4 November 2006

next time, without the fart jokes, okay?

Yesterday I made mention of watching a movie, and surprisingly I'm going to mention it again. I use the word 'surprisingly' because it came from Adam Sandler and company (a Happy Madison film) and yet I found bits of it to be rather a bit better than I expected.

As far as news on the baby front, we had something of a rough night in the hospital, but Jessica covered that far better than I could [in a journal entry lost to time], so click that if you wish, and I'll go back to discussing films.

Well, movies at least. "Film" may be aiming too high for a movie with Rob Schneider in it, since its own sights are set so low.

I've seen more than my fair share of the Happy Madison oeuvre, and I think the movies can be divided into two camps*: the movies that saddle a simple, decent story with goofy characters, meaningless side plots, in-jokes, bad accents and painful cameos and Rob Schneider; and the ones with everything I just listed but the simple, decent story.

So I make no bones about it: there are many, many things to dislike about this movie, and only four or five of them pertain to Rob Schneider and his hammy 'acting' and accent.

Several other of the bit players have roles that must have taken a good two or three brain cells a second or two to create. Sean Astin has fallen far to go from playing sturdy, dependable Sam the hobbit to Doug the lisping bodybuilder. Dan Aykroyd has done better and done worse, but I didn't stick around for enough of the credits for the animal cruelty disclaimer to see how the other whales were treated. I suspect more time was spent finding good trained dolphins, a walrus and a penguin than was spent on re-writes and dialogue coaching.

But enough about the negatives. Deep down at its core, this movie hinges around an intriguing, if not simple and convoluted idea. A capsule description probably doesn't sound too bad: A former playboy finds himself loving a sweet, damaged woman he must reintroduce himself to every day.

Even in executive summary form it doesn't sound so bad: Drew Barrymore plays a woman unable to form any memories lasting longer than a day because of a tragic accident. Adam Sandler plays a commitment-phobic marine veterinarian who finds himself smitten with her, and wants to add himself into the routine her father, brother and some friends have created to insulate her from her painful past and present. Despite the obvious difficulties, they fall in love, until she decides she's keeping him from his future by continually re-living her present.

Not so bad, eh? I actually found myself wondering, around the one hour mark, how they'd meet the critical romantic comedy requirement of "boy loses girl" but that is handily explained with a rather significant plot point that nobody found fit to mention beforehand. It's cumbersome and halfway predictable, but the story more or less makes up for it in the end.

Whether this is the contribution of first-time writer George Wing or an effort Adam and his chums have made is up in the air - I'll be looking forward to future movies George pens (like the upcoming Outsourced) more than I will the next Happy Madison product.

But is it worth slogging through all of the dreck to find the good bits? Would I have felt so sentimental if I weren't watching it with my new baby daughter laying asleep on my chest? Would I have enjoyed it more if I weren't so worn out and tired?

Possibly not. This matters not.

I have had an idea, though. What should be done in cases like these? Is there a way to throw out the bad and improve the good?

Of course there is: remake!

Why wait a decade or more to revisit this movie and freshen it up?

After all, nobody blinks when two blockbusters appear in theaters hinging around the same plot, the same action-packed set pieces. Why wonder if the second film just takes a little bit longer?

Perhaps this is a cause for the French to take up. Hollywood has a long history of remaking their films romantic, comedic and otherwise; why not do one the other way?

Or maybe Bollywood will take up the challenge. For all I know, they already have.

* I checked to make sure: Punch drunk love was not a Happy Madison production.

Nor was The wedding singer, but probably only because the company was formed to make (the first) Deuce Bigalow.

2 August 2006

on the shoulderpads of giants?

Fatal attraction is not a good movie. It's not 'thrilling' and it's not a 'classic'. It's dated, overrated, and I didn't enjoy watching it other than to heckle it*.

Now I can say that I've seen it, because it seems to show up on many a list of necessary or important films. The latter case may well be true, in that this precedes many of the other hackneyed purveyors of the "don't cheat, it can only end badly" message. 'Immoral' Hollywood seems to recycle this plot over and over again, but perhaps (and I'm not really interested in researching it further) Fatal attraction is hailed as the paragon, or at least the progenitor, of the two-decades long spate of such films.

It is only in light of all the other deadly affair movies that I can watch this; I'm not willing to expend the effort to forget them and their hoary clich├ęs.

I work in the fashion industry, and was regaled earlier this year with something of a fashion show at one of our all-company meetings showing off our line featuring flashback styles from the fabulous eighties, with a modern twist. There's an important distinction between the fashions now and then: now we're claiming it's about looking sexy. Having sat through two hours of prime eighties regalia, I can't imagine the shoppers of the time being sold on looking sexy, with as ridiculous as the clothes look. How were womens' clothes sold back then?

I mean, come on. Linebacker shoulderpads? Kudos to the marketing wonks who ever managed to move the first unit of those, let alone so many of them. Don't get me started on the hairstyles.

* And heckling it wasn't nearly fun enough. I want at least one of those hours back.

24 April 2006

three movies in search of a more forgiving audience

... at least, more forgiving than I'm willing to be.

I realize I'm probably at least twice the target demographic for Jon Favreau's Zathura (and I've never seen Jumanji, to boot), but I don't know if that can explain my dissatisfaction with the film. I'm not entirely certain I can explain it well, but I'll try.

First, an aside. Why didn't the people who put together the trailer (really just the first important scenes of the movie) have any input on the cover art? The trailer, to its credit, revealed a lot without giving too much away, and left rather major plot points out entirely. The cover, on the other hand, pretty much ruins the surprise on most everything. This is something that is not limited merely to this film, or its cover. Lots of DVDs have covers and menus and whatnot that spoil stuff, but this time around the trailer seemed so well crafted and the cover so, well, not, that I thought it merited mention.

The trailer wasn't the only thing done well. The two kids are very believable as two brothers, and their actions for the most part ring true. At one point the younger brother hits the older one in the face with a ball, not out of malice but simply because it seemed like something to do. Something in his expression or manner shows that so well. The kids, both of them, did a good job but they deserved better.

First of all, they were slaves to the game. Nothing they did had any bearing on the final outcome, save for occasionally figuring out how they were supposed to use what they were given. In those cases there was only one way to do things, so they were trapped anyway.

Second, they were robbed of characterization when from the first few minutes it became obvious that the two of them, initially at odds, would become best buddies forever. Moreover one of the boys doesn't really get much of an arc at all, other than he's a tad bit less timid at the end than the begninning. He's on screen almost the entire time, doesn't he deserve a little bit of personal growth?

Of course, this is a movie for kids, and they won't really care about those things. They probably won't care about oversights and shortcuts taken in the special effects, the most glaring of which is the static 'stars' outside the windows that are so obviously a wall four feet away. If Star trek: the next generation could get this right on TV couldn't they have done the same? After all the effort put into effects like the meteor shower, overlooking something like that seemed just cheap to me. But the kids won't notice. Nor will you, if you don't know what you're seeing (if you haven't been told, of course. Sorry).

Next up, Charlie and the chocolate factory. Few so-called family movies are more divisive* than 1971's Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory: In none of the conversations mentioning that movie I recall did anyone admit to being lukewarm or wishy-washy on it. People love or hate it. Those who love it, really love it, though, and as such a remake was all but inevitable. It's a shame that with the improved technology, the filmmakers didn't spend time on an improved story (or even one to rival the first film or original book).

The movie's actually dumbed down. The story's dumbed down and Willy himself is dumbed down. The writers found fit to add not only scenes to show things that don't need to be shown, but also entire subplots to explain things that don't matter. In previous incarnations, Mr. Wonka was an enigma, and even now we don't need to know his life story. And to contradict what I said about Zathura: just because he's a major character doesn't mean he needs a character arc. After all, his name's not the one in the title anymore.

This is not to say that some of the new additions are unwelcome. The Small World-esque sequence at the factory in the beginning is an intriguing idea, and pays off unexpectedly later in an almost throwaway bit you'll miss if you blink ("This is the puppet hospital and burns center. It's relatively new"). The design of the glass elevator was much closer to Roald Dahl's original vision (and illustrations, if I recall) than the one in the 70s film, and they used it the way they should, as an elevator that could go in any direction, and, as such, was done well (though I thought back to the very similar Magrathea bit in The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy that at the time was simultaneously cool and tedious). The squirrels bit is amazing, at least until the plot takes hold again. The new approach to the Oompa Loompas was refreshing, if for nothing else to be rid of the hideously ugly costumes and makeup. The new Oompa songs, though, were a failure of style over substance, in that I couldn't make out a good half of the lyrics and was far too distracted by the visuals (elaborate staging and production design) to want to try much harder. Most of the other new problems suffered similarly in execution, but weren't as good of ideas.

Johnny Depp plays Willy as an aloof idiot, and talks in a manner that mixes the worst of David Spade, Dana Carvey's Church Lady, and a four year old. He doesn't just talk like an idiot, he often acts like one too, walking into the glass doors of his elevator not once but twice. Humor doesn't work like that, at least not for me. The kids are a mixed bag as well, acting into cliches more than characters, but Charlie and his family come off as more or less genuine, a feat none of the other characters even approaches.

But still the question remains: why did they need to bludgeon us with the message about family**? Why did Willy need to change? We may never know the answers, at least not until the next producers and writers take this on in the next remake cycle. Give it another 35 years, and we'll see.

Rather than remaking any one of the 'classic' Universal Studios monster movies, the makers of Van Helsing chose to appropriate the star attractions of pretty much all of them. Frankenstein's monster met the Wolf Man back in 1943 (and then Abbott and Costello and Dracula too) but rarely since have so many monsters shared the screen in the same two hours. Trivia buffs more well-versed than I am in these 'classics' point out that there wasn't a Universal Jekyll and Hyde film other than the Abbott and Costello spoof, but that part does make for a very watchable sequence and does somewhat propel the movie forward. That's all the movie does, all the way through - rush forward without many a moment to waste. It follows the video game pacing (that Scott Tobias mentions in his review of Silent hill) of action-exposition-action-exposition for a while, but soon leaves out the exposition altogether and we're left seemingly knowing even less than the characters do.

The effects are mostly good and the atmosphere okay, if a bit drab, but so much is so silly for me to take this movie seriously. All but its most ardent fans will admit it's a mindless popcorn film, but when I watched it I guess that wasn't enough.

So these movies weren't exactly horrible, but none were great. In my opinion. Which we know can't count for too much, because I can recall thinking that Spawn wasn't all that bad, at the time, and am willing to admit that now. If you've seen it, that should clear things up. If you haven't, well, don't. Give one of these three a try instead, and who knows, maybe you'll like them more than I did.

* One word that always, always, always eludes me is the one that you use to describe this sort of thing: Opinions are divided completely for or against; there is no middle ground. The word occasionally comes to me, but when it doesn't I can't find it, and founder about with the wrong words like "galvanizing" and "catalyzing". I know I'm on the right track with those two, as the word I seek is vaguely scientific, but neither is the right one. Each time I recall or rediscover it, I know it right away, but every single time I've forgotten, and the quest begins anew. What is this word? It's more than just "controversial" and "divisive", it's... what?

** To see a movie that gets the whole 'family' message right, watch Disney's Lilo and Stitch. There's a movie about families (and aliens), not a movie about a boy and a chocolate factory and other stuff with a family message and subplot grafted on as an afterthought.

7 March 2006

beeb boys behaving badly

Just because I don't, as a habit, watch regularly-scheduled television shows doesn't mean I never see any; I just don't see them when everyone else does. When the library purchases the DVD sets, well, that's generally when I get to see the shows, new and old. Sometimes I wonder about their choices, though. It took them over a year before somebody (unless it was my requests, late) managed to persuade them to buy Firefly, for example, and that's a show with a fairly decent fanbase. Something like the only-available-on-BBC Manchild seems like it would have an even narrower appeal, but I can't really judge their choices.

I can, however, judge the show. It wasn't all that great. Knowing, as I did, nothing more than what was written on the front DVD cover (I hardly glanced at the back cover), I watched what I expected to be "Sex and the city, but in London, with fifty-year-old men." This didn't sound very appealing, but I know that front cover pullquotes are meaningless at best and more often misleading, so I bascially approached it with no preconceptions.

Well, it wasn't really my cup of tea. While I enjoy seeing an ostensibly all-knowing, well-put-together narrator's life not quite going the way he seems to think it is, I'm not really all that interested in the doings of four upper-crust forty-and-fifty-something men. The appeal isn't universal enough for humor centered around 'male enhancement', the proper selection of paintings as investment, motorcycle brands favorable with today's youth, and the merits of pipe-smoking. More serious bits such as one fellow's mother in a vegetative state seem tacked on to introduce a bit of gravity, and it's not unbelievable just unnecessary. Then again, so's the whole show. For me. There are a lot of boats out there, and it may well float yours.

I find myself preferring the episodes of another BBC series, Jeeves and Wooster, but saying that is like picking between the burnt brownies or the cake with much too much frosting. Both are things that are supposed to be good, but something along the way things have gone wrong. This isn't to say that Jeeves and Wooster is bad, per se, but to say that it's not as great as I'd like it to be.

Again, different boats for different folks, perhaps. For the uninitiated, Jeeves and Wooster is a decade-and-a-half old BBC series adapted from P.D. Wodehouse's turn of the century stories about the British upper class, particularly one Bertram Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie) and his valet Jeeves (Stephen Fry). Jeeves is pretty much everything you expect him to be, from hearing the name: polite, reserved, intelligent and, well, Jeeves-ish. I recall watching Mr. Belvedere as a child and then working at Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips as a teenager, so I can recognize the sort of character Jeeves should be, even though I've never read any Wodehouse.

I'm working on watching the third season right now, and it's something of an improvement over the second. Many of the episodes of the first and second seasons center around the making and breaking of marriage engagements, not normally the subject of shows I watch. Romantic entanglements, tussles with the law (well, minor chicanery like stealing bobbies' helmets) and newts all appear, but what keeps the show going is the good chemistry between the leads. Nevermind Bertie's ridiculous friends (among them we find Stiffy, Gussie, Rocky and Tuppy) or his overbearing Aunt and her near-unreasonable demands; the show is about getting them (and Bertie) out of silly jams with solutions serious and otherwise.

The third season picks up briefly with a change of venue to swinging New York during Prohibition, but sadly that is cut short midway through and its back to soap opera territory. I'll still seek out subsequent seasons, but I'm in no rush.

Frankly, I'd rather see House on DVD*, though it might be a bit jarring to see Hugh Laurie older, speaking with an American accent.

* Sadly, the library hasn't procured a copy of any seasons of House yet. Guess I'll need to put in a request for them to ignore.