Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sunshine Cleaning

Year 3, Day 232 - 8/20/11 - Movie #953

BEFORE: Rounding up horses is an odd job - and so is cleaning up crime scenes. And another Birthday SHOUT-out (#58) to Amy Adams, last seen in "Julie & Julia". Linking from "The Misfits", Eli Wallach was in "Keeping the Faith" with Ben Stiller, who was in "Night at the Museum 2" (which I still need to watch) with Amy Adams.

THE PLOT: In order to raise the tuition to send her young son to private school, a mom starts an unusual business -- a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service -- with her unreliable sister.

AFTER: This one seemed pretty simple and one-dimensional at first, but thinking back on it, I was able to find some deeper meaning in it. One on level, it's just about a pair of sisters who have screwed up at several other jobs, who then find success, or at least partial success, in cleaning up after deceased people.

But then I realized that the sisters (and their father) represent a fractured family, still dealing with the loss of their mother years before. The lead character is having an affair with a married man, who doesn't seem likely to leave his wife, and the other sister is more of the renegade/Goth-chick, but both seem to have low self-esteem. The younger sister's form of therapy appears to be hanging out on railroad trestles and screaming.

It's clear that both sisters deserve better, the only question becomes, are they going to get it? So the cleaning of houses after people have died could be seen as a form of therapy, a way of getting closer to their mother, perhaps. The younger sister seems to have a few more issues going on, which get hinted at but not resolved.

Still, even with added interpretation, I didn't get a lot out of this film - maybe there wasn't much to get?

Also starring Alan Arkin (last seen in "America's Sweethearts"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "Crimson Tide"), Emily Blunt (last seen in "The Great Buck Howard"), Mary Lynn Rajskub (also last seen in "Julie & Julia"), with cameos from Paul Dooley (last seen in "Popeye"), Eric Christian Olsen (last seen in "License to Wed"). Oh, and Clifton Collins Jr. (last seen in "Capote")

RATING: 3 out of 10 mattresses

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Misfits

Year 3, Day 231 - 8/19/11 - Movie #952

BEFORE: More cowboys and rodeos tonight - but perhaps this also fits in with this week's theme of oddballs, schmucks and losers. Sounds like misfits, right? Of course, trivia buffs all know this film as the last screen appearances for both Clark Gable AND Marilyn Monroe (last seen in "All About Eve"). Wow, way to bring down the room... Redford links back to Streisand, who was in "Nuts" with Eli Wallach.

THE PLOT: A sexy divorcée falls for an over-the-hill cowboy who is struggling to maintain his romantically independent lifestyle in early-sixties Nevada.

AFTER: Oh, the HORSES are the misfits. Well, it works the other way, too.

Another sort of head-scratcher tonight. Do I take the plot points as written, or do I look for some deeper meaning? As Monroe's character states in the film, sometimes you have to just take things as they come. But life is sort of like a movie (or is that the other way around?) and sometimes it's just a series of scenes, and sometimes it adds up to something greater. And other times, there is no larger meaning other than the one we add to it.

All of the main characters seem broken here, most by divorce or death of a loved one, so in a way it's heartening to see people carrying on, despite the personal tragedies they've endured. But also some of them are broken because their way of life is slowly eroding - what's left for an old cowboy in the mid-20th century, except for riding bulls and broncos in a rodeo show? Isn't that a mere shadow of what the cowboy lifestyle used to entail? Where are the cattle drives, the chuck wagons, the dramatic shootouts in the middle of town? (OK, Hollywood might be responsible for that last one...)

What's left to round up is Nevada mustangs, and where they used to be shipped all over the country for petting zoos and pony rides, at this point they're mostly being used to make dog food. Gable's character notes that this once-noble process got all twisted up as the world changed. That's right, society is to blame. (or, you could just NOT corral the mustangs, that would really stick it to the man...)

Naturally, Monroe's character has a big problem with the cruelty of this process, because she's a hysterical woman, naturally. Actually, Monroe's character is frequently confused in this film - no lie, she's fascinated by watching lettuce grow, and the ability to walk in and out of a house. I couldn't really tell you where Marilyn's dumb-blonde act (if it was an act) began and ended. How did anyone have a conversation with someone so stupid? That kind of works against Monroe's sexiness, if you ask me.

Throughout the film, we learn that nothing's more important than being a pretty girl - or being with a pretty girl, since all of the men in the film are falling over themselves for a chance to talk to or be with her. And we learn that if you're her less attractive female friend, there's really no reason for you to stick around past the second act.

Looking at the big picture, though, this film seems to be about the futility of life - what's the point of rounding up horses? What's the point of doing ANYTHING, for that matter? And the inevitability of death - are we all just looking for something to do to occupy our time until the final act? Heavy questions, no answers just yet.

This was also a nice bit of scheduling because the next few films are going to be somewhat death-centric. Yes, I'm just picking films off the list, but perhaps by properly arranging them, larger truths can be revealed.

Also starring Eli Wallach (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Montgomery Clift (last seen in "From Here to Eternity"), Thelma Ritter (also last seen in "All About Eve")

RATING: 4 out of 10 old tires

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Electric Horseman

Year 3, Day 230 - 8/18/11 - Movie #951

BEFORE: I had some internal debate over whether I'd seen this one before - my ex was rather ironically into Redford films - but I really don't recall any details about it, and I need to send a Birthday SHOUT-out (#57) to Mr. Redford (last seen in "Legal Eagles"), so let's cross it off the list and be definitive about it. I suppose I could have watched "The Horse Whisperer" instead, but I don't have a copy. Linking from last night, Madeline Kahn was in "What's Up, Doc?" with Barbra Streisand, who was in "The Way We Were" with Bob. Can I call him Bob, now that I've seen so many of his films?

THE PLOT: Sonny Steele used to be a rodeo star, but his next appearance is to be on a Las Vegas stage, wearing a suit covered in lights, advertising a breakfast cereal. When he finds out they are going drug the horse in case its too frisky, he rides off into the desert.

AFTER: Yes, at first it seems like a thematic jump from last night's film, but all of those schmucks at the dinner party, and all the people at the crisis center had odd jobs, you could say. And rodeo-star / breakfast cereal pitchman seems like an odd job - to me, anyway.

And, like in "Dinner with Schmucks", there's a multi-million dollar business deal at stake, one which is jeopardized during the course of the film. Redford's character puts his career as a spokesman for "Ranch breakfast cereal" (sounds un-appetizing) at risk when he kidnaps (colt-naps?) a $12 million horse that's been drugged and mis-treated.

You can say he's a horse expert, you can say he's kind to animals, or you can get all film-school and say that the horse represents himself, since he keeps himself pretty medicated, and he's also old and worn-out. And by rescuing the horse, he's really saving himself - getting out where the air is clear, there's no corporate B.S., and he can get frisky out in the wild (thankfully, with a female reporter who tags along). Fortunately, he signs his divorce papers 5 minutes before leaving - so nice symbolism there too.

However, other than an exciting chase scene where Steele, on the horse, outruns a squad of police cars and motorcycles, there's not a lot going on. The parts where they're walking through the Utah desert are about as exciting as...well, walking through the Utah desert. So points for accuracy, but it's still boring.

Also starring Jane Fonda (last seen in "9 to 5"), Willie Nelson (last seen in "Thief"), Wilford Brimley (last seen in "Absence of Malice"), Valerie Perrine. Plus a couple of actors playing the corporate execs who are JUST below "Hey, it's THAT guy!" status.

RATING: 5 out of 10 press conferences

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mixed Nuts

Year 3, Day 229 - 8/17/11 - Movie #950

BEFORE: Still more changes to this book I'm typing up - and since I took Monday off, the author got ahead of me and I'm playing catch-up. Every time I re-edit and re-print the book, I'm hoping it's for the final time.

I'm always wondering whether it makes more sense to organize my films by actor, and watch all the Steve Martin films together, for example, or to pick from my remaining films thematically. I've sort of settled into a pattern that does a little bit of both. It didn't make as much sense to watch this film right after "Housesitter", but I was able to build up a theme week that circled back and re-connected to it. Linking tonight is provided by Tina Fey, who was in both "Date Night" with Steve Carell and "Baby Mama" with Steve Martin.

It may seem odd to watch a Christmas-themed movie in August, but it makes sense when you look back on the last few films - all containing oddballs, weird neighbors and idiots. Let's add a few nuts to the mix.

THE PLOT: The events focus around a crisis hotline business on one crazy night during the Christmas holidays.

AFTER: This film sort of suffers from the same problem as "Neighbors", in that it seems to be generating comedy randomly, firing off in twelve different directions, without a lot of coherence.

The film is populated by the weird staff of a crisis hotline, but also weird people who hang out in the building, a couple of weird friends, and some random strangers who show up at the center, rather than spend Christmas Eve alone or with their families. This includes a pregnant disaffected make-up artist, her loser mural-painter boyfriend, a ruthless landlord, a misunderstood transvestite, and a guy who's constantly performing made-up songs on a ukulele. Throw in a veterinarian and a couple of anti-holiday rollerbladers, and you've got - well, pretty much an incoherent mess.

I just had problems buying into it, because by and large it doesn't seem to represent the way that people act, going about their daily lives. I know it's all for the sake of comedy, but people still have to act in a manner consistent with reality, or if not, there needs to be a reason why they're acting differently from other people. For example, if someone is stuck in an elevator and asks another person for help, that becomes a priority situation. I, or you, or anyone rational, would go get that person help, or the tool they need to get free, and not walk into another room, start relating personal information on another matter, and need to be reminded that they just left someone stuck in an elevator. Is the character THAT easily distracted - that it's "out of sight, out of mind"? Of course not.

And it's not just that, characters disregard eviction notices, loaded handguns, vandalism, and worst of all, people who are thisclose to committing suicide. Umm, they characters do realize that they run a hotline, right? So hearing a gunshot over the phone would be a serious occurence, not something that would be so casually shrugged off. The fact that the film mines suicide for comedy potential is, in its own way, equally heinous.

It's just so rare that the words "pointless" and "brilliant" appear together in a review - so maybe you might want to consider adding a point to your film, that's all, just some friendly advice. Make of it what you will.

Also, the majority of the "seams" of the stitched-together comedy are quite visible. You just know when a serial killer is mentioned early in the film, it will probably be an important fact later. The main character's break-up just leaves him available for connecting with another character, and so on. Nothing struck me as overly surprising, almost everything seemed "planted" so that it could be harvested in the plot later.

I could have saved this for the holidays, except I don't plan on watching movies past October this year - 50 more, then I'm done for the year. But this does remind me that I need to start thinking about the theme for my annual holiday CD.

Also starring Rita Wilson (last seen in "It's Complicated"), Madeline Kahn (last seen in "City Heat"), Adam Sandler (last seen in "Anger Management"), Robert Klein (last seen in "The Owl and the Pussycat"), Juliette Lewis (last seen in "The Darwin Awards"), Anthony LaPaglia (last heard in "Happy Feet"), Rob Reiner (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Liev Schreiber (last seen in "Taking Woodstock", where he also played a transvestite), with cameos from Parker Posey (last seen in "Blade: Trinity"), Jon Stewart (last seen in "Death to Smoochy"), Joely Fisher (last seen in "The Mask"), Garry Shandling, Steven Wright (last seen in "The Muse").

RATING: 3 out of 10 Christmas trees

Dinner For Schmucks

Year 3, Day 228 - 8/16/11 - Movie #949

BEFORE: Hmm...seems to be a theme developing this week, something about odd people. Another day or two and I'll be able to lock it down. Linking tonight provided by Julianne Moore, who was in both "Evolution" with Dan Aykroyd and the recent "Crazy, Stupid, Love." with Steve Carell. And we send a Birthday SHOUT-out (#56) to Mr. Carell tonight, last seen in an uncredited cameo in "Knocked Up".

THE PLOT: When he finds out that his work superiors host a dinner celebrating the idiocy of their guests, a rising executive befriends a man who would be the perfect guest.

AFTER: This has a bit of a foreign feel to it, being a semi-remake of a French film called "The Dinner Game", but also because it comes at you from a different sort of angle. I won't say unique, because I'd have to have seen every film to say that. Putting the spotlight on odd people, or people with odd hobbies, initially to make fun of them, but then to revel in their odd-ness.

The film also celebrates what drives humanity, and that's the competitive spirit. From the time of the first humans, it's been around - we imagine early man saying "I'm the best hunter" or "Why does he have a nicer cave than me?" And that's what drives the central character, Tim (Paul Rudd, last seen in "The Cider House Rules") to participate in the game - the promise of a better job, higher salary and a nicer office. That drives him to lie to his girlfriend and find himself a schmuck to bring to dinner. More accurately, an idiot - but I guess "Dinner For Idiots" didn't test well.

I certainly learned a long time ago not to cast aspersions, being a collector of comic books and Star Wars autographs, plus someone who watches movies in an obsessively organized manner. So everyone probably has something odd about them - some people even photograph all their meals in restaurants, but those people are freaks...

So Tim bumps into Barry (Steve Carell), whose hobby is taxidermy - specifically mice, arranged in cutesy costumes or scenes that resemble famous paintings (insert puns here). For good measure, he is a master of malaprops, getting nearly everything he says wrong in some fashion. Oh, and every situation he gets involved in tends to spiral out of control.

As in "Neighbors", we see just how much damage can be done to a man's life in just a two-day span spent with the wrong person. Barry shows up at the wrong time, and before you know it, Tim's relationship, job and financial history are all at risk. But Barry means well - and if you've been paying attention, you know that's one of the worst things I can say about people. "He means well" is code for "everything he does turns to crap."

Tim only has to string Barry along until the dinner, and then (somehow) everything will be better - he'll get the promotion, the big office, and then he'll get his girlfriend back. Note: In the real world, someone's life doesn't get worse and worse until a sudden reversal in the third act makes everything better again. A real downward spiral puts someone out on the street, living out of a shopping cart. But you knew that, right?

In fact, you can probably predict the outcome of the film if you try hard enough. There is a dinner, and it's filled with the rich executives making fun of the weirdos (truly, nothing has changed since junior high...) but hopefully our central character will realize that the losers are the real winners, and vice versa - and realize that he doesn't need to over-achieve to win a woman's heart, and that a true friend will be there for you, even if he knows he'll be made fun of. It's not as sappy as it sounds, which is a good thing.

Also starring Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Capote"), Stephanie Szostak, with cameos from Ron Livingston (last seen in "The Time Traveler's Wife"), David Walliams, Octavia Spencer, Lucy Punch and a host of Comedy Central regulars: Larry Wilmore (last seen in "I Love You, Man"), Nick Kroll (ditto), Kristen Schaal (last seen in "Valentine's Day"), Jeff Dunham, Rick Overton (last seen in "Mrs. Doubtfire").

RATING: 6 out of 10 tax audits

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Year 3, Day 227 - 8/15/11 - Movie #948

BEFORE: We drove upstate for my aunt's wake today - so it's weird that this film came up in the rotation. When I used to stay over my aunt's house, I used to watch films from my uncle's extensive VHS collection late at night. That could be how my insomniac habits got started. I know I've seen bits of this one before, or perhaps fast-forwarded through it, but never watched it as a film, properly from start to finish. Linking tonight is provided by Chevy Chase, who was in both "Three Amigos" with Steve Martin and "Spies Like Us" with Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Blues Brothers 2000").

THE PLOT: A quiet man's peaceful suburban lifestyle is threatened by the new, obnoxious couple that moves in next door.

AFTER: I don't know what's weirder - watching Belushi play the straight man (when we all know he was "the wild one" or watching a movie struggle for 90 minutes without a clear direction. It's like a fish flopping on the pier, just moving in any and every direction, trying to get back into the water, without knowing where it is.

There are plenty of gags, even if they work in rather broad stereotypes - the bored husband, the nympho neighbor, Aykroyd', whatever he is - but they're not assembled in a way that forms any coherent whole from the pieces. I probably understand the intent of this film more than the last time I tried to watch it, back when I was an unmarried college student - but I also understand enough to see that it's nearly impossible to figure this film out.

The problem seems to be that the comedy fires off in twelve different directions - OK, so the new neighbors are weird. But HOW, exactly are they weird? Are they swingers, con artists, serial killers, hipster city-folk, Republicans? You've got to pick a horse and stick with it. At least "Housesitter" was clear in saying, OK, THIS is a dishonest character, and THIS is the deception, and now THIS guy is in on it, so let's see what follows.

And, even in a madcap comedy, things need to progress logically. "Groundhog Day", "What About Bob?", even "Ghostbusters" - crazy things went down, but there's still a sense of logic. The story moves forward according to a set of rules, even as events spiral out of control. Here Belushi's character hates Aykroyd's character, then he's his best friend, then he hates him again, etc. - all in the course of one night! And they JUST met? Talk about snap judgments!

The wife character, Enid, is inconsistent too - since she's not a broad stereotype like "nympho", it seems someone didn't know what to write for her. It seems like she already knows the man moving in next door, perhaps even in a biblical sense. Is she in on some plot to swap husbands/wives, convincing her lover to move close by and arranging for another woman to seduce her husband? Who knows, since the movie suggests this, then drops it and moves on. What was going on behind the locked door with two women and a German shepherd? We'll never know for sure, because the movie never fills in the details.

I'll acknowledge that the early 80's were a weird time, and perhaps working in sketch comedy doesn't properly prepare people for working in long-form comedy, since inconsistencies abound. But you've got to give me something solid to hang a plotline on. If you're going to send up suburbia/disturbia, it's got to be coherent.

And what's with all the cartoon-like music and cartoon-y sound effects throughout the entire film? That made it hard to take anything seriously, even the comedy.

Also starring John Belushi (last seen in "1941"), Cathy Moriarty (last seen in "Soapdish"), Kathryn Walker, Tim Kazurinsky.

RATING: 2 out of 10 tow trucks