Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Paul - 2011

"Paul" - 2011
Dir. by Greg Mottola - 1 hr. 44 min.

Official Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Paul" is that movie with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that's not part of their "Three Flavours Cornetto" series, even though Pegg and Frost wrote this one.  I guess it not being directed by Edgar Wright is the difference.  Also, they're in America this time, which is another difference.  But it's still pretty good.  It's not great; it's like a well-written version of a fairly thin idea.  So that means that whatever you think of the idea of two comics nerds coming across a genuine alien and engaging in a road trip, this is one of the best possible versions of whatever is floating around in your head.

Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg) are a pair of British comic book fans who are fulfilling a life-long dream of attending ComiCon in San Diego.  Since it's quite a haul from GB to San Diego, they've also rented an RV, and are taking a road trip through the southwest, hitting up all the big alien-related hotspots, like Area 51 and Roswell.  Along the way, they discover a genuine alien, named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who is trying to escape the clutches of the government.  Also, he's foul-mouthed and smokes weed.  Among the government agents trying to track down Paul are Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), and Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio).

One of the unusual things about "Paul" is that it's a movie with two straight-men.  Both Clive and Graeme aren't really the sources of the humor, unless you're really amused by the notion of attending ComiCon or digging alien stuff.  Instead, they spend a lot of time reacting to the people and the world around them.  To some degree, this is a political statement about the oddness of America, from a fish-out-of-water viewpoint.  It's also literalized through a pair of hillbilly bullies, Gus (David Koechner) and Jake (Jesse Plemons).  But this approach might be part of the reason why the cast is stacked, comedically-speaking.  I haven't even gotten around to mentioning that Kristen Wiig is in the movie, and pretty much steals the show whenever she's on-screen, and we're already something like a dozen deep of people who are funny every time out.

On the downside, Seth Rogen does pretty much exactly what Seth Rogen does every time in every movie he's in, but without the benefit of his physical acting and presence.  It's not so much that Rogen isn't funny, as it is that I'd like to see him do something against expectations at some point.  A genial, gravel-voiced little buddy is pretty much 100% what I expect out of him in this role, and a couple of "Observe and Report" moments would have gone far to keep audiences on their toes.  I'll admit this is a petty complaint; I've seen a lot of Rogen's movies, and I'm sure there are plenty of people that are perfectly happy watching him do his thing.

I'm happy I finally got around to watching "Paul."  It's not the best of the Pegg/Frost movies, but it's still pretty funny, and there's a near-infinite amount of really good comedians doing what they do.  And the entire run-time of "Paul" is worth it for the scene where Wiig's character breaks free from her oppressive religious father, and it dawns on her that she can do anything she wants, including cursing and fornicating.  Not only is her awkward pawing of Graeme hilarious, it sets her character down the path of learning how to swear for the rest of the film, which is one of the Rated-R highlights of "Paul."  I feel certain I'd watch it again, if I stumbled across it on cable, and I'd probably enjoy it just as much.

3 / 5 - TV (HD)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hot Shots! - 1991

"Hot Shots!" - 1991
Dir. by Jim Abrahams - 1 hr. 24 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I probably haven't watched "Hot Shots!" in something like twenty years, but this is exactly the kind of film that teenager me was excited about.  Sure, "Batman" was a big deal, and I'd devour anything with Bill Murray or Chevy Chase in, but this movie right here?  This is the pure, uncut dope I craved.  "Hot Shots!" is in the line of films that started with "Kentucky Fried Movie," ran through "Airplane!," and the "Naked Gun" films.   They're heavy on sight gags and movie parodies, don't require much thought (beyond just getting into the spirit of things), and if you can get in the right frame of mind, these films are a lot of fun.

Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) is an Air Force washout, living on an Indian Reservation.  But his country needs him, and he's convinced to return to service as a pilot, provided he can pass a psychiatric exam.  Topper falls for his psychiatrist, Ramada Thompson (Valeria Golino), which dumps fuel on a long-running family grudge with Lt. Kent Gregory (Cary Elwes).  Eventually, they must get along to complete a mission.

But that's not important right now.  What is important is "Hot Shots!" is packed with jokes, delivered at a rapid-fire pace.  You have to pay attention to what's going on, as the sight gags hits nearly as frequently.  Some are large gags, like someone getting electrocuted behind a door.

Others are less so, like when Lloyd Bridges pulls out a cigarette case, pulls out a carrot stick, tamps it like a cigarette, and snaps off a healthy bite.  No mention is made of it, at all.  It just exists, and you either notice it or you don't (which means you're missing like half the movie).  If it feels like I'm harping on this, it's because this is an integral part of this style of humor.  It's fine if this material is too broad and too silly (which I consider it's chief assets) for someone, but if you've half-watched one of these films while futzing around on your computer, you haven't actually seen enough of that film to have an opinion on it.  In some regards, this is an extreme example of pre-second screen life.  Nobody would make a film like this now, because no one could have the confidence that an audience would pay attention to it without deliberately distracting themselves away from it.

Beyond that, this might be the end of prime Charlie Sheen, before his behavior turned him into a caricature of himself.  You've got this and "Major League," and the stuff before that like "Platoon" and his great small role in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  Afterwards, well, the '90s were pretty much an unmitigated string of suck for Mr. Sheen.  But here, he's getting softballs thrown at him, and he's knocking them out of the park.  The humor here piles up on you, and once one joke hits squarely, you'll spend the rest of the movie giggling from the barrage of jokes.

"Hot Shots!" is something that holds up reasonably well, even removed from the context of the then-contemporary films that it was parodying.  You don't need to have seen "Top Gun" or "Cool as Ice" to laugh at the motley crew that flies with Topper, or Topper's attempt to seduce Ramada on his bike.  It's almost hard to evaluate whether or not movies like this are successful until they're removed from their time; you can't always tell if the humor holds up or is relying too heavily on references until everyone's forgotten the references.  For me, it's still really watchable.  Part of that might be nostalgia, but I'll also never get tired of jokes like, "If I was joking, I'd say, 'What do you do with an elephant with three balls?  Walk him and pitch to the rhino."

3 / 5 - TV

Friday, December 12, 2014

Heavenly Bodies - 1984

"Heavenly Bodies" - 1984
Dir. by Lawrence Dane - 1 hr. 30 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

I don't think I've ever seen a film that was comprised solely of aerobics scenes and montages before.  Sure, there might be another film with only those elements, but I haven't seen it.  Until "Heavenly Bodies," that is.  It's a fair question to ask why I'd watch a film that seems solely about a battle between aerobics instructors, but it sounded funny, it was late at night, and a film with wall-to-wall spandex-clad, leg-warmer brandishing '80s hotties is all the explanation you need.  I knew this would be a terrible film, and it was, but the question is whether it's so terrible that it rebounds back into awful-but-watchable territory?

Samantha Blair (Cynthia Dale) and a couple of her buddies from the steno pool get tired of clocking in for the man, and decide to open their own Dancercise studio (probably off-brand, to be honest) in a dilapidated factory, to be called "Heavenly Bodies."  But, because Samantha is so good at shaking her goodies, she eventually wins a local fitness TV show, beating out rival gym owner Jack Pearson's (Walter George Alton) squeeze, Debbie (Laura Henry).  As it turns out, Debbie is a jealous, conniving little workout queen, and convinces a financier to buy out the factory that Heavenly Bodies is located in, and evict Samantha and her business.  Samantha isn't going to take that lying down, and challenges Jack to an exercise-off, winner takes all.

"Heavenly Bodies" is absolutely bonkers.  There's the aforementioned aerobics/montage approach, which is pretty odd.  So Samantha's burgeoning relationship with football player Steve (Richard Rebiere) doesn't have a ton of depth to it.  That's okay, because Samantha literally can't stop dancing.  Like all the damned time.  When she's introduced to her TV show's studio, she breaks into dance.  When Steve won't call, she does a mopey interpretive dance.  And there's like infinity classes that she teaches.  Plus, the climactic exercise-off, which features two teams of ten endurance aerobicizing their tight little buns off.  Samantha probably spends at least fifty of the ninety minutes of this film enthusiastically shaking, strutting, thrusting, and punching the air.  And (this is the point where I had GIFs to illustrate my point), when she's pent up, she starts humping the air (in unison with the rest of her class).  And her dancing is baffling; my impression of Dancercise is that you do some basic dance-y moves, and then the class repeats them until you're all sweaty.  But Samantha does all of her stuff free-form, so I don't know how her class knows how to keep up with her.  But they do.  All of them, all of the time, from air-punching to air-humping, they always get it right.

But you should know, yes, this does turn the corner.  It's a bizarre film centered around a woman who exercises really good and stuff, with awful music and non-stop dancing.  But between the abundance of leg-warmers and running shorts on men (and even more dubious fashion choices), and the sheer enthusiasm of Cynthia Dale (I'm not going to short-change her - she puts a lot of effort and grace into what she's doing, even if it's super-bizarre), "Heavenly Bodies" is like three beers or a bowl (bowl of what?  I don't know!!!  What are you, a cop?  You've got to tell me if you're a cop!!!) away from being one of the best awful films you'll ever see.  In term of just getting ninety minutes of '80s fitness cuties (and hunks, too), it completely delivers.  Crazy dialogue?  Scheming hoes?  Workout icons that apparently have never seen a weight-bench before?  "Heavenly Bodies" gives you all of this and more.

When I finished watching "Heavenly Bodies," my first thought is that whomever wrote "Dodgeball" must've seen this film, and pretty much "Airplane!'d" this into that.  Then, my second that was that if people will watch movies to see Jean-Claude Van Damme kick people in the face (and, historically speaking, they have), maybe it's not so weird to watch a movie solely for a physical performance.  In martial arts movies, that means fight scenes, but Cynthia Dale gives that little extra oomph in her dance scenes (you can see this if you compare her dancing to the other dancers that are in her scenes) that actually makes her performance impressive, from an athletic standpoint.  It doesn't make "Heavenly Bodies" any better of a film than "Double Impact," but I could understand why someone might be able to enjoy it in a different way than I did (which was admittedly at least slightly maybe a little okay more than a little prurient).  I'm completely baffled as to why this film got aired on Turner Classic, but I laughed my way all the way through.  So while this is officially "not a good movie," it's pretty awesome in it's own way.

1 / 5 - TV

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Muse - 1999

"The Muse" - 1999
Dir. by Albert Brooks - 1 hr. 37 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It feels like the only qualification for a movie getting thrown on Showtime's "Women" channel is that it passes that stupid Bechdel Test.  I don't know why "The Muse" gets thrown on that channel otherwise; it's just a movie.  And really, "The Muse" is a movie about movies (sort of), one of those dreaded "insider" films.  And even worse, it's a pretty good film.  It's not exactly one of those "tortured writer" movies, it's written with a light touch, and ends up raising more questions than it answers.  Mainly, I'm just irritated that I have to watch a movie that I like with that stupid women's logo in the corner, mocking me for watching a chick flick.  It's not a chick flick!

Steven Phillips (Albert Brooks) is a screenwriter of some success, as we're introduced to him receiving a humanitarian award for his career, which included a film that was nominated for an Oscar.  The next day, he's informed that his newest script is evidence of him having lost his edge (whatever that means, but it's a refrain), and that not only is that script rejected, he's been dropped from his development deal at Universal. too.  At his wife's (Andie MacDowell) request, Steven turns to his friend, Jack (Jeff Bridges) for some advice.  Jack is persuaded to introduce Steven to Sarah (Sharon Stone), who purports to be an honest-to-goodness muse.  Jack swears she's the secret to his (and many others') success, so Steven goes along with it.  And, as one might imagine, an honest-to-goodness muse is both capricious AND has expensive tastes.

There are a couple of things you're going to have to accept in order to enjoy "The Muse."  First, you're going to have to like Albert Brooks.  I don't have a problem with that, but his is a pretty well-defined persona, and you're going to have to sympathize with his character.  No ifs, ands, or buts!  Secondly, you're going to need to accept Sharon Stone (yes, that Sharon Stone) as a proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  Granted, her character is both more well-rounded than that trope usually can brag about, and lays claim to mythological reasons for her being that way.  And Sharon Stone wouldn't have been my first choice for this kind of role, even in 1999.  But she pulls it off, I think.  Mileage might vary from viewer to viewer, but she's got just enough of an edge to her to give weight to the concern that pissing off a Goddess (the muses are literally the children of Zeus and Mnemosyne) might have unpleasant consequences.

Once you're past those concerns, this is a pretty sharply-written film.  Albert Brooks isn't the sort of writer to wallow in grandiose demonstrations of torment; you will not have drunken benders, violence, or gratuitous nudity and sex scenes.  This film is not "In a Lonely Place," Steven isn't Humphrey Bogart's self-destructive character.  Brooks' character's concerns are definitely not life-or-death; his inability to write something of sufficient quality is an upper-middle class concern (and Steven's house is testament to a much higher level of success than that), and the stakes are more about continued financial success than anything else.  The universal response to his work is a statement on familiarity as much as it is about struggling professionally.

But the questions that this film raise are interesting ones.  First off, is a muse (or inspiration, to generalize) necessary to create an interesting piece of creative work, or is it just a placebo effect that boosts one's confidence enough to dare to be successful?  Also, the points of friction between Steven and his wife, Laura, are not flattering to Steven's character, but they're also pretty common ones.  There's also the issue of wanting to be successful out of jealousy, and honestly, whether or not the work is worth pursuing at all, beyond financial recompense.  The muse herself is a constant source of irritation and minor inconvenience that Steven puts up with because of the promise of what lies at the end of the process.  One of the unanswered questions of the film is why Steven does what he does.  There are certainly easier ways to earn a buck than by writing screenplays.

On the whole, I really like "The Muse."  I suspect one of the reasons that writers like to write stories about writers is that you can always justify whatever you've written by having the result be a creative masterpiece.  If a muse ran into someone who ran a muffler shop, the result of the interaction wouldn't be very impactful.  Sure, a few people would have brilliantly installed mufflers, but the room for error in the world of mufflers doesn't really require brilliance for the mufflers to work as intended.  But in terms of writing (and creative work in general), even perfect circumstances don't guarantee anything.  But beyond the notion of a real muse wandering around in modern times, you have a basic comedic premise that works.  Two of them, actually.  You've got the cheapskate trying to accommodate a woman with expensive tastes, and you've also got a man juggling the demands of two women, even if the demands are largely not of a sexual nature (I'm not sure I can even remember Steven kissing his wife at any point in the film).  The result is a clever, light, funny film with a bunch of cameos, an absence of Hollywood smugness that frequently sinks insider films (the industry stuff comes off in a surreal manner instead of being self-satisfied), and a couple of nice twists along the way.

But it's not a goddamned chick flick, I swear.

3.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

The Kentucky Fried Movie - 1977

"The Kentucky Fried Movie" - 1977
Dir. by John Landis - 1 hr. 23 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I grew up on movies like "The Naked Gun" and "Airplane!," but "The Kentucky Fried Movie" was the scattershot starting point for not only the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team, but pretty much for all modern spoof movies.  Even better, a lot of the movie is still really funny, even independent of what's being spoofed.  It helps that there are parts of the film that don't directly tie to other movies, and what's here is deliberately silly and filthy at the same time.  But much in the same way that "Airplane!" has aged well (no one else does this type of humor in quite the same way, so this approach hasn't really been overexposed), "The Kentucky Fried Movie" holds a lot of it's humor, which is saying something for a film that's nearly forty years old.

"KFM" is an anthology movie, comprised of a bunch of unrelated skits (mostly; there are a couple of recurring gags that pop up).  Some are movie parodies (like "Cleopatra Schwartz" and "Catholic High School Girls in Trouble"), some aren't.  The largest segment in the film is a take-off of Bruce Lee's classic "Enter the Dragon."

In some regards, you could consider this an analogue to "Saturday Night Live."  What's the difference?

Well, the one chief difference between this film and SNL is that, like every good '70s movie, it's chock full of breasts.  But not just breasts...

And since it was the '70s, you're not going to get the same thing from the actors that you get from the actresses.  This is about as good as it gets for the ladies:

Now, this isn't the only reason that "KFM" isn't Saturday Night Live.  For the most part, the actors in the film aren't really people who you've heard of, except for the known actors who are making cameos, like Donald Sutherland or Bill Bixby.  But their involvement is more along the lines of "I can't believe they got involved with these weirdos" than actually doing any of the comedic heavy lifting.

But mostly, this is a silly movie with nudity and dildos (and other stuff, too).  In other words, this is exactly the movie you're going to want to throw on after a night out and a couple too many drinks.  You don't need to be in that state of mind to enjoy "KFM," but it doesn't hurt.  It's consistently funny throughout, and comes off cohesively even though the sketches are unrelated, because the style of humor is consistent all the way through the film.  The sketches generally don't overstay their welcome, and it's also a lot of fun to see gags getting worked out that would get play in Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker's later work.  Plus, director John Landis would go on to do a couple of decent films later on, too,  I'm not claiming that "The Kentucky Fried Movie" is better than "The Blues Brothers" or "Airplane!," but that this film is worth checking out on it's own merits.

4 / 5 - Streaming

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To - 2014

"Dumb and Dumber To" - 2014
Dir. by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly - 1 hr. 49 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It's been a while since I've watched the original "Dumb and Dumber," but that's another problem for another time.  I remember liking it a lot.  All things considered, even though I was not in the right frame of mind to laugh, I had an expiring free movie ticket that had to be used, and "Dumb and Dumber To" is what I chose to use it on.  I don't regret that choice at all.  Was this as good as the original?  Not exactly.  But it was still pretty funny, and wasn't just a re-hash of what came before (although it's been long enough since I've seen the original I could be off on that).

Twenty years have elapsed since Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) were seen last, but they haven't changed much.  Lloyd has apparently spent the last two decades in a mental institution, mute and wheelchair-bound, while Harry has been visiting him every week like clockwork.  When Harry tells Lloyd that he's going to have to stop visiting because of a medical problem, Lloyd snaps out of his fugue to reveal that the entire psychiatric stay has been one long joke on Harry.  They agree that it was super-funny.  But Harry needs a kidney, and after some stuff happens, he discovers that he has a daughter, from whom he might be able to get one from.  So Harry and Lloyd set out on the open road to track down Harry's long-lost daughter, which leads them to the KEN Conference (like Ted Talks).

I'll be honest - the first third of "To" wasn't fantastic.  It was okay, but it involved a lot of call-backs to the original film.  Once that's over with, and the film starts to try to stake out new comedic territory, it gets a lot better.  Yes, that's kind of relative, because you're going to have to find fart jokes, slapstick humor, and nearly-psychotically self-destructive stupidity to be funny, but I do, so we're all good here.  It's not called "Smart and Smarter: Deep Conversations with Brilliant Minds," so no complaining about the level of the humor.  You knew what you were getting into the second you selected this film for viewing.  As with many comedies of this nature, the plot is largely just an excuse to string together some funny ideas, and a road trip is a nearly ideal framework to string together funny ideas (like "Bad Grandpa" did, as well).

Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey are really funny together.  Carrey, in particular, provides a couple of the greatest "no way" reactions I've ever seen.  Rob Riggle has a pair of decent-sized roles in the film (he plays twins), and is a really good foil/target for Harry and Lloyd.  Rachel Melvin plays Harry's daughter with an idiotic zeal that's appealing and good-natured, nearing what Anna Faris has done with the bubble-head role in several movies.  Honestly, once the movie gets out of the throwback section and starts moving forward, everyone does a good job with what they've got to work with.

It's hard to analyze or talk seriously about a movie that involves locking someone in the back of a hearse with a pair of fresh farts for company.  The bottom line is whether or not the movie is funny (it is), and in the case of a sequel, whether it's a worthy addition to the franchise (which it is, even if it's not quite as good as I remember the original being).  It's a lot of fun watching Jim Carrey just being a raging asshole idiot again, it's fun watching Jeff Daniels in on it, and it's fun watching them double-team Rob Riggle when he tries to butt heads with them.  This movie could have been much, much worse, and that's something that you have to remember.  It took twenty years to get all of the important people on the same page, and in that span of time there was spin-off that no one wants to remember.  So the fact that a pretty decent second "Dumb and Dumber" exists is pretty awesome in itself.

3 / 5 -  Theatre