Friday, July 31, 2015

21. Fletch

The movie: Fletch (Michael Ritchie, 1985)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Max Handler

The rationale: Fletch is one of the greatest comedies of all time. Chevy Chase can do no wrong. Everyone should watch this movie.

My familiarity with this movie: I hate to quibble with young Max, as I do appreciate his conciseness (as well as the fact that, for the first time in what feels like months, the movie he's recommended for the blog is actually supposed to be good), but the history books are filled with instances of Chevy Chase doing wrong (with this being Exhibit A).

I don’t disagree, however, with the notion that Chevy Chase is (or, much more accurately, was) very funny. Despite near-universal agreement that he’s a horrible human being, he had a long string of tremendous output, starting with his stint on SNL up through about Christmas Vacation (a family classic). Obviously I’m not fully up to date on said output, as I have not seen this film, which is regarded as one of his best. To make up for this fact, here are some scenes from Caddyshack:

Plot summary and trailer yoinked from Netflix and YouTube, respectively: “When a wealthy businessman offers reporter Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher, a fast-talking master of disguise, a fortune to murder him before a terminal illness takes hold, Fletch works the scenario in hilarious style to get the exclusive scoop.”

What I thought of the movie: It’s a v v funny movie. The plot is engaging, the characters are interesting, and the bits are plentiful. Chevy Chase is the all-time master of quips. I could barely keep up with all the quips here, but one of my favorites was, “Why don't we go lay on the bed and I'll fill you in?” Cheeky!

It’s just thoroughly entertaining, for both the reasons the filmmakers intended and other reasons: namely, just how ‘80s everything is. (It made me miss the VH1 show I Love the ‘80s, which informed my understanding of what the ‘80s were all about far more than the four years of that decade in which I was alive. I wasn’t aware of too much in those days.) There’s a jaunty, synthesizer-infused theme song, there’s the championing of anti-authoritarian smartassery, there are people working at a newspaper that’s not suffering from crippling budget cuts. It was a simpler time.

I thought a lot during the movie about how Chevy Chase’s reputation affected my enjoyment of his performance. I worry that too often I let my (almost certainly unfair) opinions of actors’ offscreen personas affect my opinions of their onscreen performances. (On the plus side, it’s why I intend to see every film that features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.) Here Chevy’s pretty much playing his classic smartass persona, and yet I was able to put all the other stuff aside. He makes it work. I don’t know how, but not once during Fletch did I think about the fact that none of Chevy Chase's friends attended his Comedy Central Roast. And I think about that all the time! That’s the sign of a truly great film, right there.

Am I happy I took Max’s recommendation? I’d say “yes” even if the movie were just this one scene. “He is actually six-five, with the afro, six-nine.” Tremendous.

What’s next?

UPDATE: FOTB Pat Ambrosio finally strikes, recommending a film that he apparently could only find on VHS: Twin Dragon Encounter. MY GOD.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

20. Jeremy's Family Reunion

The movie: Jeremy’s Family Reunion (Abel Garcia, 2005)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Alex “Tucc” Tucciarone

The rationale: I chose Jeremy's Family Reunion because I know my good friend Gian will enjoy how awful it is and because I know his observations and commentary on it will be excellent.

My familiarity with this movie: It’s hard to say if anyone noticed, but the blog has taken the last week off. I spent much of that week at the legitimate theeeeeater, seeing a variety of interesting plays at the Capital Fringe Festival. I've really enjoyed the opportunity to experience some more culturally upmarket entertainment. Considering the type of stuff y'all have made me watch lately, this last week has been a beautiful vacation.

In other news, Jeremy’s Family Reunion literally does not even have a Wikipedia page. I may know nothing about this movie, but I do know this: vacation's over.

Plot summary yoinked from YouTube: “Jeremy has it all; he's a young black corporate attorney in New York City with a beautiful white fiancée. But his picture perfect life is severely threatened when he and his fiancée attend an annual family reunion back home in New Orleans. Jeremy is thoroughly embarrassed by the wild and crazy characters in his dirty south family. And his relationship becomes threatened as he gets ‘grilled’ about his fiancée. She is now thinking twice about their relationship after spending some time with the ‘family.’” [Editor’s Note: Oh God.]

What I thought of the movie: OK. The first thing that must be said about Jeremy’s Family Reunion is that it is impossible to compare it to the other garbage y’all have made me watch. This is because it is so, so shoddily done. I’m talking sub-middle school production values and acting and editing and all that. Watch a minute or so of this on YouTube to see what we’re dealing with here.

But! While the entire movie is fairly incomprehensible, and there are long stretches of it that are also pretty boring, it’s far too ridiculous to get mad at. On the contrary: it’s great fun! So many good, silly things happen! (There are also things that are so poorly done as to defy description, including a minute-long scene in which our hero vigorously picks his nose.) Here are some of the good, silly things:

  • A fat character holding a hot dog dances (to no music! All the dance scenes have no music playing, even though there’s a DJ there!) in the middle of a circle of people. The man bounces around playing with the hot dog, as the crowd around him chants, “HOT DOG! HOT DOG!” That was good.
  • A girl stares at a man and eats a pickle seductively, and the man has a hilarious reaction that lasts for almost a full minute. I can’t describe his reaction here because it’s a family blog, but it’s incredible. I could have watched it for five hours. That was good.
  • Someone says, “I got the sugar,” which I’m told means “diabetes.” That struck a chord.

(I would list more things, but the racial politics of me reviewing this film are v tricky.) One other thing of note: the YouTube video is an hour and twenty-six minutes long, but after an hour and three minutes, the movie just up and ends. I was confused, so I Gchatted Tucc (we affectionately call each other “Gian,” BTW) the following:

me:  ahahahaha gian its over!!?!?!
the youtube vid is 1 hr 26
and its 1 hr 3 mins in
and its over

His response:

Alexander:  Yeah

I continued to watch and soon realized, to my astonishment, that the rest of the video was comprised of TWENTY MINUTES OF BLOOPERS. FOR AN HOUR-LONG MOVIE. MY GOD.

Tucc said he found this movie on TV late one night while unable to sleep. I thank God for that man’s insomnia. This was less a movie and more an hour-long version of this video: 

And that is all I have ever needed from a piece of entertainment.

Am I happy I took Tucc’s recommendation? It’s been a few hours since I finished the movie, and I’m still not quite sure where I am or what day it is. Yes.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Max Handler, cousin of the Pete Rose of the blog (COTPROTB) Micah Lubens, with the first valid comment: Fletch! This should actually be good!

Friday, July 10, 2015

19. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The movie: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: At the Landmark E Street Cinema.

The recommender: Alexis Hipp

The rationale: I highly recommend Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, because it's a hidden gem. It was nothing like The Fault in Our Stars; actually, it was ten times better than The Fault in Our Stars, but I feel like it will go under-appreciated because of that possible comparison. Can we also talk about how it was filmed in Pittsburgh! [Editor’s Note: Alexis will be attending Duquesne University in Pittsburgh starting this fall.] The Perks of Being a Wallflower was also filmed there. I'll let you know if I'm ever an extra in a movie!

My familiarity with this movie: This movie has divided people on my social media feeds like nothing I’ve seen since “The Dress.” Many of my friends echoed the praise it received earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. Others echoed the sentiments of FOTB Alan Zilberman, who called the film “a dumpster fire of twee indie bullshit.” That sounds like the most whimsical dumpster fire ever!

Will I strongly agree with one of these viewpoints, as I did with “The Dress” (although I honestly can’t remember which side I was on, because that was the dumbest thing of all time), or will I sit on the fence, as I so often do? LET'S FIND OUT.

Plot summary and trailer yoinked from IMDb and YouTube, respectively: High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

What I thought of the movie: I’m gonna kind of sit on the fence. I liked it. I did not love it. Some things bugged me about it, and some things were very, very good. I would be the worst cable news pundit of all time.

I can definitely see why people were really annoyed by the movie, because I found myself rather annoyed by several things (especially the climax, which I will discuss later). But, paradoxically, some of those things are, I think, what actually makes it a good movie. For example: I found its depiction of Greg (the “Me” of the title), a disaffected high school senior, to be very relatable and accurate, especially in how you spend a lot of time wanting to shake some sense into the kid. It’s hard to like a movie with a main character that you want to shake, but this one works because of how authentic all the high school stuff seems, how the movie feels lived-in and of a specific time and place.

Another bad/good thing: the supporting characters (including and especially the other two title characters) are not very well-developed at all, some to the point of near-caricature. This aspect of the movie put me in mind of (500) Days of Summer, a movie which deliberately gives us a shallow, idealized impression of a woman to match that of its protagonist, who is too smitten with her to see her complexity. Similarly, for much of this movie, Greg has little interest in or ability to see others for who they really are, and since we see the other characters almost exclusively through his eyes, their depictions reflect that fact. The denouement, which I won’t spoil, was particularly well done, indicating both how much Greg has grown and how much more room he has to grow.

It’s more than OK not to buy into either of these things, by the way, and it’s fair that many people have criticized these (and other) aspects of the movie. Buying into them also means not getting annoyed by the fact that this movie is not about a girl with cancer. It’s about a guy who knows a girl with cancer. This is why I think the comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars don’t work: the movies are about fundamentally different things. I would argue that the degree of difficulty for The Fault in Our Stars is quite a bit higher, and that that movie moved me in a way that this one did not, but that doesn’t mean that this one isn’t good. You can either take it on its own terms, or you can be mad that it's not something else.

And what it is works, for the most part. The movie has its share of cutesy elements, including a series of references to classic movies that could be construed as painfully pretentious (although I personally found them mostly harmless). The voiceover narration occasionally shouts “THIS IS A MOVIE” at us, which often made it hard to get lost in the story, and some of the dialogue is a little too clever by half.

As noted earlier, I thought the most egregious thing in the movie was the climax, which I won’t spoil other than to say that it would not have felt out of place in a Nicholas Sparks movie. (Devotees of the blog's predecessor will know that I know of which I speak.) The climax was the one time that I felt that the director lost control of the material and reached for a “perfect” cinematic moment, and it just didn't work for me at all. But maybe the best thing that can be said about this movie is that, somehow, despite its Sparksian climax, I still liked it.

Am I happy I took Alexis’s recommendation? V good recommendation. Not trash. I’ve taught you well.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Alex Tucciarone pulls a sneaky tactic (a tactic that I will have to update the rules to outlaw): squatting on the first comment as he dithered over which movie to choose. SMGDH. He's eventually landed on Jeremy's Family Reunion, a choice that was worth the wait. (In other news, FOTB Micah Lubens is henceforth and forever banned from recommending movies. He will retain his FOTB status.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

18. Malice

The movie: Malice (Harold Becker, 1993)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube

The recommender: Sam Thomas

The rationale: So it's completely Sorkin -- deposition theater, Gilbert and Sullivan-quoting narcissists, and all -- but it's also just completely wacky. (One of the guys who wrote Dead Again was involved.) The New York Times review praised the "exuberant cleverness" of the screenplay. Roger Ebert called it "busy" noting, "Offhand, this is the only movie I can recall in which an entire subplot about a serial killer is thrown in simply for atmosphere." Now, Krizel, you must decide, is this a smart movie which plays with our expectations in a big way, or is it trash? P.S. Bebe Neuwirth's Boston accent. P.P.S. "If you need something done right, call a teacher." [Editor’s Note: These are some v interesting postscripts.]

My familiarity with this movie: Sam knows all about my complex relationship with Aaron Sorkin, who co-wrote this movie. In short, I love the man and the man infuriates me. (I’ve also blatantly stolen his “What’s next?” bit for this blog. Krizel for America.) I feel like this is the way that many, many people feel about him, especially women, who are, as a gender, not smart enough to understand how technology works.

I’m familiar with the majority of Sorkin’s output, but somehow this movie has escaped me until now. I have a feeling that I’ve already seen a lot of it, though:

“I am never, ever sick at sea,” BTW, is Sorkin’s go-to Gilbert & Sullivan line, as Sam notes in her rationale. The Gilbert & Sullivan thing is my least-favorite of the Sorkin affectations, aside from the sexism. Liking Sorkin means holding your nose sometimes, but that line is just too stinky for me.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “An easy-going college dean's quiet New England world has just been terribly disrupted, two coeds have been raped, a third has been killed, and the police are beginning to suspect him. At home, his wife is developing severe stomach cramps and the new tenant -- a devilishly handsome surgeon -- is regularly ‘entertaining’ nurses late into the night.” [Editor’s Note: This is only part of the plot summary; the rest is both poorly written and too spoiler-y.]

What I thought of the movie: This movie was described as both “wacky” and “busy” earlier in this post, and my goodness are both of those words accurate. Sorkin has been described as an operatic writer, but in this movie he’s soap operatic. More things happen in this movie’s 106-minute runtime than in the entire run of The West Wing. Weird, wild, wacky things. The serial killer stuff really is forgotten about -- by both the characters and the filmmakers -- for about a half hour. Who forgets about a serial killer? #STAYWOKE.

[VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD.] I honestly had no idea what Sorkin was going for at various points throughout the movie. After the nine or ten plot twists all happened, I settled on the idea that this is his homage to film noir. (It’s also an homage to the sound of Alec Baldwin’s voice, which is a more than acceptable thing to pay homage to.) As such, we’ve got a mysterious series of crimes, a femme fatale, and an unwitting, milquetoast husband. (Side note: between this and Sleepless in Seattle, Bill Pullman really was the early-’90s’ top milquetoast.)

We’ve also got plot holes the size of enormous holes, and red herrings the size of enormous herrings. I feel like I need to watch the movie a second time to try to piece everything together, but I'm worried that I'd get whiplash. It's that crazy. In retrospect, this scene, the most iconic scene from the movie, is at best irrelevant and at worst nonsensical. When that scene happened, it seemed like Sorkin wanted the movie to ask the question, “Should we trust doctors?” (Answer: yeah, probably.) But as it turns out, the movie really asks the question, “Should we trust women?” (Answer: never.)

Despite all this nonsense, I highly recommend this movie. It is ludicrous and awesome. The script is obviously full of gems, and the cast, as our boy might say, is really quite something. Sorkin’s cachet was so great coming of the success of A Few Good Men that he could recruit Oscar winners like George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft for one-scene parts. Plus, we’ve got a young Gwyneth Paltrow, playing someone who gets brutally murdered. I will not say anything else about this.

Sam asked me to determine “a smart movie which plays with our expectations in a big way,” or “trash.” I cannot in good conscience call it “smart.” The characters in this movie definitely sound smart, but they often do things that are too silly to be even remotely believable. But it’s way too fun to call it “trash.” I've long subscribed to the theory that all things are either “classic” or “trash.” But sometimes you need to make an exception to that rule. Malice is “trashic.”

Am I happy I took Sam’s recommendation? You think?

What’s next?

UPDATE: Former student Alexis Hipp recommends the big indie film of the moment, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Monday, July 6, 2015

17. One Direction: This Is Us

The movie: One Direction: This Is Us (Morgan Spurlock, 2013)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix)

The recommender: Lindsay Filardo

The rationale: Part of me thinks that John is going to hate on this movie loudly throughout its run time and then also forever. But the other part of me hopes that maybe he will finally see the magic that is One Direction because like, if you don't think the One Direction Infection is the second coming of Beatlemania I will fight you. I myself am a Harry stan, and if you aren't I wonder if maybe you haven't seen this photo, or more specifically, his hands. guys. Those hands. Those enormous baseball mitt trash can lid muppet hands. YOU GUUUUUYS. THOSE HAAAAAANDS. And that was kind of the tail end of his young and cute phase too. Please go Google "harry styles 2015" or even "harry styles 2015 bun" and then come back. Did you see? I know. I know. I KNOW. Honestly I forgot what I was talking about before so I'm just gonna send this to John now.

My familiarity with this movie: I’d wager that I know more about One Direction than your average 29-year-old man does. I don’t know many of their songs (although I do genuinely like a couple of them, particularly “Live While We’re Young”), but I know all their names and am up on all the recent drama (SMH ZAYN). The reasons for this are twofold: first, as a high school teacher, I have many students who are huge 1D fans. Second, I follow Lindsay on Twitter.

And this is just from the past few weeks, y’all. I don’t know what to do either.
Plot summary and trailer yoinked from Netflix and YouTube, respectively: “Award-winning documentarian Morgan Spurlock turns his camera on boy band phenomenon One Direction in this combination concert film and backstage pass. The film follows the multiplatinum group as they prepare for their 2013 world tour.” [Editor's Note: Why yes, I do find it hilarious that Morgan Spurlock (the pride of Beckley, WV) directed this movie.]

What I thought of the movie: I did not hate on this movie loudly throughout, as Lindsay had feared. It was fine. They showed them singing their songs and being cheeky goofballs, so the fans were satisfied. It didn’t offer any super-deep insights into what it’s like to be that young and that famous, but you can’t really expect it to do that. After it was over, Lindsay went around telling everyone that I loved it, and while she is a liar, it certainly wasn’t awful.

Far more interesting than the actual movie was the experience of watching it with Lindsay. First of all, I learned a lot of stuff about the whole 1D phenomenon, thanks to Ol’ Tour Guide Filardo. Nearly all of it is stuff that, strictly speaking, I did not need to learn, but it was still pretty interesting. I can tell them all apart now, I know that they all gave each other a bunch of garbage tattoos, and I was told that some fans think that Louis and Harry are secretly gay lovers (these fans are called Larry shippers, and I now count myself among their ranks). It was also very entertaining to take note of all the warning signs that Zayn was not long for the band. He’s just so ALOOF. In hindsight it’s clear he should never have been trusted.

Lindsay is an intelligent, cultured, classy individual; to wit, she brought over some Lemonade-a-ritas for us to drink while watching the movie. I’ve long been curious about her 1D hysteria, not because I look down on it (I am seeing Taylor Swift in concert one week from today), but because it kinda came out of nowhere: one day I’d never heard of this band, the next it was all over Lindsay’s TL. So I also spent the film as something of an anthropologist: writing down quotes, studying reactions, trying to unlock the mystery.

In reflecting upon my notes, it’s clearer than ever that Lindsay’s obsession is almost purely a Harry Styles one. (When asked if she would date the other members of the band, she said, “Only to get to Harry.”) On a few occasions, she paused her commentary on the film when Harry was on screen to... take him in. But it’s not like Lindsay is your typical screaming teeny bopper. She’s aware of how bizarre all this is. It’s a very specific hysteria we’re dealing with here, somehow swoony and cynical all at once. (During an earnest love song: “This song doesn’t really affect me. I don’t think he’s sincere.”) At the end of the day, though, I still remain a bit baffled by the whole thing. I would not make a good anthropologist.

Y'all probably know how much I was dreading this, but it honestly wasn’t so bad. I spent a lovely Friday afternoon sipping Lemonade-a-ritas with my pals, listening to some jaunty pop tunes. Maybe I didn’t go crazy, crazy, crazy ‘til I saw the sun, but I’m still living while I’m young.

Am I happy I took Lindsay’s recommendation? Direct quote: “That’s Harry’s hot mom. I follow her on Instagram.” So, yes.

What’s next?

UPDATE: After two invalid comments from previous recommenders who will remain nameless, FOTB and Sorkin enthusiast Sam Thomas recommends Malice.