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Wednesday, December 13

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Airbags

Hey everyone. Probably the most important movie news of the week is that nobody will be running reviews of Aeon Flux today. The studios have gone above and beyond to make sure nobody sees this movie early. Film critics weren't allowed to screen the film in advance, and the only public screenings were held Thursday night at 10 p.m. I guess the obvious question is, could it really be THAT bad? By holding it back like this, more people will talk about the lack of advanced word than the film itself. People aren't stupid. Thanks to Mr. Ebert's "Wagging Finger of Shame"—aimed at all studios that keep their films from the critics—everybody knows that no reviews on Friday (or last Wednesday, in the case of the non-screened Usher film In the Mix) means the movie, in all likelihood, sucks donkey. Now, on to films whose distributors had some guts, no matter how bad their product is. Huzzah!

The Kid and I
I have the sad duty to report that the story behind the making of the Tom Arnold-penned The Kid and I is far more interesting than the film, despite the fact that the film is about the how the film got made. Keep up, people! In the real world, Tom Arnold is a B/C-list actor who made a lot of money from being married to (and divorcing) someone very famous and practically inventing the modern comic sidekick role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies. He is also the neighbor of a family that includes a young man with cerebral palsy named Eric Gores. It just so happens that Eric's all-time favorite film is True Lies, and it's always been his dream to make a sequel to True Lies with Arnold so he could kick ass, fight crime, and sit in a hot tub with a beautiful model-actress. Over the course of several years, Arnold more or less made Eric's dream come true, and the result is The Kid and I, a feel-good dark comedy about a failed actor's last shot to make somebody happy and save his own life in the process.

Arnold's Bill Williams character doesn't exactly have Tom's life. When the film opens with Bill laying out a run-down motel room in preparation for his suicide, we know that this isn't exactly mirroring Arnold's life. But while Bill is just about to end it all, in walks his agent (Henry Winkler) to tell him about a 17-year-old named Aaron Roman (played by Gores, who has been training as an actor for many years). Aaron's extremely rich father (Joe Mantegna) wants to give his son the greatest gift for his 18th birthday: a True Lies-ish action comedy written and co-starring Williams and his son. Bill quickly hires an assistant (a homeless man played by Guy Prince) and recruits an old producing buddy (Linda Hamilton) to help pull together the film.

The Kid and I is all over the place as a film. At times, Arnold's sausage fingers are plucking at our heartstrings with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. His jokes (in both the writing and the delivery) are broad and mostly lame, although his insider shots at Hollywood and certain celebrities (including Steven Seagal and Rosie O'Donnell) are priceless. For as many bombs as he drops on other celebrities, he's probably at his best when he's poking fun at his own career.

The one thing that apparently is sacred territory not meant for mockery is at Aaron's CP, which is a mistake. His affliction, at least on the surface, is mild. He has a slight limp when he walks, and his speech is completely understandable. He has an easy-going, natural presence onscreen, and I think it would have been OK to make fun of his disease a bit more than simply putting a couple teenagers in the film to call him a "retard." The fact that all of these people simply line up behind this movie project without questioning the fact that the young star has CP is silly, and could have been turned into something much funnier than what's here.

Arnold's smartest move was to enlist director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World) to helm both movies. I now have a greater appreciation of her skills at mining comedy from a script that lacks any real substance. Further guest appearances by Shannon Elizabeth (as Aaron's stepmother) and Arielle Kebbel (as the girl who Aaron hot tubs with), as well as cameos by Arnold's True Lies co-stars Schwarznegger (in his only film role during his governorship) and Jamie Lee Curtis, don't really add anything to the mix, but do offer concrete evidence that Arnold has officially called in all his career favors. As one from the heart, The Kid and I is undeniably a winner; as a solid film worthy of your time and money at today's prices…hey look, it's snowing outside!


Never Been Thawed
The term and practice of "mockumentaries" should be retired forever, allowed to be resurrected only when Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) feels like picking up a camera every couple of years. No clearer evidence do we have that the fake documentary must disappear than Never Been Thawed, a film that turns its attention to a devoted group of enthusiasts who collect frozen entrées.

I'm not saying the subject matter is inherently unfunny. On the contrary, Never Been Thawed could have been a wild mockery on enthusiasts in general, who collect all manner of otherwise worthless things, form clubs devoted to such collections, and eventually organize conventions to praise these items. I'm not even implying that NBT isn't funny at times. It is…at times…maybe four times. The film not only involves us in the passion of frozen entrée collecting (who have to own several freezers to store their collections), but we also get into the politics of organizations built around these enthusiasts.

Probably the moments in the film that work best are scenes showing the personal lives of these collectors. My favorite character is Milo, who owns the No Choice Café, a pro-life coffee house across the street from an abortion clinic (he established the café as place for protesters to relax between yelling at women going in the clinic). Many of the characters in the film have some religious connection, leading me to believe the filmmakers had a whole series of religion-based jokes on hand and needed a way to squeeze them into this film.

The fact that I'm even analyzing NBT to such a degree may lead you to believe I actually thought about the film for any length of time after I finished watching it. I did not, except for right now. Now I'm done.


First Descent
One of my absolute favorite films of 2004 was a documentary on the history of big-wave surfing called Riding Giants, which managed to not only inform but get me excited about the practice of surfing and those who have made surfing their entire lives. The blueprint for Riding Giants is more or less copied in First Descent, an ultimately lesser film about snowboarding. Not that snowboarding isn't an exciting and breathtaking sport to behold, but how many times can you listen to a group of boarders reuse words like awesome, rad, amazing and killer? They need a broader vocabulary.

Part of the problem is that the sport is so new, so it's a little ridiculous to refer to men in their 40s as the "elder statesmen" or "pioneers" of snowboarding. And when the narrator refers to a particular boarder or event "changing the face of the sport forever," people at my screening (including me) actually laughed. The film just takes itself far too seriously. Interwoven between a fairly thorough history of the sport is wonderful documentary about five of the best and most well-known snowboarders in the world (including Shawn Farmer, Terje Haakonsen, Shaun White and Hannah Teter) traveling to the big mountains of Alaska to find mountain faces to board that no one has even ridden. A few of the younger boarders have only ridden under controlled circumstances at ski resorts or on homemade half-pipes, jumps and courses. The snow on these mountains is alive, shifting, and far more dangerous than anything many of them have ever seen. In one sequence a snowboarder actually has to ride through an avalanche. The site of the snow on the entire side of a mountain giving way at one with the boarder in front of all that power is remarkable.

In fact, most of the footage in this film is pretty great. Watching older film of X Games highlights and other amateur competitions really takes your breath away. First Descent's downfall, as I alluded to earlier, is its meaningless interviews. Normally, these might not be a huge problem, but the filmmakers rely too much on these interviews. In the movie's climactic sequence involving one boarder riding down a mountain face that will give you altitude sickness just looking at it, the rider is asked what it was like, and he whips out all the old surfer-speak expressions that don't mean anything. I liked the movie's veiled criticisms of the commercialization of the sport (following in the footsteps of surfing and skateboarding) and the ridiculousness of exhibitions in other countries that in no way challenge the performers but sure do make them a lot of money.

There is nothing in First Descent that I found reprehensible or offensive, but both the filmmakers and the riders need to lighten up and stop thinking that only their sport gives you that level of satisfaction. The sport is beautiful to watch, exciting to behold, and probably quite a thrill to actually do, but let's leave it at that.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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