A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 574 – Barbershop

Barbershop – September 25th, 2011

Oh, I am so full of mixed opinions on this movie. I didn’t buy it and it was purchased after this project got underway. But it was also purchased before we set a hard rule about not purchasing things without getting the explicit approval from each other. The “To Buy” list is exempt, since by its nature it’s all things we both want to get. But anything picked up by one of us needs to be okayed by the other. Andy, however, bought this after we had a general conversation about how while the collection does have a fair amount of drama and a number of foreign films, much of the rest of it is pretty homogeneous. And that was something we were both sort of uncomfortable with. We talked about how we might want to consider buying things that were very clearly not marketed towards 30-something white guys and try to expose ourselves to things outside our own lives but still in the realistic genre, as opposed to fantasy and whatnot. Cause goodness knows my personal experience doesn’t involve any sea monsters, talking lions, vampires or Jedi. And then Andy bought this and Diary of a Mad Black Woman without speaking to me first.

On one hand, I honestly don’t know what I would have picked. It’s been years since I worked in a video store. Currently I work in a children’s library. My knowledge of current movies is fairly limited to things I went to see in the theater, which really disqualifies something from the “not in my wheelhouse” category, or children’s movies. I can tell you what’s coming out based on children’s books! Still, that would definitely fall under “aimed at me” by dint of my profession. So really, what’s my problem here? My problem is that I feel like I have very little right to be reviewing this movie. It is so emphatically not aimed at me and I am so very much not a part of the cultural experience that this movie is based in. What right do I have to critique this? If I say I dislike part of it, how much of that dislike is based on my own ignorance? I am ill-equipped here and very leery of stepping on toes. I’m sure I will and I apologize in advance and will try my best not to tread too heavily.

All that being said, I hated the first half hour or so of this movie. And I feel no qualms about stating that. I hated it and I hated it for a very particular reason. And that reason is that an enormous amount of the comedy in the beginning of the movie is of the “aren’t women crazy sex objects?” variety. I honestly don’t care why that’s a thing. All I know is that for the first half of the movie, the only woman treated with any respect is the main character’s wife. That’s it. And you know what that is? Tiresome. Frustrating. Irritating. It gets better later on, once the main plot starts coming to a head, thank goodness, but the beginning of the movie has a series of “look how insane women get! So wild and crazy! And look at their asses! Women are crazy and will beat up your car! Or you! But they have great asses!” I don’t care who’s saying it. I don’t want to hear that. It’s weak humor at best.

Fortunately for this movie’s sake (as well as my marriage’s) it does get better as the plot goes on. It’s largely a comedy, but with a serious core that’s three quarters Empire Records and one quarter It’s A Wonderful Life, strictly speaking plotwise. Calvin Palmer is a barber who’s inherited a barbershop from his father, who inherited it from his father. And Calvin is struggling to make ends meet. The barbershop does do some business, but Calvin has started to see it as a bit of a financial vacuum, with people coming in just to hang out and folks asking for free haircuts. He wants to provide something more than what he’s got for his wife and the baby she’s going to be having soon. So he’s had scheme after scheme to make more money. And when a local businessman, Lester Wallace, offers to buy the barbershop from Calvin for twenty thousand dollars, Calvin seriously considers it. Of course, when he does take Wallace up on his offer there’s a catch and it looks like the barbershop will end up being closed and reopened as a “gentleman’s club” called “The Barbershop.” Calvin looks around at the community his barbershop is in and realizes the importance it has for people in the area and then has to find a way to get it back from Wallace.

Meanwhile, a couple of guys have smashed into a nearby convenience store and stolen the store’s new ATM, hoping to crack it open for the cash inside. This is the comic relief. Now, there’s also comedy going on in the barbershop, which is where the vast majority of the movie takes place, but it’s very talky comedy. The ATM plot is almost all slapstick. And I can appreciate that. Of course, as soon as someone mentions that ATMs can often be turned in for rewards worth more than the ATM would have in it, I knew where that was headed. Or I suspected, because up until the very end the two plots don’t seem at all connected, aside from the local police eyeing one of the barbers in the barbershop because he’s done time in jail before.

Now, I say it’s a cross between Empire Records and It’s a Wonderful Life for two reasons. One, it’s about someone trying to save a business that has more than financial meaning to a community that needs it. Two, it’s got a focus on the owner of the business realizing not only that his business is important to the community, but that he himself is important to the community. And I’m a sucker for that sort of story so I’m on board there. I do think that the whole thing with Wallace and the cash happens very quickly, forcing Calvin’s change of heart to happen even quicker. And that’s too bad, because it’s a good story and I genuinely like Ice Cube as Calvin. If, say, the sale had already happened and he’d spent the money on things for the baby, like setting up a nursery in the apartment or something, there would be more dramatic tension there. Having him take all the money right back an hour later and be told “No, now you owe me double that, by 7:00” isn’t precisely unrealistic for a loan shark, but with no legally binding contract and one enforcing heavy shown on screen? That just doesn’t make me feel like there was as much of a threat until the very end, and by then the conclusion is only a few minutes away.

I did like the side plot with the barbershop’s one female barber, Terri, and her eventual rejection of her scumbag cheater of a boyfriend. It doesn’t quite make up for the whole apple juice rant at the beginning, but it definitely helps the end. All the little plots end up tying together rather well, even if it does happen much faster than I’d like. I’m still not thrilled with the beginning. I found it unpleasant to watch. But I didn’t hate it by the end, thanks to a solidly developing story and some good performances. I doubt I’ll end up watching the movie again, but I don’t regret owning it as much as I did fifteen minutes into it.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Barbershop

September 25, 2011

Barbershop

I bought this movie specifically because I wanted to have some things in my collection to broaden my horizons. I had customers and employees in my store at Blockbuster who adored this movie. They couldn’t stop laughing about the hood with all the clearly stolen merchandise that he kept coming into the barbershop to sell. They couldn’t stop talking about Cedric the Entertainer’s character Eddie and how irreverent and hilarious he was. Of course I realised that this movie was not made for me – I’m a privaleged white guy and this is a movie about the Chicago ghetto. This movie depicts a culture I cannot claim to be at all familiar with, but that was kind of the point when I bought it.

As we started to watch the movie tonight Amanda said “So this is Empire Records but for a different audience?” Yeah, she pretty much hit the nail on the head there. It’s a day in the life of a group of misfits and colorful characters who work together in a simple old-fashioned Barbershop that is in danger of being closed. We get to see them fight and make up and realize just how much they appreciate each other and ultimately how essential the barbershop is to the community and themselves.

Ice Cube plays Calvin, the lead character who works every day trying to make ends meet at the barbershop left to him by his father. It’s a community hang-out for all sorts of folks from the neighbourhood, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes any money. We see that Calvin’s father was an old softy who used to give free haircuts all the time and who gave jobs in his shop to all kinds of reprobates who wanted just to better themselves. Calvin feels trapped in the shop though and wants to do something on his own – maybe open a recording studio. The result is that he makes an ill-advised choice to sell the shop to a local scumbag and loan shark, and only afterwards does he realize what a mistake he’s made. For the most part the rest of the movie is Calvin trying to find a way to keep the shop as we see just what a wonderful place it is and how much it needs to be preserved.

I actually rented this before I bought it. I watched it alone one afternoon because I knew Amanda had no interest in seeing it, and I really enjoyed it. The whole “must save the collection of misfits” plot is as fun and compelling here as it was in Empire Records. The characters themselves, broadly written caricatures though they may be, are great fun to watch. There are a lot of genuine laughs in this movie that even an outsider like myself can’t help but enjoy. Those things my co-workers and customers raved about? Yeah, they’re hilarious. The guy who keeps coming into the store with more and more ludicrous things to fence? He’s great. He has a store tag dangling from his hat. At one point he comes in with a pair of dogs to sell, and at another he comes in with a satellite dish in his hand. I can kind of imagine the prop department trying to think of the strangest things they could give him for his next appearance.

Then there’s Cedric the Entertainer. Ice Cube may be the star of the movie but it’s Cedric that stole the show. His curmudgeonly old barber Eddie has most of the best moments with his stand up routines about the civil rights movement and his outrageous opinions about absolutely everything. The best thing about his rants is that you feel slightly embarrassed for laughing at them. Director Tim Story does an expert job of providing just the right amount of disbelief from the other inhabitants of the shop. This movie is absolutely packed with great reaction shots and snappy comebacks to make the comedy come to life.

I also hate to admit how much I laughed during my first viewing at the over-the-top slapstick of Anthony Anderson as the comic relief who has stolen an ATM machine but can’t figure out how to get it open. There’s one particular moment, when he’s trying to get it down a flight of stairs and a big man in a red sweatshirt is trying to come the other way that still cracks me up. It’s stupid broad slapstick humor, but it still funny.

I genuinely enjoy this movie. I know that Amanda objected a lot to the way it treats many of the women in the beginning of the movie, and it does have a disturbing tendency to focus on their asses which is fairly uncomfortable, but for the most part I find this an enjoyable film full of fun characters and with some absolutely shockingly funny monologues. I hope it doesn’t come off as condescending that I view this movie as somewhat like a foreign film in regards to how I view it. It shows me a culture that I am not in any way a part of, and it treats that culture for the most part in a positive light. An argument could even be made that some of the slang being used might qualify it as a foreign language to me. It just doesn’t have subtitles. I honestly do feel that I need more movies like this one in my collection.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment

Movie 570 – Going Postal

Going Postal – September 21st, 2011

After watching the television adaptations of both Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, Andy and I were excited to find out that an adaptation of Going Postal was in the works. I do have to wonder what the thought process has been when choosing which of Pratchett’s many Discworld books to make into movies. I mean, I can’t imagine that it’s a matter of an effects budget, since Hogfather has a number of effects needed. And it isn’t that any one particular sub-group from Discworld is being followed. Hogfather is a Death book and The Colour of Magic is Rincewind. Going Postal is one of a number that focus on Lord Vetinari and the goings on in the city of Ankh Morpork, but not necessarily on Commander Vimes and the Night Watch, since they have their own set of stories. And aside from The Colour of Magic being the start of the entire series, these other ones aren’t so much. So how did they get chosen? No idea.

Not that I have anything against Going Postal! I really quite like it. But it does have a whole hell of a lot of characters who are introduced in other books. Here they’re just… there. Already. Unintroduced. I suppose it doesn’t much matter. I can’t imagine that these adaptations are really being aimed at the uninitiated who’ve never read any Discworld books. I suspect we’re expected to know who Chancellor Ridcully is and why there’s a vampire doing photography for the local paper. We’re supposed to know that the blond city watch officer who growls at our lead character is a werewolf. We’re supposed to know how Ankh Morpork works. I suppose this does make for a good stand-alone-ish adaptation, since the main characters and plot aren’t directly dependent on knowing all the rest of the canon. In that light, I’d love to see Pratchett’s Small Gods done, but only if it’s done extremely well.

Anyhow, we join the story at its beginning, meeting main character Moist von Lipwig and learning a little bit about how he’s a con man and good at it until it catches up to him and he finds himself being hanged for his crimes. The thing is, Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork, is a clever man. And he wants a new Postmaster to get the post office back in shape. How better to do that than hand it over to a man used to getting money out of people for very little in return? He puts Moist in charge and sets a guard on him (a golem in this case, which makes it difficult for Moist to slip away) and then it’s up to Moist to figure out how to do it. What Moist does is introduce stamps. And in the book I remember this being a fantastic part of the story. I remember it being a fairly large part too, figuring in throughout the book. Maybe I’m misremembering it. Maybe I inflated it because it tickled me so much. But in the movie it comes up, and then the perforated edges show up, and then… It’s not so big a deal for the rest of the story.

Sadly, it’s been a while since I read the book. Long enough that I’m not entirely certain what’s been changed and how. Oh, I know things have been changed, but the specifics are a little lost to me. The overall plot, with Moist and the post office and the Clacks (a sort of semaphore tower system that Pratchett has described as the internet if the world didn’t have computers or electricity) and all that? Yes. That is the plot. Moist is charged with reopening the post office to compete with the Clacks because the Clacks monopoly on communication has allowed it to take a dive in terms of quality and service. So, it needs competition and the post office is it. It’s the details I’m not entirely sure of. I remember Adora Belle, whose father was involved in the creation of the Clacks system. I remember Stanley the post office assistant and his pin collection (he soon turns his focus towards stamps – once they exist, that is). I remember the mail becoming alive. I remember the gold hat and suit Moist ends up wearing. And like I said, I remember the stamps. But I’m sure there are changes.

I’m going to have to reread the book to pinpoint the big differences, let alone the little ones. Overall, however, I didn’t think the plot suffered from anything that was altered. I could wish for more stamps and more post office weirdness, but the story of Moist rebuilding the post office and creating interest in it and making it a viable alternative to the Clacks? Yeah, that worked for me. I do have to admit, I’m not entirely sold on the Moist and Adora romance plot, but I don’t recall being terribly fond of it in the book either. Both characters? Yes, I like both characters. I just don’t really care if they get together. What did occur to me as the movie went on was that it was a bunch of little episodes in the development of the post office under Moist’s leadership and the storyline meandered a bit. But to be honest? I don’t really mind.

I get the impression from poking around online that I am going to be somewhat lonely in this opinion, but I absolutely loved the casting for this adaptation. I realize that Vetinari’s accepted look is less ginger, but Charles Dance had the perfect delivery for him. I did enjoy seeing David Suchet as the villain of the story, Reacher Gilt. Ian Bonar was wonderful as Stanley and I did quite like Claire Foy as Adora. And then there’s Richard Coyle as Moist. Maybe it’s that I’m biased towards him, having loved him in Coupling, but I really did enjoy watching him in the lead here. I’m sure other people have other opinions, but none of the casting really bothered me in the least.

The biggest issue for me here is that there’s a lack of a certain Discworldish flavor in the movie. Certainly, the creation of the stamps and the Clacks hackers and Lord Vetinari are as Discworldish as I could want. But the thing I love about the books is that they’re absolutely chock full of reminders that this world has much of what our world has or had, but done their way. The “computer” at the Unseen University (full of wizards), for example, with its parts powered by ants and label reading “Ant hill inside”? That’s a classic piece of Discworld humor and worldbuilding. And I don’t really know that this movie showcased what makes Discworld what it is. Fun as it was, it was lacking a certain something that makes Discworld special. And that’s a shame, because otherwise I really very much enjoyed it.

September 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 568 – The Taste of Tea

The Taste of Tea – September 19th, 2011

Several months back when we hosted a member of Loading Ready Run before PAX East, we got to talking about movies with her. Now, this is not unusual for us. Even before this project we enjoyed talking about movies. We like movies. That’s why we own over 600. We explained the project to her and she gave us a couple of suggestions to add to the list. This was one. And I forget her precise description of it, but I know she said it was bizarre and slow. And that’s pretty spot on. Bizarre and slow. But also sweet and thoughtful at the same time. Long, too. So we decided to put it in for a night when we had time, but not a whole lot of energy. We were up to reading subtitles but not up to following a complex plot. This seemed perfect.

And oh, it was perfect indeed. I need to remember to thank Kathleen if she attends next PAX East. It’s a very dreamy movie, taking place over the course of several weeks in the life of a family living in the countryside in Japan. There’s no huge overarching plot that sweeps up the entire family. No real action or massive drama. Instead there are a number of smaller dramas, little stories in the lives of the family members in the time span of the movie. And for the most part their stories don’t really connect directly with each other. They touch on each other, but it’s more that it’s the story of a family living together and interacting. So when young Sachiko becomes convinced she has to complete a back flip over a bar in a playground, her grandfather sees and it impacts his own actions. But the back flip isn’t his story. When Sachiko’s father, Nobuo, plays Go with his son it’s not because he’s trying to help his son find something in common with the girl he likes, it’s just that father and son play Go together. And that’s how the movie goes, with each story involving the other, but not intentionally.

There are six members in the family, five of whom are living together in the house in the country when the movie begins. There’s Sachiko; her parents, father Nobuo and mother Yoshiko; her older brother, Hajime; her grandfather, Akira; and finally her uncle, Ayano. Uncle Ayano is only visiting, there to take a break after some undisclosed difficult times in Tokyo. And off in the city is another uncle, Ikki, who draws manga and produces what is likely the oddest thing in the movie: The Mountain Song. But we’ll come back to that. I promise. Uncle Ikki is very much a side note to the rest of the family. His story involves Uncle Ayano and Grandfather Akira, but none of it takes place at the family home and once his music video is done he’s not really touched on again. The focus is definitely on the family home and the people who live there or have lived there.

We begin with Hajime watching the girl he had a crush on leave by train. Right from the outset the movie makes it clear that it’s veering towards the magical realism side of things by showing the train exit from Hajime’s forehead. Now, I’m fully willing to accept that many of the magical realism type things that are shown on the screen here are the visual representations of the imaginations and thought processes of the characters. I think that’s probably a good way to interpret them. But the fact remains that there’s little division between imagination and reality in this movie. We don’t see every single bit of thought in the characters’ heads and we don’t even see any from some characters. But there are things we do see, such as the train and the giant version of Sachiko that appears (but only to her) from time to time. It’s not fantasy, but it’s not all reality either.

Hajime’s trouble with girls is his story. He finds it hard to talk to girls and is scared of relationships. But his Go playing ends up being they key, getting the attention of a couple of older students at school who invite him to join the Go club, which a new girl whom he’s been interested in but too intimidated to talk to has also joined. They play together, they talk, he gives her his umbrella and things seem to be looking up. On the other side of things, Sachiko has decided that to get rid of the giant phantom Sachiko who’s following her around she needs to complete a backflip over a horizontal bar. This is because of a story Uncle Ayano told her about how when he was a boy a phantom Yakuza followed him around until he did a backflip. Meanwhile, Yoshiko is busily working on a hand-drawn animation project with the aid of Grandfather Akira and Nobuo is spending his time going back and forth between his hypnotherapist job in the city and his private life at home. Elsewhere in the countryside a group of what seem to be gangsters are running around and a couple of cosplaying anime fans are working on a photo shoot. And yes, it all does work together. It’s all woven in with little scenes between the various characters. Hajime and Nobuo see the guys in costume doing a photo shook on the train home, then Sachiko asks for their help when she finds one of the gangsters buried in the mud near where she’s practicing her backflip. And Uncle Ayano hits one of the gangsters in the head with a rock – totally by accident.

If I had to pick one storyline in here as my favorite, it would be Ayano’s. I don’t recall it ever being explained exactly what happened in Tokyo that led to him needing to take some time off in the country. It just happened. He hangs out with his niece and nephew and wanders around town, watching people, talking to an old girlfriend, then befriending a dancer who’s practicing at a camp site near the river. He observes a lot, and tells stories. And eventually he goes back to work as a sound engineer for his brother-in-law Ikki’s “birthday song.” His reaction is pretty much precisely what I think everyone’s reaction is: “Listen to it long enough and your brain will melt.” Don’t believe me? Take a look: Oh, My Mountain. Let me make it clear, I love that song and the video. The guy with the gray hair is the grandfather, and he is a marvelous part of the movie. Easily my second favorite character after Ayano. He also observes everything, but injects bizarre comments into his observations. Things like asking why his granddaughter is a triangle. Apparently most of his lines come from things the director said while drunk. Of course.

It all sounds like such a busy movie, with music videos being made and anime showings and the Yakuza fighting in town and Hajime’s girl troubles and Sachiko’s phantom troubles and everything else, but it comes across as a slow and peaceful, meandering through the stories as they naturally flow into each other. Even the ending, which is sad in its way, feels like a natural part of where the movie is going. I suppose the movie could be shorter, but shortening any of the scenes in it feels like it would force the movie to sacrifice much of its tone and mood. And that would really be a pity, because the tone and mood are much of why it works as well as it does. It’s certainly on my short list of favorites now and I don’t think I’d change a thing about it.

September 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 567 – It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night – September 18th, 2011

Early on in my relationship with Andy he went on a little bit of a mission to introduce me to movies he enjoyed but that I hadn’t seen. See why this project really is perfect for us? I remember two specific titles from that time. I remember watching them in my parents’ living room. It’s entirely likely that there were more than two, but the ones I remember are The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and this. And regardless of any other reason, that’s why I put it on the list of things I wanted to add to the collection for this project. Oh, I enjoy the movie itself, it it’s the experience of watching it with Andy that sticks in my mind more than anything on the screen.

Watching this again for the first time in over ten years, I will admit I had glossed over a few things in my memory. And I’d like to think that they’re things from the time period the movie was made in and set in and that romantic comedies today are better. But I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail and enough of What Women Want to know better. Modern romantic comedies aren’t really much better in terms of how the male lead treats and talks about the female lead. They’re just a little more oblique about it. But such is the case with romantic comedies in general. At least with one from 1934 I can pretend we’ve progressed since then and we would never now see a man throw a woman over his shoulder and forcibly remove her from the scene over her protests. Silly me! That’s totally a thing of the past. I’m sure such romantic comedies as The Bounty Hunter are better than that. And so long as I don’t watch them, I can live in peace.

Anyhow! Since this movie is from the 1930s it is, of course, in black and white. I do love a good black and white movie. And it stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I’ve got to admit, Gable’s never been my cup of tea. He’s all well and good, but he doesn’t bowl me over. Colbert, on the other hand, is fantastic. I love her in this role, even if she was reticent about taking it in the first place. I think perhaps she is what makes this movie memorable for me. Because her role could be so very unpleasant. She plays Ellie Andrews, a rich and spoiled heiress who married a man against her father’s wishes. When her father tries to hold her on his yacht for long enough to get the marriage annulled, Ellie dives over the side and swims to shore to try and reach New York before her father’s men catch her. Now, on one hand there’s the pretty clearly gross control being exerted over Ellie by her father. On the other, it becomes apparent over the course of the movie that she married as a show of rebellion, and that it wasn’t marriage that her father objected to so much as the groom in particular. Okay. Fine. Let’s move on. The thing is, if you accept that Ellie is the sort of person who does things like marrying a man her father hates just to spite him then that doesn’t cast her in the best light. But the combination of the script, which provides a good amount of information about the total lack of privacy and autonomy Ellie’s always lived with, and Colbert’s portrayal of a young woman desperate to live her own life, the character becomes more than sympathetic.

I have a much harder time finding Clark Gable’s Peter Warne sympathetic, mostly because he seems to be just as much of a controlling ass as every other man in her life and the character feels like an eerie precursor to the paparazzi of today. When he realizes just who this young lady on the bus to New York is, he tells her he won’t say a word so long as she sticks with him and he gets and exclusive on her story when they reach New York. If she doesn’t stick with him then he’ll go straight to her father. Yuck. And it’s not a ploy for her attention at that point in time. He thinks she’s a spoiled brat. And she is spoiled and she is sort of bratty, but she gets better as the movie goes on and she’s introduced to the regular world (as opposed to the extremely privileged but prohibitively sheltered world she’s been living in). Peter, on the other hand, remains sort of a jerk for much of the movie. A charming jerk, but still. That’s the character. Part of the story is that while Ellie is falling for Peter, Peter remains aloof, not wanting to admit to how he feels about her.

And why is that important? Well, this is a romantic comedy, after all. Which means the two leads can’t possibly just tell each other they’re interested and live happily ever after. One hallmark of the genre is crossed wires and a big to-do at the end where one thinks the other’s not interested and someone has to help them sort things out. Not present in every romantic comedy, but it’s definitely something I consider fairly standard. So by the end, when Peter wants to ask Ellie to marry him and Ellie’s totally smitten, does he tell her? No. Instead he takes off in the middle of the night, doesn’t tell her he’s leaving, let alone where he’s going and why, and she wakes up to the owners of the camp site they’re staying in kicking her out because clearly she can’t pay. She assumes Peter’s run off on her and since he hasn’t said anything to imply that he returns her feelings, she also assumes he’s gone for good. You can figure out how it plays from there. Watching it tonight I was struck by how similar the ending is to Spaceballs, of all things. But then, Mel Brooks knows movies.

So okay, viewed today it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But as a piece from its time it’s a little different. A little interesting. Certainly I think it handles itself better than many romantic comedies, regardless of time period. And the writing and acting are both well done. By the end of the movie I end up even liking Ellie’s father. It’s got some good laughs in it, especially when Ellie and Peter have to improvise some play-acting to convince people looking for Ellie that she’s someone totally different. The people leave, they go back to normal, and then the next knock on the door sends them right back into their act. It’s a nice little bit of connection between the two characters, regardless of the content of the play-acting itself. The content isn’t the point. The point is that these two people who never intended to ever be in this sort of situation are working together without having to discuss things ahead of time. And that in turn makes the eventual ending more believable than not. And that, along with fond memories of the first time I saw it, are why we have this in our collection.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

It Happened One Night

September 18, 2011

It Happened One Night

When Amanda and I started to expand our collection to include more classic films as a counterweight to all the fluffy action and sci-fi we own this movie was one of the ones she specifically asked for. I’m not altogether sure why., though. I mean, I like the movie, and it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening, but I don’t know what it was that drew her to the film. After all, this is a romantic comedy – one of the more famous ones – and that’s not generally a genre of film that Amanda enjoys.

There’s no denying that it’s a great movie though. As we watched this I was struck by how influential the film is. It’s clearly one of the inspirations for the Shrek movie. Bugs Bunny creator Fritz Freleng based his cartoon rabbit on parts of this movie. And of course there’s the infamous story about how this movie single handedly destroyed undershirt sales in the thirties.

From the trivia on IMDB it would appear that this was a rather troubled production. Claudette Colbert certainly didn’t enjoy it even though she seems to have gotten a little bit too much into character and tried to run away from the Oscars the way her character tries to skip out on her father.

The plot of the film is astonishingly simple. A young heiress, fed up with being told what to do by her rich banker father, has gone and eloped with a playboy pilot, much to her father’s chagrin. When her father tries to confine her to their yacht in Miami she dives overboard determined to get back to New York. Of course her father immediately sends his detectives in search of her, so she is hounded at every turn on her journey.

Along the way she meets a brash, witty, fast-talking newspaper man who decides to escort her in exchange for the story. They but heads, bicker and generally get on each other’s nerves. Then they of course fall in love with each other because you can’t go on a road trip with somebody in a movie without falling in love with them. (See also Tommy Boy and Trains, Planes and Automobiles.)

It’s not the plot that really drives the movie, of course. It’s the charm. Director Frank Capra knew a little about how to portray a simple, down-to-Earth sort of America. He did it so well in It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This movie takes place in that America. I don’t know if this America honestly existed back in those days with it’s ma-and-pop auto camps, smiling police officers and singing bus passengers, but it looks like a fun place to live. Even the thief that Peter and Ellie meet on the road is a jocular fellow with a penchant for song.

More than that it’s the two leads that really sell the movie. It’s hard to believe, watching their performances, that they were not having a great time making the film. Clark Gable is all smooth talking charm as Peter Warne, but also manages to give his character a lot of heart. He’s clearly not as mercenary and cold as he would like to appear, and shows some real tenderness. As Ellie Claudette Colbert likewise is able to imbue her character with a real kind of vulnerability under all the spoiled and haughty airs. The two of them have real chemistry, and watching these two characters sparring and inevitably falling for one another is simply fun.

This movie is so disarmingly pleasant. Some of its nineteen-thirties attitudes seem somewhat dated today, what with the constant smoking and the casual way that Peter talks about Ellie deserving to be beaten by her new husband. He spanks her at one point to end a silly argument about piggy back rides which I suppose is in keeping with his assertion that she’s a poorly raised spoiled brat, but I wonder if it was as shocking then as it is now. Mostly however this movie is just about the witty repartee of these two people, and about how they come to find that they deserve each other. I’m glad we added it to our collection and I’m glad we watched it tonight.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 566 – Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs – September 17th, 2011

One of the really fantastic things about this project is that it’s made a reason for me to put in movies that I’ve always meant to watch but never got around to. I’ve mentioned more than a few like that since we started the project and there are a couple more on the list. This movie is one of them and I cannot for the life of me pinpoint a reason why I hadn’t seen it before now. It’s not that I have an aversion to Tarantino or to movies with lots of blood or violence. I love the first volume of Kill Bill after all, and that’s a Tarantino movie that had to have a scene done in black and white because of the rating it would have gotten had the blood in it been in color. No, I haven’t liked all of his movies and yes, I think he’s gotten a little too far up his own ass in recent years, but that isn’t why I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen it simply because I’ve just never made the time. And that’s part of what this project is for: Making the time to watch what we own.

Of course, I’m watching this while visiting the same friend I mentioned in my review for The Ninth Gate yesterday, so I’m not watching the copy I own. But still, at home Andy is watching our copy and I’m watching the same thing, so it works out in my mind. Anyhow, this was a new experience for me and at the same time not as new as many of the other things I’ve watched for the first time for the project. Mostly because this movie is a bit of a pop culture touchstone by now. You don’t need to have seen it to know the whole “men in suits walking with purpose” thing. You don’t need to have seen it to know the Mr. [color of choice] thing. These are frequent references now. They show up all over the place. They are, in a word, ubiquitous.

After watching this I commented that this movie is almost ur-Tarantino. It has everything I expect from him except a foot fixation. Slightly retro pop culture? Yup. Catchy soundtrack? Yup. Badasses discussing something slightly nerdy? Yup. Non-linear storytelling? Oh yeah. A bit of the old ultraviolence? Of course. What’s amusing is that it’s so early in his work. It’s like every time he makes a movie he looks back at this and says “How can I incorporate a touch of Reservoir Dogs into a new setting?” And then he does it. I’m not saying he makes the exact same movie every time, but watching his movies, you can get a definite sense of common themes. So while I’d never seen this before, in a way I’d seen it in every other movie of his I’ve ever seen before. Which is pretty funny, when you think about it.

It’s a simple movie, plotwise. It’s a heist movie, but with everything on screen taking place either before or after the heist, never during it. In fact, you never see the heist actually happen and it takes most of the movie before you even get to see the events immediately after it that caused what’s going on when the movie starts. And I do have a fondness for nonlinear storytelling and starting in media res. Tarantino seems to like it too. He does it a lot. So we begin with the heist about to happen and a breakfast conversation on the meanings of song lyrics and an argument over social rules like tipping waitstaff. It’s not made clear at the time who these people are or what they’re about to do. We can tell they’re mostly not closely associated but they’re mostly dressed alike and they’re clearly about to do something together. And then the heist is in the past and two of our main characters, Mr. Orange and Mr. White, are in a car. Mr. Orange has been shot in the gut and Mr. White is assuring him that he’s not going to die. They arrive at a warehouse of some sort and are soon joined by Mr. Pink. White and Pink discuss Orange’s status and the botched heist. They agree there must be a rat amongst them.

The rest of the movie bounces between various members of the crew at the warehouse, discussing the heist and arguing about what to do now that it’s all gone south and trying to figure out who the snitch was and flashbacks introducing us to the characters more and showing how they all came to be working this job. Two of them don’t figure in much. Mr. Blue and Mr. Brown are dead by the second scene and their backgrounds aren’t explored. But we do get some backstory on Mr. White, who has a long history with Joe (the man in charge). We get backstory on Mr. Blonde, who it seems has worked for Joe in the past and did time when he was caught and wouldn’t give up Joe’s name. And after we watch the surviving members of the crew argue and threaten each other and torture a cop Mr. Blonde has kidnapped and see Mr. Orange kill Mr. Blonde, we get Mr. Orange’s backstory.

Mr. Orange’s backstory is unique in two ways. One, he’s the snitch. He’s an undercover cop on loan from one jurisdiction to another after getting an associate of Joe’s to vouch for him. So we find out all about that. But then because he isn’t what he appeared to be we also get his attempts to get in good with Joe and the rest along with his talks with the cop he’s working for who gives him what he needs to work undercover. So he gets a good deal more time on screen than anyone else. After seeing him shot, slowly dying on the floor of the warehouse, we get to know him and see how he got there. After all, he didn’t get there because he was a criminal trying to steal diamonds. He got there because he was trying to stop criminals stealing diamonds and things didn’t go as planned.

I have to commend both Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel here. Because the two of them are really the heart of the movie, if this movie can be said to have a heart. Keitel as White reassures Roth as Orange, giving him tips and pointers, helping him run through the plan to make sure he knows his part in it. He assures him he’s going to be okay after he gets shot. He argues that they should take him to a doctor. He’s taken Orange under his wing. Which is what makes the climactic shoot-out all the more effective. For all its shooting and torture and blood and dark humor and catchy music, this movie does have a serious core to it. But since it’s Tarantino at the helm, that serious core is surrounded by everything else. It’s what makes a Tarantino movie a Tarantino movie. I think what makes it clearer that this is early work of his is that the serious core does often take a back seat to the heist plot and the soundtrack and the joking around. But even so, it’s certainly an impressive early work.

September 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 562 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – September 13th, 2011

My high school has a ditch day tradition. I suspect it’s not alone in this, but I’m not sure just how widespread the phenomenon is. The deal is that the senior class secretly decides on a day and then ditches school all together. In the past there have been classes that organized group activities and classes that just let everyone do whatever. Mine was going to be a do whatever class. The unwritten rule at the school was that the more classes you cut the worse the punishment was, but to spare kids who missed a day without calling in instant suspension for missing so many periods of class, the maximum number of cuts assigned for missing a full day was two, which earned you a detention spent doing some form of community service on school grounds. Then the administration announced, my senior year, that on ditch day they would be counting every class missed by a senior as a cut. Most of the class ended up not going. But it was a beautiful day, I had no cuts racked up prior to that, and only three of my classes were actually scheduled to meet that day and two of the teachers had let it be known that they wouldn’t be reporting cuts. So I ditched, along with two of my friends. We went and got pizza and brought it back for our friends who couldn’t.

My point here is that this movie feels like how I expected ditch day to feel. And while I didn’t sing and dance in any parades or steal a fancy car from a friend’s father or pretend to be the sausage king of the midwest, I did have a fun day with friends and since I got no punishment for it whatsoever, I think I can safely say that I got away with it. Still, I was no Ferris Bueller in high school. And I wasn’t a Sloane or even a Cameron. I wasn’t a Jeanie either. But the thing about John Hughes’ early high school-based movies is that despite the wild nature of some of the events, the characters feel authentic. Did you know a guy like Ferris? Or a girl? Someone effortlessly cool who was somehow friendly with everyone? Who did outrageous things and got away with them? I did.

Granted, Ferris Bueller should irritate the crap out of me. What a twerp! Lying to his parents, concocting an elaborate rig to make it look like he’s home sleeping, hacking into his school records to change his number of absences, not to mention the whole thing with Cameron’s father’s car. And okay, the thing with Cameron’s father’s car pisses me off. But the real trick here is that Ferris is just that charming. He can do these things and let’s face it, this movie is well loved by many. It’s a classic. We’re not all watching it to shake our fists at Ferris and sympathize with his principal, Mr. Rooney. We watch because we want to see Ferris and Sloane and Cameron and their day of ditching school to have fun in Chicago. That’s the point.

It feels silly to recap the action of this movie. Unlike, say, The Breakfast Club, this movie pretty much is what it says: It’s about Ferris Bueller’s day off. But it’s the details that are important here. Ferris doesn’t just ditch school. He feigns being sick and does it well enough to convince his parents to call in for him. He uses a high tech synth system to create the sound of coughing and sneezing and snoring. And then he takes off, having convinced his best friend, Cameron, to come pick him up. Cameron has a car, you see, and Ferris does not. It’s the tragedy of his life. And you know, to a guy like Ferris, who is capable of convincing anyone of anything and tricking people into doing things for him? Not getting a car when he wanted one would certainly seem like a tragedy, I’m sure. My heart bleeds for him. But it’s necessary for the plot. They concoct a phony death in the family to get Ferris’ girlfriend out of school, then Ferris wheedles his way into Cameron’s father’s prized car, which said father spends oodles of time on and knows every inch of and certainly knows the exact mileage to the quarter mile. They take the car into the city and proceed to have an exciting day out.

Now, before I get to the actual events of the day, let’s talk about the car. Because the car is key to Cameron’s character arc, but it’s also the thing that bothers me most. Most everything else Ferris does he either does along with his friends, or he does it alone and if he gets in trouble well, he’s the one taking the fall. The car, on the other hand, isn’t his and it isn’t his friend’s. He’s setting Cameron up to get in trouble for him. He claims they’ll take the added mileage off by driving it backwards. And maybe if Ferris was going to be trying to explain to his own father how an off-limits car got more mileage, he could get away with it. He is Ferris, after all. But Cameron isn’t Ferris. He’s Cameron. He’s not charismatic and charming. He’s the straight man. And while the wreckage of the car at the end is Cameron’s doing, and he says he’ll take the blame because he’s sick of being ignored by his parents and he’s glad it happened, think for a moment what would have happened if the car hadn’t gotten wrecked. The only thing that makes it not ruin things for me is that Cameron and his father do need to deal with things. Cameron does need to confront his father. And by the time it happens, he’s already had a bit of an epiphany.

It’s not really a deep movie, by any stretch of the imagination. There are little moments of depth, mostly toward the end, where the movie lets its characters think about the future and how they relate to each other and how they relate to their families. But only Cameron really gets much of a breakthrough – that being said, I love Cameron’s journey through the movie. He has my very favorite moment in the whole thing when the three of them are in an art museum and he’s staring at a Seurat painting and the camera alternates between increasingly close shots of his face and of a child in the painting. The whole museum segment is a fantastic bit of quiet in the middle of an otherwise raucous day. Alas, Sloane gets very little in the way of background or depth and Ferris isn’t about to have any grand realizations. If he did he wouldn’t be Ferris. His sister does get a bit of depth, mostly along the line of figuring out that she’s got to stop focusing on Ferris and do her own thing. But that’s it right there: What everyone learns is that Ferris is awesome. But that’s sort of the whole point of the movie, regardless.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

September 13, 2011

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

I really have fun watching this movie, but I have to admit that I’m conflicted about it. When it first came out in theaters I refused to go see it because I didn’t want to watch a movie that lionised s notorious rule-breaker. My sister saw it and loved it, but the marketing campaign, which concentrated on how Ferris was so well liked by all the various groups in his high-school (“They think he’s a righteous dude” says Grace) and how he could get away with things that other kids could not really turned me off.

It’s important to recall that I have a deep-seated disdain for rule breakers and cheaters. I don’t even like to use cheat codes in video games. So this movie about a high school student who flaunts the rules at every opportunity just didn’t appeal to me.

Eventually, of course, I saw the movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s by far my favorite movie that John Hughes ever directed (although my favorite movie he was involved in is still Some Kind of Wonderful.) I fully understand the appeal of a movie that is about a guy pulling a fast one on the somewhat dim adults who try to tell him what he can or should do. I certainly don’t go so far as to root for the nasty vice-principal Ed Rooney. I do, however very much sympathise with Ferris’ sister Jeanie and his friend Cameron.

The plot here is simple, really. Ferris Beuller is a high school student without fear who decides one gorgeous spring day not to go to school. He feigns illness, badgers his best friend Cameron (who is also out sick, but actually does feel unwell) into coming and getting him, springs his girlfriend out of school with a fake death in the family, and goes out for an exiting day on the town in Chicago. Meanwhile his nemesis, the self-important and petty Ed Rooney, does everything in his power to find and trap Ferris.

The charm in this movie lies in the slick presentation. So charming and witty is Ferris that I can almost root for him and his rule-breaking ways. The fourth wall is not so much broken as almost completely ignored for large portions of the movie as Ferris addresses the audience directly through much of the start of the movie. There’s a magical feel to many of the events in the movie. We see Ferris outwit not just Rooney, but the snooty maitre’d at an upscale restaurant. His sickness becomes the stuff of legend within the single day he’s out of school. He catches a foul ball at a baseball game, visits a museum and rides on a parade float. So iconic and well written is Ferris that poor Matthew Broderick has been largely unable to escape from the role in all the years since this movie came out.

Like I said, this is a fun film to watch. You can’t help wanting to see just how Ferris is going to pull off his latest scam. The soundtrack is full of great songs. Ferris’ outrageous adventures are wonderfully entertaining. Even so, I still find that there are parts of this movie I have trouble watching. Most especially I feel awful for Cameron. The movie tries hard to say that it’s ultimately a good thing that Cameron learn to break out of his shell and stand up to his dad, but I can’t help feeling that Ferris spends practically the whole film ruining Cameron’s life. Maybe if we got to see Cameron’s father and build some sort of enmity towards him i could feel better about the end of the film, but mostly it just makes me sad for the poor lug.

I guess what I’m saying is that I enjoy this movie, but I feel bad for it. It’s an entertaining, funny romp of a film about a charming guy having adventures on a day when he should be trapped in school getting an economics lecture from Ben Stein. I just wish I didn’t find Ferris Beuller himself so reprehensible, and I wish that Cameron got a happier ending.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 561 – Up

Up – September 12th, 2011

Andy and I went to see this one in the theater when it came out. And I had been warned. I was told beforehand, by multiple people that not only would it make me cry, it would make me cry within the first twenty minutes. And they were right. This movie is explicitly built to tug – hard – at your heartstrings. And unlike, say, the Toy Story movies, it doesn’t wait for the climax or the ending to do it. Nope. It starts out with a gut punch before it lets you start enjoying yourself. I was warned. I brought tissues. And I needed them. The thing is, the nature of the story makes it more likely to make an impact on adults than children. I can see kids getting that it’s sad, but really, it’s adults who’ll feel like the movie is out to get their delicious salty tears. I swear, Pixar runs on them. Like Tyra Banks.

There are two stories in this movie, telling a larger story. There’s the majority of the movie, which is the story of an elderly man named Carl and a young boy named Russell and their adventure together in South America, where they find a rare bird and meet an adventurer who wants to capture it. And then there’s the story of Carl and his wife, Ellie, and their life together. Really, the story is all Carl’s. He’s the link between the two. And to be honest, I love that. I love that this movie spends so much time on his character. The grumpy old man is a movie staple but rarely do you get to see where that grumpy old man came from. It’s like they’re hatched, full grown, dug up from the earth like Uruk-hai with walkers and dentures and gout.

I remember when we saw the notes Andy’s uncles sent us about working on the Ewok movie they mentioned that George Lucas had just watched Heidi with his daughter and liked the idea of a gruff old man with a child, so that’s what they went with for the movie. The thing about those movies is that they focus on the kid. They leave out the question of why the old man is so grouchy and consequently they leave out the answer too. But those old folks are people who were young once. And while I know plenty of grumpy young people, there are always reasons. In Carl’s case, he’s lost his wife. The entire first quarter of the movie is devoted to showing how Carl and Ellie met as kids, discovered their mutual love of adventure, got married, worked near each other, bought a house and made a life together. They wanted children, but Ellie found she couldn’t have any, and even as a happily childless woman, that’s a heartrending scene. But they forge on, making their lives full in other ways. They try to save up for a trip, but the money always seems to be needed elsewhere. Until Carl realizes they’ve grown old and purchases two tours of South America. Which they never use, because Ellie falls ill and dies. And Carl retreats, the tickets unused and left on the mantle with his and Ellie’s collected treasures. And that is the beginning of the movie.

See what I mean? Punch in the gut! And the thing is, if you paid any attention whatsoever to the ads and marketing for the movie, you know Carl is in the rest but Ellie is nowhere to be seen. When they couldn’t have kids? When they grew old together? I knew where it was headed. It makes it all the worse, knowing. Just writing the summary made me choke up, and I was writing it on a bus, in public, without the movie actually playing. It’s a good thing Pixar is making kids movies. If they turned their hands towards world domination through emotional manipulation they’d be ruling us all in as long as it takes to put a movie like this together. It’s not terribly hard to make me cry, granted, but Pixar seems to be able to turn on the tears for almost everyone I know. Interestingly, this movie gets the tears out of the way before the main plot starts. There are some emotional moments later, but it’s not on the same level as the beginning and there’s plenty of fun to be had in the main plot too.

To escape having to move into a nursing home, Carl lifts his house up off its foundation with a huge bunch of helium balloons and takes off for South America. It’s a wonderfully fantastical scene, with the balloons popping up out of the chimney and Carl blowing a raspberry at the two nursing home attendants who’d come to get him. And if this were only Carl’s story, then he’d be on his way. But it turns out that a local Wilderness Explorer, Russell, has accidentally joined him. Russell had only wanted to help Carl out and earn his Assisting the Elderly badge. Now he’s in a flying house on his way to South America. And when they get there, it’s Russell’s enthusiasm that gets them in trouble, but also what gives Carl more purpose than he’s had in years.

While trying to float the house from one end of a gorge to another Russell and Carl encounter a large bird and a talking dog. And let me say, I am unashamedly in love with Doug the dog. He has a special collar, made for him by his owner, that lets him talk. And he loves Russell and Carl. He loves them so much. Turns out his owner is Charles Muntz, a famous explorer who was disgraced when he claimed he’d found a previously unknown bird but had no proof. And he’s been in South America ever since, camped out in his zeppelin with his dogs, looking for the bird. The same breed of bird who is now following Carl and Russell. From there you can likely figure out the basic plot. Carl and Russell have to protect the bird from Muntz. Carl has to deal with his childhood hero being a total evil jackass. Russell goes off on his own to try and save the bird and Carl has to follow them. And in doing so he has to say goodbye to his house and, at the same time, Ellie.

Now, I’m not really one for “a child teaches a grouchy old person the true meaning of life” type plots, because really? You have to spend time around kids to lead a meaningful life? But in this case I think it works and it works for a couple of reasons. First, Carl isn’t just some old coot. He’s got a character and he’s got a background. This is a man who did enjoy life. He enjoyed life for decades and he did so without a child. It’s not the age of the person that matters here, it’s the attitude of wanting adventure and seeing new things. And that is certainly not a quality that’s limited to kids. It also works because we can see that Carl isn’t necessarily changing as a person. Instead he’s coming out of a long depression. And finally, it’s not Russell on his own. Sure, he’s a great character and he’s instrumental in it all, but it’s also Doug and the bird and the realization that Carl’s childhood hero isn’t who he thought he was. It’s the adventure that gives Carl the true meaning of things. And since this is Carl’s story and Carl’s adventure (and you can’t convince me otherwise) that’s the way it should be.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment