a hell ride through Asbury Park in a crowded theater

Hell Ride
Quentin Tarantino wanted Larry Bishop to make the “greatest biker movie ever” and produced this for him. They don’t succeed. It’s a good one, however. Bishop was in The Savage Seven back in ’68 and Tarantino Lazarus’d him into Kill Bill Vol.2, and this came of his current grindhouse obsession. It’s not a bad movie to catch on cable, but don’t expect much or you’ll be disappointed. Bishop plays Pistolero, an aging biker Pres dealing with mutiny from within, and vengeance for the murder by fire of his woman, Cherokee Kisum, still on his mind 30 years on. His compatriots The Gent (Michael Madsen) and the new blood, Comanche (Eric Balfour) deal with internal coups driven by the rival gang the Six Six Sixers, while Pistolero does peyote and commits acts of biker badassery. We learn of Kisum’s murder through flashbacks, and this Tarantino-inspired fractured storytelling doesn’t work in Bishop’s less able hands. And the dialogue feels inspired by the producer as well, and could have used a few rewrites; a lot of it just doesn’t work.

What does work is Bishop himself, who is believable as the old silverback; Vinnie Jones as the maniacal leader of the Six Six Sixers, and cameos by Dennis Hopper and David Carradine. Peter Fonda said he was done with biker pictures- they did try to get him. There’s a bounty of breasts and biker chicks acting like women do in biker pictures. Cherokee (Julia Jones) gets a lot of flashback time and is the one strong female role. The action is good, if sporadic, and the story ends a little shorter than you’d expect, but if you go in expecting a sleazy biker movie, it’s easy to watch. Just don’t expect a re-imagining or some sort of modern update.

Rating: Worthy

Greetings from Asbury Park
A heartbreaking documentary detailing the attempts by politicians and developers to “revive” Asbury Park by kicking old people out of their homes to build luxury condos through eminent domain. Certainly biased, but this grassroots documentary is the Roger & Me of eminent domain. It is showing on New Jersey local public broadcasting this month and is a must see for New Jerseyans and anyone who owns property, especially property that billionaire developers think they can make a buck on. Does it serve the public good to tear up perfectly good homes to build condos that start at $500,000 for a studio, just to give more waterfront property to the elite? Asbury Park has had blighted areas for many years, but going after neighborhoods where working families can afford to live is not right. Eminent domain abuse is the forgotten scandal and it is only going to get worse. It didn’t revitalize Detroit, and it won’t fix Asbury. The documentary is well made and worth your time.

Rating: Worthy

Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech

Fine documentary on free speech in America. It is playing on HBO this month and makes for good viewing if you’re interested in the subject, and you should be. It’s not just about government censorship, but also how the media reacts and is manipulated to have chilling effects of its own. They touch on everything from the recent “intifada” brouhaha in NYC to the ACLU defending the Klan’s right to march in Skokie. It’s not all-encompassing, nor does it try to be. This isn’t a top-notch doc, but it is worth watching. By Liz Garbus, who also directed the well-regarded The Farm: Angola, USA.

Rating: Worthy

Cable Quickies – Popi

I watched Popi with Alan Arkin on TCM during their Latino Images in Film Marathon, which I posted about for Quelle’s Out of the Past Classic film blog. I remembered loving the film as a kid, but seeing it now the drama is much more clear. Like many films of the late ’60s, such as The Russians Are Coming… The Russians Are Coming! also coincidentally starring Alan Arkin, there is a sense of datedness as Hollywood begins discovering its social conscience in earnest.

Alan Arkin plays Abram, a hard-working Puerto Rican immigrant widower with two sons, Luis and Junior, who he feels he is losing to the streets of Spanish Harlem. He works two jobs and gets 5 hours of sleep, as a super and a hotel waiter; he can’t marry his sweetheart Rita Moreno because he wants to put the kids first. But when he gets mistaken for a Bay of Pigs veteran at a Cuba Libre meeting at the hotel, he gets a crazy idea to go to Miami and have the kids be mistaken for Cuban refugees, so they’ll be taken in by rich benefactors.

Putting Alan Arkin’s brownface role aside- something he also did in the seminal cop buddy movie Freebie and the Bean (full review)- the movie really captures the feel of late-60’s New York and Spanish Harlem especially. The boys steal and jump the subway turnstile, learning from their friends; they fight with a crazy kid in the building, who likes to torture pigeons. The street is portrayed as quite rough and we see it roughening them, despite their good hearts. And this is what’s killing their Popi, who wants them to be able to be children.

Arkin and cinematotographer Andrew Lazslo

Arthur Hiller (who’d directed The Americanization of Emily, and would go on to Silver Streak) manages to make the film feel natural, with a mild comedic energy running throughout. The chemistry between Arkin and the dignified Moreno is good, but the film takes the unfortunate turn of actually having him go through with his crazy plot, which isn’t very funny, and seems very out of character. He takes them on a bus to Miami, teaches them to pilot a boat, and sends them out to sea. Then for three days he’s biting his fingernails, listening to the news, waiting for them to be rescued. When he thinks they’ve died, he throws himself into the ocean to drown himself, only to hear about them on his radio just in time.

The third act has the dehydrated kids in the hospital while he tries to sneak in to see them, and remind them to speak only in Spanish. And it feels forced. I missed the first half of the movie, when he was a worrisome father trying to keep his two boys out of trouble, and yearned for it to be a family comedy-drama that showed them surviving the miasma of ’60s urban malaise. But the two boys- whose acting careers sadly end a few years after this- and Arkin himself are such enjoyable company that the movie remains watchable.

Rita Moreno on set

It’s still a very touching relic and made a good point, that at the time the hard-working immigrants who came over were suffering while political refugees seemed to be getting the American dream everyone wanted. And it was a less patronizing portrayal of Hispanics during a time when Hollywood only wanted them with a switchblade in their hand, even if Arkin got the lead role. Rita Moreno got the Poitier role of quiet dignity to help assuage the brownface. It’s still worth seeing today, and while it’s heavier on smiles than laughter, it is still a memorable film.


The Hammer

I was one of the few people who was surprised that after Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla left The Man Show, that Jimmy Kimmel was the one who got his own show. I always found Adam funnier, and I still do. I liked his reality show about remodeling his childhood house, so when I heard of his boxing rom-com called The Hammer, I had to watch it.

Enjoying movies depends a lot on expectations, and I knew what to expect from Carolla- self-deprecating humor, low-key laughs and occasional bizarre comments, with lots of reference to construction sites and hardware stores. If you go in expecting a laugh riot, you’ll be disappointed- but if you like Carolla, you’ll be satisfied. He doesn’t reach for the sky here, but he makes an enjoyable formula film, about the underdog going for the gold and the girl. It’s about as good as Run Fatboy Run with Simon Pegg was- not their best, but reliable and good couch fodder.

Carolla plays Jerry, a sad sack construction worker with his best bud Ossie- his Sancho Panza from his reality show. In one bad day, he loses his job and his girlfriend, and thus starts helping train fighters at his friend’s gym to work the stress out. Turns out his old nickname was The Hammer, and when he pairs up with a tough guy boxer after some trash talk, he knocks him on his ass. So he starts working toward the Olympics light heavyweight.

There he meets Lindsay, a defense lawyer looking for a workout and some moves in case her clients get rapey on her. She’s played by the perky Heather Juergensen of Kissing Jessica Stein, which also shares the same director as this movie. They get along well, and his sense of humor reels her in, even though he drives a shitty pickup truck that you have to bungee the passenger door closed on. When the door flies open, he swerves the truck to close the door. It’s little touches like that which elevate this from typical Rocky-formula comedy mixed with typical rom-com.
The movie wins on its genuine blue collar sensibility. Anyone who’s boxed knows that the movie knows its stuff, and have felt like Jerry does when he says he’s gassed, or when he surprises himself by winning. Carolla’s humor pokes fun at lazy guys like himself, Los Angeles- he and Lindsay have a date at the La Brea Tar Pits- and slow drivers. He has a gift for rambling and rants, somewhere between Lewis Black and Jerry Seinfeld, and the movie makes great use of it. He knows how guys compete, even when they’re friendly, and he knows that obsessing on sports or power tools is not much different than knowing everything about Star Wars.

There are some nice small parts that fill things out. Jane Lynch verbally spars with him in line at the hardware store, and she’s dependable as usual. Ossie from “The Adam Carolla Project” is naturally hilarious, with his genuine smiles as he accidentally sabotages Jerry at every turn. Of course Jerry has to face his greatest opponent for the final fight, but the movie makes it realistic. It’s something every boxing fan’s seen, so it feels legit- the fast fighter dancing away from the heavy hitter to win on points. Can the Hammer sneak one in and knock the guy out?

Let me tell you the movie surprised me. I went in expecting a lot less than what I got. I think it’ll surprise you too. This one’s definitely worth a viewing if you like Carolla at all. He spent $300,000 of his own money to get this into theaters, since the studio was going to put it direct to DVD. He believed in it, and it shows. I’m not sure I’d have ponied up cash as an investor to help him do it, but if it played in New York he would have gotten my $10 ticket and I would not have felt gypped. The MPAA also screwed this touching, cute movie with an R rating for two non-sexual f-bombs that I barely even noticed. Hey MPAA, fuck you.

Rating: Tasty


Cable Quickies: The Go-Getter

Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Corn Mo and a road trip across the desert West as a manboy searches for his older half-brother. You could call this Garden State hits the road, at a cursory glance, but it’s better than that. Director Martin Hynes puts together a personal and touching coming of age story about a young guy named Mercer dealing with a family tragedy by stealing a car and setting out to find the only family he has left.
Along the way he makes deeper connections, as the owner of the car (Zooey) calls him on her cell phone. She knows him somehow, and their conversations, and her Western audiobook, serve as narration as Mercer tracks down his brother Arlen through the wreckage left in his wake. It’s like Arlen grew up in ’90s indie films, and we stop at grunge art communes, pornographers, a band that includes accordionaire John “Corn Mo” Cunningham. Mercer gets taken in by a siren named Julie who wants to make him a man in the cliche fashion, while distracting him from his quest.

Mercer’s dreams play like home movies and meld with the story, as the audiobook plays with his head on the long desert stretches. He finds himself indebted to an unlikely cowboy (Bill Duke, Mac from Predator) who teaches him how to stand up. It manages to avoid many of the indie cliches despite being a coming of age road movie, the oldest in the book. It’s a testament to Pucci and Deschanel’s talents that the movie is so appealing, though Hynes does keep us guessing on where the road will take us. Oh, he makes a few nods to classics like Band of Outsiders, but it is remarkably unindulgent for a movie of its kind. Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, but I usually hate movies like this.

In the interest of honesty, Lou Taylor is my cousin, but I try to be even-handed. This is a hugr improvement over the disastrous 50 Pills, and while I liked the insanity of Southland Tales, I’ll be the first to say that it’s more of a prank than a movie. The Go-Getter is on the right track; I didn’t enjoy it as much as the excellent Thumbsucker, but it’s a good movie, better on this second viewing. It’s contemplative and requires your attention. It’s playing on Showtime this month and worth your Tivo space.

Rating: Worthy


Freddy Got Fingered

I never “got” Tom Green- but this movie generated so many bad reviews that I wanted to see it. And while I’d never class Tom Green in the league as trashmaster John Waters, the movie is a twisted spoof in the same vein as Waters’ best films. It’s a prank, on the producers and the viewers, and as disgusting and jejune as it is, I never wanted to stop watching it. Even when he starting jerking off a horse.
It sort of helps if you think the Jackass movies are funny. They’re full of idiotic, juvenile pranks but they somehow transcend stupidity and become a sort of art. Freddy Got Fingered is like that. It takes the typical coming of age comedy, where the boy must find a job or somehow make something of his life to please his parents, and injects it with vile fluids that come bursting out of its pores. If you thought Savage Steve Holland’s Better Off Dead was a li’l wacky, this movie might make your head explode. With vomit.
But if you give it a chance, it sort of grows on you. Green tries to be as offensive as possible. His father is played by Rip Torn as a growling madman, the epitome of all the impossible to live up to fathers from a thousand coming of age comedies. He mocks Green’s cartooning skills- rightfully so, as everything looks like Bill the Cat drawn by children- and tells him to get a real job. During his adventures to sell his drawings as a cartoon, he hits it off with a girl in a wheelchair who just wants him to beat her paralyzed legs with a stick and suck his cock all day. It’s to everyone’s credit that they play this all straight, so it works on a certain level.
The movie gets its title from when Tom & his Dad get dragged to counseling and he accuses Dad of sticking his finger up his younger brother’s butthole. They continue to out-do each other in their attacks until finally, Tom ships his father to Pakistan where he drenches him in elephant semen and they get held captive for months, play Russian Roulette like in The Deer Hunter, and bond through their torture. It’s bizarre, but funny if you view it as a sicko prank on formulaic movie crap. I’m glad I finally watched it, and I’m glad Tom Green got to make it. It’s a stupid movie, but the kind of bizarre what the fuck movie that used to be more common. Its no Pink Flamingos but it deserves a nomination in the hall of trash for just how far it went, with studio money. Congrats on that, Tom Green.

Rating: WTF?

Over Her Dead Body

Eva Fangoria Parker should stick to Desperate Housewives. In Over Her Dead Body, she plays a shrill, control freak bride blessedly killed by an ice sculpture on her wedding day. If the movie ended there, it would be an Oscar winning short subject, but it goes on for another hour and a half, with only the snappy wit and charm of Paul Rudd to save it. Stephen Root also has a thankless part as a scruffy sculptor, and Lake Bell is decent as Rudd’s romantic interest, but there’s not much else to like.
Paul Rudd’s a guy’s guy. In Role Models (full review) he showed he can carry his own film, but unfortunately here he’s playing second fiddle to a ghostly bridezilla. Normally, I enjoy Hollywood fantasies about the afterlife. For a guy to watch Ghost, it says something. So I sat through this one with the Firecracker, since she has a crush on Paul Rudd, and I needed to make sure she wouldn’t pack her bags and stalk him after seeing this. He’s pretty much the only redeeming quality of the film, which suffers from some of the same malaise Ghost Town (full review) had- it’s tough to make us care about a couple of funny jerks and then believe when they change like Scrooge on Christmas Day.
Eva Longhorn Parker tries really hard, but she’s a bitch (the film’s original title was Ghost Bitch) from scene one, and we wonder why Paul Rudd would tolerate her for even a moment. The script plays off of stuff from Ghost, but could have used a few rewrites- I began to wonder if Rudd’s dialogue was improvised, but even that is only barely memorable. All I can recall right now is when he gets her a sandwich, and says “I hope you like it, I was going to get pumpernickel, but didn’t want you to think I was imposing my weird bread fetish on you.” There’s also a lot of slapstick involving his new love interest and her Great Dane that makes you wonder.

So boys, if you are forced to watch this, negotiate oral sex in advance. And that may not be enough to make this tolerable. Gals- it might be worth throwing on in the background if you like Rudd. And yeah, her name’s Longoria, I know. Durrrr.

Rating: Stinky