Baseball Toaster Western Homes
We Live Again
2008-07-31 09:40
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I had kind of an interesting TV week because I was out of town; rather than having my HD digital cable with On Demand and dual-tuner DVR functionality I had to just watch whatever was on. With commercials! I felt like donning an animal skin and whacking a blonde over the head with a club. The silver lining was that I ended up watching a lot of things I never would have otherwise. One night I couldn't sleep and flipping channels I landed on a rerun of the last UFC pay-per-view. For the most part I find mixed martial arts a bit grotesque, but the main event featured B.J. Penn, an athlete of obvious and undeniable talent and substantial charisma. What's more, Penn was matched up against Sean Sherk, a known steroid cheat fighting for the first time since his reinstatement. I'd like to think that I'm too civilized to fall prey to base bloodlust, but I was very pleased when Penn dispatched Sherk with a devastating knee to the face.

My Cousin Vinny I hadn't seen this movie in years, but we flipped past it on "AMC" and we were stuck because it might be my father's all-time favorite. He's an attorney, and he spent the whole movie gleefully ribbing my sister Meg, who's applying to law schools, about learning from Vinny. Can we all agree that Marisa Tomei totally deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar? The bias against actors and actresses in comedies needs to stop already. John Turturro should have won a statue for Big Lebowski, too.

Be Kind Rewind I hadn't watched a movie on a plane in some time. Normally I read for a bit and then fall asleep. Even though sleeping on planes inevitably causes screaming back pain for me, I can't help it. Something about the canned air and the low humming. But I stayed awake for all of Be Kind Rewind, which was exactly good enough to keep me awake for an hour and a half. The film doesn't work at all, but it has its moments. Jack Black seems to be playing very broadly while Mos Def and Danny Glover were working off an entirely different script. For a rule-breaking music video director, Michel Gondry is an utterly conventional writer and his script cuts the film's momentum off right where it's starting to really engage. The movie parodies are the whole point of the film, and yet they stop fairly early so Gondry can indulge in a very dreary Capra-esque morality fable. I'd see it, but I wouldn't expect very much.

Saw III The first thing I decided to watch when I arrived home, after a weekend consigned to "King of the Hill" and "Hogan's Heroes" reruns? A shamelessly gory B-movie I've already seen! I think that my interest in the Saw franchise, which has had its ups and downs, was renewed by The Dark Knight. That film's conception of the Joker seemed to draw upon the Jigsaw character, particularly the sequence where he pits the two ships' passengers against each other. The Saw movies thus far are the opposite of the Star Trek films. You've probably heard the old "even number" trope about the Trek pictures. Well, these movies are the opposite, thus far -- Saw and Saw III were very good, for what they were, and II and IV were pretty awful. Anyway the rapid-cut style of Darren Lynn Bousman kept me from really getting the full arc of Saw III the first time around and I'm glad I went back to it. The first thing you remember is the nasty traps, which are indeed deliciously unpleasant. Buried in Bousman's over-busy direction (this would have been much better if the original's James Wan was at the helm) is a very Shakespearean little story about parallel family relationships (the husband and wife, and Jigsaw and Amanda). The script by Wan and Leigh Whannell is better than the C-list acting (except of course for the great Tobin Bell) and the sound effects are commendably disgusting. There's a line between films like Saw III and Hostel; in one the violence serves a dramatic purpose, in the other the violence is there for its own sake.

A Knight's Tale This is another B-movie I like way beyond all proportion. In this case, though, the acting is actually really good -- Mark Addy, Heath Ledger, and the frequently nude Paul Bettany all deliver. The fact that the story is preposterous and the historical details more fudged than Robin Hood: Men in Tights (starring Saw's Cary Elwes, synergy!) doesn't really matter. It's a nicely edited picture that makes the initially jarring combination of quasi-medieval settings and roaring 70's rock chestnuts work. You feel it when the lances crunch into armor, and that's all the picture's really trying to do.

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