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Mystery Men (1999)
I saw "Mystery Men" on my birthday in 1999 while I was away on vacation. When I came back home, I went to see it again. Keep in mind, I was twelve, but at that time it was the coolest movie ever. I even collected the ultra-rare action figures (I have them all except for the Bowler, which is the hardest to find. They made Mr. Furious, The Shoveler, The Blue Raja, The Spleen and Captain Amazing, in case your wondering. There IS a William H. Macy action figure in existence!). I've watched it many times over the years and it still remains a favorite of mine, due mostly to fond childhood memories. It's not a perfect movie, but it definitely deserves another look and perhaps a cult following.
The story: a bunch of low-level superheroes save the day. This was executed again in the mediocre, direct-to-video "The Specials" as well. But this is the other end of the spectrum: big budget (huge budget, almost $100 Million I think) studio comedy. Yes, the effects are overblown and the huge sets and wonderful production design are a bit much considering the plot. But don't think this as a stupid, special effects-y superhero movie--it's a PARODY. They fight a villain named Cassanova Frankenstein, people. He has a psychofrakulator, whatever that is (it's a doomsday device, he'll take over the world, yada yada.) And resident superhero Captain Amazing (a Zapp Brannigan-esque Greg Kinnear, with commercial-product-logos on his costume, nice touch) is kidnapped. Time for the Mystery Men: Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller, gets mad), The Shoveller (William H. Macy, beats people with shovels), The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria, British, throws forks), The Bowler (Janeane Garafolo, bowls), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell, guess what he does), The Spleen (the great Paul Reubens, farts), and The Sphinx (Wes Studi, cuts guns in half with his mind, I am not kidding). The rest of the fantastic cast of character actors includes Geoffrey Rush as Cassanova, Lena Olin heavily edited out as Cassanova's bride, and the one and only Tom Waits as a crazy weapons dealer. So...with Macy, Kinnear, Olin, and Rush there are four Oscar-nominees (and one winner) and Tom freakin' Waits! It's not perfect though. It's overlong and there are some gushes of corniness here and there (The Shoveller's full of them).
The dialogue definitely outweighs the physical comedy, which is sometimes lacking (there's a guy who farts for his power, case closed). The dialogue is definitely a highlight, the cyclical ramblings of the Sphinx, the mixed metaphors of Mr. Furious, etc. It's downright a funny movie, (it will almost make you forget that this was the film that let "All Star" by Smashmouth out into the world.)
Unfortunately, the film did not do as well with critics and audiences as it should have. A sequel was originally planned (the film is in fact based on a comic book and characters from "The Flaming Carrot" comics. The Flaming Carrot was planned for the sequel I believe) but this did not do well at the box office. It could have been a hard sell, a superhero comedy with the guy from "There's Something About Mary." It also could have been the fact that it was released on the same day as "The Sixth Sense"--which ended up being the biggest hit for the month of August--as well as "The Thomas Crown Affair." Two other misunderstood classics were released on the same crowded weekend, oddly enough--"Dick" and "The Iron Giant." Critics gave MM passable reviews, but it was quickly forgotten. Sadly enough, on Comedy Central's Roast of Jerry Stiller, comedian Jeffrey Ross commented to Ben Stiller that, "I saw 'Mystery Men' and I fired MY agent." Ben is then seen to mouth the words, "I should have to." Don't listen to him. Give "Mystery Men" a chance.
Orange County (2002)
Nuthin' too special
I have a real problem with teen movies these days--and I have authority to, since it was only a couple of years ago I was a teen--but, being a fan of Jake Kasdan's "Zero Effect," Mike White's "Chuck and Buck," "The Good Girl," and, later, "School of Rock" and always a fan of Jack Black, I decided to check this one out. It was getting pretty good reviews--could a teen movie actually be good? It's not bad, I'll tell you that. I had to hand it to them for having a really spectacular soundtrack (especially the Brian Wilson selections, considering it's a freakin' teen movie!) and entertaining cameos. The story is one of those that work for movies to get the plot going, but it hasn't been enough years for me to laugh at the calamities of applying to college, dealing with stupid teachers, the inanity of high school jerks, etc. I also consider myself a writer and tried to relate with the aspiring writer main character, but could not find much similarities, (any struggling writer will tell you a line like, "I've been writing ever since. I'm nonstop!" is quite enraging. Or maybe that's just me). Jack Black and Catherine O' Hara have several funny lines. Mike White himself was funny as well. Lily Tomlin's clueless guidance counselor, again, while true-to-life, makes my head hurt too much for me to laugh.
Of course, it seems one can never escape teen movie clichés (WHY?). The main character has a hot, supportive girlfriend, an expensive car, and two wealthy parents. Don't you hate that? I didn't have sh*t in high school. I was just the fat geek who didn't have a car, a license, a girlfriend until college. And it wasn't sunny California either. It was cold-ass Michigan. I don't know why there aren't more true-to-life teen movies ("Ghost World" is a great movie, but I'd rather not refer to that as just a teen movie). I guess my own bitterness about high school should not affect my review of this film, but it was how I felt when I watched it.
Oh well. It kept me entertained. You might also. B-
Son of Dracula (1974)
Good for a Larf
Yes, this is indeed a movie, albeit one very difficult to get your hands on--try the internet, it was never officially released on video. This is basically a plot less showcase for the musical genius that was Harry Nilsson. He plays the son of Count Dracula--named Count Downe an]--who wants to be mortal so he can marry this woman he's in love with. Or something like that. Ringo Starr looks after Count Downe as Merlin the Magician--with pasty makeup and a fright-wig beard--for some reason, but it really doesn't matter. In fact, there are no full-fledged musical numbers--just Count Downe appearing on-stage at some club and performing--with the exception of his Pete Hamm cover "Without You," in a particularly sappy scene.
It also features strange attempts at comedy. Count Downe's butler uses the word "contretemps" in conversation, then the word appears at the bottom of the screen with a question mark beside it. And the fact that at the end of the credits, Merlin appears in an animated sun and shrugs in an oh-so Ringo way, just proves that--despite its many schlocky tendencies--it is worth a look, if it's not too much trouble.