The Man With the Screaming Brain (**½)

Posted on July 7th, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So the CleverDonkey family got to meet the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Bruce Campbell. Yes, Ash, the legendary ghoul ass-kicker of Evil Dead fame himself. Mr. Boomstick. Mr. Workshed. The Man.

It was our good fortune to attend his book signing here in Houston for his new tome Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way (which I have not yet read, so no spoilers here), which was also his film tour for his new movie The Man With the Screaming Brain, directed and co-written by BC himself. Mr. Campbell was nice enough to sign one item of your choice with the purchase of the book, so in the photos below you will see us getting two copies of the book signed, plus our now-even-more-treasured Bubba Ho-Tep poster.

Mr. Campbell was very personable when he signed our things, but we were in the first 60 signees. We came back several hours later for the film and talk and happened to pass by the signing area where he was still just as jovial and accommodating as he had been hours before. They even had staff standing by to use your own camera to take pictures. It was a very low-stress, exciting, and fun event.

After the signing Mr. Campbell spent 20-30 minutes talking to the crowd in the theater before the screening, and he was relaxed, engaging, witty, and apparently unrehearsed. He tolerated the fan-boy questions with aplomb and was quite entertaining.

The movie was better than I was expecting. The film was financed by the SciFi Channel and some German investment company and is playing in selected theaters as part of the book tour. The film will then air on the SciFi Channel and then shortly after be released on DVD. Not the most auspicious characteristics for a film, and usually those stats indicate that the film is complete crap that someone is trying to milk a few dollars more from.

Well, The Man With the Screaming Brain is certainly no Evil Dead II, but neither is it Alien Apocalypse (to pick two films at opposite ends of BC’s bell oeuvre). Screaming is an entertaining trifle, just funny enough and of just high-enough quality to allow you to relax and enjoy it. The acting is surprisingly good (for the most part), as is the casting.

The film was shot on location in Bulgaria, and they worked it into the plot and set the story in Bulgaria. I think this was because there was no way to make Bulgaria look like anywhere else but Bulgaria, so why not roll with it.

The story is…not really important here. What is important is that if you are a fan of Bruce Campbell you should see this film, preferably as part of his tour. Check his site to find out when it’s coming to a town near you. And buy his book and get it signed and get the chance to meet a certified B-movie star and all-around nice guy. Groovy.

Socialopaths

Posted on July 3rd, 2005 in Commentary,Engineerboy by EngineerBoy
Rampant socialopathy - Hummer parked by jerk!

Rampant socialopathy - Hummer parked by jerk!

There is a class of people whom I’ve come to refer to as “Socialopaths”. These people appear to have no empathy, compassion, or sense of right or wrong when it comes to dealing with others. The male Socialopath is more commonly known as a “prick”, while the female is more commonly known as a “selfish bitch”. These people go through life with an apparent sole focus on their own selfish needs and near complete disregard for everyone else. The Socialopath differs from the true sociopath merely as a matter of degree. Whereas a sociopath may see no distinction between disliking someone and killing them, a Socialopath usually stops short of killing or injuring someone, not because they don’t want to but because they know that the potential repercussions are too large.

A Socialopath:

Rarely uses blinker when turning or changing lanes.
Blathers loudly on cell phone regardless of surroundings (elevator, airplane cabin, movie theater, restaurant, public transportation, grocery store, etc.).
Wants to know the price of everything.
Blames others when things don’t go their way.
Drives a BMW.
Steps in front of others if there is any question who was in line first.
Takes two parking spaces.
Lets breast size impact love life (him).
Lets diamond size impact love life (her).
Smokes cigars (him AND her).
Takes the handicapped spot (because nobody uses it and/or they’ll just be a couple of minutes).
Never thinks twice about making others wait.
Is bothered by children and pets.
Isn’t bothered by cruelty to children and pets.
Is only happy with the latest and greatest, even if they don’t really know the difference.
Has zero sense of humor about themselves.
Undertips when nobody will know, overtips when everybody will know.
Eats sushi because it’s cool, but secretly despises it.
Insinuates themselves onto the side that is winning.
Grabs credit for things they really had nothing to do with.
Passes blame for things they really had everything to do with.
Respects lawyers (from an income and personality perspective).
Sees spending time with family as an annoying chore.
Does the right thing only out of fear of consequences.
Collects (art-watches-baseball cards-wine-comic books-etc) not out of love but as an investment and/or as an affectation.
Regularly plans and throws their own birthday party.
Litters.
Puts others in danger for their own selfish reasons (drives like a maniac, leaves kids in the car to run into the store, shoots off firecrackers, etc).

Driving Us Crazy

The key element in most of these is a complete lack of thought paid to other people. A more complex example involves a pharmacy that we regularly frequent that is in a free-standing building with its own parking lot. There are plenty of spaces all around for everyone. However, there is a certain class of person who presumes to pull up to the curb right by the door, hop out, and run in to do their shopping. Their car is obviously not in a parking space, and it has obviously reduced the available driving space from two lanes down to

Wedding Crashers (***)

Posted on July 2nd, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson may be turning into the new Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. They play off each other with effortless ease and comedic harmony, and the way they treat each other’s absurdities as normal makes them seem both more normal and therefore more absurd at the same time. Vaughn and Wilson play two mediation attorneys whose main hobby is crashing weddings and receptions and taking advantage of the heightened levels of romanticism and drunkeness of the bridesmaids.

They follow an elaborate set of rules that all support the four primary objectives:

Bed as many bridesmaids as possible
Keep your identity secret
No romantic entanglements
Make a clean getaway

However, they’re not really young any more and they’re approaching the inevitable end of their youthful hijinks phase, but are in a bit of denial. That is until Wilson’s character falls for the eldest daugher of the Secretary of Commerce, played with menacing fatherliness by Christopher Walken. Vaughn also beds Walken’s nubile and virginal younger daughter, who immediatly gloms onto him as her first and one true love, much to his chagrin.

Hilarity ensues (really). The movie is definitely an “R” rated comedy for adults, and it was refreshing to watch a movie that could be a bit ribald and suggestive without having to bow the the hegemony of the PG-13 ticket buying hordes. Watching this film made me realize just how much spice has been removed from modern Hollywood films in order to make the salable to the multiplex masses. It’s like the viewing public has all been put on a bland diet in order to avoid the flare-up of the bleeding ulcer of “family values”. Not that family fare doesn’t have its place, but sometimes it’s nice to indulge in something a little spicier.

And Wedding Crashers is definitely that. There’s a bit of brief nudity, which I realized I had come to expect only from art films and films with Harvey Keitel. Also, Vaughn and Wilson are quite mercenary in their pursuits and so seem quite unredeeming, at least initially. The plot takes some turns that are unexpected for a com/rom, but things turn out about as you would expect. However, on the way to the expected ending are a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments, courtesy of Wilson and especially Vaughn.
If you’re looking for a summer movie to make you laugh, tweak your sensibilities, and not demand much mental energy, this could be a must-see film for you.

Crash (***½)

Posted on July 1st, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Crash is set in current-day Los Angeles and uses a series of entertwined vignettes to illustrate how all of us are driven by our prejudices, preconceptions, misconceptions, and bigotry. The film is not preachy but instead lets us see all sides of each conflict, all viewpoints in each argument, and to understand that each perspective is not only based on emotion and dogma, but is also based, on some degree, on truth. Harsh truths, but truths nonetheless. Car thieves are more likely to be black, modern-day slaves are more likely to be Asian, overt bigots are more likely to be white, and virtually nobody in the US could tell the difference (or even care that there is a difference) between “Arabs” and Iranians.

The film is based on a very strong script, excellent direction, and bravura performances by the ensemble cast. Matt Dillon is first among equals as cop who…well…just see the movie. Also look for strong performances from Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, Terrence Howard, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillippe and Thandie Newton. Each of them also gives a strong performance and contributes to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. There’s even a shockingly good cameo by Tony Danza (yes, *that* Tony Danza).

The character’s lives impact each other in ways that are a bit too closely knit to represent reality, but the quality of the script and story are such that it is easy to suspend one’s disbelief and simply accept that there are some implausible things happening on the screen, but for a good cause.

The story itself is gripping and entertaining, nothwithstanding the message, and the message is also clear and strong. We can’t all really know each other, so we have to judge each other on appearances, and even though those judgements may be rooted in fact, they are not always right nor fair, but neither are they always wrong or unfair. Some message, huh? It actually is a strong message, because in modern day America we’re not longer allowed to discuss racial issues in an open forum, because any acknowledgement that there are any differences between the races is tantamount to pulling a white hood over your head. But the truth is that there are differences, and some of those differences manifest themselves as conflict, while other manifest themselves as savory spices in the American melting pot.

In Crash, writer/director Paul Haggis has dragged raciality and racism out into the light for all of us to see, and seeing things clearly can only help make them understandable. And that’s what we need…more understanding. Understanding enough to acknowledge and tolerate our differences, while also acknowledging that we’re all Americans and we’re all in it together, so we might as well all get along.