A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 245 – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – October 31st, 2010

When I was in college I saw a sign hanging on a bulletin board in front of one of the dining halls. It was a hastily made sign advertising for auditions for a campus production of Rocky Horror. I didn’t know anyone involved at the time but I went anyhow. Turned out the woman playing Frank (women’s college = all female cast) was in two of my classes and I landed an awesome part. That one thing ended up being hugely influential to the rest of my social life in college. We rehearsed once a week and performed once a semester for other students in a cavernous dorm living room. It was fantastic and I’ve totally blocked out the stressful bits, of which there were many. It was theater, after all.

By the time I graduated I had played three parts in the show (guess which) and knew every line of every song, all the big callbacks and a ton of regional and school-specific ones. Watching this movie at midnight last night I was both overwhelmed with nostalgia and amazed not so much by what I remembered as shat I’d forgotten. There was a point when I could recite this movie and the callbacks from memory in its entirety. Andy and I did that once while at the mall. And while a ton of the callbacks and blocking came right back, there were a number of moment when I thought “there’s a line here and I cannot for the life of me remember it.”. That was a lot more depressing than I thought it would be. Regardless, I had a fantastic time watching. We put it in at midnight because we agreed that it just wouldn’t be right to watch it in the early morning or mid-afternoon.

I honestly don’t think I need to do much in terms of explaining this movie. Do I? This isn’t just a movie, it’s a whole big cultural thing. It sounds cliched to use the term “phenomenon” but it is somewhat accurate. No, shouting at movies didn’t start with RHPS but the whole thing with established jokes and props and people mockingly performing the show in front of the screen? I can’t say I know of anything quite the same before it. Some bits here and others there, yes, but not everything together. And still a cultural touchstone even now. There’s a story all about the experience of going to the midnight shows and dressing up in the book Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. A certain television show I don’t watch (and never will, even if the episode in question was directed by Adam Shankman) recently did a tribute to RHPS. This movie is ubiquitous.

But why is that? Why does a bizarre lowish budget musical sci-fi monster horror movie tribute starring Tim Curry make people want to watch it over and over and over again? Sure, shouting at a bad movie is fun. I am an MST3K fan, after all. But this movie isn’t Manos level bad. It’s not even Space Mutiny level bad. It seems like it’s almost but not quite self aware. I think Richard O’Brien, who wrote it and starred as Riff Raff, was likely fully aware of what this movie was. O’Brien walked a very fine line here, melding homage and parody and earnestness into a unique item. The plot, about an innocent young couple who end up trapped in a castle full of aliens, one of whom has just created the perfect man for his own sexual appetites, and how said couple ends up seduced and involved in a song and dance number, wearing corsets and heels, well. The plot is poking at tropes all over the place. So all over the place that it’s impossible to fully pin down.

There’s really just something intangible about this movie that makes it charming and fun and the perfect thing for people a little (or a lot) outside the norm to rally around. Sure, it’s more mainstream now, but its roots are in midnight shows and Tim Curry in drag from well before Ru Paul had her own television show. I really do miss the Thursday night rehearsals and the big boxes of make-shift props and costumes. I miss knowing every single line and callback. But even though I’ve forgotten some, it’s still the same movie and it’s still every bit as much fun to watch as it always was.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

October 31, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Back in 1991 or 1992 after my adventures in LA I came back to the Boston area and was living in a place out in Somerville with my sister. That winter I made it a habit to go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Harvard Square at midnight every Saturday night. Every single week. For about half a year. I suppose it was the closest in my adult life that I came to attending a weekly religious service, in that it was something I did every Sunday. I didn’t think about it that way at the time, but I was making time in my schedule every week to get together with a group of like minded people and engage in repetitive recitations. These were people I never knew except in their Rocky garb and then only by their handles. “Mammal.” “Naked.” The delightful pit-dwellers of Harvard Square. Later on Amanda directed and starred in her college production of Rocky, which involved weekly rehearsals leading up to the big Halloween performance.

As we watch it tonight I realize just how impossible it is to watch this movie without reciting the litany from those days. Every line in this movie and every callback is by now deeply ingrained in my subconsciousness. I cannot help crying out the responses and singing along to the songs. (Again – I suppose that this is what it must be like for those who take part in any form of organised religion.) I suppose it makes sense for me – I have a predisposition towards activities that make fun of movies. Witness my long fandom for MST3K, Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic and all their ilk.

Note that I do not say “bad movies.” This is because this movie is actually not bad at all. Oh, sure it’s not as much fun without the screaming crowd and flying toast, but it’s got a good cast, better production values than your average cheesy movie and a whole lot of really catchy songs. As a fan of monster movies and of all the pretty crazy freaks I can honestly say that I’d probably enjoy this movie on its own merits even without the larger sensation that it has become. But it’s the sensation that you think of when you think of Rocky Horror. It’s the midnight shows. It’s the goths and punks and other strange people of the night. It’s the fun of being permitted once a week to let go of all your inhibitions and scream at a movie screen along with everybody else.

This movie, and the phenomenon it spawned, has real lasting power. The DVD we own, bought about a decade ago, declares itself the 25th anniversary edition, so that’s about 35 years of people yelling back at the screen and throwing stuff (depending on what’s permissible in their particular theater of choice.) The riffs evolve with time – according to current topics. (Particularly the “hunting lodge for rich weirdos” and “I think we can do better than that” lines.) But the core of the event stays the same – it’s a bunch of people enjoying the same experience. A bunch of happy freaks scaring the squares.

And look at all the big name stars in this weird little movie! Susan Sarandon of course went on to a mighty and impressive career (when we decide to do a baseball week we’ll be reviewing Bull Durham.) Tim Curry is fabulous in everything he does (we’re looking forward to Clue, and he played one of the bad guys in Dragon Age: Origins which was one of my favorite video games of the last few years.) Richard O’Brien was one of the big draws when I first watched Dark City – one of my favorite movies of all time. Meat Loaf is still making movies to this day – Fight Club amongst the most successful. We even have other movies to review for our project that feature Barry Bostwick and Patricia Quinn.

We’re up to the closing credits now so it’s time for me to wrap things up for tonight. We have a full day planned for Sunday and more riffing if we’re lucky. I kind of wish that we had had the time to go to the theater tonight and see it as it was meant to be seen, but at least we got to see it at midnight. Now, tired and happy, we can collapse with visions of the inimitable Tim Curry in his garters and high heels. Sweet transvestite. And the songs are all caught in my head again.

October 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 244 – The Worst Witch (1986)

The Worst Witch (1986) – October 30th, 2010

What a fucking amazing movie this is. Really, it’s a thing of beauty, assuming your standards of beauty are star wipes and Charlotte Rae in a pink wig. I know mine are, so this movie here is a total gem. It’s based off of a series of British children’s books, but I’ve never read them. Oh, I’ve had the opportunity. We’ve got them at work. But having seen this first, I feel like if I read the books something will be ruined somehow. I’m not sure what, since I freely admit that this movie ruins itself every two minutes, but something would get ruined. I’m certain. So I’ve never read the books and I’ve only seen snippets of the older of the two series that have been made. Nope, I’m a purist.

I should admit here that I had seen a good portion of this movie well before I started dating Andy. My parents, in a bizarre attempt to keep my brother and me from watching things they didn’t want us watching on cable (once we got it a million years after everyone else), subscribed to the Disney channel. This is bizarre for two reasons: My parents never really liked Disney, and they never password protected the channel lock on the cable box, so MTV was mine for the viewing. But at some point, somewhere near Halloween I’m sure, this movie was played. And I saw the only two things that mattered to me at the time when deciding if this was worth watching: Tim Curry and Diana Rigg. Who the fuck cares about the rest of this trip through a fever dream? It’s got Tim Curry! And Diana Rigg! Diana Rigg, people. Emma Peel herself, playing a sort of proto-Snape-ette. Given how incredibly awesome she usually is, it’s a little tough to imagine Rigg chewing scenery, but by god, she’s good at it. Tim Curry I expect that from. He revels in it. So yeah. I saw the two of them and somehow they cast a happy wash over what I saw of it.

Of course, I’m pretty sure I missed the musical numbers. Like, all of them. I did not remember them when I saw this later on. And when this sort of thing goes on in a movie, you’d think you’d remember that, right? Or maybe I blocked it out. That’s a possibility too. Anyhow, some years later I happened upon a review of this movie, written by a guy who watched it while very sick and somewhat delirious, and it had me laughing so hard I hurt myself. And I remembered having seen the movie. And so we looked for a copy and we bought it. Probably so I could share the pain with Andy. We do love really bad movies, and well. It’s hard to top this.

To be honest, there’s no way I can review this half as well as the review I linked to. But in the spirit of completeness, here’s a quick summary of the plot and highlights. The story is about poor Mildred Hubble, a student witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy. It was filmed in the UK, but given the wide variety of accents it’s never terribly clear precisely where said academy is. I suspect they get the girls who wash out of Hogwarts. Mildred is clumsy, forgetful, nervous and also she fucks shit up on a regular basis just by being present. Her utter unsuitability for the field of witchcraft is demonstrated by things like her inability to not scream when other girls make faces, her uneven braids, and her tabby cat (which is totally not her fault – the school ran out of black cats on First Year Kitten Day). Miss Hardbroom (yes, really), played by Rigg, totally has it in for her because she sucks and can’t make potions or fly on a broomstick or do much of anything. Miss Cackle, played by the one and only Charlotte Rae, has a soft spot for her, however, and keeps her at the school for kicks.

One of the other students tries to get Mildred in trouble, so we’ve got a minor villain there, but it’s all very weak villainy. A bunch of evil witches headed by Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister (also played by the one and only Charlotte Rae, but in a pink wig and southern accent) are going to try and take over the school, that’s the major villain. They’re pretty weak too, since most of what they do is cavort in the forest and do a musical number. The song is probably the most evil they actually manage to do. Tim Curry shows up for a big Halloween bash but Mildred fucks that up right quick, which ends up leading to her turning the evil witches into snails and saving the day. No, I’m not going to bother explaining how it’s all connected. It’s not like the movie cares.

The whole thing is utterly ridiculous. Putting aside the musical numbers and the “special” effects involved in Tim Curry’s three minutes of shame, there’s also the flying, which is some of the worst blue/green screen work I’ve ever seen. There’s “terror tag” and an egg in a glass of water and a dubbed-over pig and oh god, I almost forgot Miss Cackle’s niece, with her bizarre accent and broom phone. Watching this movie is an utterly unique experience. I cannot put it any other way. It defies words at times and all I can say about it is “Oh my god, this movie!”

October 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Worst Witch

October 29, 2010

The Worst Witch

I honestly can’t remember why we bought this movie. I blame the internet. When Amanda was in college she read a hilarious summary of this movie (I believe she will have linked to it in her review.) We had trouble believing that something starring Diana Rigg and Tim Curry could really be as bad as we had heard that it was. Then we tracked it down on video and laughed uproariously. This movie has all the class and great special effects that you would expect from a 1980s made for TV movie.

This is the story of the hapless young Mildred Hubble who is attending a very Hogwartsian boarding school for young witches. She is terrorised by a strict and unforgiving potions master. She has trouble flying her broom. She is the only young witch with a cat that is not all black. In short she is an outcast and an oddball amongst witches.

Ye gods! I cannot express how ludicrous this movie is. It has random musical numbers. It has a ton of very cheap bluescreen work. It has a lengthy and pointless segment where the girls form teams to scare each other by making silly faces. (Not quite as riveting as Quidditch I know.) It has a pink-haired villain who speaks with a ridiculous southern accent in spite of the fact that the character’s sister is clearly Brittish.

I’m fully aware that I am about as far from the target audience for this movie as you can possibly get. It’s intended (I believe) for teenaged girls. I am a middle aged man. So perhaps this would be easier for young girls in the eighties to watch… or perhaps not. I can’t imagine anybody doing anything but staring in slack-jawed disbelief at the lengthy musical number about Halloween sung by Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard.

I will say that it is fabulous casting to have Tim Curry in the movie. There’s a special kind of weirdness to all these girls swooning over his photograph (since the Grand Wizard is apparently the most desirable man in all the witching world. Sort of the Edward Cullen of his day.) And his musical number must be seen to be believed. What I don’t understand, however, is how on earth the film makers got Diana Rigg for the part of Miss Hardbroom. I’m just not used to seeing an accomplished and sell trained actress like her hamming it up to this degree. She plays the part with what I would call a madcap intensity. Particularly noteworthy are her over-the-top exits – her character being the type to always get in the last word.

You know what? I give up. If you want to understand this movie you just have to give in and experience it for yourself. I think THAT must be why we own it. Because we can try all we might to describe it to our friends but the only real way to communicate its particular cheesy charm is to just put it in the DVD player and watch it. At least it has the benefit of being pretty short.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 243 – Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane – October 29th, 2010

When I started this project I knew there’d be movies in the collection I didn’t necessarily want to watch but would end up putting on anyhow because that was the whole point. Somehow it escaped my notice at the outset that we owned this movie. I remembered fairly quickly, and I probably could have set up the rules so that I could pick a movie or two to skip over. I considered it. But I didn’t. Because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. Because I am ophidiophobic. Not as badly as I used to be. I haven’t had any screaming nightmares that make me wake up convinced there are cobras under my bed in at least a year, and over the summer I held two snakes during a library program. Almost wet my pants, but I held them. So I should be able to handle a cheesy movie full of CGI snakes, right?

Right. The reason we’re watching this today and not some other day is because tonight we’re going to Cinematic Titanic Live, and they’re premiering Rattlers. And I thought it would totally be a brilliant idea to fill my day with as many snakes as possible. And between the movie and the show tonight I plan on going down to the marsh to see if I can catch a few garter snakes, just for kicks! Sometimes I’m not very intelligent about this sort of thing. To be honest, holding actual live snakes (a ball python and a corn snake) was easier than watching these computer generated ones on my television. I was doing just fine until the snakes attacked the folks in the bathroom and then I had a full body freak-out.

I admit, I looked away a lot. Like, I had my head under a blanket for whole chunks of the movie. I screamed, I shook, I whimpered. This movie is pure disaster cheese and it’s well aware of it, so it’s full of little jokes like the “snake” setting on the microwave. And I appreciate that. In the middle of my phobic twitching (no, really) it was nice to have the occasional laugh or two. And I did laugh, because let’s face it, there’s a reason this movie became a web-driven cult hit and his name is Samuel L. Jackson and he does a fantastic job keeping the movie fun where it can be. I’d probably have enjoyed him a lot more if I wasn’t so incredibly wigged out by the snakes. It takes a lot of movie to get to the “mother fucking snakes on this mother fucking plane” line, but it’s worth it when it gets there and he’s got plenty of similarly Look How Bad Ass I Am moments to get through until then. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Julianna Margulies was given a part that’s also pretty badass and fun to watch. Sure, she’s not as snappy as Jackson’s Agent Flynn, but Margulies as Claire, one of the flight attendants, certainly held her own through the barrage of snakes and cheese.

I hesitate to even gloss over the plot of the movie. The plot is incidental. I mean, who really cares why the snakes are on the plane, right? Or why Agent Flynn is on the plane too? Yes, there actually is a plot. It involves a murder with no background whatsoever, witnessed by a surfer named Sean. I think. Honestly, I wasn’t paying a hell of a lot of attention to names and the actor isn’t someone I’m familiar with. Anyhow, of course the goons of the guy who did the murderin’ come after the surfer and the FBI – represented by Samuel L. Jackson – get him to safety long enough to convince him to testify. They run through this whole thing where they have a fake flight for the witness when they’re really commandeering first class in a regular commercial flight, all to keep this guy safe. Unbeknownst to them (but knownst to us), the murderer has set up an elaborate plan involving crate-loads of illegally imported venomous snakes from around the world, boxes of leis saturated in a pheromone that will make the snakes go all attacky, and a timer set to blow the boxes open and wedge the cargo hatch open into the rest of the plane. He claims he’d run through all his other options already, and I’d like to know just how much attempted murder we missed that the only thing left is venomous snakes and pheromones. It’s so wacky, it just might work! The movie’s humor comes through later on when more than one character comments on the bizarre nature of the scheme.

Anyhow, once the snakes are loose the plot takes its rightful place in coach, in those seats with all the engine noise that I used to fly in because they were cheap. The snakes are all over the place, coming through the instrument panels in the cockpit and hiding out in vomit bags. They come down out of the ceiling with the oxygen masks and hide in purses and toilets and generally there are about ten times as many snakes as passengers (and that ratio gets bigger as the snakes start biting people). Our characters are a mixed bag of two honeymooning couples, two unaccompanied minors, a mother and baby, a famous musician and his two assistants, a kick boxer, a spoiled rich girl and her chihuahua, a snotty jackass who doesn’t like babies or dogs and then there’s the flight crew, Agent Flynn and the witness. There were other people, but if we met any of them for any appreciable amount of time I missed it what with all the snakes and my panicked flailing. Some of them make it, some of them don’t. The ones that don’t meet rather gruesome ends, as one might expect. This is not a movie full of surprises other than the billion snakes popping out of luggage compartments and food carts.

Did I enjoy this movie? In places, sure. I enjoyed Margulies and Jackson and I enjoyed the cheese factor and the incredibly self-aware nature of the movie. The whole mood of it is of a movie that knows damn well what it’s doing. It didn’t set out to have an involved plot or to make the situation remotely believable. It’s ridiculous from start to finish and it plays it up in just the right tongue-in-cheek way. But overall, there are just too many fucking snakes. Yes, that’s the point, I know. But I can only handle so much slithering and hissing and striking before I work myself into a panicked little ball in the corner of my bedroom. So yeah, I think I’m very glad to have this one behind me and I am quite certain that I will never ever be watching it again.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snakes on a Plane

October 29, 2010

Snakes on a Plane

Some days this movie is difficult. I’ve had a long day at work and this afternoon we didn’t have time to watch a movie before we left home to go watch the premier of a brand new Cinematic Titanic (Rattlers!) in Boston. I’m exhausted and happy after meeting Joel, Josh, Mary Jo, Frank and Trace and watching them make fun of a pretty bad movie. I want only to collapse and sleep for days, but the nature of this project demands that I watch and review a movie before the day is out. We chose to watch Snakes on a Plane because we thought that it would make a nice companion piece to Rattlers. I’m actually enjoying watching it again, but if you’ve read Amanda’s review then you know it was a pretty terrifying chore for her.

This movie was an expensive lesson for New Line Cinema. That lesson was this: the kind of person who enjoys being part of an internet meme is not the sort of person who pays to watch a movie. This movie, or at least the concept of it, was hugely popular in nerdly internet circles for a while. I mean, hell, just Google it. So New Line figured they had a guaranteed hit on their hands. What they didn’t account for was that the internet is entirely populated by pirates and scofflaws. So the movie bombed horribly. Which is too bad, because I actually enjoy this movie.

Snakes on a Plane does just what it says on the tin. It’s about snakes. On a motherfucking plane. It revels in the cheese. There’s a plot here about a mob boss and the surfer/dirtbiker/Redbull spokesperson who has witnessed him murdering a Hawaiian DA. Said mob boss uses the time-worn strategy for killing the potential stoolie and witness of filling a bunch of cargo containers with snakes, spiking the complementary aloha leis with pheromones to drive the snakes into a killing frenzy, then rigging the containers to open when the plane is midway between LAX and Honolulu. The only thing standing between our affable schmoe’s certain death is the steely-eyed glare of Samuel L. Jackson who plays the FBI agent charged with getting him to LA in one piece, and a kind-hearted flight attendant on her last flight before leaving the airline business to pursue her law degree.

What I enjoy about the movie is that it is so unabashedly silly. It’s only very slightly less a spoof of disaster films then Airplane. Indeed there were lines and shots in the movie that were close enough to bits from Airplane that I think it likely that they were intentional homages. The screenwriters took a very straight forward approach in their attitude towards the movie. I’d say they had two tasks to accomplish. First they had to introduce a wide array of easy to understand movie stereotypes to populate the plane. (The unaccompanied minors, the rap star and his body guards, the annoying British prick, the woman with her baby, the randy “mile high” couple, the sickly guy with a fear of flying, the kickboxer, the woman with her dog… all well worn tropes and many from the disaster movie genre.) Then the next task is to find as many gruesome and hilarious ways to kill off people (with snakes) as they could.

The movie would quickly become tired and repetitive if all you had was snakes latched on to jugulars and legs. They’ve got about an hour to fill with constant snake attacks here, and it’s a mighty difficult task to keep that fresh. Go ahead and try to think of every kind of way that somebody could be killed by a snake, and probably that will be somewhere in this movie. Towards the end it does start to feel a little samey, but they do a good job of keeping me entertained for most of the film.

This movie is pure cheese and must be viewed as such. You have to take a kind of joy in the stupidity of the plot and the ludicrous premise. Oh, and one other thing is essential if you’re going to enjoy this movie at all. You must have no fear of snakes. For the perspective of an ophidiophobe check out Amanda’s review.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 242 – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – October 28th

This DVD, along with our vast MST3K collection, often gets put in as background noise while we’re doing other things. We’ve seen it a million times and we know it well enough that we can quote whole sections of it verbatim on a whim. In fact, when watching some of the Shakespeare we’ve already done I found myself hearing the lines and jokes from this production in my head over the real lines. Branagh’s Hamlet suffered from this particularly severely. I mean, I loved Branagh’s Hamlet, but I will forever now think of Hamlet as “Omelet the cheese Danish.” I can’t help it.

As with last night’s movie, this one tells you what it is right on the cover. It is the complete works of Shakespeare, but very much abridged. For one, only two plays are presented in anything close to complete form, with lines exchanged and scenes performed, albeit in truncated form, and the rest are sort of whipped through or mentioned in passing. Some get individual mentions, like Othello being done as a rap and Troilus and Cressida getting some interpretive dance performance art. But the comedies are almost all done as one big mash up that I would very much like to actually see performed. The histories are done as an American football game, with the crown passed as a football. All that stuff happens in the middle along with a lot of fake vomiting, screaming, bad wigs and running around. The play is bookended with two of the most well known of Shakespeare’s works.

We open with Romeo and Juliet. Well, actually we open with some introductions for the cast. There are three, which is the source of much of the humor, since the three of them have to play every role and present every play, but also bicker like siblings on a car trip. There’s Austin, the “expert”; Adam, the goofball; and then there’s Reed, who sort of corrals the other two. Personally I like Adam’s introduction best. But then there’s Romeo and Juliet, which is certainly well done and a good indication of the sort of humor the show will have, such as when Adam as Juliet does the balcony scene standing on a chair behind Austin. And then there’s the fake dagger. Anyhow, it’s certainly a familiar play, so it makes for a good intro to the show. Then, after all the wacky hijinks and pantaloons it’s time to celebrate! They’ve finished early! Everyone can go home! Ha ha. No. Because then there’s Hamlet.

Really, Hamlet does deserve its own act, and its own paragraph. It’s a big hulking beast of a play and if Branagh’s full version is four hours long then of course the abridged version needs a little more space than, say, All’s Well That Ends Well. They spend a lot of time on it, and well, they do a really excellent job, for all that it’s a parody and abridged and has an interlude in the middle where they pull up an audience member to play Ophelia and get the whole audience involved in motivating her. While I think it’s probably a given that the folks behind this whole thing know their Shakespeare, it’s Hamlet that really hammers it home. They get into the motivations and what they see as flaws. They distill what is an exceptionally complex play into a very short period of time and manage to get across what’s going on while still presenting it with tons of jokes and interruptions. And then they do it faster. And then even faster. And then backwards. It is a thing of beauty.

What I really love about this play is that it clearly required a love of and in depth knowledge of Shakespeare. The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a group of very funny people who know how to do good humor, but they also know their source material. And as I love Shakespeare, but am aware of some flaws in the plays, I do so love watching people lovingly parody it. Sure, some of the jokes are a bit dated. There’s at least one Bill Clinton reference that’s from my college years and it probably won’t age well the further we get from the incident in question. But then this is also a snapshot of the production at a particular time. I’m pretty confident that they keep their jokes fresh with newer performances. So regardless of all that, the humor is great and the Shakespeare is fun and I do so love it. Makes me want to put in Branagh’s Omelet.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reduced Shakespeare Company

October 28, 2010

The Reduced Shakespeare Company: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

“Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet did he? It must be a missprint – it’s a Mel Gibson movie.”

If you’ve been following or little blog here then you know by now that Amanda and I are big fans of William Shakespeare. We own quite a few adaptations of Shakespeare and have the intention to purchase a great many more. Amanda has a fairly good scholarly background in Shakespeare having taken courses examining his words both in High School and College, whereas I have only read a couple of his plays but always enjoy seeing them performed. So it’s only natural that we should completely love this fantastic and simple piece of live comedy theater which manages to at least mention every one of Shakespeare’s plays and does passable abbreviated versions of the most well-known of them.

We have watched this so many times that we pretty much have it memorised. Indeed after sitting through the four-hour-long uncut Kenneth Branagh Hamlet we actually threw this in and watched it as well, just because it’s so much fun. How many productions of Hamlet include an encore, and then a second encore?

According to the commentary on the DVD (which is FULL of nifty little tidbits and well worth watching if you get a chance) the whole production started out as a piece performed by a couple members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company at ren-fests. (In particular this is why the opening play, Romeo & Juliet, is actually a two-man production.) Since then the company has set up shop in London where they performed this play for years. They also have adapted the Complete History of America (Abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) and the Complete Hollywood (Abridged).

The concept here is that you have three guys on stage performing all the major roles in every play Shakespeare ever wrote. It’s full of quick changes, slapstick, modern-day references, audience participation and general silliness. In the version captured here on the DVD the three are Adam Long (one of the writers, who gives himself the part of being a somewhat dimwitted buffoon most of the time) Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Of course like any traveling company the actual cast changes over time (one of the other writers has a cameo on the DVD as an audience member brought up on stage to take part in the play.)

What I enjoy about this so much is that it has a kind of reverence to it at the same time that it spoofs the plays. Sure they’re constantly cracking jokes and playing around, but the guys actually seems to think that Shakespeare is still relevant today, and you get the impression that the whole production is as much an homage and tribute to Shakespeare as it is a farce. I know that were I to ever teach Shakespeare I would definitely include this movie as part of the curriculum. Watching this makes me want to watch more Shakespeare, and likewise whenever I watch Shakespeare seriously performed it makes me want to watch this again.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 241 – Four Weddings and a Funeral

Four Weddings and a Funeral – October 27th, 2010

I have been to a number of weddings. I know people who’ve been to more than I have, but I’ve done my fair share. Counting them up, I think I’m at nine so far, with one potential wedding in the future that I know of. Oh, and right, I’m married. And every wedding was unique. Large, small, fancy, simple. I’ve been involved and I’ve just been a guest. I’ve pinned boutonnieres and made makeshift corsages and done the polka and the Time Warp. I’ve been to receptions where there was dancing all night and I’ve been to backyard barbecues and a Chinese restaurant. Weddings are one of those things a lot of people have experience with, if not participating in then at least attending. Or avoiding.

The movie really is rather simple in plot. There are indeed four weddings, as the title says, and a funeral, also as advertised. The weddings are introduced via the main character, Charles, usually waking up late and saying “fuck” a lot. Then we get a glimpse of a wedding invitation as a sort of title card. The weddings sort of run together. The second one is a couple who met at the first wedding and the third one is one of the main characters and the fourth one is another, each one tying to the last somehow. They’re supposed to be telling the story of a couple who aren’t a couple. Charles meets Carrie at the first wedding and is immediately smitten with her, but as this is a romantic comedy of course they couldn’t just realize they’re meant for each other then and there. We’ve got to have an arc. And so at the second wedding Carrie is with her fiance – who is not Charles – and at the third she’s the bride. Charles’ wedding is the fourth, and Carrie is not the bride. Not terribly unpredictable. The movie does attempt some suspense about who Charles is getting married to, but even the first time I saw this I knew Carrie’s name wasn’t the one hiding under the bouquet on the invitation.

So yes, there is an awful lot of comedy of errors involved in the main couple’s non-romance. They get together, they part ways, they get engaged to other people. They have truly rotten timing. And all around them their friends are getting married and living happily or seeming to be thoroughly uninterested in marriage or unconcerned about when it will happen for them. For the most part Charles is unworried about it himself, aside from a passing furrowed brow whenever he meets Carrie and doesn’t manage to figure out he wants to stick with her. It’s the funeral that acts as a catalyst here.

Now. The funeral. I cannot watch the funeral without sobbing pretty much from right before the actual death until well after the funeral’s over. The core crew of characters all seem to have been school friends or the like. Fiona and Tom are brother and sister, Charles and Scarlett share a flat, Charles’ brother, David, pops in and out of the movie. David gets away with being more pointed in his inquiries and comments because he’s deaf and only Charles understands British Sign Language. And then there are Matthew and Gareth. Right from the outset it’s clear that Matthew and Gareth are a couple. They’re shown together at the beginning, getting ready for the first wedding in a far less frantic and more intimate way than the platonic Scarlett and Charles. Gareth is a Brian Blessed sort of man. Gregarious and opinionated and prone to wearing brightly colored waistcoats. And during Carrie’s wedding reception he dies. And while I do love this movie, and I do think that overall the relationship between Matthew and Gareth is handled fairly well, I’m not entirely thrilled with the fact that the gay couple are the ones split up this way. After Gareth’s funeral Charles and Tom remark that they hadn’t really ever realized that two of their group were married already. Why is it Gareth who has to die, if someone’s going to? Why is it Matthew left alone? The cynic in me says it’s because this way there wasn’t a potentially audience-scandalizing gay wedding. But in the end, it has the effect of making the main characters realize just how much in love the two were, and Charles realizes he wants someone to love that much.

I have to applaud both Simon Callow as Gareth and John Hannah as Matthew. John Hannah in particular. His speech at the funeral is delivered with such tightly gripped sorrow it’s almost hard to watch. And having watched Callow as Gareth, you know just why Matthew loved him so much. I’m fond of the rest of the cast too, especially Charlotte Coleman as the punkish waif, Scarlett, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona, who gets a bittersweet sort of moment herself later on in the movie (and with Rowan Atkinson as a priest in the first and second wedding, I can’t help but snicker, having seen Keeping Mum with the two of them). But really, compared to all of the surrounding cast, including the extras and friends-who-got-married, I’m afraid I find Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell perfectly fine, good fun in places, but not quite as touching as the rest. They’re good and all, I just end up liking everyone else better. I don’t watch this movie for them. I watch it for Charles’ brother and for Scarlett and for Fiona and for Matthew and Gareth and the closing credits showing everyone living happily ever after.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Weddings & A Funeral

October 27, 2010

Four Weddings & A Funeral

When last I watched this movie I had not yet been to any weddings or funerals. Well, a couple family weddings I suppose as a kid, but I hadn’t really been a part of any weddings. So I enjoyed the comedy – the romance – of this movie, but I didn’t really appreciate how well it captured the awkwardness of large groups of people from all different branches of a person’s life converging at one chaotic and heavily choreographed event. Watching it now after not only getting married myself but also attending several other weddings adds another entire dimension to the film.

As the title implies this movie is about weddings and a funeral. More than that, really, it’s a love story played episodically as the protagonist becomes smitten with a woman he encounters at a friend’s wedding and proceeds to fall completely in love with her. The movie is divided into five “acts” each of which is a different ceremony. There are two things that stand out about this movie: the fantastic ensemble cast, and the absolutely brilliant writing.

This is, of course, the movie that launched Hugh Grant and his hangdog looks and stuttering patter to super-stardom. And well it should have. His performance as the ever-repressed and dreadfully timid Charles is perfect for the movie. From the very start he’s bumbling and lovable and completely charming but also completely lost. Andie MacDowell is Carrie, the gorgeous American woman he falls head over heels in love with, much to his own dismay. She’s an odd character with ill-defined goals, but I’m a sucker for her piercing eyes and her gentle southern twang. Then there’s the motley crew of fast friends that Charles encounters at every wedding. His tomboyish cute-as-a-button sister (I think) Scarlett (played with impish glee by Charlotte Coleman) his deaf brother David (played tenderly by real deaf actor David Bower) Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona – the dour woman who has a secret crush on Charles, the slightly dim but always friendly Tom (James Fleet – who reminds me somewhat of Tom from the Norman Conquests) and the only real couple out of the whole group Matthew and Gareth. John Hannah as Matthew has the most touching and impassioned speech about love in the movie, and Simon Callow absolutely devours the role of Gareth, the boisterous life of every party, and steals every scene he’s in. Altogether they’re a fun group of friends, and as you get to know them all and their foibles, strengths and shortcomings you begin to see why they all need each other.

It’s the writing that’s the real star of the movie for me though. Richard Curtis has crafted something beautiful and unique in this movie. The way that he has captured the awkward dread of weddings is fantastic. I watch this film now and I think to myself “yeah, I remember moments like that” which sort of grounds the film. But it’s also an escapist fantasy. It’s a story about love at first sight, that enduring and appealing notion that there really is the perfect person out there for you and that when you meet them you’ll just know. It’s also got marvelously crafted comedy setpieces such as the dreadful wedding from hell where Charlie somehow ends up seated with every one of his ex-girlfriends. There’s just enough disappointment and awkwardness to lend the movie a sense of reality, which makes the delirious fantasy of true love all the more uplifting when it is realized.

And this movie is uplifting. It’s got moments of tenderness, of outrageous humor, of painful loss, and of pure bliss. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it makes me so very happy to know that I’ve found the perfect person to spend the rest of my days with.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment