A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 422 – Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Little Shop of Horrors – April 26th, 2011

Today I had an unpleasant experience. I won’t say it was bad, because it went fairly well, but it was a root canal. And let’s face it, even the smoothest root canal in the world is still a root canal and involves getting shot full of anesthetic and having the nerves in one of your teeth drilled out. That’s unpleasant. Sure, I had a really great endontist and all, but yeah. No fun. So we decided to watch the only movie out of our collection that features a dentist. Sadly, we don’t own the musical version of this story, but we do have the classic, directed by none other than Roger Corman.

I went to check on various versions of this story after we finished watching it and was amused at how many of them prominently showcase Jack Nicholson’s involvement in the movie. He’s only in one scene and while he steals it quite handily it’s still just one scene. Still, out of everyone else in the movie he’s the biggest name now. Makes sense. But it’s still amusing. And it really is a great scene. Nicholson plays Wilbur Force, a young man who just loves going to the dentist and prefers to have his fillings and extractions done without novocaine. “It dulls the senses” after all. He positively delights in the promise of the pain of dental procedures. I’m sure he’d have loved a root canal. And his scene is what I thought of when I decided we should watch this today.

To be honest, I know the musical better. When I was in high school I was involved in a rather large production of it, involving the huge rented plant props and all. I was in the production crew and had to squeeze myself behind the plant with another crew member to hold the arms near the end. It was a fun production to work on and I’ve had a fondness for the show ever since. I only saw this version after I’d seen the musical and it immediately struck me as such a strange movie for someone to make a musical of, but at the same time it’s perfect. It was already a dark comedy that poked fun at itself and that brand of humor really translated well to the stage.

The movie definitely has a low budget 1960s feel to it. There’s an intangible quality to certain films made at that time that’s simply instantly recognizable. But this is a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s not truly a horror movie. It’s a comedy parody of a horror movie. It’s a movie about a young man who raises a carnivorous plant to impress his boss at the flower shop and ends up having to feed it human corpses to keep it growing. Sure, you could play that seriously and given what else I’ve seen from Roger Corman, he might well have. But this was certainly played for laughs. How else do you explain a character named Siddie Shiva who has a new dead relative every time you see her? Or Nicholson’s gleeful dental patient? Seymour’s hypochondriac mother who makes cod liver oil soup? Detectives named Fink and Stoolie? A flower shop customer who eats what he buys right off the stems (salting them first, of course)? No, this is parody, plain and simple.

So, to the story. Seymour Krelboin is a young man who works in a flower shop. His boss is the grumpy Gravis Mushnick and his coworker is the sweet Audry Fulquard. Seymour’s in danger f losing his job if he can’t impress Mr. Mushnick, so he brings in a plant he’s been cultivating at home. It’s a fly trap of some sort, raised from mysterious seeds. He’s named it the Audry Jr. and it turns out it’ll only grow if fed blood. So the movie continues with the reluctant Seymour bringing dead bodies to Audry Jr. and the plant growing larger and more impressive as the day go by. It attracts new customers, gains attention from a horticultural society and seems to be the ticket to Seymour’s life getting immensely better. Aside from all the killing he has to do in order to keep the plant fed and happy. Because yes, it talks to him, demanding food.

Put that plot together with the humor of the whole thing and you’ve got a truly bizarre movie that just seems to somehow work. It’s self-aware enough to parody itself, which is a difficult thing and I honestly couldn’t say if it was intentionally written in ahead of time or if it just worked out that way thanks to direction and acting. After all, this was shot over a very short period of time and at least one of the writers reports that they were drunk while they were writing it. But two of the customers are a couple of teenage girls sent to find a florist to provide flowers for a parade float. They latch onto Audry Jr. as the centerpiece of the float and are thoroughly thrilled by it even when it blooms to reveal the faces of the people it’s eaten. In fact, that makes them all the happier. There’s just this odd and perfect vibe going on through the whole thing and while I think some of it was simply the lucky convergence of actors, script and plot, some of it shows that with the right tools you can get a classically great film on a small budget in a short time. And it helps if you have Jack Nicholson.

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

Movie 420 – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Monty Python’s The Life of Brian – April 24th, 2011

Today seemed like the perfect day to watch the last of our Monty Python movies, what with that last one being a spoof on the story of Jesus and today being Easter. What can I say? We’re bad like that. But this did seem like a good match and so we saved it for today. The thing is, I have to admit, I was a little wiped out today and found myself nodding off in the middle of the movie. It’s just not my favorite Python film and wasn’t quite enough to hold my attention while I was exhausted.

Really, I feel like I’ve lost a bucket of geek points for admitting that there’s a Python movie I don’t love. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this one, honestly. It’s just not quite as engaging to me. Maybe it’s that, well, I don’t have the background to really appreciate the parody. Sure, I know the basics when it comes to Jesus and the story of his birth and death (and resurrection), but I wasn’t raised with it. The parody is funny, sure, and the writing is top-notch. But still. It just doesn’t grab me and it never has. Not in the way the other movies have.

It strikes me as a real pity that I can’t get into this movie. It really does have some fantastic classic moments and lines and the Python crew themselves have apparently stated that they felt like this was at the top of their game. It’s a sharp movie full of quick commentary not necessarily on Christianity or Judaism so much as on the world as it apparently existed and the circumstances. Brian was born in a manger a few doors down from Jesus and the movie follows his life, just as the title claims. He finds out he’s the son of a Roman soldier and joins up with the People’s Front of Judea (not the Judean People’s Front or the Popular Front of Judea – splitters!) because he hates the occupying Romans so very much. And thus begins his misadventures. After getting in trouble and escaping he unintentionally gains a number of devout followers who misinterpret everything he says as being terribly meaningful and eventually he ends up crucified.

It’s pretty snarky really, mostly about people in general and their willingness to follow. And I appreciate that. It’s both funny and painful to watch Brian tell his unwanted followers that he’s not the messiah only for them to take that as certain proof that he must be (since only the true messiah would be humble enough to not claim the role). There’s a lot of very pointed humor here, from the various rebellious factions who hold meetings to determine if they will go to rescue someone to the whole stoning scene with the man getting stoned singing ‘Jehova! Jehova!’ because how are you going to make it worse? And there’s just plain silly humor too, with the women wearing beards and the haggling and the Roman soldier correcting Brian’s Latin and making him write out the correct grammar one hundred times as graffiti. It’s a funny movie! It just loses me around the middle plot-wise.

I do appreciate that they were going with something linear here, like they did for Holy Grail. It’s a very different style from their sketch work, which I include Meaning of Life in. But it has elements of sketch comedy in it, with each scene in the linear plot acting as its own bit. Unfortunately, I happen to enjoy the sketch comedy a little more. I find it easier to move from piece to piece because if a particular bit doesn’t do it for me there’s something else coming along that might. There’s not as much shifting here. So when Brian falls off a tower and is suddenly picked up by aliens? It takes a while before the movie gets me back.

Fortunately, it is very funny in a lot of places and I do enjoy it. It might not move at the same pace as some other Python works but that’s just the way it goes. It is exceedingly clever and I have no doubt in my mind that people who know the story and time period being parodied better than I will find a lot more humor than I can. And I do enjoy the song at the end, even if after last night’s movie and Friday night’s movie I find the message to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to be a little more painfully satirical than I have in the past.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 416 – Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical – April 20th, 2011

We originally bought this for a very specific purpose not too long ago. We’ve sort of fallen down on matching up movies to numbers, The 300 in particular. Oops. But last week when I realized we were fast approaching movie 420 I jokingly said “Too bad we already did Reefer Madness.” And Andy said “Well, there’s the musical. We could get that.” So we did, because I have been told by numerous people more versed in pot culture that the number means something. The origin of that meaning? I’ve heard a few different things and I honestly don’t care. I just thought it would be amusing. Until I actually counted days and um. Movie 420 is on Easter this year, and we already have a movie lined up for Easter. Good thing 4/20 came along beforehand, affording us a perfect opportunity to line things up again and make it totally look like we did it on purpose. You know, if I hadn’t ruined it by explaining it all.

It turns out we could have totally watched this on Easter. It’s got a musical number with Jesus and everything. He even mentions Easter specifically. Not really the focal point of the picture though, so I guess we made the right choice here. The focal point of the movie is satire. And music. And marijuana. Because it’s a satirical musical remake of the original Reefer Madness. Instead of actually being a scare film attempting to use fear to drive parents to warn their children away from pot it’s a bizarre parody of everything involved in the original, from the plot and characters to the time period and very concept. And how do you know it’s as much of a parody as it is? Well, for one, it’s got the fantastic Alan Cumming to lead us through it all and he has his tongue firmly in cheek.

The movie begins with the set-up that Cumming’s character has come to a small town to show his film about the horrors of marijuana to the parents and teachers there. Ah, meta, how I love you. So Cumming hams it up, telling us how horrible and terrible and addictive and life destroying it all is, while the parents clutch at their pearls and grumble and look uncomfortable and uneasy and then horrified. Throughout the movie we cut back to them to see their overwrought reactions. It is as over the top as one could want.

The actual film itself, shown to the parents, is a souped-up version of the original. One can see the basic characters involved, from Mae, who runs the pot house, to Jack, who brings in the kids. There’s Jimmy and Mary, our good kids who’re destined to go down the wrong path (that would be the path through the cannabis garden at Mae’s) and a few other potheads and so on and so forth. There’s still the plot about Mary and Jimmy studying Shakespeare and Jimmy getting seduced into trying marijuana and subsequently becoming such a raging pothead he loses track of all else, hits a man with Mary’s car, then becomes convinced that he’s shot her when it was actually Jack who fired the gun. Yes, that’s all in there. But there’s some more stuff going on to flesh it all out, like a dance contest that FDR’s going to be at and one of the girls at Mae’s has a baby that cries all the time and oh yes. The musical numbers.

This is where the movie goes right off the rails into full blown parody. Not only do we get numbers about having milkshakes at the five and dime, but we get songs about marijuana, hash brownies, Shakespeare (in which we find out that Mary and Jimmy totally think Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after) and Jesus. Whom I mentioned. The songs are all very much making fun of the characters and situation, overdramatic and exaggerated. Which is pretty much the whole movie. And for the most part? It totally works. It’s ridiculous and overblown and Jesus has Vegas showgirl angels and the hash brownies number is animated and some of the jokes are so incredibly tasteless the only way they work is because they’re pointedly aimed at how not cool and pervasive those same attitudes were at the time of the original movie. Not to mention how ridiculous the movie’s claims were in regards to marijuana. At one point a man in the audience stands up and says he thinks it’s bull and that heroin is far more addictive and dangerous than pot. And oh, Cumming’s character lets him have it, not only laying into him about his education but also implying that the man is a communist. Of course.

Now, I do have some criticism of the movie. While the majority of the cast was fantastic, I never quite felt comfortable with Ana Gasteyer’s Mae. She was over the top, yes, but she missed the mark for me. Not by much, but in a movie like this it all has to be on the same level. Maybe it was her songs, which I wasn’t terribly fond of. I’m not sure. I really like Steven Weber and he does well with many of his scenes as Jack, but in others I find it very hard to see him as a thug, even when the point is humor. I greatly enjoyed Kristen Bell and Christian Campbell as the two leads and of course there’s Alan Cumming, whose character inserts himself into the movie in various places to great effect. So the cast is sort of mixed. None of them are bad, just not quite right in places. The songs themselves are mostly fun, but some of them work better than others, much like the cast. And by the time Mae and Jack have their big confrontation I sort of felt like the movie needed to end. And yet it kept going for another big musical number. It’s not that the number was bad! It’s just that it felt like it came about five to ten minutes later than it should have, and then the movie didn’t end with it.

So I’ve got to say that the movie was sort of uneven. Lots of great ideas and fun songs and fantastic cast members, but the pacing’s a little wonky and it throws off the musical number placement, which might explain some of the character issues and it’s sort of a domino effect. Still, I had fun watching it and shaking my head at how ridiculous it is and enjoying Alan Cumming being fucking awesome. Like he always is. I’d have watched this for him alone, but thankfully there was plenty more to enjoy.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

April 20, 2011

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

I have been told that the number 420 has something to do with drug culture. It’s a reference I never picked up because I’m so frighteningly square. Anyhow – we bought this movie with the intention of watching it as our four hundred and twentieth movie. Then we realized that movie 420 is going to fall on Easter day, and we already had a movie set for that day, so we’re watching this today for April 20th. It still works.

We slightly overdosed on Reefer Madness back when we reviewed it because we watched it twice in one day. Once for our project and once for Rifftrax live. It was quite a lot of Reefer Madness to take in in a single evening, and it was a work day as I recall as well, which means that by the end I was completely burnt out. Even with the help of Mike, Kevin and Bill it was mighty hard to get through the movie a second time. All I’m saying here is that I wasn’t completely sure tonight if I was quite ready to endure this movie a third time, but I’m happy to report that in campy musical form it is far more tolerable.

The hook here is that we’re watching a concerned parent group being shown a film which is very similar to the original Reefer Madness. The plot and characters of this movie are very similar to those in the movie this musical is based on, but exaggerated for maximum comedic impact. Things which, in the original, are unintentionally hilarious, such as the fervor with which the narrator describes the horrifying potency of reefer, are here deliberately lampooned, and to great effect. We still have the story of innocent young teen Jimmy being sucked into a seedy underworld of drug use and debauchery. It still leads to a hit-and-run accident that kills an old man (although under slightly different circumstances than in the original) and it still involves him being framed for the accidental shooting of his high-school sweetheart. It still involves a very strange depiction of the effects of marijuana use which involves manic, crazed twitching and a lot of shouting and flaring tempers, starting right from the very first puff of the demon weed. (More addictive than the heroin.) It’s just played very broadly for laughs and involves a whole bunch of catchy songs.

Boy are the songs catchy, too! The narrator sings to a group of concerned parents about how weed will turn their children into ruffians and whores. Jimmy and Mary have a great Pollyanna number about how innocent and in love they are with each other – just like Romeo and Juliet. They haven’t read the end yet but they think the two must end up just swell. There’s a big dance number when Jimmy takes his first toke that involves jungle rhythms, scantily clad dancers, and a leering goat man. One big addition to the musical that I don’t remember from the original movie is a redemption story for Jimmy where he realizes the error of his ways and tries to straighten up and leave the dope behind, and it involves easily the biggest brain-worm of a song in the whole musical when he sings about being loved by Mary Lane. (So catchy is it that one of the parents watching the movie is humming the chorus during the next scene.)

I can see why this musical was so popular. Just like Little Shop of Horrors before it it takes a cheesy movie and thrives on that cheese. When you have a lounge-singer style Jesus singing to Jimmy about the superior high of god you’ve gone into a whole other world of parody – sort of like the “be a dentist” number in Little Shop. The music is catchy and the over-the-top performances are hilarious. The completely self-aware parody is well handled and the performances are fantastic. Best of all I did actually find myself laughing out loud a few times.

I’m glad we bought this, even if it was only as a stunt for the movie a day project. It’s a funny, well produced romp with a lot of great dance numbers and catchy songs. I had a thoroughly good time watching it, and I’ll probably be watching it again sometime – even on days that aren’t April 20th.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Kung Fu Hustle

March 30, 2011

Kung Fu Hustle

Early on in this movie – when there was a montage of men with axes dancing that showed the rise of the “Axe Gang” as their empire of sin engulfed Shanghai – Amanda asked me “Why don’t we own more movies like this?” To which I replied “Because there aren’t any other movies like this.” There really aren’t. It’s a big-budget effects laden kung-fu comedy as only Stephen Chow can do it.

Stephen Chow has such a unique sensibility. As with the brilliant Shaolin Soccer his movie blends cartoonish comedy with ultra-cool kung-fu action for something strange and magical. Something utterly and indescribably weird, but also something you can’t easily look away from.

Humor in kung-fu movies is nothing new. I remember when I was just getting into watching kung-fu movies and had it in my head that they were the epitome of cool action adventures how puzzled I was by things like Jackie Chan’s Half a Loaf of Kung-Fu. The notion that something so cool could also be so goofy struck me then as very odd. This movie takes that core concept of parody and comedy and brings it to the extremes that can only be reached by the modern age of digital effects.

Stephen portrays Sing, a no good vagrant and wastrel who has given up on being good and dedicated himself to his ambition of becoming a gangster. When he tries to use his wannabe gangster moves on the downtrodden people of Pig Sty Alley he inadvertently draws the attention of the dominant local gang – the Axe Gang. These thugs descend on Pig Sty Alley in force, only to be driven off by a trio of kung-fu masters who have been living a simple life of anonymity amongst the other slum dwellers.

From there it’s a plot of escalation. The Axe Gang hire a pair of creepy killers to assassinate the three kung-fu masters. The assassins are in turn stopped by another pair of unlikely masters who also dwell in Pig Sty Alley. The Axe Gang then release from a mental ward a cold blooded killer known as “The Beast” who cares about nothing but finding a worthy opponent. All the while Sing is proving himself to be a very ineffectual gangster, until he ultimately discovers his true potential.

Part of what makes this movie so much fun is the great collection of colorful characters. Every single performance is crazy, over the top and utterly bizarre. A mincing, wailing, flaming gay tailor who happens to also be a master of the kung-fu arts? Yeah. A round-faced clown of a character who spends the whole movie with his ass hanging out of his pants and shampoo on his hair because the landlady has cut off the local water supply? Weird. Sing himself with his ineffectual attempts to be a mean gangster which more often than not result in him being hurt instead is a strange character. (Luckily he has a preternatural healing ability or he’d be dead halfway through the movie.)

When I say that the action in this movie is cartoonish I mean that the movie often appears to be a live-action Warner Brothers cartoon. It might just as well have been directed by Tex Avery. There’s a road-runner style chase scene. There’s constant warping and deformation of people as they’re punched and kicked. There are bodies flung about, flying and falling every which way and smashing through windows and walls alike.

Most bizarrely of all there’s a kind of spirituality to this film. Sing’s ultimate redemption and awakening, even couched in the ridiculous cartoon violence of this movie, has a sort of power to it. This is also clearly a movie aimed at the child inside all of us – a point driven home by the last few minutes of the movie. The irony being that a movie aimed at bringing out a child-like wonder in its audience was given an R rating for its release here in the States due to the violence (I’m guessing because of some of the axe fighting early in the film.) It’s just one more strange contradiction in a movie full of them. Then again – if the Road Runner and Wylie Coyote were live action they might receive an R rating as well.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 383 – Shrek Forever After

Shrek Forever After – March 18th, 2011

I’m going to be honest here: I wasn’t ever expecting to watch this movie. That’s because until today we didn’t own it and I had no idea Andy had ordered it. And he’s very lucky that the quality of this one is a good deal higher than the last one because otherwise we would have some things to talk about. Actually, we did have some things to talk about. Namely, a new rule that states that from now on any movie purchased by one or the other of us without notification and approval of the other can be treated as an unsolicited addition. Which means not necessarily watched for the project. And after last night’s muddled mess, I think I was well within my rights to question the inclusion of its sequel.

And as I said, Andy is lucky that this one is better. It’s a good deal better, actually. There’s no attempt at split plots here, no wasted possibilities of entire genres of jokes. It’s decidedly darker than the first three, with a well-worn plot device driving the action, but my biggest complaint isn’t any of that. It’s the beginning of the movie. Because the whole point of the plot is that Shrek has to get to a point where he’s susceptible to someone making him a deal where he’ll end up in a world where he never existed. So the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie (and oh does it feel longer) are devoted to making the audience feel like Shrek’s life is really, truly, horribly, excruciatingly torturous. Instead it just reinforced my decision to never have kids. Especially little ogre triplets or mutant donkey dragon babies.

Shrek and Fiona are living together in the swamp with their babies and Donkey and his kids come for dinner and it’s an endless succession of days full of dirty diapers, baby puke, household chores, no time to rest, broken furniture, chaos and so on and so forth. It winds into a frenzy, with Shrek growing more and more frustrated and trapped and desperate until the triplets’ first birthday party where he totally loses it and storms out after roaring at all the guests. In his moment of weakness Shrek is tempted by Rumplestiltskin and signs away a single day of his life in return for a day where he gets to be a regular ogre again. Except, as we all know, Rumplestiltskin is all about the fine print and swipes the day Shrek was born, thereby making him not exist. And thus Shrek has to find a way to get out of his contract before the day is over.

Really, it’s your standard It’s a Wonderful Life rip-off but with Rumplestiltskin instead of Mr. Potter and instead of his wife being a spinster librarian in the alternate non-Shrek world she’s a kick-ass ogre resistance leader. Which, wait, this is a bad thing? Okay, so the reason she’s an ogre resistance leader is because without Shrek around (and apparently without Charming either) Fiona had to rescue herself. And since Rumplestiltskin has taken over Far Far Away and started hunting ogres, well, she’s got quite a group to lead. Not the ideal circumstances, but damn if it doesn’t make for an incredibly awesome role for Fiona in this movie. This is what I wanted from her and the princesses in the third one. She is consistently bad ass every step of the way here and I love her. I love her to pieces and this one thing is the primary reason why I cannot remain mad that Andy bought this without telling me. Self-rescuing princess who leads a barbarian horde and rejects unwanted romantic overtures with a boot to the butt? Yeah, I like her.

Sadly, that version of Fiona is doomed to be a limited time offer, since Shrek’s whole mission in this plot is to slip through the loophole in his contract and get back to his real life where Fiona is still awesome but not quite so bad ass. It’s a pity that she couldn’t go on being the ass whupping ogre leader she was even after Shrek headed back to his own reality. And normally I’d be championing a new branch of canon and all, but the movie makes it quite clear that no, it doesn’t last past Shrek’s departure. Alas. I can understand why it would be a sad world to leave running, what with the true love aspect for Shrek and Fiona, and as I said it’s a dark world in general (oh, Gingy!) but still, alas.

I appreciate that this movie did the It’s a Wonderful Life thing the way that it did it. Sure, it’s familiar, but that’s what makes it a good vehicle for something like this. We know these characters. We know this world. We know how it all works. Seeing their alternate selves makes this a parody of what was already a parody, which is a nice little level of meta. And I like some of the alternates! Donkey’s still Donkey, obviously, and I’ve made my feelings about Fiona clear, I hope. But then there’s Puss. Who is a bit chubbier and less swashbuckling but no less awesome. He reminded me quite a bit of one of our own cats and of my mother’s last cat, on whom some of Puss’s actions could have been modeled. I liked the new characters of the huge ogres and I liked the witches and I even liked Rumplestiltskin as a bad guy. And then there’s the Pied Piper, who is totally the Boba Fett to Rumplestiltskin’s Darth Vader. I get why the beginning was so exaggeratedly painful. I just wish it had been more painful for Shrek to live than for me to watch. But then the movie gave me Fiona, Queen of the Ogres, and for that alone I’m actually glad we own it.

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

Movie 382 – Shrek the Third

Shrek the Third – March 17th, 2011

Oh dear. I had never seen this one before. I stopped with the second one and just never got around to this one and needless to say I haven’t seen the fourth. And I think that might have been a good move on my part. I don’t necessarily regret watching this tonight, because it did have some moments I enjoyed and some fun performances and I think perhaps this project is setting me up with some much lower expectations than I’d have otherwise. After all, I’ve sat through Death Proof and Punch Drunk Love. Nothing in this movie offended me. It’s just nowhere near as good as the first two.

To be honest, I’m kind of ticked off about that. Because the first two movies had that unfortunate pattern I mentioned where everyone dragged Fiona around like she couldn’t make her own decisions. And they followed the same basic pattern. And this one tried to break that pattern and I appreciate that. It just failed to do it well and wasted some prime awesome material on what ended up being an unfulfilling side plot. I can see what they were going for, but they missed the mark and it’s all the more disappointing for it.

So the basic plot is actually two plots. Shrek and Fiona are put in charge “temporarily” while the king is sick and when he dies he leaves Shrek as heir to the throne. Shrek is totally not up for that and decides to head off and find the only other royal male heir: Artie. Donkey and Puss go with him and they have a decidedly unexciting adventure that involves Eric Idle playing Merlin as Rincewind at Woodstock. Meanwhile, back at the castle, a disgruntled Prince Charming rallies all the villains at the Poison Apple Pub and takes over the kingdom, imprisoning the queen, Fiona and Fiona’s princess pals (and Dragon and the mutant donkey dragon babies). And well, the two plots do not go hand in hand. They are horribly unbalanced and have almost nothing to do with one another and that? Is a problem.

I’ve mentioned this before when movies do the split plot thing. When you take your core cast and split it in half and send one group off on one quest and the other on another, you’d better damn well make sure you’re making The Empire Strikes Back or The Lord of the Rings, because otherwise you just have a mess. It ends up feeling like you couldn’t figure out how to have one plot or the other fill an entire movie or happen with everyone around. Like you came up with one plot and said “Well, we need to get rid of Fiona for that to work,” or “Quick, send Shrek away so we can do this,” and then stuck the two together. And I’m saying this even though I kind of like the concept behind both plots.

On one hand, you’ve got Shrek, still angsting over being an ogre and all that. He’s off to find the true king and you might guess by my mentions of Merlin and Artie that we’re dealing with a King Arthur spoof here. And I could get behind the idea of an Arthurian spoof set in a medieval high school. If it was done well. But oh, the wasted opportunity! There’s not a single joke about Artie pulling a sword out of anything. Guinevere barely exists. Lancelot’s funny but once they leave the school you never see him again. And the school itself is all stereotypes and no real twists on them. There is so much that could have been done with the Arthurian stuff in the Shrek universe and they just walk away from it. It’s a throwaway joke.

Then the second plot follows Charming’s attempt to take over, which amounts to a stirring speech in the pub, one romp through the shops in down town Far Far Away, threatening Pinocchio, the Wolf, the Three Pigs and Gingy and then the climax. Again, so much material here! So many potential jokes and gags and laughs and moments and… No. Because we’re too busy hearing Shrek and Artie mope around Merlin’s love-in campfire retreat, talking about their feelings and bonding. So it’s not surprising that since the actual coup gets such short shrift, the princess underground rebellion gets even less time. And seriously? This would have been awesome to get more of. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Snow White, plus Fiona and her mother, sneaking through the castle catacombs? Breaking out of their prison tower themselves? Fighting back to save Shrek? Hell yes! Crank up the Heart and go to it, ladies! And then it’s over. Damn, that’s a let-down.

And then there’s the baby plot. I honestly think that while this movie does seem to be saying, on the surface, that babies are great, it’s actually saying you don’t ever ever want to have one. Fiona tells Shrek she’s pregnant just as he’s leaving to find Artie and this should be the unifying thread that somehow ties the two plots together. Unfortunately Shrek all but forgets about it aside from one absolutely horrifying and birth-control encouraging nightmare and once the princesses go on the run from Fiona’s interrupted baby shower it’s not mentioned in her plot either. Instead of being the core issue that brings you from one plot to the other, while the two expectant parents deal with the excitement and fear that I hear are pretty much the norm for expectant parents everywhere, it’s left by the wayside. Oh, it returns for far too much of the ending, which is basically a five minute montage of ogre babies and mutant donkey dragon babies making messes (and which continues into the credits), but it’s not actually in the movie’s storyline.

Sure, there are some fun lines and all. I do love the underground princess rebellion and I wish they’d gotten more time. I totally could have gotten behind a better and more clever Arthurian plot. I could even have dealt with Shrek moaning about his impending fatherhood. I like that they tried to do something different than the typical “Shrek has to save Fiona but oh, do they really belong together” plot. I just think they tried to do too much and ended up doing far too little. All the fantastic performances and moments from Donkey and Puss and the princess brigade can’t fix that.

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

Movie 381 – Shrek 2

Shrek 2 – March 16th, 2011

Tonight we continue with the Shrek movies, getting even further away from the original book but deeper into fractured fairy tale territory. I realize I neglected to mention in last night’s review that there’s actually another book: The movie novelization. A book based on a movie that’s based on a book. It’s so delightfully circular. Not that I can speak to the accuracy of the second book. It fell apart soon after we got it at work, as most movie tie-in books do (they’re made so very cheaply) and I never read it. But this one? Well, it’s just continuing along with the story set out in the first one, dealing with the consequences.

I like consequences. I will freely admit that I love Into the Woods, largely for the second act where the consequences of the fairy tale endings come crashing in. Happily ever after is a nice idea and all, but ever after is such a long time and let’s face it. There are other people in the world. So here we have Fiona’s parents inviting her and her new husband (whom they believe to be a prince who rescued her) to visit them in the kingdom of Far Far Away. They’re expecting their human daughter and a dashing prince. Obviously they don’t get that. They get an ogre daughter and her ogre husband. Of course things get messy quickly and there are arguments and misunderstandings and Shrek and Fiona bicker and Shrek storms off and Fiona’s left to cope with a romantic interest she’s not romantically interested in until she kicks some ass and Shrek returns and they get back together again.

Wait. I think I just described the first movie. So yes, it’s following a very successful formula. I could do with a little more pro-activity on Fiona’s part, but overall I don’t have many complaints. It’s a fun movie and the formula is nicely decked out in new duds. My one real issue is the Happily Ever After potion and its place in the pattern for Fiona’s character. And I get the concept! I like the idea that Fiona’s already made her choice to be an ogre but Shrek needs to work through some insecurity about that on his own and truly believe that she wants to be one, not that she’s saying so because she doesn’t want to hurt him. They have a generally good relationship, with ups and downs but also a lot of fun and romance. But they’re just married and Fiona’s family is shocked and upset and Shrek has every reason to expect that they’ll be treated badly as they are. So I get the potion. I get why he uses it to turn them both beautiful and all. But he does it without her consent. He changes her without asking if she wants to change. And that follows the pattern of her family locking her in a tower to be saved by a prince, because they want to change her, without asking her if she wants to change. I realize I’m getting all invested and academic over Shrek 2, which is supposed to be a fun little twist on fairy tale conventions with lots of pop culture jokes and all, but I can’t help it.

Anyhow, putting aside the issues I have with people around Fiona acting like she can’t damn well decide for herself what she wants to be and do, I really do enjoy the movie. It’s great seeing Shrek and Fiona together in the montage of their honeymoon, throwing preconceived notions of fairy tale perfection to the wind. I like that so many of the characters from the first movie make repeat appearances, either as bit parts of major roles. And I like that the jokes and story are kept fast and snappy. I love the twist on fairy godmothers and charming princes and the bit at the end with the king is a lovely little callback to another classic fairy tale. I like all of those things and I really do like Shrek’s character arc. I just wish it had involved him offering to change Fiona back. Oh well.

Distracting me from those issues are some truly fantastic performances from the new cast members. Now, not that I don’t enjoy the cast from the first movie, but let’s face it, you’ve got to work pretty fucking hard to compete with John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett and oh my goodness, Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Saunders. The first three get some excellent moments (John Cleese especially) but the latter two are the ones who really shine. Of course, they both get plenty of screen time and Saunders as Fairy Godmother gets to sing a few times. She makes for a fantastically outrageous villain and I love her. And then there’s Banderas as Puss in Boots. I am not ashamed to say that I laughed myself sick at the hairball scene when we first saw this. Anyone who has a cat knows that sound and that look and it just goes on and yeah. He totally steals every scene he’s in, which is impressive given the established characters and the actors portraying them.

Overall I’ve got to say I really like this movie. Annoying issues aside, it’s got some great characters, fantastic acting, fun jokes and references and creepy mutant donkey dragons. How can you not love the creepy mutant donkey dragons? Okay, so they freak me out. But the movie cops to them being freaky! And that’s what I truly enjoy about it. The movie is aware of everything it’s doing and it’s doing it all with a wink, which is precisely the way a movie like this should be done.

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

Shrek 2

March 16, 2011

Shrek 2

As always when going to view a sequel I was skeptical of this movie when Amanda and I went to see it in the theater. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that it was one of those rare sequels that is at least as good, if not better than, its predecessor.

We re-join Shrek and Fiona as they return from their honeymoon (which is shown in the opening credits to a Counting Crows song.) They receive an invitation from Fiona’s parents, the king and queen of Far Far Away, to attend a celebratory wedding ball in her home kingdom. Of course Fiona’s parents are somewhat shocked when they find that their daughter is now a full-time ogre and that their son-in-law is an ogre as well. The movie could have been just about this domestic conflict and Fiona’s fight to be accepted for who she is (and her right to marry the man she loves even if he isn’t, technically, a man.) There’s a much ore sinister plot at hand, however, and it’s all because Fiona’s meddling fairy godmother wants to have her son Prince Charming wed Fiona instead.

What’s fun about this movie is that it has all the best characters from the first movie, even the little background characters who were the most enjoyable, and adds a few new characters (and some fantastic voice talent as well.) All without ever feeling like it isn’t part of the same world. Gingy the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio and the three blind mice, wolf, and three little pigs all get moments to shine and help Shrek out when he’s in a bind. For new characters we have the Fairy Godmother, her son Prince Charming, Puss in Boots and Fiona’s parents.

The Fairy Godmother is a business maven. She has taken the cottage industry of answering dreams and built it into a booming colossal machine. She also has some mysterious history with Fiona’s father – some kind of leverage (which mystery is very well built into the movie so that if you’re paying attention you can pretty easily guess what that leverage is.) And she’s performed by the absolutely fabulous Jennifer Saunders. Her every line is a taut whip-crack driving the entire plot of the movie and she is so wonderfully sinister as an apparently well-meaning busybody. Prince Charming is a brainless pretty mamma’s boy, brilliantly voiced by Rupert Everett. Then there’s Puss in Boots – that feline swashbuckler brought to life by Antonio Banderas. Not only is his voice (and accent) fantastic but his character has some of the funniest lines in the entire movie. In particular the scene where he coughs up a furrball in the midst of an action scene still leaves both Amanda and me in stitches. (Anybody who has cats will recognise that strained/humiliated look and horrifying gacking noise.) To top it all off we have acting royalty in the roles of Fiona’s parents. I mean! John Cleese and Julie Andrews! You hardly need to say anything more.

The jokes and references in this movie are a little more pop-culture and less riffs on classic fairy tales. Oh, you have plenty of fairy tale jokes from Swan Lake to the Headless Horseman but a lot of the humor comes from references to modern day Hollywood. Like Burger Prince and Farbucks and the stretch limo carriage. It makes the Shrek universe a more obvious parody of our world. Which is actually a lot of fun. I love, for example, the joke where Mongo the giant Gingerbread Man destroys one Farbucks and the patrons flee across the street to another one. (It’s an old joke but it’s funny because it’s true. Of course if it were done in Boston they’d both be Dunken Donuts.)

I think it’s so impressive that Dreamworks were able to expand on the Shrek universe while keeping it both familiar and funny. You almost never find a sequel that lives up to its source material, but this movie is the exception that proves the rule. Tomorrow we’ll see if that momentum can be maintained.

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

Movie 380 – Shrek

Shrek – March 15th, 2011

I’ve always enjoyed a good twisted fairy tale. And there are plenty of examples out there. There’s Bubba, the Cowboy Prince, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Wolf Who Cried Boy. I could go on and on. It’s an entire genre unto itself and while this movie certainly did bring it to the big screen, it’s been around a lot longer. And like The Jolly Postman and its ilk, it doesn’t just take on a single specific story. It takes on the whole genre of traditional fairy tales and gives them a bit of a shake. Unlike the aforementioned story, however (which I highly recommend), this movie doesn’t just shake up the tropes and traditions. It sticks them in a blender.

The main character is the titular Shrek. He’s an ogre living alone in a swamp where he’s really quite happy. And then the local royalty, Lord Farquaad, decides to do away with anything in his kingdom that doesn’t fit his ideals of perfection. This includes pretty much any fairy tale type item or creature. Three little pigs? Yup. Seven dwarves? Yup. Fairies, gnomes, gingerbread men? All rounded up and exiled. And where do they go? You’ve got it – Shrek’s swamp. Of course Shrek isn’t happy about this and he sets off to demand that Farquaad evict them all and ends up set on a quest to rescue the princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a dragon. Followed by his trusty and talkative friend, Donkey, Shrek heads off to find Fiona and exchange her for his swamp.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything really when I reveal that Shrek and Fiona end up falling for each other but oh! No! They can’t possibly be together! Not a simple ogre like Shrek and a beautiful princess like Fiona! No! Never mind that Fiona is not your typical princess. Aside from being able to belch along with Shrek, she enjoys many of the things he does and oh, right. She can kick your ass. Obviously there’s going to be a misunderstanding and a last minute wedding interruption and really? The plot is not doing anything truly revolutionary when it comes to the basic points. Quest to save a princess, unlikely hero, evil royalty, secret curse, true love. But well, replace the curse with torture and you’ve also got The Princess Bride and half a dozen other fantasy movies. It doesn’t mean they’re carbon copies of each other. The key is in taking those elements and combining them in such a way that you get a new take on it all, and that’s what this movie does.

I really enjoy the character of Fiona. She’s strong and assertive by the end, willing to speak her mind or kick your butt. She’s not delicate or wimpy. She’s got some issues to deal with that explain why she was in that tower in the first place when she hardly needed a big burly man to come save her. And as the movie goes on she becomes more and more comfortable being herself instead of the sort of princess everyone’s always expected. It’s a heavy handed message, but I still like it and I like how it was done.

I also like the humor of the movie. Sure, there are tasteless jokes a-plenty, but there’s also a lot of just flat out ridiculous fairy tale parody, delivered wonderfully by Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow. The exchange between Gingy the gingerbread man and Lord Farquaad, dramatically doing the Muffin Man bit, cracks me up every time. Every time the movie refers to something specific and then turns it upside down, I laugh. It’s got some dated jokes, but so what? It’s also got stuff that’s timeless because it’s all based on stories that have been around for ages. Speaking as someone who does a whole five week story time series with “fractured fairy tales”, I can say with confidence that kids get this sort of thing. And adults get it too. There’s more than enough double layered stuff in here to entertain both audiences.

Overall, it’s just plain fun to watch and I really do love the ending. It’s a great movie for a wide age range to watch, which is something I appreciate, working where I work. And it’s based on a children’s book! It even says so in the closing credits! “Based on the book by William Steig.” I dare you to go find the book. And I don’t mean the novelization of the movie, which is so bizarre to me since it’s based on a book in the first place. I mean the original. The picture book. Because this movie? Is a great example of taking a book’s concept and running it so far afield it’s almost unrecognizable, but in a good way. Because the book? Is so not the movie. But the movie? Takes exactly what cues were necessary from the book. And I applaud that.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment