Something I hope we can all agree on…

Lemme go out on a limb here…

I’m guessing that, among “us” (i.e. those of you reading this and myself writing it) there are probably several dozen opinions, agreements and disagreements about the myriad premises of the protests against the Iraq war.

I’ll further extrapolate that there are an equal number of divergent thoughts as to it even being “proper” to stage such protests from any premise while “the boots are still on the ground.”

But I’m willing to bet that, despite all those various clashing opinions, MOST of us… heck, most people period… would generally agree that staging such an event at the funeral for a soldier killed in the war is in the worst possible taste. Speaking for myself… screw “taste,” it’s flat out wrong. In fact, I can’t really imagine a MORE wrong thing you could do to someone’s family and loved ones whatever your feelings of the conflict in question…

…unless, that is, the stated theme of said protest is that the departed soldier(s) in question “deserved to die” as punishment for the ways of the country they fought for. And whether I can imagine something as wrong as that, that’s exactly what’s happened in Smyrna, Tennesse.

Who’s responsible for this outrage, then? Far-left antiwar peaceniks? Islamofacist appologists? Outright jihad supporters?


This was the work of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect, the Kansas-based Westboro Bapist church. It’s leader is Reverend Fred Phelps, (known to Howard Stern listeners as patriarch of the “God Hates Fags Family”,) a genuine monster of the modern American political scene. He’s staging these protests as part of his standard theme: That American soldiers being killed in Iraq is actually God’s punishment of the United States for it’s growing gay rights movement.

His “church” is mostly made of his own children, grandchildren and their families, and is not (it’s important to understand this) affiliated with any official denomination. Even Rev. Jerry Falwell and “Family Research Council” boss Gary Bauer don’t want anything to do with him (Falwell called him “a first-class nut,” a welcome but somewhat puzzling statement from the man who once accused a Teletubbie of same-sex leanings.) And how’s this for contradictions: Phelps is a longtime registered Democrat (admit it, you’re surprised.)

Now, I may be wrong in believing that an overwhelming majority of good people (and even a fair share of the bad ones, I’d wager) can hear something like this and instantly agree that it’s just wrong. It shouldn’t matter if you’re pro-war, anti-war, liberal, constervative, democrat, republican, pro-gay, anti-gay, Christian, American, whatever you are… some things are just beyond the pale. Some things are evil no matter what side you fall on anything.

At least, I hope so.

REVIEW: The Brothers Grimm

On the surface, Terry Gilliam doesn’t appear too different from the majority of other “maverick” film directors: An offbeat auteur with a cult following, often appreciated more in Europe than stateside, in frequent conflict with studio bosses scheming to alter his vision to gain more mass-appeal… that basic description covers VAST swaths of what could once be legitimately referred to as the world of “independent” film.

But here is the difference: For most indie “auteurs” with a vision to safeguard, said vision tends to be of small, character driven pieces which can be reasonably produced independently or at a cost low enough to fly below the bean-counters’ radar. Not so for Gilliam, who’s particular visions tend more often than not to be of the size, scope and means that ONLY the dreaded studio system could ever have the infrastructure needed to realize them.

He’s the grand contradiction among all struggling film artists; the iconoclastic visionary who’s aiming to work in the key genre of the mainsteam Hollywood blockbuster (large-scale fantasy/sf/adventure stories)… providing he’s allowed to make them his way. And, because Gilliam’s “way” tends to mean outright absurdism, wild shifts in tone and pointed social commentary woven into the fabric of the narrative, his relationship with the studio system is one of the most contentious (and well-documented) of all modern filmmakers.

“The Brothers Grimm” marks Gilliam’s first completed film to reach theaters in several years, following the collapse of his disaster plagued “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” The usual Terry Gilliam legends have come up around it (delays, budget cuts, studio interference) but with markedly less fervor than is typical. The message has been quite blunt: “This one” is here because Gilliam needed to make something and be paid for it for a change. The story has been, over and over, that he essentially worked as “director for hire” to film Ehren Krueger’s script and that his “personal” project, “Tideland,” will arrive later in the year.

Which is not to say that such talk is accurate, or that the resulting film is “bad.” But it must be said that, unfortunately, those expecting the equal of “Brazil” or even “Baron Munchausen” will be a touch dissapointed: What we have here is a largely standard “quirky” Hollywood action/adventure piece in the vein of “The Mummy,” garnished with Gilliam’s signature style and penchant for the absurd. The effect is a pleasingly inventive late-summer entry that’s never as good as it OUGHT to be but a lot better than it really NEEDS to be.

The story proper is a fictionalization of the early careers of the titular brothers, Willhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger), here reimagined as con artists roaming French-occupied Germany in the age of Napolean. Jake is a self-taught expert in ancient folklore, Will is an able shyster, and they combine their talents in order to scam superstitious villagers by staging supernatural occurances and then exorcising them. When they’re found out and arrested by a French general (Gilliam regular Johnathan Pryce, essentially reprising his “Munchausen” role,) he offers them a way out: Travel to a troubled village and unmask another gang of con men who (the French are convinced) have whipped the locals into a frenzy.

Guess where this is headed…

Yes, no sooner have the Grimms (along with Peter Stormare as a scene-stealing Italian torturer working on behalf of the French) set up shop in the village does it become immediately clear that there’s real supernatural evil at work. Something powerful and ancient has been awakened in the forest, village children are being stolen, the trees have become untrustworthy and a Big Bad Wolf has been sighted. And what is going on in that crumbling old tower in the middle of the woods?

This all takes just a bit too long to set up, but once the base-plot has been established the story finds a good path to it’s true purpose: As the Grimms investigate the mystery, various characters and situations they encounter begin to seem awful familiar… theres a little girl in a red hood, a kissed frog, a woodsman, a tower, magic mirrors and even two lost kids seeking a gingerbread house. As hooks go, it’s a little thin but it works, and Gilliam milks the angle for everything it’s worth. There’s real cleverness on display in the way all the various tidbits and references fit together, even if some of it might seem more at home in a “Shrek” sequel.

Visually, the film has the same freewheeling pace and style that is expected of it’s director, but the overall look and feel (not to mention the story itself) end up owing a lot to “Sleepy Hollow” and “Brotherhood of The Wolf” (both of which were better films, overall.) Strangely, the PG-13 film ALSO borrows a fair share of darkness from those R-rated predecessors: Despite being seemingly written with a family audience at least partly in mind, Gilliam finds plenty of room to indulge his celebrated morbid side. Severed heads and stabbings get big setpiece scenes, a random kitten gets tossed into a torture-device’s whirring blades, extras are torn apart by angry living trees and there’s a genuinely unsettling moment involving a horse, spider-webbing and an unlucky child that will give your children nightmares.

The film is getting a critical drubbing, not entirely undeserved given the scattershot way in which much of it occurs. It’s a bit of a mess, yes, and it does carry the whiff of studio retooling at points. But it’s definately not among the year’s worst, and the parts that work really work. It’s trying very, very hard to be something as special as Gilliam’s prior genre efforts, and while it doesn’t really make it it certainly entertains during the attempt. Overall, reccomended.


REVIEW: The 40 Year-Old Virgin

I can almost garauntee you that everybody who’s told you that “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” is “the funniest movie EVER!!!!” is exaggerating. I can also almost garauntee you that most of those who’ve told you this were previously sure that “The Wedding Crashers” was “the funniest movie EVER!!!!”

Yup, it’s this week’s positively-reviewed R-rated comedy, with all the attendant overhype that usually accompanies such. But don’t hold that against it, as it’s actually a pretty good entry. As with most such films, it’s primary function is as an advertisement for it’s own innevitable “UNRATED!!!!!” DVD release. Secondarily, it has the more admirable function of being the “arrival vehicle” of former Daily Show regular Steve Carell as a major comedy star. It’s amazing enough that Carell is already considered a bankable lead star based completely (or nearly so) on a scene-stealing turn in “Anchorman” and having provided the only genuine laughs in “Bruce Almighty;” but it’s more amazing that he’s up to the challenge.

The title is also the lead character and the bulk of the premise: Carell is Andy, an honest-to-goodness 40 year-old virgin. When the “secret” of said unplanned-celibacy is revealed to his co-workers, they make it a mission to get him laid. Of course, they don’t really “know” any more about women (or sex, really) than he does; so hilarity ensues. That’s it.

From this foundation, the film has simply to branch out and observe it’s characters in order to find the jokes. An early visual gag establishing Andy as a collector of comic books and action figures LOOKS like a cheap, annoying cliche; but there’s something slightly bigger at work. The film turns the collectibles into a kind of metaphor for Andy’s whole problem: The toys are all still packaged and sealed from the world, and so is he.

Fear of leaving (or recieving) an impression has caused his “situation,” and the “quest” is quickly less about sexual conquest than it is about the need for companionship overall: When Andy is invited to play poker with the guys from work (they needed a 5th) it’s the first actual sense either party gets of the other. Though it leads to confusion and mishaps, the adventure Andy embarks on with these new friends earns him new friends, he finds himself promoted from the stockroom to the sales floor at work (where he finds he excells) and the others find that they eventually benefit from Andy’s friendship as well.

A 2nd Act complication arrives in the form of Catherine Keener, playing an attractive single mother who’s genuine and immediate attraction to Andy (it’s one of the film’s smart points that Andy is actually a naturally nice and handsome guy who has simply gone unnoticed) provides a puzzle: Is Andy ready for a complicated, mature relationship when he has yet to even “master” a simple, immature one?

This being a sex comedy, in between all that insight and cleverness there’s also a succession of mostly workable grossout humor: Vomit, “morning-wood,” drunk driving, transvestites, masturbation (male and female) etc. all get their workout, and for the most part manage to be funny without overwhelming the film proper.

So yeah, indeed the funniest movie until the next funniest movie. Reccomended.


REVIEW: The Skeleton Key

You’ve already seen this movie a dozen times.

I’ve already seen this movie a few hundred times.

So here we go: An outsider enters into a small, insular culture. Said outsider is perplexed by local “oddness,” soon suspects dark secrets and eventually suspects supernatural evil as evidenced by bumps in the night and/or elaborate nightmare sequences. Said supernatural evil is explained by a sympathetic local, with emphasis on some obscure quirk of the occult plugged into this formula by a screenwriter shortly after they stumbled upon it. Said outsider does what they were told not to do, goes where they were told not to go, “the truth is revealed” and the shit hits the fan in the 3rd act. Everything wraps up with a “surprise” twist ending.

Familiar? Yeah, thought so. We’ve been through this many times, the only general variants to the formula being the cast, the setting and the specific “quirk of the occult” plugged into it. In this case, a dilapitated manor on the Louisiana Bayou is the “new” setting, Kate Hudson is the “new” outsider (a hospice nurse) and our fun new occult plaything is “Hoodoo” (the “practical magic” arm of Voodoo.) Hudson is supposed to care for an elderly invalid (John Hurt) who’s wife (Gena Rowlands) is acting suspicious and who’s house features a “secret” room full of Hoodoo paraphenalia and the requisite bloodied history. Dollars to donuts you’ll figure out who the bad guys are pretty soon, but might be semi-surprised by the full “whats really going on here” coda.

The film isn’t bad so much as it is staunchly formulaic and depressingly average: It holds so closely to the Old Dark House tropes that it’s almost never scary or even visually interesting, save for some nifty editing in a flashback scene and an appropriately jarring “the hell!?” image to cap a dream sequence. The cast and atmosphere, though, are working HARD to convince you otherwise, and eventually it manages to be creepy enough to keep you wary of dark halls and locked doors for a few hours after it ends.

Beyond that, it’s strictly forgettable fare: Just another quick visit by the studios to the PG-13 “horror” movie money tree. I’d say give it a pass.


REVIEW: Four Brothers

Somewhere in my hard drive, no doubt buried under a heap of half-downloaded pornography and half-completed screenplays, there’s a half-completed list of film-related items I’d like to call a moratorium on. I distinctly remember one entry, right near the top, being the pitching of films to the public as “It’s a western but set in ______.”

Which is not to say that I’ve got an issue with “modern westerns” or even films that claim to be such… it’s merely that the semantics of it bother me: “Western” isn’t technically a genre, it’s a setting. The majority of Westerns are action or drama films SET in the Old West, yes, but that doesn’t make every modern action or drama- even those involving vigilante justice -film a reimagined western in any reality other than that of marketing executives. And yet, each year it seems that every other gritty “guy movie” is aiming to pass itself off as “a modern western.” “Four Brothers” even goes the extra step of presenting itself as a loose remake of the John Wayne classic “The Sons of Katie Elder.”

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad film. In fact, it’s damn good.

The story you know from the trailers: Saintly Detroit foster-mother Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is senselessly murdered during a convenience store robbery. Her four self-adopted sons, the infamous “four boys so bad no one but her would take them,” arrive for the funeral: Angel (Tyrese Gibson) is a Marine, Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 of “OutKast”) is a married businessman, Jack (Garret Hedlund) is a wannabe rocker and Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) is a hotheaded hood who suspects foul play and marshals his “brothers” to help seek revenge on Evelyn’s still-at-large killers. Few will be surprised to learn that the Mercer Bros. initially myopic quest for vengeance soon unveils a larger conspiracy, putting them up against local corruption and dangerous crimelords.

What we’ve got here is a fine, ruthlessly-efficient genre piece by John Singleton. The characters are well drawn, the mystery is appropriately twisty and the action wisely evolves as the film goes on: Realistic gunfights to start with, followed progressively by car chases and elaborate interogations building to a pull-out-the-stops 3rd act featuring vans full of armed goons, police phalanxes and a climax involving chainsaws, a frozen lake and mano-a-mano honorable-fisticuffs.

There’s no greater aim here than the core basics: A good story well told, punctuated where appropriate by comedy, action and drama. This is Grade-A street-tough action filmmaking, destined for a long future as an eventual basic cable mainstay. And it’s definately an improvement over Singleton’s last directorial effort, the disasterous “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Reccomended.


REVIEW: The Great Raid

Here’s a solid, competent WWII drama that was among the infamous films indefinately shelved by Miramax now slowly creeping out into the market following the onetime indie powerhouse turned Oscar-bait assembly line’s long-overdue dissolution. Directed by John Dahl, it details the rescue by a combined force of Army Rangers and Fillippino guerillas of American POWs (survivors of the famed “Bataan Death March”) from a Japanese prison camp at Cabanatuan. Military history records this as the most successful rescue operation in modern U.S. history.

The film is basic, uncomplicated and uncluttered: The situation is set up through narration and stock footage, the rescue strategy is planned, plotted and executed by a clever officer (Benjamin Bratt) and his men. Side-stories involving a Malaria-stricken POW (Ralph Feinnes,) his medicine-smuggling unrequited love-interest (Connie Nielsen,) and a merciless Japanese officer (Motoko Kobayashi) charged with liquidating the various prison camps provide the ticking clock.

Dahl presents the material matter-of-factly, which occasionally has the effect of turning the film into a kind of performed play-by-play of the actual events rather than a narrative; the film takes informing the audience of it’s history as a priority, and for the most part it works. The actors don’t try to dominate their individual roles, and no show-offy directorial flare or meditation-on-the-nature-of-war pretense crops up to get in the way. Speaking in the terms of war movie fans, it’s definately from the “Hamburger Hill” school as opposed to the “Apocalypse Now” school.

By now, you’ve heard that the film has had an abysmal opening weekend, debuting all the way down in the number 10 spot. The reason why, I’m afraid, is that all those things that make this a surefire safe bet for history buffs and WWII aficionados especially make it something of a tough nut to crack for audiences otherwise: There’s nary any tacked-on introspection or extraneous drama to be found, which means that those seeking a “war as a backdrop for blank” entry in the vein of “Pearl Harbor” will be sorely dissapointed. This is a movie about strategy and history, which just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But history fans, those seeking a solid war movie or the sadly dwindling numbers of WWII veterans (including my late grandfather, who fought in the Phillippines and whom I’m told was an active participant in one or more of the Bataan rescue operations,) this should be a welcome entry in the genre. It will find it’s audience on DVD, without question, but it’s really worth your time right now.


REVIEW: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo

Frequent visitors to this space are aware that I’m the sort that “enjoys” politics, at least in the abstract. Thusly, It usually takes a lot longer for me to “know” when the public discourse has become “too political” since on my end the public discourse is usually not political enough.

But every man has his breaking point in this areas, and this is mine: When the sequel to “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” unveils that it grounds a good chunk of it’s humor in the realm of U.S./European post-Iraq culture-clash, I am more than willing to agree that the popular culture has indeed become too political.

The story once again follows ever-underused SNL alumni Rob Schneider as the title character, whom you may or may not recall from the original film is a geeky fish tank cleaner who briefly became a low-end male prostitute to buy his way out of a sticky situation. The gag of that film was that Deuce could only find “employment” with insane, disfigured or otherwise desperate female clients; and that the creative lengths he went to to avoid actually sleeping with these women had the side-effect of helping them find self-confidence. Shaky premise, yes, but it had it’s share of blunt but effective grossout gags and Schneider’s earnest straight-man schtick was consistent.

The sequel finds Deuce jetting off to Amsterdam to reunite with his friend and one-time “he-pimp” TJ (scene-stealing Eddie Griffen.) Deuce has run into some trouble following the death of his wooden-legged fiancee Kate, (devoured by sharks somewhere between sequels,) so the change of scenery will do him some good. In short order, he’s introduced to the wonders of socially-liberal Dutch society (legalized prostitution, hash bars and topless weather reports) and the perils of wearing his American Flag-print T-shirt on the street. He’s also introduced, through TJ, to the main plot: A serial killer is stalking the gigolos of Europe, and when TJ is wrongfully implicated as a suspect Deuce goes undercover to find the real culprit.

From thereon, the film is the expected sucession of gags, alternating between outright slapstick and verbal gymnastics via TJ’s endless supply of gigolo slang (“mangina,” “he-bitch man-slap,” etc.) Some of this is very funny, such as Griffen’s standout sequence wherein a housecat attacks his genitals. Some of it isn’t, such as an extended montage where Deuce once again plies his craft with “odd” women who’s issues just aren’t as funny as the ones in the first film.

But it’s when the jokes trend into politics, which they frequently do, that it just gets flat out strange. Deuce’s flag-shirt earns him jeers of “imperialist” from the locals, but it’s a pro-U.S. local who yells to Deuce to pass her thanks on to President Bush who winds up taking a brick to the head. Later, Deuce’s polite request to an obnoxious Frenchman to extinguish his cigarette invites a zealous lecture about oil, Iraq and WMDs and ends with the offending Franco trussed up in the flag shirt, gagged and wearing a brick-drawing sign reading “America rocks, Europe smells like ass.” Still later, the “mystery” serial killer (who’s not hard to spot, you may guess) intimates that the gigolo killing-spree is motivated by a hatred of libertine Dutch social policy.

Accidentally interesting, occasionally funny and a few times hysterical. Not really reccomended, but not openly discouraged either.


Sen. George Allen: Enemy of Freedom?

A brief restatement of MovieBob’s position on censorship and/or federal regulations of television, print, radio, film or art: All federal ratings, controls, limits or penalties for expression are unconstitutional and a direct abridgement of the freedoms of American citizens. As the Constitution and Bill of Rights garauntee to all citizens the freedom of expression, any attempt to abridge such at the federal level is in fact an attack on freedoms and thusly it is wholly appropriate to refer to any member of the government who would openly support such abridgement as, thusly, enemies of freedom.

However, use of the term “enemy of freedom” here exclusively refers to a given government representative’s status as a (percieved) enemy of a specific constitutional freedom, and is in no way meant to imply that said representative is in any way traitorous or disloyal to his or her office, nation or otherwise.


Now, with that out of the way…


Seriously, people. If we value our freedoms, especially our freedoms of expression, (and if you don’t, why are you reading a movie blog?,) we need to stay on top of things like this. Remember: NEITHER of the two leading political parties in this country are “officially” standing against federal censorship. The Republicans, despite their supposed deferrence to limited government and free enterprise, are basically pro-censorship right now because attacking “indecency” plays well to the so-called “religious right.” Likewise, the Democrats are generally for it as well despite their supposed defference to the artistic community because, y’know, they’re Democrats and thus generally think the government should be in charge of as much as humanly possible, anyhow. (Yes, I know it’s a generalization. They’re political parties. Generalization is what they are about.)

In other words, you cannot count on either end of the political spectrum to do the right thing here. The only way we avoid creeping censorship is to continually remind these representatives who work FOR US that we do not want them involved in this.

Which is why, when a news story like this makes it to my radar (courtesy of the ever-reliable CATO Institute) I consider it just good civics on my part to pass it along to you:

The jist of this editorial is that Senator George Allen (R-Virginia) has introduced a Bill in the United States Senate which would require that the federal government approve any ratings system developed for television. In other words, if this Bill was to pass, the government rather than the producers of television programs, the owners of broadcast networks or the audience of consumers, would be the final arbiters of how any ratings system would work.

This is such an outright affront to our Constitution that I can scarcely describe my indignation. Fortunately, CATO’s executive VP David Boaz echoes my thoughts accordingly:

“For years, Republicans argued that the Democratic majority in Congress was intruding the federal government into more and more matters best left to the states, the local communities, or the private sector. After 10 years in power, however, the Republicans have seen the Democrats’ intrusiveness and raised them.”

And he’s only getting started…

“They believe that their every passing thought is a proper subject for federal legislation. They hold three-ring-circus hearings on steroids in baseball. They sharply increase the fines for alleged indecency on television. They hold hearings on whether college textbooks are too expensive. They threaten to punish Major League Baseball if the owners allow left-wing billionaire George Soros to be a part owner of the new team in Washington. They vote for a federal investigation of the video game “Grand Theft Auto.”

And to those of you who don’t think a little federal nudging here and there is the beginning of the end, or even BELIEVE the lies of the anti-freedom lobby about obscenity and violent materials “causing” real life evils and WANT Big Brother to help you tell everyone how to live, Boaz has an answer for you:

“That’s why we write a Constitution — to protect us from our own temptations to turn our exasperation into laws, and to protect us from our fellow citizens yielding to the same temptation.”


Some may think it extreme to put Senator Allen’s name in the title of this posting, as he’s obviously only a small part of the problem, but in the end he did introduce the Bill. Introducing Bills, after all, is the right of an elected member of the Senate.

And, likewise, voicing displeasure at the introduction of a Bill is the right of YOU. So here’s where you can send an email to Senator George Allen, letting him know what you think about the federal government regulating TV ratings or ANY kind of ratings, for that matter. Keep it civil, be polite, but make your voice heard:

A Public Service from MovieBob…

You may be unaware that the following items are either not NEARLY as funny as you think they are and/or are not funny AT ALL.

Please review this list carefully so that you may adjust your public social behavior accordingly, so as to be less of an irritant to those around you AND reduce your risk of incurring a violent (if not entirely undeserved) strike upside the head in the near future.

Thank you.


Your impression of Napolean Dynamite.


Referring to a certain recent historical epic as “Alexander the Gay.”

Paris Hilton’s catchphrase, “that’s hot.”

The non-word “Ginormous.”

Your impression of Dave Chapelle’s impression of Rick James.

The “Chicken Fries” commercials.

“The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“Half Baked.”

Videotaped outtakes of skateboarders wiping out.

Jimmy Fallon.

“Trapped in the Closet 1-5.”

Michael Jackson.

“Being Bobby Brown.”

Your impression of various repeated phrases from “GTA: San Andreas.”

That’s all for now, more to follow…