Monday, August 22, 2016

35. Milk Money

EDITOR'S NOTE: Um, sorry for the unannounced nine-month hiatus. I've been busy!

Before I continue, a note about the rules: there are none. We're pulling a Xtina and going back to basics: the first person to comment wins, even if they've won before. I'll vary the times I post these to try to spread the wealth a bit. If the same person keeps winning... then I guess they'll just become the villain of the blog (VOTB).

It's a post-Trump world, y'all. There is no law, there is no decency. Nothing matters anymore. Welcome back!

The movie: Milk Money (Richard Benjamin, 1994)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Katie Hovanec

The rationale: How about a “Hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” movie for families? Enter Melanie Griffith with her real, human face. Add a collection of adorably precocious fifth graders who just want to see a naked lady. The kids take their literal milk money (in a Ziploc bag), and bicycle into the big city (Cincinnati) to begin their quest. What ensues is disturbing, cute, and occasionally funny.

How do I know about this movie? I know two of the kids who were extras in the school dance scene.

My familiarity with this movie: Katie has said the words “milk money” to me at least once a week since last November. So if nothing else, I am v familiar with the title.

I have not personally met any hookers, let alone ones with hearts of gold. I’ve also never seen Pretty Woman. Boy, hookers really had a moment in the early ‘90s, didn’t they?

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “Three boys travel to the city, hoping to find a woman who'll undress for them. They find a prostitute named V who's willing to fulfill their request.” HER NAME IS V, Y’ALL. V GOOD.

What I thought of the movie: Katie went with “disturbing, cute, and occasionally funny,” and while I’m gonna lean heavily on the first of those descriptors, she’s not wrong. I lol’d a couple of times, and I was taken in by the performance of the great Ed Harris, who's downright charming playing against type as a sweet, guileless widower.

But yeah, there’s a lot of puzzling stuff here. The film is set in the early ‘90s, but has a distinctly ‘50s feel to it, down to the treehouse with the two cans connected by a string and all that. At times, the three boys, who are meant to be aged 12 or so, feel like modern kids; they watch a softcore porno film on VHS, like all the kids are doing these days. One of them wears a leather jacket and has an earring! So you figure they’ve got to be at least a bit streetwise here. But then they have this obsession with seeing a nudie lady that is almost quaint, except for when it’s not? Note the following exchange:

Kid 1: “You saw your sister naked in the shower?”
Kid 2: “Kind of. I was hiding in the laundry basket.”
They high-five.

THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. It’s all very strange. The kids generally talk like ‘50s versions of kids whose hormones just kicked in. Like if Eddie Haskell were scrounging around for live nudes. That’s the vibe here.

I know that this is a movie about a hooker who befriends three children and, as such, it requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, but in their quest for nudes these kids are just so inconceivably dumb. After pooling their titular milk money, they ride their bikes into the city and ask random women on the street if they’re prostitutes! It’s never worked for me, folks.

After getting their bikes stolen and being held up at gunpoint by a homeless guy, they are rescued by V the Hooker (V HOOKERISH), who takes her top off for them (but not the audience) and gives them a ride (like a car ride; take it easy, folks) to the suburbs, which she regards with the same kind of wonder that Sam Neill had when he saw the dinosaurs for the first time. The main boy, Frank, tries to get V the Hooker, who's bewitched by the suburban life and wants to escape her life of hookin’, and his dad, Sweet Ed Harris, to smooch and stuff.

The rest of the movie goes down exactly what you imagine it would, and that’s fine! It has its moments. For instance, the kids are learning about the female anatomy (of course they are) in health class while all this is going on. Young Frank fails his female anatomy test (as you do), and as punishment the teacher makes him give an ORAL PRESENTATION TO THE CLASS ABOUT THE MATERIAL WAIT WHAT. First of all, why would you devote an entire class period to a reassessment for just one kid? That’s valuable time you’re wasting there! You have to imagine they had to move on to the male anatomy unit (I’m sorry, I had to). And second, any teacher who would make some 12-year-old boy stand in front of the class and lecture about the female anatomy should be immediately fired. They taught us not to do that on the first day of teacher school.

But so anyway, this scene, while pedagogically unjustifiable, is the best part of the movie: Frank locks the teacher out of the classroom and brings in V the Hooker to use as a demonstration of sorts. (Ignore, if you can, and I often couldn’t, the problematic nature of this scene, and indeed the film, in which V the Hooker has almost zero inner life to speak of, but whatever, she's got a heart of gold so she’s up for it.) The kids go wild for this. One kid is so excited he literally falls backwards out of his chair. I cannot deny laughing at that scene. Those kids were hootin’ and hollerin’ and I was all for it.

Other things were entertaining in perhaps less intentional ways. V the Hooker walks down the street in this small town and literally everyone does a double-take. Yeah, she’s dressed a little hookerish, but this is the ‘90s! The film has already established that there are softcore porno films readily available to the children of this town, on VHS, no less! And yet she's walking down Main Street and women are sneering “WHO IS THIS WHOOOOORE.

I also enjoyed the fact this is one of those movies that could not have been made post-internet. One of the kids says early in the film, “I know a place where the girls are naked all the time.” And he’s talking about Cincinnati! It’s safe to say their quest would have been a lot less harrowing even five years later.

Anyway. Obviously, this is not meant to be a realistic movie, and you’re supposed to find it charming and go with it, and for certain things I did. Ed Harris and Melanie Griffith have a nice sweet thing going on, and the kids, when not delivering ridiculously terrible dialogue, are fine. Other things were just too cloying for me, but that’s OK. I am probably not the target audience here. I rarely drink milk.

Am I happy I took Katie’s recommendation? You're dang right I am. If only because it proves that when I say I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it. Even if it takes me literally almost a year. It’s a good thing those kids weren’t relying on me to find them some nudes.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Evan "Chich" Chiacchiaro, a respected businessman and member of the community, recommends Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Any excitement I had from restarting the blog is now gone.

Friday, November 20, 2015

34. Simon Sez

The movie: Simon Sez (Kevin Elders, 1999)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Greg Rosen

The rationale: I happened upon this illustrious film one day in college. I was about to leave for class and my roommate Dave was watching it. I immediately recognized Dane Cook so I decided to stay and watch for a few minutes before I hit the road. A few minutes turned into a few hours, and I skipped class. I considered myself a pretty committed student throughout my scholarly life, but I literally skipped my class for this. After the movie ended, Dave and I laughed for what seemed like a half hour. I was delirious and felt like I had been hit with a Mack truck. I never skipped class again.

My familiarity with this movie: On multiple occasions, I (and others) have confused this film with the other major Rodman film, Double Team, which also features Jean-Claude Van Damme. Rodman really worked with some great teammates in his career: Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Dane Cook, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, to name a few. I also like the idea of Dane Cook trying to play Rodman in a pickup game while they were filming this movie, and Rodman just swatting him all over the court. (I’m not a huge Dane Cook fan.)

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “Basketball superstar Dennis Rodman stars as a hip Interpol agent who's attempting to defeat the deadly plans of a crazed arms dealer when he runs into Nick (Dane Cook), a CIA flunky attempting to deliver a ransom and bring home his client's daughter. Soon Simon joins Nick in a deadly, action-packed game of espionage and murder.”

What I thought of the movie: I can definitely understand why Greg was intrigued by this film. If he caught the very beginning, he’d have seen Dennis Rodman wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit and sitting atop a bright yellow motorcycle, tracking a big-time late-night drug deal. Dennis Rodman, lest we forget, is a gentleman who stands six feet, seven inches tall, with bleached blond hair and an array of tattoos and piercings, and he is playing an undercover Interpol agent. I was instantly hooked.

Ultimately, it was hard for Simon Sez to fully deliver on the “Dennis Rodman is essentially James Bond” premise. There were multiple reasons for this, aside from the fact that that’s a pretty outrageous premise. I’m going to try to deflect blame from Rodman for this as much as possible, though, since he’s a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the greatest rebounder of all time. He’s earned some leeway here.

The dialogue in this movie is a few steps below James Bond-level, which is shocking, considering how many bad puns are in James Bond movies. Simon Sez doesn’t even try to get any solid wordplay going here, preferring to let Dane Cook do extended impressions of various animals for little or no reason. (Watching him do those impressions was somehow preferable to hearing the characters talk, for the most part. He does a pretty solid dinosaur.)

While the plot is straightforward enough, the acting here is difficult to take. Cook yelps and squeals and squawks for minutes on end, and the fact that his character isn’t killed by either the bad guys or the good guys at any point is probably the most unrealistic thing about the movie. The supporting actors struggle as well, with a particularly bad “giggly archvillain” trope on show. And while I hate to say it, the mumbly Rodman shares much of the blame here. He’s hypnotic in this film, by which I mean I fell asleep while watching him act.

The action scenes here actually aren’t that bad, with some decent martial arts sequences spicing things up. But my favorite aspect of the movie was its brilliant special effects. There are some of the worst green-screen scenes I have ever, EVER seen in this movie. They’re laughably bad, particularly in a scene where Rodman and Cook drive off a cliff and their car deploys a parachute, a scene which rips off both Fast Five and Furious Seven. And yes, I know this movie came out years before both of those did, but still. There is such a thing as a retroactive rip-off.

(Side note: I IMDb-ed the budget of this movie to see if it explained the cheapness of the effects. It was $10 million, a large portion of which I imagine went toward Rodman’s hair products. HOWEVER, I also learned that the movie grossed less than $300,000 at the box office! EL FLOPPO.)

But for all its faults, Simon Sez made me pine for the halcyon era when NBA superstars frequently plied their trade on the silver screen. Jordan in Space Jam, Shaq in Kazaam, Dwayne Schintzius in Eddie. It was a beautiful time, and watching LeBron James be the best part of Trainwreck this summer wasn’t enough to scratch this particular itch. I need more. Basically, I'm proposing this: remake Simon Sez with Kristaps Porzingis. It’ll gross more than $300K.

Am I happy I took Greg’s recommendation? It’s the second-most exciting basketball-related thing we’ve experienced together this week. #RaiseHigh. #RodmanHigh.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Katie Hovanec takes advantage of the “new folks can recommend three movies now” rule, as her third choice, Milk Money, wins. I know nothing about this movie, and I am very excited about that fact.

1. Once Bitten (Alex Tucciarone)
2. The Road to El Dorado (Alexis Hipp)
3. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
4. Tooken (Pat Ambrosio)
5-7. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
8. Airheads (Katie Hovanec)
9. Airborne (Katie Hovanec)
10. Milk Money (Katie Hovanec)
11. The Descent (Tony Krizel)
12. Freeway (Molly Brady)

Friday, November 6, 2015

33. The Pest

NEW BLOG RULE: Brilliant FOTB John Frascella, having been thwarted in his recent attempts to secure his first recommendation, proposed a new rule that the blog is adopting. If you have not yet successfully recommended a movie for the blog, you can now recommend up to three (3) movies per post. (You can recommend the same movie three times to increase your odds.) If there's one thing this blog needs, it's more rules. Try to keep up, y'all.

The movie: The Pest (Paul Miller, 1997)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Brendan Hunt

The rationale: Okay. So I first saw this movie when I was at the tender age of 14 or 15, at a sleepover. One of my friends at the time (who I am certainly not friends with anymore) said it was 'hilarious', so we rented it (whoa), and proceeded to watch it.

I had never been grown-man angry in my life up to this point, but I remember within ten minutes of watching that I started to get seriously, seriously pissed at how bad the movie was. It wasn't “bad movie” funny. It was “the rest of 9th grade is ruined” bad. Here's the trick -- I don't remember much at all about the movie, except that I despised it in a way I wouldn't be able to muster until much later in my life. And that's why you have to watch it. You have to validate ol' teenage Brendan's rage. Get ready.

My familiarity with this movie: I have seen Brendan get grown-man angry, folks. It’s usually because I’ve come up with some dumb pun, so I always like it. He’s a fun man to grown-man anger. I don’t think it will be fun, though, to discover how this grown-man anger was born, because this movie looks like hot trash. But I suppose I owe him this. Taste My Turnabout Is Fair Play.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “When thugs threaten to break an amateur con artist’s legs unless he repays the money he owes them, he takes a high-paying, one-day job -- unaware that he’s about to become human quarry for some well-heeled hunters.”

What I thought of the movie: As I sat down to watch the movie, it occurred to me that ninth graders, even ones that will eventually grow into sophisticated gents like Brendan, generally have pretty bad taste. Generally speaking, puerile nonsense is the ninth grader’s home court, and so the fact that young Brendan had such a visceral dislike for this movie meant that it must be real, real bad.

And ooooooh how bad it was. The movie is pretty much an hour and a half of John Leguizamo doing as many annoying bits as he possibly can. The opening credits feature Leguizamo mincing about in the shower, lip-syncing along to some generic ‘90s dance groove, and making all manner of fart noises for several minutes. (Brendan's immediate distaste for the movie was thus easily explained.) Leguizamo’s going for something in between “Latino Adam Sandler” and “Latino the Genie from Aladdin,” which is a dangerous thing to go for. I would later learn that the movie increases the danger by adding a healthy dollop of wild racism to those two paradigms, as he impersonates, and offends, African-Americans, Asians, Jews, and more throughout the film. It’s really, really, cringe-inducingly bad stuff.

I should note here that John Leguizamo is a really great actor. He’s been critically acclaimed for his one-man shows on Broadway, hes had a distinguished film career, and, not for nothing, it's unequivocally a good thing that he got to play the lead role in a major studio film. One year before The Pest was released, he appeared as Tybalt in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and, as it happens, he was also given the opportunity to show off his talent for Shakespearean dialogue in The Pest. However, in The Pest, and I swear I am not making this up, that opportunity manifests itself when he delivers part of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy while literally defecating in the woods. Alas, poor Yorick! Its trash.

Leguizamo’s manic energy, which has been such a huge asset in other movies, is just wasted on this tripe. It’s hard to criticize him for being such a pest when the movie (and his character) is literally called The Pest. As noted earlier, this is a movie about hunting a human being for sport, a take-off on The Most Dangerous Game. First of all, shoutout to recent birthday girl and FOTB Ellen Barr for her recent Christmas-song-related bit, “It’s the most dangerous gaaaaaaaame of the year.” Top-notch. Second of all, I consider myself a humanist, but I was rooting for the hunter.

I must admit that I laughed a couple of times. The movie throws a lot of things at the wall, and very, very few of them stick, but it would be unfair to call it completely, irredeemably terrible. There’s a female character named Malaria. That’s pretty good. And Leguizamo gets beaten up a lot, which is also pretty good.

But it’s all just so throwaway. Great movies demand your attention. This movie demands your inattention. It is unfathomably inessential. I don’t think anyone involved in the making of this movie cared at all about its quality. It’s a waste of my time, it’s a waste of any ninth grader’s time, and it’s enough to make me grown-man angry for about the twelfth time this week.

Am I happy I took Brendan’s recommendation? I feel like I just covered this.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Greg Rosen, at long last, gets in with the Dane Cook-Dennis Rodman vehicle Simon Sez.

1. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
2. Fighting (Pat Ambrosio)
3. Simon Sez (Greg Rosen)
4. Spice World (Allison Shuster)
5. Spirited Away (Alexis Hipp)
6-8. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
9. Freeway (Molly Brady)
10. Beyond the Lights (Anne Whipp)
11. The Worst Witch (Katie Hovanec)
12. Bound (Katie Hovanec)
13-15. In the Name of the Father (Lorna Mulvaney)
16. Oldboy (Steve Isaac)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

32. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The movie: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: Vimeo.

The recommender: Lindsay McCullough

The rationale: My selection was born out of a failed attempt to show off my cinematic prowess by picking György Pálfi’s Taxidermia. Or perhaps the failure falls upon John for not doing his damnedest to find this Surrealist Hungarian body horror/comedy. [Editor’s Note: Nah.] Either way, it is a shame that Taxidermia was not feasible, as it is a film that has stuck with me. I’d rather not use a cliché, but it’s one of those “car crash” movies: visceral, grotesque, bizarre. And you Just. Can’t. Stop. But, despite the film’s oh-so-literally gut-wrenching scenes, Pálfi manages to keep you entranced the entire time with his beautiful directing and storytelling. In short, I’ve never experienced anything like it.

But I digress. I felt that my backup needed to be something as equally enchanting, so I went en chanson, a film in song. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [Editor’s Note: This is the French title; we use ENGLISH on this blog] is a movie that happens to be entirely sung, making it entirely unforgettable like my disgusting Hungarian art piece. Since this is a French film, it is a film d’amour and achingly so. The somewhat banal plot line of doomed love is elevated by the mesmerizing score of Michel Legrand. There is no chance anyone can leave this movie not humming the refrain of “I Will Wait For You” that lilts throughout what Slant magazine called “the weepiest train farewell in history.”

While my original pick may have been that car crash, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is more like watching a beating heart slowly come to a stop. V French. Amuse toi bien!

My familiarity with this movie: I know very little about this film, as is the case with the Hungarian film that I (thankfully) could not find. (It looks real gross, y’all.) This is a good thing! This blog is all about expanding my horizons and such. Although, as noted, I would prefer to expand my horizons toward fun French musicals and not weird Hungarian grotesquerie.

I have mixed feelings on the French. I like their fries, but I don’t care for their attitude. Also, I took one semester of French in college, but I did not remember the French word for “umbrellas.” Thanks a lot, GW/Obama.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: Beautiful umbrella-store clerk Genevieve and charming gas station attendant Guy fall in love in the rainy coastal town of Cherbourg, but their romance is cut short when Guy is drafted into the army in this singular cinematic classic.

What I thought of the movie: I liked it! I was not as bewitched by it as Lindsay was, but that’s not too much of a surprise. (The inevitable ravages of time and age have taken their toll on my capacity for bewitchment.) It was unique and memorable and made me want to walk around town singing in French, which I imagine is not something you see every day in Petworth.

Lindsay and I watched the film together, a decision that I’m sure she regretted about two minutes in, when I started repeating French words that I recognized aloud. Those FsOTB who have watched films/TV shows featuring foreign languages or unusual accents with me will know that this is something I do a lot, and that it is extremely charming. (Watching Friday Night Lights with me is particularly fun: “BIG TIM  RIGGINS, RESERVATIONS FOR SIX,” etc.)

So you’d have good reason to criticize me for the fact that it took me a while to get into this movie. I think that there are legitimate reasons for this, though. The fact that the entire movie is sung, most of it in the recitative style of an opera, is obviously a bit weird. This is especially true in this movie, in which the banality of the dialogue clashes with the drama inherent in… you know, singing things. “Where are you going?” “To the store.” “Oh OK cool.” Sing those things. It’s weird! (These are not direct translations of the lyrics, but you get the idea.)

The structure of the film is a little difficult, as well. We’re introduced to Guy and Genevieve, the two young lovers, and we don’t have much time to get to know them before Guy is drafted. The scene that Lindsay mentioned in her rationale is indeed heartbreaking, but it came a little too early in the film to have the impact that it could have.

But it gets better as it goes along. The characters’ separation allows them to develop more fully, and you get used to all of the movie’s idiosyncrasies (the singing, the Frenchness, etc). It’s quite a beautiful film, full of v colorful scenery and costumes, and while most of the songs aren’t catchy hits, they’re certainly quite nice to listen to.

You can figure out some of the plot developments in advance, but the movie eventually builds to quite an affecting conclusion. It reminded me, in some ways, of Titanic. The fact that the plot isn’t the most intricate is actually helpful; it gives us something simple to latch onto while they challenge us in other ways (non-stop French singing in this film, large CGI shipwrecks in Titanic). And even for the non-Francophiles among us, I ultimately think the movie is worth that challenge. It’s essentially a longer, more emotional version of the Flight of the Conchords’ song “Foux du Fafa,” and if that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.

Am I happy I took Lindsay’s recommendation? I am. Although, to directly quote a line from this movie, “maybe happiness makes me sad.” T FRANCAIS.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Brendan Hunt's recommendation of the John Leguizamo vehicle The Pest wins this week. I believe I recall him telling me that this is one of the worst movies he's ever seen. Fanks.

1. Trash (Pat Ambrosio)
2. Equilibrium (Steve Isaac)
3. The Worst Witch (Katie Hovanec)
4. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
5. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (Kate Meroski)
6. Timer (John Goben)
7. Darkness Falls (Alexis Hipp)
8. Pokemon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Evan Chiacchiaro)
9. The Pest (Brendan Hunt)
10. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
11. Jack Frost (Molly Brady)