December 15th, 2008

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007) ** ½

Sidney (Network) Lumet directed this laborious but well acted heist flick about a pair of brothers (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) who plan the “victimless” robbery of their parent’s jewelry store.  Since this is a movie, we know that the robbery will not go according to plan.  In fact, the boys’ mother (Rosemarie Harris) ends up on a slab, which causes their father (Albert Finney) to go all kinds of crazy with grief.  Both of the brothers’ sizable debts continue to escalate until they’re forced to commit ANOTHER robbery later in the movie.  I guess it goes without saying that that robbery doesn’t go off without a hitch either.

 

The opening scenes are good enough to hook you.  The botched robbery and its inevitable fallout are compelling but Lumet loses the audience once he starts going hog wild with all the flashbacks and flashforwards.  Seriously, this movie doubles back on itself more than all of those goddamned Saw movies combined. 

 

The performances were all great though.  Hoffman gave another textured portrayal of a greasy loser and Hawke was equally excellent as his down-and-out brother.  Kudos must be given to Finney for some truly fine grieving acting after his wife dies.  Michael (Bug) Shannon also deserved some kind of award for his weirdo turn as a thug who tries to shake Hawke down for some cash.

 

This movie also features a first:  A Phillip Seymour Hoffman sex scene.  You get to see his flabby ass pound the living Hell out of Marisa Tomei doggystyle for a good two minutes.  On the plus side though, you do get to see Tomei’s tits, so you have to take the good with the bad I guess.  Then again, she does get naked A LOT in this movie so we could’ve done without all the unnecessary shots of Hoffman’s ass pounding away at her. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead would’ve been a Three Star movie but I gotta take a half-star off for the gratuitous shots of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s tubby butt.

DANCING AT THE BLUE IGUANA (2001) **

I like going to strip clubs not only to see naked women, but also to kinda picture in my head what drove them into a life of stripping.  Like Cookie, who strips at Lui’s Canton Inn.  While all of the other strippers have needle marks, bruises and are missing teeth; Cookie looks like she could be a secretary or something.  I could figure out why most other girls at Lui’s strip for cash (probably to buy drugs, drugs, and more drugs), but I’ve never been able to find out what makes Cookie tick.

 

Watching Dancing at the Blue Iguana is kinda like going behind the scenes of Lui’s Canton Inn.  Except that instead of being populated by a bunch of smacked out strippers (save for Cookie of course), we have Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sandra Oh.  Basically we watch the girls strip, then go backstage and see their personal lives unfold.  It ain’t great, but at least these girls look a lot better than the girls at Lui’s.

 

While Dancing at the Blue Iguana isn’t very good, I still think it’s pretty awesome that the dude who directed the Academy Award winning Il Postino made a movie about strippers.  Yeah, it’s got a pretentious air about it that you would expect from someone who won the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but it does have some first rate titties in it.  He at least did his homework as all of the strippers have authentic sounding names like Angel, Stormy, Desiree, and Jasmine.  (For the record, I think there’s been an Angel, Stormy, Desiree and Jasmine dancing at Lui’s at sometime or another.)

 

Apparently the whole movie was improvised, so that’s why the flick is uneven as all get out.  The “plot” don’t really matter too much though as the acting is quite solid.  Daryl Hannah is good bubble-headed blonde pole dancer who’s infertile and wants to adopt.  The scene where she tries to adopt a kid is priceless.  Her credentials to be a good parent are “I can make a good Fluffer Nutter sandwich!”  Classic.  Usually I can’t stand Sandra (Grey’s Anatomy) Oh, but she shows off her itty bitties in this flick, so she didn’t grate on my nerves too bad.  She plays a poetry obsessed stripper which means she’s got to read a bunch of bad poetry and stuff.  Like I said though, she gets naked a lot, so I didn’t really mind too much.  Jennifer Tilly also gets to show off her stuff in more ways than one.  Acting wise, she wigs out at an abortion clinic and tells a woman “My child is going to sell drugs to your child!”  Body wise, she gets naked a lot and has a great comic S & M scene too.  All the chicks were excellent and rally nailed the deadpan “I wish I was somewhere else” look that all strippers have while dancing.

 

The problem with the movie though is that it goes on for far too long.  (Two friggin’ hours!)  Let’s face it; you really only need to be in a strip club for about an hour.  I mean you only have so many dollar bills, right?  Besides, staying in a strip club for too long gets depressing after awhile.  Likewise Dancing at the Blue Iguana is fun for about an hour until it gets depressing.  At first it’s fun to watch all these actresses shaking their goodies on stage, but after about an hour or so, you’ll want to just grab a lapdance and sneak out the back.

BODY OF EVIDENCE (1993) **

Remember in the early 90’s, shortly after the success of Basic Instinct when everyone and their mother were making erotic thrillers?  Body of Evidence was pop superstar Madonna’s foray into the genre.  It was a colossal flop when it was released and it still isn’t very good now watching it 15 years later, but it still makes for a decent reminder of the kind of stuff you could watch on Skinamax at 1:00 AM back in the day.

 

The story has Madonna being put on trial for literally fucking an old millionaire to death.  (Did Anna Nicole Smith see this?)  Willem Dafoe is her attorney who tries to get her off in more ways than one.  In between yelling at witnesses in the courtroom, Dafoe spends time in Madonna’s houseboat where they play kinky sex games. 

 

Madonna is pretty terrible in this flick although she does get naked a lot.  Then again, you’ve seen The Material Girl naked a lot before, so I guess that’s nothing new.  The sex scenes are kinda hot though and the scene in which she drenches Dafoe’s genitals with hot candle wax is straight-up hilarious.  Besides Madge getting pummeled a couple times, you can also revel in seeing Dafoe giving a hearty pounding to a before-she-was-famous Julianne Moore too.

 

What really kills the movie is that it plays more like a courtroom drama than an erotic thriller.  The movie is filled with too many long winded scenes of Joe Mantegna and Willem Dafoe arguing in court while a stern-faced female judge shouts out things like “Overruled!”, “Sustained!”, and “You better watch it, counselor!” and not enough of Madonna being a kinky sex freak for it to be totally worthwhile.  The Material Girl gets the best line of the movie when she says:  “I fucked you, I fucked Andrew, I fucked Frank.  That’s what I do, I fuck!”

 

AKA:  Deadly Evidence.

THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1976) *

When I was a kid, my parents and I used to go to the (now long gone) video store, Phil’s TV in Salisbury where I used to rent some truly wonderful movies from the “Children’s Section” like Tron, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and countless other Disney titles.  Since I was only about five at the time, my mother forbade me from renting movies from the “Grown-Up Section”, but that didn’t stop me from wandering around and checking out the cool-looking video boxes found in the Grown-Up part of the store.  Usually if I saw a movie that looked promising (at least judging by the video box of course, the only natural way that a 5 year-old can judge a movie’s merits), I could usually talk my dad into renting it.  Like the time I found the video box for I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin (which preserved the double feature aspect of it’s original release) and told my dad to rent it and he did.  My mom naturally never let me watch a flick like that, but the next morning over some French Toast, my dad would give me the skinny on it.  If he said, “It was a good one”, then the movie was a good one.  If he called the movie a “stinker” though, then that was the kiss of death.  And if my dad held his nose while saying the word “stinker”, it was doubly dubious. 

 

One day, I saw a cool looking video in Phil’s called The Cars That Ate Paris.  It featured a Volkswagen Beetle with razor sharp teeth gobbling down some poor unlucky pedestrian.  I thought to myself, “This has to be great!”  I showed the box to my dad and he agreed that the movie looked promising so he rented it.  Of course, my mom wouldn’t let me watch a movie in which cars ATE people so she said I couldn’t watch it.  The next morning came and I was all ready to hear my dad’s review.  I kept picturing him saying “it was a good one”.  I mean we’re talking about a movie in which cars EAT people here folks, it HAS to be good.  Much to my surprise my father gave me the “stinker” review, complete with nose-holding.

 

Normally if my father gave out that dreaded rating, I would just shrug and say oh well, but this time I had to pry.  I had to know why this wasn’t a great movie.  I mean how could it not be?  I MEAN IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE GETTING EATEN BY CARS FOR CHRIST’S SAKES!  My dad responded with, “Well, the cars didn’t eat people and it didn’t take place in France.”

 

It took me 25 years to finally see this flick, but even a quarter of a century later, my dad’s review still stands:  The Cars That Ate Paris features cars that DO NOT eat people.  The thing doesn’t take place in France.  (It takes place in Australia.)  My dad WAS right:  The Cars That Ate Paris IS a stinker.   

 

Basically what we got here is a low budget version of Road Warrior, without the Warrior.  People in a small village cause out-of-towners to get into nasty auto wrecks and then they collect the scrap parts and sell them.  When a motorist actually survives one of their accidents, the mayor decides to make him a citizen of the town.  Things get really bogged down at this point until the decent final reel when some unruly punks in souped up cars use the town as their own personal demolition derby.

 

The Cars That Ate Paris marked the directing debut of Peter Weir, who would later go on to direct The Truman Show.  I don’t care if the man directed one of Jim Carrey’s best movies, this one still sucks.  While the last ten minutes of the flick where cars are getting smashed up left and right is okay, most of the movie is just plain weak.  Although a handful of people do end up getting ran over or get impaled on designer hood ornaments during this stretch of the film, it’s not nearly enough to make up for the excruciating first 75 minutes. 

 

The moral of the story:  Always listen to your father when it comes to shitty movies from Down Under.

 

AKA:  Cars.  AKA:  The Cars That Ate People.