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Silent Night

Truly underrated anti-war movie.
There is a scene early in Silent Night that I thought was indicative of a profoundly cheesy war film that was to follow. A couple American soldiers are passing through a snowy wood when they come across a young German boy. One soldier calls the kid "my friend," and the kid mutters a well-rehearsed line about how they are not friends and never will be, at which point the American soldier gives him a heartwarming speech about how the radio has been deceiving them, and that they are not his enemy, Hitler is. This is a level of preposterous cheesiness that almost reaches propaganda, but even though a German country woman talks some American and German soldiers into disarming and spending some quality time together, it turns out to be a lot better than I expected.

Linda Hamilton plays Elisabeth Vincken, a German widow who lost one son and probably her husband (he's only a cook but has been missing for months), and is now living in a small cabin in the woods with her 12-year-old son Fritz, who she is protecting from compulsory military service. Two American and two German soldiers have a confrontation just outside her cabin, and she demands that they leave their weapons outside if they want to take shelter in her home.

My initial reaction was that I was not going to be able to tolerate Linda Hamilton speaking German (followed by her German accent, after they switched to English), but the movie deals with many of the difficult realities of war, despite a feeling of being unrealistic. My understanding, however, is that it's based on a true story (which has already been brought to the screen multiple times), but either way, it deals with the fact that wars are fought by guys on both sides that just want to survive and go home safely to their families.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie shows the soldiers on both sides compiling all the food they have on them in preparation for their first meal together. It's a perfect way to humanize a bunch of guys with guns, especially when one of the German soldiers has a small package of cookies that his wife made him. A doting wife baking cookies is not exactly the kind of image that Hollywood has taught us to associate with the soldiers of Nazi Germany, but it is undeniably true.

Essentially the movie is the story of a small group of "enemies" in World War II who decided to make a temporary truce with each other in honor of Christmas Day. This is a premise fraught with potential pitfalls, but by staying away from confectionery clichés it manages to come across as a disarming analysis of the politicians that create wars and the young men that fight them.

Chik loh dak gung

Could have been good if not for the stupid friendship
I will readily admit that I expected something completely different from what I got when I watched Naked Weapon. It has all the ingredients, including the title, of your standard t&a action flick, a curious subgenre that I am not completely averse to, although my girlfriend picked out the movie so I thought I was about to enjoy a guilt-free 90 minutes or so of relentlessly gratuitous nudity. Nope! Surprisingly enough, the movie has almost no nudity at all and makes an honest effort to pass on an honest and moving story.

That second part is an almost total failure, of course, but I give them points for effort. It's one of those rare movies where the tagline tells you almost everything you need to know about the movie – they seduce you before they kill you!

Yeah, whatever. That's just a promise for the endless nudity and sex scenes that aren't in the movie, and it actually does the movie a disservice by promising nothing but empty t&a while the movie itself is really trying to tell a good story. Whether or not the story is any good is up to you to decide, but I'm here to warn you that it's essentially a ripoff of Battle Royale, except it's not good.

A cold-blooded woman named Madame M kidnaps 40 preteen girls and takes them to an island at an undisclosed location in the middle of the ocean. They are offered a polite invitation to leave if they're unhappy upon their arrival, with the small detail that they are machine-gunned down on their way back to the helicopter. Those that remain spend the next 6 years of their lives going through a brutal boot-camp designed to turn them into deadly, hottie assassins.

You see, I can say hottie about a lot of 12-year-old girls here because by the time any of them are hot they're at least 6 years older than 12 and have killed all of the rest of the girls, usually with their bare hands, and really, what's hotter than chicks killing each other?

Well, your answer to that question will basically predict your opinion of the movie. If you would have no problem watching a bunch of puberty-bound girls being trained how to be sexy and how to be deadly at the same time, then this thing is for you. Personally I didn't mind it too much. I really wish they would have toned down the catastrophically bad acting and sporadic avalanches of cheese, but for a movie that attempts to give us such a belligerently outlandish premise as this and maintain a straight face, you have to give it at least some recognition. Good luck keeping a straight face yourself, though

Shooting 'Miller's Crossing': A Conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld

"A handsome movie about men in hats."
Pretty interesting documentary about a film that, despite being beautifully photographed, is intolerably slow and plodding and ultimately profoundly uninteresting. I have never really been moved to call myself a fan of Barry Sonnenfeld's work, although his skill as a cinematographer certainly show through in his films and this short documentary gives him a great opportunity to make some interesting points about why he uses certain cameras and lenses and the different effects that they have. He gives us some good details about his involvement with the Coen brothers at the outset of their career and about his collaboration with them on their first three films. You can skip the last two minutes or so of this little documentary, however, which is the obligatory "working with these guys was the greatest thing that has ever happened to any human being in the history of mankind" nonsense, but otherwise an interesting look into the style of Barry Sonnenfeld.

Everybody Loves Raymond: Robert's Divorce
Episode 24, Season 4

Longest bathroom trip ever!
Poor Robert has the worst luck in this show. Makes for some great comedic moments, but in watching this episode right now I was stuck wondering how he ever got married to such a horrendous woman in the first place. Granted, it is probably just a result of his own insecurities but if she is so constantly disgruntled by him why would she marry him? Nevertheless this was a pretty entertaining show, even though they overshot on Joanne's bitchiness by about 20 miles. Of course they have to introduce her and get us to hate her within a matter of minutes, but doesn't it also call negative attention to Robert for putting up with her crap in the first place? I did, however, especially love Marie's tantrum at the end, I love it when tempers flare up at the right times, although I think they missed out on some opportunities for some funny moments at the meeting at the end of the show, although they did end the season on a pretty good note that will keep us interested for the next season...

My Name Is Bruce

Tough to get through even for Bruce Campbell fans.
Granted, I've read some reviews from epic Bruce fans who praise My Name is Bruce like it's another Army of Darkness, but sadly it's just not. By now he has pulled out all the stops in making fun of himself, but when an infamous B-movie actor ultimately ends up making a career out of his career not really going anywhere, it gets tougher and tougher to laugh with him. I should admit that I'm a huge Bruce fan myself. I'm almost 30 years old and still a die hard fan of the Evil Dead films and there are all kinds of unflattering words for guys like me, but here the cheese level is just a little too thick for me.

Bruce plays himself, as you know. A group of idiot high school kids are hanging out at a graveyard kicking over wooden grave markers when ahead of them there shined a shiny demon, as Jack and Kyle would say, who lopped off their heads and began terrorizing the entire town of, get this, Gold Lick, Oregon, population 333 in the 19th century, population 339 today. It's a booming metropolis if I've ever heard of one!

Their isolation from modern society, however, serves as a great excuse for why the entire town managed to believe that Bruce's character Ash from the Evil Dead films was who he really is. Combine that with a kidnapping by the one surviving high school kid from the beginning of the movie and Bruce expecting a surprise birthday present from his agent and you have the set-up for a town of hicks thinking they have a hero in their midst, and Bruce thinking the demon is all just an act.

This plot was fresh and hilarious in The Three Musketeers, it was rehashed in the still hilarious Tropic Thunder, but by now there's nothing new or original about it, although Bruce's cult star power is still enough to make a good Friday night comedy from it. Unfortunately the movie is full of stupid jokes and bad performances that will probably play as more of an inside joke to the people who made it. Actors who acted in the original Evil Dead and Army of Darkness movies show up but have to mention who they are and what movie they were in for anyone to notice.

But as far as a movie where Bruce makes fun of himself, I would argue that it's something of a success. My problem may be that I've read his books "If Chins Could Kill" and "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way," both of which were funnier than this movie. It has its moments for super-fans, although I would argue that the making-of documentary that accompanies the movie on the DVD (which is almost as long as the movie itself) might even prove to be more entertaining than the actual film. It's more than an hour of the cast and crew joking around and poking fun at each other, except it doesn't have to bother to pretend it's a real movie. The documentary should have been featured and the finished film included as an afterthought, if at all!

Driven to Kill

Actual quote from Seagal in this movie – "I'm kind of a dinosaur…"
So about a year ago I set out on a fallacy-ridden quest to watch every movie that Seagal has ever made, and while this has not exactly made for much high-quality entertainment, it has definitely given me a unique perspective on the evolution of Seagal's storied career. Although one of the first of Seagal's new generation of films that I watched was Urban Justice, which showed an aging and widening Seagal lurking around Los Angeles seeking a two- dimensional revenge for his son's murder, and Driven to Kill, as indicated by the title, is pretty much about exactly the same thing. Except this time the son is a daughter. Oh and he's a NOVELIST. Did I mention that? Did Stephen King write this thing?

My initial response to learning that Seagal plays a successful novelist was shock that they actually took my advice and tried to top Against the Dark for stupid story ideas, but it actually turned out to be one of the best things in the movie. The funniest things, anyway. Don't get me wrong, I have much more respect for Seagal than most people do. I have always been a fan of his films ever since I was a kid and he was making hardened action movies and I even still enjoy them now that they are growing less and less distinguishable from each other. But seeing Seagal's considerable mass parked in front of a computer while his meaty hands prance across the keys was quite a spectacle indeed. I would venture to guess that Seagal has never sat in front of a keyboard in his life!

Sure this is a digression, but it calls into question his logical thinking in the movie's opening scene. He is sitting with his daughter, to whom he is still the greatest man on earth, and she asks him to explain how he does that old trick with the three upside down paper cups, one of which has a metal spike in it. She moves the cups around with all possible slowness, challenging him to lose track of it, and then he slams his hand down on one of the cups, which smashes harmlessly. "How do you do it?" she asks incredulously. "The trick," he says, "is to just not give a f#%k."

Or, more likely, the trick is to not understand that one false move and your writing career will be in grave danger because your sluggish typing will now have to be done with one hand.

The plot from Hard to Kill is recycled into this one. Seagal plays a former Russian mobster named Ruslan, and when an attack leaves his daughter barely clinging to life, he insists that her attackers can't know she's dead in order to aid his revenge plot, which takes up the rest of the movie. Complicating matters is the fact that her daughter is set to marry the son of Ruslan's former gangster arch-enemy, who may have been behind the attack in the first place. Ruslan is torn from a charming life of living in his sun-drenched beach-house and meandering his fingers across his keyboard and back into a life of crime.

Seagal's performance is uninspired at best, but he has made a career out of uninspired performances. Or at least his career has fizzled out into one uninspired performances. Van Damme has done the same thing, but he changed everything in the outstanding 2008 film JCVD. This is what Seagal needs to do now to win back his respect as an actor, make something real and quit pumping out the lumpy, direct-to-DVD cheeseballs.

The rest of the actors are beside the point, they run distant second billing to an actor who passed his prime nearly 15 years ago (it happened in 1996, in case you're wondering), and so don't really merit being mentioned here. But a bigger problem is that the movie does that maddening thing where there are foreign characters, Russian, in this case, who switch back and forth at random between speaking Russian and speaking bad English. If you're going to make a movie with foreign characters, just start it out in their language and then casually switch to English for the rest of the movie, like in The Hunt For Red October, or just have them speak their own language for the entire movie and subtitle it. Switching back and forth just calls attention to it.

More importantly, the action is badly screwed up. There is nothing quite so boring as these stupid shoot-outs where a lot of guys take turns spraying machine gun fire at each other, taking turns pumping all their bullets into the walls and then hiding so the other guy can shoot his gun equally harmlessly. It's like a road where every single car is blowing it's horn. No one really pays attention anymore, it just becomes noise.

But if nothing else, you gotta watch the movie for the scene in a strip club. Seagal and the bad guy's son go to a strip club and go to a private room together with a stripper, and you should see how uncomfortable Seagal looks it is HILARIOUS!


Excellent follow up to The Sixth Sense.
I remember being unimpressed with Unbreakable when it was first released, I think mostly because they had the bizarre idea of casting Samuel L. Jackson, the Badass Motherf#%ker himself, as a man whose bones break so easily that he can hardly leave the house. The Sixth Sense is a hell of a debut film to follow up, but in retrospect I would argue that M. Night Shyamalan did a great job of it with Unbreakable. The movie has received mixed responses from critics and the public alike, but it is inarguably an interesting experience as an example of a young writer and director carving a spot for himself in the film-making world while running with the big dogs.

Comic book aficionados are likely to find a lot of fascinating material to chew on in Unbreakable, although I also enjoyed the film immensely despite a total lack of interest in comic books. Shyamalan takes a certain aspect of the potential historical meaning and significance of comic book mythology and crafts it into a superhero thriller that is entirely his own, which is no small achievement.

Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis play Elijah Price and David Dunn, respectively. We meet David soon after a spectacular train crash that leaves every single passenger dead and himself without a scratch, and we meet Elijah minutes after his birth, the trauma of which broke both of his delicate arms and legs. Elijah grows up to be high-class salesman of rare and priceless comic book art, the results of a childhood limited to the safety of his room and his comic collection, while David grows up to be a security guard at a sports stadium.

Elijah discovers David as a result of his surviving the train crash, and he becomes convinced that David's strength is the exact antithesis of his own weakness, and that this "power" connects them. The movie explores Elijah's efforts to convince David of his theory and David's gradual understanding of what exactly that theory means. Given the supernatural nature of it, he becomes less and less impressed with Elijah's persistence.

The movie is a fascinating ride and tells a compelling story despite being peppered with the same kind of plot holes that plagued The Sixth Sense, although here I seemed less willing to accept them. David never noticed, for example, the fact that he has never been sick or even mildly injured in all of his life until Elijah pointed it out to him. For someone with a career in high school football that ended as a result of an injury that he was forced to fake, this seems like more than a little bit of a stretch.

Shyamalan comes through on the public expectation of a good twist at the end of his movies, and while the twist in this one isn't as brilliant as that in The Sixth Sense, it's still unexpected and leaps and bounds beyond the laughable twist at the end of The Village. The moody tone and photography is characteristic of Shyamalan's work, as is Willis' subdued performance. There are times when the film's score picks up with nothing really carrying it, but the movie has a solid story and sure-handed direction that ensures that even the most judicious of us can let go and enjoy the ride. It's not his best work (that's probably still The Sixth Sense), but clearly Shyamalan's first three films were his best work so far, and after three increasingly disappointing films in a row, I hope he goes back to the kinds of stories that he tells best before he ends up going straight to DVD. After Lady in the Water and The Happening, he's not far off

Live Free or Die Hard

"Another day in paradise…"
Before I say anything about Die Hard 4, I just want to remind everyone that anything that has anything to do with computers in the movie serves no purpose other than to drive the plot and to provide for some surprisingly effective comic relief. There is tons and tons of nonsense about hacking into this and hacking into that and how only 9 guys in the world could do such and such with a laptop and blah blah blah blah. Don't take the time to try to figure out exactly what they're talking about, even if you're a computer expert (actually, ESPECIALLY if you're a computer expert), because it's just going to distract you from the rest of the movie, which is a pretty powerful argument that there is still a place for an old-school NYPD officer in the 21st century.

Let's review, shall we? Die Hard is still among the dwindling list of movie franchises where the original movie is still the best one. Part 2 was a cartoonish mess, and part 3, despite essentially plagiarizing the first Dirty Harry movie, was not the same thriller as the original but was still a great action movie. There have been many complains about casting Justin Long alongside Bruce Willis as his sidekick in this movie, because he's so well-known as the guy from the Apple Computer commercials. Maybe I watch too many movies and not enough TV, but to me he will always be known as the phenomenally idiotic Darry Jenner from Jeepers Creepers. Good God I hated that movie.

McClane has moved up in the world from reckless, irresponsible New York Cop to reckless, irresponsible absentee father who has little to do with his teenage daughter's life until some jerk drives her home and gets a little too pushy with her. John saves her from getting groped by some meathead, but she's still pretty unappreciative. Their relationship hasn't been so great over the years. Soon John is called to duty to pick up some kid named Matt Ferrell, who is on a short list of computer super-nerds wanted by the U.S. government due to a recent glitch in the national security computer systems.

John thinks nothing of the assignment until a high-tech assassination attempt is made on the kid, and he discovers that he's not the only person trying to track him down. It seems that everyone else on that short list has been executed by some shady organization, and John has to keep his cool trying to figure out who and why while they're trying to kill him and while, in the meantime, they manage to kidnap his daughter.

There is tons of great action in the movie, although detractors can easily call attention to the fact that the plot-line is clearly designed to set the stage for the next action pieces. Personally, I thought the action pieces were awesome, so I could really care less if there isn't exactly an Oscar-worthy script underneath it all. There is also the issue of the epic over- the-topness of some of the action pieces, such as the pilot of the fighter jet who can't seem to hit a lumbering SEMI truck, but can pilot his machine around under freeway overpasses, dodging bridges and whatnot.

But again, I feel like the over-the-topness, while not a huge part of the original movie, was introduced in part 2, explored a bit in part 3, and now has developed to a point where it is one of the most appealing parts of the movie. Put it this way – there is a scene in the movie where McClane takes down a helicopter, and if you are unimpressed with how he does it (and his reaction, which I would argue is one of the funniest parts of the whole movie), then you're either in the wrong frame of mind or this is just not your kind of movie.

Justin Long didn't have much to do in the film except crack jokes and pop out his handy roll- up keyboard and hack into anything that needed hacking within a few seconds, although he didn't detract from the movie as much as you would expect, given his iconography. Kevin Smith is purely hilarious as Long's super-geek buddy, and later the two teamed up again with Zack and Miri Make A Porno, in which Long was the star of one of the movie's funniest scenes. Timothy Olyphant is perfect as the movie's main villain, Thomas Gabriel. He's a little too clean-cut and flawlessly dressed and groomed, but he looks like a cross between Christian Slater and a young Jack Nicholson, and that's not a bad place to be if you're a Die Hard villain. It's just too bad that he's saddled with ancient action clichés like "You have no idea who I am and what I'm capable of…"

But the biggest problem with the casting is Maggie Q as Mai, Gabriel's crazy hot assistant. She's not only a super-genius computer hacker who can bring down national communication mainframes with a few strokes of the keyboard, but she's also a martial arts expert who, if Jason Statham and Jet Li were in this movie alongside Bruce Willis, she could hold them all off for a while, too. Hell, she might even have the pure, unadulterated ass-kicking know-how to make Steven Seagal bleed his own blood. Can you imagine?

The villain's main plot also falls apart pretty thoroughly (his plan to download the country's financial data from a "backup" location is feared to throw the nation into irreversible chaos – what does "backup" mean again, exactly?), but this is a nearly perfect summer action blockbuster.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

"Looks like we're gonna need new sheets again, baby…"
It is perfectly fitting that the new X-Men movie should include "Wolverine" in the title, since none of the three previous movies explained the history of his mutation, although slightly less fitting that "X-Men" should be in the title, because it is more like a spin off for Wolverine, the franchise's most popular character, than it is another X-Men movie. Granted, the histories of some of the other X-Men that we know are mentioned, such as Sabertooth, who is the result of Wolverine's brother Victor evolving along darker lines, and Cyclops also shows up, but for the most part we get Wolverine growing to understand his mutation as he is put into a team with a whole new group of mutants.

Not that that's a bad thing, of course. Die hard fans may not be so pleased to see that so little of the new movie has to do with the mutants that we know so far, and while my own knowledge of the comic books is absolute zero, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that the new movie is enjoyable even though it almost certainly doesn't live up to the expectations of the comic-thumping crowd.

The movie opens in northwestern Canada in 1840. Wolverine (now just Jimmy) and his brother Victor witness the brutal killing of their father which is almost exactly the same as the killing of young Rory Devaney's father in The Devil's Own, except for one crucial difference. You'll know it when you see it. It's a moment that comes dangerously close to an homage joke, but the recovery is thankfully quick. Their Canadian citizenship makes for a great scene late in the film that will have Canadian movie theaters erupting with cheers, although it doesn't explain why Jimmy and Victor fight side by side in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam which, unless I'm sorely mistaken, are mostly all more American wars than Canadian. Nevertheless, it's one of the movie's many great sequences.

Anyway, in Vietnam things get a little crazy. Victor loses his cool and has a confrontation with a senior officer that results in the death of one of them, and when a firing squad fails to kill them, they are offered a position on board a super-secret black Ops team so they can REALLY serve their country.

Well, they can serve their neighbors to the south, anyway.

What follows is Jimmy's journey to find a place in the world for himself, and all along the way he has to avoid being used for powers that he has but doesn't even fully understand yet, and he discovers a major project headed by William Stryker (Danny Huston), who is secretly planning to capture all of the mutants' powers and create a single super-mutant with the powers of all of them and, presumably, none of their weaknesses.

A lot of action tension falls away as it becomes more and more apparent that the relevant mutants, particularly Wolverine, are immune not only to death but to injury, but the entertainment level is high and the effects and photography are generally pretty good. There is some pretty disappointing blue-screen work late in the film in it's ambitious climactic scene, although to be completely honest, I was forced to watch a pirated DVD that I bought last week here in China that had 13 other movies on it. The picture quality is of course reduced, but more importantly, somehow someone got their hands on a copy of the movie where a lot of the visual effects weren't even finished, like external shots of planes flying and mostly the entire final scene. There was actually one point where Victor puts his hand on a window and a text label pops up saying "claws grow." I'm assuming that in the final version, his claws grew menacingly.

For those of you with access to American theaters, I hope you appreciate the sheer picture quality that you are able to experience, you don't know what you're not missing! X-Men: Origins is not the best X-Men movie (I would argue that X2 was the best so far) and it's a strange choice for director Gavin Hood, whose directing efforts include the hugely impressive 2005 film Tsotsi and 2007's Rendition. He has definitely hit the big time with this movie (like Alfonso Cuaron did when he was asked to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), although it seems like fans of his directing will be unimpressed with his latest choice, but those of us who remember him acting in bad action and horror films like The Curse III and American Ninja 5 will be thrilled at how far he's come!

But even though a lot of fans and critics may not be as impressed with the latest X-Men film than past entries in the series (Roger Ebert was pretty much a dick about the whole thing), X-Men: Origins is definitely a strong film considering that it's the third sequel. If they can keep them at least this good, they could easily squeeze out a couple more.

Lock Up

Cool little Stallone flick
Lock Up is a pretty good movie for Stallone fans, although it could easily have been much better had he not been basically a saint behind bars. Stallone plays Frank Leone, who faces multiple prison terms total, beginning with an 18-month sentence he was given for avenging the vicious beating of an old man who took him off the streets when he was a teenager. So back then he wasn't allowed to leave the prison to see his dying father (when we meet him, he is on a weekend leave from a minimum security prison, a weekend that he spends playing ball with his kids while his charming wife looks on approvingly), so he breaks out to go to the funeral.

So his minor prison sentence turns into a big one, although one that he spends at a comfortable minimum security joint with all kinds of perks, including weekends and conjugals and even friendships with the guards. His release is approaching when suddenly he is awakened in the middle of the night and taken to a brutal, maximum-security prison where he is to spend the rest of his sentence. It's called a "routine transfer," although he has done nothing to deserve such an upgrade in security status and even his wife is not informed of what happened to him.

Ultimately he learns that he is being transferred to the prison of Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland at his creepy best), who was in charge of the prison that Leone escaped from, which in turn made it into the papers and ruined Drumgoole's career. Now he has his chance for revenge, and he plans to arrange for Leone to spend the rest of his life in this prison.

The movie carelessly glosses over the ease with which Drumgoole plucks Leone out of his own prison with no explanation to those in charge there, and the conflict immediately switches to Leone trying to survive in this violent prison and stay out of trouble so he doesn't screw up his chances of getting released on time so he can go back to his family.

Drumgoole pulls out all the stops in violating the law that his institution is designed to uphold so that he can keep this one guy down, and Leone faces all manner of challenges ranging from shank-laden inmates to one of his inmate buddies who steals the Mustang they've all restored together and tears all over the prison yard doing doughnuts.

The movie is definitely entertaining although there are times when the cheese factor is through the roof, such as the spray paint fight and the downright school-girlish friendship that Leone forms with a small group of other inmates. On the other hand, it also has a much wider target audience than your average prison movie, and it manages to generally avoid most of the gaping pitfalls that prison movies are in danger of falling into when they shoot for a wide audience. There's nothing realistic about it, but for good Stallone entertainment, this is not a bad way to follow up the massive success of the Rambo and Rocky films.

Also keep your eye out for a young Tom Sizemore, but be advised that the movie features violence, unnecessary cheesiness and may leave you with an overwhelming desire to go out and get some doughnuts

Batbabe: The Dark Nightie

The DVD to see this week!
Last week I stumbled across this movie and with a title like this I absolutely could not resist. It is a perfectly ludicrous and idiotic sex comedy, prompting some indignant viewers to criticize it for being a porno with no porn in it, but when it comes to the spoofing of well- known Hollywood movies, the good people at Seduction Cinema make people like Aaron Slitzer and Joe Friedman, whatever their names are, look like babbling, drooling babies flinging their own feces at each other, and really, they did a perfectly fine job of that on their own already. Every movie those guys come up with is like a freight train of crap barreling into theaters with no brakes.

Consider the titles. The well-known movies are ones with the most uncreative titles you could possibly think of, Scary Movie. Epic Movie. Date Movie. Disaster Movie. The only thing dumber would be something like Spoof #1. Spoof #2. Etc. Oops, I better stop. I'm giving them an idea for a whole new series of crapfests.

Seduction Cinema is now famous for sex comedies that are heavy on the sex and light on the brains, but at least they don't masquerade as theatrical releases, right? How have the "Movies" been making it into movie theaters all this time? These are typical, brain-dead direct-to-video fare if I've ever seen it, and it's all right there in the titles. Compare the creativity in the titles above with titles like The Insatiable Ironbabe, Kinky Kong, SSI: Sex Squad Investigation, Play-Mate of the Apes, and Who Wants to Be An Erotic Billionaire? Sex comedies get a bad rap in the annals of American cinema, but I would like officially argue that it is much easier to have fun with these guys, who are actually including some comedic creativity in between their overtly gratuitous sex scenes, than it is to have fun with the torturous endurance tests that have been making it to theaters over the last ten years or so.

The story, should you care, involves a villain called The Jerker (you can guess why he gets that name) who plots to steal all of the porn in Bacchum City so that the populace will face the terrifying prospect of painfully backed up plumbing and widespread blue balls. Commissioner Boredom summons Wendy Wane, a stripper by day and Batbabe by night, to save the city from the perils of pornlessness.

The characters and performances are all about level with a bad camp video made by 7-year- olds, but those little kids can't put sex in their videos, can they? Hence, we have movies like this. Mindless and moronic but they are showing a genuine ability to cleverly lampoon major movies, and half the fun is in picking out the different individual scenes from The Dark Knight, for example, that are parodied here. The other half of the fun is watching the sex scenes which, strangely enough, in this particular production go on far too long. I think this might be the first time I've ever fast-forwarded THROUGH the nude scenes and not TO them.

But to me, this represents a climb in the spoofing quality, which is not matched in the nudity quality, a trend that lends credibility to the possibility that these guys might one day be putting real spoofs in theaters and saving us from the ridiculous messes that we've been suffering through so far. Although if they are interested in that, I would suggest more clever lampooning and less penis-copters, but wouldn't that be losing most of the fun?

Exit Speed

Another movie about the lunatics that populate the Texas countryside
Exit Speed opens with a female AWOL Army soldier being caught up with by Sergeant Archie Sparks (an underused Fred Ward, star of Tremors, one of my favorite b- movies ever), whose job it is to go after errant soldiers. It seems that this particular soldier, Meredith Cole, has a history of going AWOL, and that the Army has some pretty lax punishment procedures involving unexcused absences. I always thought this was a fairly serious offense, but maybe not. Back in the good old days of Mao Tse-tung's Red Army, they would just execute defecting soldiers on the spot. Sometimes in advance, for effect.

But wouldn't you know it, as soon as Sparks turns his head, that darn Private Cole is off and running again, hopping onto a Greyhound bus on its way across Texas. Unaware of the dangers of such a trip because of lessons not learned from everything from the Texas Chainsaws to the moronic Jeepers Creepers (or The Fast and the Furious, as it turns out), the bus is soon surrounded by a group of lunatic street bikers, who do wheelies all around the bus at freeway speeds and offer the passengers a series of alarming scowls. Before long, one of the idiot bikers makes a mistake and ends up under the wheels of the bus, and the rest of them take it personally.

I'm reminded of the fascinating contents of that passenger airliner that crashed at the beginning of Lost. Man, they had everything, didn't they? The same thing is going on here. There's the AWOL soldier, a girl who once dated a biker and so is an encyclopedia of knowledge about everything they all need to know about their new enemies, a girl who is rated a "Dark Elf" in archery, for crying out loud, a football coach with anger issues, even a bus driver who once drove the six miles into Baghdad airport, reportedly the most dangerous stretch of road in the world. With my luck, I would have been in a bus full of Japanese tourists and adventurous grandparents were we to be ambushed by a biker gang.

Luckily at some point we are informed that bikers such as these guys have a history of being loaded to the eyeballs on crystal meth, because there is no explanation whatsoever of where they come from or why they attacked the bus in the first place. They are faceless villains with no motivation, and so are nothing but fodder for our heroes to dig deep inside themselves to summon up the courage needed to off them in spectacular fashion.

And the movie does have that going for it, at least. It is awesomely stupid, but those of you looking for an action movie that makes up for the total absence of cleverness with an few extra levels of violence, this is your movie. But those of you who might be driven to smack your forehead when you hear a girl say she can't shoot an arrow at one of the men trying to kill her and all the other passengers because she's VEGAN, then you might be better advised to run for the hills, bikers or not.

But at least there's some comedy is outlandishly bad characterization, right? I don't know why this girl thought she might have to eat the man that she killed, but even better was the guy who mentioned that he once tried to get a job singing in a wedding chapel but was afraid he might screw it up. My thoughts are that if you can screw up a job like that then you had plenty of problems even before the bikers attacked your tour bus. But now you present a bigger problem for your female co-passengers, who can expect little to no help from you in avoiding a violent death at the hands of a bunch of meth-heads.

There is something to be enjoyed here for people who really aren't looking for much, but the truth is that the biker that got run over is all we're ever given as far as a reason for why the whole movie is happening in the first place, which makes it feel like a pointless exercise in showing random people killing random bikers. If there was something real driving the movie it could easily have been much better, or at least if the protagonists weren't facing a group of faceless villains. As it is, it comes across like a tour bus barreling across the Texas countryside with no driver, and us stuck in the front seat looking through the windshield.

Snake Eyes

Mission: Implausible...
A quick glance back at my Oscars archives will reveal that Snake Eyes wasn't even nominated for a Best Editing Academy Award in 1998, which is a sad, ridiculous omission. This might be because the ending is famously bad, but for all of the film's many faults, the mystery portion of the movie is crafted together with such directing and editing skill that it's a travesty that it should have been so overlooked. Of particular note is the movie's uninterrupted first shot. I don't know how long it is exactly, but it goes on for several minutes, which is an enormously difficult thing to pull off. It requires massive amounts of planning and preparation, and they pulled it off brilliantly here, reminding me of similar shots in GoodFellas, Boogie Nights, and The Player. But the real problem with the movie is that it gives us 90 minutes of an exciting thriller and then caves in to a cheap, contrived ending that only calls more attention to itself by coming on the heels of such an otherwise good movie.

Brian de Palma's previous film was the brilliant remake of Mission: Impossible, and while the action and pace of that movie were both well-suited to the director's biggest talents, in Snake Eyes he has pulled out all the stops and given us a movie where every frame is packed to the edges with excesses in color, motion, gestures, and noise. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. In fact, for the most part all of the visual chaos only makes the movie fascinating to look at even as we struggle to figure out what's going on. But man, it's just too bad about that ending.

Nicholas Cage plays Rick Santoro, a detective and boxing fan who happens to be in the front row of a heavyweight champion fight where prize-fighter Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) is defending his title. Hurricane Jezebel is pounding on the outside of the arena as Tyler is getting pounded in the ring by an over-confident, wise-cracking challenger. A heavy hit sends Tyler down to the canvas and then gunshots ring out. The Secretary of Defense, sitting a few seats away from Santoro, is shot in the throat and the whole stadium erupts into a panic.

What follows is a multiple point of view presentation of the event, which shows us 20 minutes or so leading up to the gunshots and some time after, and then cuts back and shows the same time period but at different locations within the stadium. Santoro's best friend is Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), who is in charge of the Secretary's security for the event. Not a good job to have when the guy gets assassinated. Sinise gives a subdued and collected performance, especially when compared to the exaggerated excess of much of Cage's performance, but the problem is that he and Cage have not a scrap of chemistry on stage. We're told that they have been best friends since childhood, but none of that comes through in their limited shared screen time, which pulls the rug out from a scene late in the movie that is supposed to be powerful and moving. Sadly, it's not.

De Palma succeeds best in the way he presents the events leading up to the assassination from several different points of view, not the least reason for which is because we don't know which of them, if any, we can trust entirely, which makes the mystery element of the movie even more interesting. Stan Shaw deserves some credit for his performance as while he never for a second looks like a boxing champion, there is a scene in the ring where his eyes show a depth of sadness and remorse for what he has to do that might be the single best piece of acting in the entire movie.

An extra layer of realism is also added as the movie takes us behind the scenes of a major prize-fight, showing us what the boxers do just before and after a major fight and a little bit about how casino security is handled. There is another plot below the assassination involving doctored missile test results and a subsequent conspiracy, but it really serves no other purpose than to give a reason for the assassination, which itself drives the rest of the movie. But unfortunately Snake Eyes is one of those movies that is really good and then hugely disappointing, leaving you with a feeling somewhere between regret that the movie wasn't better and just feeling cheated.


"Jack already kicked a bunch of asses!"
It was with some trepidation that I watched Clementine the other day, because I had heard nothing but a relentless stream of terrible things about it. I was surprised to see that it's a Korean film in every way, given Seagal's background in Japanese martial arts and the fact that he speaks fluent Japanese. But make no mistake, Clementine is not a Seagal movie, it's an action comedy that's heavy on the comedy (and cheap drama, for some reason) and light on the action. The only problem is that the comedy is spotty at best and Seagal's presence on the cover box serves only to make us wonder where he is for the whole movie.

The story is about Kim, a fallen Korean Taekwon-do champion who leaves his country when a bad referee call costs him the championship title. He moves to Los Angeles and becomes a cop and never goes back to Korea, although he must live in Korea tow because he and he speaks nothing but Korean, as do his colleagues and his daughter. Having lost his fighting career, he decides to concentrate on a career in law enforcement and taking care of his daughter. A fight promoter is trying to get him back in the ring but Kim doesn't want to get back into fighting.

Kim's daughter is impossibly cute and takes after her father. When Kim gets called in to talk to the principal because his daughter beat up some kid that was teasing her, Kim scowls at the kid and says, "Well you got what you deserved, didn't you!" Unfortunately, there is a stupid sub-plot involving the girl's mother that serves to do nothing but make a light- hearted, half-witted comedy pretty thoroughly depressing. The little girl who plays Kin's daughter has some great scenes, but it seems like she was just screaming and crying for about the last 30 minutes or so of the film.

Oh and remember that huge black guy in Underworld? The one that did that weird thing where he's trying to make his voice so deep that it just calls attention to his crappy acting? That guy is in this movie, and he's still doing that stupid thing with his voice. Maybe someone forgot to tell him that he's not in a vampire movie anymore. But it's pretty much in tune with the rest of the awful acting in the movie, although Dong-jung Lee, who plays the main character, does have some pretty funny moments, especially in the first half of the film, which is the best part of the movie and I would argue that it's even pretty entertaining and fun.

It's revealing about the rest of the movie that the formidable talent of Seagal himself is completely wasted. He has nothing to do in the entire movie except do what he does worst in all his other movies – show up at the end and make some goofy speech and then wander off screen in slow motion. Yawn. But this is not a Seagal movie, it's a Korean martial arts comedy where he makes a brief appearance at the end, in one of the film's only English scenes. If they had kept up the almost family comedy sitcom story of the first half of the movie it could have been fun, light-hearted fare, but trying to give us this dramatic social situation involving the little girl and her missing mother and the whole thing with Seagal just turned it into a muddled mess.


Remember that movie Wild Wild West? Will Smith has said that that movie is one of his biggest regrets, because it opened at #1 even though it sucked, and he said he hated knowing that so many people were spending their money to watch a movie that wasn't good. At the time I'm writing this, Obsessed is the #1 movie in the American box office, and I'm wondering if, for example, Beyonce feels as guilty as Will Smith did, because Wild Wild West is about ten times better than this snoozefest. Personally I doubt she has the acting chops to even realize how god-awful this thing is.

I've seen some backwards thrillers in my time but THIS…I care hardly think of where to start. My first question is for Beyonce. I'm wondering if, when she signed on to play the wife of a man stalked by a psychotic blonde, if she knew that her character would ultimately turn out to be just as psychotic as the psychotic one. I'm guessing yes, because here's a direct quote from her character late in the movie – "You think you're crazy? I'll show you crazy!"


If you want to watch Ali Larter squeezing her limited talents into the form of a badly written blonde with some relationship issues and Beyonce talking all tough to her (and to her husband), you might enjoy this movie. Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so flawlessly terrible that the perfection of the way the badness fits together becomes a fascinating area of study. This is one of those times.

Sharon is married to Derek who has a new employee at his work, a crazy hot blonde named Lisa who was recently hired on from a temp agency. She falls in love with Derek and forms a fantasy in her head that she and Derek are together, blah blah blah blah. The movie is called Obsessed and stars two women and one man. You don't really need to know anything else in order to know everything there is to know about the movie, except how bad it is. Sadly, you have to watch it to find that out.

One of my favorite things was that the movie is as suspenseless as any movie I've ever seen, and yet the suspense music kicks up constantly and I guess we're supposed to scoot forward to the edge of our seats and get all worried and whatnot. There's a scene when Lisa e-mails a picture of herself to Derek which opens itself in a dozen windows as soon as he opens the e-mail, and the orchestra kicks in frantically as Derek slowly clicks them each closed, his wife only seconds away.

Did anyone else laugh at this? First of all, why would you slowly click them closed one by one? Does he know nothing about computers? ALT-F4, man!! Or if it's a Mac, Command-W!! But of course, if he knew how to close windows like that then we would have missed out on the sheer tension of watching this guy about to suffer the wrath of Beyonce. They actually tried to generate TENSION by having a guy struggling to close windows on his computer before his wife sees it!! HAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

Then again, with a wife as horrific as Beyonce's character, maybe it's a good idea to fear her hysterical wrath. She does, after all, kick him out of HIS OWN HOUSE for three months because she thinks. Not KNOWS, mind you. She SUSPECTS that he had an affair. And when I say his own house, I mean the beautiful, multi-million dollar mansion that they live in, with the sleek new Escalade parked out front.

This woman, ladies and gentlemen, is a COLLEGE STUDENT. I have trouble relating to a man who would suffer so much ridiculous punishment at the hands of an insecure and violently suspicious woman, and still beg on his hands an knees for her to take him back.

In order for a movie like this to work, you have to care about the characters, that's obvious, but it's impossible here. Obsessed has nothing going for it. It's a movie about one poor guy with two psychotic women around him and I'm going to go ahead and suggest that it's just not possible to make a good movie when your basic premise is so overflowing with the yawn-inducing clichés of cheap, no-rent thrillers.

It is informative that Obsessed comes from David Loughery, the same screenwriter who gave us the highly disappointing thriller Lakeview Terrace last year. Obsessed is pretty much exactly the same story, except Lakeview Terrace was about a black neighbor angry at his interracial neighbors. Now we have a black wife going crazy at her black husband's white stalker. Set your watch to beep every ten minutes or so to make sure you can stay awake. It was a struggle for me!

Even worse, I'm not sure who the target is. Angry black women who hate skinny, smart-ass blondes? Maybe. Word has it that the original title was "Oh No She Didn't," which would at least have been amusing and advertised right away that the whole movie is a joke. If they had made this a parody, I really think it could have been good, but it takes itself super- seriously, even when challenging us not to laugh at Beyonce flinging Ali Larter all over her house, or not to cringe when she viciously berates her boyfriend, for whom she has not the wispiest scrap of trust but who has committed no crime. The most effective thing that the movie does is convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I ever find myself dating Beyonce I will throw myself in front of the nearest train.


How to ruin a fascinating true story.
Ah, Las Vegas, the city of lights. The place that probably offers more false promises than anywhere else in the world, Hollywood included. I've never been much of a gambler myself, usually when I go there I plan a given amount of money to gamble with and, once it's gone (because I understand in advance that I'm gonna lose it) then I stop and go back to my buddies and concentrate on getting nicely drunk. But cards are even less my thing. My friends back in Venice Beach had almost nightly poker tournaments that I couldn't get myself interested in to save my life, so my experience in gambling real money on card games is almost nonexistent.

Nevertheless, I have an endless fascination with Vegas, and the true story of those people from MIT who raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars by counting cards at the blackjack tables should have been a great movie. Unfortunately, 21 is not it. The movie deals with the true story of those MIT students, but the movie is so heavily fictionalized that it's nearly impossible to tell what really happened under what ultimately turns out to be a twisted mass of Hollywood clichés.

Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a college student graduating from MIT and about to fulfill his lifelong dream of attending Harvard Medical School. The only problem is that he doesn't have any money and Harvard Med will run him $300,000. Since he lives in a world that contains one single scholarship opportunity and not a hint of student loans (seriously, with an academic history like Ben's, there are about a million ways to get the money he needs), he sees his chances of going to Harvard Med slipping away.

Soon he meets a professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) who introduces him to a carefully designed card-counting scheme involving himself and a few of his most gifted students. They all head to Vegas and try to beat the system, while security chief Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) lurks in the darkened security office surrounded by TV screens watching out for people like them. I wanted to see a movie about the real story, something almost documentary-like that tells not only how they beat the Vegas system but also how they got caught and what happened afterwards, but 21 plays more like a completely fictional story. It's like a cheap version of Ocean's 11 except the only laws being broken are when Williams drags various characters into the casino basement to, ah, knock some sense out of them.

I have no idea how card counting works, I'm just not a math guy. The movie doesn't concern itself with helping us understand it either, beyond some quickly edited sequences showing the main characters devising an intricate counting and communication scheme that will allow them to work together in the casinos without anyone realizing that they are a team. The problem is that the card counting itself requires a tremendous intellect, but the characters are phenomenally stupid.

Are we supposed to believe that the same people who perfected this counting scheme would come up with signals so stupidly obvious as linking your arms behind your back when the deck's hot? It was bad enough that they all constantly glance nervously at each other whenever they're in the same room, but that arm-linking thing was amazing. Every single time!! Didn't they ever think it would be a good idea to change things up a little bit? It would require a stupendous quantity of incompetence on the part of the security administration to miss THAT.

Even worse is the fact that in order to remind us that they're humans, the characters have to make drastic mistakes, but drastic gambling mistakes done well will give you something like the poker scene at the end of Casino Royale. Here, they get dunk and blow their cover or make gambling errors that can only be described as purely moronic, and the screenplay is more concerned with cheesy relationships between the characters that only distract from what the story is really about. Pearl Harbor had the same problem. We want to see a story about a major historical event, not some idiotic romance between Josh Hartnett and whoever that girl was.

Even worse, nothing is told about what happened after they were caught. They won't go to jail because counting cards isn't illegal (and shouldn't be), but the movies ties everything up with so much obviously fabricated nonsense that it's nearly impossible to walk out of the theater without feeling cheated. And in a movie about card-counting and taking Vegas for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's the casinos who should feel cheated, not the audience.

The Soloist

Uninspired retread of well-known morals
I'm hoping that The Soloist will come across as one of the most disappointing movies of 2009, because if we get anything more of a letdown than this it's gonna be pretty bad. I awaited the movie with enormous anticipation. Jamie Foxx has proved himself as a tremendously talented actor many times over, and Robert Downey Jr., long since one of my favorite actors, is at the height of his career with his work in movies like Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, as well as the upcoming Sherlock Holmes, Master Mind, The Avengers, and Iron Man 2.

Now, I hope I can say this without sounding like I'm really bashing the movie, because it is competently made and competently acted, but there were points in the movie where the pure badness almost approached camp. There is no doubt that the movie was green-lighted and cast with visions of Oscars dancing in the heads of Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr. and the movie's producers, but somewhere along the way there was a necessary element that just never made it into the final cut. The movie definitely has it's fans and it certainly is a moving story, but I can tell you with pretty strong certainty that there are no Oscars in The Soloist's future.

That being said, I should probably also admit that I had the hardest time putting my finger on exactly what went wrong. Maybe it is something as simple as a permeating lack of originality. Maybe the presentation of a mentally ill main character was handled without the necessary subtlety or authenticity. In Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. himself expounded on the dangers of an actor going full retard, maybe this is a case of what happens when you go 'full crazy?' Whatever the case, I am truly sorry to say that both stars have scenes where their performances come across as almost bizarrely cheesy.

Of course it might be just me, but I doubt it.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist desperate for a good story, when he one day runs into Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless man with obviously tremendous musical talent. There goes cliché number one. Through a muddled combination of personal interest and hope for the betterment of Ayers' life, Lopez makes it his life's to get Ayers off the streets, on medication, and into a successful musical career where he belongs.

It's hard not to be moved by such a story, but it's also hard to find anything original in it. It's based on a true story, even to the point of showing an incident where an elderly LA Times reader sent in her own cello, one she had been playing herself for decades, because she was so moved by Lopez's story about Ayers. The movie's presentation of this event is one of its simplest but best scenes.

But after that…what? I won't ruin the story for you, because while I found the movie disappointing, I would also say that it's not disappointing to the point that people shouldn't watch it. But it leaves you with a definite feeling that it should have been something more, or that the true story on which it's based simply doesn't have the ingredients for a successful drama. There is a point in the movie, for example, where Ayers utters the line, "If I ever see you again I'll cut you open and gut you like a fish." I appreciate the portrayal of paralyzing mental confusion, but I'm going to go ahead and suggest the majority of the audience is going to see that as a good time to turn your life- saving mission over to professionals who have some idea of what they're dealing with.

Then again, it's also exactly this kind of difficulty that has led to the most satisfying struggles against the odds in similarly uplifting movies, but The Soloist argues that friendship should be enough to overcome even the most insurmountable barriers, it takes us on this painful struggle with a damaged mind, and then, worst of all, it all leads up to one of those stupid, stupid voice-over speeches at the end that's supposed to tie everything up with a cute little bow. God I can't stand that.

Watch the movie when it comes out on DVD. It's not a complete failure, but it is much less than the sum of its parts and it gives that feeling that it is always just about to develop into something really great but it just never happens. It does a good job of approaching the difficult paradox of how far people should be able to go in efforts to force a better life on someone, but for all of the ambition clearly involved in its production, it should easily have forced out a much better movie.

Handmade Music: Creating the Score

There is something genuinely sad going on here....
I am a big believer that quite often the supplemental documentaries included with DVDs can show you some things about the movie that you didn't realize, and even turn around your entire experience about the movie. In the best cases, these little featurettes can make even bad movies a little better, but such is not to be the case with Handmade Music, which is about the efforts involved in making the music for Dan in Real Life.

Unfortunately I don't have anything nice to say about the movie, which was a depressing failure, and this little documentary is little more than a lot of people congratulating each other on a job well done on a project that just flopped spectacularly. I can appreciate the effort that everyone put into making the music just right and how strongly they believed in the movie, but there is something truly sad about watching so many artistically professional people talk about their undying devotion to what turned out to be such a bad movie.

Dan in Real Life

Steve Carell's most disastrous failure so far?
There was something that told me that Dan in Real Life was going to be a great comedy, one of those overlooked gems that come along and don't get the recognition that they deserve until years later (like The Big Lebowski). MAN was I wrong. This is a sappy, awkward, uncomfortable drama that thinks it's a comedy but ultimately never figures out which direction to go. It presumes to give us a realistic story of a single father raising three daughters some years after the death of his wife and their mother, but then gives us a cheesy, half-wit sitcom that's about as realistic as The Great Outdoors and not 1/10 as funny.

Dan is a single father raising three daughters…oh wait, I already said that. We learn about the relationship between Dan and his daughters as they're gearing up for the road trip out to their annual family reunion. The youngest daughter is wise beyond her years, the middle daughter is growing exasperated to learn what kind of man her father really is, and the oldest teenage daughter is in love with some punk kid. Dan finding thongs in her laundry doesn't make him feel any better.

In fact, the only thing that is remotely realistic about the movie is the relationship between the girls and their father. The tension in the house is through the roof and is never overdone or unrealistic, but it's also never funny even for a second.

OK, so here's what happens, you'll love this. Soon after arriving to meet the family, Dan is in a bookstore and has a highly scripted run-in with Marie (Juliette Binoche), a beautiful brunette with whom Dan feels an immediate connection. They have a quick coffee together before she gets a phone call and has to leave, revealing to Dan that she is already in a relationship. Dan goes back to his house and starts talking about this amazing woman he just met, and then his brother Mitch proudly introduces his girlfriend, Marie, to the family.

So most of the comedy results from Dan and Marie trying to keep their secret from the family, but unfortunately all it leads to is a lot of awkward and uncomfortable situations that even the eternally awkward Ben Stiller might hesitate to be a part of. Dan is summarily ignored by everyone in the family while they dote on Marie, urging her and Mitch to get married and acting as if Dan's not even there. At another point Dan loses his temper and creates a huge scene during dinner. Marie and Mitch get all cuddly and touchy feely in front of him and I guess we're supposed to laugh good-naturedly as he watches helplessly.

Oh but wait, that's not even the good part! There is a scene in this movie where Dan's brother-in-law, while in the same room with Dan's mother and father, urges Dan to masturbate so he doesn't get too "backed up." He reminds Dan, in front of his MOTHER, that it's important to "unplug the drain." God, it was awful.

I'm gonna go ahead and put something out there. First of all, this is not an original scene. It was as old as the hills when it came up in American Pie ten years ago, but I'm going to go ahead and suggest that such a thing has never ever ever ever happened in real life. Such things only happen in bad comedies like Dan in, ahem, Real Life.

Every cliché is represented here. The tactless brother-in-law, the obligatory scene showing that people in movies don't understand that dance-offs are simply not funny, the sketchy blind date with the chick who turns out to be crazy hot, even (my favorite) the "oops I'm so sorry I just fell down and well shucks here I am laying right on top of you" routine. What ever happened to real life? The title of this movie is an even bigger lie than Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter! Eight chapters later, I'd just like to finally put this on the record - Final chapter my ass!!

Or consider this. There's a scene in the movie where Dan finds himself standing in the shower fully clothed with Marie while she showers with Dan's daughter just outside the shower curtain talking to Marie about her love and sex worries.

So if you imagine such a thing could ever be amusing, then by all means I won't dissuade you from watching this movie. But I will tell you this - I can imagine that there was a time when this movie looked good on paper, but something went wrong along the way and the result is a static, depressing drama without a scrap of personality. And one of the biggest problems is that Juliette Binoche, a tremendously talented actress, doesn't have a shred of chemistry with anyone on screen and looks completely out of place anywhere in the movie. She comes across as a classy European traveler, and the movie never aspires to explain how such a woman could end up with a tool like Dane Cook.

The movie wants to be a charming family romantic comedy about love gone wrong and then right, or something like that, but unfortunately it comes across as a thoroughly depressing snooze-fest that is neither realistic nor amusingly fictional. The story ultimately contorts back on itself and forces a cookie-cutter Hollywood ending and even a cloying inspirational voice-over speech that rivals the one at the end of Bride Wars for pure, happy crappiness. Let's just be honest, shall we? The thing is a train wreck. Enjoy at your own risk!

In the Electric Mist

In The Valley of Elah Part 2
Remember that movie In The Valley of Elah? It was the movie that Tommy Lee Jones starred in before this one. Yeah, this is exactly the same movie. I've been a huge fan of Jones ever since he first came to my attention in Under Siege, but come on man, time to branch out a little bit, you know? On the other hand, In The Valley of Elah, which is just as disappointing as In the Electric Mist (but doesn't have nearly as bizarre a title), was released the same year that Jones appeared in No Country For Old Men, so I guess the man deserves some credit. But I'm still getting over The Missing and The Hunted. Yawn!

This time, Jones plays Dave Robicheaux, an alcoholic who is a regular at the bars, where he orders drinks that he never drinks. He's a detective in the deep south, and one day he spots an Italian sports car speeding through the sleepy streets of their town. When he pulls it over, he finds it's being driven by Elrod Sykes (Peter Saarsgard), a local boy who has become a movie star but is now drag racing through his town drunk out of his mind. Dave sidesteps the expected bribes and goes to run him in like he should, but changes his mind when Sykes tells him he knows where a dead body is.

Before you go thinking about Stand By Me, the most famous "I know where there's a dead body" movie ever made, this one goes in a completely different direction. The body is the result of a decades-old hate crime, where a bunch of racists had chained a black man and then shot him while he ran through the swamps for his life. Dave, a 17-year-old boy at the time, actually witnessed the crime from across the swamp but never figured out who the killers were. Now, the location of the body has been revealed and it has become his life's mission to bring the killers to justice.

Complicating the movie more than necessary is a simultaneous investigation that Dave is running about the murder of a blonde prostitute and, worst of all, some truly bizarre run-ins with the Civil War generals out in the woods. There is suggestion that it is just a local group of dedicated fanatics in the middle of a Civil War re-enactment, but at times it seems more like an LSD flashback than anything else.

Ultimately the movie is nothing but a tedious wait to see some racist dirtbags get what they deserve for a vicious hate crime that happened decades earlier. There is a brief approach of the difficult subject of forgiving someone for a past crime when they have made genuine change, although the change portrayed in the movie is not genuine so the idea is dropped pretty quick. There is always a feeling that the movie is about to take off but it just never does, and when the end credits start to roll there's a distinct feeling that you may have just wasted a bunch of time.

I should mention that the movie is based on a book called "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead," which I haven't read, and I understand that some fans of the book are pretty impressed with the film adaptation, so there may be something more to be said about the movie than I give it credit for here. But as an unprepared moviegoer, there definitely seems to be something missing here. None of the performances are disappointing and the location where the movie was shot is undeniably beautiful, but it just seemed to me that nothing materialized along the way

Police Academy: Mission to Moscow

The first time in my life I've ever consciously missed Bobcat Goldthwaite
Ah, so here we are. Rock bottom. The Police Academy series has been through a lot of ups and downs over the years. They seem to have been hugely popular during their times of release, and really, if you look at the numbers, it's not hard to see why such a prodigious stream of sequels was made. The first movie was made for a budget of around $4.5 million and brought in a stupendous $81 million at the box office. The second movie brought in $55 million, part 3 brought $43.5 million, part 4 $28 million, part 5 almost $20 million, part 6 a meager $5 million, and Mission to Moscow proudly raked in a whopping $126,000. If nothing else, the Police Academy franchise stands as a perfect example of a film series that was played out until it was officially a very, very dead horse.

The awesomely moronic plot this time involves a Russian mafia boss named Konstantine Konali (played by none other than Ron Perlman, now better known as Hellboy), who is marketing a video game that he plans to use to secretly distribute a computer virus that will allow him to hack into government security systems and like, take over the world or something. The movie opens with a scene that is meant to show us how purely addicting this game is. We see a news report where a woman is giving her news report, and her co-anchor, a man in maybe his 50s or so, is sitting next to her oblivious what's going on because he's so entranced by the Game Boy he's playing. I imagine we weren't supposed to notice that there was no cartridge in the machine he's playing, but no matter. I'm willing to let that go in order to enjoy the avalanche of stupidity that was to follow.

So why are the members of our beloved Police Academy in Moscow in the first place? Well, it seems that the Russians need help in dealing with the Russian mafia, so they have recruited the help of the most famous police academy in America. And mostly the gang is all here except for Mahoney and Zed, both of whom I am sad to say are missed.

Lassard, of course, is his usual self, so he has gotten himself lost and ends up at a Russian funeral within a few hours of touching down in Moscow, so the rest of the team occupies themselves with trying to compile evidence against Konali while Harris follows along two steps behind waiting to jump in at just the right moment and claim credit for everything.

As usual this provides plenty of opportunities for bonehead comedy, but they just pulled out all the stops with the low brow humor this time. Harris and Tackleberry end up dancing in full make-up and costume in a Russian ballet in one of the movie's most embarrassing scenes, Harris attempts to spy on Konali and instead gets a dog peeing in his eye through a periscope, and Jones has developed the ability to open safes with his noise effects. Sigh.

In the movie's defense, it does have it's moments. Well, it has it's moment, anyway. There is a scene where Tackleberry jumps at the opportunity to give a speech to the Russian authorities about American law enforcement tactics, and he launches into a vicious beratement of the piddly "excessive force" policies that are tying his hands back in the states. Yeah, the movie is spectacularly stupid, but this might have been one of Tackleberry's two or three best scorns in the entire series.

If you ever find yourself watching this thing on DVD, make sure to watch the short supplemental video that's included! I have to admit that I have found it particularly interesting and amusing to watch these videos for each installment in the series, where much of the original cast come back together and discuss the movies. I especially love G.W. Bailey (who played Captain Harris), who clearly has grown weary of having ever had anything to do with the series. In the video for part 5, he sarcastically mentioned people who would approach him years later and ask if he still had "Dork" tanned across his chest. For this one, it is noticeably difficult for him to conceal his resentment as he talks about his past in performing Shakespeare on stage, and now he's remembered for a dog peeing in his eye.

Don't worry, Mr. Bailey, haven't you seen the box office for this movie? No one's seen it!

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege

Actual quote - "Fighting is one thing. But bad jokes is where I draw the line."
Like the last movie, Police Academy 6 starts out with Harris and Proctor on some ridiculous mission to outsmart the rest of the crew and ensure that they get all of the glory for something or other. At least this time they're not breaking and entering like they were in the last movie, but have stationed them on a stake-out at a location that they are sure is going to be the next hit for the dreaded Wilson Heights Gang who, if nothing else, should definitely find someone else to come up with a threatening name so they'll sound more like a group of hardcore criminals and less like a gated community.

But in other news, Harris is in charge of his own precinct now, Tackleberry's got a son, and some old characters like Mrs. Feldman and Fackler are back. I have to admit that I am still confused by feelings of reminiscence for Mahoney, not the least reason for which is that, believe it or not, this is the first genuinely stupid entry in the entire series. Yeah, they're slapstick comedies, but my god, how many decades have people been splitting their sides watching slapstick comedies? You could argue that the slapstick was the first real narrative story-telling that came along in film, and the Police Academies are no different, they just haven't stood up to the test of time so well.

Oh, and they're also hampered by stupid-ass sequels like this one and the next one. And hopefully not part 8 which, at this point, remains theoretical.

So what's going on this time? We have another small group of mind-bogglingly stupid bad guys, which is not a bad thing in itself, but apparently someone took my words too seriously when I originally reviewed Police Academy 5 and said that the movies are essentially kid's movies, because in this installment we get a cartoonish villain that is a bizarre combination of the Wizard of Oz and Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. I guess I should be more careful what I say when I review movies.

On the other hand, the first time I ever reviewed Police Academy 5 was about 22 minutes ago, so there is some legitimacy to the theory that it couldn't have affected the thought patterns of screenwriters Neal Israel and Pat Proft, who wrote Police Academy 6 back in the late 80's. But you never know.

But get this, here's the supervillain's scheme – he plans to use his henchmen to raise the crime rate in a certain strategic location in order to drive down property values, then he'll buy up all the property himself, see that the crime rate goes back down and the property values up, and then live like a king off the interest or whatever for the rest of his life. Actually, when you think about it, that's not the dumbest plot pattern. In fact, compared to how moronic the rest of the movie is, it's not that bad. At least they didn't have a villain who tried to outdo even the most outlandish 007 villains and like, you know, hold the sun for ransom or something.

Again, most of the original cast is back, but I still miss Mahoney and Zed, and the screenwriters (yeah, it took more than one to come up with this thing) unfortunately have no idea what to do with the characters that we've come to know and love laughing at. Everyone is undercover and their ridiculous assignments are supposed to generate automatic laughs from us, but worst of all, some of the scenes are such disassociated skits from the plot that the story as a whole falls apart. For example. in one attempt to get into a public place and question the public about the whereabouts of the criminals and whatnot, Jones, Calahan and Hooks go into a bar, where Jones puts on a show for all the barflies doing a brilliant impression of Jimi Hendrix to the delight of the crowd and then they leave without having learned or even trying to learn anything.

But at least it's in keeping with the rest of the movie, which is the first tremendous step down into the depths of idiocy in the entire series. If you thought any of the previous movies were stupid, MAN you're gonna love this one! But I do have to say that, like part 5, there are some moments in this one that I distinctly remember loving to death when I was about ten years old, like the scene where the huge bad guy who looks like a lumberjack comes outside with an ice-cream cone with like eight scoops of ice cream stacked up on it and goes, "Oh BOY!" but then takes one lick, pushing it off where it lands with an audible splat on the pavement and he goes, "Crapola!"

Okay, so it's not funny in writing. Sue me. But show me a ten year old kid who doesn't laugh at that and I'll show you a kid with some developmental problems that far exceed any of the time-wasting nonsense in this movie.

By the way, as I mentioned in my review of part 5, make sure to watch the little reminiscent documentary that you'll find on the DVD, it might be funnier than anything in the whole movie! Check this out, besides glorifying the movie like it's some overlooked Oscar winner, director Peter Bonerz (my god, can you imagine having THAT name in junior high school?) lists off the numerous references and homaaaaaages that can be found within its pristine contents, including everything from Orson Welles to Hitchcock himself!

Sadly, your brain has to be securely in the "off" position in order to enjoy the movie, but it may add to the comedy just to know that some effort was put in to put those references in there!!

Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach

It's no James Bond, but still good, clean, dumb fun.
Okay, so something happens in the first few minutes of Police Academy 5 that must surely be the most meaningful and artistic bit of creative story-telling that has happened before or since in the entire series. As Captain Harris and Proctor are breaking into Chief Hurst's office to get their hands on his files, Proctor worries that they're breaking the law. "We're not breaking the law, Proctor," Harris assures him. "We are STRETCHING it." After he says this we cut to Proctor, who pulls on a piece of bubble gum between his fingers which stretches…and then breaks. In a rare moment of thoughtfulness, Proctor appeared to me to look at the gum and discover the stretching and breaking are pretty much the same thing.

At any rate, it's telling that such a simple thing should come across as one of the most creatively meaningful things in the series, but I do have to say that Police Academy 5 is not nearly as bad as I have read that it is. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's one of the better sequels in the whole bonehead franchise.

In his search, Harris has discovered that Lassard has reached the state's mandatory retirement age and thus sets about on a mission to force him into retirement so that he can take over the job himself. The only problem, of course, is that Harris still doesn't command a scrap of respect from anyone in sight, while Lassard lovingly oversees his academy like a clueless grandfather. You see, he is so good at obtaining the respect of his men through the timely feeding of his ever-present goldfish that he has earned himself the coveted "Police Officer of the Decade" award (normally I would think that such an award would go to an actual police officer, but that's just me).

So a ceremony is scheduled to be held in his honor in beautiful Miama Beach, so the whole Police Academy Crew packs up and heads on down to the sunny south for the festivities. Harris, of course, employs Proctor's considerable wisdom and skill to book them two first class tickets to Miami, and the two end up traveling on a rickety plane full of farm animals with loose bowels.

The crime this time is a group of astonishingly stupid diamond thieves, who manage to pull off a brilliant diamond heist and get away without a trace, but can't make it through an airport without tripping all over themselves and accidentally swapping their diamond-laden bag with Lassard's goldfish-laden bag. You have your small-time crime boss with the slicked back hair and quick tongue, and his two meathead sidekicks who hop along behind him going "whatever you say boss" and "boss are you okay boss?" If only they had taken these bumbling morons down a notch or two, they could easily have been the funniest thing in the whole movie. The rest of the movie follows the diamond thieves as they try to get their diamonds back before the real crime boss kills them all, and before Lassard figures out that that video camera that he's using isn't a present from the guys but the hiding spot for the stolen diamonds.

As you know, this is the first Police Academy movie that's missing Steve Guttenberg as Mahoney, and he's replaced by the charming Matt McCoy, who plays Commandant Lassard's nephew Nick, an ace Sergeant on the Miami Beach force. The character is a noble effort, but Mahoney is definitely missed.

I must have watched this one the most when I was a kid because I remember it more than any of the others in the series, and I watched them all over the last couple weeks. I particularly remember the scene when Tackleberry fires off the assault weapons in shooting practice and then when they try to take the guns back he says, "NO!! I NEED these!!" Classic! This particular installment in the series is famously bad, but anyone who tells you it's not any fun definitely needs to lighten up a little bit.

The plot culminates in an exciting sequence when the little crime boss gives in to the frustrations of multiple failed attempts to get their bag back and just decides to kidnap Lassard in front of the whole congregation. Lassard of course, true to form, thinks it's all a demonstration and even helps the bad guys out along the way, winning their friendship and respect in probably the funniest element of the whole movie.

Of course the fourth sequel in the Police Academy franchise is not a good movie, but it was never made with any Academy Awards in mind. In fact, since there are no wet t-shirt moments like in part 4 (actually I was a little disappointed by this), you might even say it's a kid's movie, since it's the kids who are going to enjoy it the most, except for those of us who haven't seen it since we loved it as kids ourselves.

By the way, if you manage to get it on DVD, make sure to check out the little ten minute documentary about it, it's hilarious! I loved the ones about the earlier films, where they get most of the original cast together to talk about their experiences in making the movies. My favorite is Mission to Moscow, where producer Paul Maslansky talks about what a great film-making event it was making Police Academy 7, finally and officially revealing himself to be genuinely delusional.

But this one comes close! Here's an actual quote from director Alan Myerson speaking about part 5 – "For it's day, it was just short of a James Bond movie."


Note - at one point, one of the bad guys calls Harris "sharkbait." If they had copyrighted that, think of the killing they could have made off of Finding Nemo!

Swing Vote

Every vote counts, as long as you're the last one
I'm going to go ahead and assume that it's not an easy task to make a crowd-pleasing movie centered on politics that goes to such strenuous efforts to be non-partisan and maybe chalk up my dissatisfaction with the movie to that. Then again, it might also have something to do with a critical decision that they made in how to end the movie, which is sure to make every single solitary person who watches it throw up their arms in disgust.

But the movie is not about who wins the presidency, it's about the pure chaos of the American political system and its millions of weaknesses and faults. Sure, the premise of a presidential election coming down to a single vote is as preposterous as they come, but man if this movie doesn't get you thinking critically about the electoral process then it's safe to assume that probably nothing ever will.

Kevin Costner plays Bud, an American nobody from New Mexico who has never done anything with his life except have a daughter with a delusional drug addict who thinks she has a big singing career in her near future. He works as an egg inspector at an egg packaging plant, and he and his co-workers mourn the loss of their friends' (and soon, their own) jobs to "insourcing," the process of bringing Mexicans in to take their jobs rather than ship the factory and all those egg-laying chickens to Mexico.

Bud staggers through life in a drunken daze most of the time, routinely letting down his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), who raises him like a child. She gets him out of bed in the morning, criticizes his laziness and irresponsibility, reminds him to vote because it's part of a school project that she has to do, and through sighs of exasperation attempts to keep him at least a little bit in line. And of course it's the only thing in life that she fails at. When Bud gets drunk rather than show up to vote, she manages to almost cast his vote herself due to the sleepy voting booth security of beautiful Texico, New Mexico, which Google Earth has just informed me is a real place. Population 1,065.

In a clever plot development, it turns out that Bud's vote didn't go completely through but it appeared that he was there, so he is given another opportunity to cast his vote. Not right away, mind you, even though he evidently already tried to vote and thus probably had his mind made up. No, he is given ten days before he has to vote, thus providing plenty of time for a movie to happen.

Young Madeline Carroll steals most of the scenes that she's in as Bud's daughter, so it's interesting that her character is one of the biggest weak points in the movie, the other one being her dad. Bud is supposed to be a typical American, but I just saw a drifting drunk who never did anything with his life and never would have had he not been forced to. It's true that the vast majority of Americans live lives that are closer to Bud's than President Boone's (Kelsey Grammar), but does he have to be a TOTAL loser? How about just making him be a likable, regular guy? Like the guy he played in Field of Dreams? When I imagine the average American, I imagine something like Ray Kinsella. Although maybe with a slightly smaller house and less whispering from the sky.

The other problem is that the screenwriters overshot the character of Molly by about 160 IQ points. So much for the average American, right? This girl writes a school essay that doesn't merit a special award from the principal to show her dad, it grants her NATIONAL TELEVISED RECOGNITION. But to be honest, I had more of a problem with the fact that not only does she wake her deadbeat dad up in the morning so he could take her to school, she also treks to the bar and, finding him passed out in his truck when he should have been voting, she pushes him over and then drives him home herself. She's about 11 years old.

But where the movie succeeds is as a scathing revelation about certain realities of the American electoral process, such as the electoral college, which simplifies the vote-counting process even while massively distorting the actual numbers of who voted for who. The whole movie is about how one man's vote really does matter, but it leaves you with the feeling that you are supposed to forget that once he votes, every single vote in his state for the other candidate WON'T matter anymore, because they'll be switched to the other candidate. Isn't it interesting how that works? Can't we just count every single vote and award each candidate one huge number of individual votes? Seems a little more accurate to me.

Anyway, I do appreciate the way the movie highlights the fact that both sides, Republican and Democrat, are equally willing to stoop to any level and do absolutely whatever it takes to win, and that no one is above hitting below the belt and making hugely unethical decisions. There is a lot that needs to be changed in American politics, and even while clearly being based on the Election of 2000, one of the most controversial in American history, it calls those things to attention without ever even hinting that either side is right or wrong. The movie insists that America is the greatest country in the world but that in some ways, we're doing it all wrong, but the fact that a movie like this has the freedom to get made proves that even though we haven't reached a level of pure cohesive harmony, underneath all of our imperfections is a clear desire to get there.

Beverly Hills Cop II

Axel Foley gets the Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson treatment
At the time of its release Beverly Hills Cop was the highest grossing comedy of all time, so it works out perfectly that its first sequel would be directed and produced by the juggernaut Hollywood crowd-pleasers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (and directed by none less than Tony Scott). The formula is exactly the same (and man I really mean exactly), although it follows all of the usual rules of an action sequel, which state that it must have a much bigger budget (Axel still does his police work by his own rules, only this time he uses precinct money to drive around in a Ferrari), more deaths, faster and funnier jokes (it clearly shoots for this one, anyway…), and at least one more 6-foot platinum blonde.

Let's take a little trip, shall we? Beverly Hills Cop 2 was released in May of 1987, and so came just after things like Top Gun, Police Academy 3, The Color of Money, To Live and Die in L.A. (which was sort of an anti-buddy cop movie with a mean streak that is clearly reflected in Cop 2), Eddie Murphy's own The Golden Child, and the original Lethal Weapon, which was released just a few months earlier and may have been sharing theaters with it. Needless to say, there was no shortage of police movies and whatnot, and no time is wasted in attempting to stand out from the crowd.

The movie starts with a violent robbery pulled off in broad daylight by a highly organized group of criminals headed by the statuesque Bridgette Nielsen, who plays the curiously named Karla Fry. She's involved with a ruthless organized crime syndicate that is running firearms to Central America, and when police chief Bogomil is gunned down, Foley decides he's going to head on back to southern California to solve the case himself again.

Everyone is friends now after the events of the first movie. Taggart and Rosewood are no longer spying on Axel but have all become good friends, as they have with Bogomil, who sided with them against the Commissioner or Chief or Mayor or whatever at the end of the last movie. Unfortunately, the new police chief is a total jerkoff and has been firing everyone in sight and replacing them with all of his own people, so once again Taggart and Rosewood and Foley are forced to go against direct orders in order to do what needs to be done.

The movie has been almost unanimously slammed by critics, and I would certainly hesitate to say that it's as bad as all that. In more recent years I have not always been the biggest fans of people like Jerry Bruckeimer (the mega-producer who we have to thank for such highly polished cheesefests as Armageddon and Gone in 60 Seconds and Pearl Harbor, not that he hasn't had his better movies), but if you are just looking for a fun popcorn action flick, you could certainly do worse than this one.

If nothing else, it was great fun picking out the hilarious 80s pop culture references, some of which were light-hearted jabs at the competition, such as the posters for First Blood Part II and Rambo in Rosewood's "stress-free" apartment, and maybe my favorite, Bridgette Nielsen's (Stallone's wife at the time) earrings, which were these bizarre little metallic arrows that made her look like a Klingon.

It's true that some of the jokes and situations are a little too unoriginal, even only in the first sequel, such as Foley's remarkable ability to come up with crazy stories on the spot (although the best one is where he pretends to be a gay prostitute to get into a ritzy club and harass the bad guy) and his loud-mouthed streams profanity. But again, not necessarily something that I would criticize the movie for just for being there. It gets a little cheesy at times though, like when he gets into the bad guys' office by pretending to be a delivery boy delivering highly unstable plutonium capsules in - get this - a brown paper bag, but overall it stays in the same vein as the original and may even be better in a lot of ways.

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