Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Karatiest Kid

I'd heard they were making a new Karate Kid movie. It's true; I just saw it. Only this time they've switched the roles around where it's an old white guy teaching an Asian kid by means of menial housework including the washing of a car.
Ok. So Gran Torino is not Karate Kid V. But it might as well be.
Even though Clint Eastwood is like 104 he still kicks ass. And the coolest thing about this movie is all the racial epithets.
Clint Eastwood is a widower living in a bad neighborhood and he is pretty much your typical grumpy old man neighbor. Like if Walter Matthau had shot 13 gooks in Korea and returned to make a hash out of his own family (no -- he doesnt kill them, he's just emotionally distant). And also if Matthau could have feasibly been in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The neighbors turn out to be involved in some gang shit and Eastwood finds himself embroiled in their garbage.
Because gangs don't take well to being humiliated, they retaliate and it's bad and Eastwood has to finish things. Because that is what he does.
It gets a little Messianic at the end but, hey, when God fails to give us role models we have to invent them in ourselves and in our movies.
This movie seemed to be tailor-made for the actor/director. It is basically a modern day Western and echoes an earlier Eastwood movie, High Plains Drifter, when he says: "The thing that haunts a man most is the thing he is not ordered to do."
I think I got a little bored in the middle just waiting for things to happen. But it left me feeling that, in the end, something did happen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Space Between the Spaces

Remember the last Indiana Jones movie? You know? The one called The Last Crusade? Whatever happened to “last” meaning final, concluding, the film after which there will be no more films in the series?
Well, I guess Steven Spielberg knew that he wouldn’t really be able to pull off a full-fledged Indiana Jones sequel. Which is why he pulled out the other ace in his sleeve: space aliens.
What’s the deal with Spielberg’s obsession with aliens? If he could have somehow tied in the concept of benevolent space invaders into the Holocaust, you know they would have shown up in Schindler’s List.
Whatever the motive for Indie’s return, he’s back. It’s the fifties. It seems like the whole first half of the movie was made with the sole intent of you getting the fact that it’s circa 1957.
The Russians have replaced the Nazis as the bad guys and they are out to find some crystal skull that will give them an edge in the booming industry of psychic warfare. The movie-goers of this generation may not remember, but the red scare had as much to do with the Commies getting their hands on supernatural powers that would enslave the free world as it did destroying capitalism. That was what the whole race to the moon was about.
While an illegitimate Indie Jr. joins the gang and they race around to Mayan ruins, make sure to keep your eye out for Bigfoot and Leprechauns. Because anything at this point would seem to make as much sense as the spiel Spielberg is schlepping.
There are some classic Indie style adventures with secret passages and codes and treasures. So that’s nice. But it all just seems to be missing the mark a little.
And then the coup comes with the standard moral of “be careful what you wish for” and “don't over-grasp your limits” and – oh yeah – “there are space aliens everywhere waiting for humans to wise up.”
Well, if it weren’t for stupid movies maybe we’d be ready to process the knowledge of the universe. I doubt it and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the opportunity to find out. Mayans predict the end of the world in 2012. But between now and then Saw VI-IX will be coming out.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Here are some good ideas for marrying to a millionaire (in no particular order):

1.) change your name from something normal to something elegant
2.) pose nude in Playboy
3.) date a baseball player
4.) have an affair with a president
5.) be a movie star
6.) overdose on drugs

Hey, it worked for Marilyn Monroe. Or not. Well, at least she was able to steal the spotlight from Lauren Bacall and get herself on the dvd cover even though she wasn’t the star. Way to go, Marilyn!
Anyways, H2MaM has two openings, neither of which have anything to do with the movie.
The first is a six minute scene of the orchestra playing the opening sequence which is kind of like how in Space Camp when Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” is playing and it turns out to be Tom Skerrit listening to it on the radio. When the orchestra started playing the second song, I swear I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me” out loud to my empty apartment.
The second, slightly more relevant opening is an elegy to New York, like the openings of On the Town or Manhattan.
But then the movie decides to get started with a Don Rickles-looking real estate agent selling Lauren Bacall an apartment which she and two of her ding-bat girlfriends (Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable) will use as their bear-hunting grounds.
They are gold diggers looking to marry a millionaire.
Of course, because they are girls and not too smart and because Marilyn wears glasses (“You know what they say about girls who wear glasses”), they end up falling for the wrong guys.
Even Lauren Bacall, the smart one, ends up in love with a guy she calls a hamburger-pusher.
But they are in love and they’ve learned their lesson: money isn’t everything. And everyone lives happily ever after!

PS: the hamburger pusher really is a millionaire!


Don’t be fooled by the Adrian Tomine artwork on the posters and DVD packaging – Motel is not a graphic novel adaptation. Although the idea of making Adrian Tomine’s work into a movie is a compelling one and it is bound to happen. You heard it here first. Instead, it is the adaptation by director Michael Kang of a novel no one has ever heard of: Waylaid.
Ernest is a chubby Chinese twelve year old boy who works for his family-operated motel. It’s the kind of motel where you can pay by the hour and so isn’t exactly the best place to raise kids.
Ernest is lonely and seeking the attention of an older Chinese girl.
He writes a story about her and his sad life and wins honorable mention. But as his discouraging mother says, “Honorable mention just means you’re not good enough to win.”
He befriends a lonely Korean who helps him with misguided fatherly type advice.
But in the end they are still lonely and miserable and sad.
The movie is slow-paced and might have been decent if they had completely changed the cast for better actors.
It wasn’t entirely awful. I laughed at the scene where Sam, the Korean, brings Ernest food in the middle of the night and Ernest says “Am I dreaming?”
I liked it when they broke into Sam’s ex’s house and rearranged the furniture.
And perhaps the best scene of all was the very last. It reminded me of something Nicholas Cage said in Adaptation. He said that you can have a totally awful film but as long as it ends well, audiences will forget everything and go away thinking it was a good movie. And Motel isn’t an awful film. But even that one moment of perfection at the end isn’t enough to make you forget the 75 minutes prior of waiting around for it, not knowing whether it would ever arrive.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Milking It

Milk is a biopic of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay person to hold a political office. Gus Van Sant is the mainstream gay director, and as such he’s sort of preaching to the choir. I mean, I don’t expect any hardcore Republicans (for example) to go into this movie and be changed by anything they see there. It is not so much eye-opening as celebratory. Shot in a quasi-documentary style with stock footage, it shows a man who stood up for what he believed in. He just happened to be gay. At the age of forty he said “I haven’t done anything I’m proud of.” And then over the next eight years he did something.
Milk is the movie that everyone tried to make Brokeback Mountain into. No offense to Ang Lee, the other gay director. He made a beautiful film. And what Milk is lacking is that cinematic flare. But as far as making an important film that stands for homosexual issues and has a solid message, Milk is the real deal.
Brokeback garnered a lot of attention for bringing the gay issue into the spotlight. But it wasn’t the milestone people tried to make out it out to be. Milk actually deals with the issues of gay rights straightforwardly.
I guess I’m a choir member.

What Just Happened?

I have no idea but it was bad.
Ok, so I shouldn’t be reviewing this movie because I didn’t actually watch all of it. For someone who can sit through seven-hour-long movies, that’s saying something.
When you decide to make a movie about making a bad movie, you’re flirting with disaster. It’s really hard not to end up with a horrible movie. But that’s what Barry Levinson has done and what he has ended up with.
I’ve also always had a hard time with movies in which some actors play themselves and other actors play fictional characters. Robert De Niro is a movie producer who is not Robert De Niro but is trying to get an awful movie released starring Sean Penn who plays himself playing the starring role of the movie within the movie, Fiercely. And then there is also another movie being made starring Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis in the leading role. It could be funny. It could almost be a Charlie Kaufman movie. But it is not. It’s just painful. To spice it up there are interstitial shots that look inspired by Godard and do nothing to make the movie any more interesting or tolerable.
I don’t think I’ve seen a worse half of a movie about movies since Robert Altman’s The Player.