Sunday, June 18, 2006

Irresistible "Nacho"

Let's get one thing straight: if you weren't a fan of "Napoleon Dynamite" and its quirky, pointless, and warped sense of humor, you probably won't find much of value in "Nacho Libre." Still, it's hard for me to imagine anyone not being able to crack a smile--guilty or otherwise--at the sight of Jack Black in stretchy pants.

Like with "Napoleon," the story is really superfluous, and that is probably the biggest drawback for the movie. Nacho (Jack Black) dreams of being a lucha-libre wrestler, but knows that it is a sin (seeing as how he's a monk). He also pines for the beautiful new nun, Incarnacion, that has joined the orphanage where he serves. So it only kinda makes sense when Nacho decides to start wrestling in order to buy better food for the orphans--is he doing it for himself or for the orphans? For Incarnacion? It's never really clear, even in the end, but you cheer for him anyway.

Nacho's Mexican sidekick, Esqueleto (skeleton), is hilarious. He's obsessed with corn-on-the-cob and flip-flops (a winning combination in my book), and screams like a little girl everytime he gets in the ring. He's the Pedro to Nacho's Napoleon, and makes for a worthy companion to the warmhearted monk, both in and out of the ring.

But Jack Black is really the star here, and gives his best performance since "School of Rock." Both films showcase a semi-selfish dreamer with a love for children who aims high and almost reaches those heights. The role, again, is underwritten, leaving Black to improvise a bit as to his character's mannerisms and motivations, but he's always humorous, and likable enough to carry the film on his caped shoulders. Black has the most expressive eyebrows in film today, and he uses them to his advantage; just thinking about him talking about the "nitty gritty" with his wacky brows gives me the giggles.

Make no mistake, Jared Hess (the director of "Napoleon") probably lingers on Jack Black's curvy frame more that is necessary; it's a joke that makes you giggle until about 2/3 through the movie, when you start hoping for a bit more substance. Consequently, "Nacho Libre" won't change your life. But it will make you smile, so long as you check your intellect and maturity at the door. (*** out of four)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Summer Box Office Update & "X-Men" Review

I'm no expert, but I'm proud that at least a few of my box office predictions are coming true:
  • While "The Da Vinci Code" is raking it in internationally, it will probably end up in the $200-230 million range domestically, meaning that it's almost a certainty that "X-Men," "Superman Returns," and "Pirates 2" will beat it as the biggest movie of the summer. Some were predicting "Code" to be the big winner...not me.
  • OK, so my numbers were way off with "M:i:III" and "Poseidon"--the former is a disappointment with about $125 million so far, and the latter is an expensive bomb, with only just over $50 million. Since both of them are believed to have cost upwards of $160 million a piece, the studios had better pray that audiences rediscover the two cruises (Tom and sunken) on DVD. I did predict that the two would underperform, but I couldn't have guessed that they would be doing as poorly as they are.
  • Some had predicted "Over the Hedge" to be huge. While it has been successful so far, it will never reach $200 million. Again, I think my vague prediction was correct here.
  • Even though early numbers for "Cars" will be out tomorrow, I'm publicly guessing again that this movie will underperform. Most websites are predicting that it will have a $70 million weekend. I'm putting it in the $50 million range. I may have to eat my hat on Monday...
  • One more change to my predictions: I left "Nacho Libre" off the list of possible hits. It opens up next week against stiff competition from Keanu Reeves (who is always stiff) and Sandra Bullock (in "The Lake House"), and the latest direct-to-DVD-movie-that-somehow-made-it-to-theaters sequels to "Garfield" and "The Fast and the Furious." I think Jack Black and his spandex-covered crack will enhance the rich heritage of Mexican lucha-wrestling.

Either way, you can always check your favorite movie's financial progress at

Here's the thing about "X-Men: The Last Stand": I don't believe for a second that we've seen the "last" of these guys as the studio is saying. For one, there's a Wolverine movie in the works (with Hugh Jackman), as well as a possible Magneto prequel. But don't forget the big "reveals" at the end (and very end) of the movie, which seem to set up another go around with the X-Men themselves. So unless the movie stops making money today (it won't), I doubt we've seen the last of these mutants.

Now on to my thoughts about the movie itself: From the get-go, I think the film lacks the polish and depth that former director, Bryan Singer (who left this project for "Superman Returns"), brought to the previous two movies. "X2" in particular remains one of the best comic-book movies ever, right up there with the "Spider-man" movies. So the new director, Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour"), already had his work cut out for him. The good news is that he doesn't botch the job completely; "X-Men: The Last Stand" is fast-paced and fun.

Let's start with the good: the look from the first two movies remains. Oh, the actors have aged a bit (it's never disclosed how much time has passed since "X2"), and they have new haircuts (superheroes have to look good, you know), but they live in the same sets and drive the same jet. It's nice to see the whole cast back, even if some of our favorites don't get the time they deserve. The special effects, overall, are impressive, even though some of them looked like they could have used some more polishing. The action scenes are thrilling and some of the dialogue (some of the dialogue) is clever enough to evoke a smile. And the story itself is intricate enough to keep us interested.

Now the bad: Some of the dialogue is embarrassing--a few of the comebacks are dreadful. The movie almost has too much going on; there are at least enough stories in this movie to have stretched into more sequels (or at least a longer movie). As a result, all are underdeveloped. Who is this kid that is "the cure"? How do they extract the cure from him? What's the deal with this "angel" character (who has like two scenes)? And for crying out loud, couldn't we have learned more about Jean Grey? All we get is a few loud sequences and lots of sad staring, but few answers to her character's transformation. In fact, the characters in general get the shaft, and have to take backseat to the overly-busy story. Only Magneto and possibly Wolverine get much by way of character-development.

Oh well. The good outweighs the bad, bottom line. It's not the kind of movie that a newcomer to the franchise will enjoy, since most of the layers were developed in previous movies and only hinted at here. But it does provide at least some resolution to a few of the ongoing struggles from the other films. And again, the final two scenes (including one after the credits--why do they do that?) are ambiguous enough to whet your appetite for "X-Men: The Lastest Stand." Can't wait! (*** out of four)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Don't Pass this "Stone"

Wendy and I somewhat skeptically rented "The Family Stone" on Saturday, worried that it might either be dirty or boring or both. And while it had a few bits of "colorful" dialogue, it was also surprisingly engaging and entertaining. Here's Wendy's take: "It made me laugh and cry, all in a matter of moments." Here's my take: it was surprisingly funny, but also had a heavier (more dramatic) tone to it than you would expect from the movie's whimsical trailers. I only include that to mention that it is a little heartier a movie than you might expect.

The movie has a dream cast, including Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes, and some men too. All of them are surprising and charming and funny. My favorites were Luke Wilson (as the slacker brother with a big heart) and Rachel McAdams (taking a surprising supporting role as a frumpy, snotty sister). Parker and Keaton also had their moments, but didn't really get to share any great scenes together.

The basic premise of the movie is fairly pedestrian: the oldest Stone son (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his uptight almost-fiance (Parker) to meet the family for Christmas. The Stone family is, of course, very liberal and open--affectionate, emotional, loud, etc., and isn't too thrilled about the new would-be addition to their tight-knit group. Over the course of about two days, there are lots of comical fights, uncomfortable conversations, and family secrets revealed (though none of them of the "skeletons in the closet" variety). And by the end, everyone ends up exactly where you hope they will. Predictable, but not offensively so.

Though the Stone family is more liberal on social issues than I would be, happily the movie is almost more about showing how liberals can be just as stuffy and closed-minded as conservatives, so I never felt like I was being pandered to. The most refreshing thing about the Stones was how much they all loved each other, despite their quirks and foibles. It has some tear-jerker moments, but never becomes depressing or melodramatic. It's not perfect, but it is worth the few dollars for the rental. In the end, it's a feel-good movie, and sometimes that's just what you need on a Saturday night. (***1/2 out of four)