A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 527 – Hey Cinderella! and The Frog Prince

Hey Cinderella! and The Frog Prince – August 9th, 2011

Back when we went through our stashed VHS collection, we discovered a few items that were too short to really be seen as movies but they weren’t television series and they were things we really wanted to be able to include. We’ve done one of those pairs already and tonight we thought we’d do this one. Two Muppet specials, from early on in Muppet history, both re-tellings of classic fairy tales. We thought they went together quite nicely even if they weren’t made to be shown together. As with other times we’ve done two-for-one nights, I’m going to start by addressing them separately.

Hey Cinderella!

According to the dates on the Muppet Wiki, the original airing of this actually pre-dates the original airing of Sesame Street. Stop and think about that for a moment and consider what it means for a Muppet special. The ones we see now, and have seen in the past couple of decades, are rife with familiar characters or Muppets dressed in new trappings to be something slightly different. There are in jokes referring to The Muppet Show or to Sesame Street and we’re used to all of that. But this doesn’t have those. In fact, it only has a single familiar face: Kermit. Who, according to the trivia I read, had not been identified as a frog prior to this.

It’s easy to see how Kermit became such a fixture and focal point for the Muppets. As a character he’s got a good sense of dead-pan humor and he’s likable and he’s cute and as a plot tool he narrates and serves as a lynch pin in a few places and he breaks the fourth wall to involve us, the audience, in the story. Here we have Cinderella, a familiar story that doesn’t deviate all that far from its roots. Just enough for a little bit of fun.

Cinderella, as usual, lives with her wicked step-mother and her two step-sisters. The step-sisters are Muppets, but the step-mother is not. There’s a very palpable kids’ theater feel to the step-mother. It’s the sort of acting that I think feels a little more comfortable and at home on a stage than on a screen. But as she was starring with puppets and performing an adapted fairy tale and the Muppets weren’t what they are now in terms of pulling in movie actors for the parts, it does make a lot of sense that the acting would feel that way. Cinderella’s step-mother often utters the titular “Hey Cinderella!” and you can tell it was meant to be a humorous running joke sort of thing, but I’ve got to admit, it’s always felt a little flat to me. Like the intent was to make a play on something and it never quite materialized.

Anyhow, Cinderella’s step-mother gives her all sorts of horrible jobs to do, including ridiculous ones, like scrubbing a spotless floor, which she is first to get dirty to justify the order to scrub it. So out Cinderella goes with her dog to find a muddy garden to tromp around in. Here the story departs a little so we can have Cinderella and Prince Arthur Charming meet in the garden. Arthur tells Cinderella he’s a gardener so she won’t get stuck up because she’s met a prince and they agree to meet at the ball the king is throwing and inviting everyone (but frogs) to. They’ll identify each other by wearing the same flower! How clever! How ingenious! Nothing could go wrong with that plan! So of course it does, and since Cinderella doesn’t know Arthur is the prince, when she ends up dancing with him at the ball they don’t know each other. You have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot here, and just accept that these two are genuinely clueless. And eventually we get the typical glass slipper routine, but on its side just a little since the slipper left behind got smashed and the slipper Cinderella kept got buried by her dog.

It’s a cute little story with just enough twists for fun without taking the fairy tale too far from where it started. Personally, I don’t mind a lot of departure and from what I can tell from work, kids don’t either. Telling Cinderella with dinosaurs or cowboys or through the eyes of her much more sensible sister, Edna (who wears loafers, not glass slippers) can be fun. But that wasn’t the intent here. The intent was to tell the story with a few changes made to make it a Muppet version, like the fairy godmother’s lounge act (and I do have to wonder if Bernadette Peters watched this before doing Into the Woods, because the fair godmother here is eerily Peters-like). Had this been made ten years later, I’m sure it would have been full of weirdness but the giant monster, Splurge, and his obsession with radishes are a hint to where the Muppets are headed.

The Frog Prince

This fairy tale was released after Hey Cinderella! and it’s obviously a little more polished. The puppets are more involved and the whole thing just feels like it was less of a trial run. Obviously, there are changes made to the story, but this time they’re less for humor and more for plot, which I find interesting now that I’m thinking about it. To pad out the original story, which when you consider it really isn’t that complicated, we’re given a villain in the form of the princess’ evil Aunt Taminella.

Now, as should be expected, the princess is played by a human actress, but the vast majority of the rest of the cast are Muppets. There’s Kermit, of course, narrating the story and guiding us along. There’s the king, which is the same puppet used for the king in Hey Cinderella! and which is one I got to see in person at a Jim Henson exhibit last year. And really, there’s something about seeing those puppets in person that makes them all the more impressive. Aunt Taminella is a similar puppet to the king (they’re Rolf/Swedish Chef types in general, though Taminella moves around more) and then there are a bunch of frogs. Obviously, this being a story about a frog. And the frog at the center of it isn’t, as one might think, Kermit. It’s his nephew, Robin. Except here he’s not Kermit’s nephew. He’s a knight named Sir Robin the Brave (which made me think of Monty Python every time he said it) who was cursed by an evil witch. Three guesses as to who that evil witch is.

Taminella’s been up to quite a bit of trouble here, cursing Sir Robin, tricking the king into thinking she’s his long lost sister, cursing the princess to only speak in Spoonerisms and other nonsense, all to gain control of the kingdom. I do love the scene where she convinces the king she’s his sister. This king character is all gruff bluster and is none too bright and regardless of the name change, he’s the same basic character in this as he is in Hey Cinderella and I do enjoy him. So anyhow, it’s up to Sir Robin the Frog to convince the princess to take him in and give him a kiss and break the curse on the princess herself before Taminella becomes queen.

It’s a cute little adaptation of a classic story, much like Hey Cinderella! was. The Muppet characters are all nicely realized and I don’t even mind the songs. The human actors are just fine, especially given that they were playing against frogs and purple witches and the like. Also? This movie has Sweetums! And I do so adore Sweetums. It’s a good show of just how much more polished the Muppets had become in a short span of time.

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

Movie 506 – Rango

Rango – July 19th, 2011

I will straight up admit to wanting to see this movie largely because of its marketing. If it had just been advertised as a CG kids film Western parody then eh, I might have seen it eventually or I might have given it a pass. Sure, it has Johnny Depp and he’s always good for a laugh, but I don’t go out of my way for Westerns and it just might not have seemed like it was anything super special. Except for the marketing, which played up how the recording for the voice acting was done, which looked like a blast. Unlike the recording booths I assume much voice acting is done in, this movie was recorded with the cast on a rudimentary set, interacting and wearing costume pieces and using props. Acting out the physical actions for the scenes they were recording for. And that just sucked me right in.

Now, we watched this on our regular DVD player and the regular DVD copy we have has nothing in the way of special features. And that is a crying shame because what I have seen of the filming done during the voice recording sessions is fascinating and I would love to have the option for a split screen (or something similar) between the animated movie and the recording sessions. It just seems like so much fun, with all the actors cavorting and playing around and acting out these things that aren’t meant to be physical. Seeing Bill Nighy act out the part of Rattlesnake Jake is just fantastic. But alas, that option doesn’t exist. We’ll have to pull out the PS3 and check the Bluray version at some point. Fortunately, even without such gimmicks the movie stands up.

It’s a Western. Let’s just put that out there and I will admit that I enjoyed it. In fact, in light of this and a few other things I’ve noted in some past reviews, I think I might have to revisit my position on Westerns. I still don’t think I’m much of a John Wayne gal, but I’ll give Eastwood a go. I’ve absorbed enough of the tropes at this point that it really would be a shame not to put them in their proper context. And I shouldn’t let an enforced viewing of The Searchers while I had a 100 degree fever color my attitude towards an entire genre, I’m sure. Some day I’ll tell that story, but it won’t be in a review for The Searchers. I’ll give Westerns a go. I’ll spend the rest of this review effusing about this particular Western. But The Searchers will always remind me of fever chills and misery and resentment. That being said, this movie is about as far from that as possible.

Sure, some of it seems like a fever dream! But that’s intentional and a heck of a lot more fun than an actual fever. It’s the story of a chameleon who finds himself bounced out of his terrarium and stranded in a desert environment he is utterly unfamiliar with. In his quest for water he finds a town, the town of Dirt, and thanks to his penchant for acting (and he is a chameleon, after all) he spins enough wild tales to impress the locals. When he lucks into winning a match against a hawk he’s made sheriff. And that’s when the real trouble starts, because now he has to live up to all the tales he’s told and stories he’s spun because Dirt has more problems than a hawk hanging around and some rough and tumble critters in the saloon.

Dirt is drying up. Less and less water in the bank. Less and less water out of the giant spigot. Things are getting dire and now Rango is the one the people of Dirt are looking to for help. And he has no damn clue what to do. He knows how to act like he knows what to do, but faced with actual problems and the need for true action, he manages to muck it up every which way. Of course. And of course you know eventually he’ll have an epiphany and figure out what to do and somehow save the day with something clever and unexpected. I mean, this movie is unique in many ways but the basic plot arc isn’t one of them.

There are two things that really set this movie apart from others of its ilk: The animation, which is gorgeous, and the script, which is funny and tight and performed brilliantly. I suspect that the latter is a combination of good writing and the aforementioned recording sessions. Every clip I’ve seen from them shows people collaborating in a way that feels almost like an acting workshop, but since it’s the sound they need, they can edit around bits they don’t want or need. The animation would follow from that too, as I believe it was done after a lot of the recording, with the actions of the cast used as reference points. The visual standards for the animation are high anyhow, with some lovely detailing done in the textures and backgrounds. I found Rattlesnake Jake, in particular, to look fantastic. And this is coming from an ophidiophobe.

Still, I do credit the writing even without the different take on voice recording. It’s a fun script that doesn’t break any new ground plot-wise but does take advantage of all of the tropes before it. There’s narration for the movie performed by a troupe of birds in mariachi outfits, playing music and telling the story but also being inside the story, coughing as dust is kicked up by the animals riding by, which they’re singing about at the time. Every little nuance of the movie, all the jokes based on the setting, they’re all clearly homage and parody both. When Rango announces that he and his posse are going to ride out! Well, that’s a moment of homage to dozens of movies. When he realizes he has no idea where he’s riding to? That’s parody. And it’s all nicely done and well-matched with the animals-as-characters concept, mixing jokes on the setting with the inevitable issues of scale.

I’m also quite pleased to say that while there is a bit of a message to the movie, which is inevitable in a movie about a town in the middle of a drought, it’s not shaped like an anvil or a sledgehammer. The movie is about what the movie is about: An unlikely hero growing into his heroism. And along the way there are messages about the environment and greed and growth at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods. And it’s all really nicely done. It’s a fun movie and a funny movie and it’s incredibly gorgeous visually and really, my only complaint is the lack of special features on the DVD, which isn’t a complaint about the movie itself so please pay it no mind.

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

Movie 496 – How to Irritate People / The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It

How to Irritate People / The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It – July 9th, 2011

When Andy and I went through our VHS cassettes to find some Muppet movies we knew we owned we also came across a number of other items we’d stashed under the television. Some were feature length, but others weren’t. Still, they were little oddities we wanted to be able to include in this project, so we checked the running times and paired them off. These both star John Cleese but are non-Python pieces, so they really do work together. I’ve owned them for years, but it was nice to see that the tapes were still in good shape and in more exciting news, our VCR didn’t try to eat either one!

I’m going to approach this review in two parts, because these aren’t really connected even if we did watch them together. Overall, my thoughts on the two of them together are that they do showcase Cleese’s sense of humor, but also that they’re both very much made on a tight budget and show their ages.

How to Irritate People

Watching this tonight I was amused to note that it was produced by David Frost. It’s a pre-Python sketch comedy special starring John Cleese. He does a number of host segments wherein he lectures on various techniques to irritate people with and then introduces sketches that demonstrate some of these techniques. Then he stars in said sketches, either as the irritant or as the victim.

As a precursor to Monty Python this is a nice little curiosity. Some of the sketches in it clearly had bits repurposed for later Python sketches. They’re certainly rougher around the edges and created for a specific purpose (to showcase methods of irritation) but they’re still quite funny. They do tend to be less fantastical and more rooted in the real world than Python, but that’s not really surprising.

It’s amusing to see John Cleese doing the hosting segments completely straightfaced. He does play a good straight man and here it’s apparent just how good at it he is. Every joke is delivered seriously, with a hint of long-suffering. He’s sharing these irritation tips with you in order for you to help him get back at every pain in the rear he’s ever met, or so I assume from his tone. I imagine this is what Cleese might be like doing stand-up, delivering every joke as a lecture.

When in the sketches, however, Cleese comes to life. My two favorite segments of the special both star him but in very different roles (though it’s suggested they’re the same character). In one, he’s a young man visiting his parents for Easter. His mother is the queen of irritating, prodding and disapproving and emotionally manipulating. She can cry on demand and does so in order to keep her son at her side or wheedle information out of him. As the son, Cleese exudes exasperation. He simply can’t win, and in the end he doesn’t, even if he does get to do what he wanted to do in the first place. In the second segment – which is my absolute favorite – Cleese plays an airline pilot who, along with his copilot and the chief steward, irritate their passengers by giving out complex directions and telling them not to worry. The wings are not on fire. Both sketches are fantastic, but really most of the others are too. There’s some severely dated humor and some misogyny I’m really not pleased by, but overall this one stands the test of time. Edit out the bad joke sketch and the Indian restaurant sketch and you’d be good to go.

The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It

So. Very. Dated. Also So. Very. Culturally. Insensitive. Really, it’s impressive how horrible some of the jokes are here, and I’m not just talking about the bad impressions. But despite all that, I still enjoy a good chunk of this. It’s messy and hasn’t aged well, but the core concept is still fun and the jokes aren’t meant to be complicated or subtle, so what works definitely works and what doesn’t could easily be removed and replaced if this were to be remade.

The idea is that it’s the 1970s and someone claiming to be a Moriarty is making demands in return for not killing off a bunch of important people. A supercomputer determines that there is indeed one last member of the Moriarty family and the best way to cope with the threat is to call in the last member of the Holmes family: Arthur Sherlock Holmes (played by Cleese). What follows is a series of referential jokes and puns and very little in the plot department. There’s no time for plot! We have politicians to make fun of!

This special takes shots at a lot of things, among them British politics and foreign cultures. The military representatives who meet to discuss the Moriarty threat are a whole host of offensive cultural stereotypes. And it’s a pity that those scenes are so painful because the European representative is played by Denholm Elliott and on his own he’s got some fantastic lines and moments. The joke with the sniper no one seems to bother getting rid of? Predictable after the first time, but still funny. If only the scenes weren’t riddled with prejudice.

On the other hand, this special has given me at least one frequent reference and some of my favorite pun-based humor ever. “Grab a crossword,” Holmes tells Watson. “We have several moments to lose!” And so they work on the crossword together, figuring out the answers to such clues as “Conservative pays ex-wife maintenance” and “A simple source of citrus fruit” with each answer being a play on “Elementary, my dear Watson.” (The answers to those two being ‘alimony Tory’ and ‘a lemon tree’). This is hands down one of the simplest, most ridiculous and most amusing jokes I know of. All the humor between Holmes and Watson is fun, really.

The movie ends somewhat abruptly, with very little in the way of plot resolution. But plot was never the point here. The point was to make jokes about Holmes’ drug habits and Watson’s cluelessness. The point was to use a classic reference as a way to make lots of thematic jokes. There are repeated cameos by various other famous detective characters (impersonated rather badly most of the time) and an atrocious Scottish accent from Mrs. Hudson (it slips into US deep south in places) and a whole bit about pot smoking bus drivers in London. Overall it’s a very strange little piece of silliness. I wish it had aged better, and I’d love to see it redone without some of the more offensive humor, but I can still enjoy it.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Irritate People / The Strange Case of the End of the World As We Know It

July 9, 2011

How to Irritate People / The Strange Case of the End of the World As We Know It

We have in our collection a few movies that are too short to really qualify as movies. They’re television specials, really. We wanted to feature them as part of our project anyhow though, and the way we’ve decided to handle this is to combine two specials together into a single feature length viewing experience. Today’s features are both John Cleese specials from the sixties and seventies.

How to Irritate People:

First up we have a sketch comedy special that John did with Michael Palin and Graham Chapman in 1969 before they were part of Monty Python. Cleese hosts with what could be considered very short stand-up routines between the sketches which act to hold the piece together, presenting each segment as an example of methods that might be used to irritate people. Irritating people displayed include parents, “pepperpots”, used car dealers, airline pilots, restaurant patrons and servers, actors and talk show hosts.

I saw this for the first time when I met Amanda. I recall her bringing it down to the AV lair where we both used to hang out and showing it to the whole group, and we were mightily impressed. It’s like getting a more coherent bonus Monty Python episode for those of us who had seen every one and crave more. The feel and writing is very familiar (seeing as this special came out the same year as the first year of Monty Python that’s no big surprise.) There’s even an entire sketch, the job interview, that was used word-for word in Python (episode 5 – Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century.)

John’s then-wife Connie Booth (who also appears in our second special for this evening’s viewing) takes all the young female parts, while Gillian Lind plays a couple of irritating mother roles. (Of course all the middle-aged ladies are just the male performers in drag.) There’s also a couple non-Python performers here: Dick Vosburgh in two very minor one-line appearances and Tim Brooke-Taylor who plays the hapless job applicant and the funniest of the pepperpots.

The sketches themselves are for the most part fun. There’s only one that drags a little bit, and that’s kind of part of the joke (the talk-show-host who takes so long to introduce his guest that there’s no time for an interview.) A couple of them stand out for me as the absolute funniest. Tim Brook-Taylor as an addled pepperpot competing on a quiz show (a sketch which was adapted for Python but was not exactly the same) is absolutely hilarious. The used car dealer is clearly the inspiration for the Bolton pet-shop owner who sells a less-than-fully-alive parrot to John Cleese in the Python show. Then there’s the great segment where Cleese and Chapman play airline pilots who irritate their passengers with announcements like “The wings are NOT on fire.” That’s probably my favorite sketch in the program and the one that stuck in my memory longest after first seeing the show.

This special is full of that particularly great and quintessentially British humor which John Cleese excels at. It’s all about people being friendly and understanding in the face of unbelievably irritating behavior, internalizing their anger until they inevitably explode. Graham Chapman in particular, during the “freedom of speech” segment loses his temper in a particularly outrageous and hilarious manner. I remember being delighted when Amanda first showed this to me, and I continue to enjoy it to this very day.

The Strange Case of the End of the World as we Know It:

The second half of our John Cleese double feature is this very strange little film. It has a coherent story throughout although it still feels somewhat like several comedy sketches linked together. It also has a significantly higher budget than I’m used to seeing in 1970s British television, with location shots, larger crowds, and a generally more polished feel than, say, Python ever had. On the other hand, it hasn’t aged quite as well as most Python stuff. It’s very much a parody that is part of its time period, particularly the second half with all the impersonations of current TV detectives.

The film follows a nefarious plot by the last living descendant of Professor Moriarty to destroy civilization as we know it. It starts when American diplomat Henry Gropinger has his diary stolen, leaving him disoriented and causing him to greet a delegation of Arabs in Hebrew. They promptly kill him. The bumbling President of the United States (probably meant to be Ford) dispatches his head policeman (who appears to be an Italian gangster) to confab with other civilized nations and figure out how to stop the end of civilization. The confederation of policemen is wince-inducingly painful and filled with dated stereotypes like the Austranian, the Chinese, and the backwards African.

These fools choose to find the last living descendant of Sherlock Holmes to do battle with Moriarty. Arthur Sherlock Holmes is played by John Cleese, his trusty (but dim) sidekick Dr. William Watson is Arthur Lowe and their strangely accented housekeeper is Connie Booth again. Holmes hits upon the scheme of having every great detective in the world come together in one place, which will draw Moriarty out of hiding because there is no way that such a tempting target can be ignored. This sets up the final act of the movie which involves farcical versions of well-known detectives being killed by Moriarty in disguise. There’s Collumbo and Hercule Poirot and Sam Spade and some guy from Hawaii 5-0 and Macleod. Again, it has a pretty seventies feel to it.

The best humor in the film comes from the interactions between Holmes and Watson. John Cleese is of course always fun, but it is Arthur Lowe who stands out for me as the runaway star. His trademark “good lord!” and “you never cease to amaze me, Holmes” are wonderfully funny. The two stand-out sections of the movie are when Watson and Holmes do a crossword together where every answer sounds suspiciously like “elementary” such as “alimony Tory, my dear Watson” and when Moriarty is disguised as Watson and Holmes must figure out which of them is the impostor. Indeed I’d say that any time Arthur Lowe is on the screen the movie comes to life.

This is an odd little film. It’s a self-contained micro-film at only fifty five minutes long. It has some powerfully dated stereotypes and references to shows and political figures that were popular at the time but are pretty much gone from the public consciousness now (who remembers Kojak? Really? And Jerry Ford?) There are some parts however that are fantastically written and are still funny today. I have to admit that I think those bits do pretty much redeem it.

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

Movie 491 – Team America: World Police

placeholderTeam America: World Police – July 4th, 2011

Last year we decided to go the obvious route for US Independence Day but we did briefly discuss watching this movie instead. But we looked at our enormous list and figured hey, we’ll probably hit the holiday again the next year! And so we did and thus today’s movie is a thoroughly ridiculous satire on patriotism, politics, acting and the militaristic attitudes many people associate with the United States. Done with marionettes. By the South Park guys. Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

I’ll be honest: I’m really not in the mood for this movie today. I’m not sure what specifically made me want to turn it off when in the past I’ve quite enjoyed it. Maybe it was that I was totally wiped out yesterday (I blame the heat – give me winter back, please) or maybe it was that we’d already watched a movie earlier in the day (Lucky Number Slevin, which we’d wanted to show my mother) or maybe it was just that this is a movie you have to be in the right mood for. And if you’re not in the right mood for it then watching it won’t put you in the mood for it. It’ll just irritate the crap out of you. Because that really is much of the point of the movie anyhow: Humor through jackassery. And puppets.

The whole idea of the movie is that it’s an over-the-top action flick a la Michael Bay. Full of explosions and disasters and dramatic tension where you don’t know if the heroic soldiers are going to be able to stop the evil terrorists. There’s more drama from the romance that occurs between the two leads and is then, of course, broken up when one of the leads panics and leaves his team in the lurch, only to storm in when things are desperate. And of course he saves the day! Every plot point is hackneyed. The lines are overwritten and the characters are cliches. Our hero, Gary, is a Broadway actor who joins Team America: World Police because they need an actor to be their newest spy (since spying is pretty much acting with surveillance equipment apparently). Team America’s base is in Mount Rushmore and they’ve got a tough-as-nails-but-dressed-in-a-suit boss, a supercomputer and a mission to stop terrorists whatever the cost. And through the course of the movie they end up going after Kim Jong Il and drawing the ire of the Film Actors Guild.

Now, regardless of my mood, there are some things I enjoy about this movie and they tend to be things that were either so spot on in their parody/satire elements that they’ve become part of our personal lexicon or they have to do with the movie’s visual conceit. I love the montage song. I think of it any time there’s a training montage in a movie because it is spot on. It’s a montage with a song about how you need a montage. I also like America, Fuck Yeah as bit of satire, same for Freedom Isn’t Free. Over-the-top jingoism in the news will always get an “America! Fuck yeah!” from myself or Andy. And let’s face it: “Freedom isn’t free” or variations thereof pop up all the time, which usually means one or the other of us will mutter “No, it costs a buck 05.” Panthers played by housecats? Yeah, I’m down with that too. As with everything that reminds the viewer that the entire cast of the movie is made of marionettes and they’re on a much smaller scale than people. Not HO scale, certainly, but small. There’s a statue in Kim Jong Il’s palace that’s actually a man in heavy makeup. There are the “panthers” and a variety of little props that you’re likely to see in the Look-a-Like books (which I love). And it’s that sort of winking cleverness that makes the whole marionette conceit play. That and that it’s not treated seriously at all.

I really do like the marionette idea. It’s thoroughly laughable. And it’s not that they’re bad marionettes! They’re obviously incredibly sophisticated things, with servos in the faces and whatnot. But they will always look like marionettes. Always. There is no mistaking that look when you make them walk, and at no point are they at all disguised. There’s no attempt to disguise them. They’re the point. They’re the humor. You try to play out a serious scene between a couple of characters, then smack their faces together to approximate a kiss and it will be funny. Every time someone references the expression on their face? Funny, because they have no expressions. And the main character is supposed to be an actor who can convince anyone of anything through his amazing acting skills. And he has the same blank look and jerky movements that every other marionette in the movie has.

What made this movie frustrating to watch tonight was knowing that I’ve enjoyed it before. That I’ve snickered at the lampooning of actors taking up political causes as if they’re experts in foreign policy. That I’ve laughed at many of the songs and many of the lines and all the marionette work while still being impressed at the sheer scale of the puppetry being performed. Tonight it just fell flat. I still laughed at the cats and the montage, sure. But the rest of the satire just didn’t feel as sharp as it was supposed to. And add to that a couple of scenes I just plain don’t like? And as a whole it just wasn’t fun to watch.

I find the racial and cultural elements of the movie to be questionable at best. I get where they’re going here, and the intent of the humor is more to poke fun at US audiences and how the media portrays other cultures than to poke fun at those cultures themselves. That being said, it’s a very dangerous line to toe. It requires that your audience be in on the joke and be able to laugh at themselves, which one would hope anyone watching this movie could do, but I can’t count on it. I’ve met too many people who could laugh at Team America themselves while still thinking that the depictions of other races were hilarious because haha, those people in the Middle East who speak gibberish! So funny! And making fun of speech impediments is a riot, right? I get it, I just don’t find it as funny as it’s supposed to be. And then there’s the sex scene and the vomit scene. Yeah, you know what? I could do without them. They’re beyond parody or satire and are just gross-out humor and I’m sure plenty of people find them hilarious but they’re not my sort of humor. I honestly think they take away from the satire and parody aspects of the movie, which makes the rest of the humor less sharp.

All in all, I can still see a lot of things I enjoy about this movie. The very concept of it is amusing and the marionettes were a fantastic way to take what might have come off as simply a cheesy parody and elevate it to satire. That being said, it does have a lot of weaknesses, not the least of which is a tendency to aim for offensiveness in hopes of hitting satire and managing to hit the slim border between them. If I’d been in the mood to watch it perhaps I could have looked past that to enjoy when they do hit the satire target dead center. But I wasn’t, so while I’ll still be amused by the montage and I know how much freedom costs in USD, I don’t think I’ll be putting this back in for a while.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Team America: World Police

July 4, 2011

Team America: World Police

We watched Independence Day on July 4th last year. This year we decided to watch the most completely ridiculous and over the top movie about America that we own. I wouldn’t say that this is a patriotic film. If anything it is a sound lambasting of the kind of brainless patriotism seen in stupid action movies. This movie is a parody of Michael Bay style explosion filled action movies, done entirely with marionettes.

This movie is also unbelievably funny. It’s inappropriate, insulting, vulgar and offensive, but it has more laughs per minute than just about anything else we own. Then again, what else would you expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park?

Team America is a covert and well funded squad of adventurers ala Megaforce or G.I. Joe who travel around the world in their US flag emblazoned super jets fighting crime. At the start of the movie we see them stop a group of terrorists with a suitcase bomb in the heart of Paris. In the process they flatten the Eiffel Tower and blow up the Louvre. Such is there general style – they spread mayhem and destruction wherever they go. It’s the same kind of destruction seen in most summer action movies (indeed I seem to recall that in the G.I. Joe live action movie the Eiffel Tower is also destroyed) but played for laughs.

When one of their team is killed just after the Paris operation Team America needs a new recruit. Their leader Spottswoode chooses Gary Johnston, an accomplished Broadway actor with a degree in foreign linguistics. He figures that with Gary’s powerful acting talent he will be able to infiltrate the terrorist groups and discover the whereabouts of the WMDs that Team America is seeking. Gary’s abilities far exceed even Spottswoode’s expectations, but Gary is haunted by a traumatic event from his childhood and when the Film Actors Guild, led by his idol Alec Baldwin, accuse Team America of escalating global tensions he has a crisis of belief and quits the team. This leaves the rest of the group without an actor and defenseless when the true villain reveals himself. Kim Jong Il is actually behind the terrorist plots and plans to make every country a third world country by detonating WMDs in every capital city during a world peace event he’s hosting.

It’s a stupid and contrived plot, but it’s intended to be such. It’s meant to be a spoof of action films. I can see where they were going with this, and I’m pretty sure Amanda has reviewed it as biting satire that highlights how shallow such movies with their simplistic morality are. For me, though this movie is all about the slapstick physical humor.

The big joke in this movie is that it’s filmed entirely using marionettes with radio-controlled faces. They’re clumsy and mis-shapen and strange looking. It’s similar to the “supermarionation” of the old Thunderbirds, but slightly more modern. I was amused that Trey and Matt chose to keep the movie looking as low-tech as they did. They could have digitally removed the strings that control the characters. They could have used rods for precise control to make the fight scenes elegant and artful. Instead they chose to let the movie look half-assed. Which was the perfect choice to make.

I can’t help laughing every time I see one of the puppets bumbling about with their awkward gait. There’s a fight between a terrorist and one of the team mates early on that is pretty much just the two puppets bumping hilariously against each-other. Several times the diminutive puppets are contrasted to full sized locations and things, which is a great joke that never gets old for me. (For example Gary visiting monuments in Washington DC or when Kim Jong Il’s “panthers” attack members of the team.) I even laugh at the crude bodily humor like the lengthy puppet sex scene and the scene where Gary improbably throws up for about five minutes.

There are bits of this movie that I have to kind of roll my eyes at. Bits that are too sophomoric even for me. (Like the way that Spottswoode determines how determined Gary is to re-join the team after leaving them to their fate.) I can ignore and forget about those bits though – this movie simply makes me laugh with glee so much.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 473 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – June 16th, 2011

Well before Joss Whedon was the well-known character killer he is now, he wrote a script about a seemingly vapid teenage girl who was destined to slay vampires. And that sounded so very silly at the time and he wasn’t given full control over the movie that the script was made into and I’m sure we all know that eventually he went on to “correct” the mistakes made on the big screen. His small screen version of Buffy was a very different creature from this movie, but you can see Whedon’s touch showing through in quite a few places. It’s an interesting thing to see.

Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time putting one up against the other. Whedon has said that this movie stands alone and isn’t considered part of the timeline for the show and given how many other people were involved in the making of the movie I don’t think it’s right to hold Whedon responsible for much of it in the end. After all, how many characters are we invited to actually care about? I’d say three, tops. And while one of them dies, it’s not unexpected. If Whedon had been given full control I have no doubt that a whole host of characters would have been sympathetic and at least two of them would have been brutally killed off without any sort of warning or foreshadowing. So you see, obviously someone came in and kept things light and fluffy.

And fluffy is the best word I can think to describe this movie. There’s almost no emotional impact here. It’s like trying to make an impact with marshmallows. There’s some backstory for Buffy and the leader of the vampires and how he’s hunted her through all her previous incarnations and they’ve got this creepy stalkery thing going on where he finds her and hypnotizes/seduces her and then kills her. And Buffy herself goes through a pretty severe character development arc where she goes from a flaky cheerleader who only cares about shopping and boys to a determined Slayer who’s determined to protect her friends. And in the process she becomes a more sympathetic character and blah blah blah. Honestly, does anyone watch this movie to see Buffy’s character arc? Cause it’s nice and all but it’s definitely not my motivation for putting the movie in.

This movie is very much The Lost Boys meets Clueless (the latter of which came out three years after this, but my point stands). Vampires and early 90s fashion and slang. The movie is awash with turns of phrase that I don’t think ever actually were said in the 90s and certainly aren’t said now, but which embody the representation of early 90s California teen culture in movies. And at the same time it’s obvious that these reference points are all meant to be jokes anyhow. Whedon’s very good at writing quick and snappy banter and he’s always seemed to me to have a good ear for what sorts of things people might not say, but might wish they’d thought to say. Here that’s played out to an extreme sort of situation. Of course, quick banter and cute phrasing doesn’t make up for some messy backstory and plotting. Given the lighthearted tone of most of the movie the slow and supposedly serious flashbacks that Buffy gets in her dreams, not to mention her encounters with Lothos (vampire leader) in the present just seem ill-fitting. I’m going to go ahead and blame this on a number of factors, but mostly on the disconnect between what I assume Whedon wrote, and what the director and various other responsible parties were trying to do with it. Or maybe it is his fault and he hadn’t found a good way to marry the serious with the flippant. It’s impossible to know for certain just how much got changed.

What I do know for certain is that if you ignore the uneven bits with the serious tone, and you get past the incongruous casting of Donald Sutherland (he seems every bit as confused by his role as I am) as Buffy’s mentor, Merrick, and take this whole thing as a parody and farce? Then it works. It works so well. It’s fun and it’s funny and clever and it doesn’t make you think too hard. It’s just enjoyable. Watch Buffy in her training montage! Watch her new friend Pike argue with his now-a-vampire buddy as said buddy floats outside his window! Watch Buffy’s friends completely fail to twig to the fact that their town is overrun with vampires! Watch Stephen Root go on at length about LSD while trying to counsel Buffy! Watch vampires show up at the senior dance and watch Buffy rip off her skirt to go kick some ass! Watch her use hairspray as a flamethrower! Watch Paul Reubens take forever to die! I just can’t take it too seriously. There are too many funny and irreverent bits.

I admit, there was a point when I’d seen this movie a number of times and loved it and had only ever seen snippets of the “new” series and just couldn’t see the appeal. It was too serious! It wasn’t silly enough! Where was the parody? Where was the farce? It took some time for me to warm up to it. Which is silly, because I shouldn’t have been trying to compare the two in the first place. They took the same characters and premise and did thoroughly different treatments. And so while I now do enjoy much of the series (though it has its flaws), I also enjoy this movie (flaws and all as well) and I enjoy them at the same time!

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

Movie 452 – Muppet Classic Theater

Muppet Classic Theater – May 26th, 2011

The other night when we watched The Princess and the Frog Andy realized that we didn’t have the Muppet version of the story on our list. And he knew we owned it. I was sure we did too. On VHS. We’d bought a bunch of Muppet movies and specials on VHS early on in our relationship and we knew we hadn’t gotten rid of them so why weren’t they on the list? The answer is that they’d been stashed with a pile of other VHS cassettes in the shelves under the television in the living room and then other things got stashed in front of them and well, we forgot to inventory that stuff when we made our big list. Oops. So we dug through the tapes, added a bunch of things and aren’t we glad we did?

We’ve both got an early morning tomorrow and I’ve got to go to the dentist again and it’s hot and sticky here and I had a headache and I needed something short and familiar and easy and fun. And here this was! Just waiting for a night like this. We hadn’t seen it in a long while (as evidenced by its hiding place under the television) and it wasn’t rewound! Horrors! And then the unthinkable happened: Our VCR tried to eat the tape. That horrible, terrible, hideous noise of a tape being eaten is so painfully familiar and yet we hear it so infrequently these days. Fortunately both Andy and myself have plenty of experience fixing videocassettes. In fact, I still do it at work on a fairly regular basis, babying my dwindling VHS collection for the last few people who come looking for them. So we cracked it open, untwisted the poor magnetic tape and off we went to a land of fairytales and Muppets.

I’ve always enjoyed the Muppet version of parody. The Muppets take on stories we all know all the time. Familiar styles, familiar songs, familiar stories, all told with the Muppet twist. Which means plenty of singing and flailing and horrible puns and Muppet weirdness. The Muppets have done classic stories before. They did the Frog Prince and Cinderella, of course, and they do great jobs with short pieces, as evidenced by The Muppet Show, which is essentially sketch comedy. So this is a collection of stories, quick and fun, each with a song, each familiar enough that the send-up of it isn’t going to throw anyone off. And I’ve got to say, which overall I really do like this? A couple of them stand out as a lot better than the rest.

Rizzo and Gonzo take up the job of hosting a theatrical event. The conceit is that the Muppets are putting on a show of six short stories in the theater with Rizzo and Gonzo both introducing and participating. The stories are the Three Little Pigs, King Midas, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Rumplestiltskin, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and the Shoemakers. I’d have to say Three Little Pigs, Rumplestiltskin and The Elves and the Shoemakers are the standouts for me.

It’s not that I dislike the other three stories. It’s just that they don’t catch my interest and make me remember them as well. King Midas’ only real twist is introducing Miss Piggy and her love of wealth to the story. I do love Gonzo and his herd of sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and I admit I get the song “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” stuck in my head for no reason every so often. But I find the ending fairly weak and I’ve seen better twists on the base story. Though really, I want one of those sheep. I would snuggle it and pet it and use it as a pillow. And that leaves The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is a story I’m not terribly fond of anyhow. The song is slow and I expect more from the Muppet rats, so while Fozzie makes a great Emperor, I’m just not too into it.

The other three, on the other hand, are a ton of fun. Miss Piggy is an architectural genius in the Three Little Pigs and I absolutely adore her confidence and competence, which is so often ignored in favor of her love of clothes and money and fame. Maybe that’s one reason why King Midas doesn’t wow me when it follows a segment where she’s far more focused on building a secure house and making her foolish brothers admit that their sexist assumptions about her were horribly wrong and she’s super awesome. Anyhow, let’s move onto The Elves and the Shoemakers, which is out of order but I’m saving Rumplestiltskin. The Elves and the Shoemakers I enjoy simply for the horrible Elvis joke and the blue suede shoes. I know it’s silly and juvenile and obvious and I don’t care. I love the three Elvis elf Muppets.

And then there’s Rumplestiltskin. Obviously Gonzo plays the title role, with Piggy as the poor young maiden who promises him whatever he asks for in exchange for spinning straw into gold. There’s not much of a spin here. It’s the basic story except that Piggy admits the whole thing to her husband, the king, and the whole palace helps her try and come up with the name she needs. Which leads to the best number in the whole thing: Gotta Get That Name. It’s fast-paced, it’s catchy and it has the flaily ferret. I cannot not flail along with the ferret (who is center stage and goes wild during the chorus every time) whenever we watch this. He is exactly the sort of Muppet I love to see. Unnamed, only a bit line, yet stealing the scene. I believe Jim Henson would approve of him.

Overall I find this a lot of fun. Even if a few of the shorts don’t entertain me as much as the others, I do like them all. It’s just a matter of degree. There’s nothing revolutionary happening here, but there doesn’t need to be. Some of the moments seem to be a little slower than they should be, but others make up for it. It’s just a fun little bit of Muppet goodness that serves up some classic Muppets, some good villains and some well known stories so it’s easy to watch and easy to enjoy so long as you’re expecting just that. Oh, and Gonzo with goat legs. You should expect that too.

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

Movie 451 – The Spirit (2008)

The Spirit (2008) – May 25th, 2011

Tonight Andy said he needed something that wouldn’t make him think. And we do have a multitude of non-thinky movies left on our list. Movies that won’t tax the brain when trying to understand the plot or the purpose or anything like that. No serious themes that we’d want to spend pages pondering. No deep backstory for our personal connection to the movie. Nothing like that. Just something ridiculous and silly. So I looked through the list and dismissed a few things right off the bat. Dismissed a few others after looking them up. And then saw this and suggested it. I hadn’t seen it. Andy had. I knew it had been panned. And yet we owned it. So it seemed pretty much tailor made for tonight.

And I was right! Except I did end up having to think a bit when it came to trying to explain to myself how the movie could be as bad as it is. Really, I find it baffling. I can see so many things that were attempted and could have been done well and just weren’t. I’ve seen a couple of reviews describe this movie as “fun” and I have to wonder what their basis for comparison is. A root canal? The 1040 long form? Watching paint dry? Punch Drunk Love? I mean, this movie kept attempting humor but I don’t think it ever reached more than a moment or two of funny, let alone movie-long stretches of fun. What makes it so frustrating is the attempts that were made. Attempts in so many directions I honestly don’t know if the movie knew where it was going.

That right there is, I think, a large chunk of the problem. This is a comic book movie based on a serial I’m not familiar with. So I did a little reading and as far as I can tell it was a noirish detective serial that had a good dose of humor mixed into its regular plots and storylines. So I would expect there to be some humorous lines. But there aren’t just humorous lines dropped into an otherwise serious story. It’s this bizarre mix of parody and homage that never quite works, largely because the parody aspect needs firmer ground than it’s got. What, exactly, is it parodying? Sin City? I wouldn’t say Frank Miller can’t parody his own stuff, but it’s not like the movie is a genre unto itself. If it’s parodying noir in general it misses the mark completely because the bits that read as parody aren’t the femme fatale or the tough detective or the faithful lover or the gritty and dark city streets. The bits that read as parody are the comic book parts, with the clone henchmen and the out-of-nowhere Nazi villains and the hero himself.

On top of the problem with the uncertain tone is a distinct lack of focus on the part of the actors. Now, this is a more than decent cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendez and Scarlett Johansson alone should have been able to breathe some life and vitality into this movie. But they don’t. Okay, Jackson does every so often, but he’s saddled with the most ridiculous part I think he’s ever played. And this is the man known for Snakes on a Plane. He’s playing the villain here, and he gets some great scenery chewing moments. Moments where I can see what Miller was going for. His obsession over a bizarre little failed clone that’s just a tiny head on a foot and his dislike of free range chickens? It’s so out of place and laughable but then he doesn’t get to really go anywhere with any of it. Each strange quirk gets carried for a line or two and then it’s played out. The Octopus (his character) has eight of everything? Great! Except we only hear that in the climactic fight scene. If you’re going to go whole hog and be that ridiculous then damn well do it! Don’t half-ass it and leave us hanging there, wondering if he was supposed to have eight henchmen and eight cats and eight labs or whatever. And to top it all off, remember I mentioned that the villain is an out-of-nowhere Nazi? Yeah. Complete with lightning bolt tattoo on the back of his head. What the everloving fuck? That’s not parody. That’s not canon as far as I can tell. It’s just tossed in there for no discernible reason aside from making him more of a villain? I don’t even. So all of Jackson’s hamming it up comes to naught because he’s got what is probably one of the worst roles I’ve ever witnessed on film and he can chew chew chew and it’s never going to make the role palatable.

Not that the rest of the characters are a whole lot better, but at least only one of them is an unnecessary Nazi (seriously, the Spirit himself has a cell phone so we’re not set in the 1940s). Sadly, she’s also the most lacklustre character of the bunch, and that’s saying something. My theory is that Scarlett Johansson signed on, then read the script and hoped she was missing something and by the time she realized she wasn’t it was too late to back out. It’s the only way I can explain her performance. I usually quite like her, but from her first lines it was pretty clear to me she was done with this movie. I’ve seen more interested reads done in high school English classes. She gets a couple of lines near the end that hint at the parody her character might have been trying to portray, but if a movie has to have a character flat out say that she’s a parody? The parody has failed.

The rest of the movie is just plain messy. It’s got this plot with the Spirit’s backstory and the Octopus being his nemesis and neither of them can die. But it’s also got some backstory from when the Spirit was a kid and not the Spirit yet and he had this girlfriend, Sand Saref, who ended up turning to crime. And now she’s stolen a crate with a vase full of blood in it instead of a crate full of some sort of treasure we never really find out too much about. The Octopus wants the vase full of blood and while one would think they’d arrange a trade right quick one would be wrong. Instead they faff about for an hour or so. The Octopus makes his hideous foot clone and Sand kills some people for kicks and the Spirit tries to track them down and his faithful doctor girlfriend waits for him to get carted into the hospital. And her father’s the police commissioner and he works with the Spirit, who used to be a cop before he died, but he doesn’t like his lone wolf techniques. And there’s a rookie who wishes she was Paget Brewster and a siren who’s actually death, I think, who tries to seduce the Spirit into dying whenever he gets close to death.

It’s not that it’s hard to follow! This is not a complicated movie. It’s just messily put together. Oh, visually it’s quite pretty, with the not quite black and white visuals with little hints and pops of color. Unfortunately it’s not handled as well as the other two black/white/bit-of-color movies I can think of, namely Sin City and Pleasantville. The former was stark, keeping the color to splashes and highlights. Red sneakers here, blue eyes there, yellow bastard in the corner. The latter used some more subtle and realistic shades, washing them in over skin and the pages of books and the leaves of trees. This movie hits somewhere in the middle. The Spirit’s tie is bright red, but the Octopus’ gloves have dark burgundy accents that barely read. It diminishes the whole effect and while the movie is pretty, it could have been so much more visually arresting.

I honestly don’t know what else I can say about this movie. I don’t know what else there is to say. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite know what it is. It’s got a great cast that’s wasted on clumsy lines and a messy plot. It’s got a director who has gone on record as having been so distracted by an actress in a skimpy outfit that he yelled cut instead of action (and if I was an actress in a movie where the director did that I’d be pretty pissed – just saying). It’s got flat humor and pointless Nazi villains and it is about as much fun as doing a sink full of dishes.

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

The Spirit

May 25, 2011

The Spirit

I had an awful day at work today, so I asked Amanda to pick out an escapist movie that wouldn’t require much thought. “I wouldn’t mind if it was cheesy and awful,” I said. Somehow Amanda knew, even though she had never seen this movie before, that this was just the kind of awful that I needed.

I bought this because I fell for the marketing. Samuel L. Jackson? Scarlett Johansson? Eva Mendes? In a film directed by Frank Miller that uses the visual style of Sin City? How could it fail? The answer is, of course, spectacularly.

What I should have remembered was that notwithstanding the success of the 300 and Sin City Frank Miller has a fairly uneven record with regards to movies. This film here is more of one from the author of Robocop 2 than from the co-director of Sin City. It’s pretty clear to me that what happened was that after working on the set with Robert Rodruiges Miller said to himself, “hey, I can do that!” and set out to make another movie using the same techniques, camera tricks, and look, but with a slightly different feel.

The biggest problem this movie has is that it is too similar to Sin City I think. You could mistake it for a knock off or a sequel were it not so hammy and silly throughout. It has the same monotone voice-overs and hard boiled noir feel. It has the same bold use of light and shadow. It has the same use of strategic color to evoke the feel of a comic book brought to life. The look and feel of Sin City is so distinctive that this movie ends up feeling derivative and because this film is so farcical in tone it feels lessened by the natural comparison.

I should state that I have never read the original Spirit comic books by Will Eisner. I have no idea if this adaptation is faithful or how much of what we see is Miller’s interpretation of Eisner’s work. I can only really speak to what works in the movie and what doesn’t. And there’s so much that simply doesn’t work.

The plot revolves around a super hero calling himself the Spirit who is gifted with amazing recuperative powers. He runs across the rooftops of Center City USA in a style familiar to anybody who has ready Miller’s Daredevil books, leaping over water towers and dashing along power lines. His nemesis is the similarly gifted Octopus, a crime lord who takes great pleasure in working out his frustrations by going toe to toe with the Spirit because neither of them, apparently, can die.

That’s pretty much the movie right there. There’s a whole lot of stuff about a girl from the Spirit’s past named Sand Serif who is a glamorous thief in pursuit of a mysterious treasure from antiquity. There’s the mystery of how the Spirit and the Octopus got their recuperative powers and who the Spirit was before he first died. There’s a level headed doctor who is romantically hung up on the Spirit and has some kind of past with him. (This character is actually one of the more puzzling things in the movie for me. She’s an intelligent woman who used to be romantically involved with the Spirit in his earlier life before he first died but doesn’t seem to recognise him any more. I was never able to figure out if this was a deliberate joke or if she was meant to be in tragic denial or what.) There’s the Octopus’ large collection of rather dim cloned henchmen who are meant to act as comic relief but mostly just make me wince. But when you boil the whole movie down there’s mostly just the Spirit and the Octopus beating each other up.

Part of what makes this movie so difficult to enjoy is that it tries so very hard to be farcical and funny. The whole tone of the film is slightly off-kilter and strange. The character names, like Sand Serif and the evil seductress Plaster of Paris are simply odd. The acting is outrageous and extreme (but not always.) There are moments of surreal oddity such as when the Octopus is dressed as a samurai with big shaggy side burns for no reason, or when he menaces the Spirit dressed as a Nazi SS officer with monocle. The whole film is filled with strange “What were they thinking” moments that leave me feeling befuddled and confused.

I have to wonder what kind of movie the actors in this film thought they were making. I mean, they were on a stage with no sets and minimal props, acting in front of a green screen. Samuel L. Jackson as the Octopus delivers one of the most outrageous over-the-top performances of his career. Scarlett Johansson as his sidekick Silken Floss looks as though she really doesn’t want to be there and is trying to get out of her contract. The actor portraying the commissioner of police, Dan Lauria plays his role almost completely straight as though he’s in a perfectly normal noir crime movie, but in the same scenes there’s Stana Katic as the eager rookie Morgenstern acting like a complete ham with big exaggerated gestures and body language. I have to assume that most of it is a result of Frank Miller’s directorial style, and I’m sure he was more intent on shot composition and achieving a particular look than on managing his actors’ performances.

This movie is a mess. It’s not as funny as it seems to think that it is, has an unlikable womanising lead character, is filled with odd performances, and feels very much as though it’s trying to be something more than it actually is. It’s not quite as bad as I remembered it being from the first time I watched it (I think my assessment that first time was tinged by my profound disappointment that it wasn’t at all what I had been expecting.) It is, however, pretty darned bad. I was in the mood for a bad movie today though, and this one nicely fits the bill. I wonder if there’s a riff-track.

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