Monday, January 28, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #9: HAPPY FEET

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.

happyfeetposter

A post-SHREK CGI cartoon full of singing, dancing celebrity-voiced animals? Surely, this must have been the most sure-fire recipe for disaster since I wore my “I hate everyone” sandwich-board and stood on a Harlem street corner for five hours?* Dear reader, you may be as shocked as Snoop Dogg reading Sartre that this movie actually isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Despite actually being gorgeously animated, it may not have been the best choice to go for character designs as unstylized as the ones in the film. Penguins don’t really do much but squawk, so their beaks aren’t designed for talking. It looks very strange to have these fairly realistic penguins open their mouths and have human speech come out. It gave me a weird feeling of cheapness in the first few minutes, despite everything actually looking fantastic. The disconnect just makes you think it’s shoddily done!

Okay, next big bad thing. You get Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as Ma ‘n Pa Penguin. Sure. But why have them do Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley impersonations? Why spend that money? Surely, George Miller, you could have spent millions of dollars less and just scoured Perth’s karaoke bars for decent imitators? The credits even mention Hugh’s Elvis impersonation was done WITH PERMISSION OF THE PRESLEY ESTATE. That strongly implies they had to pay to just have an Elvis impersonation in the movie! Even more reason not to spend the money on the actor, if you really MUST have an Elvis-sounding character! Hugh and Nic’s characters are great penguin singers, so I’m also kind of iffy as to why mama penguin was “Norma Jean”. I mean, Marilyn isn’t exactly known for being a legendary singer, right? Why not call the mom Aretha and actually get the real Aretha?

Oh, and a final bad thing, although I did not experience it as such; Yes, the film does feature penguins singing famous pop songs and occasionally tap dancing to them. If this sounds like a turn-off, then you will not be swayed by this movie. I’m an easy mark for songs I recognize! And hey, unlike stuff like SHREK where they just burst into song because that is funny because people will recognize the songs and then realize the song was not originally sung by donkeys and ogres, the songs in HAPPY FEET actually have a reason to be in the movie!

You see, penguins apparently have heart-songs; personal songs they carry with them all their lives which they sing during mating season. The penguin whose song makes the perfect duet is their soul mate! Elijah Wood’s character Mumbles is an aberration, though – he cannot sing! But he does have… HAPPY FEET

Feet that go all a-tappa-tappa-tappa apparently are an abomination among emperor penguins, and they offend penguin elder Hugo Weaving grievously! According to him, it is this abomination that offends The Great Guin and has led to the current famine!

So here’s what I liked about the movie: The singing penguins and their strange insistence that tapdancing is heretic never comes across as anything but weird zealotry on their part. Mumbles is treated like a leper and only gets love from his mom and his Adélie-penguin buddies. Even his mom is constantly discouraged from not shunning her son! There is no reason at all for why tapdancing is evil! The camera often pans out INTO SPACE to show how tiny the colony, the pole, the world is. I think it’s a rather elegant way of showing the retarded myopia of the emperor penguins, even as they’re shown to be the unwitting playthings of far larger and, to them, unknowable forces. This isn’t some fantasy Dreamworks style Penguin World. It’s OUR world, and the movie slowly eases you into that fact. Humans are almost Lovecraftian entities! The human element is scary, but never malevolent. It’s just very well done, communicating how a penguin would perceive these creatures and their machines. Just completely alienating and bewildering, not played for laughs or cheap animal abuse drama. The sequence where Mumbles journeys to the human world for a while had me utterly entranced! What the hell was even going to happen? The resolution of the storyline is nicely done, and ties back into exposing the pointlessness of the emperors’ blind zealotry.

All this stuff makes it sound like a super duper metamovie about the state of CGI animal cartoons, while actually delivering a CGI singing animal cartoon. I’m sure that was not the intention whatsoever, but it sure came across as that! Give it a shot, you sure could do a lot worse.

*Bloodz and Cripz are united only in their hatred for misanthropy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #8: GOOD MORNING VIETNAM

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.

gmorningnam

Oh, Robin Williams, you so crazy! I loved MRS. DOUBTFIRE and ALADDIN as a kid! That guy was hilarious! Mork & Mindy too! Doing all the voices and shit? Goddamn! HOOK? Flying around…

But look see, you grow up, and you leave that stuff behind. That stuff is still okay though, cuz kids might discover it and know the joys of that crazy bat from FERNGULLY! His name was Batty, which I just now got!

I’d seen PATCH ADAMS before, which is the only one of Williams’ inspirational movies I’ve actually seen, so GOOD MORNING VIETNAM was sort of a trip to the roots of this notorious sub-sub-subgenre. Williams is USAF DJ Adrian Cronauer, who’s constantly breakin’ the brass’ balls with his filthy BLACK music and IRREVERENT style of humor. He also stalks a pretty Vietnamese girl and makes friends with her brother. Forest Whitaker is a guy who drives him around. Bruno Kirby aka PEETUH CLEMENZA from GODFATHER II is his immediate superior who’s always exasperated with his rebelliousness. Professional asshole J.T. Walsh hates Williams so much that he even obfuscates some intel and sends the man (and poor innocent Whitaker!) into a hot zone without his knowledge! Man, those guys really hate impersonations of flamboyant gay fashion designers!

On the whole, the movie is actually okay. It’s really a comedy drama somewhat based on true events, so if most of the jokes are baby jokes it doesn’t matter, since you can pretty much assume that uneducated 60s guys would find them pretty funny and outrageous anyway. The drama bits are honestly pretty affecting, which isn’t so surprising with a capable cast like the film has. I think dramatic Williams has this sense of vulnerability about him that makes him easily likable, which often gets drowned out in his manic comedy routines. It makes sense, cuz you sorta get the impression that his rapid-fire offend-nobody jokes are just these elaborate cries for love and attention. Awww, Robin! I like ya! Now stop doing Apu!

Naw but for reals, it’s funny in parts. I laughed! Ironically, none of the laughs came from his OUTRAGEOUS radio show. When Clemenza takes over and does a stupid Frenchy impersonation, all of Robin’s friends are outraged and disgusted at this SQUARE taking his place! Yeah, okay, he’s playing polka instead of Martha & the Vandellas, but I actually thought the French guy impersonation pretty much was standard Cronauer material! Forest & the bros should have cut him some slack. He even gets the biggest laugh in the movie! When the general calls him out to explain why the troops’ morale has taken a dive since he took over the show, and Clemenza subsequently has to reinstate Cronauer, he gives a hilariously earnest: “Sir… in my heart… I KNOW I am funny!”

Another scene worth mentioning has Forest Whitaker drive out to pick up Williams in a pho joint to convince him to do the show again. THE BOYS NEED YA ROBIN to which he’s like naaw man nawww the establishment’ll just spit me out I can’t deal with that shit anymore! But gentle Robin is reminded of the divine spark of comedy within himself as they come upon some soldiers in the road ready to ship out to NHA TRANG or some shit and they coax some comedy out of him. It’s hilarious how Williams is all naww naaww guys I can’t OH COME ON MISTUH CRONAUER WE LOVE YER SHOW IT MEANS A LOT TO US oh okay i will

I think Barry Levinson just let Williams riff a bit with the extras, cuz the laughter here is sweetly genuine, and Williams even manages to be funny a few times. The Louis Armstrong scored atrocity montage that follows it works well because of this. You finally get put into the mindset that this guy is popular and is actually helping.

Fun fact! The real Adrian Cronauer is a pretty conservative guy and did not, in fact, use humor in his broadcasts – although the funky music WAS part of his repertoire. The script Cronauer wrote was initially intended to be a M*A*S*H*-style tv show, then a TV movie. The TV movie version reached Williams, and it got retooled to suit his sensibilities more. And how!

So yeah, this was a movie that Ella saw before her disfellowshipment (as they call gettin’ kicked from the religions, apparently – or maybe just the Witnesses) and bought again because of good VHS memories. As opposed to most of her good memories movies, this was one her dad liked. As a former hippie, or so I’ve been told, the movie’s Fuck This Damn War, Man! message was one that spoke to him. It’s funny how, from admittedly biased and anecdotal evidence, Jehovah’s Witnesses do seem to have quite a lot in common with hippies. Peace ‘n Love ideals, staunchly anti-violence stance, they just don’t have the flashy dress sense and free love is replaced by free repression! Otherwise – PEAS IN A POD I tells ya!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #7: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

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.

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If one were a kindergarten teacher with lil’ Mikey Bay and lil’ Roly Emmerich among their pupils, and one were to ask the children to draw a picture of a dog, the following things would be likely to occur. Mikey would hand in a picture of a crudely drawn penis and kick you in the shins as he ran away laughing, tripping a few times along the way. Roly would stand out by not handing in anything, requiring a search, and being found stuck behind the bookshelf with a half-eaten pot of paste still rolling around next to him. The appropriate respective reactions would be “Ughhhh fucking Mikey (hahaha tho, a penis)” and “Aww come here, Roly.”

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is a poopy movie. It has characters that struggle to get to two dimensions, and its PG-13 blockbuster status precludes it from having anything really outrageous happen. It’s remarkable that I found the first half actually far more entertaining than the second, wherein most of the big money shots and action set pieces happen. At one point I noticed the DVD player was at around 40 minutes, which totally astonished me, since I felt like we’d just gotten out of the first act and my mind sort of half expected around 20 minutes to have passed.

What makes the first half so entertaining is that it’s basically a South Park episode but for real, full of “I DON’T THINK YOU APPRECIATE THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION MR VICE PRESIDENT” dialogue. There are two hilarious set-up scenes where a NY zookeeper comments on the animals getting so restless. Especially ONE pack of animals… the Bronx Zoo’s extremely rare CGI ICE WARGS!!! The fact that the wolves are the only animals in full CGI should pretty much tip you off that these guys are gonna come back later. There’s a second scene with the zookeeper when New York’s already flooding where he’s checking on the animals and “*gasp* Wh-where d-did… the wolves go??” Honestly, I would have cut out the first wolf intro so as not to betray their full CGI-ness and just have that second, now extra hilarious random scene of a zookeeper wondering where the arctic wolves went in this time of dire climate change.

So yeah, Dennis Quaid is a paleoclimatologist (unlike Tom Hanks’ SYMBOLOGIST, a real profession) who has laid out this model of hardcore climate change over the coming century or so. Only, i-i-it’s happening noowwww! Tornados fuck up LA, a big ass tidal wave hits NY, a hailstorm hits Tokyo with hails duh soizah tenjureens, all that good stuff. There’s a whole set piece with the destruction of LA which is hilarious cuz there is no subplot or any character of import in LA. It really is just destructosploitation! Alright, so maybe there’s some fun to be had as a sort of family-friendly FINAL DESTINATION? Well, besides one reporter getting good ‘n smushed by a billboard, there are no comedy deaths in the movie! There’s even a little set-up where a couple of asshole businessmen take shelter in an off-duty bus by giving the driver $300, but they then just drown like all the other non-asshole New Yorkers outside!

A cartoon JEW YORK LIBRUL is hiding in the same library where Jake Gyllenhaal (Dennis Quaid’s son) and his friends are riding out the storm. At one point, Jake & Co. suggest they burn books for warmth. Liberalo is very upset by this!

“Y-you can’t burn Nietzsche! He was one of the great thinkers of the 19th century!” Haw haw this book lovin’ fag right here!

Cute female liberal that Joe Sixpack in the audience will like better: “He was a chauvinist pig who was in love with his sister!”

Liberalo: “He was not a chauvinist pig!”

Ha! Okay, that’s actually a fairly funny joke, movie. Well do--

Female liberal: “But he WAS in love with his sister!”

Never mind.

Oh, and get this – Liberalo doesn’t even die! Despite loudly proclaiming “I DUN BELIEVE IN GOD”! What are you doing with all these set-ups without payin’ ‘em off, Roly! I mean, even the wolves menace Jake and friends for only about 90 seconds at the end, with quite a few cost-cuttin’ wolf-POV shots thrown in for good measure.

Fun fact! In this disaster movie about climate change, distributed by 20th Century Fox, the characters are getting all their hot (ha ha no pun intended) climate change news from Fox News. It is quite hilarious to see a serious movie about serious things have its characters go on and on about matters of great gravitas and world-shaking importance then blithely tune in to Fox News to see what’s goin’ on in the world. Also quite shameless that Fox released a fucking CLIMATE CHANGE THEMED BLOCKBUSTER considering their own stance on the issue. Eat a dick, Fox!

But, you know, you can’t get mad at this movie. In this day and age, it’s nice to see a big movie just straight-up directly tackle climate change, even if it is a shitty one. It’s like someone punching you in the face, thereby magically saving three kids in Birma from starvation. Knowing that, how you gonna be mad at the guy who punched you? You’d be more like “Awww… aahhh… shh… shit. Okay. Okay. Thanks man. Hey, you mind? I need to take care of this.”

Regarding the topic of this series: I actually had a talk beforehand with my partner Ella about this movie. She saw this movie in the cinema with her mother, and went back to see it with her father. One of the few times he ever went with her to the theater. I’m sure some of you can relate. Personally, my own dad only goes out for movies with Hobbits in them, so before THE HOBBIT, it had been nearly ten years since he’d set foot in a theater.

Me: “So what drew you to theaters for that one?”

E: “It was big and spectacular, and it looked good. And I liked INDEPENDENCE DAY.”

Me: “Did you go see GODZILLA in the theater too, then?”

E: “No, that didn’t speak to me as much.”

Considering I was 14 and she was 18 when GODZILLA came out, it’s probably quite logical that a big monster would not have spoken to her. I said that the impersonality of disaster movies kept me at bay. I always felt like an action movie needed a good human(oid) villain for the protagonists to overcome, and weather/natural disasters just didn’t cut it. Ella replied she found an “inhuman” antagonizing force just as interesting, cuz it couldn’t be reasoned with, couldn’t be shot, it could only be endured.

I’d been chewing on that for a few days, and came to perhaps to the first milestone this blog was intended for. Ella is uncomfortable with bad intent, with malice. A sentient villain, one with actual malevolent agency is, I think, to her a “necessary evil” for an action/adventure movie – again, no pun intended. If the opposing force is non-sentient, it is no longer an object to unleash aggression on, but rather a storm to weather together – something for the good guys to rally against and find strength together.

Why did I like “sentient” villains better then? It also put me to thinking about my own choices. Amateur pop psychologist as I am, I decided it was because of the breach of the Social Contract they engendered. Villains and heroes alike are pushed outside of societal norms in narratives, and are therefore these walking embodiments of huge emotions. John McClane is just a poor guy forced to shoot all these douche terrorists, man! Hans Gruber, heh, he’s gonna show all zees stoopid Eff Bee Eye guys what for.

Ella watches action spectacle for a feeling of reassurance, unity. I watch it for catharsis, for vicariously living some outsized (to the point of buffoonish) badassery. This sum DEEP BLOGGIN guys! I’m not kidding when I say that since I’ve started doing this series, I’ve started re-evaluating my own movie watching as well. Who ever said that after THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW?

Hope you’re still entertained with all this soul-searching – next one’s gonna be pretty wacky, or so I prophesy!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #6: CYRANO DE BERGERAC

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.

cyrano-de-bergerac

From the sacrilege of BRUCE ALMIGHTY we go to the comfort of 1990’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Based on the classic play by Rostand, this Dépardieu vehicle is a respectful, handsome movie adaptation. The costumes are gorgeous, the sets are lavish and the battle scenes are nostalgically mounted with real people charging into each other. For a 135 minute movie, it also moves along at a fairly brisk pace.

The tale is a fairly well-known one; big-nosed Cyrano is in love with his beautiful cousin (haha old timey stories) Roxanne, who in turn only has eyes for sexy Christian. Christian, however, is a dolt, and cannot woo a woman if his life depended on it. In steps poor heart-broken Cyrano who will aid his unwitting rival in conquering the object of his own affections by writing his material for him. The only version of the tale I’d ever seen in its entirety was the 1987 Steve Martin version:

And the only thing I remembered from that was the basic conceit, and a scene where Cyrano makes up 50 different ways of insulting someone with a big nose. Turns out it was a scene straight from the original! I remember finding the Steve Martin version of the 50 insults funnier though, but that’s probably cuz I was about 10 when I saw it. On the other hand, stuff that was funny 200 years ago has more chance of being dated, especially when delivered in a bulk of 50 punchlines at once.

I guess the only thing that I found a pity was that I couldn’t get emotionally involved. Cyrano is a whiny babbly who’s either raging at something, or being sad that Roxanne doesn’t love him. In many ways, he is the original internet commenter! Montfleury is his Robert Pattinson. Get off the stage, U FAG! Christian is, as said earlier, a big dolt. Roxanne is beautiful, and that’s pretty much it. She needs poetry to be wooed to such a ridiculous degree that Christian, once left to his own devices, can count on zero residual affection from her for all the other shit that he’s supposedly written. Another lulzy moment comes when Roxanne declares that her lover’s turns of phrase are so beautiful, she would love him even if… even if he were ugly!!! Truly, a romance for the ages! But it’s acted well by all the principals, and the production is pretty gorgeous, so you can hardly fault the film for its source material.

A twenty-minute battle sequence against the Spaniards is the movie’s high point, and in fact a time where the movie managed to get me emotionally involved THRICE!

  1. Roxanne comes to relieve the Gascogne troops by bringing the most motherfucking delicious  looking salamis and hams and loaves of bread I’ve seen on screen in a long time. And they were French as fuck, so you know they were probably really good!

  2. Before the delicious salamis come, however, the troops are starving! Cyrano asks an ex-goatherd to play his flute, as he describes far away Gascogne to the men. It was the first time in the movie where I was genuinely touched by Cyrano’s way with words.

  3. SPOILERS ON DIS WUN When Christian finds out that his ghost writer is also in love with Roxanne, he wants to confront her and give her an honest choice. That’s honorable enough, and for the first time in the movie some good qualities are able to be ascribed to Christian besides his looks! SPANISH STEEL cuts short his plans, however! As he lies dying, Cyrano lies to him that Roxanne was told the truth and chose him. That’s really nice of you, Big Cy! Oh whoops only fifteen minutes of movie left oh well you did your best

Finding out that the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards (and won Costume Design) didn’t surprise me! It’s a nice, well-made movie that wouldn’t offend or shock anyone. My lovely partner told me that she first saw it when she was still a babbly Witness, taped off of TV. She’d watch it a couple times a year, then sought it out on DVD when she was on her own. If I’m not mistaken in my piecing together of evidence gleaned from this experiment so far, I’d say that Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy movies that are PG-13 maximum, earnest in spirit and pretty to look at. Oscar-bait on condition that it’s not R-rated, basically. Let’s see if this theory holds up with the coming movies, although the next movie is anything but Oscar bait.

Random notes:

  • If one were to have thrown away 1990 money on a movie of Robert E. Howard’s sword-woman Dark Agnes, one could have done worse than casting CYRANO’s Anne Brochet.

  • You should always add “Cyrano” to a Google Image Search of “Roxanne” when children are nearby.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #5: BRUCE ALMIGHTY

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.

bruce-almighty

A DERP BLOG first! As I was watching BRUCE ALMIGHTY, I started realizing that I actually had seen it before, but remembered precious little of it. No matter, we’re here, we’re queer, etc. I asked my partner if this movie was one she’d seen when she was still a Witness, or perhaps a FORBIDDEN FRUIT she’d always wanted to see because of its illicit subject matter. Turns out it was one she had been definitely curious about for a while, and caught it on TV after she’d parted from the faith. This movie was explicitly anathema because of a guy having God’s powers, which was trivializing and sacrilegous. Hilariously enough, she had seen the far worse sequel EVAN ALMIGHTY (in the theater!) when she was still a Witness because cosplaying Noah is a-ok in the Kingdom. I’m not gonna leave her out in the cold tho: I’d seen that one too, believing it had to be an improvement over the first, since it had no more Carrey and Carell was the main guy. What? I was a big fan of ANCHORMAN!

BRUCE ALMIGHTY is the tale of Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey, ho boy is it ever Jim Carrey), a Buffalo reporter unsatisfied with his position in life. He’s stuck reporting on FLUFF, like huge cookies and chili cook-offs. He wants mooooore!

Sign this movie was made in 2003 #1: in the current economic situation (or really, that of the past five years or so) no way would they have made Bruce unhappy with what seems like a fairly cushy job.

When he’s passed over for a promotion to make anchorman in favor of his rival Evan (Steve Carell, making everyone think of and pine for that other movie with Steve Carrell and a news team), he curses God and tells him HE COULD DO A BETTER JOB OF ITTTTT

Sign this movie was made in 2003 #2: Carell is credited lower than Catherine Bell, star of LifeTime powerhouse franchise The Good Witch.

ANYWAY God (the most magical Morgan Freeman of all) takes Bruce up on that offer and grants the down-and-out journalist His powers, while He takes a vacation. Powers are only valid in the greater Buffalo area, though! Will Bruce learn valuable lessons and perhaps humility along the way? I WON’T SPOIL THAT

I’ll admit it, I laughed out loud a few times. There’s a scene where Carrey runs through the house carrying a dog and the dog is peeing straight ahead and there’s just pee going everywhere and god I’m laughing just thinking about it. There’s also a hobo that seems to follow Carrey around with stupid/deep signs; For instance, when shit’s at its lowest and GodCarrey has really been fucking up, he has a sign that says “Thy KingDUMB Come”. Nobody in the whole riot punches him for this! Earlier in the movie, some eses were kicking the shit out of him, so I can only imagine what kinda stupid shit was on his sign at that point.

Unintentional hilarity #1: the PG-13 rating has one of the Latino thugs say a hilariously childish swear word when Bruce confronts them with his newly acquired divine powers. The gangster tells Bruce he’ll apologize “WHEN A MONKEY COMES OUT MY BUTTT". Come on man, “ass” is a PG-13 word! Oh well, making an ese sound like an 8 year old is funny in itself.

Unintentional hilarity #2: the movie ends with a tracking shot rolling in on the hobo’s face as he hilariously morphs into Morgan Freeman.

It’s a mostly inoffensive movie, though I’m not cool with Bruce’s moment of catharsis including the line “You tell me what’s right for me Gooodddddd!”. Otherwise, it’s a fairly liberal Hollywood movie featuring the Big Man. They don’t even mention the Bible or Jesus! Wait a minute, does that mean it’s not the God we all assumed it was??? Did Carrey smuggle a hymn to an Other God into mainstream theaters? And I’ve been slagging this movie off for the last bunch of paragraphs???

Dear reader, I hear the stairs creaking as I type this. A noisome lumbering thing is now fumbling with the doorknob. The nauseating smell of rotten fish fills my nostrils. I hear the sopping wet footsteps coming through the hallway. A hand! A webbed hand has--

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #4: CLOCKWISE

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.

CLOCKWISE is going to be the first entry in what I suspect will be quite a few where I discuss a rather popular film that somehow passed me by. Indeed, growing up with my dad a big Fawlty Towers and Monty Python fan, it seems inconceivable that I’d somehow miss this one for my entire childhood. And I have seen A FISH CALLED WANDA, to boot – a far less child-friendly film than this one!

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Cleese is headmaster Brian Stimpson, who has been chosen to be the chairman of some sort of important headmasters association. This is a big deal because it’s the first time the headmaster of a public (or, well, non-private… it’s confusing with the terms and the things) school has made chairman. Stimpson is a man of impeccable punctuality and irreproachable conduct. He’s a tightass! We’re introduced to him as he’s monitoring the playground from his office, shaming transgressing students by calling them out by name and telling them “9:20!”

First sign that this film was made in 1986: he has a huge bulletin board and a tiny computer that fits all of 8 characters on every screen with which to make his labyrinthine arrangements.

You know, I was actually assuming Cleese’s character would be Basil Fawlty 2.0, but I was pleasantly surprised that the film took many opportunities to show that Stimpson is a rounded character. Yes, he’s neurotic and rigid, but the kids actually steem to like him. He cracks sarcastic jokes and they laugh. He takes great pride in his working class background, and is extremely enthusiastic for this appointment not just for personal glory, but to help his school and others like it to stand out against THE POSH ONES, as they are so sneeringly called in the film. (“Until we can afford to actually send our kids there”, one character remarks.") There’s even a few references to him having been a slacker as a kid, but without a Hollywood movie’s obligatory “and here’s why I grew up!” revelation scene.

For some arcane reason I still don’t comprehend, the headmaster’s convention doesn’t allow for wives and kids. From the glimpses we see of it at the end, it doesn’t seem like some sort of wild party with strippers and morris dancing, so I’m sort of stumped as to why that is a thing. Is it just a classic British NO LADIES PLZ WE MIGHT THINK OF SEX??? thing? British readers, please comment! His despondent wife leaves him at the train station, where two truant students distract Stimpson momentarily, causing him to board the wrong train and to leave his speech on it as he gets off.

This leads him to get into a car with Laura, one of his students who has a free hour (A STUDY HOUR, as Stimpson is wont to remind us with every utterance of the phrase). Laura has an illicit relationship with Mr. Jolly, the guy in the third square on the poster up there and the school’s music teacher.

Second sign this is a 1986 film: IMDb doesn’t list the actress’ birth date, but the relationship between Laura and Mr. Jolly is rendered fairly inoffensive by the fact that Laura’s big hair and shoulders make her look about 30 (actress on the utmost right of the poster).

Together they’re off, accruing misdemeanors and steadily less petty crimes to get to Norwich on time, followed by Stimpson’s angry wife and the old ladies in her care, Laura’s parents, Mr. Jolly and the cops. Another thing I like, Stimpson is SO repressed, his big freakout moment consists of ineffectually kicking the car, getting bounced back and landing face down in the mud – all without a word. Probably the film’s biggest laugh for me.

Here be spoilers, should you care for such things!

I kinda love that there is absolutely no lesson learned, no big speech at the end that relates the Things He’s Learned On His Journey to his ultimate character goal. He gives a shitty speech in disintegrating clothes, followed by a good sketch where he’s totally the man for the job, as he owns the headmasters as adeptly as he kept the kids in check in the opening assembly scene. And then he just gets hauled the fuck off to jail END CREDITS

Spoilers be over!

A good film! I wish I actually HAD seen it when I was 10, so I’d have fond memories of it, but I think it’d be a pretty fun film to watch with my kids later. Cleese’s physicality is such that he makes you laugh just by walking on those big fucking stilts of his. His “right, yes” expressions ought to crack anyone up at any age!

Good movie ratio so far: 2 out of 4! Let’s hope it keeps up!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #3: THE WEDDING DATE

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.

I won’t be shitting on a romcom. Is there a genre that is more maligned or easier to rip apart as formulaic drivel? Are there fish that migrate to their barrel-based spawning grounds with more regularity? As Grant Morrison once said, there are those writers who feel they are missionaries, and those that feel they are anthropologists. It is my pith helmet I will don rather than my rosary as I descend into darkest Romcomia:

weddingdate

Kat (Debra Messing) is an awkward, neurotic career woman who is dreading her half-sister’s (Amy Adams) UK-set wedding, especially since the best man is her ex-fiancee Jeffrey, who left her at the altar a few years ago. She hires Nick (Dermot Mulroney), a gigolo, to pretend he’s her new therapist boyfriend in order to not seem as pathetically single to her overly judgmental mother and totally self-centered half-sister. UGH amirite ladies???

Luckily she has a sassy chainsmoking friend so the wedding isn’t a complete torture. I don’t remember her name but she does think Nick’s bum is quite edible and she likes smoking cigarettes and is even more single than Kat. The film’s breakout character!

The first fifteen or so minutes spanning the trip from NY to London have Kat tripping and stumbling and schlepping oversized luggage with minutes to spare to get on the plane (which she delays even more to help out her totally pathetic temporary replacement who is just now finding out what a WORKLOAD Kat deals with on a daily basis ugh amirite ladies???). She’s very nervous and makes charmingly awkward slips of the tongue once she meets the apparently quite dashing Nick. I don’t know how prostitutes work besides the basic idea, but I was under the impression that you got to know what they looked like beforehand, right? What if Kat had ordered Ron Jeremy here? Oh well, let’s not look a gift horse in the sexily scarred mouth.

The first laughs I found myself having were after Kat had fallen asleep on the plane, and her hair was all messed up, and she was trying to hide it from Sexy Suave Nick. I’m sure he’s had to escort some far worse looking people than you, Debra-Messing-looking-lady that you are! YES, even with your hair all a-tousle! At this point I was just lolling because yes movie we identify with her already you can stop doing that shit now it is not necessary

Here’s my biggest beef with the movie: Kat is the broadest, most inoffensive character ever. As the sharpest among you probably surmised by now, Nick totally has a change of heart during the movie and OMG falls for his client. The only problem is there’s nothing really there! Yeah, she’s not actively a bitch or anything, but she displays no qualities that put her beyond a perfectly ordinary run-of-the-mill person. There’s no scene where he has a revelation that she’s actually SO MUCH MORE than she lets on to be. To be honest, he had been saying that she was keeping herself down from the moment they met, but that was pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain and three quarters of an eye. If anything, this makes you think about what kind of exploitative sex dungeon nightmare Nick’s life must be if this female Adlai Atkins is his idea of the most beautiful and perfect creature that will make him turn around his life once and for all!

I will give the movie its running time: it’s barely 80 minutes long! When the conflicts were resolved and the wedding could continue as planned (after, of course, the requisite Chase To The Airport), I noted this was either a very short movie or they were gonna drag in some really left-field conflict any moment now. 73 minutes in! I mean, a movie like this is essentially TRANSFORMERS for girls, right? It only exists to tick the right boxes and to pander adequately, so why keep doing it for more than 90 minutes? It felt very old-fashioned to me, like Jack Warner felt he needed an extra PICTCHER FOR THU LADIES to balance out this quarter so go rent me some gowns and see if Kay Francis can be pried away from those dogs for a second!

I hope you guys are enjoying this series as much as I am; Out of three movies I’ve seen so far, I’d only say one was “good”, but they’ve all been very interesting at least!

Random notes

  • Tired of pandering to one half of the audience, the movie randomly decides that the female characters’ bachelorette party is “golf-themed”, but it might as well be “sexy lady themed” with an abundance of short skirts and strapless tops and other such not-entirely-necessary-to-rope-in-your-target-audience accoutrements.
  • Nick is pretty much a GOD to every woman at the wedding, but he never does much more than simply talk to people like a human being and occasionally give sound and completely rational advice. What kind of hellhole do these people inhabit where conversation is an ambrosia and friendly words of encouragement are the stuff Argonauts get stabbed by skeletons for?
  • Amy Adams carries blonde off well, but I’m still happy my boy Z-Snyde let her keep her natural color for MAN OF STEEL.