Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Parent Trap (1961)/(1998)

Directed by David Swift (1961), Nancy Meyers (1998). This was not a particularly good movie in 1961 and it's a much worse movie in 1998. But the weird part is that the weak parts of this movie are not the ridiculousness of the premise -- which in case you didn't know involves an incredibly creepy premise in which a divorced couple has secretly divides their identical twins as if they're flatware or towels. I'm an advanced movie-lover, so I'm willing to work around this. The problem ends up being that the pacing drags, the characters are one-dimensional and the dialog is dry as a bone. In a way, it's strange that such a daring premise can command such a bland movie. This is a screwball comedy with no screwballs or comedy. It's tragic.

Here's what the 1961 version does have going for it: Haley Mills. At 15, she was a great actress, playing the two different identical twin characters in this (one a tomboy, one a cultured socialite, blah blah blah) with subtle distinction. While "The Parent Trap" does cry out for some broader plotting and dialog, it's not from her. The twins should be the smart center with a lot of broad insanity around them. Mills holds up her end of the bargain, but the rest of the flick never really catches fire until it's worn out its welcome in what feels like a fourth act.

The '98 re-make was not intended to be a a vehicle for Lindsay Lohan, who had not yet become star when it was made. Disney clearly had faith in her, though especially in retrospect it's unclear why. She hasn't exactly proven herself a bankable star nor an impressive talent, and looking at this movie it's not as if there's any impressive acting or charisma there to mislead anyone. Are there no talented kid actors out there or are the idol-makers at Disney so arrogant that they figure they can just pull anyone off the street and make them a star?

All I'm saying is that a misstep has clearly been made when Dennis Quaid is the most charismatic actor in a remake of "The Parent Trap."

Monday, November 16, 2009

She's All That (1999)

Directed by Robert Iscove. Somehow when fresh-faced teenagers make the movie where first the boy and girl don't like each other but then they do, it's a little bit more charming. It's sort of a shame that not too long after this these two sweet kids dropped off the face of the goddamn earth.

I mean, that's not entirely true. Freddie Prinze Jr. made a couple of live action Scooby Doo movies and then a bunch of junk animated films, and Rachael Leigh Cook became a secondary character actor. And maybe that's just fine. It's sort of nice to see a couple of talented people find their place, get in it and crank out good work rather than insist on hanging around insisting on being the Kate Hudsons and Zac Efrons.

So I saw this because, in the wake of the "Beth Cooper" debacle I was curious to see a teen romantic comedy that I remember liking. The good thing about this is that many of the kids in it are likable, smart, kind and not cartoon characters. The bad thing about it is that a lot of them are the opposite and now I'm too old to remember if this is accurate or not.

By the way Kevin Pollak is awesome in this.

I would like to know what movie started -- and I'm guessing it's some John Hughes piece of garbage -- the teen movie convention that the foe must be flanked by a pair of wingmen, or in this movies case, women. They're always like the henchmen in an old episode of the Batman TV series. Their IQ is about half of the main foe, they wear a uniform that's a slight variation on hers, and they repeat the last couple of words of everything she utters. It's only worth doing if you have exceptional character actors contributing real yuks. Otherwise, can it.

The Proposal (2009)

Directed by Anne Fletcher. I have this theory that as actresses get more plastic surgery in an effort to achieve some ideal set of features and cranial symmetry, they also homogenize their future filmographies.

I can't prove anyone in Hollywood has had plastic surgery but I firmly believe that Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson, Renée Zellweger and Meg Ryan all have because they both look insane and seem to make a lot of movies where first they don't get along with some guy and then fall in love with the guy.

I also have a theory that these actresses suppress rage and are sub-consciously attracted to scripts in which head trauma is inflicted on the characters played by their male co-stars. This is why these so-called romantic comedies are always filled with a lot of pratfalls, which to a certain extent is a good thing, because the more of this stuff can be quick-cut into the preview, the better chance there seems to be of the flick doing well.

Anyway in "The Proposal," Sandra Bullock doesn't get along so well with Ryan Reynolds until she does, when they fall in wuv, and there's a happy ending. What I will say for this movie is that I enjoyed how it couldn't decide if the Alaskan town Ryan Reynold's character was from should be a rural fishing town, much like the sort one would expect to find in Alaska, or a quaint little outlet shopping village, nothing like you would expect to find in Alaska and actually quite a bit like you would expect to find in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where this was filmed.

Also, I'll say this for Sandra Bullock, she didn't look have as scary in this as she did in the preview for "All About Steve" that me and Karen saw the other night, in which she actually looked like a female impersonator. Meaning she looked like one of those chicks you might see in a bar and think, I don't care how good looking she almost is, she looks like she has a penis. Which now that I think about it makes me wonder, just who is this "Steve" that movie is "all about?"

I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)

Directed by Chris Columbus. I'm not sure if Hayden Panettiere is the luckiest movie star in the world right now or the unluckiest. She seems like the luckiest because she certainly doesn't seem to have a bit of talent or charisma and yet here she is starring in movies. Yes, she's relatively good looking, but by relatively, I mean relative to the people you work with. You can't tell me you could throw a rock on the set of "Entourage" without popping the boob implant of at least one girl at least as talented and much better looking.

I was going to say that she could be the unluckiest because as soon as everyone else figures all of this out, she's done, but really, this doesn't seem to happen. Kate Hudson just makes movie after movie after movie and not only does Kate Hudson suck, but nobody goes to see her movies. Yet, she gets to be a movie star. O.K., that does it. I wasn't going to write a review of "The Proposal," but now I'm wound up.

Meanwhile, Paul Rust -- a.k.a. "Denis Cooverman" is also in this tedious flick and I don't sense any charisma oozing out of him either. The closest thing in this movie to amusing was third-billed Jack Carpenter, though not in a good way. His feet were nailed into this and ordered to act as much like Apatow-flunkie Jay Baruchel as possible -- so much so, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of casual moviegoers mistook him for Baruchel.

But it's not fair to place all of the blame on the shoulders of these young actors, who were not led by some amateur, but 20-plus year directing veteran Chris Columbus. I'm not saying Columbus knows how to make a great movie. I'll hand it to him that he didn't screw up a couple of Harry Potter flicks, but he has enough marks on this permanent record ("Bicentennial Man," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Stepmom") that he should always be eyed with the same suspicion as that kid your sure has peed in your pool.

But the weird part is that 15 minutes into this, I didn't know Columbus had directed this piece of moose poop, and I could have sworn it was made by a first-time director whose problem was simply that he or she had never seen a movie before. Everything wasn't just bad, it was just plain wrong. Shots lingered too long (or too short), bad takes were selected, the actors didn't seem to know what they were supposed to be doing. It's a mess. In a crazy way, I almost want to recommend it.

That's why I'm wondering if maybe this Hayden Panettiere is actually a dwarf goblin or something, and this movie is secretly a masterpiece of either CGI or mythical creature wrangling. In which case Chris Columbus is cursed in that he may never step forward to take the bow he so rightfully deserves.

Perhaps Columbus will have his bow next year, when "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is released. I am not making up this title. That's the other explanation for this piece of dung, he's putting all his effort into "Percy Jackson." It's got a huge cast and lots of CGI, so it should be awesome.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Double Indemnity (1944)/(1973)

Directed by Jack Smight. Under what conditions could a TV movie re-make of Billy Wilder's 1944 noir classic "Double Indemnity" possibly be necessary? I'm fine with this. Nothing is sacred and this may be viewed as either a worthwhile experiment or a putrid foregone conclusion open for spitballs.

I didn't write it off so easily. Lee J. Cobb is almost as appealing as Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes and while Richard Crenna is bland as Walter Neff, this is only a different problem from the casting problem in the '44 original. I'm sorry, but Fred MacMurray could never come off any more hard-boiled than an egg and it's distracting throughout this classic, not to mention Barbara Stanwyck's homely lack of sex appeal. Even handicapped by the hair of a poodle and the skin of a bulldog Samantha Eggar was able to steam up the small screen.

The scripts are almost the same, with the biggest differences in the third act, where the role the step-daughter plays in the TV version is cut down from the original.

So here's how it breaks down. See the original for an entertaining story and the quintessential example of film noir, even though it is hampered by some odd casting. Seek out this rare remake for the exact same story and for an example of an insanely unnecessary experiment in TV movie making that is in no way hampered by its own brand of odd casting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Would Jesus Buy? (2007)

Directed by Rob VanAlkemade. In this documentary the Rev. Billy Talen and his Church of Stop Shopping go on a cross-country trip protesting excessive consumerism, especially Christmas shopping. They focus on Times Square, Wal-Mart, Mall of America and Disneyland.

But that's it. I've explained it, so you've kinda seen it. Since this was produced by Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"), I kind of wished someone would only eat McDonald's food during the road trip, or something like that, just to make it interesting. Because otherwise, nothing interesting happened.

And I'll tell you why: the Rev. Billy Talen is a very genuine guy. Which means there's no gimmick here and a movie like this needs a gimmick. His reasoning is very simple. We all spend too much on bullshit we don't need, creating two problems, one practical and one spiritual. The practical problem is debt. The spiritual problem is that the meaning of Christmas is ruined. It's all very simple and footage of the Rev. being arrested and thrown out of malls gets old quick. Think Michael Moore but even less interesting.

What motivates this guy? How did he get so fired up about this stuff? Where did he come from? What are his philosophical goals -- meaning, how will he know when he has made a difference? None of these questions are answered.

"I so need what we do to have some impact on somebody," Talen's wife tells him at one point. And perhaps this desperation is more of what the film should be about instead.

Easy Rider (1969)

Directed by Dennis Hopper. It's ridiculous that I went my whole life without seeing this considering first how legendary it is, next how many movies I see, and last, the sorts of movies I tend to see, meaning, this sort.

I've never had anything against "Easy Rider" per se. It's just that there's a point when something becomes so iconic that it also can seem superfluous. And to a certain extent, it's true. I have finally seen "Easy Rider" and I have to say that the endless references, parodies and followers have pretty well nailed it, so revelations and surprises were few and far between. When this movie starts and there they are on the open road with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" going, it all seems just a bit ridiculous. It's not as if I'm kicking myself for waiting as long as I did to see this.

And I have never liked Dennis Hopper. Well that's not exactly true. He was good in "True Romance" and "Hoosiers." And the older he gets the more I can cozy up to him. But "Easy Rider" is him at his most repellent. Look, this is a movie about bikers, and bikers are just stupid and repellent in the first place.

Yet this is still a great movie because the two best things about it easily carry the whole thing: Jack Nicholson, because he does a great job and plays someone who isn't a biker, and the overall message of the flick, about the death of the American dream, which is still vital as hell.

So Nicholson carries the second act and then the third act is a real wig-out. Like the Steppenwolf tune in the first few minutes of the flick, the acid trip sequence in the final third of the movie also seems a little quaint in this day and age, but to knock "Easy Rider" for being trippy would be like criticizing an old Elvis Presley TV appearance for being too much like Britney. This movie is the Rosetta Stone of trippy film.

It's a difficult spot to be in for a film to age in part because of the profound impact it has had on the massive legacy of movies that follow in its footsteps. "Easy Rider" doesn't just make its point creatively, it has a point to make. Wyatt and Billy set out to feel real freedom but never quite do. They realize this but don't even get freedom through redemption because moments later they are left for dead by the side of the highway; the movie ends as their dream ascends into heaven.

My Side of the Mountain (1969)

Directed by James B. Clark. Seeing this one grew directly from a misunderstanding. Karen had been reading this autobiographical anecdotes by White House press corps correspondent and animal fancier Jean George entitled "The Tarantula in My Purse," and she remembered aloud that she'd also written this great novel called "My Side of the Mountain." And I said, what, that weird thing that all the girls in my junior high were running around with? Wasn't there some crappy TV movie made out of that? And she looked at me and shrugged.

So I poked around on the InterWiki, and it turns out I was thinking of something called "The Other Side of the Mountain," which was about this female downhill skier who has a bad accident, becomes paralyzed, finds love, and most certainly does have a crappy TV movie made about her.

Turns out "My Side of the Mountain" is much more in the predictable wheelhouse of the author of the "Tarantula" book of animal stories, the tale of a kid who takes to the mountains to live off the land. And a perfectly decent movie was made of the book, though while I'm only familiar with about 50% of the book I can say that the flick is substantially different from it.

Either way, this pleasantly subtle movie tells us why Sam wants to live in the mountains -- he has read every fact about surviving in the wild but he doesn't know for sure if he can do it. What the movie lets us ponder is why it is so easy for him to leave his family. Fortunately, this isn't a heavy concern; in fact, the magic of this film is the way it make everything seem so plausible.

We see Sam make his home in the trunk of a tree, train a bird of prey, and skin and clean a deer. Specifics are explained to fascinating detail without risk of nausea; the broad stroke here is the coming of age thing, which is well done. The movie has a reasonable ending, invented about halfway through the story that the book tells, but is well worth seeking out.

By the way, the disc cover shows a bear? The bear is in this for like 10 seconds. A raccoon has a starring role compared to the goddamn bear.