Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/25)

Ed Wood
Prior to viewing Ed Wood I had seen some Tim Burton movies I liked (Beetlejuice, Batman) and some I didn't like (Planet of the Apes remake, Mars Attacks). So far Ed Wood is by far his best that I have seen. I have only seen one Ed Wood movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and thought it was terrible. However as somebody who watches a lot of bad movies, I wouldn't call it the worst movie ever made as did have some fun, campy moments. The absolute worst movies ever made are so boring they are almost unwatchable. A few of Wood's movies were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, although I haven't seen those episodes yet. Getting back to the movie in question, Ed Wood blew me away. Martin Landau put in an amazing performance as Bela Lugosi and certainly deserved his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role that year. Johnny Depp was incredible as the titular character and how he didn't get an Oscar nomination is beyond me. Depp is a versatile actor and it is a shame that he didn't get an Oscar nomination until Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp has gotten a lot of wacky cartoon type character roles after the popularity of his Jack Sparrow character but he has great range as an actor and can do much more than that. Bill Murray and Jeffrey Jones are a lot of fun in supporting roles. Although the movie is about Ed Wood, people associated with him such as Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell, Tor Johnson, Bunny Breckinridge all led fascinating lives and could have biopic movies of their own!
While Ed Wood was a critical success (besides Landau's Oscar it also won best Makeup) it was a commercial flop. This isn't surprising as most people wouldn't think you could make a good movie about a guy who made a lot of bad movies, but Burton still managed to make a great film.
Like most biopics and movies based on historical people and events, Ed Wood features its share of historical inaccuracies. However this was part of Tim Burton's vision as he was trying to make the movie through the eyes of Ed Wood. I think it is possible for truth to rise out of fiction and I believe it happened in this movie. While the real Ed Wood never met Orson Welles, Ed Wood did indeed idolize Welles, so I felt the scene in which they met was necessary to the movie (also it could have been a daydream since we only see those two together). Plus I think anybody who watches the film would be compelled (like I was) to do some research on the real Ed Wood as well as the other people depicted in the film. Bela Lugosi never cursed or hated Karloff, and his later years were not quite as bad as depicted in the movie. However, I wonder if Burton did this because he didn't want show Ed Wood's later years. The film covers Wood's life from just before he made Glen or Glenda to just after Plan 9 from Outer Space and while those movies were not successes, his later years were quite depressing.
Wood often gets called the "worst director of all time" which is unfair considering what he had to work with and that he never was able to focus on director since he also wrote, produced, and even acted in his films. Some people claim that the movie is too positive about Wood but since he usually gets slammed, I thought the way portrayal of Wood was fine. The film does have plenty direct criticisms of Wood like his refusal to do more than one take. Wood's optimism blinds him to these critiques and Depp sells it so well that I really wanted Wood to succeed, even though I knew that is not what actually happened.
Ed Wood was filmed in Black and White which was a great idea. Not only does it work for the atmosphere, it also gives us a hilarious meta joke in the scene in with the camera man is asked to pick a dress by color, but can't because he is color blind!
The film gives the sense that Ed Wood really loved to make movies, and from what I have read about the real Ed Wood, this certainly seems to be true. Wood didn't have the best resources but still did what he loved and for that he should be praised. It doesn't make Plan 9 from Outer Space a good movie, but the fact that people still talk about the movie and that it has almost 1,000 more votes on IMDB than Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder which came out the same year (1959) and was nominated for 7 Oscars counts for something. Plenty of people have made bad movies and didn't care about the final product, but Ed Wood did care, even though his movies weren't that good. And you have to admire the guy for giving Bela Lugosi work in his later years. Even though Lugosi was older and working with inferior material, he was still having fun being an actor as you can see from the clips on YouTube.
When it comes down to it, Ed Wood is not only about the man, but about artistic vision and creative expression. And that is why the film transcends its subject matter to be inspirational to all of us.
"Visions are worth fighting for. Why live your life making someone else's dreams?"
I think I've said enough about this movie as I can, watch it now!

Say Anything... (1989)
After watching Jerry Maguire last week I decided to see another Cameron Crowe movie. I liked Jerry Maguire a little better than this one, probably because of the sports angle, but Say Anything was still a solid movie.
John Cusack does a good job of playing Lloyd Dobler, an off-beat oddball who becomes obsessed with Diane Court. Diane's father, James Court, is played by John Mahoney (Martin Crane on Fraiser) and has a close relationship to his only daughter. Mr. Court is an interesting character as his life is falling apart (divorced, being investigated for doing bad business by FBI, only daughter about to leave home for college on fellowship) while Lloyd is wooing his daughter, and in way taking her away from him. Lloyd's sister is played by Cusack's real life sister, Joan. I always think its pretty cool when real relatives play relatives in movies and their relationship reminded me of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko.
Crowe is a good writer and does a great job with dialogue and creating interesting characters. The film is a dramedy as it is more introspective than most teen movies, but still humorous.
The scene with Cusack holding the boombox and playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" is iconic and certainly memorable. Although when it comes to famous scenes in Crowe movies I still prefer "Show me the money!" or any scene with Spicoli and Mr. Hand.
The movie features cameos by Kim Walker (Heather Chandler from Heathers who essentially plays the same character!) and Jeremy Piven who is a real life friend of John Cusack.
Overall I liked them film as it was well written and Cusack's Lloyd was a fascinating character. While I wanted to know if the couple would end up together, the movie still didn't really grab me. Sure Mr. Court doesn't like Lloyd as he sees his daughter less because of him, but Mr. Court doesn't seem to hate Lloyd either since Diane is never forbidden to see/talk to him. Perhaps there could have been more tension in Lloyd and Mr. Court's relationship.
While Crowe had writing credits for other movies prior to this one, Say Anything was his directorial debut and its a nice first film. Crowe is certainly a good writer, but the last two movies I saw by him just aren't really my thing. I still want to see Almost Famous as I've heard that is Crowe's best. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is still my favorite movie that he has written.
Crowe might not be my favorite director, but all of his movies I've seen so far have awesome pop/rock soundtracks, which is definitely a good thing!


Major League
This weekend Moneyball came out. Although I am a huge baseball fan who loved the book and heard the movie is getting great reviews, I haven't seen it yet. Instead I finally got around to seeing Major League! It's actually sort of a fictional comedy version of Moneyball as both films are about small market baseball teams who go on improbable playoff runs. Major League was written and directed by David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for The Sting. While many comedies often put their effort into jokes, Major League focuses on the story and characters first, and lets the humor fall into place from there. The characters are interesting and likeable, which makes you root for them to win. Wesley Snipes is mostly known for action and dramatic roles in recent years, but he did a good job of pulling off a fun character. Besides Snipes, Major League also helped launch the careers of Charlie Sheen and Dennis Haysbert (Allstate Insurance commercial guy). Famous Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob "Mr. Baseball" Uecker plays the Indians announcer and he was great. Major League is a lot of fun although perhaps a bit derivative and predictable in spots. However, it is still one of the better sports-comedy movies out there. I just want to know why this movie has two sequels? And there is even news that Charlie Sheen wants to make a fourth movie!
I have read that there is an alternate ending for Major League that was intended to be the original ending but changed after reviews from test audiences. I won't say what happens but I think they should have kept that ending. The other ending isn't that different, but makes a little more sense and would have been a cool twist.

Death at a Funeral
This movie is the American remake of 2007 British film. I love the original, but figured I should still see both. I still don't see why the remake was necessary as the humor of the original was universal and not overly "British." Just release the 2007 film in American theaters!
Unlike the original, the remake has lot of pop culture references which will date the film. Now that I think about it, the Amy Winehouse joke is already dated! We also have musical cues that tell us when to laugh, which the British film did not need. This movie made a few other changes, I guess so it wouldn't be a carbon copy of the original even though it is still the same basic story. For example, Aaron (Chris Rock) and wife are trying to conceive a child. We also have Ryan (Martin Lawrence) hitting on an 18 year old girl at the funeral. In the original every subplot related directly back to the family reuniting at the funeral. Both these subplots felt shoved in just to add something new, even though there is already enough going on in the movie.
The cast is hit or miss. Danny Glover and Ron Glass (Firefly) were great but Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence put in weak performances. Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the midget from the original film. The part was initially written for someone of normal height, but Dinklage auditioned and got the role! Dinklage recently on an Emmy award for his work on the TV show Game of Thrones. While I haven't seen that show he was great in both versions of this movie and I'll have to see more of his work.
The remake sticks close enough to the original story. It is still funny even though its not as good as the original. There are far worse comedies out there, but please watch the original 2007 British film as it is one of the funniest and well-written comedies made in recent years.

Double Team (1997)
Double Team is a 90s action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme and the outrageous basketball player Dennis Rodman. I have no idea who decided to let Dennis Rodman become an actor, let alone put these two together, but that person should be fired from the film business immediately. Dennis Rodman won three Razzie awards for being in this turkey: Worst New Star, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Screen Couple which he shared with Van Damme. Mickey Rourke plays the villain and he's actually not bad. The cast also includes Paul Freeman who is best known for playing Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark... oh how the mighty have fallen. The action scenes are decent but the acting by the two leads is terrible. The basketball one liners are so bad they are actually kinda funny. The plot doesn't make much sense but who cares, we have explosions and a lot of glass breaking for some reason! Oh and I could I forget the ridiculous amount of Coca-Cola product placement! Double Team is a great "so bad, it's good movie" as it is awful but still fun to watch. The ending features one of the most ridiculous action scenes in all of cinema and is worth watching for that alone. But unless you are a bad movie connoisseur like myself, just see the Nostalgia Critic's hilarious review here.

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