Cat’s Meow, The

The only thing I had to sacrifice was three hours of my life, (112 minutes for the movie, almost a bloody hour standing outside waiting to get in).

The movie is based on the true story of the death of Thomas Ince. Or, according to this film, the murder of poor old Tom. Which also happens to take place on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. During a birthday celebration for Mr. Ince. Where his mistress is present, along with other notable names such as Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Louella Parsons, blah blah blah. Sounds like a lot is going on rightr Murder, sex, betrayals, affairs, oh my! You could not be further from the truth. Marion Davies, those of you geeks like FilmJerk who actually watched the other disc that came with “Citizen Kane” know, was the mistress of big Willy Hearst. but also was fooling around with Mr. Chaplin on the side. There are scenes that stretch on and on, with Willy watching Marion and Charlie dance together, giggle and stare at each other. This basically makes up half the damn movie. Establishing that Hearst knows, is pissy mad about it, yet does nothing about it except fume and huff and puff on his own. We get the picture already!!

This film also wins the “Steel Magnolias” award for Most Annoying Female Cast of the year. Instead of shooting poor and totally cute Wesley, I wish Hearst would throw all these chicks overboard. Especially Jennifer Tilly, who brings her patented ingratiating whine and psychotic hyperness to Louella Parsons. Kirsten Dunst is tolerable in some of the scenes, but it’s basically only because she has such great costumes. All the other bitches (who I won’t even bother to name because I’m trying to forget them) were seemingly told “See if you can out-annoy nails on a chalkboard.”

And the most yicky part of the movier Edward Herrmann canoodling with Kirsten Dunst. I just kept thinking, “Geez, Marion is like the same age as Rory Gilmore. Stay away from Rory! Stay away from your granddaughter! EWWW!”

My favorite part had to be after Willy has had a breakdown, and is sitting, shocked with Marion after, you know, THE INCIDENT. Willy starts to overdramatically sob like FilmJerk did after “Monsters, Inc.” and clings to poor little Marion. “You’re my entire world!” I could not stop myself from laughing hysterically, earning me several evil glances from some of the snobbish Chelsea pseudo-bohemian bitches in attendance.

Like “Gosford Park,” another boring murder mystery which took too damn long to get to the murder, I came away from this film with very bad feelings towards the makers of this overwrought shelf sitter which should have premiered on American Airlines flight 33 instead of preying on the weak minded who think “Oooo, indie film about Hollywood must be good.” I guess they figured they might be able to get some residual fans from “Bring It On” who might want to see Kirsten Dunst in some sexy flapper costumes, who wouldn’t care if the acting is uneven or just plain bad, and we have a story so lame and boring that it makes “What Women Want” seem it was from the pen of Dylan Thomas.

As the FilmJerk tried to follow me home, and I prepared to ditch him in the crowds, he said aloud what I had been thinking the entire time: “And they don’t let me make movies whyr” I thought about it for a good fifteen seconds, then realize both the film and Filmjerk’s chances to ever make a movie were worse than Chris Klein’s entire filmography, save “Election.” So I kicked him in the balls, laughed as he fell to the ground and hailed a taxi to take me back home.

Rating: D-
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Blow

Most films based on a true story pick an interesting one, or at least try to make it interesting.

Most films cast the main character’s mother with an actress older than the main character, not three years younger.

Most films about drugs try to make a statement about drugs.

Most films about the drug trade make more than a passing reference to the violence involved.

Most historical movies pay attention to time passing as opposed to making the 60s though the 90s look like the 70s.

Most historical films don’t have a character quote from a film roughly three years before that film comes out.

Most films either maintain suspense about the ending or reveal the ending as part of devise to add interest… somehow.

Most films ask their charismatic character to give a compelling performance while playing a compelling character.

Most films try to justify over-the-top performances with some character development to justify them.

Most films have a moral centre.

And most films about cocaine don’t make you leave the theatre thinking it might not be such a bad idea to try it.

Finally, most films involving generally competent performances and reasonable direction also have a story worth telling.

“Blow” is ultimately dull and not terribly compelling. It isn’t really a bad movie but it’s hard to recommend. That’s one movie convention I wish it had flown in the face of.

Rating: C
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Teddy Bear’s Picnic

So when one hears Harry Shearer is going to make his debut as a film director by getting a bunch of talented comedy veterans and mocking power-broker retreats, one would hope for the best. When one scans the cast list and sees names like Henry Gibson, Fred Willard, Robert Mandal, George Wendt, Kenneth Mars, Howard Hesseman, Bob Einstein, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, one would expect to be rolling in the aisles from the opening fade in to the last cut. And when one noticed the running time for the film is a scant 84 minutes, one would believe all the fat has been trimmed and the viewer will be left with nothing but the lean, juicy meat of comedy merriment.

One would be somewhat disappointed.

In the hills outside of San Francisco, the richest most powerful white men in America gather each summer at the idyllic Zambesi Glen to act like a bunch of frat boys, away from the prying eyes of the world. Leaders of business, politics, the military and entertainment are free to drink and swear in abundance, urinate communally while frolicking naked in the woods, execute clandestine sacraments and concoct immoral scenarios that could instigate public destruction, and croon dreadfully while sporting women’s clothing. But times are changing. Due to public pressure, the Glen is being opened to outsiders for the first time, if only to the wives and girlfriends of this year’s participants for part of a single day. After being welcomed by Glen patriarch Porterfield Pendleton, the ladies are given brief tours of the copiously appointed rustic cabins, state-of-the-art infirmary and the Dionysian Bowl’s theater before ending the day before the sun sets.

Six weeks later, the men have returned to Zambesi Glen under the watchful eyes of a group of protestors huddled at the main gate. Deep in the woods under the cover of darkness, the opening ceremonies begin as cloaked members engage in their secret ritual of “the killing of time” to signal the commencement of the festivities. In the kitchen, head waiter Joey Lavin is fussing over every detail of keeping the Zambesians well fed and drunk. And at the edge of the grove, two women wait in rooms at the Bella Rio, where they will earn their keep for the year servicing the men in ways they cannot or would not serve each other.

As the first evening comes to a close, one of the men must return to the real world to deal with the operations of his failing semi-pro summer basketball team. He accidentally takes some Poloroid photos out of the Glen, which he later leaves unattended at a press conference the next day. A sharp eyed reporter notices the photos, which end up as the lead story on the evening news. After much deliberation and many drinks, the emergency council of the Glen decide to beef up security so more breaches do not occur.

Back in the kitchen, Joey announces to his staff that a case of Sanka coffee has gone missing, and that he will be deducting the cost of the case from everyone’s paycheck until the guilty party comes clean. Danny, one of the workers who is a waiter in the city, contacts a member of the same TV station who ran the photos and works out a deal to tape the Glen’s happenings on a Mini DV camera for a small fee. After getting some incriminating evidence of the vile things that happen between men of power when the world isn’t watching, he is discovered as a spy, which leads to a series of greater and greater perils which threaten the very existence of the Glen.

The main problem with Teddy Bears’ Picnic is that, despite its miniscule running time, there are too many people and situations to follow. No less than 25 characters are involved in the main thrust of the story, none who are ever given much time to develop into any kind of dimensional character. It may be unfair to compare Shearer’s work on this film to the works of fellow Spinal Tap castmate Christopher Guest, but there is no quicker way to illustrate how much further Shearer needs to go as a filmmaker to equal his work as an actor, author, comedian, musician, radio personality and political satirist. In both Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show, Guest knows there is a limit to how many characters a story can juggle at the same time before everything comes crashing down. As an example of how scattershot and under thought out much of this film is, I did not realize that Jennifer, one of the ladies in waiting at the Bella Rio, was the crappy comedienne seen earlier in the film at a nightclub trying to entertain several of the other peripheral characters until I reviewed the production notes I was given at the screening I attended. Jennifer mentions to one of her customers that she is trying to break into standup, but since there is not enough focus on her in the nightclub, there is no way to make the connection. Or another scene late in the film, as several Zambesians are trying to figure out how things got so bad so quickly, with banking magnet Stanton Vandermint and General Gerberding are each on cell phones talking to others about the situation, where because the way the sequence is edited together, it takes several minutes to realize they are speaking to one another. Shearer and his editor have so many other things going on at the same time, cutting from one man to something else to the second man to one or two other items before going back to the first man. We only realize the extent and gravity of their discussion once all the other happenings are left at the wayside and focus is put on these two men, where it should have been in the first place.

However, this does not mean the is a complete waste of time. There are a number of scenes where I was very much buckled over in laughter. Some of the humor is infantile at best, while other times you might feel guilty chuckling at scenes where men are being shown as the disgusting pigs they are. But as a comedy, it does what a comedy is supposed to do, which is to make you laugh. And that is more than I can say about a lot of films that are allegedly in that same genre which have been forced down our throats by the major studios over the past several years. And I must admit I liked how Shearer brought back a number of underutilized comedic actors and personalities. In addition to those previously named, we get to be reacquainted with former “Hollywood Squares” host Peter Marshall, who makes what little time he is given work so well. And most shocking of all, Alan Thicke comes off the best of the bunch, milking the role of himself to full farcical tilt. The scene where Thicke deals with his fears of burning to death should keep you laughing long after the scene is over.

I look forward to seeing whatever Shearer comes up his next time out as a director. As for this time, I give him an A for effort, a C- for execution and a hearty thank you for helping show some of these older guys still have a lot of good humor in them.

Rating: C-
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Scotland, PA

I’m one of those guys can get away with saying “To be or not to be, that is the question” or “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well” and appear to be slightly literate. I also know a bit about the argument of whom actually wrote the works of Shakespeare, not just from some half assed Gwyneth Paltrow movie either, and I am aware that much of The Godfather is based on Coriolanus.

What is the point in all thisr That when I decided to go see Billy Morrisette’s new film Scotland, PA, I went in knowing it was a loose adaptation of The Scottish Play but was more interested in seeing the likes of Christopher Walken and James LeGros than I was playing “spot the Shakespeare references”. Lolita’s the resident Bard freak on this site. She’s got this book of Shakespeare’s work that’s 2,350 plus pages. It’s got every damn play, sonnet, song, movie, grocery list, suicide note and lists of MP3s he wanted to download sorted by decade, musical genre and artist. I borrowed this book from Lolita last month, because the lock on my front door broke and it keeps the vampires from tearing at my flesh while I sleep. You see, when I first moved to New York, I met a couple of goth chicks at a rave in Brooklyn and took them back to my place. I invited them in, and when I didn’t call them back after our night of passion, these bitches hound me all night. That book, along with the crosses I painted on my doors and windows, are the only things that keep me alive every night. But that’s another story for another day.

Lolita knew I was going to see the film with some friends, so she suggested I meet them at McBeth’s, this place down by Union Square the distributor of the film set up as a sort of fast food Shakespeare outlet. Lolita hangs out at the Gap near Union Square all the time, flirting with Jose, this Guatemalan guy who works in the Kids section. She took me into the Gap once and pointed Jose out to me. I think he’s one step from full John Leguizamo To Wong Foo drag queen extraordinaire, but if Lolita wants to date someone who deep down wants to be Charo, who am I to complainr Except the jailbait queen made it sound like it was a regular burger joint when she told me about it. Imagine my shock when I walk in expecting to save my friends a booth and find myself face to face with two guys performing Romeo and Juliet in a storefront performance space about half the size of a SoHo loft. There were illicit giggles from the six or so others gathered inside, as I apparently walked in just as this Josh Charles look-alike (or maybe it was Josh Charles, since I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since ABC cancelled “Sports Night”) asked Romeo where for art thou. I stuck around for a while, as all my loser buddies were late, and enjoyed snippets of plays and sonnets. Eventually, three of my loser friends showed up and we went off to have some grub at Duke’s.

We finally get to the theatre and for a Tuesday night 930PM showing, it’s surprisingly packed. Granted, the theatre only seats like 200 or so, but it’s got THX sound. And you know, an indie movie about American life in the mid 1970s just screams out for the best Monster Cables and JBL speakers money can buy. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is the decade when rock and roll really started to die, and this film’s soundtrack is chock full of the crap rock Bad Company and their ilk perfected, which sounds marginally better blasting out at high decibels through an enhanced Dolby SR system. After fifteen minutes of truly crappy previews, the movie begins. Scotland, Pennsylvania, is this small town hell hole with the kind of small town hell hole people you only find in these independent movies. You know, the real quirky types who sit around and have all-night Yahtzee tournaments in bars.

Maura Tierney and James LeGros play the McBeths, Joe and Pat, the whitest of white trash lowlifes, who slave away for Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) at his donut shop-cum-burger joint, while dreaming of a better life for themselves. Joe’s got plans, you see. He dreams of his own burger joint, with a drive thru window where people can place orders without getting out of their cars. They hatch a plan to move forward with Joe’s dream, but things going horribly awry, as things must happen at Plot Point I. Norm dies, and the McBeths find themselves in possession of Duncan’s restaurant, as neither of his sons want anything to do with the family business. In quick succession… and I do mean quick, like within a month… Duncan’s becomes McBeth’s, replete not only with a drive-thru window but with an almost familiar arched “M” above the entrance. Business is booming, and the parking lot is packed with the best muscle cars of the day. But what comes up must indeed come down, and this is where McBeth’s antagonist, McDuff (Christopher Walken), must enter. Now a vegetarian lieutenant from out of town assigned to the case, McDuff finds the people of Scotland, PA, to be a strangely friendly lot indeed, particularly Anthony “Banko” Banconi (Kevin Corrigan), Joe’s friend, coworker and confidant. And the film continues down its path, as both Joe and Pat fall deeper into their individual psychosis, until its conclusion.

Now, why did I all of a sudden get quite abrupt in my summationr Those with some interest in the work of Shakespeare know what happens. But that’s what makes Scotland, PA as great of a film as it is. It takes the familiar and puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. This is one of those films that you’ll enjoy no matter how much you know going in, but will get more enjoyment out of the less you know. What you need to know is that Scotland, PA is a film you should seek out when your normal gigantoplex is sold out of their seven shows of We Were Soldiers, if the film even makes it to a theatre near you. Maura Tierney’s turn as the bitch on wheels Pat comes as a shock to those who only know her as the mousy wench from “News Radio” and “ER”. But then, her husband did write and direct the film, so he probably would know how to direct her. LeGros and Walken are solid, but that is to be expected. Andy Dick and Timothy “Speed” Levitch, who along with Amy Smart make up this story’s ghostly tormentors, are rightfully annoying.

I suspect Scotland, PA will end up much like Heathers, admired by those fortunate enough to have seen it in theatres, later to be “discovered” by many on video, although I doubt the story will lost much translation going down to the cathode tube. If you keep a list of films you want to see one way or another, you would be doing yourself a service by keeping this film high up on that list.

Rating: A
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Monsoon Wedding

I overheard all the yuppy bitches oohing and ahhhing over the whole movie, and afterwards excitedly gabbing with their friends how fabulous it would be to have a wedding like that. Think about it, you could make a killing; hire real Indian people to throw your wedding, and pretend to be your family. Someone would make a fortune.

Enough about weddings though; what the hell am I talking about, this whole MOVIE was about a wedding. Two in fact. And you know, even a cynical, sex-addicted freak like myself loved it. The characters were all real and honest, colorful and with hidden faults and desires all their own. The heroine, Aditi, is a Cosmo-reading woman, about to marry an Indian computer engineer from Texas, arranged by her parents. She’s also still fooling around with her ex-boyfriend, a married TV producer.

As cute as Aditi was in her infidelity to her fiance, the real stars of the movie are the minor characters. Especially P.K. Dubey, the exuberant, rude wedding organizer. His wild ways are stopped when he meets and falls for the quiet servant of the Verma family, Alice. From his addiction to eating marigolds to his poor mother, desperate for her successful son to give her grandchildren, Dubey steals all the scenes he’s in. His proposal to Alice at the end is one of the sweetest and most sincere (not to mention hilarious) that I’ve ever seen.

Aditi’s little brother Varun was also simply fabulous. Obsessed with watching cooking show, dancing, and being a little over-weight, Varun was infinitely more interesting than most of his simple family.

The sub-plot of the bad bad Uncle being a bad bad man with little girls was easily not necessary. It contributed nothing to the film, except the feeling of familial solidarity at the end. He was just a bad bad man, and we didn’t need to see any of it.

What I could have used more of was the gorgeous saris and outfits. You can never have too many great outfits, and this family lives by that saying.

One thing that troubled me, was during the movie, the people were laughing at the oddest places. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were laughing at the fact that this well-to-do Indian family in New Delhi had a nice house, with TVs, cell phones, and large property. As if they believed that Indians who don’t live in dirt huts in the crowded city are silly figments of the writer’s imagination. Or perhaps they just thought that it was simply amusing to see these Indians trying to get a good signal with their cell phones. Maybe I just don’t get it. I don’t give a fuck.

Last, but not least, I would like to congratulate Mira Nair for her wonderful film of love and marriage in the rain. I know I for one am anxiously searching for her previous films at this very moment.

Ta!

Rating: A-
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Brotherhood of the Wolf

Once in awhile, amid the stale predictability Hollywood has to offer, it’s nice to come out of a theater going, “What the hell WAS thatr” For the sake of classification, I’d call it historical fantasy, in the vein of Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.” It is based upon a real place and time, real events and sometimes even real people, but that is where the historical ends and the fantasy begins.

“Brotherhood of the Wolf” begins by very graphically setting up the premise in a scene that seems to combine the kinetic violence of “Jaws” with the strobing, frenetic camerawork of “Saving Private Ryan.” Thank you, Spielberg. In fact, the film seems to be a two-and-a-half-hour homage to various American and Asian cinema conventions. The story is set in pre-Revolutionary France, where a small province is being ravaged by what is described by witnesses as a demonic creature. It is based upon the true accounts of the Beast of Gevaudan, which was allegedly responsible for over 100 brutal killings in the region over a period of several years.

Our hero, the dashing Chevalier de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Mohawk/Iroquois companion, Mani (Mark Decascos, of “The Crow: Stairway to Heaven” fame), must determine what is behind the killings and stop it. That’s your basic premise, but it’s no standard Schwarzenegger bughunt. Throw in a bunch of snotty, inbred nobles, a tetchy priest, a nubile young maiden, a prostitute with an agenda, a veterinarian and his wild daughter who is prone to seizures, and you get a small taste of what’s in store… then there’s the fighting.

Good GOD, then there’s the fighting. We get not one, not two, but three showcases of Mani’s incredible ability to fight off a dozen foes at once. Xena Warrior Mohican. Mo Fu. Crouching Mani, Hidden Tomahawk. And that’s just the guy going solo. Then there’s the fighting with the actual hero of the picture, where we catch a glimpse of the French naturalist/adventurer who has understandably picked up the finer points of kung fu while hangin’ with the Mohawks in New France.

It sounds incredibly silly, doesn’t itr And yet, I swear to you, check your brain at the door and enjoy a beautiful, lyrical, disturbing piece of cinema. Acting is very good. Joseph LoDuca did the soundtrack – A ha! I knew there was a Xena connection! Cinematography includes a lot of over-the-top “Matrix Moments”, slow-mo and even freeze frame. There are some nice time-passing dissolves and well-done visual storytelling. The vistas, costumes, sets, lighting and art direction are all first rate. And when you think the plot and politics have more twists than a scoliotic contortionist, another one pops up.

Now the drawbacks: It runs long. Easily could have come in half an hour shorter without harming the story. It is very graphic, very bloody. The non-violent parts are very slowly paced. Be warned, ye who hate reading subtitles, it is in French with subtitles. And the most noticeable thing is the ending… and ending… and ending… and, oh, let’s have some more ending…

…and just a little more ending…

So why did none of these issues bother mer Because it is one of two recent films to perfectly capture the setting of my pet RPG project, Grimmworld (and yes, “Sleepy Hollow” is the other). The film runs like a roleplaying session. Things aren’t quite so neatly executed as they are in American mainstream cinema. The heroes are flawed versions of the archetypes we expect, and to any gamer, that makes them much more interesting! Weird things happen for no apparent reason, and that don’t necessarily further the story. And there’s two metric assloads of melee combat with people, animals and “supernatural” creatures.

For this reason alone I recommend “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” admittedly with the caveats above. Some of you will not like it. Some will not be able to get past the incongruity of Asian style martial arts in 18th century France, or past the horrible parts of the horror. It is as much an homage to Hammer’s and American International’s classic period horror films with Vincent Price and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as it is to Hong Kong action cinema and Merchant-Ivory romances.

A mixed breed, certainly, and not for everyone. But if you share my love of dark historical fantasy, you will probably enjoy this film immensely.

Rating: A-
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