A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 575 – Clerks

Clerks – September 26th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned before that we have some truly bizarre holes in our collection. Like Fargo, though we’ve since filled that hole. This was another hole, made even stranger by the fact that we owned Mallrats. I mean, I enjoy Mallrats and all, but I enjoy this more. How could we not own it? So we ordered it, and by accident Andy ordered the Blu-ray version. Now, eventually I’m sure we’ll have a Blu-ray player hooked up to our television, but for now we have two choices: The PS3 in the living room on the large but old CRT in there, or Andy’s laptop. So, laptop it was tonight. Fortunately it’s got a nice big screen and he doesn’t mind a movie monopolizing it for an hour and a half.

This movie came out when I was in high school and it wasn’t long after it came out that I started working in a video store. I saw it soon after and well, it’s not as close to my experience as Empire Records is, but there’s a sense of service industry ennui that’s present through the whole movie. Granted, it’s very much a pop culture collage, but it’s also meant to be commentary on the lives of the people who accumulate that sort of pop culture knowledge. About the people of the generation who pay attention to that particular pop culture time frame. I’m not quite the right generation. I’m a couple of years behind, but not behind enough to be in the next one. This movie still resonates with me.

It is a movie with a simple premise: A day in the life of convenience store clerk Dante Hicks, who gets called into work on his day off. His “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” is oft quoted by myself and Andy and I suspect many others. Dante hates his job, hates the things he has to deal with in his job, and seems to want to do something else. But he also lacks the drive to do anything about it, simply accepting each new indignity with vocal protest but no action to back it up. Which is really his whole character arc, but without specifics like the ex-girlfriend who accidentally has sex with a corpse in the convenience store bathroom. Which is sort of the movie in a nutshell: It’s a simple premise in which bizarre things happen but which seem not to faze the characters as much as one might expect.

It’s rather episodic, really. And that seems intentional, since various sections of the movie have title cards displayed before them. But within each section are little episodes. They’re not quite vignettes. They’re just moments. We meet Dante and along with him we find out that someone’s jammed gum into the padlocks that open the screens over the front of the store. We watch him get accosted by a gum salesman who rallies smokers against him and we meet his girlfriend (who disperses the mob by emptying a fire extinguisher at them). We meet his friend Randall, who works at the video store next door and clearly does not give even a quarter of a shit. Through the course of the day we get to know Dante and his many and sundry issues.

First of all, Dante is in this dead end job he hates. Why does he hate it? He hates it because people treat him like dirt and he’s not even getting paid well to make up for it. Second of all, Dante has a nice solid relationship with his girlfriend, Veronica, but he’s still got a thing for his ex, Caitlin Bree. Third of all, he’s not even supposed to be there today! He’s got hockey! Really, Dante’s problem is inertia. Never in the movie is it suggested that Dante has any roadblocks to going back to school aside from a lack of interest. Which might be disingenuous if one took it as a commentary on all people his age at the time the movie was made, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always seen it as a commentary on a very specific group, as represented by Dante. And Randall, because he sure as hell doesn’t seem interested in getting out of the small town they live in or getting a better job. Not just then, anyhow. The difference between the two is that Randall is self-aware and Dante isn’t. According to the trivia, the reason Randall is such a smartass with all the good lines and major insights is that Kevin Smith wrote the part for himself.

In amongst all the serious commentary on Dante’s life and how mired in his own problems he is, there’s a boatload of pop culture commentary. There’s a whole conversation (well known by now) about whether the rebuilding of the Death Star in The Return of the Jedi would have involved independent contractors and if so, whether those contractors were innocent victims of the Rebellion’s attack. These conversations are often just between Dante and Randall but they spread out to the customers too. They also comment on the nature of working in retail, talking about the vagaries of customers. They pause in their work to play hockey, to go to a wake, and to have a knock-down drag-out brawl in the snack aisle. And through it all we also get snippets of Jay and Silent Bob, two drug dealers who hang out outside the store and accost people who walk by. It is a bizarre mish-mash of scenes that cover all sorts of things, but which hang together due to the location and conceit of the movie.

The whole thing is filmed in black and white, which personally, I like. I’ve never minded black and white movies, even modern ones. When done purposefully they can look really good. While I know the major reason for it here was because Smith was working with a severely limited budget and didn’t have the money to do color correction on color stock with different lighting sources, I think it also would have looked messy otherwise. The movie was filmed in an actual convenience store. This isn’t a set. It’s a real place, which comes with the issue that you can only do so much set dressing. They filmed at night while the store was closed, so the place needed to be usable the next day after filming without too much fuss. Picture your local independent convenience store, with hand written notes and a counter full of point-of-sale displays in eye-popping colors and racks of stock behind the counter. Now imagine watching that on screen for two hours, because that’s where Dante is for much of the movie.

Now, this movie isn’t pure unadulterated brilliance from start to finish. The cast is clearly unpolished and every so often the writing is a bit too self-aware. It was made on a shoestring budget (for a movie) and you can tell. But it’s also a very strong movie in general, which makes the obvious low-budget issues matter less to me. Maybe it’s my retail background, but then too, a whole lot of people my age and around my age have backgrounds in retail. Even if the pop culture gets a little stale, which it inevitably will, the general idea will remain fairly solid for a little more time, at least. And that’s what sells this movie.

September 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Hamlet (2000)

September 5, 2011

Hamlet (2000)

We own about four versions of this most famous Shakespeare play. We’ve already reviewed for our project the complete and uncut play as produced by Kenneth Branaugh. We’ve also reviewed the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) wherin Adam Long and his compatriots do a very much abbreviated version of Hamlet, then do it faster, then do it faster still, then do it backwards. Although we haven’t reviewed it (because our vast MST collection is not a part of this project) we even have a black and white version of the film produced for German television. So come we tonight to this, the millennial adaptation of the film set in the modern day and starring, amongst many others, Ethan Hawke as Hamlet.

This version of the takes the tale replaces the medieval kingdoms of the play with the modern royalty of today – the uber-rich aristocracy of the corporate aristocracy. Denmakr, therefore is a corporation, the head of which has recently died. The son of the head of Denmark Corp, Hamlet, returns from school for the funeral and is shocked to find his mother already being betrothed to his dead father’s brother. The story is unchanged of course, and the dialog is all Shakespeare, but it is much truncated and the order of some scenes is altered (for example it begins not with “Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt” but with Hamlet’s speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about what a beast is man.)

Hawke’s Hamlet is not so much mad as sullen. He’s an artist and a angst ridden recluse, but he never seems insane. He toys with video cameras and monitors and a small portable editing deck. The play-within-a-play takes the form of a home-made film. (The players are gone entirely.) Hamlet’s melancholy airs fir perfectly into the generation-why mould of an idle teenager in the late nineties. His many soliloquies are split between voice-overs of his inner monologue and video diaries.

Ophelia, for her part, is a photographer in this version. The flowers she presents to her brother during her final speech are polaroid pictures. When she is sent by her father and Hamlet’s uncle the new king to spy on Hamlet they listen on on a concealed wire. It is during these two scenes that I am most moved by this production. Julia Stiles is an exceptional actress, and her Ophelia is almost painful to watch in her desperation as Hamlet, in his obsession, first denies his love for her and then accidentally kills her father. Really hers is the most tragic story in the entire tale of Hamlet – an innocent who is used and discarded – who looses everything she holds dear.

The modern day setting of the story works pretty well for the most part. The substitution of faxes for messengers, computer documents for missives, planes for ships all do not feel inappropriate. There is a very odd couple scenes that take place in a Blockbuster store which feel particularly strange to me, since I worked in a store that looked just like that (beck before DVDs replaced all the tapes on the shelves. Only for the climactic scene does it seem a little odd that Laertes and Hamlet choose to duel using foils. (The first time I watched this I wondered through the entire film how they were going to make this scene work since they had replaced swords throughout with guns. They do modernise it somewhat using electric fencing gear and dispensing with the poison-tipped sword, but the duel itself seems an anachronism in the world of the movie.

As is often the case with high profile Shakespearean adaptations there’s a fantastic cast gathered together here. Bill Murray in the role of Polonius does what I think is the best job of taking the Shakespearean dialog and making it feel understandable and natural in the mouth of a modern character. There are all kinds of familiar faces throughout the production from Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius to Liev Schreiber as Laertes and even brief appearances by Tim Blake Nelson and Paul Bartel. My favorite moment in the entire film is the epilogue, delivered by Robert MacNeil (familiar to any fan of PBS news in the eighties and nineties) as a news report.

I do admit that Hamlet is not my favorite play of all time. I’m just not a fan of tragedy in general, and there is so much angst and pain in this script. I do enjoy seeing different interpretations of the same work though. I like seeing how a new cast and director can breathe new life into a familiar subject. This is a great example of that, and it makes me want to see other versions as well. I don’t think we’re likely to get the Mel Gibson one, but I’d very much like to get the Laurence Olivier some day. For now we’re done with Hamlet though. More’s the pity.

September 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 442 – Cliffhanger

Cliffhanger – May 16th, 2011

I really should have known better than to agree to buy this. When Andy picked it out off the list my coworker gave me I was skeptical. I was fairly certain that I’d heard unpleasant things about it. When I was in high school a friend of mine told me about going to see a movie with a friend over winter break and how they’d been the only ones in the theater and how they’d mercilessly made fun of it and I’m pretty sure this is that movie. So when Andy pointed to it and said “Let’s get that,” I asked if he was sure. He told me yes, he’d enjoyed it. It wasn’t that bad. From now on I think when Andy says he enjoyed something I heard was horrible I’m going to insist on some second, third and fourth opinions. From people who don’t think The Creeping Terror is a masterpiece of cinema. I love my husband, but he did bring the remake of War of the Worlds into our home and he likes it.

I will admit, however, that this movie is loads more fun to watch than War of the Worlds was. Largely because I didn’t feel like this movie wanted me to hate it. On the contrary, this is a movie that very much wants me to root for the hero the whole way through. The hero gets some angst to justify his brooding demeanor but we’re made quite aware that the cause of it wasn’t his fault! And then he gets to go all Starship Mine on the bad guys, except instead of a starship it’s a mountain he’s crawling around and defending. And that’s cool and all. I mean, I won’t knock the premise. But it just doesn’t do it for me in the end. There’s too much macho shouting and too much pointless shooting and they kill off a sympathetic character just to be jerks and the female lead is all high pitched and squealy and eh. It falls flat for me.

Now, it is a lot of fun to mock this movie. It deserves it. Oh, does it deserve it. Much as I love John Lithgow, his scenery chewing alone would earn this movie mockery points. There is prime riffing potential running through this movie like a thick vein of cheesy ore. It’s just an overblown action movie with a big burly hero who has to kick some sociopath ass in an inhospitable environment. This isn’t a new plot or trope and it’s hardly going to go away now. This particular version of it relies on the setting for a large amount of the tension, with Lithgow’s character, Eric Qualen, providing the rest as he ruthlessly kills and laughs and revels in his reputation for being one nasty piece of work. It’s thoroughly believable that Qualen would do anything and kill anyone to get what he wants. His team are similarly ruthless, though not quite as bad-assed or smart as he is, so they get picked off one by one as Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe Walker stalks them. Or rather, he pre-stalks them, anticipating where they’ll go and getting there first.

Why yes, there is a plot here. Qualen and his men, including rogue Treasury Agent Travers, hijack a shipment of non-circulating large denomination US currency. Now, Andy and I had to look this up because we were curious about the bills being used. And it turns out that bills of $500 and up ceased to be produced quite some time back and while they’re legal, they’re also incredibly rare and mostly owned by collectors. This is actually a plot point, but I hadn’t been paying attention when it was mentioned at first because this movie was boring me to tears at the time and I was a lot more focused on why the FBI would be showing off and talking about classified information in the middle of an airport. But anyhow, there are these three cases of money and they steal them by means of an incredibly expensive stunt involving a sort of plane-to-plane breeches buoy. The heist goes wrong and the cases fall down to the mountains below, so the hijackers have to go get them. To do so they enlist the help of some search and rescue rangers on the mountain. And one of those rangers? Is Gabe Walker. The other is an old friend of his, Tucker. But he and Tucker are on the outs which kind of matters not one little bit in the end aside from being the source of Walker’s angst. Eventually a mutual friend of theirs shows up (that would be Gabe’s love interest, Jessie, also a ranger) so she can shriek at bats and get held hostage.

The bad guys assume early on that they’ve killed Gabe after he finds the first case, but once he meets up with Jessie they go after the other two cases, taking climbing shortcuts the bad buys don’t know about. They’ve still got Tucker but he’s taking them the long way around to give Gabe and Jessie time. So there’s a lot of cat and mouse going on here and really, I got bored with it. I’ve seen this plot done a bunch of times and I can name two television shows that did it better: The aforementioned Star Trek episode and then Highlander’s Bad Day in Building A. It all seems to pointlessly drawn out and dramatic here, and not in good ways. And part of that is that I never really feel the passion in Gabe’s mission. Sure, the baddies have his old friend, but his old friend’s also an accomplished climber. They’re both supposed to be these great mountaineers and rangers and when the whole situation begins the bad guys haven’t killed anyone either Gabe or Tucker know. They’re just obviously bad. Gabe gets all righteously pissed off because they have his friend and what? He feels guilt over the opening scene? The stakes don’t start out quite high enough for me to feel that burn.

I guess I also have some issues with the first scene and how it’s used by the movie. We start out with Jessie and Gabe showing up in a chopper to rescue Tucker and his girlfriend from the top of a peak called the Tower. Tucker’s knee’s gotten busted and he can’t climb down, so they need to do the breeches buoy type thing for him and the girlfriend. And as Gabe’s getting her harness secured she’s being all nervous and he assures her she’ll be fine. At that point I knew she was doomed. I said as much out loud and Andy asked how I could know. How could I not? She was practically wearing a red shirt. You can’t assure a minor character she’ll be fine that much and not have her die. So of course she falls to her gruesome death and Tucker blames Gabe and Gabe blames Gabe and I’m sitting there going “What the hell was she doing on that mountain?” Maybe it’s that I’ve read too much about Everest and the danger inexperienced climbers pose to both themselves and everyone else on the mountain, but seriously. If you can’t climb it, don’t. The movie uses this scene as emotional fodder for Gabe’s enormous angst cloud and for his touchy relationship with Walker. But beyond the first couple of interactions between them it doesn’t matter one bit. Let me make that clear: The movie plunges a young woman to her death to give the characters some emotional weight, then ignores said weight in favor of gunfire and explosions. If you’re not going to use it, don’t bother with it. Especially when it brings up questions about a main character’s judgement in the first place.

I was equally irritated with Jessie’s whole thing about the bats. Gabe seems just as spooked by them and I guess I would too if I was in the Rockies and found fruit bats, but still. One would thing rangers familiar with mountains and caves would be a little less shrill and panicky when faced with bats. The movie’s just full of this sort of stuff. Things tossed in for a bit of tension that makes little sense and ends up not mattering. And if the movie can’t seem to make its plot points matter to its plot, why should I bother paying attention? Why should I care at all? And the answer is that I don’t. I couldn’t make myself care about this movie for more than a minute or two at a time and even then? It was mostly so I could better mock it.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 428 – Wigstock: The Movie

Wigstock: The Movie – May 2nd, 2011

Tonight we watched the last episode of this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race (congratulations, Raja!) and we’d saved this movie just for tonight to mark the end of the season. It’s got RuPaul in it, after all, and a huge number and wide variety of drag queens and performers and artists and everything you can imagine. I’d never seen it before and I’m so glad that I have now because it was fantastic.

The problem is, it’s supposedly a documentary but it’s not really great as one. I’ve seen some fantastic documentaries, like Paris is Burning from a couple of weeks ago. And this lacks a little something as a documentary. Yes, it gives a decent look at the 1994 Wigstock festival in New York, but I feel like it was far more a concert movie than a documentary. Maybe it’s that I can’t help but put it up against Woodstock, since that’s the inspiration for the name of the festival and there’s definitely a ‘do what you want to do’ vibe going on among the participants and audience. Heck, one of the performers even sings Woodstock midway through the movie. It’s not nearly on the same scale, but I think it’s a fair comparison.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to it as a movie. This has nothing to do with the festival itself, which appears to have been a total blast. But the movie itself is a little on the sloppy side, as if it can’t decide if it wants to showcase the performances/performers or the festival as a whole. There are a few short interview segments with a couple of performers (Mistress Formika, RuPaul and Lady Bunny in particular, plus a number of people at a wig stylist’s shop), but they’re not all identified and really only Mistress Formika goes into a whole lot of detail on drag and sexuality and the festival as a way to bring people together. In terms of the history of it all and how it came to be and the 1994 festival in particular, well, it just doesn’t touch on it that much. Which I found frustrating so long as I looked at it as a documentary.

So I had to switch gears and watch it as a performance. Instead of finding out about the festival and the people involved I had to go at it more like how I watched Pulse. It’s a spectacle and one I wasn’t present for in person. And aside from the interview segments, well, it does give a good view of the overall atmosphere of the festival. There’s the main stage, of course, where there seems to always be some sort of performance happening. But there are also the attendees, who range from totally mundane looking folks in t-shirts and jeans to folks in costume but not necessarily drag and then drag in so many different forms and levels and types it’s impossible to describe them all. Men in skirts, wigs, full drag, butch drag, big beards and fake breasts. Women in suits, dresses, wigs as big as anything the queens were wearing. It’s this fantastic mix of gender expression and sexuality and people having fun being who they want to be. There’s a great bit where they talk to an older man who looks to be like someone just passing by. Like they stopped him on the street and pointed to the drag queens and said “Hey, what do you think?” And he talks about how hey, they’re not hurting anyone so who cares? And then we pan back and he’s wearing a frilly black and white polka dotted skirt himself.

He’s somewhat of an exception though, because for the most part the shots of attendees are mostly to let them show off what they’re wearing or doing or representing. And oh, the things people put together for this festival are just amazing. Multi-tiered wigs and gigantic bouffants and dresses and costumes and it’s sort of like a big drag convention. It’s fairly clear that the audience is part of the appeal of the festival. It’s not just the acts up on stage, it’s the people strutting their stuff down on the ground as well. The attitude of the crowd is wonderful and positive and upbeat, and given the time this was filmed, in the mid-90s in New York, that’s fantastic. It’s wonderful to see.

The performances themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. They’re everything from performance art to lip syncing to drag performers singing live to non-drag performers singing live. There’s dancing and comedy and nudity and costume changes and wigs. Wigs wigs wigs. My exposure to drag performance is limited to what can be considered fairly mainstream drag. RuPaul, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. That sort of thing. And I know that’s very limited. Just look at the balls and pageants, which have a relatively large following, and yet they’re not as much on display as the gown-and-lip-sync drag that’s probably what comes to mind for most people like myself (i.e. straight and fairly square, alas). There are whole swaths of drag culture I simply don’t know and this movie, showcasing this festival, definitely touches on them.

Despite my criticisms of this movie as being a little on the messy side in terms of its intent, I really did enjoy it. Regardless of its intent or its structure (or lack thereof), it does manage to capture the spirit and experience of the festival, at least on a small scale. There’s no way an hour and a half long movie could truly showcase the whole thing, but it does an admirable job of trying. It could perhaps have gone further in one direction or another. I wouldn’t have minded hearing more of Mistress Formika talk but I also wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the performances overall. But I would call it a success simply because it made me want to go back in time and be there.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 384 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – March 19th, 2011

When I was young, my brother had a total thing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He loved them. And when I say he loved them, I think I need to be clear that we’re talking total obsession here. He was about six or seven at the time and he did eventually grow out of it, but for a couple of years there, anything TMNT-related was a safe bet. He drew pictures, focusing on making sure the turtles had plenty of muscles, watched the show, practiced his “ninja” moves in front of the television. And once we were allowed to watch this movie, oh, oh did we watch this movie a lot.

I’ve tried for years to puzzle out my parents’ guidelines to movies and television from when I was a kid. Lots of stuff was barred to me for years, but my brother got more lax rules. Anything remotely sexual in nature was cause for alarm, but violence didn’t get as much scrutiny. Bizarrely, my reading options weren’t curtailed at all, which makes me chuckle now. Anyhow, this movie was one that my mother sort of looked askance at for a while, until my brother and I saw it with the children of a friend of hers during a Christmas party. And well, if her friend was letting her kids watch it and we’d already seen it, might as well let us own it, right? So we got a copy and it became a guaranteed hit for both my brother and myself. There was a time when we knew it by heart and could recite it at will. My mother wasn’t thrilled with the smoking and violence and all, but for the length of the movie and a little bit after it, my brother and I would be in accord, only arguing over who was better: Michaelangelo or Donatello (I am and always have been a Donatello fan, as he is the geek and I am a geek girl).

After watching the newer animated movie a little while back, I mentioned wanting to get this one. I had fond memories of it from my childhood even though it had been years since I’d seen it. So we grabbed a copy and tonight when we needed something familiar and fun we popped it in. And I am pleased to report that while it does indeed have flaws, it’s still a lot of fun and I still know way more of the lines than I should after all this time. The exchange Michaelangelo and Donatello have when Leonardo and Raphael start fighting? “Fight? Fight. Kitchen? Kitchen. Pork rind? Pork rind.” For some reason that tickled us a lot and we repeated it all the time and I still knew it now. Have I said it in the past ten years? The past fifteen, even? Nope. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen this movie so many times. Or maybe it’s just that it’s got some fun writing that’s easy to remember. Lots of little quotable lines and memorable moments.

It’s not a complicated movie, despite the bizarre basis. Or perhaps that’s because of it. When you’re asking your audience to get on board with mutated turtles who are named after Renaissance artists, who talk like surfers and who eat pizza before kicking ass with ninjitsu moves and weapons? Well, that’s about as much as you’re going to ask. Plot complexity is not a priority here. We meet the turtles, find out a little bit of their personalities (Raphael is the angsty one, Michaelangelo is the goofball, Donatello is the dork and Leonardo is the steady one), get some quick plot exposition courtesy of main character April O’Neil, who happens to be a reporter, and off we go. There’s a rash of theft and burglary spreading across New York City, no one knows what’s going on, April’s trying to get to the bottom of it but is meeting some stiff resistance from her boss and the city’s chief of police.

Without getting bogged down in the finer details, there’s a gang led by the main TMNT villain, Shredder, recruiting teenagers as their new soldiers in New York. Shredder has some history with the turtles’ teacher, Splinter (giant mutated rat who taught them martial arts) and April gets wrapped up in it all, rescued by the turtles and then they all run away to her family’s farm outside of town. Because while the main focus of this movie is the turtles saying stuff like “radical” and “awesome” and talking about pizza and then fighting, there’s also a very hammer-licious plot about the importance of family, so the movie takes a time out midway through to have all the turtles think on the subject. The pacing is a little bizarre, to be honest, but the comedic interactions between the turtles, April and their newly acquired friend, Casey Jones, keep things going.

My love for this movie could totally be nostalgia, I admit. Watching it tonight it was easier to see the flaws. As a kid I do recall noting a few times where the turtles’ shells were obviously foam or rubber, I just didn’t care. And seeing the flaws tonight I found I still didn’t care. We even saw one of the most obvious and bizarrely uncovered visible film crew moments in any movie we own (he’s not even trying to hide – April just seems to have a man in an orange hat crouched by her table for no reason and no one cares!) and it just endeared this movie to me more than before. On the other hand, having a lot more knowledge of movie costumes and special effects, prosthetics and make up and action blocking, movies in general, I found a lot more to appreciate as well. Flaws aside, the turtle costumes are fantastic and it’s a lot of fun to see them in action. The tone of the movie is also fascinating to me. It’s an action movie, with serious bits, but also tosses in comedic sound cues and somehow it all works. Nostalgia, maybe. I don’t really care.

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

March 19, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I have a story that goes with this movie for me. Oddly enough it is a story about NOT watching the movie rather than about seeing it. This movie premiered on the day that my high school senior class chose to ditch. It was a tradition that on a particular prearranged day every single senior would fail to show up for school. (We all ended up getting mandatory detention as a result and a day spent cleaning up the school.) On this particular Senior Bag Day my entire class met outside Park Street station in downtown Boston and then I… went home and went to sleep. As a result I didn’t end up taking part in any of the group activities and hijinks that my classmates got up to that day. I wasn’t there in Brookstone when Joe King broke a pool table (which reportedly resulted in a much harsher ban on unaccompanied teenagers in the store.) And I was not there when a huge cadre invaded a theater on opening day for this movie. I kind of regret that – but I did really enjoy sleeping in.

We threw this in tonight because we needed something light hearted and familiar. I will admit that I haven’t seen this movie as many times as Amanda has, but I’ve seen it before and of course you couldn’t really get through the nineties without being at least somewhat familiar with the turtles. I recall reading some of the original black and white indie comic books way back in the day. I’m pretty sure somebody in my small D&D clique had them. Marcus maybe. Or maybe Andy. Anyhow I remember reading turtles books before there was a syndicated cartoon series or a trio of live action movies and many many years before the recent CGI attempted reboot of the franchise (which we already reviewed earlier in our project.) So as with most kids my age I knew who these radical teenagers were long before I saw the movie. It was the out-of-touch adult population who were generally perplexed by TMNT and puzzled by its success.

The appeal is simple, really. These are four happy go lucky teenagers who love pizza and skateboarding, who happen to be mutated turtles, and who also happen to be ninjas who fight hordes of evil ninjas in the streets and sewers of New York City. What’s not to love? It’s all right there in the title. Pizza. Lame jokes. Slacker turtles. Ninja fights. This movie has exactly what anybody would expect from a TMNT movie.

The plot of this movie is a rehash of well rehashed material. It covers how April O’Neil and Casey Jones met the tubular foursome of turtles with ninjitsu training. It has flashbacks that explain the origin of the turtles and their master Splinter. It introduces Shredder and his Foot Clan ninjas and sets everything up so the turtles will have to overcome massive hordes of Foot soldiers before their final confrontation with Shredder. Nothing particularly original. And yet it is still fun to watch. Because of the magic of the turtles themselves being realized on the big screen in a fast paced live action movie.

It’s the technology, pupeteering and performances of the people behind the turtles that gives this movie most of its enjoyment for me these days. I can only imagine how insanely laborious it must have been to film this movie. The turtles are full body suits worn by performers who are rendered almost completely blind by the head pieces they wore. The heads are filled with radio-controlled servo motors run by teams of puppeteers. It’s the same system used for Hoggle in Labyrinth and would later be used for the dinosaurs in the Dinosaurs television series. It’s amazing enough that with five or six people working each character the teams at Henson Creature Works were able to get such realistic looking performances from their puppets but then this movie throws in lengthy fight scenes. Sure the faces don’t need to be articulated for most of the long shots but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the performers in the suits had to do a whole lot of stuntwork inside heavy foam and latex suits with very little vision. Blocking simple scenes of them crossing a room would be hard enough – it boggles my mind that they were able to do all these fight scenes as well. Real life Zatoichi times four.

So, yeah, I mostly watch this movie now for the wizardry involved in bringing it to the screen. Even when it came out the plot was nothing special and the jokes were all complete groaners. But maybe that’s also part of the appeal. TMNT was never really all that hip, because catch phrases and an attachment to pizza isn’t really hip to start with. But there was a kind of camp to the franchise which this movie revels in.

My one other comment would be that I wonder a little if anybody has considered a new reboot of the franchise showing us these same characters as they would now be today. I was in my late teens when this movie came out, so I’m roughly contemporary with the turtles of the movie-verse. Which would mean that they, like me, would be approaching forty now. I’d like to see Middle-age Mutant Ninja Turtles is what I’m trying to say.

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

Movie 292 – The Ref

The Ref – December 17th, 2010

Tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this movie, but it was the first time in a long while and I’m not sure why. It’s a great dark comedy set on Christmas eve, starring Denis Leary, whom I quite enjoy. Granted, it’s not so much about Christmas as it’s about family. It probably could have been set at Thanksgiving or New Year’s and gone in a similar vein. But it happens to be Christmas, and it involves passive aggressive gifts, a drunk Santa, blackmail, St. Lucia crowns and Stockholm syndrome. Merry Christmas!

The three main characters in the movie are Lloyd and and Caroline Chasseur and Gus. Lloyd and Caroline are a constantly bickering couple who live in an affluent Connecticut suburb and Gus is a cat burglar on the run after setting off an alarm at a nearby house. He ends up taking the Chasseurs hostage in their own home until he can get in touch with his partner and get out of town. The problem is that since it’s Christmas eve the Chasseurs have guests coming. Lloyd’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew and his mother. Not to mention that Jesse, Lloyd and Caroline’s juvenile delinquent son, is due home any moment now. They plan an elaborate ruse, with Gus posing as Caroline and Lloyd’s marriage counselor and Jesse tied up on the second floor as insurance.

I did mention the movie’s a dark comedy, yes? The comedic part starts with Lloyd and Caroline and their constant arguments. They never seem to stop. They don’t even finish one argument before starting another. It’s one long unending stream of anger and accusation, forcing even their real counselor to lose his patience with them. Gus soon realizes what he’s gotten himself into, but he’s stuck himself with them and he’s not going anywhere until he can make a clean getaway. The thing is, even when they’re being held at gunpoint they argue. About nitpicky things like stop signs and smoking habits. It’s so wildly out of proportion with the situation and Gus is so clearly flummoxed by them. His reactions, which are basically Denis Leary being Denis Leary, are where most of the humor comes from for me.

When the rest of the family arrives for dinner things just get worse, but they also, oddly, get better. Forced to stick it out together, thanks to Gus, Caroline and Lloyd eventually have it out, airing all the pent up frustrations and grievances they’ve been holding onto for the past fifteen years. Caroline resents Lloyd’s mother and her vice-like grip on the whole family thanks to the money she’s got. Lloyd resents always being maneuvered into decisions he wouldn’t have otherwise made. Actually, everyone resents Lloyd’s mother. She’s the true villain of the movie. Lloyd’s brother and his wife get involved, shouting and yelling and eventually getting tied up by Gus and their own kids. Their kids, by the way, are fantastic. I especially like their daughter who spends most of the movie grinning in glee as the adults around her lose their cool and start giving Grandma what for.

By the end of the movie, after the hideous presents have been unwrapped and the disastrous “traditional Swedish Christmas dinner” has been choked down and Grandma is tied up in the back room, Lloyd, Caroline and Jesse help Gus escape. Because he helped them, you see! He forced them to deal with their problems and didn’t take any of their bullshit! He’s so great, that burglar who waved a gun around in their kitchen and tied up their family! Though, while I’m laying on the sarcasm nice and thick it is made pretty clear that while Gus is a criminal, he’s not really a bad guy. The family is an unhappy mess of people who don’t communicate with each other and hold petty grudges until they’re not petty anymore and having an outsider come in and put a foot down and say “What the fuck is wrong with you people?” really was what the doctor ordered.

He just happened to be holding them all hostage when he did it. Also, he punched Santa.

It’s a wildly unrealistic movie, of course. But what I like about it is that all the nasty stuff that’s done is done by these seemingly respectable people. The real criminal in the movie is the guy who seems totally blown away by it all. He would never do any of this crap. Steal people’s stuff, sure, but smack a kid? Charge interest on a loan to a family member? Hell no. He seems genuinely pissed off that these folks have the potential for a great family and great lives and are wasting it while he’d love to have any of it and can’t. There’s a good-hearted core to the movie surrounded by snark and sarcasm and dark humor that makes it go down easier.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ref

December 17, 2010

The Ref

“Great. I hijacked my fucking parents.”

This is probably my favorite Christmas movie. Not because it is full of the spirit of the season but because it is almost the complete opposite of that sappy sort of movie, but still has a heart of gold. It’s bitter, angry, dysfunctional and hilarious – just like its star Denis Leary himself. I’ve been a fan of Denis Leary since I first heard his No Cure for Cancer concert, and he has a couple riffs in this movie that could have come directly from that classic stand up act.

In the idyllic suburban town of Old Baybrook it is Christmas eve. Everybody is filled with the spirit of the season from the lackadaisical police force (who don’t actually have any crime to fight, it being such a peaceful town) to the cherubic children in the streets gawking at the fantastic Christmas displays in the shop windows. Everybody except Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, whose marriage is in tatters because they simply cannot stop arguing with each other. And except cat burglar Gus, who just wants that one last score so he can retire in comfort. Unfortunately for Gus his heist goes wrong and his getaway driver panics and leaves him trapped in suburbia. Even more unfortunately for Gus the couple he hijacks in an attempt to get away is of course Caroline and Lloyd, and he can hardly think with all the bickering between these two – much less come up with an escape plan.

Gus’ attempted burglary is apparently the biggest crime perpetrated in sleepy Baybrook in all time – with the result that the state police are soon called in, a curfew is put in place, and road blocks are put up. So he is trapped with the most dysfunctional couple since Tracey and Hepburn in Adam’s Rib on Christmas eve. What’s worse their son is due back from the military boarding school he’s been shipped off to and Lloyd’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew are all on their way over for dinner.

There are two things that make this movie fantastic. The wonderful screenplay and Denis Leary. Oh, I’ll not argue that Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis aren’t fantastic as the Chasseurs – both of them get a lot of fantastic moments and have characters absolutely packed with complex layers to explore, but it’s Leary as Gus that really drives the film. At first he despises the couple as silver-spoon fed privileged suburban yuppies who have had everything handed to them in life, but as he is forced to deal with them he begins to discover that their lives are as miserable as his own in their own way. The movie absolutely shines when he impersonates their marriage councillor Dr. Wong (played at the start of the movie by B.D. Wong of Law and Order fame – he’s not typecast much is he?) Of course it turns out that the Stockholm Syndrome circumstances of their shared confinement is just the marriage counselling that Lloyd and Caroline needed – and it’s fun to see them break out of their shells over the course of the movie and actually express themselves.

Everything about this movie is sly, clever and so much fun. The town of Old Baybrook is one of those more perfect than possible Hollywood creations, but there are tensions and faults even in its peaceful facade. This is illustrated cleverly by the descent into belligerent drunkenness of the town Santa as he goes from household to household throughout the movie. The glee with which the niece and nephew watch the family melt-down is a perfect way to give the audience permission to really enjoy watching the outrageous outbursts that drive the plot. Yes, there’s a lot of shouting and nastiness, but it’s okay because we’re just here to watch and grin and gasp “oh, she did NOT just say that!”

I can think of no better way to appreciate the gathering together of family during this festive holiday season than to watch these crazy people shout at each other, tie each other up, threaten to kill each other and ultimately discover that there can be comfort and joy even in the most unlikely of places. Again, it doesn’t hurt that Denis Leary is fucking hilarious.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 4 Comments

Movie 286 – Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me – December 11th, 2010

I am going to admit up front right now, this is going to be a short review. I have had a doozy of a day. While no one rammed a car into the library, and our performer showed up (on time, even), and we didn’t have to call 911 or close early due to a major utility failure (and yes, all of those things are things we have dealt with on a Saturday) it was nevertheless a day full of little crises and disasters. And by about 2pm I was ready to throw myself on the floor like the toddlers all over the room and have myself a temper tantrum. And then, in my hurry to close up before more people came in after closing I left my purse there. So, yes. It’s been a day. And it was nice to have my movie all picked out and ready for me, but writing a review? Eh.

Fortunately, this is a movie that makes me laugh, so that’s a plus. I can’t imagine watching something like Punch Drunk Love after a day like today. I’d be a dangerous woman afterwards. But this is not that. Sure, it’s got things I’m not fond of. Fat Bastard in particular. Fat suit gags just aren’t that funny to me, and that’s pretty much 80% of what the character is. There’s the Scottish stuff too, but Myers could have picked any nationality to abuse for the character really. He’d still be a fat suit gag. And he takes up a lot of time and plot space in the movie. I just sort of laugh around him. Fortunately there’s a lot of other stuff to laugh at.

Austin’s still thoroughly inappropriate, but I’ve got to say, I like him more in this movie than the first one, largely, I think, because of the dynamic between him and his new sidekick, Felicity. Having gotten rid of Vanessa right at the beginning we’ve got a female lead position to fill. Now, I could get annoyed about this, but I won’t. And you know why? Because while I liked Vanessa and her Emma Peelishness, I like the dynamic between Felicity and Austin better. It’s not that they have better chemistry, it’s that I don’t feel like Austin is constantly sexually harassing her. She’s interested in him. She makes the first move. So it all ends up feeling like flirtation (and more) instead of unwanted advances. So I spent the movie chuckling at them instead of rolling my eyes.

The plot in this movie is a little on the convoluted side, but we’re entreated by the characters themselves to just enjoy it and not over-think it. I can do that, and I liked the little bit of fourth wall breaking that it entailed. It’s a time travel plot, after all, with Austin going back to 1969 to deal with Dr. Evil, who’s also traveled back to 1969. It’s ridiculous and silly and fun and lets the cast make more jokes about the characters not realizing what decade they’re in. And it allows for one of my favorite performances in the movie, which is Rob Lowe doing his Robert Wagner impersonation as a young Number 2. He is perfect and it’s hilarious to watch him even in the background of scenes he’s in because he’s always doing something to communicate that he is Robert Wagner (who himself will always be Alexander Mundy to me).

I still love Seth Green as Scott Evil, and he gets a lot to do in this movie, from an appearance on an episode of the Jerry Springer show to his constant bickering with Dr. Evil’s new 1/8th scale clone, Mini Me. Now, Mini Me is fantastic. Verne Troyer does a fantastic job with him, playing him so adorably evil it’s unbelievable. He smiles and looks all charming as he passes a note to Scott that says he’s going to kill him. It’s a great performance and a bizarre character.

Okay, so this got longer than I meant it to. I guess I enjoyed it enough that I had things to say about it. It’s still full of off-color jokes and offensive crap. It’s still got stuff that falls utterly flat to me. But it’s also got some fantastic performances and lines. I’d say that the first movie has a handful of super memorable bits but the movie overall isn’t as consistently funny as this one. I laughed more frequently, if not as hard. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s movie now. If only we were awake enough to watch it tonight.

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

December 11, 2010

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

It may seem odd (Amanda certainly found it to be so) but although I have seen the first and third movies in this trilogy numerous times I have never before tonight watched the second one all the way through. I’ve seen bits of it here and there, but there are huge swaths of the movie that I’ve never seen. So when we started this project and made a list of some of the movies missing from our collection this was one of the first movies we bought off that list. Both so we’d have the whole set and so that I’d finally be able to see the movie.

I found myself laughing an awful lot while watching this tonight. Meyers and director Jay Roach do a great job of establishing what exactly makes up an Austin Powers movie as they refine the formula. Mike gets a new role to play – the make-up intensive Fat Bastard, who is sort of a bloated evil re-do of Meyer’s character Stuart from So I Married and Axe Murderer. Some riffs that they enjoyed from the first movie return for the second, such as Dr. Evil telling Scott to shut up. They also found a fun way to make Austin’s womanising ways less irritating – they have Dr. Evil steal his mojo, and they have his primary love interest as rude and brash as he is.

I didn’t even bother doing a plot summary yesterday because the plots for these movies are just a framework to hang all the gags, slapstick, bad puns and character interactions on. Today the plot involves Dr. Evil going into the past to steal Austin’s mojo, thus rendering him literally and figuratively impotent. Dr. Evil’s plot for world domination, meanwhile, involves a giant “laser” on the moon which will be used to vaporize major cities on Earth unless a hefty ransom is paid. Really it hardly matters what the nefarious scheme is, though. These movies are all about the laughs, and about Mike Meyers capering madly in a variety of different roles. Indeed in an inspired bit of fourth wall breaking Basil Exposition advises Austin not to try and think too hard about the logic of his time travel and to just enjoy the ride – then he turns to the camera and says “That goes for you as well.”

New to the franchise in this iteration are Fat Bastard, a fantastic performance by Rob Lowe as Young Number Two (his Robert Wagner impersonation is dead on and fantastic to watch) and of course Verne Troyer as Mini-Me. Much as I love both Fat Bastard and Number Two it is Mini-Me that really steals the show. Verne has great comedic sensibilities and in spite of not having a single line in the movie manages to dominate every scene he’s in. The character of Mini-Me is great to start with – he’s so apologetically and unnecessarily evil. Given to petty nastiness which is quickly forgiven because he’s just so cute. In particular he’s a great foil for Seth Green’s character Scott as the two of them are rivals for Dr. Evil’s affection – something which is played up to great effect in the third movie.

In the spirit of continuing to spoof the Bond films, and to keep things fresh I suppose, the film makers quickly do away with Austin’s love interest from the first movie so that he can have fresh arm-candy. This time around it is Heather Graham as Felicity Shagwell (“Shagwell by name shag-very-well by reputation.”) It’s fun to see Austin Powers paired with a woman who gives as well as she gets – even more fun when he’s self conscious because of his lost mojo and she continues to come on strong. It alleviates almost all of the bits in the first movie that I found awkward and grating.

It was great to finally see this movie all the way through. It’s a loopy, self-referential, insane project that doesn’t care about anything except making you laugh. And it’s got a Buckaroo Banzai reference in it – which instantly raises it up several notches in my estimation. Both Amanda and I are tempted to just put the third movie in right now and watch it before falling asleep.

December 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment