A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

James Bond: Goldfinger

September 4, 2011

James Bond: Goldfinger

Tonight we’re continuing Amanda’s James Bond education with the movie that is pretty widely accepted to be the best Bond movie, at least before they began playing with the formula on the last couple. I really felt that this needed to be in our collection if we were going to be exploring older Bond films because it is the quintessential Bond flick. It has the gadgets, the cool car, the mad plot, the babes, the bad puns. There were two films before this one in the franchise, but it wasn’t until this one that everything that you expect in a James Bond film truly came together. This movie established the formula not just for the whole James Bond franchise but for some of the knock-off films that came out around the same time. (For example the two MST3K films Secret Agent Super Dragon and Danger! Death Ray.)

This was one of the classic Sean Connery James Bonds, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him at work. Where his successor Roger Moore, who we watched a couple days ago in A View to a Kill, was cheesy and corny Sean Connery was much more suave. He simply projects machismo, from the moment he takes off his wetsuit in the prologue to reveal his white tuxedo jacket to his banter with the nefarious Goldfinger.

In this film James Bond, suave super-secret super-spy must find out how a madman named Auric (get it?) Goldfinger has been smuggling gold around Europe and devaluing the UK currency. Ultimately of course it turns out that Goldfinger’s plan goes far beyond mere smuggling – he intends to break into Fort Knox and using a dirty nuclear weapon to irradiate the American gold reserves, rendering it un-usable and thus raising the value of his own supply. Along the way Bond naturally sleeps with every woman he encounters and gets to use his usual collection of cool gadgets and toys.

One thing I can’t help noticing about Bond in this movie however is that he’s a bit of a dick. I expect all the womanising – hell that’s part of his charm – but he also spends a lot of time needlessly antagonising Goldfinger. His method of investigation seems to be to go piss off his subject as much as he can for no apparent reason. If he hadn’t messed with Goldfinger’s gin rummy game then the alluring Jill Masterson wouldn’t have been gilded. Then Bond challenges Goldfinger to a golf game and sneakily switches balls to prevent him from winning. Why does Bond go out of his way to antagonise Goldfinger at every turn? I honestly couldn’t say.

I do enjoy his car here though. The other gadget he gets from Q is his high-tech magnetic tracking device which probably seemed high-tech in the sixties but in the day of modern smart phones with GPS seems outrageously dated. His awesome silver Aston Martin on the other hand is as cool today as it ever was. It’s so full of cool tech! It has the rotating license plates, ejector seat, smole screen, oil slick, machine-gun headlights, spinning blades on the hubcaps and bulletproof windows. (All of which have been confirmed effective by Mythbusters, the authority on spy veracity by the way.) When I was in high school my best friend Jeff had a die-cast model of this car with spring loaded missiles, windcreen and ejector seat, which is proof that even in the eighties this car still had appeal to teenaged boys. I suspect that holds true to this very day.

As to the womanising, well, that’s a mixed bag. The first woman Bond hooks up with, a flamenco dancer, betrays him. Then he woos a pair of attractive sisters, each of whom is killed. Finally he aggressively “seduces” the very independent Pussy Galore who insists for most of the movie that she’s immune to his charms. Yes, she does eventually succumb and ultimately betrays her employer because Bond is just that good a roll in the hay, but the means by which he overcomes her reticence are a little too direct for modern audiences. Indeed I have to wonder if the scene where he forces himself on her seemed appropriate even in the sixties. And I had so been looking forward to seeing Honor Blackman of Avengers fame in the role of Pussy. Different times, I suppose.

It must have been interesting for Amanda watching this for the first time tonight. So much of this movie is so firmly entrenched in the modern pop culture lexicon. This movie is lampooned in everything from Austin Powers to the Simpsons. In Austin Powers when Random Task throws his shoe is it as funny if you haven’t seen Odd Job throwing his deadly hat in this movie? I’m guessing that Amanda was well aware of the scene where Bond is strapped to a table with a laser menacing his crotch but she had never seen it in context as part of the movie. Now at last she’s seen the film and she can understand just what the fuss is all about. I think with the four Bond films she has now seen she has a pretty good idea just what the whole character is about down through the years. There’s no need for us to collect all twenty of them I think.

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

2001: A Space Odyssey

August 12, 2011

2001: A Space Odyssey

One of the things I really enjoy about our collection is the variety of movies that it contains. We have some unusual and not so well known gems, like Russian Arc or Diva. We have big budget summer movies from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings. We have a wide range of musicals, animated films, science fiction and pure low-budget garbage. At the same time we have some acclaimed cinematic masterpieces – which is the category this movie very nicely fits into. The trouble with classics like this is that it’s hard to find anything new to say about them when I set out to review them. They’re so widely known and so universal that anything I could think to say about them has already been said a thousand times over.

I’ve watched this movie before of course. Not many times, because it’s a dense and very stylized movie that involves a certain investment to sit down and watch, but four or five times. We put it in to watch because, frankly, we’re a little behind in writing up reviews for movies we’ve watched in the last few days so we needed something familiar on the TV so we could concentrate on that. Interestingly, this worked pretty well for 2001.

Part of what sets this movie so apart is that it is so unlike your typical space adventure. It is not an action movie. It doesn’t rely on explosions or shouted arguments or stunts. While it does have some gorgeous special effects, they really are not the center of attention. In point of fact, very little happens in this movie at all. As such it was perfect to have it playing while we wrote reviews because there are long, contemplative, slow scenes throughout this film which allow for the constant distraction of multi-tasking. In the past I have dedicated my entire attention to this movie and watched it without distraction and that’s a much more taxing experience than I had when we watched it this time.

The actual action in this movie is extraordinarily simple. It revolves around a trio of mysterious monoliths. The first appears at “the dawn of man” and through contact with the featureless black pillar a group of hairy primates discover the use of tools – specifically the use of bone clubs which allows them to hunt beasts and gain dominance over other local hairy primates.

Next – in the late twentieth century – a second monolith is dug up on the surface of the moon by a research team. It is covered up by the authorities, who fear that clear evidence of alien intelligence, which was buried on the moon two million years ago, will cause panic in the general populace. It is for this reason that when the lunar monolith sends a powerful radio pulse towards Jupiter nobody is told – not even the crew of the very first manned mission to Jupiter which is just departing.

That covers about the first half of the movie. The second half is about the crew of the ship headed to Jupiter. There are three scientists in suspended animation, two human crewmen, and an advanced artificial intelligence. Eventually it transpires that only the machine, HAL 9000, is aware of what awaits them when they reach their destination. Dave Bowman and Frank Poole are just scientists on a mission, so far from Earth that it takes half an hour for any messages to reach home. They are utterly alone when their computer begins to act up.

At first HAL tells them that there is a potential malfunction in the antenna array they use to communicate with Earth. When they are unable to discover any fault they begin to suspect that either the computer has made a mistake (something that no 9000 series computer has ever done) or it is deliberately lying – something that it is supposed to be incapable of.

When confronted HAL defends itself in the only way it can figure how. It kills Frank with one of the pods during an EVA, and when Dave goes out it refuses to let him back on board the ship. Dave is able to force his way back in and disable HAL, who explains that this was the only way it could find to protect the mission. The secret mission it was ordered to keep from its crew. The mission to contact and alien civilization which Dave must now carry out completely alone.

Then there’s a whole lot of non-sensical psychadelia when Dave actually falls into the monolith. (His pivotal line from the book – which is in the second movie – is omitted from this one. “My God, it’s full of stars!”) I had the advantage when I first watched this in that I had read Arthur C. Clark’s book before watching this movie, which definitely helped me. I love Kubrick to death, but he’s not in the least bit interested in providing answers here. There is no explanation for anything that goes on in the movie, really. The book makes it clear that the reason for HAL’s malfunction is that it cannot lie to its crew and when it is asked questions that are too near to discovering the orders it has been told not to reveal it can find no alternative to the actions it takes. The book also provides some understanding of Dave’s evolution into a more advanced life form as a result of his interaction with the monolith at Jupiter.

I say that Kubrick doesn’t concern himself with answers because he is concerned, in this movie, with something altogether other. This movie is a deliberate, gorgeous, masterpiece. It bears more in common with a symphony than with a Hollywood motion picture. It has well defined movements, with a lengthy introduction, an intermission and music that continues long after the closing credits. The movie is never in a hurry. It has some tension with the menacing danger of HAL trying to kill Frank and Dave, but even the conclusion of that conflict is a long, slow scene with HAL pleading emotionlesly with Dave as he is slowly disabled. Every shot in this movie lingers. Every detail feels so carefully placed.

Then there are the absolutely astonishing sets. This movie is full of giant, complex, beautiful sets on gimbals that rotate to provide the illusion of weightlessness or to show how centripital force is used to allow a semblance of gravity in ships far from any planet. I wish I could have been there to watch the filming of some of this movie. It’s been more than forty years since this was made and there’s nothing else that’s been done on this scale or with this feel.

Even when I was distracted by other things I found myself being caught up again in this film as I watched. It might not have done a great job predicting what the world would be like in 2001, but it has a clear and unique vision nonetheless. So many familiar images from this movie have become part of our pop culture lexicon, from the monolith itself first appearing to the primates before mankind even existed to HAL-9000’s red eye as he tells Dave that he’s sorry but he cannot open the pod doors. It’s an amazing, beautiful influential movie. So naturally it’s in our collection.

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

The Producers (1968)

June 7, 2011

The Producers (1968)

This is our second Gene Wilder movie in less than a week. All weeks should be so full of insanity. This is also the second time that we’ve watched the original movie that a musical we’ve already reviewed was based on, and it’s a very strange way to do things. We’ve seen the movie of the musical that Mel Brooks adapted from this movie many times. I’ve become very familiar with the performances of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the roles of Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock. It’s disorienting to see the original performances of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.

In Mel Brooks’ original Oscar winning comedy the plot was actually simpler and more straight forward than the later musical. There’s no romantic subplot with Leo and Ulla. Leo never runs away to Rio. It’s just the story of a failed Broadway producer and his timid accountant who strike upon a scheme to produce a guaranteed flop. They find the worst play ever written. Then they hire the worst director in all history. Then they hire the worst actors they can find.

It’s easy to see how this was adapted into a musical that won a record 12 Tony awards – nobody who has ever seen this movie can have avoided having the musical number “Springtime for Hitler” stuck in his or her brain. For that one piece of pure irreverent genius this movie instantly becomes an impossible to forget classic. Certainly that’s what stuck in my mind about the movie long after I had first seen it. That’s not the best thing in the movie though – what really makes this movie come alive are the performances of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

Zero, as Bialystock, is all smarm and sleaze. From his paunch to his crazy combover he’s the the very picture of a desperate man on the edge. Then there’s Gene Wilder (he’s so young here!) as Leo Bloom. Wilder’s usual desperate energy is perfectly channeled in the role of the timid, panic prone accountant who doesn’t have the courage to ever stand up for himself until Max showed him how to live for himself. What fascinates me is that according to the trivia the two actors got along like water and oil and swore never to work together again. Their on-screen chemistry is fantastic and caries the film.

It strikes me that most of my favorite interactions between Bialystock and Bloom from the musical are verbatim from the original movie. I might be more familiar with the newer version, but it’s the original that created all these moments. When Leo is in pain, wet and still hysterical. When he accuses Max of being a fatty fat fat. Broderick and Lane do add some to the roles and make some effort to make them their own (particularly in light of the fact that they’ve probably played the parts hundreds of times on Broadway before the movie version we own) but they’re ultimately doing an interpretation of these perfectly acted moments, and they’re using almost exactly the same script.

This is the original. It’s a little rougher around the edges, but you can’t deny that it’s simply fun to see Zero and Gene doing their thing. I’m so very glad we own this. Now we have to go get a whole bunch more Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder films. (Why do we not own Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles?)

June 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Carnival of Souls

June 1, 2011

Carnival of Souls

This is in our collection because I couldn’t resist buying the limited edition signed by Michael Nelson. I bought it for his commentary track, but I actually respect it as a movie and awful lot. It doesn’t really deserve the derision that an association with MST3K (however tenuous) might imply. As I write this review I am somewhat reminded of my April Fool’s Day review for Manos. I reviewed Manos as the movie that I think the film makers wanted to make, but most of what I said then actually does apply to this movie.

This is one of the shortest movies in our collection (we watched it tonight because we were flipping back and forth to local tornado warnings and wanted to be able to evacuate quickly to our basement if we had to) and the plot is remarkably simple. Young organist Mary Henry is the only survivor of a tragic car accident. When she and some friends while out one afternoon have an ill advised drag race with some guys in a car they plunge off a bridge and into icy water. Three hours later rescue crews find Mary staggering onto land. She quickly picks up her life as though nothing had happened and drives to Salt Lake City, Utah where she gets a job as an organist in a quaint church.

Things are slightly off for Mary though. She has trouble forming friendships with people in her new home. She keeps seeing a mysterious pale man who seems to be following her and watching her. She becomes obsessed with an abandoned vacation spot. There’s something disturbingly off about her life and in addition to her mysterious stalker she also has these odd moments where she becomes strangely disconnected from the world, unable to interact with people at all.

What impresses me most about this movie is how effective it is at making the most of its micro budget. For example: this movie has one of those clear signs of an under-budgeted film from the sixties – it has missing audio on huge sections of the movie. In some of my favorite MST episodes, like Creeping Terror or Beast of Yucca Flats, the lack of a soundtrack results in hilarious work arounds. Creeping Terror has a narrator who explains what dialog we’re missing as people talk on screen. Hilarious! Beast of Yucca Flats may be the only movie I’ve ever seen where you never see an actor’s lips moving. Roger Corman (infamously bad director of Beast) uses constant tricks like filming the back of actors’ heads or filming from far enough away that we can’t tell that the all-dubbed dialog doesn’t match at all. Carnival of Souls starts out feeling a little Yucca Flatsish – the opening scenes are entirely filled with dialog recorded, poorly, in post production. It doesn’t always sync up with the actor’s mouths. It’s unintentionally funny, but this movie actually USES that detriment.

The scenes where Mary completely loses touch with the world have no soundtrack except for the echoed sound of her own voice and the sound of her shoes on the pavement. It’s creepy and intense and cool and probably wouldn’t have come about in a well funded movie. This movie is full of such creepy and clever moments. When Mary first sees the mysterious man who is haunting her he is outside the passenger window of her moving car. It’s an awesome moment. The abandoned summer spot that she becomes obsessed with and seems called back to is evocative of lost moments in life, and according to the trivia I saw it only cost fifty dollars to film there for a whole week. At every turn this movie takes its very low budget nature and makes it work to improve the psychological impact and the mood of the whole piece.

I also love Candace Hilligoss as Mary. She’s so great at looking out of place and she has a quite disturbing vacant stare that is used to great effect. She has a great character arc as well. At the start of the film Mary is all confidence and strength – a woman so sure of herself that she doesn’t really need anybody else. As the film goes on she becomes more and more desperate to form some human connection (even reaching out to her slimy and greasy neighbour.) When things reach their inevitable conclusion (and I wouldn’t call it a twist so much as a reveal) it becomes clear just why she has been so tortured and disconnected since the accident.

This film is just plain cool. It’s a supernatural psychological thriller filmed for a fraction of a percent of a normal movie budget. It’s an accomplishment in film making and it’s also pretty compelling in its own right. I see from IMDB that that there have been two remakes – one in 1998 and one in 2008. I have to think that somebody missed the point of what makes this movie so great. It’s not a film that could be made better if it just had some better known actors and a bigger budget. It’s a movie that perfectly captures a feeling of disconnection from the world and a film that almost revels in the restrictions that are imposed on it. I will say, however, that I had forgotten before watching this again tonight just how much constant organ music was in it.

June 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Wait Until Dark

May 28, 2011

Wait Until Dark

Today for a change I asked Amanda if we could watch a movie that she had seen and I had not. We had bought this movie for just such a reason, because it the a movie Amanda had vivid memories of watching in high school but which I had for some reason never picked up. I wish I knew why I never saw this – it’s a fantastically constructed film full of suspense and tension and it features a wonderfully strong female lead. I love Audrey Hepburn (doesn’t everybody?) but somehow I never ended up seeing this movie. Very strange.

I’ve seen it now, though, and I can understand why Amanda was so eager to share it with me. What I found fascinating as I watched this movie is that it is a combination of a heist film and a suspense/horror film. It combines some great tension with amazing acting and direction to produce a fantastic whole.

Audrey Hepburn, whose enormous eyes are rather distracting to begin with, plays a woman blinded in a car crash and fire who is trying (with the support of her photographer husband) to learn how to live without her sight. This alone would make for an interesting movie, and as Susy Hendrix Hepburn is completely believable as blind. Very soon, however, Suzy is caught up in a frightening situation that would tax any person who still had their sight. Her husband Sam, while returning from a trip to Canada recently, was given a doll by a woman he met on the plane. He was told that the doll was to be given as a gift to this woman’s sick daughter in the hospital, but in reality it is stuffed full of heroin and she gave it to Sam to keep it away from a terrifying killer named Roat.

Roat kills the smuggler Lisa and tracks the doll to Suzy and Sam’s place, but when he tries to get it back from them it has mysteriously vanished. So Roat comes up with a convoluted plan to get the doll back. He blackmails a pair of hoodlums who used to work with Lisa into working with him (implying that if they try to double cross him he will implicate them in Lisa’s murder) and the three of them convince Sam to leave on an all night photography job so that they can work a complicated sting on the supposedly helpless Susy to convince her to help them find the doll.

Admittedly the plot is needlessly complicated and intricate. That’s not what makes the movie great though. This is Susy’s movie and everything else in it to give her something to be awesome in. I was fascinated after watching the movie when I read in IMDB (the source of all knowledge) that the role of Suzy was not actually originated by Audrey Hepburn at all but was played on Broadway by Lee Remick. Either way this is an absolutely killer role. Susy as a character is initially fairly timid, able to get around in spite of her handicap but not entirely comfortable with it. Her biggest advantage though is that she’s absolutely smart as a whip. It’s just so much fun to see her figuring out just what is going on with these three con artists.

Interestingly it is precisely because she is simultaneously so smart and so timid that this movie has the great level of tension that is maintains. With each new discovery about her dire circumstances Suzy becomes more terrified, so that by the end of the film when she fully realises that she is trapped in her apartment with no help on the way and a brutal killer intent on not just getting the doll from her but on doing her harm just because he can… well it’s a fantastic confrontation and a great pay off for the film.

Playing the nefarious Roat is a very young Alan Arkin, and I have to say I was completely blown away by him as well. His character is so casually and thoroughly evil – so delighted by any opportunity to manipulate and toy with other people – he’s a perfect foil for the ever so trusting and gentle Suzy.

A good deal of what makes this movie so fantastic is the tight and well written script. As with any adventure/thriller the elements that will make up the climax of the movie are carefully planted in the viewer’s mind early on in the film, and I had a lot of fun seeing how everything fit together. I’m curious to know just how much had to be altered from the original play by Frederick Knott when it was adapted for the screen by Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington.

It’s discovering great films like this that make our movie a day project so much fun. I might have watched this some day if we hadn’t started the project, but I don’t know if I would have added it to our collection. I’m so glad that on Amanda’s recommendation I did buy it and that we now have it on a shelf and ready to be watched or shared with guests and friends any time. I am only slightly saddened that I did not get a chance to see it in a theater on a big screen as Amanda did when she first saw it.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

May 15, 2011

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I’m guessing that this movie doesn’t resonate with the youth of today the way it did with me when I first saw it in the Eighties. I saw this fir the first time in eighty-four or eighty-five. I would have been about twelve years old, and like any twelve-year-old at the height of the cold war I was scared to death of the threat of nuclear Armageddon. I lay awake in bed contemplating my impotence in the face of the possibility of being obliterated by capricious forces completely outside of my control. As such I am probably part of the last generation to appreciate this movie for how terrifying its subject matter is.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time that I saw this (because I was horrified by the events portrayed however farcical they may be) but it really is brilliant how this movie does actually help you to stop worrying. It takes a certain mad brilliance to find comedy in our most dreadful nightmares, and Peter Sellers and Stanley Kubrick have just that right kind of genius.

The plot of this movie involves a rogue General sending the bombers under his command on a mission to bomb the USSR. He has no authority to do so, but he’s able to issue orders under a plan that allows independent action should the command structure in Washington be destroyed by a sneak attack nuclear strike. Of course the command structure is still very much in place and as General Ripper is sealing his base and warning his men that the Ruskies might well come disguised as American soldiers to confuse them the President and his chiefs of staff are gathering in the war room to figure out how best to avoid catastrophe. To add to the tension it is revealed when the President contacts the Soviet premier that the Soviets have just installed an ultimate weapon. It is a doomsday device that will shroud the entire Earth in nuclear fallout and destroy all life on the planet if even a single bomb should be detonated inside the Russian boarders.

It’s a marvelously uncomplicated film. The primary action takes place in three locations. In Ripper’s office he is holed up with his XO, a RAF officer named Mandrake on loan from the UK as part of an officer exchange program. In the skies above Russia we follow the valiant crew of one of the B-52s as they fight what they believe to be the last war, completely cut off from all communication with home. In the war room under the Pentagon President Muffley tries desperately to avoid war and the end of all life on Earth, although his efforts are hampered by many of the people who should be assisting him like the Russian Ambassador de Sadesky, gung-ho General Buck Turgidson and his absolutely mad ex-Nazi science advisor Dr. Strangelove.

Because this movie is so stark, with its harsh black & white presentation and few simple locations, the entire thing is carried by the performances of the cast. It’s a good thing that those performances are so memorable and brilliant. Sterling Hayden plays Jack Ripper completely straight as a man who has lost his grip on reality and in his paranoia and delusions actually believes he is doing the right and honerable thing by precipitating World War III. He’s creepy and frightening as he flatly declares that this is what must be done to prevent the Communists from tainting our precious bodily essences. Slim Pickins is Major Kong, the pilot of one of the bombers sent on this fatal mission. Again – he plays the role seriously and the plight of his plane and his crew is a stirring adventure story – except that if they succeed there will be dire results for every person on the planet. (There are parts of his plot which are humorous, but the jokes are less blatant and more sly – like the contents of the emergency survival kits.) On the other end of the scale there’s George C Scott with an uncharacteristically over-the-top and insane portrayal. (Apparently it was a source of much tension between him and Kubrick that his most outrageous takes were the ones cut into the final film.) It might not be the performance he wanted to give or the version of the character he felt comfortable with, but it does make for great viewing, and he’s one of the best things in the movie.

Of course it is Peter Sellers who really headlines the film and makes it all work. He is the desperate, intelligent and harried RAF officer Mandrake. He is conciliatory President Muffley. And his outrageous and hilarious portrayal of the titular Dr. Strangelove is pure classic Sellers. You can’t help laughing.

In my youth I loved the madcap physical humor of the Dr. Strangelove character (I loved all the Pink Panther films for the same reason.) As I’ve aged I’ve mellowed somewhat and nowadays although Dr. Strangelove gets the most laughs out of me it is President Merkin Muffley who is my favorite character in the movie. He’s the rational one trying to sort everything out, the lone voice of reason. His one-sided phone conversations with the distraught and drunken Soviet Premier Kissoff are for me the highlight of the movie. I love his quiet desperation and determination to somehow turn this dreadful situation around.

This movie is so iconic and memorable. It has brilliant writing with such classic lines as “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here – this is the War Room!” It has a host of fantastic performances. It tackles an uncomfortable subject and manages to allow us to laugh at the preposterous dilemma of the cold war. I love a good dark comedy, and this of the darkest and the best.

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

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

April 26, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

I’ve never seen this movie before today. I’ve seen the musical that was based on it many times – both the film version and the stage version, but I’ve never seen the original movie. I have to say I was somewhat surprised.

What I was expecting, given the movie’s pedigree, was cheesy Roger Corman horror. I feel I’m familiar with his particular brand of film from this era. Things like The Wasp Woman or the Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent. But this movie is instead a cheesy Roger Corman comedy, and although some of his films have comedic elements this is the first I can recall seeing that was played almost entirely for laughs. I knew, of course that the plot of the movie had great comedic potential, because that is what is played up in the musical, but it was kind of strange to realize that although this movie had the word “horrors” in the title it was not a horror film.

The plot here is largely the same as in the musical that was spawned from this film. Bumbling young stock boy Seymore Krelboin is working for Mr. Mushnick in his struggling flower shop on skid row. He has a crush on his co-worker Audrey and he is raising a mysterious plant of his own design that he doesn’t really understand. Eventually he discovers that his strange plant, which he has dubbed the Audrey Jr., thrives on human blood. Over the course of the movie he reluctantly feeds the plant as it grows to enormous proportions. Mr. Mushnick’s little shop wins all sorts of acclaim from the Audrey Jr, but it is all doomed and ultimately Seymore’s complicity in the crimes necessary to satiate the plant catch up with him.

It sounds like the plot of a serious horror film, and that’s what I was expecting. I was expecting the majority of the humor in the movie to come from its laughably low budget and cheesy production values. What I was not expecting was that virtually the entire movie was going to be played for laughs. My first hint was when a visitor to the flowershop declared that it was his intention to eat the flowers he had just purchased. “That’s odd” thought I, but that was onlt the very beginning of the strangeness.

Mel Wellis as Mr. Mushnick is all about the crazy accent and the rediculous foreign character he is playing. Jonathan Haze as Seymore is all bumbling pratfalls. Excised from the musical version is Seymore’s hypochondriac mother, who cooks all of her meals with various homeopathic remedies in them. There’s a pair of high-school girls who are constructing a rose parade float and offer to buy the necessary flowers from Mushnick because they are impressed by the Audrey Jr. There’s the hard boiled pair of cops who communicate in clipped cliches.

Of course there’s also the sadistic dentist (though in this movie he’s only tangentially related to the overall plot) and his masochistic patient – famously played by a very young and manic Jack Nicholson. Of course I knew that this movie gave Jack his big break (in the same way that Tarantula did for Clint Eastwood) and it was indeed a pleasure to watch him hamming it up with the rest of the cast.

I had fun watching this tonight. It wasn’t anything like what I was expecting, but it was fun. I’m not saying it’s flawless. Much of the humor is rather strained (particularly the pratfalls, which never struck me as particularly funny) and the ending is a big “so what” that feels like it needs to be accompanied by a “wah-wah” trombone effect. The entire production is do broad and over-the-top that it doesn’t actually feel all that funny. It is a unique film, though, and somewhat of an iconic one. I very much wish, however, that I now had the movie musical to follow it up with.

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

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dance & Charm School

February 8, 2011

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dance & Charm School

I can’t remember what movie I saw the preview for this on, but it looked like a touching and moving film. It looked like it had some humor and fell into that category with The Full Monty (another Robert Carlyle movie) of movies where dance solves all problems. The preview depicts a movie about a widower who ends up going to a dance class and finds some solace there. While this is an accurate short plot summary of this movie it doesn’t even begin to encompass the film we watched tonight.

Writer director Randall Miller has done something extremely odd here. He’s taken a 1990 nostalgic short film about young boys in the sixties and expanded it into a feature film with a completely different tone. The short (which is featured on the DVD as well) is preserved almost in its entirety, but cut up and sprinkled throughout the movie as background for a character who isn’t even featured in the A plot, really, except as some kind of guiding force. William Hurt’s narration is replaced by John Goodman, who plays an adult version of one of the boys in the short, Steve Mills. The way that Steve fits into the plot of the feature film is that he was on his way to attend a dance class, in hopes of re-connecting with a girl he knew when he was twelve, when his car crashes. The only person on the scene of the crash is a bereaved baker named Frank Keane. Frank is the main character in the feature – and Steve’s story is framed as a sort of inspiration for him. Frank attends the dance class in Steve’s place and discovers something there that he wasn’t expecting.

So there are three movies going on here. The original short, the story of adult Steve with his quest to get to the Marilyn Hotchkiss school, and the story of Frank going to the school in Steve’s place. The result is an odd blend of different tones. It’s a movie about recovering from crippling loss, about trying to find a way to turn back the clock and make better choices in one’s life, and about ballroom dancing. With a sprinkling of romance and humor. To call the movie quirky would be an understatement.

It works though. That’s the strangest thing. It’s a touching and charming movie. And the key to its success is the absolutely astonishing cast that Miller has collected here. Robert Carlyle is fantastic of course. He so deftly captures the quiet desperation of Frank, and it’s a thrill to see him finding a way out of the hole he’s in at the start of the movie. John Goodman’s character Steve is an interesting one, and he provides a lot of power to drive the film. There’s a great cast of supporting characters and oddballs played by big name actors. Marisa Tomei as a mysterious and sad woman Frank meets at the dance class. Donnie Wahlberg as an angry but desperate ladies man in the school. Ernie Hudson and Sean Astin as a couple of other bereaved widowers in Frank’s support group. And a fantastically eccentric performance by Mary Steenburgen as Marienne Hotchkiss, who is teaching the dance class in memory of her mother who founded it back in the sixties. Her performance is so strange, shrill and brittle. She takes a few lines and creates an entire character from them. Not to forget the spectacular dual performance of Elden Henson who stars in the short from the nineties as young Steve and is in the feature film as Frank’s friend and employee Samson. Elden has an effortless charm to him – it makes me wonder why I haven’t seen him in larger roles.

How to possibly describe this peculiar film? Think of it as a combination of A Christmas Story with Up and Strictly Ballroom. All blended together to create something otherworldly and magical. It’s not at all the movie I was expecting from the preview, but I’m extremely glad nonetheless that it is in our collection.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 286 – Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

December 11, 2010

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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