Saturday, September 24, 2005

Where Are They Now ... Dana Carvey

As one of the funniest cast members to ever emerge from "Saturday Night Live," the transition into movies would have seemed a simple one for Dana Carvey. Having been a part of the mostly standout cast of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Carvey was consistently funny on the show, with characters such as Garth, Church Lady and Hans from Hans and Franz among his repertoire. Plus, during the 1992 presidential election, he hit the jackpot, portraying George H.W. Bush and candidate Ross Perot. The sketch where he plays Perot as he takes running mate Admiral James Stockdale (Phil Hartman) out into the country, with plans to desert him there, is one of my all-time favorites.
But back to the topic at hand, Carvey left the show in 1992, where he quickly found success with "Wayne's World" and "Wayne's World 2" both big hits at the box-office. But the real test would be how Carvey would fare once out from under the shadow of SNL-related success. That's where things started to go south.
Subsequent movies "Trapped in Paradise," "The Road to Wellville" and "Clean Slate" all were panned by critics and were DOA at the box-office. That led up to around 1998 when Carvey's movie career – and life – were put into jeopardy by double bypass heart surgery that was botched by his surgeon. Amazingly, the doctor operated on the wrong artery, leading to an eventual and justifiable lawsuit that netted Carvey $7.5 million. In the meantime, his acting career came to a complete halt as it took him several years to fully recover from additional surgeries that had to be performed.
So there's a perfectly understandable reason for why the comedian seemingly fell off the face of the earth in the late 1990s.
Less understandable is why he would choose "The Master of Disguise" in 2002 as his first (and only) starring vehicle he's had since then. Personally, I haven't seen it, but heard it was so awful that I can't bring myself to do so. I mean, his character's name is Pistachio Disguisey. Is that supposed to be funny or clever??? And he really doesn't have anyone else to blame for its failure, as he co-wrote the script.
At any rate, he hasn't appeared in another movie since then, and has only made sporadic appearances on TV as a guest star on some shows and a guest host on "Live with Regis and Kelly." He still makes occasional stand-up comedy performances around the U.S., but his star unfortunately seems to be one that will never burn as bright as it did when on SNL. Then again, there are so many former cast members from that show of which the same thing can be said, to almost render the observation meaningless. But if former SNL-er Rob Schneider can actually star in two (count em', two) movies about a male prostitute, there's got to be something worthwhile out there that can get Dana Carvey back on the big screen.
– MC

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Movie Review: "Crash"

Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by Paul Haggis

As America is often referred to as a melting pot, "Crash" examines the modern-day prejudices, racism and communication breakdowns that can occur when so many diverse cultures and backgrounds come together.
With a good script and even better cast on hand, the film unfolds over a 36-hour period, tracking the interweaving stories of more than a dozen people living in Los Angeles. Co-written and directed by Paul Haggis, who wrote the Oscar-winning script of "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" is remarkably well-paced for a first time director. Juggling multiple storylines while still maintaining the viewer's interest is no easy task, but Haggis is no doubt helped by the fact that these characters act and sound real. Some are angry, some are scared, and most are unhappy – either with the direction their life is heading or with society as a whole.
District Attorney Rick Cameron (Brendan Fraser) and wife Jean (Sandra Bullock) fall victim to a carjacking, with each handling the incident in quite different ways. Rick worries how this could impact his career, while Jean pushes everyone away as she is consumed by anger and fear.
Along with his Latina partner (Jennifer Esposito), police detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) investigates a potentially racially-motivated killing. Waters runs into some interference during the investigation, which forces him into an ethical dilemma, involving his troublesome younger brother (Larenz Tate).
A successful TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) are pulled over by a LAPD officer Jack Ryan (Matt Dillon) leading to the wife being groped by Ryan, while her husband and Ryan's partner (Ryan Phillippe) helplessly watch. Again, those impacted by the incident all deal with the aftermath differently.
But it's to the credit of Haggis and co-writer Robert Moresco that the script doesn't paint the characters with stereotypical strokes. For example, Dillon's character could have been a one-note racist dirty cop. But he's also a devoted son, frustrated by the hurdles of the health care system, as he cares for his ailing father.
In "Crash," many of the characters are morally complex people, neither good nor bad. Some make decisions that are worthy of praise, while others make ones that make you shake your head in disappointment.
True, some of the situations are a bit coincidental and overwrought, as the script seemingly does gymnastics to make some characters' lives intersect. But the actors make you believe in the choices they make, leaving you to examine your own shortcomings. It would be quite a stretch to call "Crash" educational, but it does seem to aspire to have people actually talk about sometimes uncomfortable subjects, such as racism. Hopefully, the real education comes out of those conversations.
Grade: B+
(Rated R for language, sexual content and some violence.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Where Are They Now ... Judd Nelson

Do you ever find yourself watching an old movie on TV and see an actor or actress come on screen that you haven't seen in a long time? Wonder what they're up to nowadays? Are they still in the movie business? Are they working at your local Burger King? Are they six feet under?
These are questions I stay up late at night thinking about. (Well, I could in theory...) But I felt it would be good, if only for my own curiosity, to follow up on these burning questions.
So therefore, I will attempt on a semi-weekly basis to provide a brief career rundown of an actor or actress who has seemingly dropped off the face of the earth, and give an update on the latest news I can find about the poor schlemiels. Some of these people you may have never heard of in the first place, while others you'll exclaim, "Yeah, whatever did happen to that poor SOB?" Hopefully, I'll be able to offer some answers.
And then maybe, just maybe, we can all sleep a little better at night.
If you've got an actor/actress you're curious about, drop a line on this site and I'll see if I can't fit them into a future edition of "Where Are They Now."
Without further adieu, the first name out of the bag is Judd Nelson. For those of you who were fans of the John Hughes films in the 1980s, I'm sure you'll remember his role as Bender in "The Breakfast Club." Most any fan of that film could quote tons of dialogue, much of it coming from his character. He also had the fortune (at the time, it seemed like good) to be one of the stars of "St. Elmo's Fire," which pays tribute to the passion of the highly popular "Sesame Street" character. (I could be wrong on that. I've actually never watched the whole thing, nor been able to sit through a John Parr song. But that's another subject.)
At any rate, as a member of the creative media-derived group, "The Brat Pack," Nelson was able to get into lots of parties, date a lot of attractive and thought-challenged women and start trendy drug habits. However, the big film roles didn't really follow on the heels of his 1985 success. Unless you consider providing the voice of Rodimus Prime in "Transformers: The Movie" as a big film role.
He did get a couple of decent acting jobs in subsequent years, starring in 1987's TV-movie "Billionaire Boys Club" and 1991's "New Jack City," portraying a cop only slightly more believable than Chris Rock in "Lethal Weapon 4."
In 1996-99, he was on the cast of the Brooke Shields TV vehicle "Suddenly Susan," which I'm not sure should be listed as a career highlight. At any rate, little seen movies have followed since then, mostly direct-to-DVD/video or ones for TV. But the intrepid 45-year-old actor soldiers on, with movies such as "Lethal Eviction," "Black Hole," and "Three Wise Guys" all current or future releases for 2005. He is an avid golfer and a big fan of the Boston sports scene, although he lives in L.A.
And in recognition of the 20th anniversary of "The Breakfast Club," Nelson was expected to join fellow cast members Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and Paul Gleason on stage at the MTV Movie Awards in June. (What, Emilio Estevez was too busy?) However, he never showed on stage, yet was reportedly at pre-show festivities. Did anybody think to check above the theater's ceiling? He might have been crawling around up there, causing a ruckus.
So now you know ...
– MC

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Movie Review: "Dark Water"

Starring Jennifer Connelly, Ariel Gade, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Dougray Scott and Pete Postlethwaite
Directed by Walter Salles

Improperly marketed this summer as a horror movie, "Dark Water" admittedly is almost completely scare-free. Then again, I don't think director Walter Salles and his cast set out to make a horror movie. Instead, the film is much more effective as a psychological thriller that deals with elements such as abandonment and depression.
At the beginning of the film, Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) has seen her marriage collapse and is struggling to maintain custody of her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). She knows she must find a new home, but tight finances force her to look in less-than-desired locales, such as a run-down apartment complex on New York's Roosevelt Island. It's there that she runs into Murray (John C. Reilly), a sociable real estate agent who believes a fresh coat of paint is an actual answer to some of the building's many shortcomings. One of those shortcomings is Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), the building superintendent, a surly and humorless sort that you know has clearly been there too long.
More out of desperation than actual desire, Dahlia takes the apartment (for a bargain price of only $900 a month), but almost immediately a leaky ceiling emerges. Starting as a simple water stain on the ceiling, it quickly spreads, dripping an oily substance that looks a bit beyond a normal plumbing job. Veeck explains to Dahlia that the apartment above her has been abandoned, but troublesome teens have been managing to break into it and create mischief by flooding it. But how reliable is Veeck, Dahlia wonders. Her daughter certainly has no misconceptions about him, calling him a liar to his face.
While Dahlia tries to put on a happy face for her daughter – who begins having problems at school with her "imaginary friend" (in this case, a ghost) – she begins to feel overwhelmed with the new direction in her life. Suffering from migraines, Dahlia regularly takes medication, which at one point, causes her to fall asleep for a full day. At the same time, her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) begins angling to have her declared as an unfit mother. The seriousness of the situation is explained to her by her lawyer (Tim Roth, making the most of his small screen time) in a very good scene featuring the two sitting in his car amidst a heavy downpour.
Actually, rain is constantly falling in "Dark Water," which only enhances its overall mood. And the apartment complex, with such features as malfunctioning washing machines and a leaky elevator, is probably the film's most important character.
The uncertainty of Dahlia's mental state becomes a more interesting storyline to follow, with her unhappy childhood feeding into her adulthood insecurities. Connelly, having taken on other flawed characters in movies such as "Requiem for a Dream" and "House of Sand and Fog" is very good at bringing deeper dimensions to her characters. But the movie, a remake of a Japanese film by Hideo Nakata, employs yet another young female ghost whose past is enshrouded in secret. Naturally, that secret gets revealed as the movie presses on, reaching a somewhat logical, but still not very satisfying conclusion.
The ghost storyline is actually the weakest part of the movie, but the one that it's being sold on. But taking it as more of a character study, filled with some standout supporting performances, "Dark Water" floats by.
Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, frightening sequences, disturbing images and brief language.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Movie Review: "The Ring Two"

Starring Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Perkins
Directed by Hideo Nakata

Following up on the somewhat surprising success of "The Ring," an American remake of the Japanese film "Ringu," comes the unsurprising sequel, "The Ring Two." Oddly enough, the director, Hideo Nakata, directed "Ringu" and its sequel "Ringu 2." But "The Ring Two" is not a remake of "Ringu 2." Are you following all of this? More importantly, does anybody care?
Employing Nakata would seem to have been an intelligent move, allowing him to build upon the creepy and fairly effective 2002 hit, starring Naomi Watts. He shows a good visual sense and gets the look of the film, set in the Pacific Northwest, just right. Too bad the script by Ehren Kruger left him with so little to work with.
The movie picks up about six months after the end of "The Ring," with Rachel (Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman) moving to Oregon after the traumatic events in Seattle. But it soon becomes apparent that Samara, the spooky young ghost from the first movie, has followed them and wants to possess her son. The remainder of the film involves Rachel's desperate (and somewhat silly) attempts to stop her – evidently making use of as little competent assistance as possible.
The first film's main hook, that of a videotape that leads to a viewer's death within seven days of watching it, is brought back for the opening sequence, then promptly dropped for the remainder of the film. Perhaps everyone in Oregon only uses DVD players now.
Although credit has to be given for avoiding the temptation of running what worked well in the first film straight into the ground, there's still not much here that generates scares, much less suspense. Case in point, Rachel and Aidan are inexplicably attacked in their car by a bunch of deer. I think the killer rabbit in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was a bit more frightening, actually.
Watts is game in her performance, but her character has seemed to drop IQ since the first film, making a series of dumb and implausible decisions. Plus, she's certainly not helped by a near comatose performance from Dorfman. Maybe I didn't pay close enough attention in the first movie, but was her son always so creepy? And I'm talking about before he gets possessed. Refusing to address his mother as anything other than Rachel (real cute, kid), you might be tempted to root for the ghost to keep possession of him. At least then he has a personality.
There are a couple of genuine spooky moments and the visual and sound effects are generally solid, but "The Ring Two" mostly feels like a script in search of a compelling story. In one scene, Rachel throws a copy of the cursed videotape into a fire and watches it burn. You might be tempted to do the same with this movie.
Grade: D+
(Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.)