The Rating System
Kex Liked It:
It Really Sucked:
It Sucked as bad as Eyes Wide Shut:
It Sucked badly enough to bring the world to the brink of apocalypse:
Last Week: Chicken(shit) Runs
For the past few weeks, choosing a movie has been an awful lot like voting in all of the Presidential elections I have been eligible to participate in during my life. The matter has been less an exercise in proudly making a selection I am enthusiastic about than simply holding my nose and selecting whatever seems to be the lesser of all available evils. I then try my best to supress the overwhelming retching reflex as I depart, and hope that whatever selection the masses make will not return the nation to the stone age.
The only other new release available to me this week was the new Jim Carrey movie, Me, Myself and Irene. I can't help but think about how many people out there lead really difficult lives, contrasted to the fact that we place people like Carrey on such a vaulted pedestal. Watching about two hours of his work, which mostly consists of him acting like an obnoxious jerk is generally enough to make me want to ring his geeky pencil neck. Think about it: There are thousands of people all over America working for the Department of Motor Vehicles who do the same thing for minimum wage. What the hell do we need Carrey for?
But on to matters at hand. Stated very simply, Chicken Run clucked (or something that rhymes). To all the people who were involved in making this movie, thus providing me the opportunity to shoot 90 minutes of my life watching it, I have one message: Pluck you and the horse you rode in on (or something that rhymes). I had only one compelling reaction to watching this movie: When the credits rolled, I couldn't get to Kentucky Fried Chicken fast enough.
I'm betting that won't be an uncommon reaction to seeing this film. Ask 99.99% of the people in America if they like chickens, and I guarantee you that this will be the answer: "Depends on how they are cooked." They can be fried, barbequed, boiled, stewed, roasted, or whatever, but aside from entree form, people do not like chickens. People hate chickens. Lassie kills chickens whenever she has free time.
Memo One to Hollywood: There has never been, and never will be, a good movie made about chickens (or seagulls). If you absolutely MUST make a movie about animals, make a movie about dolphins, or sharks, or giraffes or gorillas or ants for chrissakes, but DON'T make a movie about chickens. What kind of a dumb ass would make a movie about an animal everyone finds loathsome? Oh, by the way, turkeys are probably a bad idea too.
Memo Two to Hollywood. Claymation sucks. In the recorded history of entertainment, there have been exactly two worthwhile claymation projects: Gumby, because it was the first one, and The Mr. Bill Show, because it was an excellent parody of all the other claymation crap that came out after Gumby. Most of us give up playing with clay after about 2nd grade. That's because we move on to more interesting things.
All of the reviews I have read on this movie so far are heaping praise on it for its animation technique. This brings us back to that "The Batmobile was cool" kind of left handed praise we discussed a couple of weeks ago. Granted that a good story can be destroyed by bad animation in this type of movie, but we also must note that good animation can never save an ass-rammed story.
I'm sure that there are plenty of talented animators out there who could create some excellent animation of a wino barfing up his raggy socks, but none of us want to see that, right?
Chicken Run is the story of a group of hens on an egg farm, and one plucky hen (sorry, I couldn't resist) who wants to lead the group to freedom. Just what constitutes freedom in chickendom is a little beyond my comprehension, but apparently it has something to do with living independently in the green grass and getting picked off by hawks and bull snakes. You see, chickens are simply too stupid to last in the wild. They are barely smart enough to scratch out a living (sorry again) in the protected confines of a farm. At this point, I'm having to resist the enormous temptation to tell the story of a chicken that lived several years on a farm here in my state with most of its head cut off. That illustrates exactly how much chickens rely on brain power in this life.
This movie is mostly an attempted parody of every concentration camp and escape movie ever made, with a touch of Indiana Jones tossed in. But, chickens don't have teeth, and this movie doesn't have any comedy. Making matters worse, several of the voices used for the chickens were supplied by British actresses, and following the dialog was difficult at times, not that missing out on several lines here and there makes the story difficult to follow.
Mostly, we just endure the movie, trying to figure out why we are even making the effort. After all, we are trying to muster up sympathy here for chickens, and we just can't do that. When the chickens make their incredible escape in the end, I mostly felt angry at the loss of a good chicken pot pie. I happen to like chicken pot pies a heck of a lot more than I like chickens. Heck I like the aluminum containers they are served in more than I like chickens.
I really have to wonder what the next project the makers of this film are going to dream up....maybe a nice stirring revolutionary piece about cockroaches, or a rip off of Love Story featuring rattlesnakes. That could be a real winner financially, because making claymation rattlesnakes probably wouldn't be that hard. They could hire a Kindergarten class to do most of the work way below union scale.
Just one quick note in closing too. There have been many people out there lately who have noted that I tend to go rather easy on movies primarily aimed at children. Read this one carefully, and accept my assurance that I'm not bagging this one just to dispel a myth....its just that this movie ate....and when all was said and done, KFC never tasted better.
Last Week: U.S. Marshals:
I already saw this movie; even before I rented it for the first time. Somehow it changed a little bit between the time that I saw it in the theater and when I brought it home for rental, without realizing I had already seen it. I could swear that the first time around it had Harrison Ford instead of Wesley Snipes, but maybe my memory is just getting bad with age. Or maybe Ford pulled sort of a reverse Michael Jackson and transformed into Snipes for the video version. That kind of thing happens in movies. Remember how Billy Dee Williams morphed into Tommy Lee Jones between Batman I and Batman III ?
Speaking of Tommy Lee Jones, he is in this movie. He was in the version I saw in the theater too. Both times, he plays U.S. Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard. Jones has become sort of a latter day Jack Webb when it comes to playing law enforcement agents. You almost expect him to begin the movie by saying something like, "July 16. Its bright and clear in Chicago, and my partner and I are chasing escaped fugitives. My name is Gerard; I wear a badge."
I guess Jones is getting pretty good at playing a U.S. Marshal after The Fugitive and this movie, U.S. Marshals which really was effectively a sequel. Hell, it wasn't a sequel, it was the same damned movie, right down to the innocent man being persecuted, then escaping after a mass transit accident. About the only real difference is that the real bad guy had two arms.
Well, okay...another difference between U.S. Marshals and The Fugitive, aside from the substitution of Snipes for Ford was the presence of Robert Downey Jr. That sort of lended an extra air of realism to the proceedings, because if there is anyone who should be intimately familiar with the inner workings of real U.S. Marshals, it would be Downey Jr. Afterall, he has spent a good deal of the last decade in their possession. I guess he must have done this movie between his brushes with them, or maybe it was some sort of work release project: Something like community service.
This film basically revolves around action, so its yet another case where the plot is a bit weakly defined and confusing. Apparently some sort of leak is occuring within the state department, allowing China to gain access to sensitive information. In other words, covert operatives inside the goverment were elaborately plotting to sneak sensitive materials into the hands of the Chinese, rather than affording Bill Clinton the opportunity to sell it to them in exchange for campaign cash.
During the process of handing over a document that details South Korean air defenses, a couple of F.B.I. agents who are apparently wise to the scheme get shot, and Wesley Snipes' character, who is a secret government operative gets fingered for the killings. Essentially he was set up to take the fall in case anything went wrong. Now, South Korean air defenses probably can't be all that deeply secret. Its pretty much a matter of shooting down anything that crosses the border which has mounted guns and isn't rubber band powered. So immediately we get the feeling that this whole matter is a bit overblown, and the information that is being leaked out the the Chinese probably isn't worth the effort that is invested into tracking down Snipes.
The part of the movie that is identical to The Fugitive involves a plane crash that results from a Chinese agent trying to assassinate Snipes. The plane involved is transporting federal prisoners, since apparently all of them get captured in Chicago and then flown elsewhere. The plane crashes as the result of the failed assassination attempt, and Snipes escapes. Thus agent Sam Gerard has to track him down.
From that point on, the movie is effectively the same movie as The Fugitive. Gerard doggedly pursues Snipes, but his diligent investigation leads to doubts that Snipes is really guilty of anything. Still, Gerard always gets his man, so the pursuit of Snipes becomes an obsession.
It becomes personal after Snipes is cornered in a resthome, where Downey Jr. corners him, then shoots Gerard's partner and blames Snipes, who narrowly escapes. You see, Downey Jr. is really a bad guy who was in on the China plot, and he has to make sure that Snipes is silenced.
If you saw The Fugitive, there is absolutely no reason in the world to sit through this movie. If you've seen this movie, but not The Fugitive you might well want to scratch it from your future rental list. In point of fact, you already have seen it. To date, there hasn't been a third Sam Gerard film, and here is hoping we won't be subjected to the license yet again. I think that is a safe bet, since no one in Hollywood would be creative enough to come up with yet another title. Afterall, the first time we celebrated the suspect, then we credited the law enforcement agent. Still, it was the same movie done twice, and I think we'd all be on guard in case we see Jones playing Gerard again.
Last Week: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron:
While most of the nation's filmgoers are still elbowing their way into
the theater to watch Anakin Skywalker evolve into the Dark Lord Vader,
or Peter Parker transform into the mystic hero Spiderman, too many will
overlook a film actually worth gathering up the family to see. Yes,
gentle readers, the aforementioned two summer blockbusters are crap, but
for those sharp enough to have already figured that out, a very
worthwhile alternative awaits discovery.
Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron is a rare treat for summer fare.
Not only is it entertaining and enjoyable, but not particularly offensive,
disgustingly violent or remotely sleezy. How this jewel managed to win
approval in the crap factory called Hollywood is almost an impenetrable
The movie is a rare treat in a number of ways. Its an animal oriented
animated feature in which the animals mostly act like animals; to put
it more bluntly, they don't talk. There is some narration reflecting
the lead horse's viewpoint, as voiced by Matt Damon, but apart from that,
our sensibilities are not assaulted by animals coughing out all sorts
of annoyingly uncharacteristic anthropomorphisms. You'll be amazed at
how much less irritating Matt Damon can be when you don't have to
actually watch him.
The movie is visually striking, with beautiful backgrounds enhancing
the animated action upfront. Dialogue is used sparringly, and permitted
only to the human participants. A great deal of the film is played over
an appealing soundtrack, mostly the work of Bryan Adams. Indeed, the
film almost seems at times to be an extended animated music video for
Adams' benefit, but that can be forgiven. The music enhances, and even
contributes to the storyline.
The plotline has points to hold the interest of all age groups, with
sufficient action and suspense to hold the interest of children, and
a morality play to stir the imaginations of adults. Scenes invoke images
of the holocaust and slavery. But for the most part its just a fun
movie to see, and I personally hope a lot of people will resist the
temptation to hand George Lucas more green paper with which he may duly
wipe his ass, and give this nice little fantasy film a shot.
The few problems I had with it were minor. For one, unless my
recollection of western history is flawed, the Cimarron generally
refered to a region of western Texas, and not the canyonlands of
northern Arizona and southern Utah, which this film clearly attempts to
depict. Its also one of those film that will try to feed you a generous
helping of guilt over being white, and particularly male. The standard
bias of the film points to white males as being militant, bigoted and
unfriendly to animals. That, needless to say, is a bit of an over-
But for its minor flaws its a very entertaining way to spend an hour and
a half of your life. Pack up the kids or rent a couple, and go see this
one. Even if you can't find a few kids to treat, just treat yourself.
You'll like this movie.
Now, I've been uncharacteristically nice to a film, and I have a few
paragraphs left to fill, so lets consider a couple of other things that
I've given some thought to lately. No, before all of the conservatives
tune out, I'm not going to toss any darts at Bozo the President. I don't
have to anymore. Instead, lets consider a couple of other matters:
Suppose for a moment that Yoda got into a fight with Spiderman. Who do
you think would win? I'm looking forward to the input of the Kexkateers
on this one, because I know you guys have some creative ideas sometimes.
Think about it. Yoda has the force going for him, but Spiderman has that
spider intuitiveness thing going. Yoda has a light-sabre, but Spidey
has his webshooting thing. Yes, I know they are both good guys, but we
can use a little imagination here, so who wins the fight? Can Spidey
get the light-sabre away and kick some green puppet ass? Would Yoda chop
up Spidey? Inquiring minds want to know.
Meanwhile, aren't we all glad that Yo Yo Ma's parents didn't hate him?
I'm sure he is pretty glad. I know some of you may be thinking that his
parents couldn't have been all that found of him really, because they
did name him Yo Yo. But it could have been a WHOLE lot worse. Stop to
think of the consequences to a young psyche if they had named him Yo Ma
instead. Would he have grown up to be one of history's most talented
musicians had he been forever saddled with the moniker, "Yo Ma Ma?" I
have to have may doubts.
Send me your thoughts on these matters, and tune in next week for the
review of Clear and Present Danger. At the risk of expending all
my thunder, I read the book and I don't think I'll recognize the movie.
If the plot points I'm hearing are correct, all they have changed is
the antagonist group, location of the principle action, and the fact that
Jack Ryan is married, since he becomes romantically involved during the
film. Further, he has somehow gotten a lot younger. Stay tuned.
Last Week: Bruce Almighty:
In the first place, if God were going to share his infinite powers with
a mere mortal, he would not do something as retarded as foisting them
off on the braindead TV reporter that Jim Carrey portrays in this movie;
not even to try to teach the lout a lesson. It would just be really
stupid. Its sort of like entrusting a country to some idiot that scored a
26 on his Air National Guard entrance exams; 25 means you are too stupid
to get in.
No, I think we know who God would share powers like that with. Of course,
modesty prevents me from elaborating on this point further, but I think
everyone has already figured it out. And no, it wouldn't be that
blowhard on the radio who claims "talent on loan from God." If he has
that, he ought to use a little of it.
In the second place, God wouldn't spend any of his time hanging out in
Buffalo, New York. That almost goes without saying. This is a place that
gets about 80 feet of snow every winter. Their sports teams suck, and
even when they tease their fans with a decent season, they slap them
down with an ultimate failure so spectacular that even the pain of living
in Buffalo becomes a footnote.
This is one of those movies that insults the intelligence of its audience
so profoundly that its a wonder the masses aren't marching on Hollywood
armed with torches. As noted, Jim Carrey plays a TV reporter who thinks
his life sucks because he can't get an anchor job. It seems like a
pretty good gig, and he has a nice apartment and a girlfriend that looks
like Jennifer Anniston, but this idiot still thinks that God has it in
So when he is passed over for promotion to the coveted anchor chair at
the station where he works, he goes ballistic during a live feed, and
ends up getting fired. Then he wrecks his car and gets even more pissed
off at God. It isn't quite evident why a guy who thinks his life sucks
so badly has any sort of religious faith in the first place.
With his life falling apart around him, Carrey goes on a diatribe about
what a mediocre life, job and existance he has. Now, 99.99% of working
America who aren't big movie stars or script writers probably would get
a little confused at this point, because I think most people would regard
the job as a TV reporter as being pretty cool. It is overlooked at this
point that Carrey didn't have a job at all anyway, and I was wondering
if some pretty sucky editing was going on.
I also don't think that most of the guys in the audience would think
their lives particularly sucked if they were bagging Jennifer Anniston
every night. I mean, I think that would satisfy most guys even if they
spent the day cleaning toilets at the Ex-Lax testing labs. But somehow,
Carrey is convinced that he is the most oppressed human on the planet.
Eventually, God (Morgan Freeman) gets a little tired of Carrey's whining,
and decides to grant Carrey all of His powers for awhile. There are two
rules he has to follow: First, he can't mess around with freewill. Second,
he has to be annoying, make a lot of stupid faces, and do everything
possible to make sure this movie totally blows. No, wait, that wasn't
it. He couldn't tell anyone he had god-like powers.
So instead of actually attempting to do anything to help his fellow man,
Carrey naturally does everything he can to improve his own lot. Along
the way he gets annoyed by everyones' prayers and grants everyone their
requests. Naturally, that makes things worse.
The point of this whole exercise was permitting Carrey's character to
learn that selfishness only contributes to the overall misery of existance.
If only the Republicans could be granted god-like powers long enough
to learn that. On the other hand, there wouldn't be anything left to
save by the time they had their revelations. But if someone really
could achieve omnipotence, it wouldn't be a bad start to give Carrey
a little talent.
Oh, by the way, it has apparently become a Hollywood tradition now to permit at least
one aged and forgotten entertainer to appear in every film. This week's wearer of the
"Hey, I'm still alive and in this movie!" Teeshirt is Tony Bennet.
Last Week: Fahrenheit 911 and Two Brothers: (both)
For those on the political left of the spectrum, it was a pretty good weekend to get out to the
movies. I got home about 3 A.M. Saturday morning from work, then managed to summon up sufficient
adrenaline to make it to two features; Michael Moore's controversial new polemic Fahrenheit
911 and a wonderfully cute family film, Two Brothers.
Anyone who hasn't already heard a little bit about Moore's new film has probably been living in
a cave the past few weeks. First, it become one of only two documentaries in history to be an
offical selection at Cannes. Then, after an unprecedented number of showings at the French festival,
it won top honors as the best film in the festival.
Shortly thereafter, Miramax, the company responsible for the film's distribution backed out on
their agreements on orders from their parent company, Disney. It seems that the good folks at
Disney were worried that their sweetheart tax deals for Disneyworld in Florida could be compromised
by association with the film, since the state is run by George Bush's brother. But the film found
a new distribution contract in two Canadian companies, Lion's Gate and IFC.
Then things really got nasty. The political right began using a group wildly inappropriately
named Move Forward America, a front organization for the Republican campaign company Russo, March
and Rogers, to begin a smear campaign against the film. RM&R is widely known for their creative
campaign tactics, what most would call dirty tricks and negative campaign tactics. The right even
managed to enlist Ray Bradbury, probably the only right leaning science fiction writer in the
history of the universe, to complain about the title.
Bradbury's bellyaching is curious coming from a man who hasn't written anything truly worthy of publication
in over three decades. You'd think that at this point, anything that might draw attention to his
mostly forgotten work would actually be welcome. But the more base tactics, such as the hiring
of an organization internationally famous for expertise in mudslinging is a pretty apt demonstration
of how unworthy of support the political right really is.
There are really only two possibilites: One, this film contains a lot of uncomfortable truth,
and the Republicans, already facing an uphill battle to retain the White House in November, know
they can ill-afford the spread of this kind of information. Or two, the film IS mostly
propogandist, but the right is not comfortable with their own capacity for rebuttal, and have
too little respect for the intelligence of the American public to seperate the wheat from the
chaff. Either way, its pretty obvious that the conservative postion is becoming increasingly
Naturally the right will tell you that in the presence of the oppressive "liberal media," they
can never get their message out. The reality is that the liberal media is the most famous
bit of mythology since the unicorn. As just one supporting evidence, a bipartisan media watch
organization called Pew Charitable Trust Project for Excellence in Journalism did a study of
all the newspaper, network and cable news outlet stories on the 2000 Presidential election. They found that
of all reporting on Al Gore, 13% was positive, 31% neutral and 56% negative. By comparison,
stories on Bush were 24% positive, 27% neutral and 49% negative.
The "liberal media" ran generally negative slanted stories on Gore more than half of the time
they were reporting on him. By contrast, stories with a generally positive slant to Bush were
run almost twice as often as positive stories about Gore. The reality is that most of the media is owned by large, and very
conservative corporations that have enormous editorial control. The media is not, by and large
In reality, the only arm of the daily media that has a decidedly liberal bias is the funny paper
section. I don't know exactly what parts of the paper the conservatives are selectively reading,
but all of their whining about the "liberal media" is so much rubbish, demonstratably so. Even
if it were true, the access to information via the internet is so profound these days that if
you don't like one source, there are quite literally a million alternatives.
Moore's film is interesting, and well worth a look. Sure, there are manipulative elements, a
few even bordering on unfair. But in the end, there is a question worthy of asking, particularly
for parents with teenagers nearing completion of high school. Be aware, that this question comes
from me and not Moore, but the film well underscores it. Are you willing to give the lives of
your children to this president, for this war?
Two Brothers is a very different film, probably one of the best true family films we will
see this summer. Its the story of how two cute tiger cubs grow up, become seperated by human
poaching, and are reunited to face off in a sporting festival. But they recognize each other, and
escape back into the wild.
For its lack of much of a strong plot element, the film is beautifully photographed, occasionally
moving, and generally fun. It is a film that can be recommended to parents and children of
all ages, without real reservation or qualification, and that is pretty rare. You won't come away
particularly bowled over by the story, but its enough fun just to watch.
The film does remind us briefly in the end by subtitle how desperate the situation for wild tigers
is becoming. A century ago, more than 100,000 tigers, representing 13 subspecies roamed free
and wild in widespread parts of Asia. Over the last 100 years, the populations have not only
declined 95% in aggregate, but only 5 subspecies remain. The other 8 are gone forever. That isn't
the product of some devastating plague, or the inability of tigers to cope with a changing natural
environment. It is the product of human encroachment on their habitats, and our irresponsible
stewardship of the planet.
Wild tigers have probably somewhat less prospect of surviving in the wild more than a couple of
more decades than Rush Limbaugh has of pulling off a successful marriage. Only by renewed
attention to environmental matters, and protection of their habitat, can these magnificent
creatures continue to live free on our planet.
Last Week: March of the Penguins:
My biases may be showing through a bit, and I won't particularly try to deny them. Very few films have ever been awarded the coveted double smiley at K.A.W., and among the very few that have, 3 have been documentaries about birds. In the past, we have had the excellent Winged Migration, the moving The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and now an absolutely exceptional documentary from National Geographic entitled March of the Penguins.
It doesn't really matter all that much whether or not you happen to share my love and fascination for birds. All of these documentaries are incredible, but March of the Penguins stands as one of those rare films that are simply so good that to miss it would be a grave injustice to yourself, as an intelligent human being living on this planet. This is one of the most visually stunning pieces of film making you will ever see. To add to the benefits, you will probably learn a few things along the way.
Emperor penguins are unquestionably one of the most interesting species on the planet. Not only do they hold a sort of visual appeal to most of us, their comic antics appeal to us, and they live in the harshest enviroment on the planet. Just how these creatures survive is nothing short of incredible, but when you delve into the patterns of behavior that promote their survival, as explored in this film, you can't leave the theater with a feeling anything short of complete awe.
Some of you think you have difficult lives? Imagine living your life in a place where the average daily temperature is -50 degrees Fahrenheit. That doesn't include wind chills, and in the dark winter when winds are blowing, its not uncommon for the mercury to fall below -100 degrees. Winds howl at velocities in excess of 100 mph. This is where penguins do a lot of their living, and loving.
Their mating rituals begin every year, at the dawn of the winter season in Antarctica, where the weather is deteriorating, and perpetual darkness is falling. The penguins make a 70 mile march to the interior of the ice sheet, where they select mates, and ultimately produce a single egg. The females, who have lost 1/3 of their body weight then pass the egg to the male for protection, and trek back across the growing ice sheet to feed. The males must protect the egg for several weeks without food to sustain them.
Just prior to the return of the females, the eggs hatch, while the males do the best they can to protect the newly hatched chicks from the ravages of full blown winter. By this time, the males are nearly starved. Meanwhile, the females are returning, making the same 70 mile trek across the ice sheet, this time in almost total darkness.
Now its time for the males to return the chicks to their mates, and participate in a feeding frenzy of their own. Of course, they barely have the strength to make the long journey back to the ocean, but once there, like the females, they gorge themselves like John Goodman at $1 Dodger Dog night.
Its a brutal existance, but somehow, enough chicks and parents survive the ordeal to perpetuate the species. Eventually, the young chicks are old enough to strike out on their own, and spend the first 5 years of their lives feeding in the oceans, until they reach sexual maturity. Then, they too, will begin the annual trek back to the breeding grounds where they were born. They will make the same trek every year of their lives, which may span an additional 15 years.
Hats off the the National Geographic film team, who had to endure conditions as brutal as those faced by the penguins to film this documentary entirely on location. In this movie, you will see some of the most awesome nature footage ever shot. There is also magnificent scenerary of the stark and harsh enviroment of Antarctica.
Must see films don't come along all that often, but this is certainly one of them, and it appears that this movie will find an audience. It opened on 20 screens last week, in Los Angeles and a few locations in Canada. Its initial box office intake might look modest, but it actually outdrew War of the Worlds on a per screen average basis. The showing we attended was packed, and I hope the film continues to be supported enthusastically. If you have the opportunity to see it, don't miss it. It is not only appropriate for the entire family, and children will enjoy it as much as adults.
Last Week: Little Miss Sunshine:
This movie had kind of a weird, quirky quality that we can appreciate here at K.A.W. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver on a promising premise simply because directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris failed to include even one marginally likable character. Everyone in this film was pathetic and self-possessed, leading to the suspicion that the duo of directors were imposing their own shortcomings on their art.
We begin the movie with Sheryl (Toni Collette) rushing to the hospital to see her brother Frank (Steve Carell) who has failed in an attempt at suicide. Evidently Frank considers himself to be the nation's leading Proust scholar, but that, curiously, isn't why he is trying to end his existance. Not that suddenly waking up one morning and realizing that with a jillion interesting things to occupy your mind on, you had tossed away your one life studying Proust isn't a good reason, but he had other issues.
Frank is also gay, and he had been heart-broken when one of his students tossed him over for an academic rival. For most people, that kind of thing might have been a wake up call that it was time to actually do something worthwhile with your life, but Frank fails even in an attempt to end his. Thus, Sheryl takes him home, and we have the opportunity to meet her husband and children.
Little do we realize that we are about to discover that Frank is the least unhinged character in the film. Sheryl's husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear) has developed some sort of 9 step motivational program, which he is trying to get published. The only problem is that nobody in the world has any idea who Richard is, or why they should give a flying flip about his motivational program. Somehow or another, Richard managed to acquire a rather nice house and possessions prior to developing his program. But whatever he did to make a living before, he should have stuck with it.
Richard's father (Alan Arkin) lives with them. He is a foul-mouthed, cocaine snorting, porn obsessed jerk. It seems that nobody really wants him around, but he has recently been kicked out of a seniors community, so Richard and Sheryl have to put up with his presence.
Then we have their son Dwayne (Paul Dano) who has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of being appointed to the Air Force Academy. High school students who refuse to speak are unlikely to achieve a goal of that nature, but the writers of the film overlook that rather important detail. Dwayne's other obsession is Nietzche, which is only slightly less weird than devoting your life to studying the works of Proust.
The final member of the family is young Olive (Abigail Brezlin) who actually seems kind of normal. Alas, she has a weird fixation too. She participates in girl's beauty pagents, despite the fact that she is altogether plain looking and lacks any evident talent. Still, somehow or another, she was runner up in the Little Miss Sunshine pagent in New Mexico, leading to the suspicion that only one other girl entered.
When the winner of the New Mexico pagent must forfeit her crown, Olive is invited to take her place in a regional pagent in California. The only problem is that Richard and Sheryl are financially strapped since Richard can't sell his program. So they have to figure out some way to get Olive to California. Concerned that Frank might not be mentally stable enough to stay home alone with Dwayne, the entire group loads up a beat-up van, and heads for the west coast.
A good share of the rest of the movie centers on the misadventures and bickering of the group as they travel down the highway. The problem is that this isn't really a group of people we would want to take a road trip with. Nonetheless, we find ourselves trapped in the van with them. If any of us really had to make this journey, we'd probably be knocking out a window and taking our chances diving out onto the highway inside of an hour.
Somehow the group makes it to the pagent, Olive gets to participate, and the movie gets even weirder, which we didn't suspect to be possible. The only saving grace here was that the directors mercifully ended the film with the conclusion of the pagent, and we didn't have to ride along on the journey home. I guess I can probably end this review on one positive note: I'm sure this was a lot better than sitting through Accepted.
Last Week: The Bucket List:
What really hurts is that they don't even ask anymore. I just walk up, tell them what movie I want to see, and they give me the senior discount: No questions asked. Considering this week's movie, the experience is doubly painful. How many ways are there to be reminded that we are getting older? Why is it necessary anyway? It's not like my body doesn't remind me often enough.
I've decided what the number one item on my bucket list is going to be. As soon as I get old and sick enough that it doesn't matter, I'm going to visit all the people responsible for making this movie and kick their asses. It's not that I didn't enjoy it. This was probably the best film of 2007. (Okay, it's 2008 now, and most of us are just now getting to see this movie, but since it was released in L.A. and N.Y. in 2007, it is eligible for the 2007 awards and is therefore technically a 2007 film.)
No, the reason it is going to be necessary to exact some sort of revenge is because these people found it necessary to smack all of us close to my vintage square in the mouth with our mortality. Space Cowboys was quite bad enough on that score a few years ago. Now we have to deal with the advancing ages of two more of our generation's most treasured actors, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
If they are getting older and considering the final chapter, we must not be far behind. Thanks. There is a message I needed to kick off 2008. Why didn't the people who made this film just send an email? "hey old codger! What hurts today? Made any good funeral arrangements lately?"
Well, here is my response: "Hey people who made this film! Gotten your asses kicked for you lately? I'll be more than happy to take care of that for you. But on a positive note, take heart. I'm more than willing to provide the same service for the 60% of anal retentive professional movie critics who bagged this film. Most of them wouldn't know a good movie if it gave them a hummer."
One critic, who shall remain nameless (Peter Rainier, Christian Science Monitor) criticized this in part as a "film for oldsters." Of course, if Rainier had even the slightest talent as a writer or film critic, he wouldn't be writing for a rag like the C.S. Monitor. "Christian Science" is the most glaring oxymoron since "military intelligence" or "compassionate Republican."
Hey, speaking of irrelevant nonsense, The Golden Glob Awards had to be cancelled this year due to the writers' strike. Evidently, none of the stars would cross the picket line. What a line of crap. None of the major stars give a flying flip about the Hollywood foriegn press, and if they weren't offered lavish gifts to come in the first place, most of them would rather spend an evening at a laundrymat. The six people who watch this event annually on TV were probably pretty broken up about it, but nobody else cared.
So, instead of having their annual televised gala, they just held a press conference. That event drew more press coverage than the usual ceremonies. Four reporters were there, but one of them had dubious credentials, since she wrote for a Hollywood high school newspaper.
It's anyone's guess whether or not a similar problem with confront the AMPAS if the writers' strike continues into late February. The guess here is that even if the writers are still out, and there isn't much reason to believe they won't be, that most of the big names will appear at the Oscar ceremony. You see, most folks in Hollywood are publicity and face-time junkies by nature. It doesn't take a whole lot of courage to dump on events like the Golden Globs, which no one watches anyway.
But for Hollywood's biggest stars to skip out on the Oscars would be a little like the AFC champions opting out of the Super Bowl...just ain't gonna happen. Yet, if they did decide that it was necessary to make a moral statement of that nature, they could always attend the Golden Raspberry Awards the day before. Nobody will be picketing there, and there are certainly a load of big stars being considered for nomination this year. (Shameless plug there...I hope the check is in the mail, Mr. Wilson!)
Oops! I haven't said much about this movie yet. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two old guys who are dying. Nicholson is rich, and figures he might as well use some of his wealth to permit them to go out with a bang. A lot of funny and touching moments here, even if critics like Peter Rainier couldn't recognize one if you smacked him over the head with it. Definitely worth a look.