Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Even a remaker who is pure of heart...

"Even a remaker who is pure of heart,
And says his prayers at night,
can make a turd when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright."

Those are my thoughts on the recent remake of The Wolf Man. The 1941 film (FULL REVIEW) is one of my all time favorites. Sure, the effects are dated and the beast looks a bit like a toothy hipster with a Jew-fro, but the story has a lot of heart. Larry Talbot is a likable lug and a bit of a doofus, as we see him clumsily corner Gwen for a date in her antique shop. He falls into the werewolf curse by pure circumstance, and suffers the fatal destiny it bequeaths upon him. It is a sad and tragic tale. What it lacks in gore and terror, it delivers in pathos for its protagonist, who turns into a beast under the full moon and attacks those he loves. It can be taken as allegory; rather like the Nick Lowe song "The Beast in Me," about a drunk.

The remake, despite giving us Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and even Art Malik- the bad guy from True Lies- goes for pure gore and a hackneyed, tortured artist story that generates zero pathos and instead makes us sit around wondering what orifice we'll see wolf claws sprout from on a Bobby's agonized corpse next. As special effects go, Rick Baker does a great job. The mastermind behind the excellent An American Werewolf in London (FULL REVIEW) effects, he goes hog wild here, making a hunkering, slavering beast of a wolf man to terrify the moors. The CG effects that make the beast hop around the landscape as realistically as Mario on Nintendo seriously detract from the mood. He hops on policemen like they are goombas, eviscerating them and moving on to the next. In most werewolf movies, they at least take a bite out of you. This one seems to make a game out of how many people he can kill before dawn.

Which is fine for a slasher. But this one wants us to take it seriously, with its Daddy Issues and having to make a good wolf man vs.a bad wolf man, which we already saw in Jack Nicholson's Wolf, a much better re-imagining of the original. This one has its moments, but doesn't serve as a respectable homage. If anything, it is worth seeing to watch Rick Baker pull out all the stops. Director Joe Johnston, who brought us decent adventure with The Rocketeer and Hidalgo, goes the same route that Stephen Sommers did for The Mummy, but without the fun. I would have preferred someone who loved the first movie, or the genre. Like Joe Dante, for example. I can't imagine watching the remake again, and it makes me dread the planned remake of An American Werewolf in London.

And what's with the title? Wolfman? Maybe his full name is Lawrence Talbot Wolfman.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Cars

On Twitter, @OTooleFan was talking about some of the worst automotive disasters, like the AMC Pacer- celibacy on wheels- and the Yugo. For more of these, I suggest you read Car Talk's Worst Cars of All Time. Now, a lot of cars stood out as truly bad, but almost any car you drove from 1973 to 1986 was like a prank an auto exec was playing on you. I had a '76 Pinto Wagon as my first car, and the only fun I had in it was when it was parked. It was rust brown with fake wood panels, a folding rear seat and a roof rack. It looked like the Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation.

Come to think of it, the round headlights and grille remind me of my current ride, a Mini Cooper S. Maybe that's why I like it so much. But anyway, the wagon may not have exploded like the Pinto hatchbacks did, but it was a dung cart of fun to drive. Steered like a cow, but it knocked down a parking meter I hit chasing my girlfriend, with nary a scratch. It wouldn't go a hair above 55, which is probably why my father picked it. He had used it for lugging his construction tools around, but I recommissioned the folding rear seat for other fumbling teenage endeavors in Lover's Lane, which for us, was a shady spot over by a railroad trestle. Despite being hindered by a catalytic converter and smog equipment that was probably a pipe filled with Henry Ford's old sweat socks, this car wasn't that bad. It had vinyl everywhere, but other than burning more oil than BP barbecuing a sea turtle, it ran okay after months of abuse. I replaced the steering column with a junk yard part, but it did well for a 12 year old car.
My next car was a '79 Mustang six-banger. While this was a far cry from the horrible Mustang II era, it was put together more cheaply with lots of plastic than that Pinto. The one luxury I remember was a silly light panel that would tell you when your tail lights, head lights, or other light bulbs were out. Nice touch. It ran like a champ, and was my first Mustang. A mere eight years old, it was already rusting through quarter panels. The speedometer only went to 85mph to appease Ralph Nader, but that just made us want to pin the needle. By this point we had the wonders of unibody construction, meant to save us in accidents. My first accident bent the car in half and required $700 of repair for a little fender bender. That would be $3000 today. But it sure beats the days of my favorite car I used to own, the 1965 Mustang convertible. It had no seat belts, and a dashboard made of steel. The steering column pointed at your heart like the sword of a  bloodthirsty Mongol. To steal Jay Leno's only funny joke, if you crashed it, they'd just hose you off the dash and sell it to somebody else.

I loved that car because it was smoking hot, Silversmoke Gray with a red interior, my first V8 engine- a 289 2 barrel carb auto. Less horsepower than my Mini has today, and awful, awful handling, but what a blast to drive- because you were constantly putting your life in your hands. The master brake cylinder only had one chamber, so any leak in the brake lines put you in a suicidal charge toward the enemy front. Sure, it had an emergency brake but the cable was frozen, so I ended up throwing the car into reverse, bouncing my nose off the horn, and suddenly going backwards. The transmission held up, amazingly enough. I could change the oil by crawling underneath it without a jack. I had to raise the power top manually, there was a rust hole in the passenger door, but I didn't care. Because it was a blast to drive, and simple to work on. The only problems I had were gas and brake lines older than I was constantly leaking all over the place, a leaky fuel filler cap getting water in my tank, and a complete inability to back out of a parking space if there was more than a sprinkling of snow on the ground. So on second thought, thanks Ralph Nader!

Soon, cars went from simple machines, sort of like tractors, to add with sleek fins and chome bumpers shaped like tits (the infamous '60 Cadillac and its "Dagmars" named after a Swedish comedienne's rack). But after the muscle era faded, they became annoying household appliances, like a push-button blender with wheels. This was the era of the K car and the Yugo, when the best-loved car was... the Taurus. Shaped like Mork from Ork's Eggship, it at least gave a passing nod to the concept of aerodynamics. Everything was made of shoddy plastic that would dry out and crumble like sawdust in too much sun. They gave us automatic seat belts that would try to strangle you, but pop off their rails and let you smash into the windshield. You may complain about daytime running lights and nanny devices, but just try finding the damn headlight switch in a car from the late '70s. And the high beams? Try the floor, next to the emergency brake pedal. Oops, I was trying to flash my highbeams, and locked up the rear tires! What a calamity! At least nowadays, when someone plows into oncoming traffic it was because they were playing Farmville on their iPhone, and not because they pressed the wrong button.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Friday, August 27, 2010

more equal than others

What the hell is America coming to when the 14th Amendment is under attack, the one granting all citizens equal protection under the law? For one, why did it need to be written at all, when the preamble to the Constitution affirms that all men are created equal, and denies the government the right to deny us life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness? Well, because when the wise Founders wrote those revolutionary words (pun intended), the term "men" meant white, property owning males. So we had to clarify things a little.

The same political party that was discussing removing the native-born clause from the Presidential requirements just a few years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was hailed as the next actor-in-chief suddenly embraced it when the Hawaiian guy got in. And now, too many Hispanics are entering the country, so we want to make it so people born here are only Americans if they have names ending in a consonant that isn't "z." What differentiates America from let's say, France and Denmark, two social democracies that are having problems with their immigrant populations rioting, is that here they have a path to citizenship, however full of bureaucratic pylons it may be. In those countries, you can be second or third generation, and not a citizen. Essentially you are permanent second-class workers kept around for cheap labor. And while the term "un-American" gets bandied about too often, I can't think of anything less American than essentially pissing on the plaque on the Statue of Liberty that says her lamp stands beside the golden door.

Both sides of my family came to America in the 20th century, and struggled to make something of themselves. From Ireland and Italy, they were welcomed by "No Irish Need Apply" and school teachers who wouldn't waste time on them, because they were "just going to be another ditch-digging guinea." They became truck drivers, construction workers, fashion designers, store managers, and they put their children through college. Now that we got ours, we want to close the door to the richest and most prosperous country, one that thrives on new blood joining us to create new businesses, whether they be grocery markets, landscapers, or convenience stores. And we're doing it during a period when our taxes are lower than any time since the early '80s. We cry about the deficit, which is only inflated because of two wars and a $700 billion tax cut on the richest segment. I'm sorry if you make over $500,000 a year and can't make it, but tighten your shell Cordovan belt a little and suck it up- you paid higher taxes under the Almighty Reagan, and get ready to do it again.

Let's face it, this is just racial gerrymandering; one of the political parties doesn't like that the latest wave of immigrants to this country, legal or otherwise, tend to vote for the other guy because they don't like being demonized. Instead of becoming a more inclusive party and actually campaigning for smaller government- something they haven't truly done since the days of Teddy Roosevelt- they want to alter one of the most important Amendments to the Constitution, one that differentiates us from the so-called Socialist Democracies they seem to hate so much. This will create a permanent underclass or slave generation of people who come here to work, but are treated like second-class citizens for multiple generations. Does that sound like America to you?

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Thursday, August 26, 2010

a message in a bottle, sending out an S.O.S. to the Gulf

As you know, Abita has been one of my favorite American craft microbrews since Firecracker introduced me to Purple Haze back when we met. Nowadays my faves are their staple Amber, their oddly named buy tasty brown ale called Turbodog, and Jockamo IPA when I can get it. Based in Covington Louisiana near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, they brew a large stable of varietals and their newest, Save Our Shores Charitable Pilsner, gives 75 cents a bottle to Gulf spill restoration. They're no stranger to charity beers, and their Abita Restoration Ale is still available, with the charity going to Katrina relief. I visited their brewery last year, and you can read all about it here.
We ordered a case of the S.O.S. Pilsner thinking they were standard six packs, but they turn out to be 1 Pint 6 ounce large bottles with a pretty logo screen printed on the bottle itself. It is a hoppy pilsner with a lot of body, completely unlike American rice beer pilsners you may be used to. It blows Prima Pils and Pilsner Urquell out of the water. It has a full mouth feel yet doesn't fill you up like a brown ale. I highly recommend it, even if they weren't donating profits to Gulf spill relief. We ordered ours at a local Bottle King, but Abita is carried nationwide by Whole Foods, and their website lists distributors around the country. It is worth ordering if your liquor store does not carry it, and will be a fine brew to have on Labor Day. While we relax and grill, try to remember all the fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed by BP's negligence, now forced to work clean up for a pittance of what they made serving us local, fresh shellfish and seafood.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Zardoz: Happy Birthday Sean Connery

Zardoz, how I love thee. My friend Peter introduced me to this wacky science fiction allegory written and directed by John Boorman. It spins the tale of a distant future where the intelligentsia are idle, decadent immortals called Eternals who toy with the little people they call Brutals, by making a warrior class who worship a floating stone head called Zardoz. He spits out rifles and pistols, and tells them "The Gun is good! The penis is evil!" Yes, the same Mr. Boorman celebrated for excellent films such as Deliverance and Excalibur.

Sean plays Zed, one of the Exterminators, which is why he's in hip boots with a Webley revolver and his meat & veg in royal red regalia. We see things through Zed's perspective as he learns the secrets of Zardoz, that he is a pawn of the Eternals, specifically one Arthur Frayn, who wishes to be free of the shackles of immortality. At heart it is a socially updated pastiche of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," with its Morlocks and Eloi evolved into uselessness. But it's a lot of psychedelic, bizarre '70s fun as Sean shoots and humps his way through a post-apocalyptic bounty of babes, including Charlotte Rampling. When we first saw it, it was cut for TV, and made absolutely no sense. So we went to the local video shop, Curry Home Video- which had everything from Pink Flamingos to A Clockwork Orange, all the bizarre a growing boy needs- and got the uncut VHS.

Suddenly, the story made more sense, as half the expository scenes have a topless woman in them. So you have to watch it a few times and pay attention. We studied it like scholars. It remains one of my favorite indulgent, psychedelic excesses of the '70s. You can tell that Boorman, he who made the ghostly, near-surrealist noir Point Blank, wanted to create something like Jodorowsky's El Topo (full review) but he just couldn't hack it; it comes off more as an exploitation picture made by a poet. So we have 2069: A Sex Odyssey of sorts. If you like science fiction or Sean Connery, this relic is unique and interesting, and unlike Highlander 2: The Quickening, it can be enjoyable to watch. So it's perfect for sitting back with on Sean's birthday.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some clown sent me brownies!

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll hear me rave about the hilarious, touching, eye-opening blog of André du Broc, Too Many Cookies. Go read it now. Come back if you aren't crying, laughing, and ravenous from reading how he's baking all 175 cookies from Martha Stewart's cookbook, and regaling us with tales of his life in theater while doing it. It's one of my favorite blogs, and I follow over a hundred.

I met André through Firecracker's sister, who is a stage director. André himself has been everything from a clown in Ringling Brothers circus to a short order cook. We met over drinks at Bill's Gay Nineties, a theater folk bar in NYC when he was in town. He is an ebullient, witty fellow with a dash of sarcasm. There he told us that he was participating in an AIDS charity walk, and if he made over $3,000 he was going to bake all 175 cookie recipes from Martha's book. Of course, the donations rolled in from friends all over who like cookies. And who doesn't like cookies? Besides Newt Gingrich. So we donated, and so many others did that he raised $4500 for the cause. And he got to baking.

His friends, co-workers and family got so inundated with decadent treats that he now asks people to mail him cookie containers- and I suggest you slip in a tenspot or double sawbuck to cover shipping and ingredient costs- and he'll mail you back a gift of delicious, fattening treats. Because Firecracker loves peanut butter and chocolate so much that if the Reese's had not existed, she would have invented it, he sent us peanut butter swirl brownies. They are amazing. Especially when you heat them and put ice cream on them, but even plain, they are a rich, chocolatey haymaker punch to the palate that makes you want to collapse into a bean bag chair and moan like a pregnant walrus.

So, go read André's blog. You'll get to read about naked midget clowns getting electrocuted, among many other things. Here's the link again if you're too lazy to scroll up:
Too Many Cookies

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Monday, August 23, 2010

Les Expendables

It took 33 years, but Sylvester Stallone once again has a sense of humor about himself. And that's what makes The Expendables, the balls to the wall '80s style action flick that we've been anticipating for over a year now, so awesome. I'll admit it, when I saw his low rider pickup truck that hearkens back to his '50 chopped Merc in Cobra, I was a little bit concerned that the kickassitude of Rambo went to his head. But no, he is definitely the star of this one, yet plays well with others. He gives plenty of screen time to all the big names he got together to make this throwback extravaganza, and we can't ask for anything more. Well, except maybe for Kurt Russell and Jean-Claude Van Damme to show up in the sequel.

Testosterone Level Causes Impregnation Within 50 Yards
I'm not going to bore you with the plot except for this single line: a group of bad-ass mercenaries take a suicide mission to assassinate a South American dictator. We first meet them as they rescue a cargo ship held hostage by Somali pirates, scaling it like Navy SEALs and blasting them to pieces with laser sighted machine guns and shotguns loaded with shells that will blow a man in half. But they're reasonable people; Sly isn't playing Rambo here, he's more of a tired old guy who wants you to surrender, but will blast six holes in you with his revolver the second he realizes you won't. He has a buddy rivalry with Jason Statham, the knife master of the group, over who can take someone out quicker. As in many of Sly's previous films, he equips his men with custom knives, from a Gil Hibben Bowie blade with a brass parry strip, ring-pommelled throwing daggers, switchblades and huge, fast draw folding knives.
If I wasn't getting married, I'd buy this $1850 Gil Hibben Bowie...

Sly and Statham are the biggest roles, but Jet Li gets some good fights in, and gets to show some comic chops as he complains he should have a bigger share, because everything is harder for him because he's the short one. He has to take more steps when they run someplace. Randy Couture "used to wrestle in high school" and that explains his cauliflower ears, which he is very sensitive about. Terry Crews gets to have some fun with a Sledgehammer shotgun, but this is a long way from his hilarious role as President Camacho in Idiocracy.Pity, he can be really funny. Dolph Lundgren gets the thankless job of being the guy who's a little too psycho for a band of psychos, and Mickey Rourke has retired from mercenaryin' to be a tattoo artist. He gets to give the "I'll cry when I'm done killin'" speech.

The movie showcases the strengths of our favorite bad boys but peppers humor in between, a wise choice that has worked since classics of the genre like Commando. I was a little disappointed that the fictional country they invade isn't named Val Verde, but that should be saved for an Arnie movie, I suppose. Speaking of which, Arnie and Bruce Willis's cameos are hilarious. Sure, they only get five minutes, but Arnie lets himself be the butt of the jokes, with Sly poking fun at the weight he put on as Governor, and that he "wants to be President." He's a rival merc leader, and doesn't ham it up. Maybe after he's done governating, Sly will give him a big role in the sequel. I sure hope so.
If he dies... he dies

The bad guys are played by a psycho Eric Roberts and David Zayas, best known as Angel from "Dexter." The girl is Giselle Itié, a beauty from Mexican television, who will likely appear in Hollywood again. She has good chops, though Sly isn't the best at getting realistic performances out of women (see Julie Benz in Rambo, who we know can act like a champ). But that's not what we're looking for in an action funfest like The Expendables. It was great seeing so many of them together. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I don't think it's as good as Rambo- which is damn hard to top. The best I can say about it is: IT DELIVERS. And I damn well hope they make a sequel, and keep it rated R. And I will agree with Milky, my movie buddy, that they better bring back that shotgun, too. It should get its name in the credits.

4 out of 5 exploding human heads

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Star Hustler, R.I.P.

A bright star of astronomic enthusiasm has faded into the cosmos; Jack Horkheimer, best known as PBS's "Star Gazer," has passed away at the age of 72. I first encountered him in high school, when my buddy Christian introduced me to his zany 5 minute astronomy show that played on public television since the '70s. It was called "Star Hustler" back then, but they changed the name in the '90s, because searching for it on the internet brought up porn sites.

The Onion had a great spoof article about Mr. Horkheimer, who made backyard astronomy easy and approachable for generations of stargazers. He was certainly a one of a kind TV personality, a human dynamo of interest in outer space. Christian and I made a spoof show on his reel to reel tape deck, using his TV theme- Isao Tomita's electronic version of "Arabesque No.1" where he talked deadpan about a meteor hurtling toward Earth. Instead of panicking, Christian imitated him more excited about seeing the meteor coming right at us, rather than the multitudes fleeing in terror. I wonder if he still has that someplace.

Videos of his show abound on Youtube. Here's one he recorded ahead of time. Horkheimer was a living relic of the '70s, before irony abounded, and it pains me that both this and Ebert's "At the Movies" are now off the air. TV has always been a great wasteland, but it will be a little more desolate now that "Horky" has passed on.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Friday, August 20, 2010

Freecycling, or Garbage Picking for Suburbanites

When I moved recently, I decided to get rid of a lot of furniture. After ditching my ancient, dilapidated computer desk near the dumpster of my old apartment in the hopes that some indigent nerd would scavenge it, only to see it sledgehammered apart by the maintenance crew, I thought I should engage in "free-cycling," the hip new way to recycle, or to get crap for free. I had used it before to get some free weights for weightlifting, and give away spare workout equipment. People looking for this kind of stuff tend to be prompt and courteous, because weights are expensive- over a dollar a pound- and they get snatched up very quickly.

Furniture, on the other hand, seems to be a bunch of soccer moms looking for bargains. My first giveaway, a leather sofa and loveseat, went great. A black couple picked them up with a U-Haul, brought a friend to help lug them out, and I still had a furniture dolly, it went swimmingly. They were delighted to get my 12 year old couches that were still clean and in good shape, despite having absorbed more gas than a fleet of Hummers over the years. Then I was giving away a microwave, and after two no-shows that wasted my time, another black gal showed up promptly, with her car right outside, a blanket on the back seat, ready to go. In minutes, I'd gotten rid of clutter! It was great. Then I decided to freecycle a steel book shelf, a drafting table, a coffee table, and some old vinyl LPs. The nightmare began.

The guy looking for free records called on a rainy day and said he was outside, so I ran out there, and went up to the only cars parked out front, getting soaked. About five minutes later he rolls up, and opens his door like I'm a servant, talks on his phone the whole time, and doesn't even say thanks. Next time I'll just drop them off at the Salvation Army, hipster doofus. He's probably got my records all covered in hipster pubes already. The stories get progressively worse. A mom with a kid in art school wants a drafting table; I give her photos, she wants to know if the table has a light. Look gift horses in the mouth, much? Come see the damn thing. How much time do you want me to spend giving away things to you? She said she'd come at four, didn't show up until eight, when we were out at dinner. I gave her my phone number, but she didn't call first, so she complained that no one was there. Then she says "she knows my building and has picked up things before, just leave it with the door man."

It disappeared, so I assume she got it. It makes me wonder if people selling stuff don't cruise Freecycle sites and then turn around and sell things. It doesn't bother me, actually. I've sold things on eBay and Craigslist, and it's a gigantic pain in the ass. One guy showed up with a two twenties and a hundred dollar bill for a $60 item, I wonder if he thought I'd give it to him for $40 if I didn't have change. I made him drive to a gas station and get change. Nice try. But anyway, my personal favorite was the woman who showed up for the solid metal bookshelf. I gave her the dimensions and told her it was very heavy, so bring friends and possibly a hand truck or furniture dolly. She showed up alone, with a broken cart. She also had a quad cane, so I would be doing all the furniture moving this day. I lugged it down to her car, which turned out to be a Dodge Intrepid with a trunk full of broken down power tools. She kept saying I could get it in the back seat. This is a two door car. The shelf was the size of a freezer chest. Maybe if I took a hacksaw to her car and made it a convertible, it would fit. No joke, I moved more furniture in my Mustang convertible than you can in a Ford Escape. So she pulls out two power drills from her trunk, saying I could disassemble it. Because she really needs this book shelf. If you need it so badly, bring some of the family you were talking about to help lift the damn thing.

Of course, the batteries are dead in the drill. I told her I'd leave the bookshelf in the hallway, if she could find friends with a truck. She looked very disappointed, and I did feel bad. I know how it is to need a bookshelf, and have to stack your hundreds of books against the wall instead. I wish she had rope, and wanted me to strap it to the roof of her car, because I would have loved to tell you the tale of my steel shelf getting dragged all the way down Bloomfield Avenue in a shower of sparks. But she finally gave up, and an upstairs neighbor eyeballed it, and took it for her own. So there's a happy ending, it didn't end up in a landfill.

When I was a kid, "garbage picker" was a derogatory term, but we all did it. People still throw out perfectly good things, like white boys, as in Better Off Dead (obligatory movie reference). So, Freecycling has a purpose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people look a gift horse in the mouth. That's an archaic reference to when someone might give you a horse, and you'd check its teeth. When you are given something, check it out later in the privacy of your own ingratitude. Then you can throw it out, or re-freecycle it, if you're a picky garbage picker.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tell me a good yarn, Bennett!

 HD has revolutionized the home movie scene. But it can also show that our heroes, and villains, have feet of clay. Take for example one of my favorite films of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest 80's action hero flick, Commando. The bad-ass bad guy, Bennett, is played by Vernon Wells, most famous as the mohawked marauder Wez from The Road Warrior, a role he essentially reprises in Weird Science. He sports a Freddy Mercury mustache, a huge knife, and a maniacal attitude that makes him very entertaining, if a bit disturbing to watch. He wears a chain mail vest and bulked up to look intimidating next to Arnold.

But now, if you watch the movie on an HD television- even with the standard DVD- you notice something is amiss. That is NOT a chain mail vest. It's definitely fabric.Oh. My. God. It's yarn! It's knitted! Now, the big question is, does Bennett knit his own sweaters? Or does his grandma? Both ideas are equally amusing. Imagine Bennett in his apartment, planning vengeance on John Matrix. He sharpens his knife. He does some chin ups, some one-arm push ups, and loads his pistol. Then he puts on reading glasses and begins meticulously ... knitting!

Or he lives with his old grandmother, who senses something is wrong as he broods in the basement, surrounded by photos of John Matrix with doodles and insults on them. She knows she can't stop him from confronting his destiny, but as he stalks out, slamming the screen door open, she reaches up from her rocking chair on the poor and hands him a folded, steely gray... sweater vest. "Benny. Take it. The least ye can do is stay warm, on your cold-blooded mission of vengeance."

Either way, Bennett will never be the same. Not that he was all that manly in the first place...

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Weapons of Mass Distraction

The distraction I want to talk about before I got distracted is the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." For one, it's the equivalent of a YMCA. The neighborhood it is planned to be in has a strip club next door, which somehow doesn't sully the memory of those who were murdered on 9/11. There's a mosque four blocks away that's been there since before the World Trade Center was built; welcome to New York City, it is a multicultural city, and there are plenty of American Muslims who don't go around blowing people up, just like there are plenty of Christians who don't shoot abortion doctors, blow up the Federal building in Oklahoma, build compounds in Texas and shoot FBI agents. Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, and peopled with those England expelled for being ... well, too radical. The cultural center, or "mosque" as the hatemongering politicians are calling it, will not even be in view of Ground Zero. Firecracker worked next door to the building this is going in; you can't see the strip club from Ground Zero, either. You can see the Chapel of St. Paul the Apostle, where George Washington prayed before embarking on the war that would free us from England's monarchic and religious tyranny. It survived the towers crashing down, and it will survive another mosque being a few blocks away. But the principles he fought for after leaving that chapel are under assault every day, from within. As we give in to the politics of fear.

The "mosque" is a weapon of mass distraction, it is Congress flashing shiny things at us so we forget that they denied health care to 9/11 First Responders just weeks after giving themselves $4,500 yearly raises during the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. As Jon Stewart succinctly put it, I GIVE UP.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Give Up - 9/11 Responders Bill
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I was working in Manhattan on 9/11, thankfully in mid-town. Even more thankfully, my bus never made it to the city that day. I grew up with the downtown skyline visible from my street, and when I was commuting there on the bus, the island burning like a cigarette in the mouth of a man before a firing squad greeted me every morning and every night. It made my stomach churn and heartburn filled my chest, for years after. And yet, I WANT a mosque there. I want Lady Liberty giving a defiant middle finger to Al Qaeda and everyone who fights their losing battle of ideas through violence against the innocent. I want them to tremble with the realization that our freedom and tolerance makes us stronger than their fear, lies and hatred can ever make their suicidal stooges. What better to stun them with, to swat them away like so many petulant gnats, than to show them that even when they slaughter 2800 of us and topple the greatest monuments to our economic might, that WE WILL STAND FAST AND NOT GIVE IN TO HATRED.

Now that would have the Saudis, the Wahhabists, al Qaeda and all our enemies trembling in their shit-caked boots. Our fear and hatred only makes them stronger.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

oh so smart

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

-Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey
Christopher Nolan is very smart. With Inception, he makes a more complex, exciting and complicated thriller than Memento, which catapulted him onto the scene. And while I enjoyed this movie very much, I hope he goes back to simpler movies like his underrated first film Following. Now, being smart isn't a bad thing. He was the perfect director for the adaptation of The Prestige, for example, and with Inception he keeps our brains tied in knots keeping track of levels upon levels of dreams twisting in upon themselves, distracting us like a master prestidigitator.

Some have mocked the movie, comparing it with the '80s horror flick Dreamscape. I liked that film, and how it used the concept of invading your dreams as the ultimate violation. In Nolan's take, you can't "wake up dead" like you did if they scared you to death in Dreamscape. It's much worse: they are hired to invade your dreams to learn your deepest secrets, for corporate espionage, blackmail, or worse. The movie begins in a dream, where Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are seeking a Japanese energy magnate's innermost secrets, and it can be debated that it ends in one. We quickly learn that Cobb has secrets of his own that keep him away from his family and force him to make a dangerous living plundering the dreams of the powerful, where failure leaves you as an undesirable witness who knows too much.
What makes the movie work is that at its heart it is a heist film, something Nolan loves. The stunning opener to The Dark Knight was his previous attempt, and someday he can direct one of Richard Stark's Parker novels. Cobb gets offered "one last job" that will wipe away the sins that keep him from going home, and he assembles a team to do the impossible- to implant an idea, rather than steal one. He reaches out to his father-in-law Michael Caine, who lends us his classic theatrical upbringing to lend an air of believability to the fantastic world Nolan builds, and gets him in touch with Ariadne, a student even better than Cobb himself, who will craft them a labyrinthine dreamworld to entrap their victim's subconscious. The fact that Ellen Page's character is named after the mythical queen who helped Theseus defeat the minotaur in Minos's maze should not be overlooked. The movie is perfectly enjoyable without delving deeper into the meaning of her name, Cobb's totem which keeps him centered, and the movie's last shot, but it can lead to many interesting conversations for those who like discussing the what-ifs.
Tom Hardy plays a grubby "forger" who specializes in impersonating people in dreams, and he nearly steals every scene. JGL gets to shine here, and after this movie he's perfectly believable as a covert operative. He steals a kiss with panache that would make James Bond envious, and performs a zero-gravity grappling contest that would grant him a salute from Jason Bourne. According to IMDb, he performed all his own stunts for that scene. Impressive. Nolan perhaps keeps the movie too well grounded in reality, but we are in the dreams of businessmen, after all; we can't expect too much creativity. This isn't What Dreams May Come, with its amazing landscapes, but we do get a stunning shoreline that re-imagines the Cliffs of Moher (best recognized as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride) built of crumbling skyscrapers, tumbling into the waves like melting glaciers. One stunning shot after another keeps us riveted to the screen, so we don't tie our brains in knots trying to figure out the complex details of Nolan's house of cards. We see M.C. Escher's paintings of Penrose impossible objects brought to life; this is what special effects are made for.
I'm not the biggest fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but here he does a great job. It's the first time I wasn't distracted by his boyish looks, seeing him as a little kid playing grown-up games. He does a great job, and I was quite impressed by the entire cast. Marion Cotillard has perhaps the most thankless role; Ken Watanabe and Tom Berenger lend grit and testosterone with the aged edifices of their visages, and both Cillian Murphy and Dileep Rao (the medium from Drag Me to Hell) are excellent in their roles.
Part of me felt that the movie was too clever for its own good. But then I thought about the last shot, and the music that plays, and I like what Nolan did there. So perhaps it's me who's being oh so smart, instead of oh so pleasant, trying to pick apart this story set in an Escher painting instead of trusting the fact that I enjoyed it thoroughly. It's a movie I will definitely watch again, because its secrets, like those in The Prestige, only draw you in further.

4.5 mobius strips out of 5

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Thursday, August 12, 2010

it's always sexier when you do it in public

Blogger Buddy Rick over at Stop the Planet of the Apes- I Want to Get Off! wrote an inspirational post about his favorite experiences seeing movies in the theater. Nowadays when you go and your shoes are stuck to the floor and half the place is lit up from kids texting on cell phones, and several rows are holding dissertations on what they did at the mall today, and someone is translating the movie into another language for their mom*, we rarely have good memories of movie theaters. But Rick inspired me to think of my best movie theater memories, and here they are, in no particular order. Except I'll probably save the best for last, so you finish it. Or maybe I'll put it in the middle, so you don't skip to the end. Ha! Whatever will you do, but read the whole damn thing?

To Sir With Love
I saw this with Firecracker in Bryant Park in Manhattan during their summer film Mondays. Before the screen was filled with Sydney Poitier's manly dignity, and contrasted him with poor white cockney kids, they showed two Warner Brothers film shorts, including one that had some horribly racist '40s-era caricatures of African jungle tribesmen. The crowd was silent. Being a Looney Tunes fan, I'd seen it before and knew what was coming, and didn't think it was one of the better cartoons like Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, that is worth watching despite its caricatures. But it was the perfect, banal counterpart to the groundbreaking film that would suggest romance between a young white student and her black teacher. In 20 short years, how things had changed. Even hateful dreck like Tokio Jokio deserves to be preserved. We tend to assume things were always better in the past, and if we let the bad parts fade into obscurity, we'll begin to believe it. Contrast this with when I saw Blazing Saddles for the Warner Brothers 75th Anniversary film festival at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, when scads of people walked out, stunned and offended at the use of the "N-word," even though it remains one of the most poignant spoofs and skewerings of American racial relations as of 1976. That festival also led me to seeing Goodfellas, The Godfather, and many other classics on the big screen for the first time. I wish there were more revival theaters, but around here I think we just have The Film Forum.

Aliens, 70mm
This was one of many films I saw at a now forgotten revival cinema in the Twin Cities of St.Paul & Minneapolis when I lived there. This is one of my favorite action films, and I don't think I saw it in theaters when it came out- I was a broke high school student! I probably shoplifted the VHS tape. So seeing it in glorious 70mm was a revelation. They also showed the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which re-spurred my interest in the band and David Byrne. The theater was old and decrepit, the seats were painful, but it was a great way to spend a night with some friends, since the place was huge and never filled up.

The Big One
This is Michael Moore's most forgotten film, but one of his best. It's not as scathing, but before The Corporation, this was one of the best documentaries on how multinational corporations essentially serve no one- not even their stockholders, as boards and CEOs run rampant- and how they squeeze tax amnesty out of communities in trade for jobs that eventually are outsourced elsewhere. Now, I don't hate all corporations but for the last 20 years they've been incredibly short-sighted, and the country has suffered for it. In this one, Moore shames Nike CEO Phil Knight into buying computers for Flint, Michigan schools if Moore will split the bill. This viewing was memorable because I got to meet Mike. We haven't always agreed- I had an email spat with him when he was making Bowling for Columbine- but this is one of his funniest and even-keeled films. This was at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis, an art and revival theater that spoiled me. The best I've got in New Jersey is the Clairidge, a Landmark theater. The Oak showed movies as varied as Shaolin Temple 3 with Jet Li, one of the best '80s kung fu movies. We saw a midnight show there and the crowd went wild. Even when I saw these movies in NYC's Chinatown back in the day- usually Jackie Chan's prime stuff like SuperCop and Armor of God- the crowd was usually quiet, so it wasn't as exciting. This was one time I didn't mind the cheering. Hell it was subtitled anyway!

The Answer Man
The premiere of this movie in Monmouth was followed by an interview with one of its stars, my cousin Lou Taylor Pucci. The movie unfortunately didn't get a wide release, but is available on NetFlix, DVD and cable now. It stars Jeff Daniels as a reclusive blockbuster novelist who hasn't written in years. It's not a perfect film, but an enjoyable mix of drama, romance and comedy. The audience was gracious and it was great to see my cousin interview by older film snob types who loved his performance.

This was the first movie I remember seeing alone, in 1983. I walked to the Franklin Theater or rode my bike; more likely my Mom dropped me off. It remains one of my favorites, with its vaguely electronic, harmonica-infused score that gives it a touch of melancholy. The video screen of WOPR, the defense computer playing a game that NORAD interprets as a real Russian attack, is my current desktop background. Matthew Broderick sure has had one hell of a career since he appeared as a computer nerd in this one. He's been Ferris Bueller, and perhaps my favorite, a hapless teacher in Election. He and John Cusack have mirrored my life with their roles, though Broderick is a few years older than me. Watching this movie on the big screen cemented the magic of movies to me and lead to a long life of enjoyment, losing myself in their fantasy world. The earliest movie I remember seeing in theaters with my parents is Star Wars; I distinctly remember my Dad patting me and telling me it was okay when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were barbecued by stormtroopers. Despite that, I still count Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite film of all time. Pulp adventure with lots of fun and winks at the audience. It's pure entertainment.

This was the first scary movie I saw without my Mom's permission. I was 11 and sneaked in with my older neighbor Ruben. I paid 90 cents, and nearly shit my pants when they pull that rope that Carole Anne is supposed to be on the other end of, and a gigantic, rotting human skull comes out of the closet and roars at you. I still adore this movie as one of the greatest haunt films ever made, alongside The Haunting and The Changeling. Sure, this one is more about effects and scares than creepiness, but tell me that scene with the kitchen chairs arranging themselves isn't effective! We practically had this matinee to ourselves, which was good, because I think we screamed like little girls the entire time.

The Empire Strikes Back

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
This is the first movie I took a girlfriend too. Rebecca liked scary movies like this and Child's Play, and I liked her burrowing into my side in terror as Freddy clawed someone, or Chucky knifed some poor bastard in the spine. Maybe that's why crappy, jump-scare horror films still make money these days? The last horror flick I went to see was the awful Haunting in Connecticut, and I don't think I heard one scream. Do girls text to their boyfriend OMG Im skeert nowadays? The theater was packed, and we were deathly silent. This wasn't the pure murderous horror of the first Freddy film, but it was before his snappy one-liners took over. I still enjoy this one for what it is, and found the way he stalks the troubled teens in this one to be pretty clever.

Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny
This is the first movie I went to see with my wife to be, Firecracker. It was supposed to be Borat, but we ended up seeing that separately with friends. We've seen dozens and dozens of movies since, from Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the Ziegfeld, to me sitting through (and liking) The Jane Austen Book Club. Really, it's pretty cute. I drew the line at the Sex and the City movies. The show is short, and I couldn't take 90 to 150 minutes of Sarah Jessica Parker. It would like the Ludovico Treatment. I don't remember much about this movie. I remember the Sasquatch, and the battle with the Devil, and lots of cameos by those such as Ronny James Dio, may he rest in peace.

So, what are your most memorable movie theater experiences?

*(actually happened to me, during The Departed)

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the right to marry and all that entails

No, this isn't about Prop 8. Not really. I saw the indie dromedary (I refuse to say "dramedy") The Kids Are All Right this weekend, and Prop 8- the California law against gay marriage- just happened to be overturned by a higher court. Good timing, and a very good movie.Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, it stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose children turn 18, and want to find their biological father. He turns out to be Mark Ruffalo, who I last saw in the excellent quirky caper The Brothers Bloom. Here he's a scruffy, motorcycle riding free spirit who runs a small organic farm, and a small restaurant from what he grows there. He looks like Toecutter from Mad Max, and yes, he can lick his eyebrows clean.

Julianne and Annette are Nic and Jules, and they've been a couple long enough to have a 15 year old son and an 18 year old daughter, who is on the verge of leaving for college. This life change, and the urging of her brother, spur the young Joni to find the sperm donor who gave her and her brother his set of chromosomes. She's played by the talented young Mia Wasikowska, best known as Alice in Tim Burton's latest. Her brother is Laser, who's not as focused as his name would suggest. He's hanging out with a troublesome young neighbor and his mothers know something is wrong, but not what. Together they make an altogether normal family, with Annette Bening's Nic as a practical E.R. surgeon who brings home the bacon and likes order; Julianne's Jules is the more free-spirited one who's starting yet another new business, this time landscape design. Together, they are nurturing parents who have the same faults and foibles as any others, despite forming a cohesive unit that the kids call "Moms."

When Joni finds her their biological father, things are shaken up without the expected drama of misunderstanding and childish jealousy. Of course, Moms are a little upset and surprised, considering the obvious: weren't we enough? Do the kids need a father? But this isn't a single parent household, where one has been either abandoned the kids or been exiled from seeing them. That's where the hurt comes from, when a father is absent; not from his nonexistence, but from his rejection. So as the title tells us, the kids are all right, but the story that unfolds from Mark Ruffalo's insertion into their family unit- in more ways than one- is enjoyable and natural. Cholodenko does a great job in keeping her cards close to her chest and keeping the zones a warm shade of gray. Mistakes are made, but as Closer (full review)- one of my favorite love-gone-wrong films- reminds us, love is about compromise.

There's plenty of situational humor and the characters are deeply detailed. Bening's Nicky resembles the director, Emma Thompson, and even Dame Judi Dench when she gets some shocking news; I've loved Bening since The Grifters (full review) and this is one of her finest roles. Despite her and Julianne Moore both being instantly recognizable leading ladies, they embody their characters and we see them as Nicky and Jules. Moore retains a hint of her famous vulnerability, with a fiery independence; whether she's in cargo shorts and hiking boots looking like a turn of the century explorer, settling back on her hips to try to look natural, when she knows she's a bit over her head; or passionately pouncing into bed looking quite like a leopardess, with all those freckles. Cholodenko gives us plenty of close-ups and we see every crow's foot, showing us real women instead of airbrushed icons. Even scruffy Ruffalo always looks like he ought to be hosed down, even when he's got a suit and glasses on.

What I think I liked most was that the movie surprised me with its subtlety. It has no agenda, it doesn't set out to prove that a lesbian couple can raise well-adjusted children. If you need to be convinced of that, get out more. It doesn't argue that you need or don't need a father; Ruffalo brings good and bad into the family circle. Laser doesn't suddenly bond with this man and forget fifteen years of Moms, as we might expect from a Hollywood tale, but "Dad," who really was a sperm donor in this case, does help the kid find the focus he needs. And nothing is made of it. He could have gotten the insight he needed from the right neighbor, or handyman. It makes for an entertaining evening, with some exciting romance that made it a good couples movie for me and Firecracker, leading to plenty of conversation over Red Mango afterward. It introduces us to characters we regret letting go, when the credits roll. And for once, we get a story about gays or lesbians that treats them just like everybody else.

4 hot freckled redhead mommas out of 5

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Arnold Schwarzenegger Project: True Lies


Have you ever killed anyone? Yes, but they were all bad!

True Lies remains one of my favorite Arnie films, because it perfectly balances humor and action; it's his Die Hard. The funny thing there is that Bruce Willis's breakthrough film that redefined action flicks was originally envisioned as a sequel to Arnie's blockbuster Commando, which I feel is the most iconic action film of the '80s. So, in essence, True Lies is Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron getting back together to show that they could out-Die Hard Die Hard. And mostly, they do. Them's big words. Die Hard is also one of my favorite films, a Christmas tradition, and its effect on the genre is inescapable. How many movies can be described as "Die Hard on a plane/boat/Alcatraz/speeding bus"? The genre got so flood that the 3rd and 4th sequels avoided the trap entirely. True Lies on the other hand, loosely based on a French film called La Totale!, is an action movie with a simple and ingenious premise: what kind of home life does James Bond have? What does he tell his wife?

Of course Harry Tasker is not James Bond; he's an American counter-terrorist spy who infiltrates a luxurious party in much the same way as Bond did in Goldfinger, with a white tuxedo under his wetsuit, to hammer the point home. Arnie and his groan-inducing one-liners are the perfect match, because Bond played that game first. We meet Tasker as he slips out of that wetsuit and slides into the ballroom party of an Arabian arms dealer; he's communicating with partners in a surveillance van, Gib (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov). He's a natural, making small talk with the guests with that utter confidence Arnold exudes. He moves with a grace belying his size, from years of posing on stage, the overlooked physical aspect of his acting prowess blossoming once again under Cameron's strict direction. After slipping upstairs to plug a hacking device onto the host's PC, he makes his own distraction by dancing the tango with art dealer Juno, played by the exotic Tia Carrera.

Many reviewers were surprised at Arnold's dancing, forgetting that this was Mr. Olympia, and bodybuilding at that level is not a clumsy endeavor. The comedy begins early, with Gib complaining about Harry dancing the tango when he should be leaving, and sets the tone for the spectacular escape sequence. Beginning with a classy Bond-like one-liner as he detonates the charges he set earlier as a distraction, soon he is running full blast through the snow, pursued by Dobermans, armed men on snowmobiles, and skiers with machine guns. In the film's first 15 minutes, they throw the glove down for the Bond series, which would respond by upping the ante next year with Pierce Brosnan's first and best entry, Goldeneye. Sadly that series would descend into idiocy until the recent reboot.

Harry makes it back to the van with a plethora of tricks- he knocks the dogs heads together, slides downhill on his back while shooting pursuers, and is cool as a cucumber as we hear bullets whip past our ears. Cameron has always paid great attention to the sound collage of an action soundtrack, and here to fit with the comic touches, the bullets are a bit quieter and almost cartoonish. We know Harry's not going to get shot, and the final discharge of the battle is casual, "Excuse me," as he reaches around his partners in the van to shoot one last bad guy. When they head home, Gib hands Harry his wedding ring- "Forgetting something?" and we immediately know that Gib is a closer partner than Harry's wife will be, and when he walks through that door he's going to his real job- pretending to be a normal guy, when he'd rather be out playing super spy with his buddies.

Harry works for Omega Sector- America's Last Line of Defense, which is fittingly headed by Omega Man Charlton Heston. They outline their findings to their eye-patched leader at a meeting the next day, and he describes their noisy exit as a pooch-screwing of the highest order. It made me miss Mr. Heston and his fine oratory skills. I never got the hate for him, even after he worked for the NRA. This was a man who marched at Selma, but was vilified for not being a typical Hollywood hypocrite, glorifying guns in film and then saying us common folk shouldn't be able to own them. He suffered like any man of principles, and I'm glad he got this memorable cameo in during his later years, before Alzheimer's took him. At Omega, he's the lone bad-ass among an office of goofs, who tango past Harry to mock him. It never flirts with late Roger Moore-era Bond silliness, and keeps things just above Our Man Flint. This was before Goldeneye briefly recharged the Bond franchise, and we were eager for a fun spy caper film.

The story is your typical "guy ignores family for his job" formula, and Harry hops into bed alongside his sleeping, mousy wife Helen (a hilarious Jamie Lee Curtis) and the next day resumes his façade of life as a boring salesman. The problem is, he's so boring that his wife is considering cheating on him, with a sleazy car salesman named Simon, who pretends he's a spy to get girls. While Harry is off following his lead on Juno Skinner, Helen's having coffee with Simon, egged on by her co-workers who're tired of hearing how Harry ignores her. And when Harry is getting attacked in a rest room by terrorists- led by the infamous "Sand Spider," Salim Abu Aziz- Simon is taking credit for "the op," and melting Helen's butter.

The bathroom fight is one of the best fistfights you'll see Arnie get into. Leave it to Cameron to make a classic set piece in a mall men's room, having Arnie bash heads with an electric hand dryer, smash faces into urinals, and dodge AK-47 fire in toilet stalls. It's an exciting and humorous battle that introduces us to the cold killer Aziz, played with relish by Art Malik (Ali from A Passage to India) and as expected, does not end there. Harry turns the tables on Aziz and chases him through the mall and out onto the streets, where they commandeer a motorcycle and a policeman's horse. The chase leads across the and into a high rise hotel, through the kitchens and into the elevators to the rooftop, where Aziz makes a daring leap into a penthouse swimming pool. Harry gives chase, but his horse has more sense than he does.

Harry's upset that he lost the bad guy, but he's devastated the next day when he suspects Helen of infidelity. He walks out of the house in a trance. Cameron shocks us into laughter with Tom Arnold at his smart-ass best, who laughs it all off when Harry tells him the news. "I thought it was something serious!" And he goes on to tell us of his divorce woes. "She took the ice cube trays! What kind of sick bitch takes the ice cube trays?" Giving us a little hint that Gib's home life is spent with a drink on the rocks. When Arnie balks at his nonchalant attitude, Gib tells him, "What did you expect, Harry? Helen's a flesh and blood woman and you're never there. It was only a matter of time." But he still doesn't get it; he puts a bug in her purse to find out what's going on...

The next day Helen meets Simon and he takes credit for Harry's chase through D.C.; Gib appreciates his audacity, saying "I'm beginning to like this guy. But we're still gonna kill him!" The Arnolds here have great chemistry, and it's really too bad that a sequel never made it. Tom Arnold still dreams of one, and was overheard dropping rumors about it recently, but it is very unlikely. Personally I'd love to see post-Gov Arnie and Jamie Lee return as retiree grandparents pulled back into the spy game as cranky old farts having to show the young'uns how it's done, but Cameron seems too busy with his 3-D movies to come back to this. And we haven't had a funny spy movie like this since. Mr. & Mrs. Smith? Yawn.

But I digress. Bill Paxton's Simon practically steals the movie as the used car salesman sleazeball, and the scene where Harry test drives a '58 Corvette ragtop with him is brilliant comedy. Because let's face it, Arnold needs serious direction to be funny; with a weak director, like in many of the '90s and '00 entries in The Arnold Project, his family scenes never come off as real. He phones it in. With Cameron, the director who made him a mega action star, he gives his all. Paxton is great as usual, crafting an entirely new character with a porn 'stache and oily hair falling into his eyes, without a hint of his trademark Chet or Hudson to be seen. He makes him slimy and pathetic, but when he says, "Okay, just ask yourself: What do women really want? You take these bored housewives, married to the same guy for years, they're stuck in a rut, then need some release! Promise of adventure, a hint of danger." Harry listens, and gets an idea...

In a hilarious waste of government resources- which Harry talks Gib into because he knows he "blew a mission because he was busy getting a plo chob*"- they get Omega Sector to pull a black op on Helen and Simon during their tryst at his love trailer. The classic humor of misunderstanding, as Harry thinks he sees her messing around, is priceless, as are Gib's responses. Cameron's one-line cameo as the chopper pilot, "Yup, she's got her head in his lap. Yahoo." and Gib trying to cool Harry off, "Maybe she's sleepy?" are classic, and still make me laugh, a dozen viewings in. Jamie Lee Curtis is at the top of her comedy game as well, and when the special ops team captures her and "International Wanted Terrorist Carlos the Jackal" her reaction of frantic fear keeps us laughing and not wondering how scary this all is. Later, when Harry interrogates her through one-way glass with a voice mask, he realizes that she hasn't cheated, and just wanted some excitement. So he plans on giving her some: she'll have to pretend to be a hooker and plant a bug in a bad guy's hotel room if she doesn't want to be prosecuted as an accomplice.

So when Helen shows up at a swanky hotel room dressed to the nines in stiletto heels and a slinky black dress, she doesn't know it's hubby in the chair watching from the shadows, as she dances for him. She's been assured he only "likes to watch," and that she only has to plant the bug near the phone, and she certainly gets into it as she roleplays her little spy game. If you've read Cameron's unused script for a Spider-Man movie, you know he has a penchant for writing creepy erotic scenes- probably left over from his assistant directing on Galaxy of Terror, with its freaky alien "surprise sex" scene- and while this is certainly sexy, it has an odd feel to it, since we know Harry put her up to it, and he's a voyeur of sorts himself. It's saved by a bit of accidental ad-lib by Curtis herself, when Helen slips and falls, she picks herself up like nothing happened, and our laughter breaks the tension. You can tell it's an accident because if you watch Arnold, he instinctively begins to get up to help her, then stops to not ruin the shot. And it works perfectly, because as a husband, Harry would do the same.

The real action of the film begins when Aziz's goons somehow track Harry to the hotel and take them both hostage, and Helen begins to see who her husband really is. They are put on a private jet and flown to the Florida Keys, and he tries to protect her by saying she's a "crazy hooker," but Juno figures out what's up. On the island, we learn Crimson Jihad's sinister plot, with nukes smuggled in fake archaeological finds, to take the city of Miami hostage to their demands. And Helen learns Harry's secret life, when he's forced to identify the warheads on videotape, so they can tell the authorities they mean business. The story takes this frightening turn, but the bad guys are never really that scary- Art Malik plays Aziz like a furious mastermind hitched with hapless henchmen, and when he records his message to the United States, he rants on and on after the battery on the camera has died.

However, Aziz does get to be cool and competent. He leaves Harry with a torturer to "find out what he knows" under truth serum, and Helen uses the opportunity to finally get some straight answers out of her husband. I always found this the funniest part of the film, and some of Arnold's best comic acting.
"Ask me something I'd normally lie about."
"Are we gonna die?"
So of course Harry escapes, with the hero monologuing his plans for a change- how's that for a little poke at the Bond films it apes?- and he and Helen begin wreaking havoc all over the compound with guns, grenades and makeshift flamethrowers. While his men scamper and scream, Aziz just kicks open a crate with a rocket launcher, picks it up, and blows Harry to smithereens. As far as he knows. Juno grabs Helen, and they head out in a limo along the Florida Keys highway while Aziz takes one of his nukes with a helicopter to cause more mayhem...

As with most Cameron films, the action is pretty much nonstop from here, with minor comic interludes. Gib tracks Harry & Helen to the island with a bug they planted when they were monitoring Helen's infidelities, so he can pick Harry up before the A-bomb goes off. He calls in Marines in Harrier jets to take out the trucks with the nukes, and they actually blew up part of the old Key West highway with real Marines flying by in real Harriers! He infuses lots of slapstick in this sequence, from a truckful of terrorists foiled by a pelican, to the great catfight between Juno and Helen in the back of an out of control limo heading towards the blown up end of the bridge. Harry begins his marriage repair by hoisting Helen from the car via helicopter, the ultimate test of trust. They later seal it with a kiss before a mushroom cloud backdrop, which still kicks the ass out of Indy 4's "nuke the fridge" moment.

The movie does have some flaws- Harry & Gib's partner Faisil, despite being played perfectly by Grant Heslov, is rather obviously the token "good Arab" character. Even so, the movie was picketed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for its "depiction of Middle Easterners as homicidal, religious zealots." I thought it was to the movie's credit that Aziz and his terrorists come off more like the Three Stooges with an atom bomb; they're just typical movie bad guys, and their bumbling makes them less terrifying than Bond villain henchmen. Another shortfall to me was Harry's interrogation of Helen; it goes a little too far, and we're sort of happy when she bashes him in the head with a phone during the phony spy game he makes her play, because it's damn creepy to make your wife pose as a hooker for a sleazeball, even if you're playing the sleazeball! We get stronger hints of the Cameron formula here. His films have slowly diluted since The Terminator's perfection, but this one is still strong and not as preachy and hackneyed as Avatar. It's one of Arnold's best, giving him some range, even if he looks positively maniacal during the "thumb war" with his family at the end.

All the entries in The Arnold Project

* How Arnie pronounces "blow job."

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