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In & Out (1997)
a bit on the sweet side
In 'In and Out', Kevin Kline plays a repressed gay teacher inadvertently outed by a former student on national television. (The Oscars, no less) He finally comes out with the truth - at the altar on his wedding day. Of course there is a happy ending with him accepting his sexuality, the townfolk accepting him, and, as a sort of bonus prize, his ending up with Tom Selleck, the most perfect man in the universe. Sounds just like real life, doesn't it? Of course a movie can't shatter stereotypes without depicting a few. Our hero is a neat freak and obsessed with Barbra Streisand. His pals even show 'Funny Lady' at his bachelor party. (Odd, most of the gay guys I know are a bit on the sloppy side and can't stand La Streisand.) At times this movie is so sweet your teeth ache, but it is saved by hilarious performances by Joan Cusack as the bride-not-to-be and Matt Dillon as the former student. And Tom Selleck is about as handsome and charming as a human being can be. Oh, and to really up the cute quotient, there is a quartet of little old ladies dacing to Macho Man with their walkers.
Well, it's loud
This may be one of the most strenuously, expensively, and elaborately unfunny movies ever made. The idea was a good one - a comedy about the manic reaction to a supposed invasion of Los Angeles has wonderful potential. But it takes more than a catalog of explosions and creative destruction to make a funny movie. The odd thing is, it is hard to stop watching it. You can't help thinking that with this much talent it just has to get better at some point - but it doesn't. I can't help thinking that with a smaller budget and a tighter focus on fewer characters this could have been a much more entertaining movie. Steven Spielberg might have taken a lesson from "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" - throwing a lot of big names and wads of money on the screen does not guarantee a good time.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
MGM, at the height of it's powers, had the means to produce a remarkable version of this, the third greatest story ever told. Instead, the result is curiously flat and unengaging. This is largely due to MGM's inability to leave well enough alone. So many gratuitous changes, so many memorable scenes and characters deleted - where are the venal servants haggling over the dead Scrooge's belongings? What happened to Belle, whose love may have saved Scrooge from a cold and lonely existence? Why does Mrs. Cratchit make the toast to Scrooge instead of saying what she really thinks of him? Where is Bob Cratchit's lovely speech about the sight of Tiny Tim reminding people of him who made lame men walk and blind men see? Instead we get a lot of extraneous scenes of Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and his fiancée sliding on ice. Very frustrating.
The actors do their jobs - there is a great deal of mugging, and no depth. One gets the feeling the whole project was rushed through.
The second greatest story ever told? Why, the Titanic, of course.
Fun and forgettable
This version of "Hairspray" is bouncy, bright, candy-colored, and instantly forgettable. (Quick now - hum one tune from this picture!) Even the theme of race relations, the genesis of the "Hairspray" oeuvre, gets lost in all the goop. Everyone seems to be trying too hard. The end result is so far removed from real life that any lessons it may have are lost.
Of course, musicals are primarily pure entertainment and not learning vehicles, but in this case the emphasis on gloss is disappointing because the source material, the 1988 "Hairspray", managed to be thoroughly entertaining while slyly slipping in quite a bit of social commentary. Not just acceptance of the "pleasantly plump" and integration - think of the contrast in that movie between the Turnblad family and the Pingleton and Von Tussle families. The Turnblads may have been the somewhat oddball group, but there was real affection and acceptance there, as opposed to the corrosive relations in the other two families. All this subtext is stripped out of the musical "Hairspray", and it is a less satisfying movie for that.
It is a lot of fun, but once is enough - it is the original "Hairspray" that you will want to see again.
Royal Wedding (1951)
Enjoyable, but not essential
In a plot echoing the real life breakup of his partnership with sister, Adele, Fred Astaire and Jane Powell are a brother/sister act performing in London at the time of Elizabeth II's wedding. There they each fall in love and dissolve the act. The plot is no more or less plausible than that of any other MGM musical - the problem here is that, in a bit of novelty casting, Astaire's love interest is played by Sarah Churchill, daughter of the prime minister. Miss Churchill is not conventionally pretty, but has a very natural charm; unfortunately, she can neither sing nor dance. The result is a movie without one of those great dance/love poems that highlight so many Astaire movies. In recompense, we get a cluster of novelty numbers - Fred and Jane as gum snapping vaudevillians; Fred and Jane trying to stay upright on a rolling ship; Fred dancing with a coat rack and, most famously, Fred dancing on the walls and ceiling. Any one or two of these numbers in one movie would be enough. All four in one movie is like a meal that is all ice cream, no meat and potatoes. Royal Wedding is enjoyable, but not nearly as satisfying as the truly great MGM musicals.
College Swing (1938)
A real delight
During the thirties each studio had its musical specialty. Warners was cranking out the Busy Berkeley spectaculars; Fox had Shirley Temple and Alice Faye; Goldwyn had his annual Eddie Cantor extravaganza; RKO had Astaire and Rogers, and MGM was starting a tradition of big budget spectacles. Paramount went a little low brow, bringing out a series of somewhat goofy, utterly charming movies that were more like screwball comedies with music. And some surprisingly good music, too. Don't worry too much about the plot - just let yourself be thoroughly entertained by Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Edward Everett Horton, and Burns and Allen at their very best. As if to emphasize the lightness of the movie, at the end the entire cast waves goodbye to the audience.
History of the World: Part I (1981)
This may well be one of the worst movies ever made - surely the worst Mel Brooks movie. It starts out with masturbating monkeys and goes downhill from there. Nothing rises above the level of grade school potty humor. What a waste of a terrific cast! Mel Brooks was never known for subtlety, but in "Young Frankenstein", "Blazing Saddles" and especially "The Producers", there are many bits of brilliant adult satire to balance out the groaners. "History' is all groaners. You can actually feel your brain melting while watching this thing. You can almost detect the actors trying to rise above the material, without success. Skip it.