Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cable Guy

It could be said that the most amazing thing about The Cable Guy is how largely ignored it was by domestic audiences and how shabbily it was treated by critics. What’s even more amazing, though, is how good of a film it really is, and how it’s aged extremely well over the past 15 years. Point two feeds point one, but never mind, you get the point.

The movie is a dark comedy, and oh how I hate to describe it using the “d” word, because every review ever written about The Cable Guy calls it dark, sometimes unflatteringly so, as if that’s a bad thing. It is dark, but it’s darkly humorous, and crammed with laughs. Yet the film’s roots aren’t in comedy, but rather the pulpy stalker genre. Producer Judd Apatow and director Ben Stiller freely admit to watching stuff like Bad Influence, Unlawful Entry and Single White Female in preparation for the shoot. In fact, on the commentary track, many different movies are mentioned as reference points, but none that I can recall were comedies. One scene, featuring a karaoke party populated by elderly folk, was apparently inspired by the end of Rosemary’s Baby. Heh.

The script, written by Lou Holtz Jr. (who seemingly never wrote anything that got produced either before or since), is practically a carbon copy of every stalker flick you’ve ever seen. Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) is having problems with his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann), so he’s moved out and gotten his own apartment. Enter the Cable Guy, Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey), who refuses to take the hint that Steven isn’t looking for a new friend. The rest of the film is almost play for play the kind stuff you’ve seen in all the classic stalker films, only you’ve never seen the material played like this. It occurred to me on this viewing that perhaps the film wasn’t even written to be a comedy, but that maybe there was just something off enough about the script that somebody thought it had comedic potential. Remove Carrey’s over the top performance, and tweak a couple scenes and ideas, and all of a sudden the movie isn’t all that funny anymore (at least not intentionally). Even as is, there are several scenes that border on the disturbing.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

48 Hrs.

Man, 1982 was one hell of a year for movies. In doing some research for 48 Hrs., I came across a list of flicks released that year. Here are just some of the titles: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, First Blood, My Favorite Year, Night Shift, Pink Floyd: The Wall, and Poltergeist. Still not convinced? Try on Blade Runner, Porky’s, Sophie’s Choice, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Tootsie. That’s still not even close to all the cool films that came out in ‘82, but they are some of the most memorable. 48 Hrs. is, of course, another of those films, and even amongst all those titles, it somehow managed to be the seventh highest grossing film of the year. This was back when an R rating wasn’t the box office equivalent of a scarlet letter like it so often is today. A big movie loaded with skin, guns and four-letter words could be released and people didn’t freak out and postulate the end of civilization. Instead, they went to see it. Better days I guess, or at least different times.

48 Hrs. isn’t necessarily a great movie from today’s vantage point, but it was a highly influential one. It’s generally credited as the flick that jump-started the whole “buddy cop” formula which has been beat into the ground hard enough over the past 30 years that we might as well call it a dead horse. Funny thing about 48 Hrs. – only one of the buddies is a cop; the other is a convict, who in the film’s most famous scene impersonates a cop. But that’s probably just splitting hairs, because the tone, structure and writing are all Buddy Cop 101. If one were to see 48 Hrs. for the first time today, there’s a good chance they’d be underwhelmed, and wonder what all the fuss was about back in the day. The film’s been ripped off so many times over the years that all the originality it once possessed is nigh impossible to spot. Halloween is another good example of this.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, February 18, 2011

All About Eve

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s possible that All About Eve is more important than ever. Scratch that. How about it’s more entertaining than ever? It’s debatable whether Eve has ever been an important movie, at least outside of its place in film history, but the one thing it’s always been is entertaining. That this 60-year-old film can still amuse, enlighten, move and make us cackle in our living rooms all these years later isn’t something to be dismissed, nor is its Oscar track record for that matter. Until the release of Titanic, it held the record for the most Academy Award nominations with 14; now the two films are tied in that department. All About Eve went on to win six of those awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. More on Eve and the Oscars later.

The movie traces the calculated theatrical rise of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as she lies, backstabs and claws her way to the top. She starts out claiming to be nothing more than a fanatic for celebrated stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), whose life she quietly insinuates herself into, but soon she becomes Margo’s personal assistant, and she doesn’t stop there. No, not Eve; she’ll do whatever it takes to become Margo, or at least someone very much like her. There are obstacles in Eve’s way, however – theatre folk she must navigate her way through in order to attain her goals.

She must gain the trust of Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright who pens the productions Margo stars in; Lloyd she must merely impress. Then there’s Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), the director and Margo’s steady. Bill’s a little trickier than some of the others. He isn’t wowed by Eve in the same way everyone else seems to be. And finally, there’s Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), the acerbic theatre critic who knows and sees all. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, DeWitt steadily unloads on Eve: “Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them? Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.”

All About Eve is loaded with some of the most incredible dialogue ever written for a film. Were it all broken up and used in little chunks in 30 other screenplays, they’d all be elevated from average to memorable. Instead, it’s all here in this one movie, and nary a line is wasted on words trivial. The actors chew on the English language and spit it back out for our pleasure. It’s fitting that a movie about people who devote their lives to the craft of theatre should be such an actor’s piece. While nobody can accuse writer/director Joe Mankiewicz of not knowing his way around a camera, he’s clearly not obsessed with creating fanciful shots that distract from the real star of the film, which is his screenplay.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Doctor Who: The Mutants

Interesting tidbit about “The Mutants”: Salman Rushdie mentions it in his famously controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, although not by name, but rather by bringing up the Mutts from the story and offering up a few observations. Some fans have derided Rushdie’s brief commentary as misinterpreting the messages of the story, but that’s a debate for another forum. What’s noteworthy, though, is that Rushdie was paying close enough attention to see any kind of message at all. It’s not that the messages are muddled, so much as they’re covered in enough layers of sci-fi that they don’t dominate the story. Ostensibly, “The Mutants” is something of a metaphor for colonialism, Apartheid and xenophobia, although one can hardly claim the story beats you over the head with any of these ideas. Certainly the messages are no more prevalent than in dozens of other similarly structured Who stories, but if somebody wants or needs to see them, they’re definitely there.

The action unfolds in the 30th century, and the Doctor (Jon Pertwee), with Jo Grant (Katy Manning) in tow, has been sent on a mission by the Time Lords to deliver a message to an unknown person on the planet Solos. Solos has for hundreds of years been under the rule of the Earth Empire and the indigenous population has long since grown not only restless, but rebellious even. But something else is happening to the Solonians – they’re mutating into a new race, which the humans refer to as Mutts, and they look something like giant cockroaches that walk on two legs. Why is this happening? Does it have anything to do with the poisonous atmosphere on Solos, or is it just a natural stage of their evolution?

Maybe the real reason this story gets singled out for its political content is because it feels more mature than not only other stories from its era, but also much of classic Who in general. The characters are complex and layered, but not always in the most engaging of ways. Likewise, the story either takes numerous needless detours to get where it’s going, or it’s a genuinely multifaceted piece of work. After two full viewings, I still can’t decide which, but I’d imagine much of one’s take on it would depend entirely on how much enjoyment one gets out of it. The tone of it frequently doesn’t feel as much Doctor Who as it does another great ‘70s British sci-fi series, Blake’s 7, and while viewing “The Mutants” I kept imagining Blake, Avon and the rest of the crew from the Liberator in charge of fixing the situation.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

For the first Christmas special of his era of Doctor Who, nobody can accuse Steven Moffat of playing it safe. That’s not to imply that he delivered a piece of holiday fare that’s in any way dangerous, but rather that he broke so far away from the types of stories that Russell T. Davies served up for the holiday season that some viewers may have found the resulting tale to be a tad disorientating. But if there’s a major hallmark that Moffat has stamped on the series so far during his brief tenure, it’s disorientation. You’ve either got to get onboard or be left behind. My advice would be to go with the former, otherwise you’re liable to miss out on what should be some great Doctor Who when Season Six kicks off in (presumably) a couple months.

“A Christmas Carol” is not a direct riff on the Dickens tale, but rather an adventure that’s directly inspired by the Doctor’s (Matt Smith) awareness of Dickens. As you might recall, the Ninth Doctor met Dickens way back in Season One, and he professed to be his biggest fan. And although that meeting is never mentioned, clearly Moffat has taken it, and the Doctor’s fandom, into account.

The action begins on a crashing space liner (which has a very Star Trek: The Next Generation feel to it), aboard which is Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), who are celebrating their honeymoon. Moffat isn’t above throwing some innocent kink into the mix by putting Amy into her kiss-o-gram uniform and Rory into his Roman soldier digs, which is all good clean fun, and the sort of stuff Moffat revels in. The ship barrels down onto a planet with about an hour until it hits the surface, but the Doctor can’t lock onto it with the TARDIS, so he must head down to the planet and work from there. He discovers a world that appears Victorian, but in reality is an advanced Earth colony, lorded over by a horribly selfish man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon).

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Spit on Your Grave (1978) vs. I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Submitting yourself to either version of I Spit on Your Grave requires that you have a cast iron stomach. The original is one of the most notorious horror films in movie history (or at least it was back in the 80s), although I sometimes wonder if that has more to do with the infamous movie poster than the film itself. Further, I also wonder if either film is really deserving of the label “horror.” Just because a movie contains horrific imagery doesn’t necessarily make it a horror film. What these movies really are is exploitative exercises in cruelty and humiliation. They’re for folks who thought that The Last House on the Left or its remake of the same name played it too safe.

The core plot is the same in both versions. A young female novelist from the big city named Jennifer Hills rents a cottage in the backwoods for the summer. There she encounters a group of redneck men intent on getting their mentally slow friend Matthew laid for the first time. Their mission spirals disastrously out of control, and at the hands of them, Jennifer is repeatedly beaten, kicked, shamed and raped, although not necessarily in that order. The second half of the film follows Jennifer Hills on her mission of payback, in which she methodically and cruelly offs each one of the men, and in the process loses something inside of herself (although maybe that’s just my take on the material). The differences between the two films are in the details.

The original focuses more heavily on the rapes, as Jennifer is passed around from one guy to the next. She escapes, they find her, and another assault occurs. Lather, rinse, repeat. One particular incident, which takes place on a rock, is one of the ugliest, saddest things I’ve ever seen portrayed in a feature film. In the remake, the rapes aren’t quite as front and center, but the emphasis on humiliation is almost unbearable. Either way, the material’s played, it’s thoroughly atrocious fare, and quite frankly I feel unqualified in trying to find a way to explain away such differences. If I were reviewing Deliverance and its inevitable remake (come on – you know it’s bound to happen sooner or later), it might be another matter entirely.

Read the rest of the DVD reviews for both films by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Doctor Who: The Movie (Special Edition)

At this point, after five seasons (and change) of dazzling new Doctor Who, it’s almost difficult to remember how lean the years were for the show after its cancellation in 1989. If I really project myself back to that time period, it reminds me that I shouldn’t take the new series for granted, because it can’t last forever. For a young fan in his twenties, each passing year with no new Who began feeling like an eternity. After seven years, we finally got something, and the results were this TV movie, which was co-produced by the BBC, Fox and Universal, and it aired on Fox in May of ‘96. Of course, seven years is nothing compared to the 15 years it’s taken for the TV movie to get a home video release in the U.S., and most fans had pretty much given up hope for any kind of domestic issue until last August when it was suddenly announced that the rights issues had been cleared up, and a R1 DVD loaded with bonus features was imminent. Who-ray (but not Blu-ray)!

Those aforementioned feelings of desperation were brought up to help illustrate how incredibly monumental the TV movie felt back in 1996. Not only was Doctor Who back, but it finally had boffo production values, there was the tease of a possible series provided the movie snagged some respectable ratings (which in the U.S. it did not), and perhaps more than anything else, Paul fucking McGann was playing the Doctor. I’d been a Withnail and I fanatic for several years already, and to my mind there was no better actor suited to bring the Doctor back to life. Indeed, I even recall telling my then-girlfriend a couple years prior during a Withnail viewing how McGann would make a great Doctor Who someday. I was likely stoned out of my gourd at the time, but that matters not.

So as you might guess, I have an enormous affinity for this film, despite its numerous problems. But it’s also interesting to note that nostalgia doesn’t necessarily have to play a part. I was talking with my Bullz-Eye compadre Will Harris the other day, and he was recalling how when he was a kid, he watched some Doctor Who, and knew instinctively it was something that he should like, yet it never really clicked for him. That all changed for Will in ’96 when he saw this movie and it turned him into a fan in one sitting. Of course, these days there are plenty of folks who really only know the show in its current incarnation, and one wonders how somebody who’s only ever seen new Who would react to this film. I’d like to believe favorably, but then again, it requires adjusting to a whole new Doctor, and some new series fans are slavishly devoted to some of the current Doctors to the point where they can’t be bothered with the concept if David Tennant isn’t on the screen.

Anyway, it’d probably be a good idea at this stage to talk about the actual film. Though it takes place in San Francisco, it was shot in Vancouver, and though it was filmed in ’96, it’s set on New Year’s Eve 1999. Right off the bat this presents a minor problem, simply because the planet went Y2K-crazy that New Year’s. The folks who made this movie did not have a time machine of their own, so they didn’t foresee the Y2K hysteria, and that’s something of a shame because it could’ve worked beautifully in this story. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey after his arch-nemesis was put on trial for his crimes by the Daleks and they exterminated him. It’s a fairly absurd piece of exposition, especially since the Daleks aren’t well known for their legal system, but it gets the story going, so whatever. As the Doctor kicks back in the TARDIS drinking tea and reading H.G. Wells, something goes wrong with the machine, and the Master’s remains, in a kind of ooze-like form, escape from their urn and infect the console, forcing the machine to make an emergency landing in San Fran.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Santa Sangre

To label Santa Sangre a mere horror film does it a great disservice, but ultimately that’s where it’ll end up filed nine times out of ten, if no other reason than because so much of its imagery is horrific. But then even, the label horrific does much of that imagery the same kind of disservice, because it’s also dreamy and beautiful. Clearly this is not an easy movie to describe, and that’s probably the highest compliment that can be paid to it. To really get Santa Sangre, you have to immerse yourself in it, and if you can do that and come out the other side unscathed, well then, you’re my kind of people.

Take for instance one of the film’s most unnerving sequences. A circus elephant lays dying, blood pouring from its trunk onto the ground. When it finally passes on, its carcass is moved into a giant, ornate casket. A funeral is held for the beast, and it’s transported through the town, circus folk and carnies solemnly trailing behind. The procession ends up on the edge of a cliff. Hundreds of the poor stand around waiting, until the entire thing is tipped over and tumbles down into a filthy, disgusting junkyard. As soon as it hits the bottom, the crowd descends upon it with axes and the like, and they crack open the casket and begin dismembering the beast, tossing out huge chunks of its flesh to one another, presumably for food. Now, I don’t know what kind of movies you’ve been watching, but upon first seeing this spectacle 20 years ago, such imagery was entirely new to me. And this is just one scene of many, many in a film that seems to pride itself on outweirding itself one moment after the next.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.