April 24th, 2008

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007) ***

Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a meek, introverted shut-in who lives in his brother’s garage and spurns the constant advances of a cute co-worker (Kelli Garner).  He’s basically on the road to Jeffrey Dahmerville, until one day hope arrives in a huge package on his doorstep in the form of a plastic anatomically correct love doll named Bianca.  No, Lars doesn’t use it for it’s intended purpose; instead he introduces her to the family as his new girlfriend from Brazil.  They more or less play along with him, and slowly so does most of the community. 

 

This flick walks a tightrope in terms of tone.  Usually movies about anatomically correct love dolls turn grisly (see:  Love Object), but in Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling’s performance is what keeps it from being creepy.  His Chaplin-esque performance is one that is funny but sad, hopeful yet pathetic, and he turns Lars into a fully three dimensional person and not the perverted creep you’d expect.  I know you’re probably thinking that making a movie about a blow-up doll that doesn’t get fucked is like making a movie about a cop that doesn’t shoot anyone, but trust me; you’ll probably end up enjoying this flick.

 

The movie is actually more of a satire of how people accept “different” people.  Nowadays with people being openly gay and getting married and mentally challenged people flipping burgers at McDonald’s, what’s the big deal if a guy brings a sex doll to church with him?  Director Craig Gillespie also did Mr. Woodcock the same year.   

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2008) *** ½

 

Two living martial arts legends, Jackie Chan and Jet Li share the screen for the first time ever in this immensely entertaining kung fu flick that balances a lot of old school chop sockey charm with high tech CGI effects. 

 

A kid gets bullied into robbing an old Oriental shopkeeper (Chan).  When the kid picks up a golden staff, he’s magically transported to ancient China where he learns he must return the staff to it’s rightful place on top of a mystic mountain so that the Monkey King (Li) can reclaim his throne.  Along the way he meets a drunken master (Chan) and a no-nonsense monk (Li) who help him on his quest.   

 

Basically the plot borrows from everything from Drunken Master to The Neverending Story to Lord of the Rings.  Does it really matter though when you have Jackie Chan and Jet Li duking it out with each other on screen?  I think not.

 

The scene where Chan and Li kick the crap out of each other is damn good times and is easily the best thing about the movie.  You’d think since this flick was directed by the guy who did Stuart Little that the kung fu action would be kinda weak, but you’d be wrong.  I’m happy to report that either Li or Chan kick the stuffing out of somebody every five minutes or so in this flick.  The film also contains at least one memorable villain in the lovely shape of Bi Ling Ling as the white haired dominatrix bounty hunter who stalks the heroes. 

 

The wraparound segments that take place in the “real” world are serviceable at best, but again, who really cares just as long as we get to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li kick butt?  The opening credits that features poster art from several kung fu flicks is also quite a treat. 

 

Chan gets the best line of the movie when he says, “Crouching Tiger, Spanking Monkey!” 

 

The Forbidden Kingdom’s got enough martial arts action to send it straight to Number 3 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for ’08, right below Doomsday and just ahead of The Ruins. 

THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960) ***

 

Most of the same people involved with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad re-teamed for this fantasy adventure based on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. 

 

Kerwin Matthews stars as Gulliver, a struggling doctor who leaves his materialistic fiancée behind to go on a seafaring voyage in search of wealth.  In the land of Lilliput, he’s tied up on the beach by a race of tiny people before being hailed as their savior.  Eventually he’s used as a pawn for war and has to make tracks when the idiot king accuses him of treason.  Gulliver then heads off to the island of Brobdingnag which is populated by nothing but giants where he is reunited with his fiancée, who lives in the king’s dollhouse.  Gulliver is the pride of the king’s court until he is branded as a witch by the king’s indignant sorcerer and has to battle an enormous squirrel (!) and a giant crocodile in order to escape. 

 

Viewers anticipating a third world will be bummed to learn that there isn’t one.  (Unless you count him returning to England as another “world”, that is.)     

 

Ray Harryhausen did the excellent special effects, but fans of his work in such films as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and 20 Million Miles to Earth may be a tad disappointed as most of the effects revolve around things are either really big or really tiny.  The only real “monster” in the flick is the crocodile and while it’s pretty cool, it’s got nothing on Harryhausen’s Rhedasaurus.  Having said that, the movie is still a lot of fun; especially during the Lilliputian segment of the film.  Swift’s social commentary and biting satire is muted, but when the effects work is so great, it doesn’t really matter.  The music by Bernard Herrmann (the same year as his Psycho score) is also superb.   

 

AKA:  The Worlds of Gulliver.

RICCO (1979) **

Robert Mitchum’s son, Christopher stars as Ricco, the gangly spawn of a Mafia chieftain who gets out of jail only to learn that his father has been murdered by a rival mobster.  Encouraged by his nympho sister and his crippled mother, he sets out for vengeance; with a little help from a mucho sexy counterfeiter (Barbara Bouchet from Death Rage).  The mobster is so diabolical that when an employee crosses him, he melts them down in a vat of acid and turns their leftover fat into soap.  (I wonder if Palahniuk saw this before he wrote Fight Club.)  After Ricco shakes up the syndicate, the Mob boss retaliates by killing THE REST of his family, which means he’s got to go out for revenge AGAIN. 

 

Mitchum’s kung fu scenes are some of the lamest ever committed to celluloid.  He looks more like a beanpole stoner than a Mafia tough guy.  Seriously, this guy is about as convincing with a karate chop as Stephen Hawking.  The original Italian title of this movie is Some Guy with a Strange Face is Looking for You to Kill You.  It would’ve been more appropriate if it was called Some Guy Who is the Son of a Famous Actor and Wouldn’t Be Here Unless His Dad Made a Few Phone Calls is Looking for You to Kill You.  If the movie had a believable tough guy in the role of Ricco instead of this prissy looking ninny, this flick may have worked.  Unfortunately whenever Mitchum tries to punch somebody, all credibility goes out the window. 

 

What the flick lacks in the acting department, it makes up for in other areas.  There are a few grisly gunshot wounds (one in the head, another in the ass) as well as a memorable scene in which a guy gets castrated, has his severed business shoved down his throat and is tossed into a vat of acid. 

 

In addition, the movie is also brimming with lots of beautiful women running around with their luscious cantaloupes on display.  I never sat down and actually watched An Inconvenient Truth, but I have to go on record by disagreeing with Al Gore’s claims about global warming.  It was NOT the depletion of the ozone layer that melted the polar icecaps.  It was scene where Barbara Bouchet performed her sultry impromptu striptease on the hood of a car that was the real culprit.  To say this has to be one of the hottest scenes ever captured on film would be a tremendous understatement.  Her magnificent figure easily compensates for the poky pacing, the chintzy action scenes and the bland performance of Mitchum. 

 

AKA:  Ricco, The Mean Machine.  AKA:  The Mean Machine.  AKA:  Cauldron of Death.  AKA:  Gangland.  AKA:  Some Guy with a Strange Face is Looking for You to Kill You.  AKA:  The Dirty Mob.