Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mixed Company (1974)

Directed by Melville Shavelson. White family adopts a black kid, a Korean kid and a native American. Awkwardness ensues. The weirdest thing about it is that it vacillates between trite dialog and many scenes that feature situations that would really happen given the premise of the movie but you'd never see in any piece of shit a studio tried to make these days with this premise.

Of the many reasons to see this movie, if you are my age (44) one reason is to see Haywood Nelson, the young black actor who plays Freddie. At 14, his very young look lets him play an 11-year old here, but within two years he'd play Dwayne on TV's "What's Happening!" It's funny how much this kid aged in two years. Also, it occurs to me that Dwayne's catchphrase was the same as Fat Albert's ("Hey hey hey!") with only a slight variation on pacing the "heys." Unimaginative.

When orphan Freddie is first brought home to meet the Morrison family, the father, Pete (Joseph Bologna) calls him a spade, and the youngest daughter says she's going to lock her doors. Throughout the film, a good deal of comic gold is mined from the fact that the youngest daughter, at the age of six or so, seems to have established a solidly irreversible personality as a bigot. Anyway, in part because he seems to be pretty good at basketball, Freddie is adopted despite Pete's insistence that "it's hard enough to love your real kids."

Because almost nobody in the Morrison's community has ever seen a black person, Freddie is either greeted with hatred or patronizing special treatment, such as the school teacher who assures him that until he catches up with the other children, he will not have the added burden of homework, and if he is unable to measure up with the other children he will not be blamed, the archaic and ignorant educational system will be considered at fault. While the script loses point for lack of subtlety, the story gets a point for a consideration lost on most people these days.

When Freddie's assimilation dead ends because of the alternating doses of hatred and condescension, the bright idea is to adopt more kids, kind of like when the animal shelter tells you that you should only adopt cats in pairs. So the Morrison's adopt Quan, who the children all call a slope until she locks herself in a closet and cries, and a native American boy who apparently isn't important enough to get a screen credit.

Though for all of its frank dialog, "Mixed Company" was a crazily non-challenging move for director Meville Shavelson, who had essentially made the Brady Bunch Movie several times during his career; in addition to "Mixed Company" there's "Yours, Mine and Ours" (1968), "Houseboat" (1958) and "The Seven Little Foys" (1955), all of which are comic dramas or dramatic comedies about serendipitous/reluctant family situations.

Not suprising is that one of Shavelson's closest friends was Sherwood Schwartz, who "created" the Brady Bunch presumably by staring at Shavelson for 90 seconds. And then get this; in the 1973 season of the "Brady Bunch," Schwartz used an episode to test drive an idea for a TV pilot that would be called "Kelly's Kids," about a family that adopts a black child, an Asian child and a native American child. "Kelly's Kids" never happened, but Schwartz rebooted the idea twice more with "Together We Stand" in 1986 and "Nothing Is Easy" in 1987.

By the way, in this movie Joseph Bologna plays the coach of the Phoenix Suns, who take a beating as a shit team, although in 1974 they'd hardly set the world on fire. However, the season following the year this movie was released, the Suns went all the way to the finals and even though the Boston Celtics took the title, I have a theory that the message of racial unity behind this movie is what turned them around unless it was acquiring guard Paul Westphal and forward Gar Heard.

Normally about here I say whether I would recommend this movie or not, but I'll let this description speak for itself. I'll also mention that I enjoyed the brief appearance of the character Milton, unless he was named Marvin, since Shavelson seems to have left a blooper in the flick.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Run Lola Run (1998)

Directed by Tom Tykwer. I'd never seen this and had intended to for years but had just never gotten around to it, in part because Karen had said that despite liking it, its camera movement and editing style had made her sick to her stomach. I tend not to like movies like that.

Surprisingly, this is one of those movies that seems to have stood the test of time in that its story and themes remain engaging even while it is chock full of elements that you can tell must have seemed edgy when it was first released but are now de rigueur, by which I mean, all over the friggin' place. With respect to that, while I'm sympathetic to my wife's 1998 equilibrium, I'm not so sure the editing and camera movement in "Run Lola Run" are all that disorienting by 2011 standards. These days, it looks a little like 7UP commercial.

That, coupled with the fact that the English language dubbing sucks and some of the acting is a little amateurish, means that the younger people I work with would not be able to appreciate it. To that point, it's unfathomable why this wasn't remade in America with Sandra Bullock or at the very least someone like Milla Jovovich in the lead role.

If you're not familiar with the plot, the less said about it, the better. Regarding themes, it would seem, in case you weren't aware, that every step we take makes a difference in what comes our way. Timing and choices are everything, except when luck steps in. The trick is knowing when to wield control and when simply to let fortune take its course. Show this to someone who hasn't seen it yet.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cedar Rapids (2011)

Directed by Miguel Arteta. Based on recommendations from others, I thought this was going to be a lot better than it was but it had some good laughs in it. Unfortunately, the best laugh in this come from the fact that -- despite remaining a complete delight -- John C. Reilly has gradually transformed into a cross between the impression of John C. Reilly regularly performed by comedian Paul F. Tompkins and underrated Warner Bros. cartoon character Pete Puma.

The story in this flick is that insurance salesman Tim (Ed Helms) is forced to ride an airplane for the first time toward the bright lights and bustling streets of Cedar Rapids for a convention where he hopes to win the Twin Diamond award for his agency. To cut to the chase without revealing anything, symbolically, the Twin Diamond represents the pair of balls all men must grow to get through life with any honor and productivity.

From there, the thing writes itself. Or doesn't, unfortunately. Thank goodness for appealing actors: in addition to Helms and Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root, a very funny guy I didn't know named Isiah Whitlock Jr. who I will stay on the lookout for, and a brief but excellent appearance by Rob Corddry.

Not recommended if you haven't yet seen Miguel Arteta's 2009 movie, "Youth in Revolt," which may or may not be reviewed somewhere on this blog but either way is far better. If you have seen "Youth in Revolt," this would be good for a Saturday or Sunday morning or if you see movies while you exercise. That way you're not wasting critical movie watching time on it, plus one of its strengths is that, since it takes place in the midwest, most of the cast is real doughy, so you feel good about yourself.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Desperate Lives (1982)

Directed by Robert Michael Lewis. The good news is that this famous TV movie, if finally available on home video though the awesome Warner Archives. This flick is legendary because a 19-year old Helen Hunt, long before her nose had risen above her eyes, stars as Sandy Cameron, who gets high on angel dust and jumps through a second-floor window.

The problem in this town, of course, is obvious: marijuana. Another problem in this town is that only one adult cares about the kids: a guidance counselor named Eileen Phillips (Diana Scarwid). Everything in this town is a crazy, backward mess.

I'm reminded of a similar insanely melodramatic TV movie, "Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker," in which one girl almost gets killed hitchhiking but her dumb sister keeps going hitchhiking. In this movie, Helen Hunt throws herself out a window on the drugs but her numb nuts brother just keeps on going smoking the drugs until he and his slutty girlfriend drive off a cliff. The brother, by the way, is played by Doug McKeon, who you may remember from the sixth episode of the third season of "21 Jump Street."

Of course I watched "Desperate Lives" for the legendary Helen-Hunt-goes-flying-out-a-window moment. But there are many, many moments that are as good. For example, after her accident she has casts all over her body, like a cartoon character, and she runs down the street yelling at her brother who is hooked on the dope. That's worth seeing.

Another great one is the brief scene featuring Dr. Joyce Brothers, who during this time was in everything, but always played a know-it-all authority on everything. In this, not only does she not play herself, she plays one of the many apathetic adults. All she cares about the marching band uniforms.

But the most potentially underrated character is played by Art Hindle, Eileen's surly boyfriend, who is such a weird actor that he has a weird puss on in just about every scene he's in yet you can't tell what's he supposed to be annoyed with. Bad acting is one thing, confusing acting is a whole other animal. I have a theory that he is awesome actor who knew that if he was going to compete with everything in this movie he needed to do something baffling. He even went so far as to wear a red Members Only jacket in one scene.

Still, I recently read about a failed TV pilot featuring Art Hindle from 1979 called "The Power Man," in which he played a decorated Vietnam hero who, after being struck by lightning, finds he can shoot electric bolts from his fingers. I can't help but think that, as good as "Desperate Lives" already is, how much it could have been vastly improved if Art Hindle's character could have shot electric bolts from his fingers, with or without the aid of angel dust.

It could have given him the edge he needed over Diana Scarwid, who in the film's climactic monolog, sets fire to a pile of bongs in the high school gymnasium. I'm not making that up. Her speech is rewarded not only with a slow clap that turns into a standing ovations, but also with a still-frame ending shot of her smiling.

Poor Art Hindle never stood a chance.

American Stag (2006)

Anybody who can afford a camera these days can appoint themselves a documentary filmmaker, but that doesn't make these people qualified to make their movies. I don't consider a collection of opinions and vague recollections to be a fully-formed documentary. That's "American Stag." Some lip service is played to the fact that early porn filmmaking was such an underground business that very little information exists about it, but that's no excuse for providing none.