Zack And Miri Make A Porno

Toward the end of his career, Blake Edwards made a bunch of comedies that were widely regarded as not as good as the films he had made previously. But what you could count on in those ‘80s movies was that while he was going to introduce farcical elements into the topic, he was also going to seriously address some topic that was usually glossed over.

For example, Skin Deep looks at the Casanova-type both from the “good times” aspect of having a lot of unattached sex, but then from the more serious aspect of the effect those “good times” can have. Micki + Maude looks at when a couple’s urge to have children (or not) are in conflict, and it doesn’t gloss over the ending. Switch takes a look at misogyny inside of the body-switch-style farce.

I mention this because Kevin Smith, at his best, does something similar. (And he’s also often steeped in his time heavily that, like Edwards, you wonder if some of his “better” works aren’t going to age well.) Chasing Amy takes an unflinching look at the problems of expectations and desires in the post-sexual revolution world.

Also, like Edwards, he’s not afraid to go to the custard pie (or in Smith’s case, the fecal matter) for a joke, lest you think he’s overly full of himself.

And this brings us to Zack And Miri Make A Porno, the tale of Zack (Seth Rogan) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), long term friends who, on the eve of their 10th High School reunion, find themselves without power, water and heat in the brutal Pennsylvania winter.

Let me take a moment to say that one thing I admire about the Smith kid is that he grows. Each movie he makes is a little more like a real movie. From the early days of setting the camera down for 10 minutes while a couple of characters talk in Clerks to actual camera movement and letting the visuals tell the story in Clerks II, he’s come a long way. One of the comments on Dogma was something like “It looks like a real movie.” And we’ve had a running gag about that ever since.

This really looks like a real movie. There’s some excellent visual work, like a withdrawing shot of a distraught Miri as Zack heads down the hallway to have sex with Stacey. She gets smaller and smaller and the shot gets darker, and finally on the side, we see the bedroom door close.

Great work.

Besides Smith, there’s Rogen as (again) the lovable slacker–hey, it works well for him–and Banks as his platonic friend. Banks has real range, and she plays a character that’s fairly far removed from her sex-freak persona in 40 Year Old Virgin, her secretary-with-a-heart-of-gold in the Spiderman movies, or even her damsel-in-distress turn in Slither, just to name a few. Craig Robinson (the bouncer in Knocked Up and hotel staff in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gets a meatier role here.

I have no idea what the Apatow connection is, except that there’s a superficial similarity between Smith and Apatow.

Meanwhile we have some Smith regulars doing some acting: Mrs. Smith as the too peppy high school reunion coordinator (she always does a good job, but she does tend to be cast as a bitch, hmmmm); Jeff Anderson as a-sarcastic-and-world-weary-but-not-really-Randall-esque cameraman; and Jason Mewes not being Jay. Also, going full frontal.

That’s right. Full frontal male nudity is here, for your viewing enjoyment.

There was also Tyler Labine, who is not Ethan Suplee, and Tom Savini, who is not Brian O’Halloran. Sorry, you tend to look for these guys when you know Smith’s movies and both of them confused me. (Savini’s gotta be 20+ years older than O’Halloran, too, but I just figured it was a good acting job.) Actual porn star Katie Morgan is in the movie, and she doesn’t look like a Smith regular, but she sounds like Joey Lauren Adams.

Rounding out the cast is former child actor Ricky Mabe and new mother Traci Lords. Traci looked a little tired in this movie but she’s got the acting-without-dialogue thing down. Justin Long and Brandon Routh play gay lovers. Long is hilarious. But what is up with Superman going on to doing gay kissing roles? That’s just what Reeves did!

It’s a good cast. One thing I like about the Smith kid is that he tends to keep his movies short. Brutally so, sometimes. Short and fast-moving. They’re not boring. This isn’t boring. But.

He’s trying to cram two things into one short movie here, and neither exactly work. First, there’s a love story between Zack and Miri–did you doubt it? (If someone could do it, it’d be him, I guess.) The dramatic tension is created through the fact that they’re going to have sex for the first time and it’s on camera, but it’s supposed to be “just sex”. But they’re also supposed to have sex with others which, well, you know, it’s not “just sex”.

Their transition from completely convincing platonic friends to being in love isn’t really built-up. Rogen and Banks sell it, though, so it does work. Their sex scene is intensely intimate; the antithesis of the porn they’re trying to make. The transition between the vulgar and the romantic reminded me strongly of Edwards better work.

The other thread, though, is the “let’s make a movie” part. This is a condensed encapsulation of Smith’s own experiences making “Clerks” but there just isn’t enough time for the camaraderie to really resonate.

Overall, it seems like one of his best movies. It’s not boring, it’s made with considerable attention to detail, and the dialogue is fun without being too much in Smith’s strangely idiosyncratic soliloquy style. It is, of course, vulgar, but not unexpectedly so. I’m a little surprised it didn’t take in a bit more money at the box office–though they really didn’t advertise it much, presumably because of the “porno” in the title.

Don’t leave before the stinger.

Rachel Getting Married

While Jonathan Demme is best known for Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, this Roger Corman alumnus has a broad and diverse resume. Which is another way of saying you don’t really know what you’re going to see when you see one of his movies.

In Rachel Getting Married, you’re going to see Anne Hathaway act, for example. (I’d heard she could act, but I really only know her from Get Smart and that picture that circulates around the ‘net of her in the see-through top. (In this movie, her hair is shorn, she looks strung out and she’s so thoroughly narcissistic, there’s no chance for looks or charisma to carry her performance.)

You also get a lot of shaky cam, so beware. I found this well within my tolerance and The Boy praised it for making you feel like you really were there. There is a minor character, in fact, who is filming the proceedings, and you kind of feel like that while watching this. Adding to this is the fact that all the music is ambient. There’s a band that hangs around doing nothing but playing eerily appropriate music, even if such music wouldn’t be appropriate an actual wedding. (Heh.)

OK, so the story is that Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt of “MadMen”) is getting married to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) and sister Kym (Hathaway) is checking out of rehab to join the festivities. Kym, being an addict and compulsive liar, immediately makes everything about herself.

Kym has done a Bad Thing. The upshot has resulted in her own downward spiral, her parents (Bill Irwin and Debra Winger) divorcing, and alienation galore.

And it was bad. And Kym feels really, really bad about it. But she expresses this by constantly drawing attention to her own suffering. Rachel understandably dislikes this idea, while her father tends to try to defend and protect her, and her strangely serene mother simply absences herself as much as possible.

In order to have a story, though, we need to have some sort of change. And there are only a few that will work. For example, Rachel could make the ultimate expression of self-pity by committing suicide, or she could have an epiphany and be miraculously cured–all in the fine melodramatic tradition, but not necessarily effective in the hyper-realistic form being used here.

Demme rather bravely pursues his climax at the wedding in a way that makes the resolution clear and eschews soap opera style dramatics. And amazingly, this works. The Boy liked it, which says something for a movie that’s nearly two hours and primarily about wedding plans.

I’ve seen some hay being made out of the multi-culti aspect of the family (the bride is white, the groom black), as if their acceptance of diversity and quirkiness doesn’t extend to the real quirkiness of Kym, but I don’t see it, myself. First of all, the families are largely musicians. Second of all, Kym’s not quirky, she’s deranged and narcissistic.

No, if I had a problem with this, it was the timeline. The Bad Thing took place when Kym was 16. We don’t know how long ago it was, but let’s say Kym is now in her early 20s. Meanwhile, Rachel is the older sister (I think, certainly the actress in her 30s), so some of the tension doesn’t make much sense to me. (I don’t think parents divorcing when you’re in your 20s is quite the same as them divorcing when you’re a child.)

So I did get a little hung up on that.

But otherwise the movie works, and well.

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

As mentioned previously, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was sold out Saturday evening when The Boy suddenly up and decided he wanted to go see something. But we returned for the last show, never to be daunted by the fair-weather moviegoers who sometimes inhabit our cinema.

The story takes place in Germany in WWII and concerns an eight-year-old boy whose Nazi father (literally, not the more common metaphorical “Nazi” you read about these days) gets transferred to a concentration camp. Isolated from his friends, the boy Bruno–looking for all the world to me like a mini-Bud Court circa Harold and Maude days–looks for friends in the area and happens to come across an eight-year-old Jew behind the fence of the camp his father runs.

WWII afficianados assure me this is impossible. But, hey. I’m amused by the fact that “Hogan’s Heroes” has made it impossible for anyone in a movie about Nazis to have a German accent. We all just think of that lovable Sgt. Shultz!

What we have here is a fable, an antethesis to Benigni’s La Vita E Bella. Only instead of a father trying to keep his Jewish son unaware of the horror they live in, it’s a father trying to keep his German son (and whole family) unaware of the horror they’re committing.

Heavyhanded? Oh, yeah, without any of the lightness of Benigni. But what the hell else can you do? The mother is the first to figure out what’s going on, and the knowledge breaks her. The sister, having a crush on her father’s driver, endeavors to be a good Nazi, but even she’s taken aback when she pieces it together.

We don’t actually know if Bruno ever figures it out.

It’s not bad. There’s a scene in the beginning where Bruno is playing soldier with his friends that’s more than a little trite. And there’s a scene in the middle where the sister has gotten rid of her dolls, and the pile looks like a bunch of dead bodies. Other than that, the director spares us most of the really weighty symbolism.

It is in danger of being regarded as important, mind you, like Crash or Babel or any of the other Oscar-baiting crap one sees. But I think Benigni had the harder task.

Ultimately, if there’s a flaw in the story–beyond the whether-you-can-suspend-disbelief-this-much, which is your problem, not the movie’s–it’s sort of that it’s a morality tale, a stern warning, a scolding–ultimately directed at long dead people.

I mean, seriously, the odds of me running a genocidal camp while my children are still young enough to be negatively impacted are pretty small. I’m not even in the genocide field so, you know, I’d have to start as camp janitor or cafeteria worker or whatever. It’s just too late in life for me to change careers.

Sorry, is that in poor taste? (If you have to ask….)

It’s just that the writers are in a corner. There’s very little actual death in the movie, but we can’t whitewash the Holocaust. Therefore more difficult and challenging endings that respect the complexity of the situation are forsaken for a tidy, less-than-happy ending that really drives home how bad the Holocaut was.

You know, in case you hadn’t heard. Or maybe needed driven home to you. (Last year’s The Counterfeiters does a pretty good job.)

I guess my point is, I hate Nazis as much as the next guy, but this movie feels like it’s lecturing Nazis, and I just didn’t think there were many in that theater. Even when it was sold out.

Cinematic Titanic: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (again)

There are many great episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. There are some, however, that stand out. Manos, The Hands of Fate, for example. Teenagers from Outer Space. And of course, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.

Redoing a classic is always fraught with peril but the Cinematic Titanic trailer was hilarious, boding well for this particular remake. The verdict?

Somewhat surprisingly, the weakest of the new releases. They did manage not to repeat a single joke, however.

The challenge with all movie riffing is that it ebbs and flows. You can’t really blaze your way through 80 minutes with wall-to-wall jokes. Hitting a good rhythm is a challenge. The last several episodes started out all six-guns firing and then tapered off, sometimes too much, surging toward the middle, and usually dragging a bit by the end.

I gotta believe this is the most difficult aspect of riffing. A little ebb is good, particularly at a point where the viewer needs to concentrate on the action or dialogue–as a prelude to setting up jokes later on. Putting a bunch of jokes into a kind of cohesive whole keeps the audience involved when the jokes are looser.

Case in point, the original Claus had a running gag about “lentils”. Teenagers had “TORCHAA!” Even Manos had Torgo. This new Claus sorta has Droppo, but the unfunny clown is unfunny no matter how you mock him. (See Catalina Caper, or any other flick where there’s someone trying–and failing–to be funny. And also note how few episodes are based on actual, attempted comedies. Far worse and harder to watch than any cheesy horror film is a failed comedy.)

So the good things about this episode were that the jokes were pretty steady. There was less in the way of long ebbs (though a few). At the same time, the jokes were mostly solidly in the chuckle categoy.

And there was some excitement CT was trying to generate over the fact that they could show the whole movie, whereas on MST3K, they had to cut parts to fit into the format. (No worries, though, the episode is still under 90 minutes.) But by the end? They were just bitching about how long the movie was.

This is a fine line, but it’s not really riffing to bitch about how bad or long a movie is. It’s just complaining. “You’re coming in too cheap!” in the trailer is funny–funny even when you see it a 4th or 5th time in the movie. And there’s a point about 2/3rds of the way through where they act like the movie’s ended and then get pissed when it’s not: It’s an old gag, but it works well.

Joel’s Christmas gifts segment was awesome. I think it’s a mistake for CT not to exploit the wild creativity that was a good third of MST3K’s charm. And we are seeing more personality and a bit more of the backstory, so this is good.

I don’t want to harp on it, but there were about five political jokes. One of these, paralleling John McCain’s Vietnam adventures, was hilarious. There was another really good bit, too.

The rest, though, sort of fall into the clap humor. “Why can’t they do that to Ann Coulter?”, for example. Yeah, okay. Why not reference Rush Limbaugh when they’re taking the pills, while you’re at it? (Actually, I think they did take a shot at Limbaugh….)

As I’ve said before, this stuff leads to comedic laziness.

Anyway, overall amusing but far from hilarious. (The Boy liked it better than I but I didn’t hear that much laughing coming from him, either.)

Sidney White and the Seven Dorks

Revenge of the Nerds meets Snow White. You just know that’s how the Amanda Bynes vehicle Sydney White was pitched. What’s interesting is that the Snow White parts work a lot better than the Nerds parts.

Amanda Bynes got to be famous when I wasn’t paying attention to kid shows, particularly girl-oriented kid shows–that narrow window–and so when she starred in What A Girl Wants I was like, “Ooh! Amanda Bynes in a movie! Wow! Who’s Amanda Bynes?” And, honestly, I’ve had the same reaction every subsequent time she impinged on my consciousness.

These channels, particularly Nickelodeon and Disney, act as grooming areas for the next generation of stars–quite effectively, I think. You know, when they remade all those horror movies after Scream, while the movies weren’t very good, the one thing they had over the old movies is that the acting was a zillion times better.

Take the not very good late ‘90s horror film Disturbing Behavior. Not a great movie, but the kids include Katie Holmes (Thank You For Smoking), James Marsden (who would go on to be in Hairspray with Bynes), Nick Stahl (of the late, lamented “Carnivale” series) and Katharine Isabelle (who’s not as big a star but a fine actress nonetheless).

Of course, the adult cast (Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, William Sadler) and the production also kick ass over the old ones, which suggests there was a lot more money in the new movies. But I think there were also a lot fewer young adult actors who had been through the day-to-day grind of TV shows production.

Disturbing Behavior, by the way, was written by a chief writer on one of Trooper York’s new favorites: Life on Mars. Interesting that the whole movie isn’t much better.

Anyway, Bynes is sufficiently charming. More than sufficient. She does the “adorable but accessible” thing perfectly. Her foil is Sara Paxton, who does a good “Evil Queen” even though she’s been a convincing protagonist in her own right in such tweenie fare as Aquamarine. (And she’s going to be in the remake of Last House on the Left…[shudder].)

The premise is that tomboy Bynes raised by widowed plumbing contractor John Schneider (who’s career has finally recovered from his success as a Duke boy) goes off to college and to the sorrority her mother used to belong to. The Evil Queen running the sorrority drums her out, and she ends up in the wilderness.

That’s when the seven dorks living in the run-down house at the end of Greek Row invite her in. She does some Snow White-style cleaning up, and runs a campaign against the Evil Queen to get her and the dorks into the student council.

What makes the movie watchable is really the little references to Snow White. For example, the magic mirror is a “Hot or Not” list, and Paxton is pretty hilarious with her over-the-top outrage over Bynes climbing up the rankings. The poisoned apple turns out to be a virus-infected Mac. “Hi ho!” becomes “Hi, ho.”

And of course, you find yourself going, “Oh, that one’s Sleepy. That one’s Sneezy.” Happy is, for this updated version, Horny. And Arnie Pantoja as George does the most overt imitation of Dopey from the movies.

Just as these clever interpretations liven up the proceedings, using the Revenge of the Nerds framework drags it down. Although I liked Nerds, it’s far from a great movie, and when this film does the “I’m a nerd” scene at the end as “I’m a dork,” it’s pretty weak. They sort of punted on the whole framework of the movie.

The film isn’t really raunchy, and Matt Long, who plays the Prince Charming character, manages not to come off like a douchebag. Most of the naughty bits are on the level of comments you might hear in a primetime sitcom. (The Flower basically misses them.)

Apparently Bynes lost her hair doing a short role in Hairspray and so wears a wig throughout, also, her makeup reminds me of Juilanne Moore in Boogie Nights.

Little things like this aside, the movie turns out to be a not unpleasant 1:45.

Bond: A Small Amount of Comfort

Quantum used to be used to mean a small amount. Really. I’m just positive. Somewhere in the ‘80s it started to be used to mean a large amount, as in, “a quantum leap”, playing on the idea of electrons moving from one position to the other without traversing the space in-between.

And now, with Quantum of Solace, we have Quantum being….well, I’m not exactly sure. OK, it’s a play on words: Bond, having lost love of his life, pointy-breasted Eva Green, must console himself with round-breasted Olga Kurylenko. (Actually, and fortunately, it’s not that obvious, though that’s sort of how it would’ve worked in the old Bond series.)

Quantum is also the reboot’s version of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the super-secret bad-guy organization that was always out to blow up the moon or artificially inflate the retail price of Peeps or whatever.

Anyway, to me the real danger that this new series is has to avoid is campiness, and I give it good marks for that. The Boy noted that in the original (Casino Royale), when James Bond was confronted with an extremely agile suspect fleeing on foot, he made up for his shortcomings with brute force and determination, whereas in this one, he seems to be super-agile and just matching his opponents.

Interesting point. Casino Royale did make Bond seem less super-heroic. And that’s a dangerous route to go down. There’s a scene where he takes out three agents in an elevator that struck me as a little much.

OK, let’s get out of the way first that this is not, in any way, as good as Casino Royale. But it’s still better than the other Bond movies on a number of levels: It’s not campy. There are virtually no gadgets. (I’m not anti-gadget per se but they’re going to have to be oh-so-careful to not lapse into the nonsense the original series went through.) Quantum is both mysterious but has a villainous face that can serve as the focal point of the plot.

Some members of the organization meet at an opera and talk to teach other over something akin to bluetooth, so that they’re in the same room but not face-to-face. I’ve seen some objections to that but I think it’s something you could actually pull off with a little money.

The overarching scheme–utility rights in Bolivia–seem somewhat less grandiose than blowing up the moon, and I’m not sure where I stand on that as being a good MacGuffin.

Bond, at least in part seeking revenge for the death of Vesper, ends up tangled up in a plot involving Camille (Kurylenko) who is also seeking revenge on the Bolivian General who’s using Quantum to overthrow the government. The CIA wants to get in bed with the future ruler and agrees to “get rid of” Bond on behalf of the Quantum agent (what?).

Can’t say I’m crazy about that line. Frankly, I think intelligence agencies are prone to doing bad things–the nature of being able to act in secret with other people’s money and official protection–but I didn’t need the America-bashing. (Show us as cloddish dunderheads, but at least good-hearted!)

The main shortfall of this movie over the superb Casino Royale is it’s relatively unfocused nature. It meanders, relative to the previous film, but it’s sort of remarkable in that it manages to suffuse an action film with a certain melancholy without being boring.

Anyway, not as bad as some die-hard fans are suggesting.

Madagascar 2: Back To The Box Office

Of course, the real problem with these Dreamworks movies is I sit there going “Who is that? Is that…?”

It’s Alec Baldwin this time. He’s the evil lion whose constant haranguing of the king (the late Bernie Mac) is ultimately what results in Ben Stiller’s Alex the Lion Cub being kidnapped and ultimately ending up in Central Park Zoo.

This movie takes up where the last left off, basically, with the four characters (lion, zebra, giraffe and hippopotamous played by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith) trying to get back to New York. The Penguins get them to Africa where they find a preserve and many of their own kind, and Alex The Lion is reuinted with his parents.

Before you know it, evil Alec Baldwin is there taking advantage of Alex’s ignorance of lion ritual and gets Alex banned from the reserve. Marty finds a bunch of other zebras exactly like him (all voiced by Chris Rock, amusingly enough), Gloria finds hippo love and Melman discovers that his fellow giraffes are also all hypochondriacs.

The plot ends up being more derivative than original, reminding particularly of The Lion King, though never played at that level of seriousness, obviously. Also, no musical numbers. But the jokes are pretty steady and not all bad. Because it’s Dreamworks and Katzenberg, there are a few more jokes aimed at the parents than I’d like, including some of that referential stuff that ages poorly.

But The Flower liked it and The Boy didn’t hate it, and I had a few laughs, so that’s not bad.

RocknRollan on the River

The thing about these English gangster flicks is that it takes a while for the ol’ ears to adjust to the myriad accents and quaint sayings and slang and whatnot, and by the time you’ve adjusted, you don’t know who anyone is and have no idea what’s going on.

OK, it’s not that bad, but I remember getting halfway through Billy Elliot–which had been given an “R” rating for swearing–wondering where all the swearing was before I realized that “fook” and “shite” are naughty.

And so we come to Guy Ritchie’s latest production, his divorce from Madonna.

No, wait, it’s RocknRolla, the tale of a couple of British “real estate developers” whose deal has gone sour because their partner in crime has prevented the necessary zoning from being passed so that he can get the land from them and squeeze them for his “losses” which ultimately forces them to look for other sources of money which actually ends up causing trouble for the guy who swindled them because of his hot ‘n’ wild accountant all while searching out the rat who’s been turning them in for years.


Oh, yeah, and the big guy’s son is the titular RocknRolla, a local drug-abusing musician who has a habit of being reported dead. He steals a painting which doesn’t quite act as a MacGuffin, but which provides a fun thread throughout the film.

Surprisingly, this movie is a little slow, at least at first. It picks up momentum as it goes and finishes strong, with lots of good moments.

The cast is very good, with Gerard Butler as One-Two and Idris Elba as Mumbles and a bunch of other Brits with equally colorful character names. The music is what you’d expect. And there’s a nice combination of whimsy with really, truly abhorrent gang style violence. Sassy!

We liked it. I’m not a big gangster movie guy, but this was fun.

I noticed something interesting: These guys weren’t really gangsters in the traditional sense of running drugs and booze or hookers or contraband: The big boss’s power came entirely from government. Zoning laws and building codes, in fact. The money came from the change in value of a property based on zoning changes.

[insert “small government rant” here]

But I wonder if that’s not something that’s just considered normal in the highly regulated world of London.


I love me some Clint Eastwood. Acting, sure. An archetype. But behind the camera? Awesome.

Also, the guy is 78 and has two movies in the hopper, one of which he’s directing and starring–as the tough guy! WTF, man. I’m such a freakin’ slacker.

Anyway, what I love about Eastwood is that he always hits the universal themes while telling a specific story. For example, some people got upset about Million Dollar Baby, as if it were pro-euthanasia. I say they’re taking too broad a view: Million Dollar Baby isn’t pro-euthanasia, it’s pro-euthanasia, if you have the opportunity to kill Hilary Swank.

Actually, to focus on the euthanasia is to miss the point of the movie. And Eastwood’s movies don’t really lend themselves to generalizing. They tell a specific story in a very convincing fashion, and they don’t skimp on the atmosphere or the research. (That’s why Spike Lee’s accusations about Flags of our Father struck me as such naked self-promotion.) You could see why Eastwood’s character does what he does in Baby. Even if you didn’t agree with it, it was true.

Let me throw some roses here on the much maligned Flags of our Fathers. I liked it–more than most apparently–because it was a naked look at the costs and value of propaganda. And how some soldiers give more than their lives.

And now we come to Changeling, the story of a woman whose son is kidnapped in 1928 Los Angeles, and an impostor returned to her by a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department.

You know, you see Eastwood’s name on a picture, you expect someone to be blown away with a .357. But no dice.

You see J. Michael Straczynski’s name you expect a Narn or at least a cameo by He-Man. Strangely, neither makes an appearance.

But you do get an interesting profile of the abuse of power 80 years ago. Most fascinating is the continued assertion to the mother that the impostor really is hers, and she’s just crazy, obstinate or enjoyed her freedom too much.

The icing on the cake is the “Code 12”, which allows the cops to commit anyone to the L.A. Psycho Ward. They get special treatment there, too, which involves signing waivers to exonerate the police.

Did I mention this is a true story? And not a fake-true story either.

So, whomever is elected tomorrow, and whomever was elected a few years ago, keep in mind that things are pretty much better now. (I’m not saying this doesn’t happen anymore, but at least it requires more effort.)

This is the Angelina Jolie show and I have to say, despite the emphasis of some critics, she pretty well vanishes into the role. She’s scrawny, worn out, washed out–and that’s before her son gets kidnapped. I’m not joking; very little of her beauty is in evidence, she turns the glamour and sex appeal off completely, and even when she fights back, it’s more a quiet, demure determination than a Lara Croft-esque feistiness.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I can now say I’ve seen Angelina Jolie in a good film!

It’s not great, I don’t think. It’s worth a second view for sure. It lacks a big payoff, though it’s remarkable how much suspense there is, as far as whether or not the boy is ever going to return. In fact, the movie goes on past the climax for quite some time where you really get a sense of the alternating hope and despair of a mother missing her child.

Oddly, though, I didn’t tear up or anything like that, and I’m usually a sucker for this sort of thing.

So, what else can you expect? A stunning recreation of L.A. in 1928 (and 1935). Wonderful cinematography and expert pacing. Excellent acting rounded out with John Malkovich (as a corruption fighting preacher), relative unknown Jason Butler Harner as the child dismembering psycho, and especially Jeffrey Donovan as Captain J. J. Jones, the arrogant and corrupt officer who sacrifices a distraught mother to save himself from ridicule. Oh, and Michael Kelly as the cop whose horror over child-murdering exceeds his concern for the department’s reputation.

And, okay, in the psycho ward, there was this nurse. If they remake Cuckoo’s Nest they could put her in the Louise Fletcher role. I mean, seriously, check out her IMDB photo. She looks only half-evil there, and probably isn’t even trying. She looks pretty much 100% evil when she’s administering shock treatment. Note that the actress, Riki Lindhome, also looks like Eastwood’s “type” (Sandra Locke, Frances Fisher) and was in Million Dollar Baby.

This a propos of nothing, but it’s the sort of thing your mind picks out when you watch too many movies. Another thing your mind picks out is that they used the phrase “serial killer” once in a voice-over. But that phrase didn’t exist in 1930. A detail, but one that leapt out at me.

The 2:20 pretty well flies by and I have to admit JMS has written a solid screenplay.

The Boy also approved, though he didn’t seem wowed.

And now back to trying to accomplish in the remaining decades of my life a fraction of what Eastwood has planned for the next 24 months…..

Saw V: I Want To Play A Game (but I get to be the shoe)

We went to Saw V last night–would’ve gone sooner but we went with a buddy of mine and his wife, who are difficult to schedule.

The Saw series, at its best, is a creative vehicle for a series of suspenseful situations. The violence done is primarily to make the consequences that much more dire and the suspense therefore greater. (I mean, you may be in suspense whether you’re going to get a piece of cake at the office party, but the consequences are not dire enough for most of us for this to be a compelling situation. Office Space notwithstanding.)

They’ve done a pretty good job retconning the series, which was obviously meant to be a one-off. (You don’t make your villain fatally ill if you plan to continue forward.) The elaborateness of the set-up suggests more work than a terminally ill man could do. Actually, I’d imagine it would take a team of set designers.

What this means is that, here in the fifth installment, we’re actually going through all four previous movies to show how things were done. This is less compelling, actually, than previous movies showing random people placed in life-threatening situations. The part of the movie that actually involves five random people struggling for survival is the better part of the movie, and shows that the formula itself can work.

Except for the first scene and the last two scenes, it’s not really that gory. The first scene is overdone, gore-wise, I think to make sure you know that you’re in a Saw movie. The penultimate scene involves voluntary blood donation of the sort that has made the movie series famous. The ultimate scene is actually quite short, but effectively shocking.

Overall, not bad. For the fifth film in what has been a pretty good film series, well-nigh miraculous. Costas Mandylor is no Tobin Bell, though, and the movie’s attempt to convince us that he’s been around for all five movies (he hasn’t, just since the third one) is not entirely successful.

I managed to differentiate Mandylor from Scott Paterson, though despite this being Paterson’s second Saw movie, and me having watched “Gilmore Girls” for several seasons, I didn’t recognize him as diner owner Luke. (I’m bad at that; I just mistook Lon Chaney Jr for Leo Gordon, and there’s 15 years between them.)

And my heart (and other body parts) is warmed to see Betsy Russell back as Mrs. Ex-Jigsaw. Betsy Russell was a heart-throb for those of us who watched movies like Avenging Angel or Private School rather than Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Betsy–what an awesome first name for an ‘80s actress!–gets filmed in harsh light with bad makeup, but she’s still a knockout. She retired in the late ’80s/early ’90s to take care of her kids, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.

The real problem with sequels, of course, is that they tend to dilute the strength of the original concept. Jigsaw’s motivation comes from his terminal illness, and then (starting in the third movie) his tragic family history. Shawnee Smith’s character made a poor substitute for John, since her motivation was entirely self-centered. Costas Mandylor’s character seems even weaker, though I suppose they can retcon that in in the next sequels, but those things always have a bolted-on feeling.

Plus, come on: Tobin Bell is one of the most distinctive character actors working, and is marvellously compelling in this role, a sort of modern “mad scientist” type. Mandylor is too conventionally good looking. (I believe they used his voice in the last tape.)

But, eh, I’ll be there next Halloween.