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Chuck & Buck (2000)
a brilliant profile of a disturbed, but interesting, character
This is a movie for those of us who appreciate black, discomforting humor, the kind of humor that acknowledges both the morbid and absurd dimensions of life; as such, it follows along a path blazed by other such dark films as IF, SWEETIE, HAPPINESS, WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, BLUE VELVET, THE CABLE GUY, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, as well as the brilliant documentaries of Errol Morris and Fredrick Wiseman, to name just a few.
It's also my favorite movie of the year so far.
CHUCK AND BUCK's dark edge comes squarely from the character of Buck, brilliantly played by Mike White. Buck is something of the anti-Forest Gump; whereas Tom Hanks' character, in keeping with Hollywood's grandiose tendency to mythologize, is meant to be a deeply wise and insightful figure, in spite of his outward appearance. We are meant to love and to respect Forrest Gump. White's Buck, here, is simply outright disturbed, and disturbing, and all the more interesting because of it. Playing a confused manchild in his late 20s who reenters the life of his one time playmate, whom he then weirds-out and won't stop bothering, the story eventually explodes as the sexual tension between the two characters draws them together once again. We neither love, nor respect, Buck, but we can't stop watching him - not for a second.
Some of the other, relatively minor, characters, more or less accept Buck as he is; they tend to be funny and interesting. Seeing CHUCK AND BUCK will make you wonder about what ever became of the misfit kids you once knew in childhood. Perhaps they, too, never quite grew up or grew out of it. Perhaps they're out there somewhere making films...
Coming to America (1988)
Eddie Murphy's coming of age film is solidly funny
Eddie Murphy - along with Bill Murray, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers, and perhaps just a few other SNL alumni - is one of a small number of this group who have gone on to later, worthwhile projects. Along with Myers and Adam Sandler, Murphy is arguably the biggest star to emerge from the long running NBC television institution. And one can see, in a movie like COMING TO AMERICA, what the basis of this stardom is; Eddie Murphy is a natural. He's brilliantly funny, charming, and causes his fellow cast members to shine - never before and never since has Arsenio Hall seemed so talented; the now completely obscure Joe Piscapo must be kicking himself for having gone off on his own rather than, somehow, remaining Murphy's sidekick.
Still, Eddie Murphy, initially an obvious raw talent, needed to grow up a bit. Just a teenager when he became famous, his early comedy was a bit mean spirited, particularly toward women and gays. So what a better way to grow up than to play the completely likeable character he plays here. As Prince Akeem, he has the audience rooting for him to get the girl and to be his own man. It's nice to see him as a character who is not very cocky.
My favorite scenes, however, both when I watched this movie the first time and when I watched it again very recently, were the barbershop scenes. The comedy of these scenes is just so pure, as Murphy, Hall, and another actor - made up to look like an assortment of old timers - engage in some brilliant sketch comedy (I loved the bit about Rocky Marciano vs. 137 year old Joe Louis). In fact, every scene with the old timers was a standout moment in this movie.
While some of COMING TO AMERICA may be a bit dated (Jherri curl jokes, some cheesy 80s electro-funk, etc.), for the most part, the entertainment value holds up quite well. John Landis' solid directing no doubt helps quite a bit, too.
Bull Durham (1988)
Wise and witty baseball movie
BULL DURHAM is many things: romantic comedy, buddy picture, sports movie, and character driven comedy. It's also about realizing one's potential, accepting one's limits, and growing as a human being. And it's about the religiousity of baseball and all of its rituals and pieces of insiders' knowledge. But the two main things this movie has going for it are the writing and acting. The dialogue sparkles, and allows for both a tone of witty existential bemusement, appropriate to a story that deals so much with both play and transience, and for the main characters to come across as having greater depth than might be initially realized. The acting, by main cast members Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, and Tim Robbins, is great and shows authentic talent, particularly by the sometimes (in other movies) wooden Costner - here, in one of his very best performances, he stands out and gives a truly moving performance. The remaining supporting cast is also fine. This is among the very best sports movies ever made. It's so good, in fact, that I've always thought that a sequel might have been worthwhile.
The Doom Generation (1995)
a cool, detached, nihilistic and artful take on human existence
Gregg Araki's THE DOOM GENERATION is reminiscent of everything from MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO to THE RIVER'S EDGE to TRUE ROMANCE to the experimental films of Pasolini, of Warhol (Morrisey), as well as of Richard Kern. The film reveals its thematic message when the most innocent and selfless of its three main characters asks the other, more self-centered, two if they ever think about the meaning of existence. Dismissing the very question, they reveal to the questioner an answer of sorts, one which suggests that we each create a meaning for ourselves, and are all existentially alone as we do so.
While offering us a rather slight story of a pair of teen lovers on the road who encounter a slightly older bisexual who becomes their nemesis, companion, lover and protector, THE DOOM GENERATION offers a great deal of visual style and wit, and some genuine moments of suspense. In fact, the film's gory and discomforting climactic scene is perhaps the artistic highlight and suggests some real filmaking talent by writer/director Gregg Araki. This is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but is worth a look for those who like a film which challenges them to react to strong imagery and who don't mind transgressive depictions.
Office Space (1999)
A great cast make this a satisfactory comedy
OFFICE SPACE starts off hysterically, and imaginatively, deriving full humor from such things as traffic jams, annoying co-workers, unpleasant cubicles, and malfunctioning office equipment, with this setting the stage for what follows; a large, soulless corporation is bringing in consultants, and people are about to be "downsized" (i.e., fired). Peter, the protagonist, has a moment of clarity and begins to treat his job with complete indifference, leading to the absurdity of his promotion; then, showing both bravado and loyalty to his downsized buddies, he cooks up a scheme which will both exact revenge on the company and make himself and his friends rich. He'll then be able to devote himself full time to a life of complete slackerdom.
A secondary story involves Peter's relationship with a waitress at Chotchkes, a Fridays/Chiles type chain restaurant where the employees suffer indignities all their own.
And then there's Milton, the obese, coke-bottle eyeglasses wearing, zero social skilled employee back at the main workplace. Milton gets pushed around once too often until he takes sweet revenge - the result is both richly satisfying and very funny.
While OFFICE SPACE is generally a very funny comedy, it doesn't necessarily sustain the uproarious humor with which it starts. Nevertheless, it manages to have a lot going for it, and achieves a fairly strong level of populist satisfaction; you can't help but cheer for the screwballs and slackers as they set out to destroy their evil workplace. It's also one of the best cast movies I've ever seen. The actors playing Milton, Michael Bolton, the two Bobs, etc. all manage to bring just the right level of quirkiness to their parts. They don't overact, and they're not over the top. Nevertheless, they're memorable.
My grade = 8 out of a possible 10.
Repo Man (1984)
quirky and entertaining
Much of REPO MAN seems improvised, but all in all, this is a good, quirky and entertaining flick. Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton are particularly good as a pair of repo men (car repossesors), though my favorite character is the scene stealing, completely underrated Tracey Walter, playing a kind of street corner philosopher role. It's also a blast seeing remnants of the 1980s California hardcore punk scene, including various musicians in acting roles, as well as seeing some of the less glamorous parts of L.A. captured on film.
Ladri di biciclette (1948)
A Brilliant film and insightful social commentary, THE BICYCLE THIEF shows a world of hope and suffering, a world in which poverty drives men to both the heights of selflessness and the lows of criminal and preditory behavior. In a plot as relatively simple and uncluttered as exists here, we nevertheless are presented with an epic film, and a masterpiece of neo-realism, continuing an artistic development beginning with OPEN CITY. It is no wonder that a maverick dirctor like Robert Altman would pay homage to this classic work in his marvelous THE PLAYER, and would point out, correctly, how contrastive this artistic masterpiece is to formulaic Hollywood dreck. Every serious student of film history should study this film, among others.
Father of the Bride (1991)
fluff and nothing but fluff
I decided to check this out because I was in the mood for something light and because it stars Steve Martin and Martin Short (and also Eugene Levy in a single, but funny, scene), and while Short was excellent as the flamboyent, thickly accented, wedding co-ordinator, and the interplay between father (Martin) and daughter had perhaps a nice moment or two, in general, I was pretty underwhelmed by this big piece of not very funny fluff; there are some much better, funnier wedding movies, if one is attracted to the subject matter, including BETSEY'S WEDDING, MURIEL'S WEDDING, and TRUE ROMANCE. Even the wedding scene in the great GOODFELLAS was a lot more interesting, and funnier. This, however, is barely worth the price of even a cheap rental.
Easy Money (1983)
a likeable low brow comedy
There are times in EASY MONEY when this movie almost approaches John Waters territory, wherein Monty and family could possibly have just wandered on to the set of POLYESTHER, playing something like the relatively normal, next door neighbors to Divine's Francine Fishpaw and her porno theater owning husband. But essentially, EASY MONEY is a relatively sweet, harmless, and good natured low brow (and low budget) comedy about a man who must change his ways for the good of others, and a vehicle for master comedian Rodney Dangerfield to do his thing. While occasionally tasteless and very un-PC, EASY MONEY is, nevertheless, a likeable comedy, ultimately celibratory of unpretentious working class life (at the expense of the snooty rich) and good for some steady laughs. It's also worth it to see Joe Pesci do comedy as well as for seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh in one of her earlier roles
The Refrigerator (1991)
a clever and original horror-comedy
THE REFRIGERATOR is one of the more cleverly original ideas for a campy horror flick and is pretty much played for laughs. While a bit slow moving at times, this is a must see for all fans of the slapstick comedy/horror sub-genre. If you're a fan of any of the following, then this movie is for you: EVIL DEAD II, STREET TRASH, BASKET CASE, BASKET CASE II, BASKET CASE III, DEAD ALIVE, MEET THE FEEBLES, RABID GRANNIES, or any of Troma's better known releases. If you can imagine an large, evil appliance which is somehow alive, a ghost-in-the-machine device which when opened, has all the ooze and spew of a Peter Jackson special effect, then you have the basic concept of THE REFRIGERATOR, in which machines terrorizes a young NYC housewife. For a low budget flick, this one is very well made, with excellent special effects (though mediocre acting). Highly recommended if you're looking for something a bit different.