Saturday, May 15, 2004
Now for a bit of Saturday afternoon fluff whilst cleaning my room... F/X2 (1991). I saw this and the first movie back to back on video in 1992 or so. It's a fun movie--a great buddy flick with the added hook of using special effects in real world situations. (The short-lived TV series The Wizard used a similar premise.) Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy are both likable actors, and work well together in this movie, though neither of them seem to have become as well-known as you would have thought from their work in the early 90s.
One thing immediately struck me during the opening credits: this movie was produced by Dodi Fayed, who was involved with Princess Diana and killed in the Paris car accident with her. (By coincidence, the scene in the opening credits shows a car being driven erratically before eventually crashing.) Looking over his IMDB listing, he also produced the first F/X and the great Chariots of Fire. I'm not sure if he was just the money man or had any influence on the movies, but it's an interesting footnote nonetheless.
No need to go into the plot, but it's a good dumb movie for a Saturday afternoon.
One last movie to review, and I didn't think I could stay awake long enough. One of the oddities found on the Sundance Channel, Heavy Traffic (1973). This as the second movie of Ralph Bakshi after Fritz the Cat. I'm not really a fan, but as someone who pays attention to graphic design and the progress of animation in the 20th century, I had to see it. I liked Wizards, didn't really care too much for Cool World, thought the new Mighty Mouse seres was great.
This is a semi-autobiographical tale of life in Brooklyn in the early 70s. It's sleazy and perverted, but interesting in places. There's a good bit of nudity, but none of it is enjoyable. (The main character's old Jewish mother frequently flashes her left breast. Why?) Which also brings up the topic, have animated genitalia ever looked anything other than ridiculous? Ignore the Japanese, in which things generally get weird and/or creepy.
The uses of live action, photo composition, and multiple styles of animation (traditional, rotoscoped, etc.) all bear the Bakshi trademark, and it works pretty well here. There's not a lot of plot involved, but it's still pretty enjoyable. You can see a lot of groundbreaking animation that has only recently become popular and socially acceptable. A good movie to see at least once.
Here's an odd little gem I stumbled across... One More Saturday Night (1986). This is notable for trivial purposes as being the first movie written by Al Franken, who wrote for Saturday Night Live through some of its best years. Put your feelings about Air America aside, he's done some good writing in his day. He also receives close to top billing for this movie, even though he plays a fairly minor character.
What's really amazing is that this film isn't more well known. In fact, until tonight as I was scrolling through the schedule, I'd never heard of it before. It's a great ensemble/teen party/less than 24-hour long movie in the style of 200 Cigarettes or Can't Hardly Wait. Intertwined plotlines, equally interesting adult and teen stories going on, some decent music... There's a lot of good stuff to see here. I really don't know why this movie is as obscure as it is--I haven't ever heard Franken speak of it, so maybe he hates it, but this easily could have been a cult classic of the late 80s/early 90s.
This is a movie that, surprisingly, I'd never heard of until I started looking up the complete works of John Cusack: Hot Pursuit (1987). I'm really surprised that I never saw this on video or cable--it fits in so well with the other dumb late 80s movies that I saw. I can only assume that there were distribution problems along the way. I bought it in a state of complete ignorance from the local Blockbuster for around five bucks--basically the price of a rental, though it wasn't available for rent.
One problem might be the cover... Follow the link above, and you'll see what I mean. Cusack is depicted with an expression on his face that's somewhere between the Keanu Reeves "Whoa!" and the "O Face" guy from Office Space.
The general premise is that a guy is supposed to go on vacation with his girlfriend to the Caribbean, but a last minute snag prevents him from going. The girl's father thinks the boy is a wimp. Hilarity and craziness ensue, and you've got a good combination of 80s teen comedy, beach movie, and action flick. It's really quite good in places--Robert Loggia plays a major character, as does the great Jerry Stiller (Mr. Costanza from Seinfeld). It's also the first movie role for Ben Stiller, who plays the son of his father's character in the film. There's a minor role played by the great Keith David. The girl who plays the little sister later played the oldest sister in Uncle Buck.
It's a fun movie, I get to knock it off the list, and it can join the other films on my shelf... Once again, I'm convinced that there is a John Cusack movie that fits with every stage in a guy's life from high school through your thirties.
Friday, May 14, 2004
Ugh... A real stinker here... Scary Movie 3 (2003). The first movie was hilarious; the second was pretty bad, and this one was just plain terrible. Originally it was supposed to be a parody of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but instead became a mixed parody of The Ring and Signs. Neither of those movies really lend themselves to parody.
This was directed by David Zucker, and it didn't have the guidance of the Wayans Brothers as with the first two films. Plus, it's rated PG-13 rather than R, and the entire feel is different. None of it worked at all. I was even slightly drunk and watching it with a friend at the time, and I was more repulsed than amused. I'm the kind of open-minded sick bastard that can giggle at the occasional demented joke, but this was just stupid and wrong. Case in point...
Remember the scene from Signs when Mel Gibson's character shows up on the scene of the accident where his wife has been sliced in two? Well, that is recreated for this film, with Charlie Sheen in Gibson's role and Sheen's real life spouse Denise Richards playing the wife. It's recreated almost verbatim from the original movie, but Sheen injects jokes like wanting to have sex with the bottom half of his dying wife. It just falls flat, and comes across as incredibly wrong.
There's also a running gag of a young boy getting beaten and tortured in various ways. It was mildly amusing the first time, but after the hundredth scene it's just depressing. Do not see this movie under any circumstances. It's terrible on so many levels. They're actually working on a fourth that's supposed to be a spoof of the recent spate of superhero/comics movies, but by the time it comes out it might just be a mixture of Seabiscuit and Finding Nemo.
This wasn't a selection of mine... The Roommate rented it and enjoyed it, and was kind enough to leave it for me to return on time. But I decided to watch it out of morbid curiosity... The Haunted Mansion (2003). This is the third of three live-action movies based off Disney theme park rides: The Country Bears and Pirates of the Caribbean preceded it. I didn't see the bear flick, and have previously blogged about the pirate one, which I enjoyed. This one, meh.
I enjoy the comedic talents of Eddie Murphy. And while he was awesome in the multiple roles of The Nutty Professor, I haven't been thrilled with his recent work (except for Bowfinger and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, neither of which were Disney movies). I think it would be hilarious to go back to myself in 1984, when I was in Brian's room listening to his older sister's Eddie Murphy tapes. We laughed our asses off--even if we only understood half of what was going on. But imagine the incredulity of saying, at that time, the following: "Eddie Murphy will make one more good movie, called Coming to America, and then he'll make a lot of flops. His career will tank, and then he'll be arrested for beating up a transvestite hooker once he learned 'her' secret. But soon thereafter, he'll become one of Disney's biggest stars and engage in remakes of various Disney movies and properties for years to come."
The plot sucks and is very predictable. I haven't been on the ride, but you get the feeling you're being led from one gimmick to another, much like what I imagine the ride is like. Terrance Stamp is a great actor, and while he does a good job as the butler/main bad guy in the movie, he's really underutilized here. The kids are annoying and useless. Eddie Murphy is occasionally funny here, but he plays a real estate agent. Not something to get too excited about.
First up was Spy Hard (1996), a James Bond spoof starring Leslie Nielsen in the lead role. For the life of me, I thought this was a Zucker/Abrahams movie, but it's not. It's certainly in the same vein. Keep in mind that I love a lot of those movies--the Airplane, Naked Gun, and Hot Shots series, as well as one-off projects like Top Secret. But at some point in the early 90s they lost the touch. This movie just sucked. And I even saw it in the theater when it came out.
There were a lot of good actors in this, and casting Andy Griffith as the bad guy was a stroke of genius. And the opening credits with Weird Al Yankovic were superb. But overall the movie just doesn't work. There are too many vulgar/scatalogical jokes that just aren't funny. I don't mind sick humor, but if it doesn't work, it just looks stupid.
I've seen this movie a few times over the years, but decided to give it one last chance. And nothing in it convinced me that I had made a good use of my time.
Due to family matters, weird psychological factors, and other weirdness, I haven't blogged about the movies I've seen this past week. But for some reason I've got the bug, so let's run with it for a while.
Monday, May 10, 2004
I rented this movie over the weekend, but between odd moods and conflicting schedules, I never got around to seeing it. With 24 hours left to spare on the rental, I'm now kicked back for a viewing of Shattered Glass (2003).
I wasn't reading The New Republic back in 1998 when this scandal broke, but I remember hearing about it... (For those who are completely unfamiliar with the story, a popular young writer named Stephen Glass was discovered to be fabricating his stories. It was a huge scandal, and Glass recently published a book about the affair, The Fabulist.)
I've been a fond reader of the web version of the magazine since the 2000 presidential election... Right now they're a center-left publication, but they hover around the center in a fashion that you won't see in many publications. They have a lot of excellent, well-written, insightful articles, and the site (and the associated editorial blogs) is highly recommended.
As for the actors in this movie... Hayden Christiansen plays the main character. Most of you will know him as Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, but he's much better in this role. Hank Azaria (the voice of dozens of classic characters on The Simpsons) plays editor Michael Kelly, who was killed in Iraq last year while embedded with US troops. (At the time he was editor at large for The Atlantic Monthly, another fine publication.) The great Steve Zahn plays the fact-checker that eventually brings Glass down.
And now for the ladies... Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Melanie Lynskey, all of whom play journalists of one form or another. Sevigny played the innocent blonde in The Last Days of Disco. Dawson played the hot young lady in The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Melanie Lynskey played the psycho murdering teenager in Peter Jackson's early film, Heavenly Creatures, in which she starred alongside then-relatively-unknown Kate Winslet.
It's odd how the echos of this scandal still reverberate today... For instance, in listening to the 1997 archives of the NPR show This American Life, Glass was an occasional contributor. It was so jarring to hear his voice, his byline, and I knew that I had to steel myself and take everything he said with a grain of salt. Young, enthusiastic, idealistic... It's easy to see why he fooled so many people. For a particularly heart-wrenching take on it, read the opinions of author, blogger, and former editor of The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan.