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A Hilarious Homage to the Old Universal Pictures
15 December 2006
I'm a sucker for comedies. It's with no embarrassment that I admit that comedy is my favorite movie genre and most of my favorite movies are comedies. What's more, when evaluating how good a comedy is, I give more weight to how funny it really is, rather than how well-acted or well-directed or even (much of the time) original it is. If it makes you laugh, then I feel it's done its job, and that's what matters.

I'm simply saying all this because "Young Frankenstein" is not simply one of my favorite comedies ever; it is one of my favorite movies ever. I wrote a comment about "Blazing Saddles" where I mentioned the fact that it came out the same year as "Young Frankenstein", and both movies had the same director (the GREAT Mel Brooks) and the same star (the INCOMPARABLE Gene Wilder, also co-writer). They also happen to both be among the funniest movies of all time, which is an incredible achievement.

Between the two, I give the edge to "Young Frankenstein"; it's my favorite among Brooks's movies, and second only to "Airplane!" (by those other founding fathers of the spoof, Zucker Abrahams and Zucker) on my list of greatest comedies of all time. And this movie IS well-acted, well-directed, and (in its way) original. In fact, there's much to love about this movie besides how funny it is. But it also happens to be side-splittingly hilarious, and that's what gives it the edge over other comedies.

The cast is led by Gene Wilder, who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced FRONK-en-steen, so as to differentiate himself from his infamous grandfather). Frankenstein is a serious scientist who never went for his grandfather's kooky theories about reanimating the dead and resents the connection people make upon hearing his name. But when he finds out that his grandfather's castle has been left to him in his will, he is forced to take a trip out to Transylvania. In Transylvania he is met by Igor (who prefers to go by the pronunciation "Eye-gor", but obviously only to mock his boss). Igor is the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein's servant, and comes to serve Frederick while he's in Transylvania. Played by Marty Feldman, he's the only character who seems fully aware of the goofiness all around him; he is comic relief in a movie that is already a comedy. And with those unbelievable eyes, all he had to do was look at the camera and he could get a laugh. RIP, Marty Feldman.

Frederick also meets hot-blooded Inga (Teri Garr putting on a ridiculous German accent; hands down the best thing she's ever done PERIOD) upon his arrival, and they head to the castle where they meet Frau Blucher, the caretaker. Frau Blucher is played by Cloris Leachman, who of course is always funny. This sets up one of the best running gags in the movie; every time someone says her name, the horses whinny.

At first, Frederick resists his grandfather's research. But after Inga wakes him up from a nightmare, they hear violin music, and find a secret passageway that leads to the original Frankenstein's laboratory. On the way down they also run into Igor, but don't find out who was playing the violin (which they do find, unattended and still warm, along with a smoldering cigar). They do, however, find Frederick's grandfather's notes (including a book titled "How I Did It"). Reading these notes, Frederick decides that bringing life to the dead could work after all, and sets to work digging up corpses and sending Igor for a brain (he breaks the one he was supposed to get and picks up an abnormal one instead). And so Frederick, Igor, and Inga set to work on their grand experiment.

At first, it doesn't seem to work. But when the creature does finally come to life, it's a crazy monster. It escapes, the townspeople (led by Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp, and he is hilarious as usual) want to kill it, and they have to get it back.

As I'm writing this, it is three days past Peter Boyle's death, and this is a pity. The world will be a bit less funny without him. He was pitch-perfect as the monster, making it every bit as much his own as Boris Karloff did in the original. He commented once that this was his favorite part of his. His ability getting laughs with just some exaggerated movements, subtle facial expressions and groans was without peer, and the bit where he and Frederick are on stage singing "Puttin on the Ritz" is among the funniest scenes in movie history.

The cast is rounded out by Madeline Khan as Frederick's virginal fiancé Elizabeth. Madeline Khan was an extremely funny woman and although she doesn't have much screen time in this movie, she makes her time count. RIP, Madeline Khan.

And Gene Hackman must be mentioned as well. I've always been a huge fan of Hackman's, and although his cameo as the blind man isn't his best part ever, it is his funniest, and makes for some of the funniest bits in the movie ("Come back! I was going to make espresso!" he yells out as the monster runs screaming from his house).

What makes this movie work so well is that it almost seems to take itself seriously. It has an original plot that pays homage to the original Universal pictures with nearly every scene. It's shot in black-and-white, and everything, including the haunting score, Gothic cinematography, and set-pieces, many of which came from the original pictures, is meant to evoke Frankenstein movies of old. It's this hushed level of reverence to the originals juxtaposed with the hilariousness of the script and over-the-top performances of the actors that really sets this movie apart. It is a work of genius in every way.

RIP, Peter Boyle, Oct 18 1935 - Dec 12 2006.
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Scary Movie 2 (2001)
Awesome opening, decent movie
18 August 2006
The second movie in the "Scary Movie" series is, in my opinion, the weakest overall. That doesn't mean that it isn't without its merits, but the whole thing seems kind of like it was slapped together over a weekend. Many of the jokes just don't work, but there are enough side-splittingly funny bits to make it all worthwhile.

This movie opens with an absolutely brilliant parody of "The Exorcist". It starts with the singalong scene with Andy Richter as Father Harris behind the piano. "You guys know this one?" he asks, and then proceeds to play the opening bars of -- get ready -- "Shake Ya Ass". Megan Voorhees (played by Natasha Lyonne) comes down the stairs and starts peeing on the floor, interrupting the singalong. Her mother treats her like a dog! This segues into the more obvious parody of the movie with Father McFeeley (James Woods) coming in to perform the exorcism with Father Harris ("F--- this!" McFeeley says when he first encounters the possessed girl). It's classic.

Then the movie kind of dries up. The basic story is a parody of "The Haunting", a movie that was so bad that parody seems kind of unnecessary. It centers around a bunch of college kids going on an overnight trip to Hill House, ostensibly to study their sleep disorders but actually so the professor (Tim Curry) can summon the ghosts in the house. The only real connection with the first is found here, as some of the kids were picked because of their prior traumatic experiences (which they encountered in the first movie).

Honestly, I thought the whole thing kind of rambled when I first saw it, and there were some eye-rollingly dumb jokes. But there were also a lot of very funny jokes and the cast (including Anna Faris, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, and the incredible Regina Hall from the original, mixed with vets Chris Elliot, David Cross, and Curry, Woods, and Richter) was very good; it was the writing that suffered more than anything. That, and the sloppy production values, but I guess that's nitpicking with a movie like this. Also, I didn't think the ending was very satisfying. Still, Brenda (Hall) and Cindy (Faris) messing with the "scary" skeleton that tries to terrorize them ("This is a skeleton -- this is bones! Would you run from Calista Flockhart?" Brenda chides Cindy when they run into each other); Hanson (Elliot) and Dwight (Cross) arguing; and Cindy fighting a cat "Raging Bull"-style were just some of the few very funny moments found in this movie.

This may not seem like a glowing review, but I actually did like this movie and recommend it if you're into the spoof genre. Just don't expect "Airplane!" or even the first "Scary Movie" when you see it. On the bright side, it ain't "Spy Hard" either.
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My Name Is Earl (2005–2009)
Best Comedy on TV Now.
23 June 2006
I watch very little network TV anymore; the sitcoms on now in particular don't really do anything for me. But "My Name Is Earl" has become appointment TV for me. Not since "Seinfeld" have I seen such a smartly written show about such ignorant people. The cast is terrific; I'm so glad Jason Lee, Jaime Pressley, and Ethan Supplee are finally a part of something so widely loved. It's about time they got the recognition they deserve. And Nadine Velazquez and Eddie Steeples as Catalina and Darnell are terrific too (one highlight of every show: Darnell saying "Hey Earl!" and Earl responding "Hey Crabman!").

The show has one of the most unique premises in TV history, and one that should provide plenty of fodder for years to come. Earl (Lee) wins the lottery, decides to give in to the concept of karma, and writes up a list of all the bad things he's done in his life, so he can make up for it with the people's he's wronged. The ingenious thing about this show is that it's uplifting, but only so far... it's pretty snarky too. Jaime Pressley as Joy is one of the greatest bitches of all time, and on the whole, the characters (all of whom are criminals or former criminals) aren't too bright. In fact, it's amazing that the show exists, given the extent to which it makes fun of the South (think "Raising Arizona" type jokes).

Many of the best scenes take place in flashback, like when the core group thought the world had ended because of Y2K and took over a department store, or they all decided to rob a house they thought would be empty because the residents were at a party only to discover that the house they were robbing was where the party was.

And poor Earl just wants to do the right thing, but often ends up screwing things up further before making them better, or getting himself in trouble. One hilarious episode, for example, has him trying to pay taxes he owed, only to find out that the government has no record of his employment, so he can't pay them. He tries to volunteer to clean up the highway alongside a bunch of convicts, and ends up being taken to jail and thrown in the hole! The comedy is clever and sharp, and despite the often sarcastic tone, it usually ends on a positive note, and it definitely has heart. I think "My Name Is Earl" has the best sitcom ensemble at least since "Newsradio", and several guest stars (Jon Favreau, Juliette Lewis, and Giovanni Ribisi, to name a few) have put in memorable appearances. Watch it once and you'll probably be hooked.
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Grandma's Boy (2006)
Movie most likely to become a cult hit this year.
20 June 2006
The reviews for this movie were so awful (and the buzz so dead) that I really didn't want to see it. I think there was a real bias toward it to begin with because its brainchild is Allen Covert, a frequent collaborator of Adam Sandler's who's rarely attached to anything else, and it was made by Happy Madison, Sandler's production company. And it probably didn't help that the director, Nicholaus Goossen, had only ever directed one movie (and it shows, but so what?).

The thing is, an intelligent critic, no matter how fair he thinks he is, is going to be thinking about these kinds of things when he goes to review a movie. And it is probably also true that most of them would have given it a bad review anyway, since most critics are not the fans of Adam Sandler that I am.

But now that the movie has been released on DVD it is showing signs of life. I had heard from several people before I actually saw it how funny this movie is and how worth watching it is. And as it turns out, they were right. I was surprised by how funny I thought it was. Covert is no genius but he knows how to milk a situation for laughs; as it happens, he makes a terrific straight man to all of the silliness going on around him (not that his character Alex is particularly normal; an incident happens early on that's so out-there and humiliating that you can't help but laugh).

It's a threadbare plot, like many of the best genuine comedies. Alex is thrown out of his house because his loser roommate hasn't paid the rent in 6 months. So after bouncing around here and there he settles into his grandmother's house. Grandma is played by Doris Roberts, and she is very funny in this. She lives with two roommates: Grace, a sex addict going back to the silent film era who repeatedly makes cracks about Alex being gay and ends up sleeping with one of the younger characters, and Bea, played by Shirley Knight, whose mind is pretty absent and who takes way too many drugs (of the legal, pharmaceutical variety).

Alex is also a video game tester, and when a woman comes in as his boss (Linda Cardellini), he falls for her. Many of the funniest scenes involve his loser friends and co-workers, most of whom are virgins and/or hopeless drug addicts (of the illegal, THC-based variety). Best of the bunch: Nick Swardson, who is poised to become a real star. I love him as Terry on Reno 911. His character Jeff still lives with his parents (whom he hilariously refers to as his "roommates") and sleeps in a car-shaped bed. And he's a killer at Dance Dance Revolution. Swardson also co-wrote the movie, which may go a bit of the way toward explaining why he steals so many scenes. But he's the funniest part of the movie.

Of course, the veterans who play the old ladies are great too. Best is Shirley Jones, who has many of the best lines. But seeing Doris Roberts become an immediate video game zombie, or Shirley Knight arrange her pills like a happy face on her dinner plate, are priceless. If it hadn't been for these women, the movie just wouldn't have been nearly as good, period.

Joel Moore (also in "Dodgeball") is actually kind of frightening as JP. Frightening, because as weird as JP is, he may also be the least exaggerated of the video game freaks that populate this movie; I've actually known people very much like him. Believe it or not. It's pretty funny on the whole, but the schtick does start to wear a bit thin by the end.

There's much to criticize about this movie. A lot of jokes fall flat, and the direction is stiff. But so was the direction in "Clerks", and that's looked on as a comedy classic now. And so much of the humor centers around crude sex and drug references (one of the funniest scenes has the old ladies unwittingly drinking pot tea) that you really should steer clear if you don't like risqué humor. But I really think that this has the potential to become another "Office Space" (as in, a movie that finds huge success on DVD even though it bombed in theaters) because people seem to love it that much. Yes, it's far from a CINEMA classic. But it has great potential as a cult classic. And on the whole it's a very funny movie, and that's what really matters, in my opinion.
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You have our gratitude.
12 May 2006
This movie was like the Holy Grail of DVDs for me; I couldn't find it for the longest time. Finally I just picked it up off E-Bay (which I should have done from the start, of course) and watched it for the first time in years last night.

In terms of laughs per minute, this one is a strong contender for funniest movie of all time. Written by Zucker Abraham and Zucker, directed by John Landis, and produced by Samuel L Bronkowitz (just kidding), "The Kentucky Fried Movie" is really nothing more than a collection of skits, barely connected by the convention that they're all things you might see on TV (or at the movies). But, oh, the skits. Let's just say that no single episode of "Saturday Night Live" was ever this funny.

Best of the bunch is the movie's centerpiece, "A Fistful of Yen", a dead-on parody of kung fu action movies a la "Enter The Dragon". In this bit, the longest in the film, a Bruce Lee type named Loo has to infiltrate a mountain fortress run by the villainous Dr. Klahn, who is building an army of extraordinary magnitude. The martial arts scenes are hilarious; it may be the most staged-looking fighting of all time. Beginning with Loo training other fighters ("What was that? This is not a chawade. We need total concen-TWAY-tion," he yells at one student) and ending with Loo finally going home (in a completely out-of-left-field ending having nothing to do with the previous action but seeming somehow fitting anyway), the slapstick jokes come fast and furious, even parodying "The Dating Game" at one point. This is a direct precursor to ZAZ's later movies like "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun".

Then there's the incredible "Catholic High School Girls in Trouble", which aims to parody 70s porno flicks ("More shocking than 'Behind the Green Door'... Never before has the beauty of the sexual act been so crassly exploited!" the announcer screams.) To get an idea of the kind of humor seen here, picture a hot chick approaching a loser and saying in a breathy voice "Show me your nuts!" and the guy proceeding to start acting like a total loon. In "United Appeal for the Dead" Henry Gibson speaks at great length about death, the number one killer in the United States, and what his group can do to help a loved one who has died lead a normal life. "That's Armageddon" features George Lazenby and parodies every Irwin Allen disaster flick made. A young man and woman discover the pleasures of sex through an instructional record in "Sex Record", and "Courtroom" is a hilarious parody of courtroom melodramas featuring Wally (the real Tony Dow) and the Beav (Jerry Zucker mugging it up in place of Jerry Mathers) as observers. The movie begins and ends with two news-themed skits, "AM Today" and the racy "Eyewitness News", in which the newscasters watch a couple with the TV on having sex. And there's much more.

"The Kentucky Fried Movie" is not for all tastes; I've known people who have watched it and just said "This is stupid." It is, indeed, stupid, but within the confines of the genre, it's one of the best. You'll laugh at the stupid jokes and stupid puns and stupid lines and stupid stunts all the way through if you like this sort of thing. The movie is very clever in how it packs the laughs.
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Scary Movie 4 (2006)
Plot? Who needs a plot?
19 April 2006
No this movie isn't art, but then again, neither are any of the others. Nor are most movies in this genre (the spoof), for that matter. But you could always count on the "Scary Movie"s for laughs, and the same can be said about many of the people involved in this movie.

Let's start with David Zucker, director, and Leslie Neilson, actor (he plays the president), both of whom were involved in a few of the greatest comedies of all time (Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Top Secret, Kentucky Fried Movie...). Let's face it, Zucker is a master of this genre, and he did better with both this and the previous movie than the Wayans Bros did. Neilson definitely can be funny, especially when directed by Zucker, and he has a few laughs here. Then there's Anna Faris and Regina Hall, the only two people to star in all four movies. They are both a hoot, and Hall (as Brenda) has some of the funniest lines, although it's a relatively small part (my favorite is a nod to ZAZ comedies of old: showing Cindy (Faris) video of the devastation caused by the alien invasion a la "War of the Worlds", she says "This is Detroit"... followed by "This is Detroit after the invasion" with the only two differences between the shots being the presence of the tripods). A few others from the previous movies return for cameos or small parts, including Anthony Anderson, Chris Elliot, Carmen Electra, Charlie Sheen, and Simon Rex. And there are other comedy vets, including Bill Pullman (Spaceballs), Cloris Leachman (about half of Mel Brooks's movies), Dave Atell (Insomniac), and Molly Shannon (SNL). It's all good fun.

Forget about a plot, because there is none; "Scary Movie 4" is even less plot-driven than most spoofs, including the previous three movies in the series. What it does, essentially, is zig-zag through the plots of "Saw", "The Grudge", "War of the Worlds", and "The Village", with other pop-culture points of reference thrown in. This might even be its greatest strength, because really, who cares about plot in a spoof? Some may disagree, but you shouldn't expect great drama with deep characterization in a movie like this, and if that's what you want, steer clear of this one just as you probably did all the others. Go see this if you want to laugh. As in most movies of this nature, many jokes fall flat, but the ones that hit the bulls-eye do so in such a painfully funny way that you'll split your sides. I think this was definitely the funniest in the series yet.

Bottom line: "Scary Movie 4" is hilarious. Probably the best spoof to be made in a decade.
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Unforgiven (1992)
The Western as Myth
24 February 2006
"Unforgiven" is the ultimate Clint Eastwood movie and the ultimate western. Eastwood's character William Munny is a man legendary for both his killing ability, and his lack of remorse about his handiwork. There are imprints of his other characters here, including those from "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly". But this one goes much deeper than those early spaghetti westerns. In a sense William Munny is based on the myth of Eastwood's own characters from those old movies. The movie is peppered with stories about his legendary, grisly "accomplishments". It seems to revel in the cold-bloodedness of his prior actions luridly, until you realize that there's a point to all of this. Munny is tired, and he does have remorse for what he's done in the past. Further, he doesn't consider himself that kind of person anymore.

Setting the movie off is the disfiguring of a beautiful, naive young prostitute named Delilah. When Little Bill (Gene Hackman, and he's as good as ever), the pompous sheriff of the town, refuses to so much as whip the men responsible (these aren't people, they are property), the ladies at the whorehouse (led by Strawberry Alice, the tough, decisive madame, played by Frances Fisher) decide to take matters into their own hands. They put a price on the heads of the people who did this.

This is where Munny comes in. A young cowboy who calls himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) approaches him about teaming up to collect the bounty. So after some thought, Munny decides to pursue the bounty, enlisting his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).

A huge amount of the movie is spent on build-up to the climax. Little Bill finds out about the bounty and prevents the anyone from entering his town with firearms, while the three cowboys ride to town, and the prostitutes wait for their vengeance. We also meet English Bob, a gentleman whose killing abilities are known far and wide thanks to his biographer WW Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). He has some of the funniest scenes in the movie until his clash with Little Bill, who beats him, locks him up, deflates the overblown stories written about him, casts him off, and even steals his biographer.

A lot of this is to set the mood. It looks on the surface like a traditional western, but it's not. It is the traditional western on acid, elevated to true myth, with gut-wrenching drama thrown in. Everything from the cinematography to the acting to the directing is vivid, striking, and beautiful, and meant to evoke a simpler style of movie-making while at the same time being completely state-of-the-art. The movie won several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director (it was directed by Eastwood). I'm not going to say anything about the climax as it would give too much away, but suffice it to say, it's pretty powerful. "Unforgiven", more than just the greatest western of all time, is also hands-down one of the greatest movies of all time.
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Cry-Baby (1990)
John Waters' best movie
1 November 2005
"Cry-Baby" has most of the subversive charm of Waters's early movies with very few of the gag-worthy scenes (like, for example, drag queen Divine eating dogpoo, and that's only the tip of the iceberg). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching his early movies, largely because of the audacity with which he tried to gross you out. But since he joined the studio system I do think his movies got better, as they should have because he could afford a much larger budget and better actors. Johnny Depp, of course, didn't become a marquee name until some time after this came out -- he was previously best known for his role on the TV show "21 Jump Street" and had also played Nancy's boyfriend in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" -- but afterwards he exploded, and I wonder if it's partly because of his role in this movie. On the other hand, John Waters is so far from mainstream, that's hard to imagine, but you have to give Depp credit for his performance in this; he's always taken quirky, far-from-mainstream parts, and this is where it all began. He's so successful here I wish he'd do a reunion movie with Waters as the two go together so well.

"Cry-Baby" takes place in Baltimore during the 50s and concerns itself with two opposing segments of society: the squares, who are the clean-cut types, and the drapes, who are juvenile delinquent types. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (Depp) is the latter, and Allison, played by Amy Locane is a square, but she's kind of a square peg in her community; she's smitten on sight with Cry-Baby, and is tired of being good (she's a "scrape", as a character later says). And so we have the set-up for the story -- Allison runs off from the squares to join Cry-Baby at a music show he's putting on, which ignites a war between the squares and the drapes. One of the clever things about this set-up is that we rarely see Cry-Baby and his gang doing anything illegal -- at one point, he bumps into Mrs. Vernon-Williams' car (she's Allison's grandmother and a leader of the square community, played by Polly Bergen), and there's a definite air of obnoxiousness about them, but that's really about it. The squares, by contrast, seem like the bad kids; Allison's boyfriend punches Cry-Baby unprovoked when he goes to pick her up, they destroy property when they get to Cry-Baby's show to teach him a lesson, etc. It's one of those "Who's really the bad guy?" situations. All of this leads to a great courtroom scene that helps set up the central conflict of the third act, with Allison not sure which path she wants to go down, and Cry-Baby locked up in reform school.

The cast is hilarious. You have Johnny Depp and Amy Locane in the lead roles, and they're both great. And you also have Ricki Lake who is very entertaining as Pepper, Cry-Baby's pregnant sister; she has one of the funniest lines in "The first thing a Cry-Baby girl learns is, our bazooms are our weapons." Then there's former under-age porn star Traci Lords, who plays Wanda. She puts in a genuinely funny performance here that belies her less-than-stellar past, and has many of the best scenes (she was also good in Waters's "Serial Mom"). Rounding out the Cry-Baby gang are Kim Maguire as Hatchet-Face, who's aptly named (every facial expression she puts on is worth a laugh, and she manages to be both hard-edged and sympathetic), and Darren Burrows (who would later star in "Northern Exposure") as Milton. Susan Tyrrell and Iggy Pop play Cry-Baby's aunt and uncle. Also watch out for Patricia Hearst and David Nelson (Ozzie's son) as Wanda's straight-laced, square-like parents (the courtroom scene involving Wanda and her parents is the funniest scene in the movie), Troy Donahue and Mink Stole(who, like Hearst, is a Waters regular) as Hatchet-Face's parents, Joey Heatherton and Joe Dallesandro as Milton's bible-thumping parents, and Willem Dafoe as a guard at the reform school.

What will happen to Cry-Baby and his gang? Will Allison go back to her square ways, or become a permanent member of Cry-Baby's gang? I can only recommend you watch the movie if you haven't yet to find out. All in all, "Cry-Baby" is good, only slightly dirty fun, obviously inspired by both 50s teenage delinquent movies like "Rebel Without a Cause" as well as any number of 50s rock and roll musical movies, with a lot of slapstick and a lot of funny dialogue and a lot of good music. And despite its less subversive leanings, it is a John Waters movie through and through. This is one of my favorite movies, and I've really only scratched the surface of why.
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Cabin Boy (1994)
an epic in the grand tradition of "Captain's Courageous"...
4 October 2005
"Cabin Boy" is one of those movies that makes you glad to be alive. Chris Elliot shines in the role of Nathaniel Mayweather, a wealthy young man fresh out of finishing school, forced into a life at sea on a fishing boat with men not of his stature. Fine performances abound in this grand seafaring epic, including Brian Doyle-Murray as Skunk, Andy Richter as Kenny, Melora Walters as Trina, the swimmer who catches Nathaniel's heart, and Ann Magnuson as Calli, who cleans his pipes. Best of all is Ricki Lake with an astoundingly nuanced performance as The Filthy Whore's head. With rich cinematography, amazing special effects, and masterful direction by Adam Resnick (who also co-wrote the suspenseful and heartwarming screenplay with Elliot), this is one movie that you shouldn't miss if you're a fan of great seagoing adventure stories like "The Odyssey" and "Captain's Courageous". It's easily one of the greatest movies of this or any other generation; if I could rate higher than 10/10, I would do so with this one. The ending would make even the most hardened death row convict cry.
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Total Recall (1990)
Who am I?
28 September 2005
Before this movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger had shown his impressive acting abilities by playing a killer cyborg, a barbarian, a commando, a marine, and Hercules. In "Total Recall", he actually plays a character that goes against type: he's a regular guy, albeit one with the physique of a Mr. Universe, who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

Or is he? That's the central question of "Total Recall", and we're left wondering throughout the movie what Ah-nold's real identity is (I won't spoil any surprises here). It's a fantastic sci-fi set-up, especially when you throw the main setting of Mars into the mix.

The plot: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker in the year 2084 who's been having weird dreams about living on Mars. There's a mystery woman in his dreams, a brunette, who sparks jealousy in his wife (played by Sharon Stone, who's also pretty good in this; it's one of the earliest things I remember seeing her in). Quaid sees an ad for a place called Rekall, which implants vacations in people's memories that are as good as the real thing. So he goes to Rekall, gets a memory-vacation package for Mars where he plays the part of a spy and that includes the woman in his dreams, and that's when things go haywire.

This is where the central mystery of who Schwarzenegger really is starts. All of a sudden, he's thrust into a complex story of some rebels on Mars trying to overcome their ruthless dictator Cohaagen, and he's a central part of the story. Here's where it gets twisty: it comes into question whether he's actually Douglas Quaid or this spy named Hauser who's involved in the whole thing! All of a sudden, his wife and friends turn against him, he's on the run from Cohaagen's lieutenant Richter (played by Michael Ironside) and (on the advice of himself, as Hauser) he must make his way to Mars, where he gets embroiled in a plot to help the rebels, mostly a bunch of mutants. They are led by Kuato, a psychic mutant coming out of the abdomen of a fellow named George (Marshall Bell). And his dream girl also comes into the picture in the person of Melina (Rachel Ticotin, who's fabulous), who's also trying to help the rebels. Always on your mind as you're watching this movie is the question: What's real, and what's merely a mind-implant? Is the whole movie from the point he visited Rekall a dream, or was the life he knew the dream? And also coming into the play is the question of whose side Hauser is actually supposed to be on, and what this reactor built by the original Martians a million years ago is supposed to do, exactly...

Based on the story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by the great Philip K. Dick (who also wrote the story "Blade Runner" was based on), and directed by Paul Verhoeven ("Robocop"), "Total Recall" is consistently thrilling and amazing, with some incredible visuals, including the barren surface of the planet Mars, and the station where the residents of Mars are housed. Of course, it's a great action movie. There's also a lot of great humor (including a mutant hooker with three breasts), terrific special effects, and constant plot twists throughout (unlike many other Schwarzenneger films, this one makes you think). This movie is easily one of the best Schwarzenegger has ever done (he actually puts in a decent acting job, probably his best ever), and also one of the best sci-fi thrillers ever made. The ending, though it stretches credibility, is a brilliant, old-time sci-fi ending.
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"Where the white women at?"
6 August 2005
1974 was a very good year for the team of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder; their "Young Frankenstein" (which came out in 1974) is one of the funniest movies ever made, and "Blazing Saddles" (same year) is almost just behind it. It's a bit overrated (but just a bit); I know a lot of people look on this as the funniest movie of all time, but I can't go THAT far. But it is ONE of the funniest movies of all time, and for two such movies by the same director, with the same star, to come out the same year, to be on that list is quite an achievement.

The residents of Rock Ridge (all named Johnson) need a new sheriff. They get one... Bart, played by Cleavon Little, who happens to be black. It's all planned out by Hedley Lamarr (don't call him Heddy!), an employee of the governor (Mel Brooks), in a plot to run the residents out of town so he can have a railroad run through it. At first, the townsfolk aren't happy about this development, but when Bart endeavors to save them from the evil Lamarr, who's played to slimy perfection by Harvey Korman, they warm up to him. Also thrown into the mix is Wilder as "The Waco Kid", a gunslinger who's lost his knack for shooting, Alex Karras as a huge idiot named Mongo , and Madeline Khan as Lily von Schtupp, a parody of Marlene Dietrich, complete with ridiculous German accent. She stands out heads and shoulders above everybody else in this movie, I think, and her song "I'm Tired" ("I'm not a wabbit! I need some west!") is possibly the funniest song ever to appear in a film. This is no doubt the funniest part Madeline Khan has ever had (and she ALSO appeared in "Young Frankenstein"!). It's also a kick to see a pre-"Magnum PI" John Hillerman as Howard Johnson, with an ice cream shop with a sign that screams "1 Flavor"; and Slim Pickens (Taggart, another bad guy) is always a hoot.

The plot is just an excuse to make fun of westerns, racism, and movie-making in general, as demonstrated in the extremely wacky, fourth-wall breaking finale (Watch for Dom DeLuise in these scenes). None of this is really supposed to make sense or be realistic, it's just supposed to be funny, and for the most part it is. It's one of the crassest and crudest mainstream movies in history, and that's it's strength; it often plays just like a Mad movie parody. One example of this that really sticks out is the famous farting scene, which somehow manages to be one of the funniest scenes in the movie, and probably the funniest fart scene ever. But the focus is on the way blacks were treated in the post-Civil War old west, and the movie is merciless in the way it has its ignorant white characters treat the black characters, throwing the n-word around without abandon and giving them the dirty work (at one point, a character says "We can't afford to lose any horses! Send a couple of n****rs!"). The movie finds its heart in the way the initially racist townspeople of Rock Ridge become fond of their black sheriff.

Its spirit, however, is in the hilarious and crude jokes that are thrown all through. This is one funny movie, and with Mel Brooks, that's what's really important.
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A GREAT movie for kids and adults alike.
18 July 2005
Who says that a movie can't be dark and still be for kids? Sure, the original may have sugar-coated things a bit more, but it was still just as dark and disturbing as this one was! And that's OK. Has anybody heard of the Brothers Grimm? They wrote fairy tales that were still ten times as dark as this movie, and they were for kids, and many of us read them when we were kids. Kids are savvier than we give them credit for, and honestly, I think that adults would be more put off by the disturbing imagery in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" than kids would. I saw this movie at a Friday afternoon matinée in a theater that was FULL of kids, and the reaction seemed pretty positive to me. (And as far as some of the "hidden" risqué jokes, I remember the same types of jokes in a lot of Disney movies from the late 80s and early 90s; it's a part of the kid's movie landscape now.) I thought it was an excellent movie, for adults or for kids. I also thought it had some touches that actually improved on the original; the set pieces were amazing, and there was more with the great glass elevator (like the book) than in the original movie, which I was pleased to see.

I thought I'd go into this being bored until they got to the factory because that was how I felt about the original, but even the opening scenes with the Bucket family, and Grandpa Bucket's flashbacks to his time working at the factory, are wonderfully entertaining. The unusual imagery starts there, with the gigantic factory "ten times as big as any other chocolate factory", and Charlie's weird, funhouse-like shack and eccentric but loving family. I was most impressed with David Kelly as Grandpa Bucket, whose performance was all child-like wonder, and Helena Bonham-Carter and Noah Taylor were also good as Charlie's parents; and Freddie Highmore, who played Charlie, ought to have a decent career in front of him.

Once they do get to the factory, though, things really take off. Johnny Depp puts in an excellent performance as Willy Wonka, not an impression of Gene Wilder AT ALL, but as usual, making the character his own. Without a doubt, he's the best thing about the movie, but the imagery is amazing too. It's exactly what you'd expect from a Tim Burton-made adaptation of the book; his trademark is all over everything, and the result is stunning. And the kids are great too, as are Deep Roy as every one of the Oompa Loompas, Missi Pyle as Violet's mother, David Kelly as Grandpa Bucket, and James Fox as Veruca Salt's father. From the start of the tour, the movie starts feeling like an acid trip, and the movie never lets go of that atmosphere. The result is amazing.

The only slow parts, I think, are those dealing with Wonka's childhood (although Christopher Lee is good as his father, I just thought they were a little boring and wanted to get back to the factory when they were on) and the Oompa Loompas' musical numbers, which I didn't think had the charm of those in the original (actually, I thought the musical number with the puppets at the beginning of the tour was the best one in the movie). The ending is also just a bit overlong, but the whole package is so good that the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses. You'll enjoy this movie, especially if you're already a fan of Tim Burton's work, but also, I think, if you're a fan of the original movie or the book; however, even kids who have never been exposed to any of this will be entertained. It's often hilarious, always a visual treat, and has something to offer for everybody.
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Orange County (2002)
So what's not to like?
28 June 2005
This movie, for some reason, doesn't get a lot of respect. It was flawed, sure. Maybe it was a bit clichéd. But it was a great movie, and doesn't deserve the lambasting it's gotten.

Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) finds a book on the beach. He likes it so much he decides to become a writer. He wants to study at Stanford, where the book's writer is a professor. But the guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin, who's hilarious in this) switches his transcripts with someone else's. What follows are the steps Shaun takes to try to get in despite this obstacle, and the obstacles he encounters because of his family.

People seem to want to find a conspiracy here because of the director and cast... Jake Kasdan is Lawrence Kasdan's son, Colin Hanks is Tom Hanks's son, of course, and Schuyler Fisk is Sissy Spacek's daughter. All actually do very well here, and Fisk has proved her mettle as a comic actress much more forcefully in "Not Another Teen Movie" (another underrated comedy... but c'est la vie). Some people hold the soundtrack in contempt for trying too hard to be commercial... as if Brian Wilson (solo), Phantom Planet, or Social Distortion are commercial. Newsbreak, people: look past "Butterfly" (which seems to be part of an important plot point, which I will explain later), and you may find the movie has an excellent soundtrack.

The standout performance here is definitely Jack Black's; every move he makes and line he utters is amusing. Does it ever get old that they keep focusing on this fat layabout loser who spends every day "recovering from the night before"? Not really. I guess it depends on where your tastes lie, but I thought he was funny in this from beginning to end.

The cast is terrific. Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow, Harold Ramis, Garry Marshall, Kevin Kline, Ben Stiller, Chevy Chase, even Ernest Borgnine as Bob, the old man Shaun's mom married after getting a divorce (think Anna Nicole Smith)... they're all very good. And there was more subtlety than I think people noticed the first time around. Case in point: the use of the song "Butterfly". Early in the movie, Shaun sees some cheerleader types perform an obviously choreographed dance to this song (which does have one saving grace: the hook is a sample from an old Red Hot Chili Peppers song). Later on, when Shaun is at Stanford, he sees a bunch of cheerleader types doing the same dance. Keep this in mind, and Shaun's reaction the next time you watch it. It's a big turning point in the movie.

The bottom line is that this is a sweet-natured farce about a young man with big dreams who feels he needs to get away from his current life to realize them. It's a classic story, but in this case, it's mixed with the almost slapstick antics of his family and friends. There are big laughs and a great feel-good (if not entirely plausible) ending. And there's a depth here that some people just don't see. So come on, I beg you, if you didn't like this movie, watch it again, but make sure you leave your prejudices at the door. I won't guarantee that you'll love it, but I can't imagine that you won't laugh a few times.
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Was this meant to be a horror comedy?
19 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I think I've figured something out.

First of all, this movie was bad. Baaaaaaaaad. It was terrible. It was as bad as anything else that Ed Wood Jr. has ever made, so don't think that what I have to say is meant as some kind of praise (although from a modern view of Wood's work, it just may be).

I believe that by the time Wood made "Night of the Ghouls", he had already figured out that he was a truly terrible filmmaker, and that none of his movies would be "classics". I say this because I really think this was meant to be some kind of comedy. A really inept comedy with jokes that you only laugh at because they're so badly written, but a comedy nonetheless. I think that with this movie, Wood may have actually SET OUT to create a horrible piece of garbage, but a funny horrible piece of garbage. Of course, if I'm right, he succeeded. Some of the stuff in this is just too bad to believe. This may be his worst film, but I think he may have intended it to be his worst film. I think he also intended it to be funny (of course, you're laughing for all the wrong reasons, but there are enough obvious jokes in this to suggest that I'm right).

The centerpiece of this movie? Why, Criswell, of course. As the narrator and also a character who pops up in the "surprise" ending, he has been given the gift of some of the worst dialogue that has ever graced the screen. You have to wonder if Wood WANTED the dialogue to sound so bad. After all, who could write this stuff with a straight face? There's also Tor Johnson, as Lobo, a disfigured monster. He just sort of stumbles around and moans all through the movie. He's supposed to be a depraved beast, but he doesn't automatically kill the cops when he gets his hands on them. Does this make any sense? Of course not, but in a Wood movie, sense goes out the window with quality.

Now, there's more to support my argument that Wood was trying to make a horror comedy. First of all, in the first death scene, the music is completely incongruous to the action. It sounds like the background to a cartoon, or perhaps a jaunty comedy. This music pops up elsewhere in the movie. And there are certain characters who really seem to be stock comedy characters. The most obvious is the inept cop Kelton (who appeared in a couple previous Wood movies), who comes off sort of like Lou Costello in those old Universal movies. He's certainly intended as comic relief. But then there's the old couple from the beginning. You're going to tell me they weren't meant to be funny? The plot, about a phony medium (named Dr. Acula, natch- do you really think this wasn't some kind of corny joke?) who claims he can raise the dead, but who it turns out REALLY CAN raise the dead, is like something out of an EC comic book. And the ending is straight out of an EC comic book. But certain aspects of this plot really seemed to be intentionally bad too. The séance scenes, for example. Was the ghost in the sheet with those weird whistling sounds supposed to be scary? Or the trumpet that was so obviously hanging from a string and playing something that can only be described as sounding like a 2nd grade trumpet player that can't even play as well as other 2nd grade trumpet players? All I'm saying is that perhaps Wood was trying to make a parody, perhaps of those EC comics. That's not to say that he succeeded. But I think that some of the bad dialogue is no "worse" than some of the dialogue that your Mel Brookses and Zucker Brotherses have come up with. That dialogue was meant to be funny. Who's to say this dialogue wasn't too? Let's consider, also, where he went from here. It's unclear to me whether this came first or "Plan 9 From Outer Space", but "Plan 9" is often called the worst movie of all time. And then? Why, he made softcore porn in his later years! I think that his earlier movies took themselves too seriously for them to be anything but accidentally bad. But maybe by "Night of the Ghouls", he had "figured out" how to make a truly bad movie, and he was exploiting that fact, TRYING to make a bad movie. If this is the case, it turns all current theories of Wood's work on their head. It means that he achieved his artistic vision with at least SOME of his movies, and since we continue to be entertained by them for what they may have been meant to actually be, he wasn't such a bad filmmaker after all. I mean, sure, he certainly wasn't a GOOD filmmaker, but at least he wasn't TRYING to be a good filmmaker. Some of the time anyway.

Of course, that's just my opinion. And I still thought this was a bad movie. But I tend to rate movies more by entertainment value than by what others consider to be quality. "Night of the Ghouls", like "Glen or Glenda?" or "Plan 9", was an entertaining movie. I can't bring myself to give a low rating to a movie that I had so much fun watching. And besides, Wood has gotten the last laugh, because whatever his intentions, his movies are considered to be classics.
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I wanted to like it...
15 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I really did want to like this movie. I thought it was an original premise and it could have been a great feel-good movie. Then they went and ruined it in the end by killing Haley Joel Osment's character. I was left wondering by this. Was the whole movie meant to be ironic, and the message that trying to help people will only eventually lead you to trouble? Or was it just to wring tears from the audience? Sadly, I think it's the latter, and it was shamelessly manipulative in this regard. I couldn't take it seriously; I actually started laughing in the theater. Another movie that COULD HAVE BEEN good was ruined by the ending. And I know it happens that way in the book (which I've never read and surely never will); I don't care. Maybe it was a bad book too. So I gave it 3 stars because it started good and was pretty good throughout, despite the overacting of Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey (who, by the way, was black in the book, so it's far from a pure translation by any measure). Haley Joel Osment, Jay Mohr, and Angie Dickinson really carried the movie; they all put in excellent performances. But the ending was easily one of the worst of all time, and I can't in good conscience give a higher rating to a movie that ended so badly when the ending ruined my enjoyment of the movie so much.
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Look! It's Enrico Pullazo!
15 June 2005
If "Airplane!" was the movie that proved how funny "Forbidden Planet" star Leslie Nielsen can be (and he can be a riot with the right material), "Naked Gun" was the movie that cemented his reputation in this regard, for better or worse.

Nielsen plays Lt. Frank Drebbin, a seemingly incompetent cop who manages to nonetheless to get the job done. In the beginning of the movie, he busts a meeting filled with "evil" world leaders including Idi Amin, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Gorbachev ("I knew it!" Drebbin yells as he rubs off the mark on Gorbachev's forehead). But when he suspects that a shady character named Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban from "Fantasy Island") is plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth, nobody except his captain, Ed Hocken (played by another serious actor who shows a great ability with comedy, George Kennedy) is willing to take him seriously. His retractors include the mayor (played by Nancy Marchand, later of "The Sopranos"), who after a series of pratfalls that make Drebbin look like an idiot (it's not hard) takes his badge. But Drebbin is determined to prove his case, even if it means posing as opera star Enrico Pullazo and an umpire to do it, and prevent the assassination of the queen.

There's a love story between Drebbin and Jane Spencer, played by Priscilla Presley, who is also not ready to accept that her boss Ludwig is a murderer, and O.J. Simpson provides support (and some of the funniest scenes in the movie) as the hapless Det. Nordberg, who can't seem to avoid getting hurt time and time again. Admit it, it's a hoot watching these scenes now and imagining that the real O.J. is the one nearly being killed.

The movie was made by Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, the team also responsible for "Airplane!", and is based on the cult classic TV show (cancelled before its time because, of course, it was too much for the dumb TV audiences to be able to follow) "Police Squad!" I think it can be easily argued that it's because of the material provided by these geniuses that Nielsen is so funny; God knows he can't be in anything not created by them. But let's give Leslie Nielsen some credit; NOBODY does deadpan like him. And he gets strong support from the rest of the cast. There are some hilarious one-liners and sight gags here; one of my favorites is the final scene with Nordberg ("Oh Frank! Everybody should have a friend like you!"). Also notable are the cameos throughout, including "Weird Al" Yankovic, Reggie Jackson, Dick Vitale, Dick Enberg, Dr. Joyce Brothers (as a baseball announcer!), and best of all John Houseman in his final screen appearance, playing a driving instructor in a car Drebbin has to take control of for a chase; the poor teenage girl is still driving, and Houseman is calmly directing her on how to do it, as they speed down the highway. This is classic stuff, and even though its not a serious role, I'm glad he had something so memorable for his last movie.

"Naked Gun" isn't as consistently funny as "Airplane!", but it's still one of the funniest movies ever, and further proof (with apologies to Mel Brooks) that the Zuckers are the greatest spoofmakers of all time.
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Pauly Shore sucks, but this movie doesn't.
14 June 2005
I am not a fan of Pauly Shore movies. I didn't like "Encino Man", I didn't like "Son-in-Law", and I didn't like "Jury Duty". I thought he was occasionally funny on MTV (he did one bit as Kennedy that had me rolling once), but I don't think he made the transition to movies well. He's made some real stinkers.

Okay. That being said, I actually DID like this movie. I even liked Pauly Shore in it. And although it probably wasn't a good movie by any standards, it had some extremely funny parts, like the part where Shore dropped the grenade and threw the pin in basic training. The premise (Shore joins the army as a water treatment specialist thinking he'll never have to go to war, but...) was an engaging one, and the foursome at the center (Shore, Lori Petty, Andy Dick, and David Alan Grier) worked well together, and seemed to be having a good time. I especially liked David Alan Grier as the dentist who was afraid of everything, and Petty was appropriately hammy as the butch girl who couldn't wait to go to war.

Overall, a decent movie, but a masterpiece by Pauly Shore movie standards.
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Probe: Computer Logic (1988)
Season 1, Episode 1
The best shows never last.
14 June 2005
I remember "Probe" from when I was 12; I loved it. It was kind of a mystery-slash-sci-fi hybrid. I thought it was very funny and the characters were engaging. Parker Stevenson was surprisingly good as the eccentric genius scientist in the lead, and Ashley Crow was also good as his plucky secretary (the patter between the two was always amusing). It had good acting, but unfortunately (for the life of the show, not the quality) I think the writing was a bit too intelligent, and people were lost; that's the only reason I can think of as to why it lived such a short life. I wish it would be released on DVD or that I could at least catch it sometime on sci-fi. This show, along with "Shadow Chasers" (a mystery-horror hybrid from the 80s) sadly introduced me to the concept of ratings controlling a show's future, and good shows being canceled way too early. I doubt many people even remember it now, which is a crying shame. It will always be a favorite of mine in the "canceled way too early" category of TV shows.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
Incredibly deep and also hilarious
13 June 2005
"Groundhog Day" is another example of a movie that deserved multiple nominations (and wins) at the Academy Awards. At the time, it was often dismissed as a light fantasy-comedy. But actually Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis wrote an incredibly intelligent, heartwarming, and funny script, and Bill Murray put in the performance of his lifetime.

Phil Connors, played by Murray, is having a bad day. A nearly infinite amount of times. I don't believe the story that the movie takes place over 10 years of reliving the same day; it's clearly implied that it's A LOT more than that, and that's what the screenwriter originally had intended anyway. And this is where the brilliance of both the script and Murray's performance lies; we're not watching the same thing over and over again, because we have as a focal point Phil, who's reliving the day and reacting to it differently each time. The stages he goes through until he finally learns to accept it and try to make something of it are interesting. By the end of the movie he's reached something akin to nirvana, where every move he makes is perfect, and thus he's finally allowed to move on.

We never get an explanation of why this is happening, which only heightens our fascination of it. It seems implied by the ending that something divine is going on; Phil really seems to reach perfection, a state of being, perhaps, a perfect human being, or as close to it as we can get, and that's where the timescale becomes apparent; think how long it would take to achieve such a thing! And all this is masked at first appearance by all the humor going on. At first glance, it really appears to be a screwball comedy (and even as such, it's laugh-out-loud funny), and you can't see the brilliance behind everything. It's a nearly perfect movie, and it's one of my favorites.
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Zoolander (2001)
model stupidity
10 June 2005
I don't think I'll ever understand why this movie got such bad reviews. Too stupid for most critics? Whatever. Zoolander is a consistently hilarious movie.

Ben Stiller should have more parts like this. It reminded me of some of the hilarious stuff he did on his show (no, I didn't watch it when it was first on, but I did buy the DVD when it came out). I was so glad to see him break the "There's Something About Mary" mold of nice, regular schlub who keeps having hilariously bad luck. Derek Zoolander was miles away from this stock character. He was a brazenly stupid man who got the good fortune of having ridiculously good looks, but he couldn't even turn left! One of the funniest things I've ever seen was the scene early on when he was beaten for best male model by Hansel (He's so hot right now), but just walks up to the stage anyway, completely clueless about his loss (despite the fact that the loudspeaker keeps booming "Hansel" over and over again as he's walking up. That electronic billboard he passed by with the words "Confused Loser Zoolander Tries To Steal Award" was classic. I thought that the movie actually had a lot of smartly written jokes.

The supporting cast was great too, particularly Will Ferrell as Mugatu, who almost stole the movie (like he usually does). And Owen Wilson was great as Hansel, and so was Ben's dad Jerry Stiller. Christine Taylor was fine as the love interest, but she didn't really have much to do except react to the idiocy that was going on around her. I also liked the smaller parts, like Milla Jovovich as Katinka, and Jon Voigt as Derek's not-too-proud dad (his reaction to Derek's merman commercial, and Derek's subsequent reaction, was priceless), and David Duchovny, spoofing his character on "X-Files" and in the bargain doing the funniest spoof of the show I've ever seen. The cast was good all around, and even though I thought the movie fell apart a bit toward the end (I think it was the orgy at Hansel's place that started to lose me... I couldn't see Christine Taylor's character changing so abruptly), the laughs kept going to the end, and as a comedy, as well as a satire of the modeling business, I thought it performed admirably on the whole. Like I said, I think Ben Stiller should do more movies like this; for the first time in a while, I think we saw in this how much of a comedic genius he truly is.
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Split personality
9 June 2005
I know I'm in the minority here, but for me, "Full Metal Jacket" was a disappointment. I guess the biggest problem I have is that it's split into two completely different movies: the first half, with R. Lee. Ermey (who's incredible in this) as a drill sergeant at boot camp imposing his will on the young cadets, particularly poor Vincent D'Onofrio, who ends up going insane because of the abuse he has to put up with. It's a chilling and sometimes even funny 45 minutes (or so) of film, and the ending is shocking and pure. I loved this opening.

But after that, with Matthew Modine going out to war, is when it starts getting disappointing for me. There were some good bits (like the encounter with the Vietnamese prostitute, a scene that is justifiably famous) but on the whole, I felt left out in the cold. The tone changes completely for the switch from basic training to actual fighting, and while I'd never second-guess a master like Stanley Kubrick, it just didn't do anything for me. Even the ending with the big battle and jumpy camera-work was a bit cloying to me... it was supposed to be gritty and shocking, but instead, I actually found myself bored and wishing the movie would just end. For me, "Full Metal Jacket" will always be two movies, with the first getting a 10, and the second getting a 5 at best. I definitely think it's worth watching, especially since the movie has so many fans, but in my opinion, Kubrick could have done better.
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They ALL know.
9 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"There's Something About Mary" was the movie that broke the Farrelly Brothers, when they went from doing merely stupid gross-out movies (not that there's anything wrong with that) to intelligent, well-written gross-out movies. It was also a huge blockbuster that helped cement the careers of its two leads. It stars Ben Stiller as the everyman who's in love with Cameron Diaz as Mary, the perfect woman.

Mary represents that girl that every guy wishes he was with. The title song sung by Jonathan Richman (playing a part that recalls Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole from "Cat Ballou") says that "there's something about Mary that they don't know", implying that there's something about this girl that one guy sees but nobody else does; of course we realize by the end that that's not true, that EVERYBODY knows, whether they realize what it is about her that they are so in love with or not. Cameron Diaz plays the part perfectly. She's this perfect fox with a great personality and sunny disposition that it's easy to see any guy falling in love with.

Ben Stiller is Ted, who had an opportunity to be with Mary in high school, but screwed it up by getting his genitals stuck in his zipper in her bathroom on prom night. It's a mistake that he curses for the rest of his life, so he hires Pat Healy (played to snake-oil perfection by Matt Dillon; he was really at his best here) to go to Florida where she lives and spy on her. But Healy falls in love with her too. We find that this is an endlessly repeating theme; guys just fall in love with Mary. So Healy cons Mary into thinking he's the perfect man, while telling Ted that she's a cow who's not even worth looking up. But there's more competition waiting in the wings, including an old boyfriend named Brett.

Matt Dillon is at his best here. Ben Stiller is funny too, showing a real talent playing an average guy who keeps having bad luck dumped on him; it's similar to the type of part he would play later in "Meet the Parents". When Ted finds out that Healy was lying, he goes down to Florida to seek out Mary. But on the way he's arrested for soliciting gay sex at a rest stop, and subsequently charged with the murder committed by the hitchhiker he picked up (played by Harland Williams from "Half-Baked"), who carries the body in a large canvas bag into Ted's car, and has dreams of striking it rich by releasing a video called "7-Minute Abs", meant to take business away from the "8-Minute Abs" people. Bad break piles on top of bad break, and you can't help but feel sorry for the guy, even as you're laughing at the outlandish and terrible things that are happening to him.

This movie is a riot from start to finish. The whole cast is superb, including the smaller supporting roles (including Markie Post and Keith David as Mary's parents, Lin Shaye as Magda (she also played a supremely disgusting woman in "Kingpin"), Khandi Alexander from "Newsradio" and Sarah Silverman from "Mr. Show" and "Saturday Night Live" as Mary's friends, Chris Elliot as Ted's buddy Dom/Mary's old boyfriend Woogie, Lee Evans as Tucker/Norm, another con artist out to get Mary, and Willie Garson as one of Ted's old high school friends). And the dog is hilarious too; he actually gets two of the most memorable scenes in the movie. In the end, despite all the competition, despite the appearance (orchestrated by Ted himself, because he just wants Mary to be happy) of Brett Favre, and despite the fact that he was basically stalking her, it's Ted who gets Mary. So every man wants the perfect woman, but it's the everyman himself who gets her. It's a great ending to a great movie, almost sappy but funny enough to get away with it, much like the rest of the movie.
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Eating Raoul (1982)
sick, twisted, and hilarious
8 June 2005
Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, star as the Blands, a boring but loving couple who seem to hate sex. They want to open a restaurant but don't have the money (Mary doesn't want to have to sell her mother's collection of fabulous 50s furniture, and Paul had a case of fine wine he was going to sell stolen from him). Then an encounter with a drunk pervert who tries to rape Mary (they kill him with a frying pan) gives them an idea. Why not kill these sick losers who nobody'll ever miss anyway and take their money? So they enlist the aid of Doris the dominatrix for some tips and put out an ad for swingers willing to pay for sex, only instead of giving them what they want, they kill them. All is going well until they encounter Raoul, played by Robert Beltran, who sells them locks, but only as a con to steal from them. When they find out, and he finds out what they've been doing, they start working together.

It's twisted, with its emphasis both on perverted sex and murder. It's dated; you'll never forget when this movie takes place, but it's kind of a snapshot of the era anyway. And it's also very, very funny. The cast is perfectly deadpan (especially the two leads; this was both of their finest hour), with John Paragon, Susan Saiger (as the dominatrix), Ed Begley Jr, Buck Henry, and Edie McClurg all putting in appearances. It's probably one of those movies that you either get or you don't; it's definitely not for all tastes. But if you're hip to black comedy, and aren't too easily offended, and can laugh at people dying (the "bonk" sound when the frying pan hits the head never stops being funny), then I guarantee you will love this one. Without a doubt one of the best black comedies ever made.
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Hanks and Ryan snubbed
7 June 2005
There's a scene early in "Joe Versus The Volcano" where Joe (Tom Hanks) tells DeDe (one of Meg Ryan's three parts) that he felt like he had seen her before. This line ends up being very important; he says it again to Patricia (also Meg Ryan), and even though he doesn't say it to Angelica (ALSO Meg Ryan), Patricia's sister, it's clear that he's thinking it.

Yes, welcome to the oddly metaphysical world of "Joe Versus The Volcano".

The plot, in a nutshell: Joe Banks has about the most depressing job in the most depressing place ever, finds out he has less than 6 months to live, quits his job, and is offered the opportunity by an eccentric millionaire (played by Lloyd Bridges, one of many terrific smaller parts in this movie) to go on a spending spree and a South Seas cruise, but only if he's willing to jump into a volcano on the island of Wapani Woo, in order to help him keep doing business with them. He does it, and ends up falling in love.

Tom Hanks puts in a brilliant understated performance; in fact there's much about this movie that's understated. It looks so lightweight, but nonetheless, much of the dialogue is philosophical discussion. Hanks deserved an Oscar nod. And John Patrick Shanley deserved an Oscar nod for the screenplay; it's full of irony, and as I just said, the movie looked so simple, but was actually so complex. But the real snub was Meg Ryan. Playing three different parts with three different personalities, this is the best and most entertaining Ryan has ever been. Her performance is a work of genius, but because this movie was overlooked, her performance was too. The complexity of Joe's relationship with these three women is almost a sidebar to the movie's central theme (the "long, winding road of life", as it says elsewhere on this site), but it seems to be implied that he's met her many times before finally getting it right with Patricia. It's this idea of the soulmate (the soul is another recurring theme) that really resonated with me.

This was before Hanks started getting the attention he always deserved, with "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump". "Philadelphia" was a fine serious role, and "Forrest Gump" was good, but I'll take "Joe Versus the Volcano" over them any day. The movie was just so well-done, with entertaining performances all around (Also appearing are Robert Stack, Ossie Davis, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Abe Vigoda, and Carol Kane as a hairdresser- blink and you'll miss her!). In short, "Joe Versus The Volcano" is a fine little comedy with a big heart and big themes that deserved better treatment than it got the first time around.
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A surprisingly good satire
2 June 2005
Hard as it is to believe, this movie is actually a vicious satire.

I say "hard as it is to believe" because on the surface, it looks like a stoner movie, and nothing else (kind of like "Dude, Where's My Car?", the movie Danny Leiner directed before this one). But unlike DWMC, I think you should look deeper with this one.

The movie is basically kicked off when Harold (an Asian-American played by John Cho, the MILF guy from "American Pie") and Kumar (an Indian-American played by Kal Penn, the Indian assistant from "Van Wilder") are sitting around getting high, and they see a commercial for White Castle on TV (yes, it's a real place, and I don't know if they exist elsewhere, but the only one I've ever been to was in New Jersey too), and they decide to go to White Castle. So the movie can be viewed as an hour-and-a-half long commercial for White Castle. But really, it's a satire of product placement in movies; they take your basic product placement and base the whole movie around it, thus exaggerating the concept of product placement and elevating this movie to the level of satire.

Think about it. It is definitely not a real "commercial"; no company would honestly advertise themselves with such a vulgar and offensive movie. Therefore it is a satire. And if you look at it that way, it's an extremely funny satire. The main target is consumerism, but they touch on a lot of other topics; also satirized is the plight of Americans of foreign descent, drug culture (and you know, I swear I know people just like the characters in this movie), medical culture, the police and their treatment of minorities, and even Hollywood culture, in the form of Neil Patrick Harris playing "himself". It's all wildly funny, but realistic in an exaggerated way. It's a brilliant satire.

It also has a lot of great cameos; watch for David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas (also from "American Pie"), Bobby Lee (from MadTV), Fred Willard, Ryan Reynolds (also from "Van Wilder"), Ethan Embry (from "Can't Hardly Wait"), Anthony Anderson, and in particular Christopher Meloni (from "Oz" and "Law and Order: SVU"), who is barely recognizable as a loony, deformed mechanic appropriately named Freakshow. The movie is full of memorable dialogue and situations. This is not "Dude, Where's My Car?" (which I also thought was a very good movie, despite appearances); this is much better. Watch it with an open mind and you'll see that it works on many levels, and I think it deserves to be considered a great movie.
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