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of the smartest things I've done since I began writing for this site
(if indeed you'll allow that I've done anything smart since then)
was to focus this column on cult movies. This pretty much gives me
carte blanche to write about anything I damn well please. Because if
you think about it, all movies are cult movies to some extent. It's
just that some cults are bigger than others. If I wanted to, I could
write about Star Wars here.
Any movie that inspires its fans to dress up like the characters and
live their lives according to the film's teachings certainly
qualifies as a cult movie. I don't necessarily want to write about
Star Wars. I'm just sayin'.
Even so, I try to keep these columns narrowed down to those films we
can all agree are cultish in nature. But every once in a while, I'll
get a review disc from Digital Bits Command Base Alpha that doesn't
exactly fit into Bottom Shelf territory. These are what the studios
like to call their A-List titles. The biggies that you might
actually remember playing at your local movie theatre during its
theatrical run and whose discs you'll see prominently displayed at
every Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry's, Target, K-Mart, Wal-Mart,
grocery store and airport vending machine you stumble across. No, I
don't know why they have me review 'em either. Usually I assume it's
a mistake and just keep my mouth shut.
Anyhoo, I've accumulated half a dozen of these A-listers recently.
Enough for a decently sized column, I thought. So join me now for a
very star-studded edition of the Bottom Shelf. And for those of you
who fear the column has sold out, never fear. I'll return to our
regularly scheduled program of D-list schlock shortly.
We'll start with the lighter stuff...
2005 (2005) - 20th Century Fox
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
If there's an actress button-cuter than Drew Barrymore, I don't
think I could stand it. In fact, while most of her movies are
genuine mainstream blockbusters, I'd argue that Drew herself
qualifies as a cult actress. If you're a part of the Cult of
Drew, you'll find yourself enjoying movies you wouldn't
otherwise touch with somebody else's ten-foot pole, buoyed by
her seemingly effortless charm, bubbly good humor, and that
winsome way she has of biting her lower lip. Of course, if
you're not part of the Cult, these same things will drive you
My wife is a card-carrying member of the Cult of Drew and I
suppose I must be too, since I don't put up too much of a fight
when I'm inevitably forced to watch her movies. Fever
Pitch, her latest romantic comedy, is a pleasant
enough example of the form although it's certainly not her best
Fallon co-stars as Ben, a nice guy math teacher who wins over our
Drew (technically playing a character named Lindsey but we all
really just wanna see Drew) by such unfair tactics as being smart,
funny, charming and unfailingly chivalrous. Only trouble is that
Lindsey started seeing Ben during the winter. When spring comes, she
discovers a previously hidden side to her new boyfriend: rabid
Boston Red Sox fan.
Directed with remarkable restraint by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Fever
Pitch bears a thematic similarity to High
Fidelity, the 2000 John Cusack comedy also based on a
novel by British author Nick Hornby. In High
Fidelity, the obsession was music. Here it's baseball.
And as with High Fidelity and
records, Fever Pitch is as
much a romance with the Red Sox as it is a romance between a man and
a woman. Certainly I can see this movie being much more meaningful
to someone who's a huge baseball and/or Red Sox fan than to the rest
of us. I like baseball fine but I'm hardly an avid fan. And strictly
as a romantic comedy, Fever Pitch
is maybe slightly above average. No classic but very amiable and
charming without ever being really memorable. Jimmy Fallon has his
first big leading-man role here (let us charitably ignore Taxi,
shall we?) and while he's all right, I didn't see the promise of a
young Tom Hanks as the Farrellys claim in their commentary. He's not
as objectionable as I'd assumed he'd be but he doesn't exactly break
any new ground, either. The movie might have been a bit better with
an actor of more substance in the role. As it is, Fallon is
perfectly likable. He just doesn't stand out.
Fox's standard edition DVD is also fairly likable, although it
starts off with an annoying and unskippable Fox promo and
anti-piracy spot that, if anything, makes you want to go out and
pirate a bunch of Fox movies. Technical qualities are fine. The
previously mentioned commentary by Peter and Bobby Farrelly is
generally pretty interesting (these guys may be the only directors
in Hollywood who can name 95% of the faces on screen in their films)
and amusing (my favorite anecdote revolves around filming Sox fan
Stephen King's cameo). There are 13 not-bad deleted scenes and a gag
reel. The two Internet featurettes are pre-release promotional
puffery designed to drum up interest in the movie. Love
Triangle talks to Drew for a couple minutes while Break
the Curse looks at the last-minute scramble to rewrite
and reshoot the film's ending when the Red Sox did the unthinkable
and actually found themselves in the World Series. Skip both of
these. A more interesting look at the revised finale can be found in
the Fox Movie Channel Making a Scene
segment, which actually explains a bit of what was involved in
making the new footage happen. There's also a trailer and some more
Fox promotional stuff for other unrelated movies.
Fever Pitch is a pretty cute
way to spend 103 minutes and I wouldn't argue with anybody who was
more enthusiastic about the movie than I am. It isn't a comedy of
big laughs but rather one of smiles and a general overall feeling of
good will. I enjoyed it while it was on but I doubt I'll ever think
to watch it again. But if you're a Red Sox fan looking to relive
your curse-breaking moment of triumph, you could do worse.
Platinum Series -
2005 (2005) - New Line
Film Rating: F
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Heavens to Murgatroid, does this movie ever suck! And not just
a little bit, either. I mean this thing blows on a level I
didn't think possible even for a Jennifer Lopez movie.
Of course, the only reason anybody cared about this thing at all
is because Monster-in-Law
marked Jane Fonda's return to film after a fifteen-year absence.
And while I like Ms. Fonda and am certainly happy she's decided
to work again, it looks like she couldn't have picked a worse
time if this is the best movie she could find to come back with.
Jenny from the block keeps it real as Charlie, an aspiring
designer/part-time temp worker/dog-walker, who falls head over
heels with a rich and sexy doctor (Michael Vartan from Alias).
When the doc pops the question, it provokes a full-blown panic
attack in his already panicky and possessive mother, a legendary
TV journalist (Fonda, of course). So Fonda does everything she
can to sabotage the union and drive Lopez away.
I can understand Fonda wanting to do something zany and
light-hearted. After all, she doesn't exactly have a reputation as a
jokester and if you're going to reinvent yourself, why not go all
the way? But the hoped-for Meet the
Parents vibe just doesn't gel here. The script is
paint-by-numbers all the way, from the forced slapstick to the
requisite "wacky assistant" played by Wanda Sykes (who
frankly, deserves better). It's depressing to watch Fonda slog
through this mess. As for Lopez, I've actually defended her in the
past, citing movies like Out of Sight
as evidence of her talent. Well, I'm done with that. For Lopez to be
considered a real actress again, she'll need to give herself over
completely to a very, very talented director, preferably as a small
part of a much larger ensemble. As long as she keeps making movies
like this, where she's the struggling, hopeful young girl with big
dreams and a bigger... heart (mind out of the gutter, boys), she's
not doing anybody any favors.
New Line's two-disc Platinum Series DVD is exhausting. Disc one
provides both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the movie, an ad
for the soundtrack album, and an audio commentary with director
Robert Luketic, Wanda Sykes, producer Chris Bender, production
designer Missy Stewart, and director of photography Russell
Carpenter. The track is cobbled together from several different
recording sessions, Luketic being the only constant throughout. It's
a fairly tedious track and the fact that Luketic wraps things up
with different people at different times means you'll think it's
over three different times only to have it start up again on you.
Disc two isn't much of an improvement. There are seven deleted
scenes and an allegedly "hilarious" gag reel. The "documentaries"
are an assortment of short featurettes averaging about five minutes
a pop, focusing on Fonda, Lopez, Vartan, the design, and director
Luketic. Only the 18-minute Robert Luketic featurette sheds any real
insight into the making of the movie but, to be honest, it's 18
minutes more than I required. The only extra that might provoke a
chuckle is Ruby's Make-up Bag,
a mock Britney Spears-like music video with Wanda Sykes busting a
move. I wouldn't exactly call it high comedy but you get your laughs
where you can.
Monster-in-Law is a truly
awful movie and a difficult one to sit through without aspirin.
Assuming the experience hasn't scared Jane Fonda back into
retirement for another fifteen years, the good news is that whatever
she does next will have to be better than this.
State of the Union
2005 (2005) - Columbia/Revolution (Sony Pictures Home
Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
The appeal of Vin Diesel is something of a mystery to me, yet
even I was a bit perplexed when the producers of xXx
announced their intention to forge ahead with a sequel without
the star of the first film. The 2002 original positioned Diesel
as a next-generation superspy with an extreme sports edge.
Basically James Bond with a Fox attitude. I didn't think xXx
was a work of genius but it had some enjoyable moments and it
certainly seemed franchise-ready.
Now it isn't without precedent for Hollywood to churn out a
sequel whose only connection to the original is maybe a handful
of supporting characters. It's just that the precedents aren't
very good movies, placing xXx: State
of the Union squarely in territory occupied by such
gems as Speed 2: Cruise Control
and Curse of the Pink Panther.
Arguably xXx: State of the Union
is the best of a bad bunch but that's the faintest of faint
Ice Cube steps into the hero role vacated by the killed-off-screen
Diesel, playing Darius Stone. He's freed from prison by Samuel L.
Jackson, returning as the spy-Pygmalion who transforms these
no-accounts into lethal weapons. Jackson was Cube's commanding
officer back in their Navy SEAL days and he picks Darius to be the
new xXx when their elite team is betrayed from within. It's a
surprise to no one that the leader of the conspiracy turns out to be
Secretary of Defense Willem Dafoe, who plans a military coup of the
government. Yes, it's Seven Days in May
for everyone who thought the John Frankenheimer classic needed more
explosions and bullet train chases.
The biggest problem with State of the
Union isn't that the plot is ridiculous. It's that the
plot is there, period. If I had a gun to my head, I couldn't tell
you what the original xXx was about. It had something to do with
Russians, I think, and Vin Diesel skating down a stairway on a
silver serving tray. I remember the action but don't remember what
it was in service of. It's the opposite with State
of the Union. I know what it's about and frankly, I don't
care. With a movie like this, I'd rather remember big, cool action
setpieces. Most of the action here is done efficiently, directed by
Die Another Day's Lee
Tamahori, but it doesn't stand out. Or if it does, it's because it's
marred by ineffective CGI, like when Cube races a car onto some
train tracks. Ice Cube is a likable enough actor but a part like
this doesn't exactly call for likability. Jackson and Dafoe,
meanwhile, aren't called upon to do anything other than their usual
routines and therefore, don't bother to go beyond the call of duty.
The DVD is fairly nice, with a solid image and a typically bombastic
action movie audio track. Extras are pretty extensive for a
single-disc release, including a relatively in-depth making of
called From Convict to Hero
that runs about 48 minutes altogether. The shorter featurettes
include an interactive breakdown of the Bullet Train sequence, a
look at the military gear used in the film, and a brief segment
about Ice Cube. Tamahori offers up optional commentary on the three
deleted scenes included here, as well as a feature-length track
where he's joined by screenwriter Simon Kinberg. It's a fairly
interesting track, certainly better than the Visual Effects
commentary by Scott Farrar and Lindy DeQuattro who spend most of
their time pointing out what's real and what isn't in case it wasn't
obvious enough already.
If movies like Speed 2 have
taught us anything, it's that xXx: State
of the Union could have been much, much worse. The movie
isn't a complete abomination but I doubt very many people will ever
want to see it more than once, if indeed they make it through the
whole thing. Even if they do, Ice Cube probably shouldn't get too
comfy with that xXx tattoo on his neck. There's a reason the xXx
guys don't get to say, "I'll be back."
to Part Two
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