Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Crew

Year 8, Day 202 7/20/16 - Movie #2,402

BEFORE: I can squeeze one more film in before I have to catch my plane - I usually head to the airport at 4 am for an 8 am flight.  And this is not only because I like to get there early, it's also because the only way I usually am able to be anyplace at 8 am is by staying up all night.  This means flying across the country, getting to my AirBnB host, setting up a Comic-Con booth and working Preview Night at the convention on little or no sleep, but at least it beats oversleeping and missing my plane.  

I've got my annual rituals right before Comic-Con starts - I have to check the cable guide to make sure there aren't any movies I'm looking for that I'm about to miss, and I have to run down my checklist of what to bring.  And this is not because I tend to forget things, just the opposite - I started the checklist a couple years ago when I found I was packing for this trip on auto-pilot, throwing the proper things in my luggage, without being consciously aware of it.  So I was packing correctly, but then I wouldn't be sure about it, so with the checklist, I'm relatively sure.  Now I just need to call for a car service at 4 am to arrive at 4:30, and go and sit out on the porch and listen to the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane" on repeat - the version by Chantal Kreviazuk, the one that played in the movie "Armageddon", because it's so awesome.  

Richard Dreyfuss carries over from "The Big Fix", and Burt Reynolds is in here too, but I think this one came into my possession after I finished the Burt Reynolds chain earlier this year - so the best place for it is between two other Richard Dreyfuss films.  

THE PLOT:  Four retired mobsters plan one last crime to save their retirement home.

AFTER: The contrivance of showing a group of young tough kids, then flashing forward to them as old men - seems similar to that film "Last Vegas", which I watched last year, but this film came first, by about 13 years.  I guess they've also done this with chick flicks, like that horrible one with Rosie O'Donnell and Demi Moore.  It sort of calls "Stand By Me" to mind also, even though we never saw those kids as adults - or maybe it's the fact that both films featured Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator.  

This is a funny-enough, affectionate-enough comedy about four old men who used to be mobsters, but accidentally grew old and moved to Miami - which, unfortunately for them, became a hot-spot for young people, and they can't stand young people.  So to keep the young and hip from moving into their building, they stage a murder in the lobby, by shooting an already-dead corpse and making it look like a mob hit.  Their plan succeeds, but also leads to unforeseen comic circumstances.  

There are also many other contrivances, not just that everyone from the old neighborhood seems to live in the Miami area, but also a lot of characters who have connections to other characters, which are gradually revealed as the story wears on.  You might think there are only a few dozen people living in Miami, what with all these coincidences going on.  But I guess it is what it is.  

Someone did a really good job casting young actors who look a lot like their older counterparts, you could really believe THAT guy could age to look like Richard Dreyfuss, and THAT guy could age to look like Burt Reynolds.  I doubt it's an easy process to pick actors for this sort of thing.  

NITPICK POINT: If you had to revive someone who was unconscious, and you dragged them in to a bathroom, WHY would you stick their head in the toilet?  Jeez, man, the shower is right THERE!  Would you drink out of a toilet bowl?  Worse, after doing this, the person who gives him the swirly performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him - his head was just in the toilet!

Well, now I'm off to join MY crew in San Diego, to pull off another "con" job.  Back in one week.

Also starring Burt Reynolds (last seen in "100 Rifles"), Dan Hedaya (last seen in "Mulholland Dr."), Seymour Cassel (last seen in "Stuck On You"), Carrie-Anne Moss (last seen in "Pompeii"), Jennifer Tilly (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Lainie Kazan (last seen in "One From the Heart"), Jeremy Piven (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Miguel Sandoval (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Casey Siemaszko, Matthew Borlenghi, Billy Jayne, Jeremy Ratchford, Jose Zuniga, with cameos from Louis Lombardi, Frank Vincent (last seen in "Mortal Thoughts"), Fyvush Finkel (last seen in "Brighton Beach Memoirs").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Cuban cigars

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Big Fix

Year 8, Day 201 - 7/19/16 - Movie #2,401

BEFORE: Lupe Ontiveros carries over from "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie" - she had minor roles in both films, but to me that counts, it's enough to justify the start of a Richard Dreyfuss 3-film chain that will get me to my Comic-Con break and beyond.  

THE PLOT: An ex-'60s radical now working as a private eye is hired by an old flame to investigate a political smear campaign. The case becomes more dangerous as it unfolds.

AFTER: One of the first things we see private detective Moses Wine do, besides counting turkeys being loaded into a poultry store (long story), is smoking pot from a bong.  Could I have asked for a better follow-up to 4 Cheech & Chong movies?  I don't think so.  Plus we're still in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles (I think...) where there's a heavily Latino crowd. 

Before long, an ex-girlfriend shows up and offers him a case with political overtones, connected to an upcoming election.  Let me remind everyone, this film ended up in this exact slot nearly by accident, and it's the second day of the Republican National Convention.  (A political convention was also seen in "Meet John Doe", and a couple months back I watched "Man of the Year", with Robin Williams playing a comedian who's convinced to run for President.  So I suppose something was bound to line up with current events one of these times, I mean, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.)  It's not really a perfect confluence, since the election in this film is not for President, it's for governor of California, but I'll still take it.  

A candidate here is being discredited by some flyers that appear to give him the endorsement of a missing 1960's radical, and the flyers seem to be distributed by his opponent, in an attempt to discredit him.  I guess it's sort of like how David Duke endorsed Trump, and that sort of thing might gain you a few new voters, but not the kind that you want.  I'm sure the Democrats were the ones spreading the news about Duke's endorsement of Trump, assuming it would turn more people off than on.  Moses Wine, a former activist himself, seems to be cynical of all politics and politicians, but with child support due, he can't really turn down a paying gig.

I found this plot rather hard to follow, and the ultimate plan, which included something akin to a terrorist plot, was hard to believe.  But maybe not, considering recent terrorist events around the world.  But in 1978, wasn't it more about hijacking planes than blowing things up with trucks?  I know there have been a few attacks lately that I just can't bring myself to read about, it's just too disheartening - but I worry that, like many people, I've become desensitized to reports of mass shootings, terrorist attacks and excessive use of force by the police.  Is it enough that I feel guilty about not being able to hear about these things any more?  Probably not.

Also starring Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "The Goodbye Girl"), Susan Anspach (last seen in "Play It Again, Sam"), Bonnie Bedelia (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), John Lithgow (last seen in "Interstellar"), F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Ron Rifkin (last seen in "Dragonfly"), Nicolas Coster (last seen in "Betsy's Wedding"), Fritz Weaver, Sidney Clute (last seen in "The Best Years of Our Lives"), John Cunningham, John Mayo, Ofelia Medina, Rita Karin, with a cameo from Mandy Patinkin.

RATING: 4 out of 10 license plates

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cheech and Chong's Next Movie

Year 8, Day 200 - 7/18/16 - Movie #2,400

BEFORE: Another century mark, another milestone, and the year is 2/3 over.  And I'm coming to the end of my Cheech & Chong chain at the exact same time, while simultaneously packing for San Diego.  (OK, I know the Cheech & Chong films are set in L.A., not San Diego, but unless I've got a stopover at LAX, that's usually as close as I get to La-La-Land.)  I'm watching their second movie fourth, because there's an actress in here that will link to tomorrow's film, which coincidentally puts me back on the politics theme, just in time for the Republican Convention.  If I planned this, it was done subconsciously, or else it's another synchronous sign that I'm on the right track somehow.  
THE PLOT:  The two stoners and their friends go through another series of crazy, drug-influenced misadventures.

AFTER: You know, I didn't even mention that most of these Cheech & Chong films are all set in the weird, sleazy L.A. underworld, and that I'm off to San Diego this week to help promote another film that's set in that same scene - only it's an animated film titled "Revengeance".  But it's also got bikers, drug dealers, Latinos, and crazy cults in it.  Umm, I think, I haven't really watched it all the way through yet.  I was supposed to today, to make a dialogue list for the film's French distributor, but the file wasn't ready in time - I'll have to get to it after Comic-Con.  Anyway, I'm sure there's lots of similar themes to what I've been watching lately.

And what OF the Cheech & Chong films?  Even the ones with the recurring characters are incredibly inconsistent - why is Cheech's character called "Pedro" in the first film, and then "Cheech" after that?  Why is Chong's character named "Tommy Stoner" in the first film, and then "Mr. Chong" - or in this one, he's called "Mr. Ching" and sees no need to make the correction, man. 

Cheech also has a dual role, in "Next Movie" he also plays his own "identical cousin", Red Mendoza, who's in town from Texas (or something) with a big bag of weed.  This gives the actor a chance to play a different kind of character, with a more Americanized voice, but it's the most blatant of contrivances.  Cheech's character invites a girl over to the house he shares with Chong, so he tells Chong to go hang out with his cousin while he waits for his lady friend.  It's a very sneaky way to allow two plotlines to develop at the same time.  Red and Chong party with girls they meet at a massage parlor/brothel and a music store, then go home with one of the girls, only to find that the girl's father was also a client of one of the "massage girls".  

But of course, rather than this being all awkward and stuff, they all get stoned and go out to a comedy club.  Pee-Wee Herman is performing there, but apparently his day job was as the annoying desk clerk at Red's hotel.  So everything sort of comes full circle, just before the wheels fall off the proverbial wagon.  There are SO many plot threads that are never followed up on.  What happens to the bag of weed?  Was that really a UFO?  How did Pee-Wee get out of jail?  

Worse, this connects to "Nice Dreams" only tangentially, and Pee-Wee plays a different character in both films.  What gives?  Well, at least I found out tonight why Cheech and Donna broke up, at least they get back together for some fun a couple films later.  Am I asking too much here, for some consistency in the multiple-film story arc?  Geez, if this were a superhero trilogy, fans would have gone crazy pointing out all the little inaccuracies between the three films.   I think you truly have to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream to get the most out of these films, and my movie-watching drug of choice (Mountain Dew) just isn't gonna get me there. 

I guess the rumors are that the duo has finally gotten their act back together - like Martin & Lewis, they didn't work together for years, except for the occasional animated film where they both did voices.  Considering all the changes in certain states' laws, this would appear to be overdue.  There are references in "Next Movie" to Chong's plans for what to do after marijuana is legalized, so by all means, let's see that!  These two should have their own business, running a farm if not a chain of dispensaries.  I don't suggest that they repeat the plotline from "Nice Dreams" - gaining a fortune, losing it and trying to get it back, but there still should be tons of comic potential in the genre.

Also starring Evelyn Guerrero (last seen in "Nice Dreams"), Paul "Pee-Wee" Reubens (ditto), Shelby Chong (also carrying over from "Cheech & Chong's The Corsican Brothers"), Rikki Marin (ditto), Edie McClurg (ditto), Betty Kennedy, Sy Kramer, Bob McClurg, Ed Peck, with cameos from Lupe Ontiveros (last seen in "California Suite"), Jake Steinfeld, Rita Wilson (last seen in "The Story of Us"), Phil Hartman, Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, Michael Winslow (also last seen in "Nice Dreams").

RATING: 4 out of 10 welfare applicants

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cheech & Chong's The Corsican Brothers

Year 8, Day199 - 7/17/16 - Movie #2,399

BEFORE: Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong carry over again from "Nice Dreams", and tonight I'm forced to include the possessive in the title, not only because the IMDB considers their names to be part of the title, but also to distinguish this film from any other version of "The Corsican Brothers", which was a famous story by Alexandre Dumas, although I'm guessing a version like this is probably far off from what he intended.  

And I'm cleverly placing this one JUST before hitting a century mark, because even if this film is so terrible that it turns me off from movies completely, or enables some sense of soul-crushing ennui, I'll still be motivated to soldier on, if only to reach movie #2,400.  Movie Year 2016 is just about 2/3 over, and when I get back from my Comic-Con break, I'll try to figure out the chain that will get me to the end of the year, or at least to Halloween.  

THE PLOT:  Two brothers who can feel each others' pain and pleasure mess up the French revolution.

AFTER: What happens when a comedy team has mined everything they possibly can from their schtick?  Sometimes, they have to find a new schtick, and sometimes that works, and sometimes it falls flat.  The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Martin and Lewis - they all had their places in cinematic history, and at some point it's just the same old routines, in new situations.  What if we took the same characters, but had them running amok in a department store?  What if we sent our comic heroes to a Mideast country, or down to Mexico?  What if they got drafted into the army, or served in the navy, or took up golf?  What if Ernest went to camp, then jail, then saved Christmas?  It seems the easiest way to keep a set of characters going is to just change their location.  

But Cheech & Chong took a left turn in their careers and appeared in a period piece, a sort of swashbuckling French Revolution story that was nearly tantamount to career suicide, the only other equally misguided cinematic choice that I can think of would be that film where Jerry Lewis played the clown in the concentration camp.  At some point you have to stop and think, "Is this really what the audience wants to see?"  

I'll wrap up my Cheech & Chong chain tomorrow, and then I'll speak about the inconsistencies in the other films (the L.A. "stoner" genre), but tonight let's just focus on the parts of THIS movie that don't make any sense - beyond, you know, choosing to make this film in the first place.  There's a framing sequence that shows the modern-day Cheeck & Chong performing rock music on the streets of Paris, finding that they make more money when people pay them NOT to play.  OK, that's a little funny.  But why is the band now called "Los Guys"?  What happened to the name "Alice Bowie"?  Did they get a call from somebody's lawyer?    

Their stack of money attracts a fortune-teller in a cafe, who tells them they both have "the mark" and proceeds to relate the story of the Corsican Brothers to them - but does this suggest that they're descendants of Louis and Lucian?  Or somehow they have their reincarnated souls, or what?  We'll never know, because we never see the mystic relating the end of the tale - by the end of the story, it's being narrated by a man, not a woman, and the two framing sequences don't match up at all.  Why, it's almost like the writer and director couldn't focus, as if their minds were clouded by some kind of foreign substance or something.  

Which is kind of weird, since Tommy Chong doesn't sound like himself for most of the film, or at least he doesn't sound like the well-intentioned but dumb stoner who the fans had come to appreciate.  In fact he plays the SMARTER of the two Corsican Brothers, the one who's more into the Revolution cause, the one who's always got a plan to take down the aristocracy, or escape from the prison.  (Yeah, just like "Lost in a Harem", the main characters get thrown in prison a lot here, but the place practically has a revolving door exit by the end of the film.)  

It's at this point where I have to do a little research on the novel "The Corsican Brothers", to find where this film deviated (umm, nearly everywhere...) and what, if anything, was kept from the original story.  The novel is NOT set during the French Revolution, at least not during the big one, it was set in 1841.  And the brothers were originally conjoined, which explains their ability to sense each other's feelings (wait, is that a thing?) however, this is exaggerated here for (allegedly) comic effect, with each brother figuring out at a young age that when he hits the other, he feels the pain himself.  You would think that even a kid would figure out pretty quickly to NOT injure his brother, that whole pain/reward complex is pretty powerful.  But nope, even as adults, the Corsican Brothers here have to re-learn that simple strategy, over and over (and over...) again.  

There's a point of order here - if Louis gets punched and Lucian feels it, it doesn't automatically follow that Louis DOESN'T feel it.  He should feel the pain too, right?  Having empathy with someone else doesn't take away the negative feeling from the other person, it should just be shared, not transferred.  What you get then is people who are nearly invulnerable, they can be punched, burned, stabbed, and the pain is just not felt by them, just shunted somewhere else.  I don't think this is what the original author had in mind.  

Unless I'm wrong, the whole point is to have two brothers, separated near birth, who both feel as if something in their lives is missing, and each experiences strange emotions at random times, which lead them to seek each other out as explanation for this effect.  But this film throws all that out the window, and we don't see either brother experiencing anything during their 29 years apart, which is what could have been truly interesting.  Instead we only see them when they get back together, and they have to re-learn this shared emotion thing, even though they knew it before as kids, and forgot it?  

I will count it as a NITPICK POINT that Lucien considers his revolution a success, yet at the end of the film, the Queen is still in power.  How is that considered a successful takedown of the aristocracy?

Do I even have to mention that the boys are born looking like adults, with full facial hair?  I mean, that's an indication that we're not supposed to take any of this seriously, but then if not, what's the point?  I think it's much easier to believe that two guys who enjoyed some success in Hollywood, against all rational thought and expectations, got a movie studio to pay for a period piece, enabling them to take their entire families on a month-long holiday to France, provided they make a film while they were there. What other possible explanation could there be?

Also starring Roy Dotrice (last seen in "Swimming With Sharks"), Edie McClurg (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Shelby Chong (also carrying over from "Nice Dreams"), Rikki Marin, Rae Dawn Chong (last seen in "Commando"), Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Kay Dotrice, Martin Pepper.

RATING: 3 out of 10 guillotines