Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mannequin (1987)

News which may come as a surprise to some, given this movie's dire reputation, is that 1987 romantic comedy Mannequin is one of my all-time favourite movies...Yeah. Between Grease 2, the Police Academy sequels, Can't Stop the Music, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and this, I have to wonder, do I just have the most unpopular opinions of all time?

Several thousand years in the past, Emmy (Kim Catrall), a young Egyptian woman, is being forced into an arranged marriage by her mother. The free-spirited, inventive, and adventurous Emmy pleads to the gods to get her out of her life, and just that happens as she's flung through history.

In the present day, Sculptist Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) can't keep a job down, always getting fired for various mishaps, much to the chagrin of his exasperated girlfriend Roxie. One day, Jonathan passes by a department store-Prince and Company, storing a mannequin he specially crafted in its front window, and when he later returns, the wire holding a heavy sign being hoisted up snaps, and Jonathan quickly pushes Claire Timkin (Estelle Getty), the store's owner, out of the way. She offers him a job immediately, and he works as a stockboy until one night, his mannequin comes to life as Emmy. The two are instantly smitten with each-other, however she reverts to being a mannequin whenever anyone else other than Johnathan sees her.

With Emmy's help, Johnathan constructs an extremely popular store window that not only boosts the failing Prince and Company's sales, but also boosts his own position, as he's promoted to visual merchandising. Not everyone is pleased by this however, such as rival store Illustra, the recently dumped Roxie, and their plant in Pince and Company-The vice president Richards (James Spader). Now all 'agents' from Illustra are intent on either bribing Johnathan to come work for them, or stealing his work instead...

Mannequin is a pretty simple movie, all things considered, but it's an entertaining romance, and well worth a watch! It's not a great movie technically, but it's one of my favourites for a good reason! I just enjoy it so much!

Good romance is obviously key to any movies of the genre, and Mannequin does well. While it starts pretty abruptly, the romance between the two leads is cute, and well-handled. We see the two characters have fun together, enjoy each-other's company, and you know what? There's no third act breakup! I am not joking! No pointless arguments, forced split-up, and miserable moping for twenty minutes. Instead, Jonathan and Emmy are happy for the entire runtime. There is drama, but that's because of how Emmy feels about her limitations, what with being alive only when alone with Jonathan.

The acting is all very good! Andrew McCarthy is one of my favourite actors, with very good reason! The man can really play a varied range of different characters in various films, and here is no exception. As for Kim Catrall, she is adorably gorgeous!...So it's a shame I don't like her. I should specify-I like her plenty here, and in Big Trouble in Little China, but the only other thing I know her from is being a bitch in 94 episodes of Sex in the City. To any of my readers unfortunate enough to have had to sit through that show, I apologize for dredging up bad memories. Hollywood Monroe is a love him or hate him character, and is pretty stereotypical, but not negatively, which is good. I personally find him to be very amusing, and Meshach Taylor does a good job. Estelle Getty does well, and I'm definitely glad that she's a boss who's likeable and is never angry at, or at odds with, the main character, which is another cliche I've seen time and time again be left in the dust by this movie.

While a line here or there isn't acted perfectly, Carol Davis is good as Jonathan's girlfriend/ex Roxie, she's actually a pretty well-rounded character, which is highly enjoyable. While she is a bitch, the reason why she tries to have the mannequin Emmy destroyed is something very understandable and human. James Spader is amusing as the kiss-ass Richards, and finally, G.W. Bailey (most famous for playing Captain Harris in the Police Academy series) is a bit grating, but he's not horrible, and he's good at playing crazy. I'd like to see a version of Maniac starring him!

The soundtrack is fantastic! Full of great, and very '80's-ish tunes, Mannequin is perfectly complemented by its score, and when Starship is playing over the ending and credits, I defy you to not have a huge grin on your face!!

One last thing to note is the opening credits-They're actually a stylised credit sequence, rather that regular text over the movie. I appreciate the thought, but not so much the subpar illustration.

To finish, I don't think I have an unpopular set of opinions, nor do I see films like Mannequin and Grease 2 as guilty pleasures. I really love these movies, and they'll always be personal favourites. No, Mannequin isn't an amazing movie, but it's thoroughly entertaining, and, to me at least, completely undeserving of such a harsh reputation...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

While the first section of its title may confuse you, mainly due to the Chevy Chase movies bearing the name, as well as the painfully unfunny string of semi-recent sex-comedies college, National Lampoon's Animal House has stood the test of time as one of the all-time great comedies, and college movies! A pretty good status for a gross-out frat movie that breaks as much glass as Jackie Chan's Police Story...

Of all the fraternity houses at Faber College, Delta House is the least popular in the books of the uptight Dean Wormer, who hates the frat's constant pranks and drunken antics. He has the house put on double secret probation, with the condition that if Delta makes one more mistake, they'll have their house charter revoked, with a possibility of expulsion. Not taking this lying down, the Delta House plan on getting even with Wormer-If they're going down, so is he...

Animal House is an extremely entertaining movie. The comedy here is mostly all funny. There are a couple of jokes here and there over the course of the film that don't hit the mark, but what's really problematic is the finale. Not only is that marching band part so stupid it's dumb, but I've never found the ending 'where are they now' captions for the characters all that funny. That, and they don't even make much sense, given everyone in Delta House was expelled...Unless something happens offscreen, but if it did, I would like to friggin' know! I did after all watch a whole movie with these characters, so I would prefer an actual conclusion rather than just an abrupt finale that stops moreso than it ends.

The other fault of Animal House is the characters. As the movie is more just a collection of scenes with a plot stringing it all together (like what Caddyshack did) the characters don't have much to them-They're just fun guys. While I would've preferred there be a little something more to them though, this isn't a problem that by any means sinks the movie, but it's still irksome. As for characters I didn't like, I feel that way about Karen Allen's, and that whole storyline with her and Boon. I also feel that Donald Sutherland's character is completely pointless. I'd like him more if he was in more scenes, but he's barely in the movie.

The acting is all very good here, such as Stephen Furst as the wholesome Flounder, That Guy from the Twisted Sister Music Video as the psychotic and militaristic Needermyer, John Vernon as the rude and dickish Dean Wormer, and most importantly, John Belushi as the drunkard slob Bluto.

Animal House has a great soundtrack, from Shout, Shama-Lama-Ding-Dong, Louie Louie, to the songs of Sam Cooke. This is a film with musical taste! The ending song however, I don't like so much. The chorus is fantastic, and both complements and ends the film perfectly, but the rest?! It sounds like a crap falsetto Pallisades Park soundalike.

National Lampoon's Animal House isn't one of the funniest movies ever made, in my opinion, but it is a hysterically entertaining time, and I'm sure it'd make for a great watch if you're in college!...

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The sad thing about cult classics is that because of their very nature, they're films that were barely glanced at at release, and only gained appreciation several years after the fact. Thankfully, when it comes to certain movies, this has happened sooner than others, such as 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski...

Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski is a lazy guy who does nothing in life but lounge around, and hang out at the bowling club with his friends. His idyllic life is soon interrupted when a couple of thugs come to his house to take some owed money, only to realize they've got the wrong Jeffrey Lebowski. The Dude finds the Lebowski the thugs were looking for (an elderly rich societal elite with a young trophy wife), and is intent on getting his defaced rug replaced. He's rebuffed by the crabby businessman, but is later called back over when Lebowski's wife Bunny has been kidnapped. Thinking the culprits may have been the thugs who raided The Dude's apartment, Lebowski hires him to perform the ransom drop, in the hopes that The Dude can identify the kidnappers. Things go wrong, however, and as The Dude investigates all over town, he realizes that this kidnapping case isn't what it seems in the slightest...

While not very successful at the box office during its 1998 release, The Big Lebowski quickly gained a huge cult following, and is now an extremely well-regarded film. Some view it as simply an awesome comedy, but others have many varied theories on what the film means, and what its underlying themes are. Some of these theories are the pretentious crap you'd expect, and some just seem like people reading too much into things, but others actually seem valid, such as the themes of emasculation. Whatever you think, almost everyone can agree that it's a very well-written movie!

The plot to Big Lebowski is all over the place, in a good way. There's a lot of different plot threads, and almost all of these are never resolved, or even brought up again. With another film, this could end up backfiring drastically, but with The Big Lebowski, it works! Granted, some may not feel the same as I do

The dialogue in The Big Lebowski is what people remember most. It's an insanely quotable movie, with many hilariously funny lines! The dialogue is scattershot and deliberately repetitive in places, which adds to the offbeat feel the movie has going for it.

The movie has two surreal dream sequences in it, and not only are they hilariously weird, but are scored really well too!

The varied soundtrack is great, ranging from Tumbling Tumbleweeds, to that la la la song, Just Dropped In to See What Condition my Condition Was In by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, a hilariously goofy Spanish flamenco version of Hotel California, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Looking Out My Back Door, and many others.

The acting is all very good, with each actor playing extremely distinctive and varied characters, such as David Huddleston as the 'rich' Grump Lebowski, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his sycophantic lawyer, Sam Elliot and his glorious MOUSTACHE as the film's narrator, to Julianne Moore as the eccentric artiste Maude, John Turturro as the crazy bowling pervert Jesus, Jeff Bridges' fantastic performance as The Dude (watch this, Tron, and Starman as a triple feature, and you'll see how varied an actor he can be), John Goodman as the hilarious and borderline crazy Walter, and many more. The only actor I feel is wasted is Steve Buscemi, who mainly just sits around.

The Big Lebowski is a comedy classic, and it's a shame I took so long before finally seeing what all the fuss is about. I highly recommend it, and I'll also leave you with the advice that if you're a cab driver, and you put on The Eagles, if your passenger complains about your choice in music, you absolutely need to kick their ass out onto the road!...

I'll Take Sweden (1965)

Bob Hope was one of the world's most well-loved comedians, and was in dozens upon dozens of great comedy movies, such as the popular Road To series. However, today I'll be looking at one of his more mediocre movies...granted, that's through no fault of him, as Hope is the only thing saving this movie from sinking!...

Bob Holcomb (Hope) is a well-to-do father, who disapproves of the company his daughter Jojo (Tuesday Weld) keeps-A beach party one. 'Worst' of all, Jojo is now engaged to Kenny (Franke Avalon), an unemployed partygoer musician whose home is a tiny trailer. Seeking to break the two apart, Holmcomb takes a company job that requires moving to Sweden, hoping that Jojo will soon forget Kenny. She does (in one example of the film's poor writing), as she soon starts seeing someone else, but the ladykiller Erik has other things on his mind, and soon enough, Holcomb is wishing Jojo was still with Kenny...

I'll Take Sweden is a mildly funny movie, mostly courtesy of the great Bob Hope, but the movie falls apart once the characters all go to Sweden about half an hour in, because of how much of a radical shift the movie goes through, and because it's at this point where you start realizing that none of the movie's characters are likeable in the slightest! They are all horrible people!

The last ten minutes of  I'll Take Sweden is the worst part of the movie. It's incredibly rushed, has a really weird scene involving a dick honeymooner and his hysterically sad bride that comes out of nowhere, and is never resolved or brought up again ( I can only assume the scene ended in suicide and/or murder!), and worst of all, it tries to play an attempted rape scene for laughs, even going so far as to have cheery sunny music playing during the scene!

To cap everything off, this is a very old-fashioned movie, and as far as it's concerned, if you have sex before you get married, you're committing a major mistake. This results in an ending that's so dated it's not even funny!

Speaking of not funny, there are a couple of odd scenes here and there, such as the final seconds of the movie (a weird freeze frame and confusingly out of nowhere dialogue), and a scene early on with a trucker who sounds like Donald Duck. One really strange part is when Mr. Holcomb find out that Kenny has taken Jojo out to a strip club for a date, and Jojo couldn't be happier! Jeez, I didn't know life was actually like a Virginia Bell burlesque routine audience!

Onto some positives, the acting's all good. Bob Hope is funny, like I said, as he delivers numerous jokes, and the rest of the cast do their jobs passably.

The soundtrack, mostly sung by Frankie Avalon in certain spots of the movie, is pretty good. The first two he does at the start are extremely enjoyable! The movie's theme sucks though. It's a decent instrumental with an occasional grating of "I'LL TAKE SWEDEN!!!!! JA! JA! JA!", but there's a proper I'll Take Sweden song performed by Avalon late in the film's runtime, and while it is enjoyable, I heard the "I'LL TAKE SWEDEN! JA!JA!JA!!" droning on every single ad bumper, (I watched the movie on TV) so I was hardly in the position to enjoy the song all that much. And finally, the opening credits version of the title song is bad, but it only has the occasional six word chant, rather than a full set of shrieking, painful-to-hear set of lyrics of the second version, which plays over the ending credits! Thank God films from the '60's didn't have stingers, so I could just flip off the TV then and there!

All the negatives to I'll Take Sweden make it a film I don't recommend. If it's on TV, and you're bored, sure, give it a watch if you want, but otherwise, there are funnier comedies out there, and most assuredly funnier Bob Hope ones to be seen...

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

The A Series of Unfortunate Events has always been my favourite book series! They're thoughtful, dark, gothic, gloomy (but not depressing), extremely literate, fantastic books, making for an awesome series! For a time, they were the only books I ever had! In December of 2004, the movie adaptation came out, and when I saw it...I hated it. But I was a stupid uber fan kid back then, and I've since seen the movie several times more, and I love it!...

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Beaudelaire are three highly intelligent, well-read, and inventive children, who suffer a tragic loss whwn their parents die in a fire that burns the large family mansion to the ground. The orphans are sent to live with their distant relative, Count Olaf, a theatrical scoundrel with no love for the three children, and eyes on their enormous fortune. He forces them to do dozens of chores in his filthy home, and the moment he gets official gaurdianship of the siblings, he tries to murder them by leaving them stuck in a car on train tracks. The siblings manage to escape, but the authorities merely believe Olaf to have been grossly negligent, rather than murderous, and just remove the children from his custody. The Beaudelaires are sent to live with other, kinder relatives, such as 'Uncle' Monty, and 'Aunt' Joesephine, in interesting locations such as the Reptile Room, a large herpetology collection, and Lake Lachrymose, a gloomy lakeside village, but soon enough, Count Olaf shows up, intent on taking control of the Beadelaire fortune by any means necessary...

While the plot to A Series of Unfortunate Events suffers from a big problem I'll get to down below, it's a well-written story. It's darkly gothic, with a twisted sense of humor, and the dialogue is really good in places.

The Baudelaire children are a likeable bunch, and are characterized decently, but they have too little dialogue. Still, they do get great moments, and their inventive qualities, such as in the train scene, is very well-done! Now, as some people say, the main characters from a British book series have been turned into American Pretty People. Now I don't mind this, as the books never say the siblings are ugly (maybe plain, although I may be thinking of something else), and the book series' setting is never brought up, so it could very well be America. In fact, that'd actually make more sense than England.

The only other problem I have with the movie is that the timeframe is very rushed. The Baudelaire's time at Count Olaf's breezes by, and they're barely at Uncle Monty's for a day before the bad stuff there goes down*, and they have to move in with Aunt Joesephine. It would have been much better if the movie had slowed things down a bit, so the audience could be more invested in the locale and characters therein.

*Olaf's escape at the end of the Reptile Room segment is also rushed, as he bolts before the police would even have all that much reason of believing him to be criminal.

The acting is almost all great! Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep are highly entertaining in their roles, and Jude Law makes for a fun dryly comical gloomy narrator. As for the main three actors in the roles of the Beaudelaire siblings, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, and a few babies, they're pretty good. Emily Browning looks the part, and any baby in existence would look the part of Sunny, but as for Liam Aiken as Klaus?  KLAUS IN THE BOOK HAS GLASSES AND SHORT HAIR! Grrrrrrr! I vaguely remember reading that this change was made to avoid comparisons with Harry Potter, but that's stupid. So mind-numbingly stupid that it's probably something I read on a message board, rather than something the filmmakers themselves actually said.

Jim Carrey looks perfect in the part of Count Olaf. It's like the books have come to life!...His performance, however? Annoying! He's good sometimes, hilarious sometimes, and his disguises are nifty, but most of the time, he's Jim Carrey, which is to say, overacting and annoying! He plays Count Olaf like he's in a goofy comedy, when in the books, Olaf is theatrical, but cold and ruthless. As for his theatrical troupe, they're a big presence in the books, but window dressing in the movie. They're totally wasted.

The movie is deliberately very stagey, and the setting timeless, with aspects modern and archaic. These give the movie a great distinctive suburban-gothic anachronistic feel! The effects on display here are good, and sometimes great (such as the scene with Aunt Josephine's house during the hurricane) although some CGI is occasionally visible here and there. The direction is fantastic, with too many great moments to count! I'd've screenshotted half of 'em if I actually owned this movie on DVD, instead of relying on TV.

Despite its huge popularity, A Series of Unfortunate Events has never gotten a sequel, but this isn't too much of a problem, as while a sequel could have been made, the movie feels complete on its own.

Now, onto the film's most important aspect-How does it compare to the books it's based on? Very well! While the rushed timeframe does screw with things negatively, the adaptation itself is very well-done, even if it is a lot simpler, as the source material is three separate books, and this is one movie. The film is delightfully gloomy althroughout, and as for the ending, it closes on a note of hope, whereas the book series offers no such reprieve in its final pages (not in a depressing way though, so don't let that steer you away from reading them).

One of my favourite aspects of A Series of Unfortunate Events is the soundtrack! It's glorious, from the softer melodies, to the more adventurous jaunts, to the ridiculously jovial Happy Little Elf music!

In closing, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a great movie! It has its problems, but it's a great adaptation of a great book series!...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Old School (2014)

Oh hey, Sam Neill on Australian TV! Cool! Granted, hearing Sam Neill talk in his native (New Zealand) accent is hardly uncommon, because he's not a Hollywood sellout. Go Sam Neill! And Eric Bana in Funny People, and Olivia Newton-John in everything she's in!

Old School is a 2014 crime miniseries starring Neill and Bryan Brown, as a crimebusting odd couple...

Ted McCabe (Neill) is a retired cop with a burning desire to uncover the culprits behind a group of thieves who shot him during an attack on the Sterling-Nickle gold coin deposit. One of the thieves, Lennie Carl (Bryan Brown) was caught and jailed. Twelve years later, he's released, and tries to reconnect with his now collegiate grand-daughter Shannon. Things go very wrong, however, when an old friend and associate in the Sterling-Nickle job is killed, and Lenny falls in with Ted McCabe's investigation, and the two reluctantly work together to find the mystery members of the Sterling-Nickle job...

This is a mostly pretty entertaining series, which I first caught on TV at the halfway point...I shoulda kept it that way, as the first half leaves a lot to be desired!

The first half of this series is comprised largely of filler episodes, while the last few are solely to do with the central arc. This structure doesn't do the show any favours, as you want the show to hurry up and get on with the main story, rather than dilly-dallying with superfluous other stuff.

Another annoying aspect of the show is how every major development in the case leads to said uncovered bad guy getting killed at the end of practically each episode! It gets old fast!

My least favourite episode is the second one, which is...not boring, but not particularly entertaining, either. Nothing is accomplished. The ending, however, completely took me by surprise! Another not so good episode is the third, solely because of what happens late on, with 1, Lennie taking Shannon's money, and 2, the dog he's keeping in her house tearing everything inside up, including a beloved heirloom from her dead mother. Hey episode, you forgot to include a scene of burning orphanages and baby tears! Once that scene happened, I lost all interest, and skimmed through the rest.

The acting's all good. Ted McCabe is a pretty meh lead, but Sam Neill still turns in a very good performance, which should be obvious, given he's Sam Neill. Lenny Carl is a pretty unlikeable sack of crap, but is played well by Bryan Brown. Weirdly enough, the series is inconsistent as hell with Lenny's surname! You'll note that I said it's Carl, but it's apparently (that is, according to IMDb) Cahill. Either I'm an idiot who didn't pay enough attention, or cast members revolved from saying it as Carl, to Cayle!

As for Shannon, and Jace (a sort-of friend of Lenny's), the romance between the two is decently handled, although you'll want to reach through the screen and yell at Shannon for dating Vince Palagetti, the obviously scummy mobster, for half the series!

Now, onto the series villains. Vince Palagetti is a pretty boring, one-note bad guy, and his exit from the series is really abrupt. As for one of the main villains, he first appears in the penultimate episode, and he's quite good. Unfortunately, the final main villain only has a couple of scenes at most in the first half of the series, and doesn't appear in the second half at all until the finale! Since I watched the series' first and second halves out of order, the first time I saw this guy was in the last episode, and I thought I was seeing him for the first time! BAD WRITING!

Police chief Mal Dwyer has a real grudge against Ted, and it's annoyingly unexplored. In the last few episodes, Ted begins to think he's crooked, and one of the Sterling-Nickle crooks, but that goes nowhere. He finds clues leading him elsewhere, and Dwyer's possible crooked nature is literally never mentioned again! This'd be ok if there was a Season 2 on the way, but I really don't think so. This series has its share of filler eps, but it's largely just the one story. And Ted's wife Marg was just about ready to temporarily leave him because of his continuous obsession with the Sterling-Nickle job, even saying that once its over, she's unsure if she'll still stay with him, as he might just find another case all over again. With that attitude, there's no real wiggle room for him to solve more cases in a season 2. And besides, if Mr. and Mrs. Murder didn't get renewed for a second season, then why the hell do you think this would? And of course, wouldn't you know it, the series ends on a cliffhanger!...

The main theme, along with the opening credits, is pretty good. The soundtrack for the rest of the series doesn't fare so good, as musical cues are constantly re-used  in all the episodes. Never enough to get tiresome, thankfully, but it's still very noticeable.

While watching the 2003 movie may be six hours shorter, I still definitely recommend Old School, although you may want to skip the whole first half and just stick to the latter-It may be a better experience that way. Either way, it's a decent and entertaining series, with two great leads, and well worth a watch...