A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 588 – Moby Presents: Alien Sex Party

Moby Presents: Alien Sex Party – October 9th, 2011

Let’s just put this right up front: This movie takes place in a porn store. That is the basis of the vast majority of its plot and humor. And music. There are musical numbers. I don’t consider myself a prude by any means, but to be honest I’m a little leery of even trying to review this. There is simply no way to keep it clean. At all. So instead I’ll try to keep it short. And the reason this is bolded is because I want to make it really clear that this movie is about porn and sex and kink. And I don’t want anyone to claim they had no idea before they read any further.

There. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the movie. Except I honestly don’t even know where to begin. Even the basic description I gave my friends doesn’t really cover it but it’s a start. Picture Clerks (and it is heavily referential towards Clerks in the most self-aware way), but set in a porn store in Boston. Now imagine it has musical numbers and it’s set on Christmas eve. Now try and think of people who are more awkward at acting than anyone in Clerks. Toss in an actual porn actress and have Moby involved in producing it and you’ve got this movie.

While watching this movie I had to stop every so often and exclaim to one friend or another (often several in succession) about something that was happening on screen. And not in an ‘ew, gross’ sort of way, because the most graphic stuff that happens on screen is a couple of cats mating (someone’s trying to sell the video to the store owner). Okay, there are some naked breasts and some licking, but otherwise it’s all talk and dildos. And fully clothed pelvic thrusting. But there’s no actual sex on screen. Plenty of talk, but no action. It was more that this movie is full of the sort of bizarre stuff that just makes me squint at the screen and wonder who decided to actually film it.

Around the time three punk musicians (Moby being one of them, I believe) run into the store wearing only their boxers and proceed to play a number called “Fuck Christmas” before trashing the shelves while shouting “RICO’S ROUGHNECKS” I stopped any attempt to make sense of it. I just sort of let it happen and it played itself out, with KY-eating aliens and descriptions of sexual exploits and a porn star singing Feliz Navidad. Which is now stuck in my head. Do you really need more of a description than that? I mean, that should sum things up pretty well right there, one would hope. Except it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. I can’t believe that t doesn’t, but it doesn’t. Because it doesn’t really explain how very low budget this whole operation truly is.

The main characters of the movie are the employees of Amazing Video, an adult video and adult toy store in Boston. There’s Joe, who inherited the store from his late sister. There’s Tina, a sexually adventurous woman who knows pretty much everything about everything the store sells (which is good, as she works there and Joe is totally clueless). There are two security guards who ignore the goings on in the store to crack dirty jokes to each other. And then there’s Adam, Tina’s ex who hangs around the store because they’re still friends. And there’s Grace, who is Joe’s niece. I have no idea why Adam calls Grace ‘Chloe’ several times through the course of the movie. My top two ideas are: Side plot that got cut out or script change after the actor playing Adam had already done his solo shots. I don’t know. I don’t care. The point is that Adam inexplicably calls Grace by another name several times, no one comments on it and it was never fixed in post. And all the main characters I mentioned (and a few I didn’t) are played by people with the same names.

There’s not much of a plot, really. Tina and Adam spend most of the movie arguing about how Tina’s “too overwhelming” for Adam to handle because the sexual things she’s done and sees as no big deal freak him out. Joe has no idea how to deal with anything remotely naughty (including his niece, who is now 18 and whose mother ran the store before, so she’s hardly naive about it all). And a number of customers are hanging out in the store waiting for Dyanna Lauren to show up. There are wacky encounters with customers, like the one who lost all the presents he’d bought for his family and needs “non-pornographic” replacements. And the customer who’s going to blow up the store because he’s never been aroused. The KY-obsessed alien(s) just add weirdness to it all. Oh, and in the beginning there’s a big KY spill, leading to a squishy patch of carpet in front of the counter for the rest of the night. That’s the movie. Plus a visit to the Quick Stop to buy some candy from Dante. Yes, Brian O’Halloran made a cameo.

I don’t think there’s anything else I can say about this movie. I thin I’ve probably already said more than enough. I don’t expect everyone will rush out to buy this and that’s okay. It’s probably mostly amusing to a small subset of the population anyhow. I don’t know if I’d ever want to watch it again. I don’t know if I could. I think once was probably enough. Granted, I did laugh at a good deal of it, but I think it broke me in the process. And I still have Feliz Navidad in my head. I suppose it could be worse.

October 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 555 – Pink Floyd: The Wall

Pink Floyd’s The Wall – September 6th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned my parents’ collection of vinyl albums before. Probably in my Woodstock review and likely in my reviews of various Beatles-based movies and I’m sure I mentioned it when we watched the Pulse concert on DVD. But I think it bears mentioning again, because my love of Pink Floyd comes from that collection. My mother, as it so happens, still loves Pink Floyd. I bought her a copy of the Pulse concert album when it came out on audio cassette so she could listen to it in her car and sing along. My brother tried to “lose” it once, but he didn’t succeed. My parents owned every album except, oddly enough, The Wall. That I had to bum off a friend from school, then buy my own copy of. I recently learned that my mother has never seen this movie. It seems like a strange absence, doesn’t it?

When Andy and I met we found we had many things in common when it came to media interests. We both loved MST3K. We both loved Doctor Who. We had similar taste in books. We had similar taste in movies. In television. And we had similar taste in music, largely centered around The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I hadn’t seen this movie when I met him, but it was on my list of things to see. And my first impression of it was that it was just as strange and dark as I’d been led to expect. And really, despite it being decades old and used as a visual backdrop for many a teenager’s angst-ridden years, I think it still holds up. Mostly because I think while it’s about angst in general, it’s also specific in the right ways and general in the right ways as to connect with many people outside of a specific time period while maintaining a story that doesn’t feel muddied.

Now, on one hand I’m tempted to roll my eyes. I mean, the story is, on the surface, about a white British guy, referred to as Pink, who lost his father in World War II. He becomes a rock musician, and then either goes insane and imagines himself as a fascist dictator or actually does become one and apparently blames it on a number of external reasons: His mother was overprotective. His father died in the war. His wife was predatory. Fame is hard! On the other hand, the movie takes a lot of what’s on the album and presents visuals that are far more conflicted. His mother is never really all that overbearing. His wife apparently truly cares for him and only turns on him when he’s already pretty much completely shut her out. His father died, yes, and that sucks. Everything else seems to be exaggerated in his own mind. His actions are out of proportion to the events around him. The turmoil in his head has roots outside of Pink himself, but where it could come off as an elaborate blame game it instead shows a tragedy of one person failing to cope.

There’s very little spoken material in the movie. It’s almost entirely the album, but with a few additional songs and bits of music. The spoken lines are mostly in the background. They’re things said while the music plays and they’re important for the setting, but more than that they’re a clue to the audience that what we’re hearing isn’t what’s actually going on. We’re hearing Pink’s internal thoughts. Which is really very revealing if you’re going to go trying to analyze the movie for its psychological meanings. I’m not well enough versed in psychology to go making judgements and slapping labels on anything here beyond being able to see that there are two very distinct worlds at play on the screen. One is the real world and one is the fantasy playing out in Pink’s head. The line blurs quite a bit when it comes to the fascist dictator parts, but anything animated is obviously not actually going on.

The ending does imply rather heavily that the entire fascism bit was all in Pink’s head. There’s certainly a good bit of animation in it, with hammers marching in lock step. But there’s also a lot of live action. It’s not entirely clear. I choose to believe that it’s a fantasy. I’m sure if I spent more time on it I could draw some interesting conclusions about Pink’s father’s death and his later Nazi-esque fantasies. I’m sure other people already have. The fact remains that plenty of other people lost their fathers in the war and plenty of people continue to lose parents in wars. It’s terrible and traumatic, but it doesn’t seem to produce vast numbers of ex-rock star fascist leaders. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t so much about a general trend as it is about a single person’s reactions. And in that, the movie certainly adds to the music.

I am a little (okay, more than a little) uncomfortable with the knowledge that the filmmakers hired real skinheads for the fascist concert scenes, ostensibly for “realism”. It’s good to know that they got uncomfortable too, when a couple of the audience cast came in with the hammer symbol shaved into their hair. The danger here is that in presenting these scenes with catchy music, the line between encouraged and discouraged is very much blurred. While I can look at the movie and see that it’s very much against the nastiness that plays out near the end, other people might not see it that way. It’s a risky step. But I’m sure someone out there would say that’s what makes it good art. Fine.

What I think makes it good art is the combination of music, live action and animation. Granted, nothing in this movie is subtle and the animation is the least subtle part of it, but the combination all works. And it’s good animation. It’s just that it’s a bit of an anvil, metaphorically speaking. Fortunately, it’s not the entire movie. If it was it would be too much. But combined with Pink Floyd’s music and the acting from the main cast, it’s given just enough of a role. I do think Bob Geldof was a good choice for Pink and I was amused to realize that we’ve seen Eleanor David, who plays his wife, in something else (Comfort and Joy). Geldof has the most to shoulder, being the center of the entire piece, but the rest of the cast fits nicely. And overall the movie simply works for me. It’s a sad story, but it’s meant to be sad. And while I will continue to listen to the album, and I’m sure radio stations will continue to play Another Brick in the Wall out of context (which I feel is sort of like only playing a small piece of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick), the movie is excellently done as a complete package in a way that just one part of it could never be.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd: The Wall

September 9, 2011

Pink Floyd: The Wall

I was intimately familiar with the album this movie is based on long before I saw the film. Like most kids born after a certain time “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” was a kind of anthem for me during a certain part of my high-school years. I had The Wall as a two tape set if memory serves me right, and I listened to it incessantly on my walkman. (Yeah, I guess that dates me.) At one point in college, slightly before I finally saw this movie, I transcribed every word on the album from the tapes – including half heard spoken dialog – as something to do one night. When I saw the film at last I was utterly blown away, and even today I still find it mesmerizing and impressive.

The album is, of course, Roger Waters’ masterful rock opera about how difficult it is to be a rock star. I’ve always wondered to what extent the music is autobiographical. Right at the beginning he admonishes us “If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes/you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.” Then he proceeds to break down the character of the singer (named Pink Floyd strangely enough) and explore what makes him the way he is. One by one Waters examines the bricks that make up Pink’s wall.

There’s his sometimes indifferent and sometimes over controlling mother. The film ads more back-story for Pink’s father with a song not on the album called “When the Tigers Broke Free” that explains about the death of Pink’s father during World War II. There’s the British school system which tried to dehumanise and homogenise him. There’s the infidelity of his wife (brought on by his own detachment.) There’s the general stress of being a rock star on the road in America. And of course there is an awful lot of drug use to dull the pain.

Ultimately Pink becomes so detached and confused that he descends into a sort of fascist dream where he’s the leader of a neo-nazi regime. The implication is, I think, that in its extremity the walls we build between each other to deal with modern life allows us to dehumanise others to such a degree that it can result in reprehensible behavior towards our fellow man. The only hope, Waters seems to say, is to break down the walls.

What the film does is to take the music of the album and present it with visuals that complement it just about perfectly. It expands on the album and makes it a little more explicit, while at the same time adding some slightly unnecessary scenes of unrelated British riots (which rang a little too true after the events in Tottingham this last month.)

The brilliance of the film, in my opinion, lies in the way it is presented largely as flashback. We get to see Pink initially in his neo-Nazi skinhead appearance, and then the movie sets out to explain how he came to be in this state. We repeatedly come back to Pink in his devastated hotel room and over the course of the film we get to see how it got to be in the state it is in. I’ve always love non-linear storytelling, and it makes for a great hook to keep you invested in Pink’s story.

Of course there is the jaw-dropping fluid animation of long time Pink Floyd collaborator Gerald Scarfe. Throughout the film his nightmare imagery brings the more psychedelic portions, such as Pink’s insecurities, to the screen. In particular there is a lot of imagery casting the women in Pink’s life as predatory creatures that use their sexuality to dominate him. There’s also some great scenes of the titular wall forming and corrupting the peaceful English countryside, the unforgettable marching hammers which are the sign of Pink’s corrupt fascist nightmare. It all culminates in the Trial, where figures from Pink’s past berate him and he is sentenced by The Worm (a talking arse with a judge’s wig) to have his wall torn down, exposing him to his peers.

This movie is a a delirious fever dream. I’ve seen it innumerable times by now which is why my review might appear to be a little cerebral and analytical. In fact it is better to let the film wash over you, as I did the first few times. There is so much to absorb here, from the story, to the music to the vivid imagery. Bob Geldof as the adult pink is brilliant, so damaged and overcome by the excesses of his life. I get the impression that it was a brutal role to play and that Geldof really gave himself up to the part. His singing may not be great, but that doesn’t hurt hte movie any. It’s an overwhelming overdose of a film and I’m always willing to give myself up to it once again.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Hey Cinderella and The Frog Prince

August 9, 2011

Hey Cinderella / The Frog Prince

Tonight represents another of our double headers. We did this for a couple short John Cleese movies a little while ago, and for a couple Muppet Christmas specials last year. With these shorter features in our collection there was a danger of overlooking them, so I’m so delighted that we’ve found a way to fit them into the project.

These two movies fit naturally together. They’re both re-tellings of familiar fairy tales from early in Jim Henson’s career, one from 1969 and one from 1971. Both feature Featherstone and the King and Kermit the Frog. Last summer Amanda and I went out to Lexington, MA to see a traveling exhibit of Jim Henson memorabilia and one of the things I really enjoyed seeing there was the wide collection of sketches by Jim of various Muppets, including the Muppetland King and Featherstone. They’re such a classic Henson pairing. The tall, thin uptight one and the squat playful one.

What impresses me most about these two specials is how quintessentially Muppetty they are. This was years before The Muppet Show, years before Sesame Street. Jim has already established his sense of humor and his shtick for the characters. I’m particularly happy to see the first ever appearance by Sweetums, always one of my favorite full body Muppets in the second feature. And of course it’s great to see Kermit already taking his role as the lone voice of sanity in a world of silliness.

The first feature, Cinderella, is full of corny humor. The twist to this story is that in this version Cinderella and Prince Charming meet before the ball, but Cinderella doesn’t realize that he’s the prince because she meets him in a garden while he’s talking to his friend the frog. The prince is desperate to find a girl who doesn’t know who he is, and in Cinderella he has that girl. She doesn’t recognize him from the money and knows him only as Arthur. So they agree to meet each other at the masque ball the Prince’s father is throwing for his birthday.

It has to be said that the two of them do deserve each other. They’re both affably dim for the most part, though Cinderella seems to be the more intelligent of the two. The prince in particular doesn’t have a single thought in his handsome little head.

I think it’s in the juxtaposition of familiar tropes that this movie gets its charm. There’s the tale of Cinderella attending the ball, but there’s also a sort of corny sit-com feel as well, especially when Cinderella’s fairy god-mother shows up after it has been established that she isn’t a great magician. Indeed she’s been working as a kind of lame lounge act, and has been completely failing to change a pumpkin into a coach. Her ugly step-sisters, in a very Sesame Street scene, decide that the best gift for the king is a pair of old socks (his response? “I already have a pair of old socks!”) Then there’s Splurge, the giant radish-loving purple monster. He’s a friend of Kermit’s and although he’s not a crucial part of the story he provides a lot of great fun.

This first feature is mostly one-liners and silly jokes. Characters break the fourth wall and talk to the camera. Even though it’s set in a magical kingdom there’s a modern day feel to it at times. Well, a late sixties feel at least. By contrast the second one feels more like a musical. It features a number of fun songs and a sort of fantasy adventure feel to it. Of course since it’s The Frog Prince it also involves an awful lot of frogs.

Surprisingly it turns out that Kermit is not the Frog Prince, instead it is Robin, who is actually a knight known as Sir Robin the Brave who has been enscorcelled to be a frog by an evil witch. Meanwhile the lovely young princess Melora has been cursed so that she can only talk in spoonerisms. This is so that her father the king cannot discover what she knows: that his long-lost sister is not in fact his sister at all but is the same evil witch that changed Robin. Her pet is an ogre that lives in the dungeons beneath the castle that she affectionately calls Sweetums.

It’s strange to see Sweetums portrayed as a dim witted bad-guy here. He’s always been a big lumbering hulk, but basically kind-hearted. I suppose he is that here too… he just wants to eat a frog for some reason.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the catchy songs in this movie were not the work of cool little person and unofficial Muppet Paul WIlliams. They have such a familiar feel to them. Instead it is Joe Raposo who created fun ditties like the lullaby for Sweetums and the fantastic ode to being a frog sung by Kermit and his frog companions.

In spite of the fact that these movies were made way back at the start of the seventies they’ve aged spectacularly well. Muppets are, of course, ageless. That’s part of their appeal. The only slightly dated part is the appearance of the human co-stars and it’s pretty easy to overlook that. I don’t watch these movies for the humans anyhow. I’m in it for the fun, for the felt, for the Muppety joy of it. It’s always a pleasure to throw these in for another viewing.

August 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 509 – Newsies

Newsies – July 22nd, 2011

Several years back, when Christian Bale was announced as the new Batman, I remember being immediately excited. I stated at the time that I thought he was an excellent choice and I was looking forward to seeing him in the role. And, at the time, Andy looked at me and wondered where he should know Christian Bale from. My incredulous reply was “NEWSIES!” Which didn’t really help him, because he had never seen it. I, on the other hand, had it memorized and had entertained a brief early teen crush on Bale based solely on his performance in it. I stand by my 12 year old self on this one. Bale was a cutie even at 17/18 and he dances in this!

Given my antipathy towards both Disney and musicals, one might wonder just how in hell I came to watch this movie so many times that I know it by heart. One would have to know my family’s history with cable for that. We didn’t have cable when I was younger. Most of my friends and classmates did, but we didn’t. For the most part, while I knew that in theory there were many things to watch that I was missing, I was content with what we had on broadcast television. And then my family spent two weeks renting a house on Cape Cod one summer. And this house had cable. And on A&E, for two hours every evening – just at the right time for dinner – The Avengers was on. Two hours of Steed and Emma or Steed and Tara(raboomdiay) that we hadn’t seen in ages because no broadcast channels were airing the show and the episodes we could buy on tape were limited. We lasted about four days when we got home. The cable guy was called in before the week was out. My mother had him lock out MTV and VH1 and subscribed to Disney as a “wholesome” channel for myself and my brother. Of course, she never changed the default code on the remote so I unlocked MTV whenever I was home on my own, but I did watch the Disney channel every so often as well. And they played this movie over and over and over and over and over.

Eventually I taped it off tv so I could watch it whenever. Inexplicably my brother also enjoyed it enough not to complain when I put it in. We’d sit and watch it and I’d make jokes about it (I was a born riffer) and make him laugh and somewhere along the line I memorized every line, every song, every stage direction. Everything. It was hard-pressed not to sing along with it watching it now, but I thought Andy would likely look at me funny. I’m sure he was laughing at me when I couldn’t help but mouth the words. Really, I should have been watching this with a couple of friends from college who love it like I do, so we’d have outnumbered him and been able to sing along. I mentioned on facebook that I was watching it and immediately one friend posted “I’M DA KING OF NEW YAWWWK” and we discussed the upcoming stage musical opening in September (why yes, I will be going). So what I’m saying here is that this movie is full of nostalgia for me.

Oh, it’s not perfect. I have to wonder what the impetus was for this movie, to be honest. It’s the story of the Newsies strike in 1899, which was a real thing that happened and was part of the whole labor reform movement in the US. And I find early labor reform really fascinating. So I’m all for a story about children organizing a strike to demand fair treatment. But what an odd choice for Disney to make a movie about. For children. I mean, it’s about kids, but it’s about a period in US history that’s rarely touched on. I mean, who covers the Spanish American War and its domestic consequences in depth at the age at which this movie is targeted? The late 1800s and early 1900s aren’t really a time period that gets a lot of kids movies made about it. Apparently it was originally conceived as a drama without musical numbers. And yet here we are, watching Christian Bale and David Moscow leap and kick and tap their way through Seize the Day, King of New York and several others. It’s a truly bizarre combination that to this day I can’t quite wrap my head around. No wonder it was a theatrical flop.

Despite all that, however, there is something about this movie that I find irresistible. I’m not sure what it is, specifically, that draws me to it because if all I wanted was to see Bale dancing I could just watch clips of this movie set to songs by Lady Gaga (yes, this is a thing, and it is wonderful) but that’s just not as satisfying. I do like the story, which follows Bale as Jack “Cowboy” Kelly and new friend David Jacobs (played by David Moscow) as they urge their fellow newspaper-selling peers to strike in protest of a price increase they can’t pass on to their customers. Jack’s an orphan with a history he’d like to forget about, sings about going to Santa Fe and is generally considered the best of the best by his peers (except the kids from Brooklyn, who have their own leader) where David gets into newspaper selling at the beginning of the movie to help out his family while his father is recovering from a work injury. With David’s smarts and Jack’s charisma and connections they manage to rally all the newsies in the city.

Of course the movie needs a villain and we get two good figures: There’s Joseph Pulitzer, played by Robert Duvall – the man who, in the movie, introduced the price hike that spurs the strike. And there’s Warden Snyder, who runs a juvenile detention hall where he stiffs the kids their meals and pockets the money that should be spent on their care. Snyder is after Jack since Jack escaped from the hall several years back. He goes to Pulitzer and identifies Jack as an escaped criminal, giving the city cause to send in the police to break up the strike. Of course you know that the newsies will prevail here. Regardless of any actual historical events this movie wouldn’t be getting a negative ending. It’s certainly going to be triumphant and involve singing and dancing because that’s how it works. But before it does there are threats and betrayals and people get beaten up and the reporter who’s been helping the newsies gets reassigned and just when you think it’s all going wrong the newsies print their own newspaper and distribute it to all the working kids in New York. Who are, of course, literate.

Not that I’m complaining about widespread literacy! But I highly suspect that this movie is embroidering the truth just a bit in terms of how many dock workers and laundry girls could read. One would expect the newsies to, but not necessarily everyone else. Still, it makes for a good crowd and a good feeling at the end, seeing all these child laborers standing up for their rights. This isn’t a movie that’s trying for verisimilitude. It’s trying to give a little bit of a history lesson, dressed up with song and dance. And some cute male leads. The acting isn’t fantastic and the script is somewhat predictable. But the songs are catchy (I’ve had King of New York in my head since watching it) and the dancing is fun to watch and really, it is a time period and subject I’m interested in. I still think it was an odd choice for Disney to make a movie for but it’s become a favorite of mine. And judging by the response I got from every friend I mentioned it to online, I’m not alone.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newsies

July 22, 2011

Newsies

Now here’s a movie that I probably never would have watched if it were not for our project. I know Amanda has an abiding love for the movie, but it’s not really one that I had any interest in seeing. Indeed this film has been somewhat of a running gag between us ever since Batman Begins came out. I was trying to remember where I had seen Christian Bale before and Amanda declared – as though it were obvious to any simpleton – “He’s in Newsies!” So, yeah, Christian Bale is that guy from Newsies – a movie I had never seen until we watched it for our movie-a-day project.

As with several of the movies that Amanda has introduced to our collection to balance out the fact that a very large majority of the films were purchased by myself without her input I am clearly not the target demographic for this movie. What I find unusual, however, is that Amanda fell so very much in love with this movie in the first place. Before we started this project she often said that she was not a fan of musicals, and she has never been a fan of Disney either. (We’ve both been somewhat surprised to discover just how many musicals we own, given her supposed dislike for them.) But here this film is – a Disney musical – an it’s one she’s been really looking forward to having me watch for a long time.

I fully understand exactly what the appeal of this movie was for Amanda. It’s full of cute boys dancing and being cool and she saw it for the first time when she was twelve or thirteen years old. It is, as she points out to me, a very strange film in that it is a historical drama about the newspaper boy strike of 1899 but presented as a musical full of teen heart-throb type guys for young girls. I found it even more strange to see Ann Margret – the Kitten With a Whip – as a burlesque dancer. How does that fit into this movie?

After a brief voice-over introducing us to the historical period we join the young boys who will be our heroes in a orphinarium. There’s a kid with an eye patch, a kid who fancies himself a ladies man, a kid with a crutch (called “Crutchy”) who is doing his very best Eddie Deezen impersonation, and our hero Jack ‘Cowboy’ Kelly. They are newsboys. Every day they get up at five in the morning, half an hour before they went to bed, and go out onto the streets of New York City to hawk papers for a penny a piece. They pay fifty cents for every hundred ‘papes’ they buy, so there’s the potential to make fifty cents profit per hundred – if they can sell them all. Sure their lot is not great, but it’s no “Hard Knock Life.” In fact they seem pretty happy with their lot, singing and dancing and tricking the rubes in the street into buying their papers.

Jack teams up with a couple new kids, a fellow named David and his precocious little brother, and decides to show them the ropes. (His reasoning being that David’s kid brother would be an asset to work with because of his age and David clearly has a good head on his shoulders.) No sooner have the three of them become friends, however, with Jack being invited to have dinner with David’s impoverished family and singing afterwards about how he dreams of an escape from his own lonely life, than the megalomaniacal newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer decides to increase his profits by forcing the newsies to pay 60 cents for every hundred papers instead of fifty cents. Oh no!

The newsies will not stand for this – being forced to pay an extra ten cents threatens to destroy their livelihood – so they decide to strike. All the newspaper selling underaged children of New York band together to insist that this injustice be corrected. Of course things do not go smoothly. They have to crack down on scabs attempting to sell papers in their stead and a mob of older kinds hired as strike busters. They have a lot of trouble getting the word out about their strike because of course the papers themselves don’t print stories about them. (As a sympathetic newsman points out – if it’s not in the papers it didn’t happen.) There’s friction in the ranks as they have to convince all the kids in other boroughs to join them – such as the tough slingshot wielding guys from Brooklyn. There’s a corrupt warden who is hunting for Jack because Jack has escaped from his state-sponsored refuge for wayward boys. And there’s Joseph Pulitzer ranting and raving and attempting to corrupt jack into joining his side.

As an aside – Robert Duvall’s wild-eyed and generally insane portrayal of Pulitzer is one of the stranger things in this movie. I have to wonder just what inspired him to deliver this performance. Was it an attempt to inject some levity into the primary villain? Was he trying to live up to the evil villains of the Disney animated films (who do tend to chew a little scenery?) Whatever the case, it’s very strange to have a historical figure depicted as such a raving lunatic.

Still, I suppose it makes sense. This isn’t a movie about historical accuracy. It’s a movie about scrappy kids joining together and proving that they can stand up to corrupt adults. It’s about performing big synchronized dance numbers in the streets of nineteenth century New York. It’s about Christian Bale singing with a hilarious accent and floppy hair.

The movie has an undeniable charm. I am not the target audience (being the wrong gender and about three decades too old) but I can understand why the mention of this movie makes just about every one of Amanda’s friends swoon. Who doesn’t like a story of children winning out against the unfairness foisted upon them by adults? And clearly it helps if they’re dreamy.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 484 – Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992) – June 27th, 2011

The first time I saw this movie was in the theater. Amazingly, one year my mother allowed my brother and I to pick a movie each to go to for our birthdays. Normally, movies in theaters were a forbidden world for us, to be attended only when visiting friends whose parents didn’t mind going to theaters. So the opportunity to go to a theater twice? Holy crap. I don’t know what I picked. No recollection at all. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as memorable as this was, but my birthday came after my brother’s so he got first pick. Oh well. I still got to go.

Now, this is a Disney movie, which means it’s a severely altered version of a classic folktale. It’s not a folktale I’m as familiar with as I am with some of the other things they’ve done (and yes, I still refuse to watch Disney’s Hercules), but it’s pretty obvious that this is not traditional. No classic folktale stars anyone remotely like Robin Williams, after all. The closest I can think of to his particular brand of manic energy would be how I normally think of Loki. But we’re not in Scandinavia in this story. We’re in the Middle East, telling a story about a street thief who gets his hands on a lamp containing a genie.

Visually, this is a gorgeous movie. It uses a combination of 2D hand drawn characters and 3D rendered backgrounds and for the most part that works very nicely. There are a few bits during a daring escape from a collapsing cave where it’s obvious the folks at Disney wanted audiences to know how fancy their 3D rendering tools were, but it’s not obtrusive otherwise. I admit, I do like the old 2D animation with something a little deeper behind it. Ironically, it makes the 2D animation pop more, which is pretty neat in my opinion. But on top of that the movie has a lovely color scheme, full of rich jewel tones. Sure, the red = bad, blue = good thing has been done to death, but it’s played well here. It’s just flat out a pretty movie. I especially love all the transparency effects that are done with veils and smoke and the like. I could put this movie on mute and just watch it for the visuals and be pleased by it. But then I’d miss out on Robin Williams.

Let’s be honest here: I watch this movie for Williams. The visuals are amazing and I do like Jasmine’s independent attitude, but Robin Williams is at the heart of this movie and without him it just wouldn’t shine the way it does. Now, I’m not talking RV or Patch Adams Robin Williams. I’m talking early Robin Williams. Live standup Robin Williams. Radio broadcast Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams. There’s a great early Williams show that I haven’t seen in years and which is apparently not available on DVD at this time and I found a laserdisc version for sale on eBay but alas, we lack a laserdisc player. And he is wild in it. And that is what I think of when I watch this movie. You can tell he improvised a ton and you can also tell that there was no way some of this stuff couldn’t be used. But much as I love his performance, let’s face it, it was not intended for kids to get. Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, Arsenio Hall, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson and more I can’t even name or remember to name, and they’re good impressions made better by the animation. But what seven year old knows who Peter Lorre was? Still, I’m not complaining. Because I do indeed love Robin Williams.

By far the musical highlight for me is the introduction of Aladdin as Prince Ali, which is sung mostly by Robin Williams. It’s a hugely fun number featuring tons of ridiculous lyrics and visuals and Williams delivers the whole thing perfectly. There are a couple of other fun numbers, but for the most part the ones that stick with me are the Prince Ali song and A Whole New World. The former because it’s awesome and the latter because it is precisely the sort of song that sticks in my head and makes me renew my vow to avoid Disney movies. It’s a wistful power ballad that melds with Part of Your World in my head to form a sort of ur-earworm. And that is what South Part: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was parodying with Up There. Which gets immediately added to the mix so that in my mind I see Satan riding on a magic carpet and combing his hair with a fork. Yeah. Like I said, this is why I avoid Disney movies.

So Aladdin meets Princess Jasmine when she’s snuck out of the palace to experience life outside the confines of being a princess. He saves her when she breaks the law without realizing it and for his trouble the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar, grabs him to help with a scheme to gain access to the magical lamp. Aladdin ends up with the lamp and a magic carpet, wishes to become a prince and then there’s a parade! Of course Jafar manages to ruin Aladdin’s plans to woo the princess (well, Jafar and Aladdin’s inept attempts at being suave). He nabs the lamp, wishes for lots of power and wealth, and you can guess that they manage to turn the tables on him and all live happily ever after. As plots go it’s not the most complicated of stories. And the lessons it’s imparting aren’t complicated either. Be true to yourself, be honest with those you care about, give people the freedom to live their own lives. I can get behind all three of those.

What I can’t get behind are the plot holes. Leaving aside the fact that I have never seen a non-evil Grand Vizier in any movie ever (as a friend of mine mentioned, it seems to be a perk of the position), there are some issues with the plot. Much as I admire Jasmine’s insistence that she be allowed to marry who she wants, when she wants, if she wants, the whole movie revolves around Aladdin trying to convince her to marry him. And the whole plot point that the law says she must marry a prince? The movie hinges on it. Apparently she’s been tossing princes out on their rears for quite some time and her father is now frantic about getting her married off by her birthday or… um… it’s never made clear, I don’t think. The law says she has to marry a prince by her upcoming birthday “or else”. And then at the end the Sultan is all “Whatever, I make the law! Marry whoever you want!” If you loved your daughter so much, genius, why didn’t you fix that law in the beginning when it was so clearly an issue? And even disregarding that whole deus ex machina sort of ending, there’s the bit with the genie and Aladdin’s last wish. Why does he have to use his last wish for the genie? Sure, he promised, but why not wish himself a prince to satisfy the law (or wish for the law to change) then hand off the lamp to Jasmine and have her wish the genie free? All fixed! It’s the sort of set of plot points that sets my teeth on edge.

All in all, though, I do enjoy the movie. Plot issues and earworms aside, it’s beautiful to watch and it’s got Robin Williams. Apparently they had a ton of extra material from Williams’ recording sessions, not all of which was appropriate for a Disney movie. Oh, how I wish for some of that stuff to leak, because I would love to hear it. Unlikely, I suppose, so I’ll have to be content with what’s actually in the movie. And what’s in the movie is really a lot of fun. Added to the great animation and visuals, it makes for fun viewing. Just beware the earworm and don’t step in any plot holes.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Aladdin

June 27, 2011

Aladdin

I saw this for the first time on opening night at the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (Thank you Uncle Ken!) It was a spectacular experience with a whole chorus line performing songs from Beauty and the Beast before the feature and all the pomp and circumstance that a Hollywood premier should involve. (At least that’s my vague recollection… it might have been the Beauty and the Beast premier I’m remembering.)

What I do know is that I love this movie. It’s been a few years since I last watched it and I was surprised and relieved to find that it hasn’t really aged very much in the intervening time. Oh, the first verse of the opening song has been altered to make the movie less offensive, but other than that it’s the same movie I first saw in the theater. Even today I find that I enjoy the humor, the gorgeous animation and even the message of the movie.

In the same way that many Disney animated films are loosely based on fairy tales this movie is loosely based on tales from 1001 nights. A lovable rogue and thief on the streets of Aggrabah (a character familiar to us after having already reviewed two different versions of Thief of Bagdad) ends up in possession of a magic lamp containing an all-powerful Genie. Using his three wishes he attempts to gain the love of a princess, only to have the lamp stolen by a power-mad Vizier (is there any other kind) who wants to rule the world. That’s the rough outline. What makes the movie fun is what it does with that.

For one thing it has a fantastic and snappy collection of songs. This was the Alan Menkin and Tim Rice era of Disney musicals. Indeed there are many songs here that feel almost as though they are lifted directly from Little Mermaid in tone and spirit. I know that in Amanda’s book this is a down side because now she has songs from this movie caught in her brain, but I still enjoy them after all these years.

For another thing it has fantastic, fluid, beautiful animation throughout. I remember being very impressed at the time by some of the computer generated backgrounds such as during the magic carpet escape from the cave of wonders. It may look a little dated today, but at the time it was groundbreaking stuff.

I also enjoy the blatant messages in the plot. The notion that Aladdin should be honest about himself to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The repeated insistence of Jasmine that she is not a prize to be won and deserves to make her own choice about whom she will marry. They’re simple morals but effective nonetheless, which is something Disney is fairly good at.

Of course all this pales in comparison with the one true reason to watch this movie. Two words: Robin Williams. This is his party, and everybody else is just invited along. His mile-a-minute riffs combined with the wild animation provided by teams of hard working animators results in a wonderful and mesmerizing experience. Amanda and I laughed at all the references that would sail right over the heads of children in the audience from Groucho Marx to Peter Lorre to Ed Sullivan. Then there are the bits that would have seemed topical at the time but are artifacts from a bygone era today, like his Arsenio Hall whooping. The truth is that no matter how many times I see this movie this shtick doesn’t get old. It’s Williams just doing his usual thing, albeit edited down for a G audience, and that’s just fun.

What can I say? This movie brings back happy memories. Memories of watching the film with my friend Rachel while she sang along. Memories of playing the classic SNES game based on the movie. (I think it has been re-released on virtual console for the Wii – I may have to buy it and play it again.) I know that for Amanda the result of watching this movie is that she wants us to own some Robin Williams stand-up routines, and I’m fine with that as well.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 474 – Earth Girls Are Easy

Earth Girls Are Easy – June 17th, 2011

This is one of those movies that Andy and I have agreed to disagree on. I first saw it at his behest and I wasn’t taken with it at the time and he bought it on his own and he enjoys it. And it simply does nothing for me. It takes up space in my life. That’s what it does. It’s not something I would put in on my own or stop on if I was flipping channels, but I don’t object to owning it. I don’t even really object to watching it. I just have better things to do.

I find it really hard to pinpoint just what about this movie falls flat for me. I mean, the whole movie does, but I’m not sure of the exact problems. I mean, I’m not crazy about the musical numbers or the sex scene or the zany madcap plot, but there’s something else I can’t put my finger on and it’s bothering me. Because usually when I’m not fond of a movie I can point to a reason and feel satisfied by it. Here? It’s just not fun for me to watch.

The plot follows Valerie, a young manicurist living and working in LA. She’s engaged to Ted, who’s a doctor. He’s also a total douche and I really can’t stand to see him on screen. He cheats on Valerie and treats her like she’s nothing and he’s generally the villain of the movie. Valerie catches him cheating on her, throws him out and proceeds to trash all his stuff. And then a trio of furry aliens crash land their ship in her backyard pool. So her rebound involves giving the aliens makeovers and teaching them about Earth while they pick up the language by watching television. Oh, and she has a fling with the alien played by Jeff Goldblum.

Along the way two of the aliens get arrested, Ted tries to get Valerie back and ends up escorted away by the police for being the douche that he is, Valerie moans a lot about Ted, Ted eventually tries to dissect two of the aliens and there’s more music. I’d kind of blocked out the musical aspect to this movie. Totally forgot there were any musical numbers at all. They’re mostly Julie Brown bouncing around doing the California Girl thing that Moon Unit Zappa skewered so perfectly. They don’t engage me much and you would think that being the nail polish nut that I am, I’d at least enjoy the makeover number, but I admit I spent the whole thing playing a game on my DS. Told you I had better things to do.

I think part of the problem for me when it comes to this movie is that I’m fairly sure that it’s making fun of the whole Valley Girl thing, but it also trades on it in a way that isn’t entirely parody. So it’s very hard for me to watch it without seeing it as a bit of a failure in that respect. It falls too firmly outside the realm of parody for me and I blame the character of Valerie for it. Valerie is a competent young woman who ends up taking care of quite a lot of the problems the movie throws at her. She’s also a stereotypical flake, but she’s not quite played for laughs. She wavers between being mad at Ted, who tries to slice up her new friends, after all, to being so thrilled that he might take her back that she’s willing to run away to Las Vegas with him to get married right away. In fact, I think how Valerie is presented in relation to Ted is a huge part of the problem for me. Play the character for the humor of her explaining 80s LA culture to three goofy aliens, but don’t have her mope about her lousy ex.

In addition to the 80s LA thing the movie has going on, there’s also plenty of just plain goofball humor. The aliens, particularly the two played by Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey, spend much of their time totally misunderstanding everything they come across except girls, whom they ogle and flirt with. They drink a lava lamp and eat tropical fish (though none of them were named Wanda, so they’re safe from Ken’s wrath) and accidentally hold up a convenience store for candy and a porno mag. Goldblum’s the only serious one and even he has his moments of absurdity.

I just don’t really care about this movie. I could delve deeper into the issues presented by how the female characters are presented and treated. I could go into a discussion of the difficulties of marrying parody and homage (but to sum up my opinion: John Waters pulls it off and this movie doesn’t). I could complain about the aliens’ full body waxing revealing totally normal (for a Hollywood value of normal) humanoids. Or I could just shrug and go back to my game. Because I just don’t have a hell of a lot of energy at the moment and I don’t want to expend what I have on poking this movie to pieces. I can see why people might like it and I won’t insist that Andy never watch it. I just don’t really care.

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

Earth Girls Are Easy

June 17, 2011

Earth Girls are Easy

I have no shame in saying that I saw this in the theater because of the Doctor Demento show. Julie Brown (not the MTV one) was on the show one Sunday promoting her new movie, and I was just enough of a Dr. D. fan to go see a movie inspired by a novelty song. (A song, by the way that doesn’t appear in the film.) That was long before I knew anything about Jim Carrey or knew what a Wayans is. Of course I knew who Jeff Goldblum was because I was already a huge fan of Buckaroo Banzai, but otherwise I didn’t really know what to expect.

What I got was a lot of laughs. I was sixteen years old when this came out, and it’s pretty much aimed at that age, so it was the perfect kind of silliness for me. The fact of the matter is that I still chuckle while I watch this even today. I can see that it’s sexist and dated and stupid, but it’s also just so much fun.

Geena Davis is Valerie, a soon-to-be-married manicurist living in LA. Her fiance is an obnoxious ass who has been cheating on her and doesn’t actually seem to care very much for her. (It’s not made clear why he’s with her in the first place. She eventually throws him out of the house so maybe she owns the home and has money from a trust fund or something? It doesn’t come up.) Soon after she has broken up with her cad of a boyfriend a space ship crash lands in her swimming pool, bringing a trio of hirsute aliens into her life.

These aliens know nothing of Earth and cause general havoc in her home eating fish from the fish tank, threatening to use the cat box, chewing on records and being generally curious and alien. They watch a lot of TV. Two of the aliens – Wiplock and Zeebo – are general horndogs (the whole reason they crash landed in LA in the first place is that they were seeking out hairless females to ogle.) Their captain Mac though is considerably more calm and suave – if a blue hairy alien can be such a thing.

It’s only when Valerie brings the aliens to the salon she works at for a makeover so they can pass for human until the pool can be drained that we discover that Wiplock is Jim Carrey, Zeebo is Damon Wayans and Mac is Jeff Goldblum. Valerie’s co-worker Candy (Julie Brown, the writer of the song this movie was based on) then takes the aliens and Valerie out for a night on the town. Wackiness ensues.

What makes this movie fun is the liberal application of stupid slapstick humor and the general idiocy of just about every single character. Valerie is a new age mystical ditz. Candy is a valley girl. Wiploc and Zeebo act like horny kids, and of course both Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans were already rubber-faced masters of physical comedy by this time. (Strange to think that this was two years before they worked together on In Living Color.) Mac is generally well meaning but doesn’t understand things very well. Valerie’s pool cleaner Woody is a burnt out hippie surfer (played like every stoner stereotype rolled into one character by Michael McKean.) There’s not a single reasonable, rational or intelligent character in the whole movie. I know Amanda was put off by the general empty-headedness of Valerie as a lead character, but honestly I think the movie is pretty even handed in the way it portrays absolutely everybody as unbelievably stupid – from the police to the gas station attendants to the night club patrons.

Geena Davis is an unlikely actress to play a sexpot bimbo who only wants to find Mr. Right so she can settle down. It’s kind of strange to see her wandering around for so much of the movie in underwear and bikinis. (The character of Valerie has some of the worst Eighties fashion sense ever. Even I know that a frilly baby-doll top and stockings with bows on the knees is not something any real person ever wore.) She’s generally a smarter woman than that. It’s also odd to see Jeff Goldblum, who I generally think of as kind of nebbish and nerdy, put forth as a dreamy suave hunk. He pulls it off pretty well, but it’s still strange to watch. I have to think that this movie in some way acted as a part of Geena and Jeff’s courtship since they had been a well-known couple ever since they appeared together in the John Carpenter re-make of The Fly two years before this film came out.

Both Amanda and I had forgotten until we put this in tonight that it is a musical. It features song and dance numbers in the salon, on the beach, and in Valerie’s house. Some of the songs I remember from Dr. Demento’s funny five countdowns, so I can’t imagine how I had forgotten that they were in the movie.

What a strange combination this movie is. It’s a very eighties film in aesthetic and in the LA it portrays. It also tries to spoof the sci-fi tropes of the forties and fifties with its retro spacecraft and animated opening credits. There are some comedic devices that seem tiresome, like the way that the aliens mimic sounds perfectly, sort of acting as living foley artists. There’s also a lot of sketchy comedy involving Mac’s “love touch” which he can use to throw people and animals into a state of rapture and lust. It’s played for laughs, but I know Amanda will have a lot to say in her review about sexual coercion. Still – I can’t help laughing at the movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and for me it’s fun just to see Michael McKean, Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis all in the same movie. And Julie Brown. It’s her movie, after all. Back in 1988 I had an entire year to wait before another frequent guest on the Doctor Demento show would release a movie in theaters. We’ve already reviewed UHF though.

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