Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (11/27)

I saw five films this week, the first two of which are on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List.

Groundhog Day (1993)
I had seen part of this film before on TV awhile ago but finally got around to seeing the entire movie.
Bill Murray is great as always as the egotistic weatherman Phil, who is inexplicably forced to relieve the same day over and over again. Andie MacDowell puts in a nice performance as the news show's producer, Rita. MacDowell used her actual Southern accent which was a great creative choice as it adds to her character as a down to earth and genuine person.
Although there is no explanation for why Phil has to live each day over again, I think the mystery works and wouldn't change it. Apparently early versions of the script included an answer (an ex-lover cursed him to teach him a lesson) but its unnecessary and would have been a time waster. The setting of Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is just an unique as the premise and I really have to hand it to the creative team for doing something different that at the same time isn't completely unconventional.
Director Harold Ramis has worked with Bill Murray before as an actor in Stripes and Ghostbusters and also directed him in Caddyshack. Ramis would later direct the fantasy-comedy Multiplicity which featured MacDowell as the female lead opposite Michael Keaton.
Groundhog Day felt sort of like a twisted version of It's a Wonderful Life, as it is certainly Capraesque while at the same time has modern day sensibilities. The film is truly cinematic with its cuts of the repeating day, which could not have been done as a book or play. The film's tone is perfect as it is funny but never silly, and has drama but is never too dark or serious. Groundhog Day has more substance than most comedies and at the same time is incredibly entertaining which is quite an accomplishment.

The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins' role as Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter has been so firmly entrenched and parodied in popular culture that most people who haven't seen the film are familiar with the character. While I was worried that this would cause me to enjoy the film less, I was mistaken as his character and the movie itself still packed a hell of a punch. Hopkins was fantastic and certainly deserved his Oscar. Besides Hopkins the acting was strong by all the actors, including Jodie Foster who won an Oscar for her performance as the young FBI officer in training, Clarice Starling. The Silence of the Lambs also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), and Best adapted Screenplay.
The movie is based on Thomas Harris' book series. I haven't read the books so I don't know how it works as an adaptation. I know there are other films in the series which I might see eventually but what makes Lector's character work is the mystery around him and too much screen time (Hopkins is only in the film for just over 16 minutes!) would certainly hurt that.
Although Ted Levine doesn't have too much screen time, his creepy performance as Buffalo Bill is the cherry on top of an incredible film. The Silence of the Lambs is unsettling and disturbing which makes for an unforgettable movie that certainly deserves the praise it has received over the years.

The Blues Brothers (1980)
This was the first, and arguably best, movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play Elwood and Jake Blues, two brothers who try to raise $5,000 to save the orphanage they were raised in from being closed by getting their band back together.
Chase scenes have been a staple of comedy films since the silent era. The Blues Brothers keeps this tradition alive with some great car chases: one inside(!) a mall and one all over the city of Chicago with Aykroyd and Belushi being pursued by both the police and Neo-Nazis!
It was nice to see Carrie Fisher in a movie that wasn't a Star Wars film, and she has a great role as a mysterious woman trying to kill the Blues Brothers. John Candy (who steals every scene he is in) and Paul Reubens have early roles. There are also appearances by many musicians such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. Also, director Steven Spielberg makes an unexpected cameo!
It is usually a bad sign when a comedy is over two hours long, but it makes sense in this case since The Blues Brothers is also a musical.
I had a lot of fun with this movie and it was better than I has expected. I prefer it to Belushi's earlier film Animal House (also directed by John Landis), although I like both comedies.
"We're on a mission from God"

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
I am a big John Carpenter fan and finally got around to seeing this movie in my quest to watch all of his films. Like several other of Carpenter's movies, this one didn't do well critically or commercially upon its original release but has since gained a cult following.
In the Mouth of Madness is about an insurance investigator (Sam Neill) who looks into the disappearance of a horror novelist whose works are supposedly driving his readers insane. This meta concept is given a  Lovecraftian spin to make for an interesting and unique tale. The acting is a weak at times as Sam Neill goes in and out of his accent and Julie Carmen's performance leaves much to be desired. Charlton Heston and Jurgen Prochnow are good, but could have had more screen time.
While I haven't seen all of Carpenter's films yet, In the Mouth of Madness is his best post-1980s movie. It is not one of Carpenter's best films, and not as fun as other cult classics like Big Trouble in Little China or They Live (which makes sense because it is a horror flick after all), but its still a good film that Carpenter and horror fans should enjoy. I think the reason it didn't do well was because it came out a few months after Wes Craven's New Nightmare, also released by New Line Cinema. Although I haven't seen that film yet, it seems to have a similar concept except with the popular Freddy Krueger character.

Penn & Teller Get Killed
As a fan of Penn & Teller I had been meaning to see this movie for a while. However, the film is pretty obscure and did not get a DVD release until recently. Luckily it can be seen on YouTube in nine parts, which is where I watched it. Although I like Penn & Teller's work (see my last post which talked about the duo) I think they work better live or on TV than in movie form. That said, this is still a good dark comedy. Although the movie is episodic at times, there is a main narrative with plenty of twists and turns. I think all Penn & Teller fans would enjoy this movie as not only do we have a  younger and thinner Penn Jillette, but the usually silent Teller actually speaks! I had seen an interview with Teller talking on YouTube before but it was still strange to see and hear him speak even though his voice is quite normal.
David Patrick Kelly, Sully in Commando, plays the fan who is obsessed with Penn and Teller. Penn & Teller Get Killed was the final feature film directed by Arthur Penn, who also made The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.


  1. I'm glad that you finally got around to seeing some more of the films on Ebert's list of Great Movies! Also, I'm glad that you actually ENJOYED them! I hope you watch more in the future because I'm dying to know what you think about them! I'm also glad that you got around to watching "In the Mouth of Madness." I think one of the most remarkable things about that film was how it was absolutely terrifying, yet didn't rely on jump or shock scares. The terror was all in the environment and atmosphere.

  2. Also, on a side note, the only SNL movie just as good if not better than "Blues Brothers" is "Wayne's World." Just my opinion, of course!

  3. Thanks Nate! I will be watching some more films from Ebert's list in the near future, including at least one more for my next weekly wrap-up.

    I need to watch Wayne's World again since its been so long since I've seen it and it blends together in my head with the second one. But yeah, those two are by far the best SNL movies, and also the only ones I've seen.