbin) would seem likely to be off the table, and that’s The Lizard. Rationale: Lizard’s alter-ego, Dr. Curt Connors, already popped up played by Dylan Baker in the second film, even sporting the missing arm that ties into Lizard’s origin-story. Of course, they could have recast, but if they had one would think we’d have heard something.

The name you’ll hear bandied about quite a bit is Venom, as thats the name that’s always bandied about when they announce a new Spider-Man foe. Me, I’ve never been at that nuts about Venom (a “monster” version of Spider-Man) outside of his origin story. But that’s just me. When it came to “evil versions of the hero” in Spider-Man lore, I was always much more fond of Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion, or even The Tarantula.

Venom: http://www.keystar-r-s.com/reviews/pics/comics/marvel/Venom.jpg

Scorpion: http://www.virtualtoychest.com/spiderman/spidscorpion.jpg

Tarantula: http://www.allsf.net/Images/SFbd/US1/Spiderman%20147.jpg

But that’s just me.

Now, as far as Church goes, Hm…. damn good actor, great to see him in a role like this, but hm… who do I think he’s going to be? Well, dunno. Honestly, he’d make an interesting Venom (my opinion of Venom as a character aside) but for some reason he strikes me as more immediately reminiscient of Max Dillon, better known as Electro. Guess what he does. Go on, guess.

Electro: http://www.alaph.com/spiderman/pictures/enemies/electro/electro02.jpg

There’s also perenial fan-favorite Mysterio (a washed-out movie special-FX guy who commits crimes using Hollywood-style illusions), who would be spectacularly cool on film but who’s lack of a visible face makes it hard to “dream cast” for:

Mysterio: http://www.geocities.com/bulmasan/mysterio/mysterio.jpg

Anyway, thats the news.

Oh, and Sony… if it is Electro… please keep the big star-shaped mask. The big star-shaped mask is awesome πŸ™‚

What I have to say about Terri

At this point, I am feeling like the only (even-semi)-political blogger who has had nothing so far to say about Terri Schiavo. My reasons for this are simple: It had NOTHING to do with the overall thematics of my blog, and I didn’t want to go off on a tear about something that, honestly, I do not know all of the facts about. This is none of my business. Unless you are related to someone in this situation in Florida, it’s none of your business either. So I had nothing to say.

That has changed. Yesterday evening, Congress, acting largely under the impetus of the Bush White House, convened an “emergency” session and RAMMED THROUGH legislation to create a special one-time brand-new law that would allow them to intervene in the case. I now have something to say:

What I have to say here is my opinion and my opinion only. Flame away if you like.

What Congress and the President did is wrong. They have overstepped their jurisdiction, and have made a mockery of the Constitution of the United States in doing so. They have injected themselves into a private family dispute that has been settled according to the laws of the State of Florida. Twenty Florida State Judges, in twenty-three court cases on the matter over a period of fifteen years have all found, according to the laws passed by the duly-elected members of the State Legistlature, in favor of Michael Schiavo’s claim. You may disagree with the laws. You may believe that Mr. Schiavo has sinister motives. You may believe anything you wish to. But the law has been followed, due process has been served, and no violation of the constitution or overall federal law (which would allow for “emergency” actions) has been found (and, again, the opposing side has been trying to find such for FIFTEEN YEARS.)

But now, because they “believe” that it is the “right” thing to do, the Congress and President of the United States have decided it proper that they leap right over the checks-and-balances and waaaaayyyyy over what is supposed to be the Republican Party’s ideological commitment to state’s rights. Whether or not you agree with the intentions behind it, this “emergency action” is a slap in the face to the State Legislators who passed the laws and American Citizens who voted for those Legislators.

Let’s be very clear here: I am not advocating in favor of one side or the other in the actual Schiavo matter. That case is complex, personal, family-based and ideologically wrenching no matter which side you are on. It’s one of the most complicated and nuanced family-law disputes in many a moon, really. For the record: I am a supporter of the right-to-die, however the various uncertanties in this case do not lend themselves to any easy yes or no answer. The situation of that case, especially from the legal standpoint, is PROFOUNDLY intricate…

…but the situation of the Congressional and Presidential involvement in this case is NOT complex. It’s mind-bogglingly simple: They have no right to be involved. This is STATE matter in the hands of the Florida STATE judiciary. Until said judiciary violates the laws of the state or of the country, the Federal government has no right to get involved. Now, you may believe that a moral law is being violated here. Fine, you are allowed to believe that. But our laws are not determined by morality, they are determined by The Constitution of The United States. It does not matter how “righteous” you think your cause to be, no politician, President or otherwise, has the right to violate our Founding Document in order to get their way.

Some, I know, who felt passionately (and more power to them, seriously) that Terri had to be “saved” are no doubt thrilled about this, the notion of the Great And Powerful Government riding to her rescue like a Soldier of God on a charging white steed. But ask yourself this: Would you be as inspired if Congress was being as bold in favor of a cause you were against? If another president, some years from now, were to call an emergency session of congress in order to steamroll legislation through that would legalize late-term abortion across the nation regardless of State laws against it… would you still cheer for that overreach of Federal power? Or is it only okay when “the Good Guys” do it?

Our Constitution, our legal system and even the often-torturous lengths of process that are involved in both all exist for a reason: to protect freedom and ensure a system of government whereby things like this cannot happen. The idea of one man or one political party taking “hold” of a situation in order to ensure an outcome that pleases their ideology regardless of law or process is the exactly the sort of thing that Thomas Jefferson wrote his landmark documents to protect us against. The law is not perfect. Sometimes it does not come out the way “we” want, sometimes it moves too “slow” for our desire for “justice.” These imperfections are the price we pay for Democracy. The actions of Congress in this case may or may not be rooted in the best of intentions, but those intentions are rendered moot by the simple fact that these actions are unconstitutional.

The moral merits of all sides of the Schiavo case are important, literally matters of life and death, and they are worth as much debate and hand-wringing and argument and shouting and editorializing as all those interested can muster. But nothing is worth trampling on the Constitution and State’s Rights. NOTHING. The Constitution will, most-likely, survive this latest assault, but that’s not the point. It shouldn’t have to endure ANY assault.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

Jeffery Wells slanders Geekdom… again.

If you’re an internet-saavy movie-geek, there’s probably a good chance you known who Jeffrey Wells is. If not, read on:

Wells is a web-based film columnist of some note, responsible for a column called “Hollywood Elsewhere:”
http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/

The “hook” is mostly that Wells is a sort of traveling-minstrel-as-critic, seemingly leaping from festival to festival to screening to screening all over the Western world, peppering his cinematic musings with travelogue notes and photos of hotel rooms, etc. It’s good stuff, even though I seldom agree with Well’s take on the medium, it always makes my weekly reading.

Certainly not a bad film writer by any means, but when Wells gets ink it’s usually for what he’s not than what he is, i.e. a web-based film writer defiantly not occupying the movie geek strata with the likes of AICN, CHUD or yours truly. Wells takes particular sport in antagonizing movie geeks and geeks in general, whom he appears to see as a kind of unworthy “lower life-form” making in-roads into the film world that previously “belonged” to old-school film snobs like himself. At least that’s my take πŸ™‚

There’s a pattern at play here, or at least there seems to be from my perspective: Wells appears to be of the opinion, (shared by, I believe, a certain majority of so-called “serious” film scholars,) that the films and genres that generally form the foundations of “movie geek culture,” (horror, scifi, fantasy, etc. and especially those based on graphic novels,) are on-their-face unworthy of serious merit as films and are “harming” the medium by their very existance. During the period that his site was running as a subset of Kevin Smith’s “moviepoopshoot.com,” Wells most famous “contentious” moments with movie geeks involved his three-years-running state of disbelief and resentment that anyone was taking the LOTR trilogy seriously.

Now, I like Wells. He was even gracious enough to print a letter of mine once massively disagreeing with him right on the main site. Stand-up guy.

But his knee-jerk loathing of film geeks, and the air of snobbery that seems to informing it, it’s an annoying trait that undermines his otherwise solid work every single time it comes up. Case in point:

Wells posted a lengthy column last week about his looking forward to the upcoming “Sin City” movie, despite it’s comic origins. Good peice, mostly involving an anonymous positive review sent in from another source. In the “blog” portion of his site that always occupies the center of the weekly column, Wells today posts a brief that he’s seen the film and adores the black and white photography, but we’re going to have to wait for the full peice apparently. So far, so good…

But then his “thing” about geeks comes up out of left field. Apparently, while he liked at least something about the film, he’s still defiantly dead-set that a line must be drawn between “real” films and a “lower” geek-genre piece like this. From Wells:

“But take no notice of anyone (Rodriguez included) calling this a film noir flick. There is real film noir — crime movies made with a downbeat fatalistic attitude, and grounded in a reasonable facsimile of human truth — and there is simplified noir lite for chumps.”

Now… there’s certainly some hay to be made off the GROTESQUE overuse of the term “film noir” these days. And I’m sure a long and interesting piece could be written to remind people that the term is really kind of broadly-applied, as it didn’t even exist until a few decades AFTER the films it describes had largely run out their original cycle.

(BTW, film noir: Generally describes crime-related films made roughly from the 30s to the late-40s in the United States prominently involving characters and situations of murky, difficultly-defined morality. Term covers a wide variety of genres, was coined by French film scholars roughly in the early 60s to describe the “cycle” of such films as occuring at their particular period of U.S. film history.)– Me.

Anyhow, thats not really what Mr. Wells is talking about here. His REAL issue (unless I’m waaaaaay misunderstanding him here) is that, in his view, the various “out-there” elements of “Sin City” owing to it’s graphic novel origins make it unworthy of mention with “real” (read: traditional) Film Noir. And in case there was any doubt:

“This is noir as re-imagined by Frank Miller and digested by comic-book geeks in their 30s who live in their lonely heads and haven’t gotten laid very much or gotten to know women at all.”

Ugh. Y’know, he didn’t even get the stereotype completely right. Hey, Jeff, you forget to reference “living in their mother’s basement,” man. At least use proper psuedo-bigotry πŸ™‚

But seriously, Jeff, why the hate? What did we ever do to you? You’ve got some issues with “Sin City,” great! Write the review, explain what the issues are. Why the need to just go take a cheap shot at a whole massive (and ever-expanding) segment of film fandom? What is it about Geek Culture that you so resent?

Whats going on here, really, is more evidence of a changing-of-the-gaurds in terms of the driving force of film-fandom: The age of the Film Buffs is being, by leaps and bounds, overtaken by the Movie Geeks. And with every epic about Elves that wins best picture and every comic book that becomes a blockbuster megahit and every serious actor who declares they just can’t wait to slip into a cape, swing an ornate sword or fly on Woo-Ping’s wires, the Age of Geek Cinema becomes more and more real. And a lot of folks, apparently including Mr. Wells, just aren’t happy about it.

Oh, well πŸ™‚