Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Summer Of The So-So Sequel

"Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness." - Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN : AT WORLD'S END Last week all them there critic folk dumped on SHREK THE THIRD, the week before that they dumped on PIRATES 3, before that they dumped all over SPIDERMAN 3 so I can't wait for them to dump on OCEAN'S 13! Then stand back for what RUSH HOUR 3 has got coming! Okay so sure these are products of franchise blockbuster seasonal thing, sure - but does movie medriocrity have to be so slickly blatant? I guess so - here goes : PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN : AT WORLD'S END (Gore Verbinski, 2007) Man I was dreading this. I was so indifferent to PIRATES 2 (informal short title) I didn't post a review so this time out upon hearing it was just under 3 hours and word that it was another convoluted exercise in excess I was looking forward to it about as much as I was to a dental appointment (which incidently I had earlier the same day). Not to say the flick is a total waste - there is a fine cast of good actors (Depp, Bill Nighy, Stellen Skarsguard, Mackenzie Cook, etc.) who wade their way through the muck and provide some solid moments but woo-wee! All the lame jokes, un-affecting fight scenes, and pointless attempts at romaticizing map-mythology with supposed sacred artifacts holding eternal power just left me bombastically bored. I did however like the Keith Richards cameo (as Jack Sparrow's father no less). I heard there was a bonus scene like the other PIRATES had after the credits but at the 2 hour 45 mark I was dying to get the hell out of the theater - bet you will be too. So that's the #1 movie in the country - now for the #6 movie (yep, how's that for a seque?) : WAITRESS (Dir. Adrienne Shelly, 2007) Keri Russell is Jenna, a small town waitress with an abusive asshole husband (Jeremy Sisto) who may as well be always clad in a wife-beater sleveless t-shirt. She escapes her miserable existence by dreaming of new pie recipes but that may be harder to do since she finds out she's pregnant. Her fellow waitresses at the pie diner (Cheryl Hines and the director herself Adrienne Shelly) provide some solace - Hines with her wise-cracks - "good luck on your 5 minute date, don't forget to wear a 5 minute condom!" and Shelly with her affable hang-dog quirkiness. None of this matters as much as Jenna's new infatuation with her doctor (Nathan Fillion) who may just be who she's looking for. Meanwhile Andy Griffith puts in a rare film performance as the cranky old diner owner who of course spews weary wisdom before gobbling down a piece of the plentiful pie. Funny without being cloying WAITRESS may have an ending that's too pat but it achieves its "feel-good movie" goal and while I almost expected an announcer for the Lifetime channel to tell me what's coming up next over the end credits I still smiled at the earnest effort. Now as usual some new release DVD reviews. Dig in kids! : FAY GRIM (Dir. Hal Hartley, 2006) Hartley's HENRY FOOL (1997) was one of the best independent movies of the 90's. To make a follow-up (don't want to call it a sequel) now comes off as one of the oddest decisions in recent film history. What's odder is the film itself - a twisted, contrived, and frustrating series of espionage capers. That's right Hartley took the unique absorbing picture he painted in FOOL and made it into a rote spy thriller. Parker Posey returns as the title character and again proves she can carry a movie - it's just unfortunate it's this meandering mumbo-jumbo. It is nice to see Posey get back to her indie roots after such mainstream turns as YOU'VE GOT MAIL and SUPERMAN RETURNS - I just wish Hartley's heart were more into it. After being told of Fool's (Thomas Jay Ryan - who only appears briefly) death Fay makes a deal with an Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum - who looks very tired) to get her brother Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) out of jail while she goes to Paris to retrieve the missing possibly world-threating confession journals of Fool's. That's all I'm going to write about the damn numbing plot. Action scenes are ham-fisted and mostly made up of freeze frame still shots and purposely not showing us the actual moments of impact. The result is we are not convinced and don't care about what's going on. I know I didn't. I believe I need to re-watch HENRY FOOL to get the sour taste out of my mouth from this dim grim (sorry - couldn't help it) mess. THIEVES LIKE US (Robert Altman, 1974) Having been an Altman fan for most of my life I was very curious about this movie. It was never available on VHS and I never came across it on TV so it was just a title in a filmography in some random film guide I would pick up from time to time. It's still glossed over in Altman's Wikipedia entry the last time I checked. Curious because it comes from Altman's most acclaimed and glorious period (the 70's, stupid) - I mean its right smack between CALIFORNIA SPLIT and THE LONG GOODBYE so what was the hold-up? Even more curious is that it's really good and should be more than just noted - it's a movie to savor. Just released by Paramount on DVD mere months after Altman's death we can finally see Keith Carradine, John Schuck, and Bert Remsen play bank-robbing ex-felons in Mississippi in the 30's. Hitting over 30 banks they build up quite a reputation as evidenced in the radio reports and newspaper headlines they grab. Along the way Carradine falls for Altman regular Shelley Duvall, Remsen marries a frumpy beautician, and Schuck gets drunker and drunker. The real meat on the plate here is the mundune every day life between the stick-ups where Coke bottles are clutched, bad jokes are told, and the notion of settling down is as daunting as the fear of being caught by the law. The only special feature on the DVD is a commentary recorded by Altman reportedly in the late 90's but it's the only extra it needs to have. In my adventures in Altman appraisal since the great man's death I've put together this handy list - THE ROBERT ALTMAN REPORATORY COMPANY (or stock company as Ebert calls it) ROLE CALL : For the most part I've stuck to his movies - the TANNER series and it's follow-up being the only exceptions. Also this is far from complete - the noting of everyone who puts in a brief cameo or just walks by in THE PLAYER ('92) who is in another Altman movie would take all day - sorry Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher! I don't ignore THE PLAYER (how can I?) but I tried to get the most relevant down. Stand up when your name is called thespians! Rene Auberjonois (pictured left) – MASH ('70), BREWSTER McCLOUD ('70), McCABE & MRS. MILLER ('71), IMAGES ('72), THE PLAYER (as himself) : Sure he may be better known from TV gigs like Benson and STAR TREK : DEEP SPACE NINE but it's his work during Altman's great early '70's run especially as Father Mulcahy in MASH that put him on the movie map. Ned Beatty NASHVILLE ('75), COOKIE'S FORTUNE ('99) Karen Black - NASHVILLE, COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN ('82) Keith CarradineMcCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US, NASHVILLE Geraldine Chaplin - NASHVILLE, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, A WEDDING ('78) Bud Cort (pictured on the right) - BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH- Only 2 movies but what a 2 movies to make a mark in! Forget about Harold for a bit and give Cort his due! BREWSTER McCLOUD is sadly still unavailable on DVD but there is a rumored release set for later this year that I pray is not just a rumor. Sandy DennisTHAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK ('69),COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN Paul DooleyA WEDDING, A PERFECT COUPLE ('79), HealtH ('80), POPEYE ('80), O.C. AND STIGGS ('85) Robert DuvallCOUNTDOWN ('68) MASH, THE GINGERBREAD MAN ('98) Shelley DuvallBREWSTER McCLOUD, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US, NASHVILLE, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, 3 WOMEN, POPEYE Henry GibsonTHE LONG GOODBYE ('73), NASHVILLE, A PERFECT COUPLE, HealtH Elliot Gould - MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, NASHVILLE (as himself), THE PLAYER (as himself) Sally Kellerman (above) - BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, THE PLAYER, PRET-A-PORTER ('94) Lyle Lovett - THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS ('93), PRET-A-PORTER, COOKIE'S FORTUNE (also had songs in DR. T & THE WOMEN-2000) : Lovett was creepily effective as the plain-clothed cop on Robbin's back in THE PLAYER but you've really got to give it up for his crazed cake chef in SHORT CUTS. Julianne Moore - SHORT CUTS, COOKIE'S FORTUNE Michael Murphy - COUNTDOWN, THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, KANSAS CITY ('96), (also the TV projects TANNER '88 and TANNER ON TANNER) : Definitely one of Altman's most reliable and solid players. Murphy has a handle on a particular late 20th century American male persona - polished and poised on the outside but in the inside a troubled tortured soul. Well used in the undeservably underrated Tanner series. Paul Newman - BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, QUINTET Bert RemsenTHIEVES LIKE US, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, A WEDDING, THE PLAYER Tim Robbins - THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS, PRET A PORTER John Schuck (pictured on the right) - BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US : Speaking of under-rated, Schuck is a wonderful unsung character actor who added much to Altman's golden age. However you may recognize him more if he had Klingon makeup on. Tom Skerrit MASH, THIEVES LIKE US Lily Tomlin (pictured left) – NASHVILLE, THE PLAYER (as herself) , SHORT CUTS, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION ('06) : One of the biggest comedy stars of the 70's, Tomlin displayed her best acting under Altman's tuteledge. For her to be happily on-hand for his last hurrah was a beautiful thing indeed. Nina Van Pallandt - THE LONG GOODBYE, A WEDDING, QUINTET, O.C. AND STIGGS More later...

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