Misfits save the world in “The Watch”

Well, if Will Smith is not available to assume his persona of Capt.
Steven Hiller or Agent J to put down misbehavin’ aliens, you can
always call the neighborhood watch. But if the watch squad consists
of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, you might be better off
packing up and fleeing.

The premise of “The Watch,” penned by the “Pineapple Express” duo of
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (also co-writing was Jared Stern whose
previous effort was “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”) is that a nice town in
Ohio is being covertly overtaken by aliens and it is up to a bumbling
foursome of self-appointed neighborhood watch commandos to thwart an
invasion.

The result is yet another raunchy comedy that has some funny moments
that will stand out while the rest of the movie will be forgotten.

The strength of “The Watch” is in the casting, as Stiller, Vaughn
and Hill step into roles they have done before. Stiller once again
plays the straight man, a decent, generally even-tempered guy thrown
into absurd situations in which he has to be a leader, with a bunch
of misfit followers. In this movie he portrays Evan, a happily
married man who has worked his way up the management ladder at the
local Costco. When a security guard at the store is killed in the
most hideous way, Evan is galvanized to start up a neighborhood watch
program and accomplish something the local police seem incapable of
– catching the killer.

Evan’s recruiting efforts only attract three people. Vaughn does
another variation on his borderline lunatic characters, playing Bob,
an energetic guy trying to straddle a line between being a
responsible parent and an aging partier.

Then there is Hill as Franklin, the grown-up kid. Much like his
character Cyrus in the movie of the same name, his Franklin still
lives at home with his mother. This character also borrows traits
from Rogen’s “Observe and Report,” wherein Rogen’s Ronnie in that
movie was a law enforcement hotshot wannabe still too dependent on
his mother. Hill does add an edginess, always fingering a
switchblade, displaying a volatile temperament and a pathological
inability to keep his hands off Evan’s wife.

The fourth in this crew is Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), looking like
he just dropped in from a “Revenge of the Nerds” movie. He seems to
be a gentle soul but with a wicked set of fantasies.

Evan tries to be the thread that holds this goofy group together,
but it is Bob with his beer-drinking, let’s-have-fun attitude that
proves to be the soul of this quartet, especially when they get hold
of an alien contraption that can blow things up, leading these guys
to go on a spree of destruction.

Soon they discover that the murder of the security guard was the
work of aliens and with the sarcastic Sgt. Bressman (Will Forte)
blowing off the claims of an imminent invasion, it is up to Evan and
company to save not only their hometown, but the world as well.

There are some subplots functioning only as padding to get this movie
up to at least 100 minutes in length. One involves
Bob’s dealings with his rebellious daughter Chelsea (Erin Moriarty).
Another centers on Evan’s love life with his wife Abby (Rosemarie
DeWitt, her talents mostly wasted here). Billy Crudup does an uncredited turn as
Paul, Evan’s creepy neighbor who may be an alien but whose character
turns out to be inconsequential.

The humor is definitely adult oriented, with touches of sweetness
injected here and there. “The Watch” is lifted by the work of
Stiller, Vaughn and Hill, who fit comfortably into their roles. Rogen
and Goldberg did more memorable work with “Pineapple Express,” but
“The Watch” is a competent enough diversion from the summer
blockbusters.

Birthdays in August: Affleck Brothers, FBI’s Mulder AND Scully,
DeNiro, Hoffman, Redford and more.

Ben Affleck hits the big 4-0 in August, celebrating it on Aug. 15.
Meanwhile, “baby” brother Casey will turn 37 on Aug. 12. Also turning
40: Angie Harmon, aka Det. Jane Rizzoli, and Cameron Diaz

BIRTHDAY MILESTONES
20: Demi Lovato
30: LeAnn Rimes
40: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Geri Halliwell, Angie Harmon, Chris
Tucker
50: Steve Carell, Rebecca DeMornay, John Slattery
60: Pee Wee Herman
70: Giancarlo Giannini
80: Peter O’Toole, Mel Tillis

Birthdays: Amy Adams (8-20) 38, Ben Affleck (8-15) 40, Casey Affleck (8-12) 37,
Joan Allen (8-20) 56, Gillian Anderson (8-9) 44, Ian Anderson (8-10)
65, Loni Anderson (8-5) 66, Anne Archer (8-25) 65, Rosanna Arquette
(8-10) 53, Elizabeth Ashley (8-30) 73, Richard Attenborough (8-29)
89, Eric Bana (8-9) 44, Antonio Banderas (8-10) 52, Angela Bassett
(8-16) 54, Catherine Bell (8-14) 44, Richard Belzer (8-4) 68, Tony
Bennett (8-3) 86, Halle Berry (8-14) 46, Rachel Bilson (8-25) 31,
Tempet Bledsoe (8-1) 39, Ann Blyth (8-16) 84, Timothy Bottoms (8-30)
61,Sarah Brightman (8-14) 52, Ty Burrell (8-22) 45, Tim Burton (8-25)
54.

James Cameron (8-16) 58, Steve Carell (816) 50, Vanessa Carlton
(8-16) 32, Eric Carmen (8-11) 63, Kim Cattrall (8-21) 56, Dave
Chappelle (8-24) 39, Michael Chiklis (8-30) 49, Sean Connery (8-25)
82, Mike Connors (8-15) 87,Elvis Costell (8-25) 58, David Crosby
(8-14) 71,Macaulay Culkin (8-26) 32, Billy Ray Cyrus (8-25) 51,
Arlene Dahl (8-11) 84, Viola Davis (8-11) 47, Rebecca DeMornay (8-29)
50, Robert DeNiro (8-17) 69, Cameron Diaz (8-30) 40, Kevin Dillon
(8-19) 47, David Duchovny (8-7) 52, Barbara Eden (8-23) 78, Sam
Elliott (8-9) 68.

William Friedkin (8-29) 73, Stephen Fry (8-24) 55, Peter Gallagher
(8-19) 57, Richard Gere (8-31) 63, Giancarlo Giannini (8-1) 70,
Deborah Gibson (8-31) 42, Frank Gifford (8-16) 82, Cathy Lee Gifford
(8-16) 59, Anita Gillette (8-16) 76, John Glover (8-7) 68, Eydie
Gorme (8-16) 81, Elliott Gould (8-29) 74, Bruce Greenwood (8-12) 56,
Melanie Griffith (8-9) 55, Steve Guttenberg (8-24) 54, Monty Hall
(8-25) 91, Geri Halliwell (8-6) 40, George Hamilton (8-12) 73, Marcia
Gay Harden, (8-14) 54, Dorian Harewood (8-6) 62, Angie Harmon (8-10)
40, Tess Harper (8-15) 62, Valerie Harper (8-22) 72, Pat Harrington
(8-13) 83, Chris Hemsworth (8-11) 29, Pee Wee Herman (8-27) 60,
Catherine Hicks (8-6) 61, Dustin Hoffman (8-8) 75, Geoffrey Holder
(8-1) 82, Timothy Hutton (8-16) 52, Laura Innes (8-16) 53, Wayne
Knight (8-7) 57, Mila Kunis (8-14) 29, John Landis (8-3), 62,
Jennifer Lawrence (8-15) 22, Denis Leary (8-18) 55, Shelley Long
(8-23) 63, Demi Lovato (8-20) 20.

Madonna (8-16) 54, Aimee Mann (8-9) 52, Steve Martin (8-14) 67,
Marlee Matlin (8-24) 47, Debi Mazur (8-13), 48, Melissa McCarthy
(8-26) 42, Gerald McRaney (8-19) 65, Sam Mendes (8-1) 47, Debra
Messing (8-15) 44, Lea Michele (8-29) 26, Vera Miles (8-23) 83, Van
Morrison (8-31) 67, Carrie-Ann Moss (8-21) 45, Diana Maldaur (8-19)
74, Martin Mull (8-18) 69, Edward Norton (8-18) 43, Maureen O’Hara
(8-17) 91, Peter O’Toole (8-2) 80, Debra Paget (8-19), 79, Hayden
Panettiere (8-21) 23, Sean Penn (8-17) 52, Matthew Perry (8-19) 43,
Nehemian Persoff (8-2) 92 or 93 (different years from different
sources), Regis Philbin (8-25) 81, Robert Plant (8-20) 64, Roman
Polanski (8-18) 79, Jason Priestly ((8-28) 43.

Sara Ramirez (8-31 37, Robert Redford (8-18) 76, Joe Regalbuto (8-24)
63, LeAnn Rimes (8-28) 30, Rose Marie (8-15) 89, Susan St. James
(8-14) 66, Jill St. John (8-19) 72, Andy Samberg (8-18) 34, Emma Sams
(8-28) 52, John Saxon (8-5) 77, Claudia Schiffer (8-25) 42, Kyra
Sedgwick (8-19) 47, Martin Sheen (8-3) 72, M. Night Shyamalan (8-6)
42, Jonathan Silverman (8-5) 46, Gene Simmons (8-25) 63, Tom Skerritt
(8-25) 79, Christian Slater (8-18) 43, John Slattery (8-13) 50, Erika
Slezak (8-5) 66, Kevin Smith (8-2) 42, David Soul (8-28) 69, Rick
Springfield (8-23) 63, John Stamos (8-19) 49, Daniel Stern (8-28) 55,
Connie Stevens (8-8) 74, Madeline Stowe (8-18) 54, Audrey Tautou
(8-9) 34, Charlize Theron (8-7) 37, Jack Thompson (8-31) 72, Mel
Tillis (8-8) 80, Chris Tucker (8-31) 40, Shania Twain (8-28) 47.

Blair Underwood (8-25) 48, Alexa Vega (8-27) 24, Malcolm-Jamal Warner
(8-18) 42, Lesley Ann Warren (8-16) 66, Isaiah Washington (8-3) 49,
Peter Weir (8-21) 68, Tuesday Weld (8-27) 69, Joanne Whatley (8-25)
48, Kristen Wiig (8-22) 39, Cindy Williams (8-22) 65, Esther Williams
(8-8) 91, Chandra Williams (8-27) 43, Alicia Witt (8-21) 37, Sam
Worthington (8-2) 36.

Villains over the years — good and bad, but mostly bad

For three and a half decades, the summer blockbuster season has been
a tradition in the movie world. It has also become the flourishing
time for various villains — human and otherwise. Sometimes a
notorious bad guy will sneak into theaters in the fall, spring or
winter, like the granddaddy of evil, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who was
portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar-winning
performance, in the February 1991 release of “Silence of the Lambs.”
But mostly, summer is the domain of characters who are a pain for
society in more ways than one.
Here are some of my favorites over the
years, broken down by categories.

BEASTS
The shark (“Jaws”). This fish has lurked in our fears since 1975. An
animal that is not driven by other than instincts has no conscience
thus does not care what it kills. As Matt Hooper says, all it does is
eat and swim and make little sharks. And if a human just happens to
be around at mealtime, well that’s the breaks.

The Wolfen (“Wolfen”). A mostly unseen movie in 1981 that had the
strange casting of the obviously British Albert Finney as a New York
detective, this film was based on Whitley Strieber’s novel about a
super species of wolves that went underground when urban sprawl cut
into their territory. They fed off the Big Apple’s forgotten — the
homeless, the addicts. Only the local Native Americans knew what
these animals were up to — and they certainly were not going to
disturb them.

Stripe (“Gremlins”). OK, the Mogwai were cute. But don’t feed them
after midnight. If you do they become the gremlins. Yeah, they can
kill, but they also know how to party. Stripe was the leader and he
was resourceful — knew how to use a gun, an automatic pitching
machine and a chain saw. But his sensitive skin could not endure the
sun, which was a fatal weakness Gizmo exploited.

Snakes (“Snakes on a Plane”). Well, the anaconda in the 1997 film of
the same name, was the ultimate slitherer, but for sheer numbers, you
cannot deny the amount of snakes set loose on this airliner was
enough to lead to a real bummer trip. Where can you go? Emergency
exit at 30,000 feet? Those with a snake phobia should never watch
this movie.

PURE EVIL (THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT and OTHER SPIRITUAL MISFIRES)
Damien Thorne (“The Omen,” “The Omen 2″ and “The Final Conflict”).
In the first two movies that detailed the birth and rise of the
Antichrist, Damien has not quite grasped his impact on the world. But
unseen forces spread terror around him. By the time Thorne reaches
adulthood in “The Final Conflict,” he has been indoctrinated on his
task and as portrayed by Sam Neill in the 1982 “Conflict,” he is
sophisticated, charismatic, sexy, powerful and deadly. Perhaps most
chilling is the scene in which he prays to his father, Satan.

Jack Torrance (“The Shining”). Not really a bad guy at first. A
little drinking problem, trouble with writer’s block. But being
cooped up in a hotel all winter with Shelly Duvall and a kid who says
creepy things like “redrum,” and seeing beautiful bathing women turning
into zombie-like senior citizens, could drive anyone batty. At least
once Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance went nutty and took to the axe,
he maintained his sense of humor: “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

OUTER SPACE
Darth Vader (“Star Wars” series). And The Dark Side of the Force.
They tend to go hand in hand. In “Star Wars” episodes four through
six, as the hulking, masked lead henchman for The Emperor and the
massive Empire, Darth rules with an iron fist, sort of, summoning up
Dark Side of the Force powers to do battle with the scrappy rebellion
while obsessively trying to track down Luke Skywalker. His undoing?
Family blood and his original schooling. And as portrayed many times
in pro wrestling, good guys who turn bad eventually revert back to
being good guys.

The Alien (“Alien” series). Perhaps the most frightening creature of
all time. Not only does it rudely incubate itself inside people and
burst out at the most inopportune times — like at dinner — it grows
into a nearly indestructible being that bleeds acid. Unless your name
is Ripley, steer clear of it.

Khan (“Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”). Khan (Ricardo Montalban), a
genetically engineered super human, and his group are exiled as seen
in an episode of the television series. He returns in this, the
second and one of the best, of the movie adaptations of the
immensely successful sci-fi series. Khan manages to escape from his
exile and is obsessed with avenging his misery on Capt. (now Admiral)
James T. Kirk (Williams Shatner). Looking like an aging hippy, Khan
dismisses that upon seizing the Genesis Project he has an ultimate
weapon and continues his rage-energized pursuit of Kirk and The
Enterprise. Bad move. Kirk always prevails in the supposed “no-win”
scenarios.

Kruge (“Star Trek: The Search for Spock”). While we are exploring
the final frontier, we must give a nod to Kruge (Christopher Lloyd).
Hey, the guy is a Klingon. In the pre-Worf days, Klingons were not
nice. This guy had the audacity to kill Kirk’s son, David (Merritt
Butrick). That doomed him.

Alien force (“Independence Day”). As Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) noted,
these invading aliens were just as fragile as humans. But they
possessed the technology to surround themselves with impenetrable
shields that made them a juggernaut. With all that accumulated
knowledge, they forgot to install an anti-virus program in their
master computer. So all it took was a brilliant, underachieving cable
TV technician, David (Jeff Goldblum), to render them vulnerable.

LOUSY PERSONALITIES
Clubber Lang (“Rocky 3″). Mr. T vaulted into the limelight
portraying this heavyweight boxer whose savage punches matched his
surly demeanor. Public relations, sportsmanship — that was for
goodie-goodies like Rocky Balboa. Yeah, he beat a distracted Rocky,
but once The Italian Stallion got back on track, thanks to former
ring foe Apollo Creed and Mrs. Balboa (Adrian), Clubber was done in
the rematch.

INDY’S ADVERSARIES
As Henry Jones Sr. said: “You call this archeology?” Indiana Jones
(Harrison Ford), has had his share of enemies in his pursuits of
antiquities. Belloq (Paul Freeman) as a competitor, financed and
backed by Hitler and the Nazis, keeps Indy from gaining The Ark of
the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Belloq, however, forgot
that you do not trifle with the powers that be. Word was, you don’t
disturb the Ark. He did. And it sort of blew up in his face.
Indy also encountered, in “Temple of Doom,” Mola Ram (Amrish Puri),
a sword-wielding guy way ahead of his time when it came to tattoos,
who also embraced the horrid concept of child labor. He eventually
took one of the great falls in cinematic history and became an
appetizer for alligators (or were they crocodiles?).
In “The Last Crusade,” Indy, now reunited with his father, Henry Sr.
(Sean Connery), is again at odds with the Nazis in getting to The
Holy Grail before they do. Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) is slimy
here as the man who hires Indy to go after the Grail only to betray
him later. Donovan wants to get his hands on the Grail so he can
achieve immortality. But like Belloq, you cannot mess with those
powers. At least Donovan’s age advancement went quickly as he was
fast-forwarded through his golden years.

SUPERHEROES’ OPPOSITES
Zod (Terrence Stamp) and Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) (“Superman II”).
This was an unlikely alliance. Zod, a traitor exiled from Krypton, is
set free by a nuclear blast and finds his way to Earth with a couple
of lieutenants, all of whom have amassed super powers equal to
Superman’s. Luthor, a self-proclaimed brilliant criminal mind is
barely tolerated by Zod — only because he can provide intel on
Superman. Too bad his brilliant criminal mind did not realize the
trap Superman set for Zod and company until it was too late –
although he did try to convince The Man of Steel he knew it all
along. Nice try, Lex.

Dr. Ock (“Spider-Man 2″). Of the villains Peter Parker, aka
Spider-Man has encountered, this guy was the most physically
imposing, with those appendages that could squeeze, slice and dice.

Batman’s foes have been either cartoonish, like Jack Nicholson’s
Joker or Danny DeVito’s Penguin, or truly dark like Heath Ledger’s
Joker. Of all these, Ledger’s Joker is one of the best. To heck with
revenge or greed or seeking power. The Joker just thrives on chaos.
Not only does he have Gotham jittery, he also has upset the crime
syndicates. What a guy.

The latest challenge for the Dark Knight is Bane (spoiler alert).
Muscle-bound, adorning a mask with some sort of mini P.A. system,
Bane (Tom Hardy) is an enigmatic character. Drummed out of the
training program of Ra’s Al Ghul — where Bruce Wayne also was
mentored before becoming Batman — Bane offers a confusing set of
objectives. Mustering an underground army of mercenaries and hiding
out in the sewer system of Gotham, Bane is vexing in that he seems to
be a bringer of financial and social justice to Gotham, yet also appears
to be preparing to blow the city up. Later, when it is revealed he is
in league with another villain who is bent on revenge (the obligatory
plot twist), it takes the edge off his nastiness. An old
mentor-turned-foe Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), whom Batman defeated in
“Batman Returns,” makes a cameo appearance in “Dark Knight Rises” as
a sobering hallucination.

Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko (“Iron Man” series). Obadiah (Jeff
Bridges) betrays playboy/action hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.)
by selling Stark weaponry to insurgents. Bridges gets to ham it up
and don a mechanical suit that makes Stark look like an ant. Spewing
platitudes, Stane talks too much and loses his edge. In the second
episode, Rourke’s Vanko, while physically intimidating with his
jolting whips, was otherwise forgettable.

Red Skull (“Captain America”). Hugo Weaving does the usual crazed,
world-domination seeking madman, Johan Schmidt, who also parades
around as the Red Skull. These guys are so bent on taking over the
world, they never consider micromanaging it will require.

Loki (“The Avengers”). Face it. You take away his magical staff and
his Chitaurian army, and it is easy to reclaim the Tesseract from
him. As the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) displayed graphically, Loki (Tom
Hiddleston) can be thrashed around like a rag doll.

BAD COPS
These guys follow a simple plan. They use their law enforcement
authority to abuse power. Here are some of the best at this in summer
releases:

Little Bill Daggett (“Unforgiven”). Gene Hackman won a Best
Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of this brutal sheriff.
These guys are pretty scary until someone summons the courage to
stand up to them. Good thing Clint Eastwood, older, grizzled but
still determined, was around.

Sheriff Langston and Cobb (“Silverado”). John Cleese adds a
humorous touch as Langston, who pretty much made up the rules as he
went along, including knowing when he is outgunned. “Today my
jurisdiction ends here,” he declares, turning around after one of the
fleeing “criminals” he is chasing shoots off his hat. Cobb (Brian
Dennehy), meanwhile, is not quite so skittish. He is corrupt and he
is sheriff. Bad things can happen in that mix. Dennehy, by the way,
already had a bad cop on his resume, playing Teagle, the sheriff of
the small Northwestern town who abuses Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in
“First Blood.”

CRIMINALS
Al Capone (“The Untouchables”). Robert DeNiro put on weight to play
this role and was chilling in his strutting portrayal of this
gangster. One of the truly brutal scenes in cinema is when he takes a
baseball bat to one of his own people. A nasty way to instill loyalty.

Eric Qualen (“Cliffhanger”). John Lithgow may have earned Academy
Award nominations playing gentle characters, but in “Cliffhanger” his
Eric Qualen is a man without conscience. He masterminds a daring
airborne robbery of U.S. currency, but it goes awry and he has to
enlist the services of mountain climber Gabe Walker (Sylvester
Stallone), a man still grieving over being unable to prevent the
tragic death of his friend’s girlfriend. Qualen has no qualms about
killing his own people to make a point, so Gabe must go along until
he can use his mountain-climbing mastery to outwit the robber.
Lithgow also has played chilling killers in “Blow Out” and the
“Dexter” series.

Howard Payne (“Speed”). An embittered former cop and explosives
specialist, disabled by a mishap, plants a bomb on a bus, and it is
up to Jack Traven of the LAPD to thwart this guy. The late Dennis
Hopper chews up scenery as Payne, a man with an enormous sense of
entitlement. His knowledge of explosives and police tactics make him
particularly dangerous. Funny that he forgot about the strategy of
booby-trapping ransom money.

Ryder (“The Taking of Pelham 123″). A remake of a 1970s classic
crime caper, this one features John Travolta, who always has a grand
time playing bad guys, as the mastermind of the takeover of a subway
in New York. In the original, Robert Shaw was coolly efficient and
deadly as the chief hostage taker. Travolta is more flamboyant. He
matches wits with Denzel Washington, who initially seems over
matched. Hah.

Arjen Rudd (“Lethal Weapon 2″). Long before his inner rages emerged,
Mel Gibson had a pretty good career going, as a director as well as
an actor. He was Mad Max, and later added another memorable
character, the loose cannon L.A. cop Martin Riggs. In the second of
the “Lethal Weapon” series, Riggs and partner Roger Murtaugh (Danny
Glover) match wits with a bunch of South Africans who are exploiting
U.S. relations to engage in criminal activity in Southern California.
The leader of this group is Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland), who
confidently defies any attempts by the cops to shut down his
operation. In the messy finale, after shooting an unarmed Riggs
several times, Rudd flashes his credentials to Murtaugh, claiming
untouchable status by saying “diplomatic immunity.” The gall of this
maneuver actually had me blurting out loud in the theater, “Are you
KIDDING?” It took Murtaugh a couple of seconds to come to a decision.
He puts down Rudd with one shot, adding the declaration, “Just been
revoked.”

MACHINES
T-1000 (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” A stoic Robert Patrick was
excellent as the human-like machine, an assassin dispatched to Earth,
where previous assassin Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) did not
quite complete his mission. T-1000′s boast is that he can regenerate
after being destroyed. That makes him somewhat tenacious.

Decepticons. (“Transformers”). These guys are big and bulky and made
of iron or something. When they transform and go to war with the
heroic Autobots, using planet Earth as the battleground, it dwarfs
Godzilla’s urban renewal of Tokyo.

HORROR VILLAINS
Billy and Stuart (“Scream”). Skeet Ulrich as Billy and an
over-the-top Matthew Lillard as Stuart are a couple of teens who
terrorize a town with their masked slasher murders. Better yet, an
innocent man took the fall for their earlier killing. But when
revenge is a motive, things can slip. Billy blames the mother of his
girlfriend Sidney (Neve Campbell) for the demise of his family and
just goes wild with increasing the body count. This tongue-in-cheek
horror film pokes fun as the slasher genre, and in the end Sidney
gets into the spirit of things — when it is noted that the
supposedly dead killer may spring to life for one final scare, she
puts a bullet in Billy’s brain with the prologue: “Not in my movie.”

Michael Meyers (“Halloween H20″). Usually, these movies are released
in October, but this episode, the third and final one Jamie Lee
Curtis was attached to, came out in the summer of 1998. What can we
say? Michael Meyers seems to die, yet he does not. Even though
Curtis’s Laurie Strode decapitates her killer brother, he somehow
manages to show up for further adventures of a masked killer.

The strangers (“The Strangers”). What is more scary than being
terrorized by people you do not know, and worse, have no idea why
they are engaging in such cruelty? Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are a
young couple holing up in a remote cabin — naturally. When a person
knocks on the door and asks for someone they never have heard of, the
two dismiss it as just some weird encounter. But soon three people,
identified only by physical appearance as Man in the Mask, Dollface
and Pinup Girl, seize control of the cabin. When a distressed Liv
asks why they are doing all this nastiness, they say, well, because
we can.

Esther (“Orphan”). A truly creepy character. Esther (Isabelle
Fuhrman) is adopted by a couple (Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga). She
seems too good to be true. Always neatly dressed. Polite. Cultured.
But she becomes increasingly hard to handle. The revelation that she
actually is a grown but dwarfed woman, is a classic twist. Her
attempt to seduce her adopted father is ever so squirmy.

MOTHER NATURE AND BEYOND
Asteroid (“Armageddon”). Tearing toward Earth, this wayward mass of
rock cannot bend to pleas for compassion. It will go its merry way
until it crashes into something. So a band of misfit drillers, led by
Bruce Willis and featuring a scene-stealing Steve Buscemi, hop aboard
space shuttles to land on the asteroid, drill a hole and drop into it
nuclear device to blow it to smithereens. The stubborn rock unleashes
all sorts of defense mechanisms along the way, but man will prevail.

The perfect storm. So awesome was this act of mother nature, the
movie was named after it. Intense weather fronts are bad enough by
themselves, but when they merge with other disturbances, look out.
This is what fishermen George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly
and William Fichtner find out. The hard way.

The ocean (“Open Water”). Atlantic or Pacific. It’s vast. And when a
young couple go on a skin-diving junket, they are mistakenly left
behind — to bob in the water and wonder if someone will rescue them.
Time passes, and they naturally grow more hysterical as sharks show
up, as thirst and hunger set in. If all that is not bad enough, soon
it gets dark. Just imagine floating in the ocean at night, and try
not to shudder.

CAPTAIN JACK’S ADVERSARIES
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) gets into a lot of trouble in four
“Pirates of the Caribbean” adventures. Friends become former friends
(Barbossa played by Geoffrey Rush); he defaults on loans to a guy,
Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is more harassing than a collection
agency;he finds himself face to face with a jilted former girlfriend,
Angela Teach (Penelope Cruz) and becomes a hostage on the ship of
Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Of these nemeses, Davy Jones is the most
intimidating. Aside from a complexion problem, he is owed money. That
always gets a person’s dander up.

TERRORISTS ET AL
Jackson Rippner (“Red Eye”). Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) is a
smooth operative who boards a red eye flight and warms up to Lisa
Reisert (Rachel McAdams). His job is to kidnap her and use her as
leverage in an attempt at a political assassination. He is smooth and
in control most of the time, but, who knows, maybe Lisa’s beautiful
eyes enchant him, and he lowers his guard. McAdams proves here she
can do more than be a star in romance and light comedies.

Thomas Gabriel (“Live Free or Die Hard”). Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant)
is an Internet-based terrorist threatening U.S. security. His muscle,
so to speak, is the butt-kicking Mai Linh (Maggie Q). But where U.S.
front-line security people fail, John McClane (Bruce Willis), aided
by a computer geek, Matt Farrell (Justin Long), step up. Seems
McClane has had experience before with terrorists.

ELSEWHERE
Erik Lensherr/Magneto (“X-Men First Class”). Watching Michael
Fassbender as Erik, a hothead to begin with, increasingly grow into
the man who would become Magneto, is as intriguing as seeing Anakin
Skywalker evolve into Darth Vader. Only Fassbender does it with less
histrionics than Hayden Christensen did with Anakin.

Skrat shakes up world in “Ice Age: Continental Drift”

Skrat’s obsessive pursuit of the elusive acorn has worldwide
consequences in “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth in the
animated series that also features Manny the mammoth, Diego the
saber-toothed tiger and Sid the sloth.

The indomitable rodent Skrat, who has managed to stave starvation
and defy total destruction despite all the disasters encountered,
finds himself plummeting to the center of the Earth while going after
his precious nutty quarry. There, his spinning of the Earth’s core
leads to cataclysmic shifting of the lands above, disrupting the
lives of the “Ice Age” entourage.

Manny (voice of Ray Romano), having found love with Ellie (Queen
Latifah), is now facing the challenges of parenthood with a young but
restless offspring, Peaches (Keke Palmer), whose crush on Ethan
(Aubrey Graham) has her at odds with her overprotective father.
Meanwhile, Sid (John Leguizamo) has a brief reunion with his family,
only to be ditched again after they dump on him Granny (Wands Sykes).

Soon these domestic problems are upstaged as the ground starts
shaking and splitting up. Manny, Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid are
marooned on a wayward block of ice while Ellie, Peaches and various
other animals, facing an advancing wall of rock, have to make their
way to safer ground.

“Ice Age” then settles into familiar territory as the three main characters,
unlikely friends anyway, must rely on one another to survive and get
back home — this time they have a fourth aboard: the seemingly
out-of-it Granny.

Time to throw in a little conflict. In their drifting, the foursome
run into another bigger iceberg on which a simian named Capt. Gutt
(Peter Dinklage), rules like a pirate over yet another potpourri of
animals, mostly goofy but nevertheless loyal to their captain. In
this motley crew there is one fairly competent member, Shira
(Jennifer Lopez) another tiger and natural adversary/love interest
for Diego.

Screenwriter Michael Berg, who penned the original “Ice Age” and the
third installment, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” is familiar with the
characters, and joined by Jason Fuchs on this script, keeps the story
on a predictable path, inserting messages about friendship, peer
pressure, senseless needs for revenge and the bonds of family. This
helps make it a good family flick, with enough humor attached for the
adults in the audience.

Skrat’s occasional appearances provide intense, wickedly funny
interludes. Indeed, while the main story plods along on a safe
trajectory, Skrat’s adventures provide the only surprises: Just what
will happen next to this poor little creature who is driven by manic
instinctive desire?

The speculation is whether this series will continue. It seems
likely. With Peaches now on board, Manny and Ellie will have all
sorts of parental issues to address. And Diego, it appears, will have
his paws full with the strong-willed Shira. Sid and Granny will
always be good for laughs.

And Skrat? Well, like Wile E. Coyote’s never-ending and mostly
calamitous stalking of the Roadrunner, there may never be
gratification — to his misfortune and to our guilty delight.

Vernor’s Ticket Tidbit:
The first lycanthrope to be portrayed on
film was played by a woman. Phyllis Gordon (1889-1964), who was in 54
movies from 1911 to 1941, played Watoma, a woman who could transform
into a werewolf, in the 1913 short film “The Werewolf.” The little
movie was based on legends of the Navajo Indians and had Watoma
shape-shifting in order to fight off settlers. She then comes back
from the dead 100 years later to resume killing. Sadly, all prints of
this groundbreaking horror film were destroyed in a fire at Universal
Studios in 1924.

The brutal drug-selling business makes them “Savages”

With Oliver Stone, you know you are not going to be teased with
subtleties. Whether his films are exploring his experiences in
Vietnam, the unanswered questions surrounding a presidential
assassination, the biographies of political leaders and musicians,
the cutthroat world of finances, or the intricacies of professional
football, it is going to be done with a wallop.

In “Savages,” Stone takes a gritty and violent look at the illegal
but thriving world of drug dealing. He starts with the simple
premise: If you are a small but successful drug operation, you can
count on some big-time cartels wanting a piece of your action. And if
you think corporate hostile takeovers are brutal, wait until you see
what these guys do when they want to put on a merger.

This is the case with Ben and Chon, two lifelong Southern
California-based friends and business partners who are a comfortable
fit. Ben (Aaron Johnson from “Kick-Ass” and soon to be seen as Count
Vronsky in “Anna Karenina”) is the brains of the operation with his
expertise in botany and business, producing primo weed and keeping
the money flowing and under the radar. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the
muscle, yet another veteran of entanglements in the Middle East with
the typical psychological baggage of fighting a war in which the
enemy does not wear uniforms and could be anybody, including very
young people.

Like any business, there is vulnerability and in the case of Ben and
Chon, it is O (Blake Lively). O is short for Ophelia, and she is
living the good life in Laguna Beach with Ben and Chon, intimate with
both. This seems a highly unlikely arrangement, given the emotional
pratfalls that come with such relationships. Not a twinge of
jealously here? Right …

O serves as the voice-over narrator, opening with the tease that
just because she is telling this story does not mean she is alive at
the end.

Ben and Chon have done nicely for themselves — as O brags, they
produce the best weed in the world. And to make it seem like they are
not totally hedonistic, O also notes that Ben is involved in
charitable ventures across the globe and has his hands in trying to
develop clean, renewable energy. Also, their product works wonders in
relieving pain for those with cancer.

This idyllic arrangement is upset when Ben and Chon are ordered –
not asked — to meet with Alex (Demian Bichir, the recent Academy
Award nominee for “A Better Life”). Alex is representing Elena (Salma
Hayek), powerful leader of the Mexican Baja Cartel. Elena, facing the
prospect of a presidential election and competition that could put
the squeeze on her business, wants to set up shop in Southern
California and will not take no for an answer.

When Ben and Chon hesitate in accepting the new business
arrangement, Elena is already moving the chess pieces to gain an
advantage. Her main henchman is Lado (Benicio del Toro), who is
lurking around the periphery of Ben and Chon, and alerts Elena about
O. So naturally, O is kidnapped as leverage to get the two
Californians to not only take the offer but also to stay in line.

Ben and Chon may seem to be at a disadvantage but they have their
resources, including a crooked DEA agent, Dennis (John Travolta,
wickedly slimy), a financial cyberspace wizard, Spin (Emile Hirsch),
and some fellow war vet friends of Chon who are quite handy as
sharpshooters.

Thus the trickery begins. Ben has to sidestep his Buddhism leanings
to get vicious, and once the duo find Elena’s vulnerabilities, the
field becomes more level.

The violence is brutal — this drug business is uncompromising –
and making it more effective is that Stone, working from a script he
co-wrote with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow — the latter who wrote
the book on which “Savages” is based — injects some humanity into
the main characters. Dennis may be on the take, but he is dealing
with a wife dying of cancer and soon will be a widower with two
children. Elena has had her share of tragedies and on top of that she
has a daughter who holds her in little regard.

Stealing the movie, however, is del Toro as Lado. In what has to be
his best performance since winning the Oscar for “Traffic” in 2000,
del Toro serves up a character who can be vicious without conscience,
yet a quivering wreck in the presence of Elena. But he might be the
smartest character in the whole movie. Just when you think you know
where his loyalties lie, you will be tricked — although not entirely
surprised. Lado is despicable but in a way one can almost admire his
drive if not his methods.

Johnson and Kitsch present two characters who, aside from an
unlikely willingness to share O, are convincing as two friends who
probably cannot survive without each other. Kitsch, who has been
seen already this year in two films that are likely to be dubbed
bombs — “John Carter” and “Battleship” — has a physical presence
that should carry him further. Johnson has some prime moments as the
sensitive Ben, driven literally sick to his stomach after violent
encounters that Chon seems to thrive in.

Lively gets a chance to go beyond the usual victim in distress mode.
Initially seen as a one-dimensional character living in the moment
with no thought of consequences, she develops some remarkable
perceptivity. An unusual scene in which O dines with Elena is
especially revealing of both characters, so far apart in cultures yet
in many ways alike in their burning passions.

In the end, Stone throws a curve. Is O alive at the end? Depends on
which climactic scene you believe.

Woody’s latest movie explores love in Rome
I have always said that even a mediocre Woody Allen movie usually is
pretty good. Allen, however, has been cursed by earlier successes and
as always his movies are met with high expectations. The prolific
Allen, who despite being 76 years old still averages one movie per
year, is his own worst enemy. Just about the time it is believed he is
washed up, he makes a strong comeback, thus continuing the cycle of
positive anticipation.

Fresh from his fourth Academy Award for the screenplay of “Midnight
in Paris,” Allen visits another iconic city, Rome, in the naturally
titled “To Rome With Love.” The result is a mixed bag with some truly
classic humor and a few elements that do not work. Admittedly, some of
his characters, mired in self-absorption and neurosis, have grown
tiresome. But Allen still can pull moments of brilliance from
his active mind.

“Rome” is another weaving of storylines that do not intersect but
share the location of this Italian city.

The four plotlines include these characters:

– A young small-town Italian couple, Antonio and Milly (Alessandro
Toberi and Allesandra Mastronardi) arrive in Rome for a honeymoon and
a chance for Antonio to meet with rich relatives for a job offer. But
they get separated and sit-com situations arise.

– A retired classical music recording producer and opera director,
Jerry (Woody Allen), and his wife, Phyllis (Judy Davis), visit Rome to
join their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill), who has fallen in love with
and is engaged to an Italian lawyer, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).

– A famous architect, John (Alec Baldwin), encounters a younger
architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and serves as a devil’s advocate in
the young man’s love conflict between his grounded and ambitious
girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her friend Monica (Ellen Page), a
struggling and flighty actress who appears as superficial as she is
cute.

– A common middle class citizen, Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni)
inexplicably finds himself a major celebrity, hounded by paparazzi
and other crazed media types.

The storyline that works best is the one that involves John and
Jack. Allen cleverly hints that John, visiting Rome for the first
time in 30 years, may not exist at all but is a voice of reason and
experience, interposing himself into conversations between Jack and
Monica, raising red flags that Jack acknowledges but concedes are
futile because he is falling in love with Monica.

Allen and Davis play well off each other as the long-married couple
who completely understand each other. Allen does the same character
he’s played for decades, a man whose accomplishments just do not
relieve the dread of his own mortality. The cleverest plot element in
“Rome” takes place in this storyline, as Jerry, upon hearing his
future son-in-law’s father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), singing in
the shower, becomes obsessed with the idea of having Giancarlo
perform on stage. Problem is, Giancarlo can only sing well while he
is in the shower. So Jerry improvises to overcome this handicap.

The story of the young Italian couple has its moments when Penelope
Cruz, an Oscar winner for her role in Allen’s “Vicky Cristina
Barcelona,” shows up at Antonio’s hotel room, while Milly is lost in
the city. She is Anna, a high-class prostitute sent to Antonio’s room
by mistake. She is then forced to pretend she is Milly as Antonio
goes to meet his relatives. Milly, meanwhile, encounters a movie
superstar sex symbol, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), with disastrous
results.

The story of Leopoldo, despite the excellent physical comedy of
Benigni, wears thin quickly. Amid the realistic characters of the
rest of the film, this broad lampooning of celebrity worship is a
jarring deviation of the texture of the movie.

Allen’s movie is pleasant enough, but lacks any standout performance
usually seen in his movies. He still can amuse and entertain, but
these days the misses are outnumbering the hits.

“Ted” and “Moonrise”: Belly laughs and chuckles

Two comedies currently in theaters show the range of hilarity — from
belly laughs in response to raunchy humor to more subtle ticklers
that reflect on the quirkiness and absurdities of life.

Director Wes Anderson, with offbeat films like “The Royal
Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” presents the
type of comedies that will not pack houses, but like Woody Allen
draws faithful fans. His latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” when shown in
previews, left some people baffled, with its illustrated children’s
book feel about it along with hints of what might be interpreted as
pre-teen love gone way out of control. Throw in Edward Norton as a
Khaki Scoutmaster, complete with shorts, knee socks and neckerchief,
and you’ll have people thinking: No thanks.

It is their loss. “Moonrise” is at its core a tender story of two
social outcasts and kindred spirits who find each and fall in love.
Trouble is, they are youngsters.

Anderson, who co-wrote the script with Roman Coppola (yes, those
Coppolas — he is the son of Francis Ford and brother of Sofia),
weaves together a bittersweet story of first love, and a major plus
was casting two wonderful young actors in the lead roles.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is a nerdy guy who wears glasses, is probably
above average in intelligence but socially inept. An orphan, he lives
in a foster home and the extent of his interaction with others is
with his Khaki Scouts troop. But even there he is unpopular, cruelly
dismissed by his peers for being even more weird than they. Sam is
another version of the late Corey Haim’s character in the 1986 film
“Lucas.”

During a play at a church on an island community off New England,
Sam meets Suzy (Kara Hayward), the only daughter among four siblings
of two very quirky lawyers, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray, who
in later life has mastered a hilariously stoic demeanor in such
contrast to his antics of the late 1970s and early 1980s; and Frances
McDormand, who uses a bullhorn to summon her family to dinner). Suzy,
like Sam, has social issues, is prone to violence and prefers to view
life through a pair of binoculars.

For a year, Suzy and Sam are pen pals, exchanging letters, and
decide to run off together. Sam seizes the opportunity to ditch the
summer camp he is attending while Suzy slips away from her home. The
two meet in a secluded field and go off together in the woods.
The authorities, such as they are, mobilize to muster a kid hunt. In
charge is Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who happens to be having an
affair with Laura Bishop, a secret Suzy discovered before running
away.

Anderson does an excellent job of balancing innocence of young love
with the normal yearnings of physical awakenings. Suzy and Sam do
engage in rudimentary physical exploration, but most of their time
together is spent enjoying the outdoors or listening to music — Suzy
has borrowed a portable record turntable from one of her younger
brothers. At night she reads aloud to Sam fantasy adventure novels
she has stolen from the library.

Casting is unusual. Willis plays against type as a lonely police
officer in over his head in trying to locate the two wayward children
but with an understanding of the alienation he knows the two
youngsters are experiencing. Norton also breaks from his usual
dramatic roles as the Khaki Scout leader named Ward, a man dedicated
to instilling skills and responsibility in the Scouts under his wing.
He even maintains a tape-recorded journal of his Khaki Scout
activities.

Kudos also to Tilda Swinton as a by-the-book social worker and
Harvey Keitel as a Gen. Patton-like higher level Khaki Scout leader,
jumping into roles that had to be fun departures from their usual
work.

Sam and Suzy cannot be expected to survive in the real world, and
here Anderson and Coppola throw in a Keystone Cops inspired chase
that adds a bizarre and visually humorous texture to the film.

The adult actors are superb, but the movie belongs to the young
stars, Gilman and Hayward, two talented people who portray people
who for all of their social issues are very real characters,
highlighting the painful experiences of being out the fringes but
finding somebody out there who understands.

At the other end of the comedic spectrum is “Ted,” the first
movie-directing adventure for Seth MacFarlane, the driving force
behind the successful animated series “Family Guy.” Co-writing the
script with “Family Guy” collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley
Wild, MacFarlane and company push the boundaries of taste and
political correctness.

“Ted” takes what could be a children’s fantasy and gives it an adult
treatment. In the 1980s, John Bennett, an 8-year-old, is friendless
for whatever reasons and on Christmas receives a stuffed teddy bear.
He wishes the bear could come to life and be his friend, and the
timing of the wish is perfect, for the bear does come to life. Named
Ted, of course, the plush toy becomes John’s best friend for life.

Moving to present day, John is now a man in his mid-thirties, and
one could say he blossomed physically, as he is played by Mark
Wahlberg. Ted — voiced by MacFarlane — also seemed to reach
puberty, his voice going deep. John and Ted live together in Boston
and get high on a regular basis. Ted, briefly a media sensation for
being a live toy — his appearance “The Tonight Show” is reminiscent
of Forrest Gump’s recurring TV exposure — now just sits around,
watching television and consorting with hookers. He is, to say the
least, a bad influence on John.

John is in a dead-end job working at a car rental agency, but his
love life is thriving. He has been in a relationship with Lori (Mila
Kunis) for four years. Lori is amazing. Far more advanced in the
working world than John, she loves him anyway and has accepted John’s
friendship with Ted.

However, it is time for John to grow up and accept responsibility,
but he cannot resist falling under Ted’s unsavory guidance into a
world of parties and decadence. This is a familiar story of two
people who may be loyal to each other but face the challenges that
come from growing apart.

Just seeing a lovable teddy bear behaving like an out-of-control
party animal, with his vile language and candid, squirm-inducing
social commentary, is funny, and of course the pungent humor of the
“Family Guy” creators has the audience laughing abashedly.

Also marvelous in “Ted” are some great cameos by celebrities who
were very good sports. It will not be revealed here who makes these
brief appearances because that would spoil the surprises.

Wahlberg, who has proven to be effective in dramatic (“The
Departed,” “The Fighter”) and action (“Shooter,” “Contraband”) roles,
has also carved out a niche in comedy, playing the straight man in
such romps as “Date Night” and “The Other Guys.” He has a natural
flair of conveying a man who responds to absurdity with naivete and
bemusement.

Kunis also has handled romantic comedy before and is very convincing
in portraying Lori as a woman who can appreciate John’s good
qualities and tolerate the quirks — up to a point.

Much like adult comedies these days, there is an underlying
sweetness. Amid the laughter in the audience were the occasional
“awws” that come with touching scenes. Also, once again, computer
graphics continue to amaze, making Ted look very much alive and
interacting with live actors.

MISCELLANY
On Aug. 14, Blu-ray versions of “Jaws,” “Jaws 2″ and “Jaws 3-D” will
be released. This should be an opportunity to see a classic movie be
followed by increasingly ludicrous sequels. What are the odds that
one family, the Brodys over two generations, would have four separate
encounters with great white sharks? It is interesting that not
included in this release is “Jaws — The Revenge,” which really
bottomed out the series.

Bif Bang Pow! is a company that offers collectibles from various
movies, television series and comic heroes. Of interest here is the
array of products inspired by the classic TV series “The Twilight
Zone.” This month, BBP will be marketing a bobblehead of Henry Bemis,
the Burgess Meredith character from one of the most popular episodes,
“Time Enough At Last.” Broadcast originally on Nov. 20, 1959, Henry
Bemis, an avid reader, is the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust
who soon stumbles upon a public library with all the books he can
read — until a nasty trip of fate takes this all away.

Also available in bobblehead form is a two-headed product featuring
the ventriloquist Jerry (Cliff Robertson) and Willie the dummy from
the May 4, 1962, episode “The Dummy.”

Other PPB products include a bobblehead of the scary being seen by
Williams Shatner’s emotionally unstable character on the wing of the
passenger plane he is inside from the Oct. 11, 1962, episode of
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” And for those with interesting culinary
desires, there is the Kamamit Cookbook Journal from the wicked “To
Serve Man.”

Check out more at www.bifbangpow.com.