Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Accidental Double Feature: True Romance and The Langoliers

This weekend I ended up with an accidental double feature--didn't even realize that the two movies had anything in common until we started watching the second one. Can you guess what the common thread is between True Romance and The Langoliers?

Give up?

Bronson Pinchot!

Yeah, okay, so that's not actually exciting. As a matter of fact, I have often said I find Mr. Pinchot (or as The Boyfriend calls him, "Hey-it's-Balky!") brain-splinteringly annoying. The mere sound of his voice is kind of obnoxious and gives me headaches. However, what we have here is one good solid performance from him wherein he did NOT annoy me.

I will first point out that I LOVE True Romance. It's the only movie of Quentin Tarantino's that I actually like, probably because he neither acted in nor directed it. When I first saw it several years ago, I didn't even KNOW it was a Tarantino movie (although seeing it now I can definitely point out a few spots where the Tarantino comes through: namely the conversation early on with Samuel L. Jackson talking about eating pussy, Dennis Hopper's monologue about the Sicilians and the Moors [which is an iconic scene, really--Hopper and Christopher Walken elevate that above its true content], Patricia Arquette's knock-down-drag-out with James Gandolfini, the Mexican stand-off, and the repeated use of the phrase "Bad Motherfucker.") The plot centers around Clarence and Alabama, who through a series of circumstances end up with a suitcase full of cocaine and the mob on their tails. Contrary to how it may sound, though, the movie is a romance through and through. The reasons I like it so much are as follows:

1. Christian Slater. Seriously, I will watch just about anything the guy does, even if most of it IS crap. Not only do I find him exceedingly hot, but I feel this is my way of repaying him for Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, and this.

2. Patricia Arquette's portrayal of Alabama is as both sweet and naive AND gutsy and tough is pretty great. She manages to play both vulnerable and hard as nails, sometimes within the same moment. It's an excellent performance from her, and as one of very few compelling females within the Tarantino canon (the only one who measures up in my estimation is Beatrix Kiddo, and she has the benefit of being a trained assassin--Alabama has to make do with being a former call-girl) I find her interesting. I think that is due more to Arquette's acting skills than to the script--Alabama could have come off cloying and stupid if played wrong. Which reminds me, the opening and closing monologues from her are just bad. I advise you to skip over them if possible.

3. The plot is serviceable, but doesn't necessarily dominate the movie. It just keeps things moving along in a more or less coherant way. There is never a point during the film where I find myself saying "What? What is going on? Why is this happening?" The things the characters do make sense within the context of the film, which is rarer than you'd think.

4. The acting in the movie--from Slater and Arquette all the way down to the minor roles--is top notch. There are a suprising number of recognizable faces in the film--watch for Brad Pitt's turn as a stoner, Bronson Pinchot (yes, there he is) as a nervous syncophant, and James Gandolfini (with hair!) as a mafia fixer. Also Val Kilmer (who is billed fourth in the credits, yet is only in the movie for about 5 minutes and you never actually see his face) is another bonus for me, since he's another actor I love.

5. The soundtrack--particularly Clarence and Alabama's theme, which I believe is a marimba solo--is fantastic. It adds to the movie without distracting, which should be the goal of every movie's score.

5. (SPOILER!) I am a sucker for happy endings.

I recommend True Romance for everyone--there's romance, violence, adventure, humor...everything you can ask for from a movie is here.

The Langoliers, unfortunately, did not inspire within me the same sort of devotion. There were several problems, some of which made it nearly opposite True Romance. The film is based on a Stephen King novella, the premise being that a group of ten passengers--including a pilot (David Morse), a mystery writer (Dean Stockwell), a blind--and somewhat psychic--girl, two teenagers, a school teacher, a British man of mystery, a glutton, a blue-collar gentleman, and a mad man (Bronson Pinchot! Again!)--on a cross-country flight wake up to discover they are the only people left on board the plane...or, it turns out, on earth. After landing at a rural Maine airport, they are left to try and figure out what's happened while dealing with threats they can see (the mad man) and those they can't (a mysterious munching sound from beyond the mountains).

1. The film was made as a TV mini-series in the early 90s, and it really shows. (In the words of Nina Garcia, "It looks cheap.") There are no big-name actors, and the special effects are downright TERRIBLE. Laughably terrible, in fact. Even the plane was poorly done and looked like bad CGI. Also, it's totally obvious exactly where the commercials were.

2. None of the characters were particularly memorable, except for Pinchot and his horrible HORRIBLE over-acting, which mostly consisted of a lot of eye-rolling and shrieking. The writers tried to shoehorn in subplots for everyone, but didn't bother to follow them out properly. There was no real character development at all. Characters were generally either "bravely heroic" or "gripped by hysteria and panic."

3. Contrary to True Romance, the plot in The Langoliers dominated the movie but did it very badly. Let's say that you are flexible enough to buy into the idea of the time rip, etc (after all, if you're not you should probably stay away from movies in this genre.) The problems are with the characters and their behavior. They all seem to completely ignore a man who is obviously dangerously insane. Later, the British secret agent ties up the mad man with a rope that is obviously incapble of holding him, then leaves the blind child and the school teacher (both unarmed) to keep an eye on crazy Pinchot while Mr. British Secret Service and the other good-sized men of the party go off to wander through the deserted airport. There was entirely more exposition at some points than was necessary--the audience is not stupid, you know. My ability to suspend disbelief was heartily abused.

4. Much of the acting was BAD. Morse and Stockwell did as well as they could with the material provided (they're both veterans, after all) but the rest of the cast were either over-acting or under-acting the whole way through. Half the time they were screaming, the other half mumbling miserably to themselves. As I mentioned, Pinchot was quite awful, but the woman playing the schoolteacher/love interest was quite blah, and the British apparently confused smirking with acting. In all, a rather unimpressive turnout.

It was just not very good at all, and although I'd been trying to track it down for ages (Netflix didn't have it and I was so excited to find it available OnDemand) it was a big disappointment (as many Stephen King movies tend to be...but I've posted on that subject already.) I definitely don't recommend this except to the most devoted King fan.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Careful Or You'll Be Bored to Death!: Scare Jessica to Death

This past weekend, The Boyfriend was out of town and I happily had the place all to myself. Obviously, what I did was hang out, eat pizza, and watch terrible movies OnDemand. One such movie that I found was Scare Jessica to Death. (In case you are thinking of watching this movie--which I don't know why you would, but some people are funny that way--there are going to be some spoilers. Be warned.)

First of all, there's the most important factor: 1971. Yes, this movie was made in 1971, and it was NOT a high budget blockbuster. In fact, when watching it you may suspect that the director simply rounded up a couple friends, his grandparents, and a video camera to put this thing together. Also, he may have written the entire script in two hours while he was stoned. You know the kind of stoned: the kind of stoned where you're like "Hey, let's order a pizza!" and everyone's really psyched and thinks it's a most excellent idea, and then an hour later you're all like "Hey, where's that pizza?" only to have the most sober member of the group point out that you never actually ordered it, instead you went to the 7-11 and bought 12 packages of Swedish fish and a Slim Jim. That is the kind of stoned that produced this movie, I think.

The second thing is that you keep thinking things are going to get more interesting, but they don't. For all the 'Music of Creepiness and Great Forboding' not a lot really happens. The story sort of drags along for most of the movie, with the occasional "ooh, that's sort of weird" moment. However, if you're paying attention, the movie's twist should slam you in the head about half an hour in. Then the last 15 or twenty minutes a bunch of stuff happens but none of it is particularly interesting or scary. You're mostly left wondering just how stupid this particular bunch of people are.

For those of you who might still be interested, the plot is as follows: Jessica has just been released from a mental institution, and her husband and their random hippy friend Woody decide the best thing for her is to pack up and move to a creepy-ass house out in the middle of Buttfuck-Nowhereville, where they plan to live off of selling any heirlooms left in the house and Woody's doubtful farming skills. When they get to the house, they find the locals distinctly unfriendly and a beautiful squatter named Emily living in the place. Things kind of go to hell from there, with Jessica struggling to understand what's going on while not giving the impression that she's still crazy. Of course the mysterious Emily is not what she first appears (although can definitely rock the lute) and the town is even less friendly than it first seemed. Throw in a cheating husband, a mute girl in white, some drowning, a vampire (one who appears to have no problems at all with sunlight), and some elderly zombies and you have...well, I don't know exactly what you you have. You have this movie, I guess. It sounds like a lot of excitement, but trust me, that explanation was probably more exciting and enjoyable than the actual film.

I don't recommend this to anyone. There are thousands of horror movies out there, and even most of the "bad" ones will be better than this.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Did They Actually PAINT Someone?: F-Troop

I was so excited when I saw that the show F-Troop had finally been released on DVD. I remember watching it on Nick @ Nite with my grandparents, and in my memory it was a hilarious show. Why, I wondered, had it taken this long to get released? Why wasn't it still being shown on TVland or late at night on the Western Channel or something?

I ordered it from Netflix and anxiously awaited my chance to reconnect with something from my childhood.

Then, the DVD arrived, and I suddenly realized why the show had all but disappeared.

The show is about a western fort sometime during the civil war era. The commanding officer is typically clueless, and his underlings get up to all sorts of shenanagins under his nose. Nothing wrong with that, right? The first indication of a problem comes during the theme song (an infectious little ditty, written in the days when shows had theme songs that actually provided information about the show.)


The end of the Civil War was near,
When quite accidentally,
A hero who sneezed, abruptly seized
Retreat and reversed it to victory.
His medal of honor pleased and thrilled
His proud little family group.
While pinning it on, some blood was spilled,
And so it was planned he'd command...F-Troop!
Where Indian fights are colorful sights
And nobody takes a lickin',
Where paleface and redskin
Both turn chicken.

Oops...redskin? I am pretty sure they're not referring to the football team here. And once the "redskins" arrive on screen, it's apparent why this show is rarely shown: every single Native American character is a painted white guy. The first episode on the DVD featured Don Rickles painted brown, running around and screaming about scalping people. Although the Hakawi tribe are stereotypical in some ways, they often seem to get the better of their stupid white comrades at Fort Courage. However, while it may have been okay in 1965 to paint men brown and stick feathers on their heads to play Native Americans, it's pretty uncomfortable today.

The strange thing is that except for the parts involving the Heckawis, the show is still pretty funny in that slap-sticky 60s sitcom kind of way. Ken Berry's portrayal of Captain Parmenter (who was cheerful but totally oblivious and invariably clumsy) is fantastic, and Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch nail their roles as the slick Sargeant O'Roake and his bumbling sidekick Corporal Agarn. Storch in particular is hilarious--his generation's rubber-faced version of Jim Carrey, only with less screaming. Unfortunately, I just couldn't enjoy it as I used to because the Heckawi issue made me so uncomfortable. I'm not usually a person who is much concerned with political correctness and am often the one pointing out that you have to take things in their context or remember that it's only a show, but even after telling myself that it was made in the 1960s before people knew any better, it was still just a little too gross.

Very disappointing over all--I didn't even finish out the episodes on the disk.

I am going to hope that some of the other shows I remember fondly from my days watching Nick @ Nite hold up better.