Thursday, July 14, 2016

Best Night Ever, 2013

Written and Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Starring Desiree Hall, Eddie Ritchard, Samantha Colburn, Crista Flanagan

I wanted to like this movie more than I actually liked it. It is a bachelorette-party-gone-wrong movie, a la The Hangover, with the "let's do anything" quality of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. I am a fan of movies like this, because why should men be the only ones who get to do all the crazy, raunchy comedy? In that spirit, I thought each of the four leads did a nice job, though I wish they'd have had more to work with. One unusual and pleasant aspect about how they used the conceit of filming the party on the phone was when each of them looked at or did takes to the camera; Samantha Colburn especially had a quality almost like Oliver Hardy, especially early in the movie.


Some people like some music more than other people.












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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Animal House, 1978

Directed by John Landis
Writing by Harold Ramis, Dougs Kenney, and Chris Miller
Starring , , and

"Thank you, God!"
"Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life."
"You fucked up. You trusted us."
"What the hell we supposed to do, ya moron?"
"See if you can guess what I am now."
"There were blanks in that gun!"
"Germans?" "Forget it, he's rolling."

Disclaimer: This movie features a lot of really inappropriate behavior and a fair number of topics and jokes that have not aged well.

Other important point: It is really funny. John Belushi, had he done nothing other than play John "Bluto" Blutarsky in this movie, would be a comedy a legend. This movie launched Harold Ramis into the comedy realm that allowed him to give us the modern underdog vs. elitist comedy genre (also in Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and a million other things he inspired). It's also one of the few movies in which Doug Kenney had a major hand. 

Yes, it's in the Pantheon.

"Can I have ten-thousand marbles, please?"

"It's got to work better than the truth."
"Still want to show me your cucumber?"
"Don't be afraid to help yourself to punch and cookies."
"Well, as of this moment, they're on double-secret probation."
"She was going to make a pot for me."



Mr. Blutarsky























 


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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Fish Called Wanda, 1988

Directed by Charles Crichton
Written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton
Starring John Cleese, , and

This is one of the great ones. 

Kevin Kline's performance completely merits the Oscar that he won for it. In fact, his stream of curses at John Cleese may alone merit it, or maybe the scene where he and Jamie Lee Curtis have sex, or the scene near the end with him, Michael Palin, and the fish and chips, or probably any individual scene, actually. His performance is like a series of comedy arias.

But this movie is John Cleese's. It's the Ealing Comedies for its own time; it's Python in the regular -- non-surreal, non-Terry-Gilliam-infused -- world; it's everything hilariously frantic about Fawlty Towers. Cleese brings together everything he does well as an actor, puts it into the tight story that he wrote, and even gives us some emotional reality to ground all the farce. He's why this movie is what it is.

Not to take away anything -- anything -- from Jamie Lee Curtis or Michael Palin. She is over the top in her scheming, her utter willingness to use anything or anyone to accomplish her ends (one example: the moment when she meets John Cleese and says, perkily, "I'm American"). And yet we still, somehow, keep rooting for her. 

And Michael Palin? The first time (of the many times) that I saw this movie, I found his character grating. As I've watched it over and over, I find his performance funnier and funnier. Not only is his Ken a completely formed person, but his task in the story almost threatens to become a Sisyphean tragedy. But, to quote Otto (Kevin Kline's character), "Almost."

It's so good. All the other characters are wonderful. The movie isn't calling attention to itself as a movie -- it's invisible in just the right way. 

Of course it's in the Pantheon. Along with the other brilliant 1988 British vs. Americans comedy caper classic, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it practically created the Pantheon. (By the way, for theaters such as the Brattle in Cambridge, MA, A Fish Called Wanda and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels would be a fantastic double bill.)


Archie and Wendy Leach (John Cleese and Maria Aitken)
hear Otto (Kevin Kline) tell "terrible lies"




















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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Repo Man, 1984

Written and directed by Alex Cox 
Starring , and

This is the kind of movie that made me start this blog in the first place: it came out a while back; it has its flaws, but it's completely delightful in its own goofy way; it's not the kind of movie that most people think of when they think of a movie from its time; and yet it has its own special place in movie history. (Also, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees produced it, and the first entry here is Head.)

Yes, it's got a pretty flimsy plot. Yes, there is some not-top-shelf acting. Yes, it's decidedly low budget. Still, Tracey Walter's speech about time travel and space aliens is like nothing else (except, perhaps, Bill Murray's Dalai Lama speech from Caddyshack). Harry Dean Stanton's performance alone is worth the price of admission. The music completely captures something of that time. And the scene with the gift-wrapped money on the highway has a certain something that is both completely, frustratingly entertaining, and also exactly exemplifies what is such a pleasure about this movie. Also, the generic everything.

"Couldn't enjoy it any more, Mom. This is swell."



















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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Public Enemy, 1931

Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright, and Harvey F. Thew
Starring ,

Not just the movie that made Cagney, but a gangster classic. It's a little stagey, which isn't surprising given its vintage, but it takes a little getting used to. The framing has a disingenuous feel to it ("For your own good, you need to see these bad people doing bad things."), but maybe that let them be a little less sentimental (but it has a dose of that already). It looks great, most of the performances are right on. Plus, when you next see the image of the grapefruit, it won't just look iconic -- you'll see what a jerk Cagney's character is being.

Just a little malevolent.




















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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Starring the same

This is a movie that I cannot think of without smiling. From the first of bit of overly serious music under the Swedish-themed credits to the intentionally and unbelievably successfully irritating ending, it is relentless. This is the kind of movie for which it is hard to pick only a few things to praise. Given that, here are more than a few:
  • Guido Le Whopper and "I told him we've already got one"
  • Sir Robin's minstrels' song about what he does not fear
  • "Huge tracts of land" and "What, the curtains?"
  • "That's easy!"
  • "You're foolin' yourself. We're living in a dictatorship."

and of course the utter absurdity and aggressive iconoclasm of King Arthur repeatedly crying "Jesus Christ!" in moments of panic.

Yes, we've all heard "I'm not dead yet," "Tis but a scratch," "She turned me into a newt," "Ni!," and "The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow" over and over, but they're still really funny.

Of course it's in The Pantheon. And there's also this.

Oh, those credits.


















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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and

I saved this for last in my Kubrick retrospective. It was not an entirely satisfying conclusion. I'll just assume that anyone reading this has already seen the movie, or at least knows its story, so be prepared for spoilers.

The part of this movie about the Jupiter mission (culminating with Dave shutting down Hal's higher functions) is a fantastic short science fiction film. I thought that everything with Dave, Hal, and Frank is great. The section on the moon, just before that, is also quite compelling, though it builds to something that was ultimately, for me, unanswered and unsatisfying. The opening section, at the "Dawn of Man," makes for an interesting faux documentary, but I can't say much about it as a piece of narrative film, except that Kubrick presented what I think is a one-dimensional and rather stark view of aboriginal human nature; to me, that seems limited. I found the ending incomprehensible. Unfortunately, that it makes hard to piece the whole film together.

I could say that, like the dark, blank screen at the beginning and end of a film, Kubrick's obelisk throws us back upon ourselves. It is our task to piece together the meaning of humanity and our own lives from our inception to our ultimate destination, and the obelisk represents that demand, which is different from, but related to, the void of space. This is the purpose of the obelisk, and it is also the purpose of film, and all art. Yes, I could say that, and it might even be true. As I consider it, there may be something to it. I just wish his point of view were more explicit and less oblique. I'm not looking for cowboys in white hats killing cowboys in black hats, but something that had a little more in common with Paths of Glory or even Barry Lyndon or The Killing would be more approachable.


Who would have thought that a light could be so frightening?
















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