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1982

May 28, 2004
HBO
92 minutes
USA
English

See It Or Be It -- THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN.

I remember sneaking into the theater as a teenager to watch what I hoped would be a life-changing experience. It was R-rated and held the promise of naked girls. I remember being bored even then. I also remember how FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH opened within weeks of this one and how that became my watershed film while LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN became nothing more than my first exposure to U2.

Spoilers follow, but in this case it may actually improve your viewing experience.

This film is terrible, don't let the revisionist reviews online fool you. Its one saving grace, if you can call it that, is that the final 60 seconds before the credits are different than every other film of this ilk. More truthful and honest. More depressing, and therefore lifelike. And the final sixty seconds may have the only above-average acting of the main three leads in the whole film.

There are four major characters.

The nerd guy, Gary, who looks like a poor man's Ralph Macchio, always has a strange for its era Sha Na Na hairstyle. When viewed through 2004 eyes, he appears to be at the very least, metrosexual, if not completely favoring the boy team. His tight jeans are pulled up, his silky t-shirt is tight. His mouth never opens more than a few millimeters, even when yelling--he must have taken the Bruce Springsteen course in speaking without opening your mouth. After checking his bio, I should have seen him in ER and other well-thought-of television, but I can't recall ever seeing his face again.

The cool guy, Rick, at one point wears a tight pink tanktop. Which he somehow pulls off. This guy was in the Goonies and now does script work. His bleached hair and suave attitude, make him the official film dickhead.

The final member of the threesome is David, who is the official fat guy of the group. Setting him apart from all the other fat guy friends in movies is that he acts as if he's normally sized. He strips in front of people, pushes to the front of the line when sex is offered, and is just as cocky as any other teenager.

The femme fatale, I'm told, was in BETTER OFF DEAD, playing the foreign exchange student. Despite her bushy eyebrows and dead-ringer-for-Ann-Wilson-of-Heart haircut, she really is quite pretty. Too bad her line delivery had me checking to see if she had fallen asleep during filming. In her favor is the fact that she is just as one-dimensional as all the boys are in the story.

Nerd delivers pizza in company station wagon. Sees new girl, falls in love, new girl likes cute guy instead, fat guy tries to get all three boys laid. Cute boy impregnates cute girl, nerd sells and steals and borrows to pay for her abortion, confesses love for cute girl, walks in on cute girl and cute boy kissing as if nothing had happened.

Highlights:

--Fellas, raise your hand if you grew up in the 80s, like I did. Now remember how you were constantly hanging out in a locker room, whipping up a hard-on and then getting in line where two of your buddies would measure each boy and declare who had the biggest tool? Me neither. That scene, while brave to film, was wrong in so many ways, it's hard to know where to start. This has never happened. 16-year-old boys, surprised that they have pubic hair growing, and coming up with new and interesting ways to avoid showering in front of people, would never get themselves excited and stand in line in their BVDs to be judged by classmates.

--The music was great. Seriously. Head and shoulders above FAST TIMES. With the exception of Sammy Hagar's title track in FAST TIMES, a song he copied from his own title track in HEAVY METAL. We get Oingo, U2, Journey, Lionel Ritchie, and who can forget the haunting words "I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough..."? I WILL FOLLOW is juxtaposed with a clinical abortion scene is some weird subconscious dig at Irish abortion laws. Or maybe it made a good montage score.

--The three boys have unprotected sex with a hooker. Check that off the list when they do the inevitable remake. You simply can't do that kind of scene unless there is some sort of cosmic payback. Catching crabs, which the boys do, is probably the most harmless result that could have happened to them after banging a slut in a basement somewhere. Oh, how cute, they got crabs.

--In other scenes that couldn't be filmed today, Nerd guy realizes that cute guy is making headway with cute girl so he picks up a full bottle of Jack Daniels at a house party. I want to stop there. He's 16, he goes to someone's parents' house for a party, he arrives late, he finds a full bottle of Jack sitting on the refreshment table. Do you remember how much work and money it used to take to get bottles of booze as a teen? Shoulder-tapping, overpaying a college friend, spending 40 bucks that didn't come easy. But it's just laying there. No one is collecting money. No one is jealously guarding their booze stash. Anyway, he gets good and drunk, creating a scene that is so badly acted that you wonder if the guy had ever had a drink in real life. So we know he's messed up, and after the fat guy falls in a pool (see teen comedy moment number 7), he walks drunk guy to the car where he insists that he drive himself home. Nerd can barely stand, but no one raises an eyebrow about his driving a station wagon (the Hummer of its day) home while drunk.

--an almost-as-cute-as-cute-girl all but throws herself at nerd, but he continues to pine for most-cute-girl, even though she barely gives him the time of day.

--nerd guy challenges cute guy to fight in library.

--nerd guy opens his heart to cute girl after abortion, nurses her back to health, going so far as to pull her t-shirt down, when she falls asleep with it riding up her chest. He cooks her breakfast, they kiss, he's in love.

--nerd guy, after coming up with $250 for her abortion, miraculously finds $80 more in his pocket to buy her a gold heart for her birthday.

Just not a good movie. There are a couple of redeeming qualities. The music. And there are scenes of dances where you simply cannot believe what the kids are wearing. And then you think back. I had acid washed jeans with a white tank top under a pink paisley fleece shirt. Who am I to talk. There is one guy who is actually wearing one of those red plastic Devo hats. All the white kids (and they are all white, except the glimpse of a black guy in the library), do the hopping on one foot dance made popular by Belinda and Sting. Every third kid has a headband on. Good as a time-capsule.

**^ Maltin: "Formula teen comedy-drama (derived from one of Cannon's Israeli-made LEMON POPSICLE films) works thanks to attractive and talented young cast. Monoson has the title role, with pals Antin and Rubbo trying desperately to find a willing girlfriend. Moritz is very funny as the stereotyped Latin bombshell."

Time Out: "Accompanied by a mediocre music score (Commodores, Cars, Blondie, etc), three moronic youths are herded through puberty and the dreary rites of passage all too familiar from endless similar films (comparing pricks, humping hookers, necking in the back of borrowed cars, spying on girls in the shower). The viewpoint is predictably phallic: fear/contempt of the female festers like a squeezed pimple; an abortion is shown more lasciviously than any sex. PUBERTY BLUES and PORKY'S look positively progressive beside such sickening junk."


5 comments




2004



May 19, 2004
Camera 3
USA
English
96 minutes

A FILM OF EPIC PROPORTIONS -- SUPERSIZE ME.

Funny story of a guy who decides to eat nothing but McDonald's for 30 days. It affects his health just as you'd expect. The hype around this film is so strong that no movie could live up to it. But a few things stand out in my mind.

It really is funny that his girlfriend is a vegan chef. She is much more understanding than other vegans I've known. She is also completely open about how his new diet has impacted their sex lives.

I know a little something about gastric bypass surgery and we get to see quick shots of the 30 minute procedure that one guy goes through. We also see his "after" photo.

He doesn't blame any particular segment of the corporate world for America's obesity. He is mostly just reporting on it. His calls to McDonald's for an interview go shockingly unanswered.

The stuff about a child's exposure to bad food commercials is really the scary part. Even a perfect parent would be hard-pressed to defeat the rapid-fire commercials that kids love. Junk food is on tv, its in the schools, its what other kids eat.

His final plea to McDonald's isn't to close up shop. It's just to offer other alternatives on the menu. But would anyone choose them?

*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
**** EW


0 comments




RENE'S STORY
2004









May 18, 2004
Showtime
English
77 minutes
Directed by Josh Aronson (Sound And Fury)

Imagine waking up each day and seeing that you had a mermaid's tail instead of the legs that you thought you'd wake up with. That is sort of the thing that Rene goes through each morning when he wakes up with a vagina instead of a penis. This documentary looks at Rene, who was born a girl, but rejected his biology as soon as he was conscious of it. He didn't want to ever wear a shirt, he cut his hair short. He began taping his budding breasts down in High School. His mother was dead-set against the deception and with the help of her son, pulled off Rene's shirt in front of a high school girlfriend to prove Rene's femaleness. So sad. As a reassignment surgeon states late in the film, "Rene was born a male, but with a bad birth defect" which was his sexual organs. Rene is nothing if not brave, letting us in on his entire ordeal, in shockingly intimate detail. I realize I'm using the "male" pronoun as I believe you are what you feel, not what you biologically are. But if there is one person more brave, it is Rene's wife of 12 years, Wona.

This young woman is bright, understanding, incredibly beautiful, but almost shockingly naive. They met when she was 16 or so, before she could have any serious sexual contact with a biological male. So as Wona and Rene took their relationship to deeper and deeper levels, she didn't know any better. Rene claims several times that he's never been fully naked in front of anyone in his life. This claim makes our quick glimpse of him in all his naked glory all the more remarkable. His poor wife, who under California law is not his actual wife as they are both female, is thrust into the limelight of being a spokesperson for the transgender community without her consent.

Things were going along pretty well until their church all but screamed from the rafters that Rene had ovaries. They were kicked out of the church even though they were both active believers. They are still not over it.

I've seen a lot of documentaries like this, but never have I believed more fully that a person was born with the wrong equipment. Rene is such an outspoken lunkhead, that he must internally be a male. He is a homophobe, which is strange because pre-surgery he was a female looking to screw other females. The language is frank, we learn about strap ons and orgasms. During a particularly bad period for the couple, an attractive male friend of the wife's apparently had some form of sexual contact with her. She is so curious as to how "normal" couples have sex that she couldn't resist him. Who could blame her. She claims to be in love with Rene as a person, but imagine how curious she must be as to how a penis works, having never seen one.

Rene is made more compelling because he is such a dickhead. I mean seriously. It's like he read the Book of Male Stereotypes and tried to follow each one. As I mentioned, he's a homophobe. He puts this aside when he realizes that he needs the gay community as they are the only ones accepting of his situation. He inspects men in the locker room to sort of window shop his different penis options for when he has surgery. He keeps talking to people about the huge dick he will someday have and how he'll be just like every other guy when he's fucking his wife. He is led to believe by someone that he can have a large unit that experiences pleasure just like a biological male. This is something I knew not to be true, but watching him come to the realization was compelling. Rene tries out as a Chippendale's dancer, but he doesn't have the body for it. He has the typical fat distribution of a female, no matter how much he works out. He swears a lot, he dominates his poor wife, he brags about himself, he even drives a semi-truck as a job. He constantly wears tank tops from his gym, he spars with boxers.

If you believe, as I do, that sexuality is on a continuum and not an either/or proposition, then Rene shows complete proof of this. He is angry in every frame of this film. I don't remember ever seeing him smile. He is as much on the male, homophobe side of the continuum as a gay-basher. But he has a vagina. His anger is palpable. He's like a tasmanian devil. It is both humorous and sad to see him, at barely five feet tall, boxing his amazonian-in-comparison wife, trying to assert his manliness. God has played a trick on him. He is pissed about it.

He is someone that I wouldn't want to spend ten minutes with. But this makes the film much, much better. Heroic documentary subjects are a dime a dozen. But this one is flawed. It makes him just another guy, except for that whole having a vagina thing. He is something of an asshole. But who could blame him. He's a macho man without a penis. Imagine the frustration.

But more than being a dickhead, he is extremely brave to let us into his world. I'm afraid that he will be disappointed beyond belief when his reassignment surgery is completed. He will never be the huge-penis man he has always dreamed of. But then again, none of us are.

He is so devoted to maleness that he actually says that if he dies on the operating table, while having his penis attached, his family should know that he died while finally happy. It would have been worth it. He simply cannot have any kind of personal satisfaction without a penis.

Well done and explicit. I've always been interested in people who are born in the wrong body. Finally a film shows us in intimate biological detail what the surgeons are up against when performing the operations.


0 comments




2002

May 18, 2004
HBO
UK / USA / France
English
113 minutes

THE DAYS ARE NUMBERED -- 28 DAYS LATER.

Very well done scary movie about a blood virus that has seemed to infect the entire island of Great Britain. A guy wakes up and the hospital, neighborhood, and eventually the countryside are all empty of people, save for a few survivors. The infected people are scary. The story is tense. The way people react seems realistic. It had some good frights.

*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
7.5 Critical Consensus


0 comments




2004

May 16, 2004
Camera 7
USA
English
163 minutes

FOR HONOR -- TROY.

The official I'm-not-gay-but-that-Brad-Pitt-sure-is-a-good-looking-guy film. Pitt is golden and buffed and naked half the time as he battles against the armies of Troy so that he can be remembered. The fight scenes are pretty cool. The thousand ships sailing to get Helen back are pretty cool. The boys are hot, the girls are hot, Saffron Burroughs is there, Julie Christie is even there. It was fun for a summer film. Probably too "educational" for a lot of summer movie fans.

** Ebert
**^ Berardinelli


0 comments




2003

May 16, 2004
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English

Directed by Billy Hays, the guy who spent time in a Turkish prison and whose life was made into MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. Story of two best friends, one of whom is a small-time crook, the other is an up and coming boxer. Looks at the fine line between male sports and homosexuality. But looks at it in a ridiculous way. The boxer may or may not become erect when clinching another boxer in the ring. The best friend may or may not be sexually attracted to his best friend.

The low budget of the film is seen in every frame. Someday someone will make a film that deals with this same issue, but do it in a much better way.


0 comments




2002

May 8, 2004
HBO
USA
English
87 Minutes

DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME -- JACKASS: THE MOVIE.

I have never seen the show. I don't know the people, except when they appear on Howard to staple their scrotums or something. I have to confess that I laughed at the stupider stunts and couldn't really turn my head from the more gross ones. I am no fan of body fluid, and this movie had way too much of it. But I found myself laughing mostly at the stunts that these guys did. I remember growing up and thinking about doing the same things. If I had had a golf cart and a minigolf course that needed demolishing, I may have driven through it and jumped over the oversized animal characters also. My favorite stunts were the easy stupid ones. I keep thinking about the guy jumping off a trampoline, through a ceiling fan, onto a table. That was my favorite. Good job scaring the Japanese people.

3.8 Critical Consensus


0 comments




2000

May 7, 2004
HBO
USA
English

One of those documentaries where you just shake your head over and over. The filmmaker begins the movie with a voiceover that says something like "My cousin and I didn't know we weren't supposed to have sex with each other." This is the story of a single man and his incredibly detrimental effect on three generations and maybe 20 different people men and women. All evidence points to him being a sexual predator and perhaps, even a murderer. As the story goes on, you think it's bad enough, and then Melvin makes an even more diabolical move, and you can't believe anyone is so evil. The way that all of the filmmaker's cousins talk about sexual abuse so matter-of-factly is stunning. Even though the actual abuse had stopped several years ago, just about everyone was still deeply affected. Suicide attempts, alcoholism, psychosis, all results of one man and his urges.

Simply stunning. Not uplifting in the least.


0 comments




SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING
2003








May 5, 2004
Camera 3
South Korea / Germany
Korean

Sort of like doing meditation in a movie theater with other people. Hypnotic and slow moving. Perhaps too slow for many. We watch a boy grow into an old man in stories divided by the seasons. We see the clash between modern life and the life of a monk in Korea. Maybe the most zen film I've ever seen. What could be more zen than a temple that floats on water as it moves around an isolated lake in the mountains. They are at the mercy of the tides and the ice schedule and the wind. They need a boat to go ashore to pick herbs or to pick up ill patients who visit them for healing. Beautiful to look at, with an absolute minimum of dialogue.

***^ Berardinelli


0 comments




2002

May 2, 2004
HBO
USA / Japan
English

Before You Die, You See The Ring -- THE RING.

Pretty scary for PG-13. I looked through my fingers for a couple of scenes. The idea is pretty cool. If you watch the videotape, you die exactly seven days later. This gives a reporter (Watts) a week to solve her own future murder. Good use of Washington State locations.

5.3 Critical Consensus
** Ebert
** Berardinelli


0 comments