Sunday, August 30, 2009
From writer/director David Koepp, the man behind the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "War of the Worlds" remake and "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" screenplays, comes a story that's rather tolerable, if not fairly scary. Koepp utilizes slick style and the unmatched acting of Kevin Bacon to tell a ghost story centered more around premonitions and obsession than "gotcha" moments or a body count.
Tom Witzky (Bacon) is your blue collar everyman, who regards ghosts, hypnosis and other phenomena of that ilk as hocus pocus hogwash. But when he allows himself to be hypnotized at a party, it opens a door in his mind and he's rushed with a flood of warnings and premonitions from the other side. The main spirit of his visions is a girl that disappeared several months prior to his moving to his new home and he must make heads or tails of all the nonsense to free her tormented spirit. If you get right down to it, the whole plot is contrived, but most ghost stories are pretty formulaic. The key is how the tale is told, as would be the case if it were being told around the campfire. In the hands of the wrong conversationalist and the story falls apart, but given to a seasoned raconteur and the yarn comes to life.
Koepp falls somewhere between those two extremes. The story grows weaker as time goes on, leading to a rather implausible climax. There's also the obligatory "creepy kid," which does nothing to advance the plot at all. However, one of the primary elements I believe any ghost story should possess is proper atmosphere - one that is foreboding and unrelenting, and the first half of the film certainly has this tone. This eerie air disappears about the same time that the plot starts to get rocky, but not to the point that I disliked the film. The highlight of the film is certainly the visions. Tom's hypnosis, set in a movie theatre (I can only imagine how creepy it would have been to see this scene in an actual movie house) is beautiful and unnerving at the same time, and decent shocks are delivered without making them the film's only raison d'etre.
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Whether it's early in his career with the likes of "Deliverance" or later endeavors, such as "The Tailor of Panama," I'm typically a fan of John Boorman's work. He's got a great knack for compounding suspense as his films progress, often choosing lowly characters to become involved in something grand, typically without choice on their part. When I first saw the trailer for "Zardoz," I thought that visually, the film looked spectacular. Sean Connery hamming it up was an added bonus and Boorman at the helm fresh after "Deliverance," I had no doubt in my mind that the film would be awesome. But I came to learn that my instincts were a tad off on this one.
Set at the turn of the 24th century, the human race has split off into two factions - bloodthirsty warriors (the Exterminators) and the telepathic Eternals, whose name indicates their lifespans. Zed (Sean Connery), the greatest of all Exterminators, leaps into the mouth of the floating head of Zardoz (a "deity" that warns of the dangers of the penis and belches out automatic rifles to his followers), where he kills the Eternal operating the stone noggin. He's taken to the Vortex, where he's a creature of fascination to all present, and soon he undertakes the task of killing a sentient presence, known only as the Tabernacle, so that the Eternals can finally die if they choose to, thus injecting something new into their boring lives. Actually, any attempt to explain the film only makes it seem more perplexing.
I really wanted to like the film, but it lost and bored me intermittently between awesome visual sequences. I'll at least give it some credit where credit is due, because it's pretty damn unique and experimental, though the plot gets convoluted at times. Charlotte Rampling's breasts smooth out any kinks though...to a certain extent. This would actually be an interesting film to see a remake produced (as much of an antithesis to my movie morals as that might seem), but it would have to be as visually stimulating and surreal as Boorman's vision and I'm not sure if general audiences in this day and age would be ready for something like that - myself included (especially if it means recruiting modern-day Sean Connery to dart about in a red diaper as he does in the film...shudder).
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Saturday, August 15, 2009
I don't use this phrase lightly, but I have to say that "District 9" was easily the best film I've seen this summer. The cavalcade of aliens, unknown actors and apartheid allegories reminded me that not only can fresh and excellent true science fiction films can still be made, but that they can be wrought with creatures and action scenes with stuff blowing up without diminishing the film's impact.
The format is a strange mix of documentary and a film that was "based on true events." Wikus Van De Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley) is the official placed in charge of moving the alien residents of district 9 (a series of slims in Africa) to a new, cordoned area. But when he comes across a biological weapon and soon finds himself turning into one of the aliens, he becomes a target for the government and military. He's then forced to hide out with the only members of society that will accept him inside "District 9."
The film simply works on so many levels. Apart from excelling as a commentary on treatment of other races, it's also a damn good action flick. I suppose I could nitpick if I desired to. I could digress into discussing the needless length of the action scenes, but that would be denying the fact that I found them entertaining. The film also slips in and out of formats a little too readily, depriving the viewer of any commentary/history behind the events near the middle. But overall, I had no legitimate reasons for criticizing this film harshly. I found it utterly refreshing for a new concept to be presented with such great success, especially amidst the sea of sequels that this summer has yielded.
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In answer to the question that has no doubt popped into your mind, "Yes, I have seen 'The Exorcist' before." I chose to include it, for a recent viewing yielded a unique theatrical experience (thus making it somewhat relevant to the blog...though technically I don't have to legitimize anything to those two or three that actually consult this site). It's only the second time I've seen the film theatrically - the first was actually my first time ever watching the film. It was the Village Eight Theatres during the week prior to Christmas (this being the re-release that included the spider walk). Snow had begun to fall rather heavily and living thirty miles away, I decided that it would be a wise and safe idea to camp out in the theatre overnight. "I'll have my own movie marathon," I thought. And so, after the building was empty, I strolled down to theatre #6 (the "haunted theatre" for those Village employees who are supernaturally inclined) and started up the film.
Needless to say that watching the film after midnight in a theatre by myself when I was snowed in and couldn't "escape" was not a situation that lent itself to a casual viewing. It scared the ever-loving shit out of me (and in my opinion, from the moment that Chris returns home, the lights blinking in the kitchen, and we learn that Burke is dead, it is the scariest film ever made). I was spooked to the point that I drove home that night, snow-covered country roads be damned.
This time, I was not at a theatre at all. Rather, it was a drive-in. Namely, the Georgetown Drive-In. I've intended to go for years, ever since my childhood drive-in, the Southpark, closed up in 1998. Kenwood Drive-in has been giving me my fix for years, but it too bit the dust eight months ago. Thus, Georgetown is the only drive-in in the Louisville vicinity. And what a drive-in. It definitely captures the spirit of Southpark, from the clunky speakers to the greasy concession stand. The screen was wisely constructed at the bottom of a hill, providing the parking lot with a stadium seating effect. There were three unique highlights the night offered. A nice view of Linda Blair's ass as she stood atop the concession stand (she'd been brought out to introduce the film and my group was luckily parked directly behind her perch). Second, Michael Masden (yeah, the Tarantino alum) strolling around, downing deep-fried foods and looking to score some coke as a gaggle of wet dames followed him like goslings following their mother (he'd been brought out by the same convention as Blair was). Lastly, the five greatest words to ever be combined by mankind: "Deep fried, red velvet Twinkies." The thing took six months off of my life, I know it, but it tasted so damn good. Georgetown instilled all the proper atmosphere: the irresponsibility of a summer night wrapped in white trash with a proper dash of sentimentality. I'll definitely be back.
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I've always found it to be an odd trend that the hokiness of a kung fu flick is in direct proportion to its enjoyability - or at least as far as I'm concerned. So when I'm greeted with soaring action (that phrase is meant to be as literal as possible) and human sacrifice, well, by all means layer on the corny plot twists and overzealous emoting.
Two warring noblemen find themselves in a heated argument (and battle) early on over who will submit the greater lantern during an upcoming festival (scarcely a masculine title the two are vying for). Tan (Kuan Tai Chen) already has an impressive lantern ready for submission. Intimidated, Lung (Tony Liu) decides to enlist the help of former, embittered rival turned lamp maker Chao (Lieh Lo) for help. Chao's lanterns are heralded as being unequalled, for he make them through a "secret" process, and as he work's on Lung's lamp, a subplot arises about a masked man who abducts women and peels their skin off. If you don't see the great "reveal" coming, then clearly you've got issues.
This was a guilty pleasure to a great degree, for not only do you have fun, stylized action scenes, but they're interspliced with moments that seem more appropriate for either a Fulci or Argento film. The direction ain't half bad either. While it's no "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (or any other martial arts film qua sweeping epic), it is an entertaining means to killing an hour and a half.
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Fresh after watching an experimental film by one well-established director, I decided to indulge in another. While Steven Soderbergh may not have the widespread recognition Hitchcock does (I base that off of the fact that you're likely to get a random bloke off of the street to name a Hitchcock film before a Soderbergh film), the director has a reputable repertoire where film critics are concerned. "Bubble" is utterly unique in the fact that no actor in the movie has ever acted before. Soderbergh literally dropped down in a bumpkin Ohio town, grabbed folks off of the street and threw a camera on them. And as crazy as such a concept sounds, it works!
The story follows a trio of disenchanted drones who slave away day in, day out for minimum wage at a doll factory. Martha, a middle-aged gal of great avoirdupois, assembles doll faces and clothes and it close friends with Kyle, a young, high school dropout who spends his time in the moldmaking department. When a new, attractive airbrusher named Rose sets her sights on Kyle, the two start to grow close. But when a murder shakes up the small town, things don't turn out as favorable as one might think.
I felt a little cheated that Soderbergh had to include a murder, for I felt like it cheated the down-to-earth world he'd worked hard to create. It was obvious through the subtle tones and sideways glances that Martha was jealous of the friendship between Rose and Kyle. Careful attention also revealed that Rose was disreputable, for her stories didn't always sync. Yes, the murder brings many of the feelings of those involved to a level of the obvious, but I didn't feel that it was necessary. However, there are elements to the event (and you should already be able to tell that it's difficult to discuss he film too much without giving away what happens) that add depth, in a very sad way, to the main players that I appreciate. I will say this though: in the absence of the star power and Hollywood budgets that characterize so many of his films, from "Ocean's Eleven" to "Erin Brokovich," Soderbergh had the ability to focus more on the story. The result is one of the better, and certainly more memorable of his films to date.
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While I'm a Hitchcock fan, I will admit that I haven't seen every film by the "master of suspense." However, typically when I'm unfamiliar with one of his titles, it hails from his pre-"Rebecca" period. It struck me as odd then when I came across this title while browsing and realized that I'd never heard of it, despite it's year of release. By 1956, Hitchcock already had "Rear Window," "Spellbound," "Shadow of a Doubt," "Strangers on a Train" and a number of other titles under his belt, with quintessential classics to come ("North by Northwest," "Vertigo," "Psycho," etc.). Why then was "The Wrong Man," starring Henry Fonda of all people, off my radar to the point that I didn't realize it was part of his repertoire? I realized the answer shortly into the film - it's rather mediocre.
Hitchcock begins the film by telling the audience that this film is in a different vein than all of his previous endeavors, for it recreates a real-life incident where being in the wrong place at the wrong time and mistaken identity shook the world of an Average Joe. Our square is bass player Manny Balestero, all-around good guy who'd never harm a fly and who works hard to support his loving family. But when he goes to his insurance company to borrow on his wife's policy (so she can afford dental surgery), he's mistaken for the man who robbed the company several weeks earlier and quickly finds himself arrested. Witnesses and handwriting samples seem to damn him even more and as the family pays Manny's bail and lawyer fees, they fall deeper and deeper into debt, driving Manny's wife to the loony bin and pushing Manny to the near brink of suicide.
Hitchcock's used the angle of mistaken identity with great success ("The Man Who Knew Too Little," "North by Northwest") but in this case, it doesn't work. Primarily because the "Master of Suspense" delivers no suspense. Hitchcock tells you from the start what is to occur, so you know the ending going in. It's just a series of depressing events until Manny is freed of his wrongful accusations. The film is well-directed and well-acted, but it never engaged me like so many of the director's other efforts. I can appreciate that Hitchcock was going for an "experimental film" where his usual M.O. was concerned, but unfortunately, Hitchcock has set the bar so high from himself after previous projects, "The Wrong Man" can scarcely outshine so many of its brethren.
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When I think of Hammer Studios, I think of the horror films that made the studio famous - vehicles for Peter Cushing, Michael Gough and Christopher Lee. Whether it was their take on the classic monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) or new creations (Dr. Quatermass), I associate the studio with intense and frequently gruesome tales. With that conception in mind, one of the earlier projects for the studio - "Four Sided Triangle" - came as a pleasant surprise.
The story is a science-fiction tale with elements of Bradbury to it. Two scientists who have both shared a love for the field since their youth , manage to create a machine capable of duplicating anything placed inside of it to stunning perfection. Amazed by their success, Robin and Bill find themselves debating on how their new invention can best be used to serve mankind. Bill's mind soon turns to selfish notions, for science is not the only love the pair have shared since their childhood. There is also Lena, who now serves as their lab technician. Lena has always loved Robin, much to Bill's dismay, for he pines for her day and night. His solution? He dupes Lena into allowing herself to be duplicated, and Bill then whisks his new Lena, whom he dubs Helen, off to woo her. Ah, but wouldn't you know it - the duplicator duplicates memories too, and Helen desires Robin as much as her doppelganger, leaving Bill stuck with a clone that doesn't care for him. What to do...
It's a great story, though the duplicator and much of the science that dominated the first half of the film is unmistakably absent from the third and fourth acts. As a result, the film feels a bit imbalanced. Furthermore, the tale ends rather abruptly, considering how calculated the pacing and editing seemed prior. I have a hunch that the film was at one point in time far longer (or at least intended to be so) but was axed in production somewhere along the way. Still, it's a great science-fiction take on a fairly common love story.
This sat on my shelf for a while before I ever got around to it, simply because the premise of the film seemed trying. I mean: "A movie that's nothing but a dinner conversation? How interesting could it be?" However, the moment the discussion begins between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory begins, I was hooked. It's hard to say why I was drawn into the film so deeply. I can only attribute it to the anecdotal nature of Andre. A seasoned veteran of the theater scene, he clearly has a sense of effective timing and suspense building within his delivery, even if its unintentional. In fact, the very notion that it is intentional bespeaks of a far more complex element one must consider when viewing the film. Namely, it's possibly, though not easy, to infer many of the characteristics of the two individuals without having them spoken or evident in their actions.
What director Louis Malle has created then, is a voyeuristic character study, condensed into a single, uninterrupted discussion between two New york residents. Two two chatter about topics ranging from the mediocre, such as relationships and plays, to in-depth analyses of the nature and perception of reality. The closer you listen to Andre and Wallace's viewpoints, the more you feel as if you understand who they are. Ironically though, there are also contradictions, which may be ploys to deter you from scrutinising the discussion or they may be character flaws. Coming from an anecdotal family, where post-celebration discussions involved tales of a variety of rogues to whom I'm related. So if you happen to be a good storyteller, then I'm easily hooked. Andre is excellent at holding your attention, whether he's breaking down the storyline of "The Little Prince" or recollecting a terrifying Halloween experience that led him to being buried alive.
Malle's intentions are never cut and dry, and so the purpose of the film is ambiguous, left to the judgment of the discerning viewer. My personal take is on a simple, yet subtle level, Malle is asking us to be more conscious of the paths our conversations take. If someone were eavesdropping on a discussion between you and a friend, what impression would that person receive about the two of you? And furthermore, would the knowledge that you were being listened to change in order for you to alter your conversation in a manner that might put you in a more favorable light? You'd then find yourself grappling with reality versus perceived reality and, ironically enough, such is one of the overarching topics present in the film.
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Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, while not awful, does leave much to be desired. The story undoubtedly influenced both the creation of "Fatal Attraction" and the novel "Misery," but this is a rare instance where the "copycats" outshine the original. Clint Eastwood directs himself as popular disc jockey Dave Garver, a cool cat who spends his time spinning records of slow, smarmy music and taking advantage of the dames who are moved by his mellow rhythms. One habitual caller, a woman who nightly requests "Play 'Misty' for me," happens to "accidentally" meet Dave at a bar and the two quickly take to the sheets. Ah, but Evelyn (Jessica Walter) is determined to be more than just a one-night stand and once Dave's old flame shows up, Evelyn goes off the deep end, ruining Dave's career, trashing his home and trying to maim anyone remotely associated with him.
The problem is Evelyn goes a little too nuts a little too quick. While her character is no more implausible than Alex Forrest of "Fatal Attraction" (for the two are unmistakably similar), Forrest's progression into madness is more gradual and is sparked by a reasonable incident (she becomes pregnant). It was fun to see Jessica Walter early in her career, primarily because she ain't too bad looking. I always found her attractive in a "Hello, Mrs. Robinson" kind of way in "Arrested Development," despite her bitter ways. As much as I almost feel pained to say it, I think one of the film's problems is Eastwood's direction. The entire fourth act seems, well, sloppy as we're provided with a great "reveal" that, as best as I could recall, had no foreshadowing and therefore seemed illogical. There's no doubt that Eastwood is a fantastic director, whether it's an Oscar-recognized drama, such as "Million Dollar Baby," or a guilty pleasure picture for guys ("The Outlaw Josey Wales"). But where "Play Misty for Me" is concerned, I believe Clint hadn't hit his stride yet.
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Peter Weir's follow-up to "Picnic at Hanging Rock" bears no real connection to its predecessor other than tone. Weir's focuses once more on the juxtaposition of Aboriginal spiritualism and the unknown against the modern day realm of white cities and "rational" thought. But even though Weir has shifted away from making this tale a period piece as he did with "Picnic," the supernatural (I hesitate to use that word, because it typically conjures up mental images of ghosts and goblins and no such creatures are featured here) seems all the more startling in the downtown setting of a crowded Australian city.
Central to the plot is the relationship between Chris Lee (David Gulpilil - possibly the only Aboriginal character actor around), one of four Aborigines accused of killing one of their own, and the pragmatic David Burton (Richard Chamberlain in a role that reminds you that he really is an excellent actor, given the ideal opportunity). Burton is determined to save Chris and his cronies from a jail sentence by proving that it was a matter of tribal law, but in order to do so, he must learn why they killed the man they did. And should Burton learn this information, he will be required to suffer a similar fate.
Premonitions plague Burton, grappling with his pragmatic and rational approach to life - visions that appear to be warnings of darker things to come. Far more unsettling is the way Weir utilizes the weather to build atmosphere for his film. There's a freak hail storm that nearly tears down a school house, despite the fact that it's sunny outside, with not a cloud in the sky. The rain draws out countless frogs, and the droning chirps of the creatures create an eerie undertone to the raging storm, much like a door squeaking on its hinges in an abandoned home. In fact, the weather is so integral to the plot and the atmosphere of dread that is generated, you're left feeling as if the rain should have received billing under Chamberlain. While Weir has created excellent films since his early days (ranging from "Witness" to "The Truman Show" and "Master and Commander"), it's his early films that impress me the most. While I'm sure he enjoys the comfort of large Hollywood budgets in this day and age, both "The Last Wave" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock" instill a fervent hope within me that one day he will return to his roots as an independent filmmaker and shoot a smaller project in his native Australia once more.
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This has to be one of the meanest comedies I've ever seen. Granted, the "screwball comedies" of the 1930's and 1940's can be surprisingly dark at times, but this film is just downright cruel quite frequently. The purveyor of this nastiness is Sherman Whiteside (played with acerbic glee by portly character actor Monty Woolley), a famed author and radio celebrity who breaks his leg on the way to a banal dinner date with the Stanley family (headed by Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke). Once an invalid and stranded in the Stanley home, Whiteside makes a profession of hurling insults at the Stanley family, as well as being quite vocal about his pledge to sue them for $150,000, despite the fact that they spend every waking moment tending to his needs (proclaiming: "Is there a man in the world who suffers as I do from the gross inadequacies of the human race?").
But as the film progresses, it seems more and more unlikely that any family, even those clans with affluence to a fault, would continue to care for a man that strives to make every loving relationship that he picks up on his radar end in tears and arguing. It also seems even more unlikely that such a heartless bastard - a man who makes Ebenezer Scrooge seem like Mother Teresa - would seek redemption in the eyes of others at any point in time. Ah, but he does, leading to an implausible climax. That's not to say that the entertainment aspects of the feature are devalued, for I quite enjoyed the embittered cat-and-mouse warfare between Whiteside and his longtime, highly tolerant secretary (Bette Davis) or his temperamental nurse (Mary Wickes, whom he tells, after being fussed at for eating candy, "My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she'd been dead three days she looked better than you do now!"). It just keeps a good comedy from rising to greatness is all. However, I have to admit that I am jealous of Whiteside's ability to make every sentence he speaks a vicious insult. Check out the link below and marvel at the talent for yourself.
Watch the Insults Fly
All right, I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for nature documentaries. So in watching David Attenborough (the BBC's answer to Jacques Cousteau in the Naturalist Cold War that I like to imagine really happened) track down birds of paradise, I figure that it's a given that I'll find the documentary time well spent. Indeed it was, primarily because "Attenborough in Paradise" had two strengths going for it. The first was the absolutely gorgeous photography of birds that have scarcely been seen by the human eye before. Creatures with plumage and vocalizations so ornate and bizarre, they seem more like creatures dreamed up by Peter Jackson's WETA company for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Attenborough explains that the unusual phenotypes of these birds are due to a peculiar evolutionary quick where the females have become obsessed with mating with males that display an array of showy colors, generation after generation. Take a look at this and tell me that you actually object to watching footage of something so breathtakingly beautiful contort its body into surreal shapes for the sake of "getting laid."
The second strength is Attenborough's clear passion for the natural world, and especially for the animals featured in this documentary. He begins with the preface that he endeavored to capture birds of paradise on film decades earlier, but failed miserably. This is then his great, second chance to redeem himself and satiate his craving to see these organisms in person. When he finally does, the results are both endearing and, at times, hilarious. For example, he recognizes the "arena" of Wilson's bird of paradise and being familiar with the species neurotic need for cleanliness, decides to throw leaf litter into the arena to lure it out of the trees. When it descends from the canopy, shots of the iridescent, technicolor creature tidying up it's breeding space are juxtaposed of quick cuts of Attenborough peeking through the nearby bushes at it. His devilish grin is priceless - I felt almost as if he were channeling a schoolboy who was in process of watching the quintessential "girl next door" undress in front of her window. There's just something about individuals in their golden years expressing giddiness that I find whimsical. And if it's accompanied by fantastic nature footage, well, all the better.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Oh, Robert Altman...what were you thinking? This is just a weird concept to begin with. The final product is even more bizarre and unnecessary. Robin Williams is the strong armed sailor, clad in a costume complete with prosthetic arms. Shelly Duvall is a perfect double for Olive Oyl, which is rather sad considering no makeup was needed. There's the Paul Dooley factor as Wimpy and even the great Paul L. Smith tackles the role of Bluto. Lastly, Ray Walston has a peculiar cameo as Popeye's father, Poopdeck Pappy (okay, I will admit that his name is pretty darn funny). Really, prefect casting when you get right down to it. Furthermore, the costumes look like they were peeled from a comics page. So what's the problem then?
Nothing much happens. Bluto wants to marry Olive, Popeye wants to stop him, a can of spinach later, everyone's problems are solved. The film is also intended as a musical, but the songs come off as labored and paltry. Every musical should have at least one great "show stopper" that people are left humming long after the film is over. The only one I had stuck in my head was Olive Oyl's "He Needs Me"...and that's only due to the fact that we played the hell out of the "Punch Drunk Love" trailer at our theatre prior to its release (the music clearly unleashed all those memories of being stuck in the concession stand with the trailer DVD playing ad nauseum on the TV wall behind me). Every song has the same basic tone and beat and to me, a truly good musical will shift back and forth between slower, melodic (and often romantic) interludes contrasted with blow-out musical numbers with a full chorus line tapping out a rhythm that would make Busby Berkeley giddy. If you're going to turn down the pace of the music, it's only natural that the rest of the film will follow suit.
This Clip Illustrates the Basic Format All the Songs Follow
I feel bad that I missed this one when it was first released in theaters. Not only is it a damn funny comedy, but it's got a decent script to boot. Star Paul Rudd receives the benefit of his own pen, having co-written the screenplay with director and "Stella" alumnus David Wain. And thankfully, Seann William Scott reminded me that he can be funny (a bit of information I forgot after he spent a great deal of his time milking his Stifler routine to death in countless American Pie sequels).
The premise is simple: two roustabouts, Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) are sentences to community service after getting jacked up on energy drinks and trashing a school statue. Their time is to be served with Sturdy Wings, a mentoring program for maladjusted children. Danny takes LARPer ubergeek Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse - forever to be remembered as "McLovin'" in "Superbad") and Wheeler receives hellion Ronnie (newcomer Bobb'e J. Thompson). It's no surprise that after a series of misanthropic adventures that the reprobate duo will come to enjoy their time with their youngsters, but the chaos that ensues along the way is certainly worth the watch for its sheer hilarity.
I found it delightfully absurd and entertaining that the film's climax features a battle that rivals the fight for Minas Tirith in "LOTR: Return of the King." Beloved characters meet with gruesome deaths at the hands of their imaginations and the "weapons" of enemy warriors during a LARP spree in the city park. The parody of epic films and the simultaneous mockery of those who engage in role playing was a stroke of genius. Another mark of a clever mind is the casting of Jane Lynch and Joe Lo Truglio. Lynch, as Gayle Sweeney, the head of Sturdy Wings, tears the scenery to pieces any time the camera is on her with digressions about shit-talk and cocaine habits. And Truglio, donning the role of Kuzzick, Augie's superior in the LARP realm of LAIRE, had me gasping for air from laughter as he spouted off one barrage of cliched, medieval lingo after the next, conveying no true message in the process ("Diana has put away her bosom. Apollo has lifted his skirt. The day has been launched!"). Needless to say, it's refreshing to see a comedy aimed at a younger demographic that's not preoccupied with basing its humor solely on scatological references or fricative expletives.
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Being a buff of the animal attack subgenre of horror that I am, I was curious to see trained raccoons assaulting man and woman alike. Ah, but there were no "true" raccoons - only stuffed raccoons - taxidermy frozen into position that was intended to provide scares or laughs. Neither emotion arose from me as I realized that the movie was less of an homage to animal attack flicks and more of a low-budget attempt at a Troma film (and yes, I realize that such a description sounds like an oxymororn given the crude nature of so many Troma pictures). A group of adolescents play both drunken teenagers and, with the help of fake mustaches and wigs, the townsfolk dedicated to stopping the raccoons.
I have no problem with multiple roles (hell, I thrive on it), but the entire cast body shouldn't be predominantly college-age - it makes the film's production seem more amateurish than it already is. The only player over thirty is Tom Lyons who plays the mayor and has about five minutes of screen time. You need to throw some seasoned actors in to balance out the cast. The film also relies heavily on the assumption that viewers the same age as the cast will find sex jokes and cussing funny (writer/director Travis Irvine tries to push the catchphrase "Well, shit snakes!" into the modern lexicon by injecting it into the dialog whenever possible). As a result, much of the humor falls flat, though there are moments I found myself laughing out loud. The opening theme song tickled me and I couldn't stop laughing for nearly two minutes after the mayor was introduced. In the scene, the phone rings at Ranger Danger's station (my, isn't that funny...) and the crew present hang up on the caller before finding out who it is. Cut to the mayor sitting behind his desk in his pajamas, where he puts the phone on the receiver, shrugs and starts building Duplos. Had there been more subtle, offbeat humor such as this, the film would have held my interest a lot more. But like most Troma films, there are dick jokes aplenty and not much else to offer the average viewer above the age of twelve.
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Saturday, August 8, 2009
A predictable plot is the film's greatest downfall, but it's greatest asset are its stars - Dennis Farina and Bette Midler. Both actors are notorious for playing characters of garish behavior, but the pair digressing into vicious bouts of insult exchanges are quite entertaining. The premise? Molly (Paula Marshall) invites her divorced parents to her wedding (Farina & Midler) and oh, holy crap...the hi jinks ensue. From the start, there's no doubt the two will end up together in the end. Furthermore, Molly's husband-to-be is established as a prick early on, thus legitimizing the affair she has with paparazzi photographer Joey (played by Danny Nucci - an actor I don't believe I've ever much cared for).
The film feels like a miss for director Carl Reiner. While still peppered with a lot of humor, it scarcely rises to the entertaining zaniness of some of his previous projects. The fault undoubtedly falls on screenwriter Leslie Dixon, who was hoping for reviews hailing the film as a "triumph of the conventional." But, as mentioned before, Farina, Midler and most of the supporting cast do the best they can with the material at hand, thus preventing "That Old Feeling" from seeming intolerable.
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I have to hand it to Spike Lee - this is the first time when style over substance in a film has turned me off. And this is coming from somebody who owns a copy of "Toys" on DVD (if you just heard a sound, that was you clicking away from this page after that admission). I think my tolerance for the kinetic musical sequences was shoved aside by a plot that was as sluggish as its New Yorkers suffering in the heat wave of 1977, and as schitzophrenic as Sammy David Berkowitz.
To try and sum up the plot is rather hard to do, because it's all over the place, but I'll try. Italiano Vinny (John Leguizamo) sees a pair of bodies at a crime scene that were the victims of the Son of Sam. This moment sparks a mild obsession with the killer, as well as an overwhelming fear of him, while also sparking a desire to dismiss his love affairs and remain loyal to his wife. Meanwhile, his old mate Richie has returned from London and soon becomes the target of aggression and paranoia of the neighborhood, for he comes back sporting the look and attitude of a Sex Pistols-era punk. There's also a pair of policemen asking the mob for favors with the Son of Sam as well as recreations of the crime scenes.
Actually, upon reflection, I can sum it up rather quickly - the basic premise is Fritz Lang's "M" but rather than a pedophile in Germany, we have a serial killer in New York. Ugh...I've never been a huge fan of Adrien Brody, but his role in the film certainly pushes me towards the "dislike" end of the spectrum. His British accent, though a joke within the film, is intolerable and he only drops it to drop his pants at his regular performances at a local strip club. Even Spike Lee's trademark social commentaries on race are present, but mildly so, for they seem lost in the shuffle of changing editing styles and subplots. If I can leave off on a positive note, I have to admit that the incorporation of op songs from the seventies was handled in a manner equally as impressive as "Dazed and Confused." I shudder to think how much worse the story would have crawled in the absence of the great soundtrack. Oh well, just a couple of more films to go from my early era at the Baxter.
Watch the Trailer