Sunday, December 30, 2012

Derp Blog Into Darkness Overview

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

  1. THE FLINT STREET NATIVITY
  2. BROKEN FLOWERS
  3. THE WEDDING DATE
  4. CLOCKWISE
  5. BRUCE ALMIGHTY
  6. CYRANO DE BERGERAC
  7. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
  8. GOOD MORNING VIETNAM
  9. HAPPY FEET
  10. HIGH FIDELITY
  11. HIS GIRL FRIDAY
  12. AN IDEAL HUSBAND
  13. IGOR
  14. MURIEL'S WEDDING
  15. The NATIONAL TREASURE movies
  16. DAYWATCH
  17. NEVERWAS
  18. NOTTING HILL
  19. ONE NIGHT AT MCCOOL'S
  20. A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
  21. PRIMARY COLORS
  22. THE PRINCESS DIARIES
  23. ROYAL WEDDING
  24. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS

Derp Blog Into Darkness #2: BROKEN FLOWERS

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

BrokenFlowers

BROKEN FLOWERS is a deeply weird movie. It’s not weird in a David Lynch way where you can’t make heads nor tails of what’s going on on-screen, mind you. The plot is pretty straightforward. Don Johnston (Bill Murray) one day gets a letter from an old flame, saying he has a 19 year old son who is out looking for him. Trouble is, there’s no sender on the letter. Don’s detective story-obsessed neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) is incredibly intrigued by this, and compiles a folder of addresses, phone numbers and even plane tickets to help Don on his way. Don is not too happy about this, but acquiesces pretty quickly without much force from Winston anyway.

The movie is essentially a series of vignettes as he visits the four still-living exes to find out if they are the mysterious letter-writer. Because you literally know nothing about these women, the movie remains intriguing to watch. There’s always something new on the horizon! It’s all pretty well-acted, keeping your interest throughout, even if none of these women have very interesting stories to tell. They’re not boring, per se, they’re just… well, realistic. There’s no outsized ACTING moments, and all the confrontations are pretty low key affairs. The first, a NASCAR widow played by Sharon Stone, has the most MOVIE-like moments with her aptly named daughter Lolita seemingly trying to seduce Don. Murray plays it suitably awkward in moments where she traipses by naked on the phone, but his character is so lethargic and his movements so minimal that it barely registers as humor.

I’d say that would be my major complaint with the movie. There’s “charmingly low key” and there’s “deathly lethargic”. I can buy that Murray’s character once was a true DON JUAN, but those days are seemingly over as the movie starts. He does nothing but watch TV in track suits all day, with his late-period woe-is-me Bill Murray look on his face. He somehow scored Julie Delpy doing this. She only leaves because he is afraid of commitment, and he “treats [her] like a mistress, even though [he] isn’t even married!” Don looks like he might be falling asleep at any time, and needs to be nudged into action by Winston at all times. Credit to Murray for actually selling that Don is slowly getting more involved in his quest, like he actually wants to connect with someone the way Winston and his family do, again without going for BIG ACTING MOMENTS.

Movies like these make me think I need to branch out more often. I get what the movie was going for, and I admire its low key approach, but perhaps it was just too minimalistic? I am reminded of THE LION IN WINTER, another movie where a playboy examines his past relationships – one cut of a wholly different cloth. NOTHING is understated in that movie, and I enjoyed it immensely. Is it my one-track diet of oversized cinema? What is an action scene but an explosion of emotions, of dramatic intentions violently clashing, to drive the plot onwards and change the status quo from one scene to the next?

I watch movies to be entertained, shocked, titillated, (even) educated. I suppose I inherently expect some form of catharsis, be it from a kick-ass climax, a new set of insights, or a lesson learned. I just felt slightly cheated by Don’s ultimate “Live in the moment” revelation, especially since we were never really privy to the fact of him dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. He just seemed a sadsack for no apparent reason! But the final minutes…

***SPOILERS FOLLOW***

Of course, given that the film strongly hints that his “live in the moment” advice is given to a boy who ISN’T his son, who then runs away all freaked out, it’s not entirely inappropriate to think that Don simply hasn’t learned the right lessons from his experiences, and is left in the same emotional limbo he was in at the start. What is this movie trying to say in that case? Is it a 90 minute thesis presentation on Homer Simpson’s old maxim “Never try”? I AM NOT AS GOOD AT MOVIES AS I THINK

***SPOILERS END***

It may have been Jarmusch’s intent to leave you as uncertain as Don himself by the time the credits roll, but the movie just doesn’t earn such an ambiguous climax. Not much happens! Did something happen by the end? MAYBE???

Random notes:

  • Winston needs Don’s help finding a program on the internet that lets you decypher “every known detective story”. what
  • Fans of the chameleon known as Tilda Swinton: this movie has brunette redneck Tilda (for all of two minutes).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

This blog is about FREEDOM

Well, I gotta make a retraction. PROMETHEUS is no longer the shittiest movie I saw this year. I like plunging headlong into movies I know jack about, so when my good friend Tom suggested I do LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE, I thought “why the heck not!”

The only thing I could glean from its DVD cover:

187149

was that it was a movie about FREEDOM! Also a soldier whose corpse is going to be very hard to identify because he switched out his number thingies with the constitution and Bible verses. I hope your teeth’ll still be in one piece when they find ya, son!

The movie starts out with a long-ass quote about fighting for freedom by Ronald Reagan, THE 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. You gotta keep fighting for it, or it’ll disappear from one day to the next! Okay Gipper!

We meet our main guy, Bob Revere, who tells us in a VO that “he always considered [himself] a patriot.” I dunno, Bob, are you?

bobrevere

Note the cross on top of his flag. Bob doesn’t believe in half-assing things! He’s got a badass biker vest on with buttons such as 666 with a dash through it and also the name of the HELLFIGHTERS motorcycle club. At least I assume they are, he is not shown to be associated with any motorcycle gang throughout the film. Motorcycle gangs such as THE HYENAS do love him though, as they come to his pharmacy to get a guy’s gunshot wound patched up. Don’t worry though, he accidentally shot himself, the little person motorcycle gang boss informs us. The guy with the wound is also a comedically childlike fatty. They all hug Bob once he’s sewn the dude up and OH LOL the boss only gets to hug Bob up to the knee cuz he short. The movie was getting dangerously close to entertaining me at this point because lol fatties and midgets. DON’T WORRY it will show its true colors shortly.

I should actually back up and tell you that Bob isn’t just a happy-go-lucky pharmacist who patches up comedy bikers in between soulful jaunts on his Stars-n-Stripes-n-Cross bearin’ hog. No sirs, Bob is a man who bears DEEP SCARS. You see, his son died in an unspecified war against an unspecified enemy in an unspecified warehouse. Oh, that tearful goodbye as the boy got on that Greyhound bus all by himself, with only his parents, pregnant wife and a strange hobo to wave him goodbye. The filmmakers chose to artfully not show the guy’s death, but I think it was due to the fact that his platoon’s guns only shot little puffs of digital smoke. It must have been a massacre!

After the funeral, Bob’s daughter-in-law took his baby grandson to California for 14 years. At this point I noticed that Weird Long Hair Hobo was at the funeral too! His presence wasn’t acknowledged on either occasion, so either this movie had a serious dearth of extras or God was with this family in a very literal way!

14 YEARS LATER the daughter-in-law comes back for unspecified reasons, and she’s brought her son Chris who is now perhaps the biggest faggot alive! No, this doesn’t turn into a scare-em-straight subplot – the movie simply wants to portray the boy as with-it and cool and SO CALIFORNIA, but they simply manage to turn a scrawny boy into a very effete looking waif:

chrisrevere

When Chris brings his Bible to school, he gets busted for it. We just don’t wanna offend anybody, the weasely principal says. Bob the Broken Man mumbles an apology, until a wise black janitor tells him “ain’t no rules bout it! They just ‘fraida gettin’ sued!” Which leads to a frank family discussion. The meaning of Christmas is lost! It’s all about Santa and presents nowadays! Well gosh durnit, Mt. Columbus is gonna be decorated out the wazoo this year! We won’t stop until all across the country they refer to us as CHRISTMAS CITY! Oh yes btw Bob is also the mayor besides being a biker and a pharmacist.

This isn’t very much to the liking of Warren “THU HAMMUH” Hammerschmidt, a Washington FATCAT whose watchdog organization is all about “Civil Rights” and “equal opportunity” and other such liberal hogwash. The film tries to tug at one’s heartstrings several times, but it only really succeeds in showing tragedy once, in Hammerschmidt’s first scene. He is played by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (hence the character’s nickname you see) in a shocking revelation of the state of Fred Williamson’s finances.

Williamson comes down to make Bob stop this Christmas foolishness once and for all. He doesn’t really bring any arguments as to why Christmas is evil, though. There’s some half-hearted stuff about Bob having to represent all the people, which Bob counters with Christmas being a federal holiday. There’s a showdown at town hall with a bunch of people in attendance, all 100% supporting Bob, as he politely refutes all the heartless arguments put forth by this big city politician. Hilarious: there’s a lot of footage of black people nodding as Bob makes his speech, but in wide shots of the hall, there is a supsicious lack of non-white faces. I think the filmmakers knew how it could come across if they had their Mitt Romney/Jay Leno hybrid putting this evil Christmas hater (who happens to be black) in his place. It’s a tough job, weighing whether or not you should get that one actual celebrity you can afford up against the need for stock footage from Oprah and Maury.

But ho! (ho ho) THU HAMMUH is not content to simply engage in honest debate! He will cut funding to the town’s veteran’s home and shut down the mission (aka where Botox Dottie Revere, played by NotMary Steenburgen feeds and clothes suspiciously well-kept poor people)!! No more charity for you fucking christians if you don’t quit it with that Christmas shit right the fuck now! Man, he even tears down Bob’s big ass Christmas tree in the middle of town square! At least, I think he does. A mysterious man does it who evilly treads on a downed angel ornament while the Reveres and other good christians celebrate their OG Christmas. This is never even referenced in dialogue again.

There’s a subplot where Chris and his buddies Madison and Lindsay try to sabotage the school’s secular WINTERPLAY and put on a REAL Christmas pageant. It sure helps that the school’s mincing drama teacher apparently just did a search+replace on the Nativity story and replaced all the religious shit with aliens and space paraphernalia.  The few bits of it that we see are actually not too bad. It’s a weirdly camp theremin-scored number reminiscent of Ed Wood movies and early Danny Elfman. Of course this shit needs to be STOPPED!

When Bob is IMPEACHED from his position as mayor (do you call it that when it’s a mayor?) for just being too goddamned adamant about Christmas, he can’t take it any more. He goes and drags the big ole JESUS SAVES cross to the now-closed mission and hauls that baby up on the roof where it belongs. There’s epic music and a crowd on the street and everything! Chris breaks from the crowd to go help his grampa. NO DON’T says Dottie IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!!! Ma’am, they’re really just putting up a billboard. If anything, it’s too dangerous for your husband to do it by himself. OOOoooOOOoohhhh Chris and Bob aren’t gonna make it that cross is just TOO DAMNED HEAVY (police and firemen are present but can’t help btw it’s illegal to hang a cross) Who will help our heroes??? THE COMEDY BIKERS, of course!

Once that JESUS SAVES cross is up, Mayor Bob gives an empassioned speech to his adoring constituents about how our ancestors came to these shores to escape religious oppression, and this country was founded on freedom to worship in any way you choose, even if you choose not to! If only modern laws were so understanding: Bob is dragged off to jail for his beliefs! But not before a tearful Chris can have a “…wait!” moment and hang grampa’s MEDAL OF HONOR around his neck before he gets into the squad car.

v( o_o)v v(o_o)v <= two people who live in the real world and are observing this spectacle

Oh man, now Bob can’t go see the WINTERPLAY… but don’t worry! The Weird Hobo is in the cell next to him, and he has a radio on which he can follow Chris, Madison and Lindsay’s plot to restore CHRIST to local junior high Christmas plays. They go above and beyond the call of duty in that, not only locking the fruity drama teacher in a closet (haha get it) with the help of Wise Black Janitor, they even show Chris’ Dad FINAL VIDEO MESSAGE FROM THE WAR which makes the entire gym break into tears and me into gutbusting laughter because lol there is the war warehouse again. I pretty much died when Chris literally started waving a flag and an actual armless veteran stood up to salute it.

FOR REASONS, Mayor Bob is released and is picked up by Dottie, Daughter-In-Law (NotOlivia Wilde) and Chris – Bob was so proud of Chris for what he did at the school play. He heard all about it on the radio! Huh… the play wasn’t broadcast… on the radio?

The masses of Mt. Columbus, seemingly without anything to do now that Christmas was taken from them, show up at the prison to cheer their mayor’s release. Hey, who can Bob see in the back but the Weird Hobo…???!! Weird Hobo gives him an approving smile and walks away, dissolving into pink and gold sparkles as he does so. Christmas is somehow saved!

Random Notes:

  • The Reveres get their Christmas-is-disappearing scares straight from Bill O’Reilly in a hilarious scene where they are all clutching their purses as they watch Fox News.
  • “When my son enlisted… I guess I knew what my father went through when I did…” The most tragic undercurrent of this movie is that “war” is just this fact of life that you endure, apparently. It’s the most holy and amazing thing to die in combat, which is weird for a movie that doesn’t even say “darn”. I can almost understand why the people this movie is for glorify war so much – combat (and maybe sports?) seems to be the only place where they can unleash any base emotions. It’s total STARSHIP TROOPERS stuff!
  • There’s an intentional laugh (I THINK) in there somewhere as the kids plan Operation Christmas, and a girl makes a stupid remark, which she counters with: “I onno, I don’t read the Bible.” to which Madison replies “It’s okay… it’s okay…”
  • Bob recounting a tragic war story to Dottie in a dramatic scene where a bunch of guys get to roll around with AKs in the most Midwest looking Vietnam I have ever seen.
  • Do not call Chuck Norris a badass ever again:

chuck

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Derp Blog Into Darkness #1: FLINT STREET NATIVITY

Welcome to the first installment of DERP BLOG INTO DARKNESS!

Following other grand Wholly On The Level projects, Blog Into Darkness shall chronicle my journeys into random movies I have never seen, with little rhyme or reason to their inclusion beyond their being acquired by my lovely partner at one point in the not-too-distant past.

“Okay fat chance I’m gonna read some guy reviewing his girlfriend’s DVDs I’m outta here bro!” I already hear you say but WAIT don’t get on that T-16 just yet!

The reasoning behind this series is hinted at in the blog post linked just above. Having shed her deeply religious background in 2006, my partner’s way of living changed enormously – which equally impacted her movie watching and buying habits. Her DVD collection grew substantially in the following years, coming to comprise “safety viewing” (most every CGI cartoon released in the latter 00s) and PROFANE R-rated demonic stuff she would never have dared watch even five years before (stuff in the vein of CONSTANTINE and NIGHTWATCH).

When we moved in together, and we were sorting DVDs, I noticed how incredibly eclectic her collection was, reflecting different moods and eras of her life. And to top it off, I hadn’t actually seen quite a few of them! Always curious to seek out new things, I decided to sift through the heap and write a bit about each as I discover them. They might be hidden gems, they might be utter shit – you never know until you watch them. Oh won’t you join me on my first foray… INTO DARKNESS

Flint-Street-Nativity-(Growing-Up-Is-Childsplay)-(DVD)

Based on this cover, I’d have told you FLINT STREET NATIVITY is a wacky British comedy about an exceptionally substandard yet charmingly over-eager troupe of amateur actors trying to put on a Nativity play. This is not entirely off-base, but let me tell you that the first few minutes threw me the FUCK off.

It starts with shots of a jungle (?), with earth-shaking rumbles announcing the imminent arrival of some horrible beast. The camera then slowly pans to reveal a little baby Jesus doll lying in the underbrush. The monster is revealed to be an atomic age B-movie giant lizard, brought to life by sub-Hercules: The Legendary Journey level CGI.

The whole scene is disrupted by another, far more terrifying monster: primary school teacher Mrs. Humphries, towering over a class of terrified kids, demanding to know who threw the baby Jesus into the iguana vivarium. Mrs. Humphries is never actually in the picture, existing in the movie as a disembodied voice from a bird’s eye POV camera.

It took me a few seconds to realize that this classroom was suspiciously free of any actual children – in fact, there were none! FLINT STREET NATIVITY was a… a reverse BUGSY SIEGEL! I was dreading the remainder of the film once this dawned on me, but luckily my fears were unfounded. I mean, I may have been rightfully alarmed if this were a Hollywood movie, but the high-concept idea of adults playing kids in oversized sets soon gets swept away for a surprisingly mean (yet still PG) film about what amounts to office rivalries. But with slapstick and pee and puke! It’s essentially a workplace comedy, with the workplace being a primary school. Especially Dervla Kirwan’s (that name!) character gave me the impression that she pretty much could have come out of a grown-up setting.

The guy in the center of the DVD cover (played by Frank Skinner) was probably the most lulzworthy of all, doing a football-obsessed kid flawlessly, complete with imitations of sportscasters without entirely knowing what those old guys are actually saying. Best gag of the movie comes from him as Herod on stage threatening the wise men while retreating back to his throne. He steps on the Herod-robe but he is DETERMINED to keep hitting his mark knowing full well what’ll happen, so you see the robe getting shorter and shorter with each step, until the hilariously inevitable occurs.

A very pleasant surprise was Mark Addy, probably best known to international audiences as either King Robert Baratheon on Game of Thrones or Heath Ledger’s fat buddy in A KNIGHT’S TALE. He plays the class Ralph Wiggum, spending most of the movie in a cardboard donkey mask like some sort of special ed Nick Bottom. There’s a moment where he goes to talk to a crying kid outside who’s been bullied for having a lisp and called a retard. It’s here where Addy’s character is revealed to be one of the special ed kids and, most refreshingly, there’s no grand revelation or tearful admissions. Addy just says something to the extent of “hey well I’m one of those kids it’s not so bad”, which actually DOESN’T make the bullied kid have a change of heart, nor does his refusal to re-evaluate his situation make Addy cry or anything. It’s very down to earth in a most touching way. That scene actually made me think Addy doesn’t get enough high profile work. I hope his stint on Thrones will help that somewhat.

The movie ends with the parents (played by the corresponding actors in non-oversized sets) chit-chatting over mulled wine about their kids’ performances. I’m of two minds on that ending, since it does sort of hit easy clichés the movie had been avoiding till that point (the insecure Indian girl has a domineering matriarch mother; the princess has a slut mom; the weird psycho booger eater comes from clueless-if-well-meaning white trash) but the thing is… I’ve seen it happen. Anecdotal, yes, but I can’t entirely rule out the screenwriter having actually been to PTA meetings such as these and drawing conclusions.

Some random notes:

1.) Do you want Helena Bonham Carter in your movie but you don’t have the budget for her? Dervla Kirwan will suit your quirky evil needs just as well at a fraction of the price!

2.) For shame, Peter Jackson! Casting Evangeline Lilly as a made-up* elf in THE HOBBIT when Jane Horrocks exists!

My first BLOG INTO DARKNESS was a pleasant excursion into lands I probably would not have quickly ventured to because of a dearth of explosions. Will further journeys yield equally pleasant or MORE HARROWING results? I hope the former for myself, and the latter for you, dear reader!

 

*As opposed to all the mercilessly realistic, grimly documentarian Ken Loach style elves in the other movies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All! (except Robert Zemeckis)

Straight up front: I fucking love Zemeckis’ BEOWULF. I think it’s badass and it’s sad and it’s funny and it’s exciting. I wish it were animated or live-action, but the mo-cap a lot of its detractors hate is counteracted for me by some hilariously hammy performances, a great score, and a neat little twist on the classic story.

Can you guess which movie does not fare so well?

christmas-carol-2009

Did I give it away?

In BEOWULF, writers Neil Gaiman* and Roger Avary came up with a clever way of tying the story’s epic poem meanderings into a three act modern blockbuster structure. With A CHRISTMAS CAROL, no such thing is even attempted! Everybody fucking knows this story, and this is the story you’re going to get. It’s as straight an adaptation as you’re bound to get in this day and age.

“Oh man, that’ll be stodgy and turgid! How boring!” is what I hear you say. Well yes, that is true! To an extent! Because you see, even though the creepy mo-cap men are re-enacting a very literal adaptation of Dickens’ classic, Zemeckis DOES spice things up. How?

WHOOOOOOSHHHHWHOOOOOOOOOOOpokepokepokeWHOOOOOOSHHHHHHsparklesparkleAAAAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEpokepokepoke

Yes, with noise and camera movement and 3D stuff poking at the screen. So in one scene you’ve got creepy flesh monster Scrooge delivering 19th century dialogue barely touched up for the screen, while in the next, Zemeckis is taking you on a rollercoaster ride through Victorian London and OOHHHHHOHOHO that cook just threw a pork pie at us and OOHHHH a noisome facsimile of a dog snatched it up right as it was to hit the camera! Bob, you scamp!

The over-the-top performances that (to me) saved BEOWULF are wholly absent here. Great actors like Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins are basically acting like they would in a very dignified, very down-to-earth version of CAROL, leaving us all in the neverending horror of their fucking faces. Here is Oldman as a creepy meat midget.

Oldman’s Bob Cratchit is, for some reason, envisioned as a fairly short guy. Shorter than the real Oldman. This only heightens the audience’s idea that something is fucking wrong with Gary Oldman in this movie. And he’s played a little person in a live action movie before this!

And Carrey… oh Carrey, Carrey, Carrey… You know, he’s not even BAD as Scrooge. He’s doing a fairly straight and boring interpretation of the archetypal curmudgeon. He never really mugs or does a riff on his own on-screen persona which, I suppose, is commendable. He can be a pretty good actor in the right parts! He gets to go a little more over the top as the Ghost of Christmas Present, but it’s only appropriate given the crazy nature of the character. In fact, he goes SO over the top he dies laughing and turns into a hysterical skeleton in front of our very eyes! But not before revealing two horrible Gollum children under his skirts who also speed-age into an incarcerated knife-wielding madman and a straightjacketed prostitute!

Which makes you wonder: who the fuck was this movie for? Certainly no young children will stay still for the sleep-inducing dialogue scenes; old people will get a headache from the crazy flying camera and constant barrage of 3D in your face; both of them will be horrified by the scary bits (ghostly Marley’s jaw keeps falling off)… who does that leave? Rational adults?

I say thee nay! They will be watching one of the myriad better variations of this (too) oft told tale.

Merry Christm—OH SHIT

*Gaiman’s original idea does not really shine through in the finished film. A version of it can be found in his anthology Fragile Things. It’s very, very Gaiman.