Monday, June 25, 2012

Spring Wrap-up Part Two

Planet of the Apes
I am a big fan of science fiction films so it might be surprising to my readers that I had not seen this movie before out than a few clips. Of course I already knew basic idea thanks to the influence
Planet of the Apes has had on pop culture (such as the Dr. Zaius song from The Simpsons!) and had the ending spoiled since I was a kid. The funny thing is that I had seen Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes movie back when it first came out on DVD. I didn't like it much except the "new" ending and that is probably part of the reason why I didn't get around to seeing the original until recently.
Planet of the Apes is based on the novel of the same name by Pierre Boulle. Boulle was also the author of the book which was the basis for the film The Bridge on the River Kwai which I wrote about a few months ago. Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, received a writing credit on the screenplay. His main contribution that made it into the film was the ending, which I've heard is quite different from the book.
Coming into
Planet of the Apes I thought it would be more campy because of the basic premise and numerous sequels. I knew that the movie had a good reputation but ended up being better than I expected.  The film touches on the topics of evolution, religion, treatment of animals, vivisection, and war without feeling forced or heavy handed. In some ways the story can be compared to Gulliver's Travels and even inversion of King Kong. The concepts of human aliens living on different planets and aliens that speak English with no explanation were par for the course when it came to science fiction movies and TV shows of the era. Planet of the Apes plays off of these concepts and indirectly parodies them with apes and the ending.

The acting is very good even though most of the cast is in under heavy make-up are the human characters can't speak. Along with The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur this is one of Charlton Heston's signature roles. I only noticed
Roddy McDowell from his voice but he is awesome as usual. Linda Harrison did a good job as Nova, a "primitive" human. Maurice Evans does a nice job as the villainous Dr. Zaius.
The directing and cinematography is very good and certainly better than I expected. Director Franklin J. Schaffner would later win a Best Director Oscar for Patton.
The make-up on apes looks great even today. I just hope that CGI doesn't turn this aspect of filmmaking into a lost art! Planet of the Apes was one of the first films to have a major large scale merchandising tie-in. The movie has a great score by the great composer Jerry Goldsmith.
Even though I pretty much knew what was going to happen it was still absorbing and kept my attention.
It's interesting to note that
Planet of the Apes was came out in 1968, the same year as 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there has been several great science fiction films made before these two, I feel that this was the turning point for sci-fi films to be taken more seriously as a genre in pop culture than simply monster movies.
Planet of the Apes spawned four sequels of varying quality which I haven't seen yet. Last year's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise box office hit despite its clunky title so I'll have to check it out sometime.

Airheads (1994)
Airheads was directed by Michael Lehmann, who also directed one of my favorite movies, the cult classic Heathers. Airheads contains a few satirical elements but is not a full blown satire like Heathers. Maybe it would've been better had it gone in that direction, but I still like it as a fun little movie about rock n' roll. The basic plot is pretty simple: a struggling band (the Lone Rangers) takes over a radio station and holds the DJs hostage in order to force them to play their song and let it be heard over the airwaves! Most of the movie takes place inside the radio station so instead of a contained thriller we have a contained comedy!
Airheads features early roles for Adam Sandler and Brendan Fraser. Steve Buscemi puts in a nice supporting performance as usual. The rest of the cast includes a lot of familiar faces such as Chris Farley, Michael McKean, Harold Ramis, Judd Nelson, Ernie Hudson, Michael Richards, Joe Mantegna, Marshall Bell, and a young David Arquette. There are a bunch of appearences by musicians such as Lemmy, Rob Zombie, and MTV anchor Kurt Loder. Beavis and Butthead even have a cameo as callers to the radio station!
This is probably as close as we'll get to a Wayne's World 3 even though the humor between the two movies is different. While I liked the movie, it could've had a better title as "Airheads" could fit for a lot of movies and doesn't have anything to do with the music aspect of the movie.

Machete (2010)
A couple of months ago I wrote an extensive review for Hobo with a Shotgun. In that post I mentioned how I had actually seen Machete (which I preferred) before that movie. Hobo is more gory with a grim tone, while Machete is almost as violent but a more fun, outrageous, and wild ride.
Machete started out as a fake trailer for the movie Grindhouse and expands the basic plot we saw there. Despite starting out as a trailer for a movie that didn't exist, Machete is a true modern exploitation (in this case Mexploitation!) movie that is a lot of violent fun. Somehow they got Robert DeNiro to be in this movie which also features Steven Seagal in a rare role for him as a bad guy! Danny Trejo plays the title character with Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson, and Cheech Marin (as a gun toting priest!) in supporting roles. I'm not a Lindsay Lohan fan but she is put to good use here.
My favorite lines were "Machete don't text" and "Machete improvise!"
There are plans for two sequels currently titled "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again... in Space"! I don't know about you, but I really want that Machete in Space movie!
Machete is the second Robert Rodriguez directed movie I have seen with the first being The Faculty. I quite liked both movies so he is another director whose work I need to seek out.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spring Wrap-up Part One

Nuns on the Run (1990)
I watched this movie with my brother on a whim. Nuns on the Run stars a post-Monty Python Eric Idle and a pre-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane. Idle and Coltrane play criminals trying to get out of a life of crime but in the process have to hide out in a convent while disguised as nuns. As you could've guessed, wacky hijinks ensue!
Nuns on the Run was written and directed by Jonathan Lynn. While Lynn is not a household name, he has directed several well known movies such as Clue, My Cousin Vinny, and The Whole Nine Yards. I actually haven't seen any of those yet but will eventually!
There are some funny ideas here but it doesn't work overall. The pacing isn't great and there are a bunch of filler scenes. It probably would've worked better as a few independent sketches (such as the when Idle and Coltrane are in a packed parking lot trying to decide which car to steal) than a feature length film.
This counts as a nunsploitation movie, right?!

What About Bob?
I've talked about a few Bill Murray movies on this blog in the past so here is another one. Although I had heard good things about this film I hadn't seen it until now. Murray is great as usual but the real star here is Richard Dreyfuss as his reactions to "Bob" make Murray even funnier.
I realized later on that The Cable Guy is similar in that the main character's both have an off-beat obsessive "stalker" who just wants to hang out with them all the time. The relationship between Bob and his therapist is also kinda like that of Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson. Except that Dennis would be an adult in this version!
What About Bob? was directed by Frank Oz. Yes, *that* Frank Oz of Sesame Street, Muppets, and Yoda fame. This is the third movie I've seen that Oz has directed. The other two are Death at a Funeral (2007) and The Muppets take Manhattan, both of which I have written about earlier on this blog.

Man on the Moon
I'm not a fan of Jim Carrey though I don't dislike him either. I just generally don't go out of my way to see his movies. However, I'm glad I saw this one as it features a great performance by Jim Carrey as actor and comedian Andy Kaufman. He even won a Golden Globe for this role, although could not get an Oscar nomination. The film received no Oscar nominations which is a bit surprising since it does feel like an Oscar bait type movie.
A biographical film seems tough to make as you must condense a person's life into a mere two hours. It was an even more difficult task in this case as what Andy Kaufman was most famous for (his role as Latka Gravas) was probably the least interesting thing about the man.
I felt that the movie focused too much on Andy Kaufman's cancer and death. Kaufman was diagnosed in late November 1983 and died in May 1984. Obviously this is important, but he wasn't sick that long and died pretty quick. On a similar note we we could've had more about Kaufman's life before he was discovered as a comedian.
There are a few anachronisms such as the movie's depiction of Kaufman's Carnegie Hall show being performed after he was diagnosed with cancer, but it fits in with Kaufman's life as a showman who would blend reality and fantasy together. The opening scene of the movie even features Carrey in character as Kaufman stating that parts of "his" life have been changed!
As a biopic about an off-beat personality I couldn't help but be reminded of Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Although Ed Wood and Andy Kaufman were different in several ways, both were true artists who managed accomplish their visions despite of the obstacles of mainstream TV and film-making.
Many actors and other famous people who knew the real Kaufman such as wrestler Jerry Lawlor, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, late night talk show host David Letterman, and the cast of Kaufman's TV show Taxi are in the movie as themselves. Danny DeVito (a cast member of Taxi) plays a large role as George Shapiro, Kaufman's manager, but doesn't play himself. There could've been a fun meta moment along the lines of the "color blind" scene in Ed Wood but I guess they didn't want to confuse the audience too much.

Even though I think of Courtney Love as a musician and not an actress, she did a nice job playing Kaufman's girlfriend. If I didn't know who she was I would've assumed she was an actress not famous for anything else.
R.E.M. performed most of the songs for the Man on the Moon soundtrack and did a great job as usual. Their title track was actually not made for the movie as it was originally released in 1992. R.E.M. are apparently big Andy Kaufman fans. The band did write the song "The Great Beyond" specifically for the film.
The final scene is interesting as tackles the urban legend that Andy Kaufman faked his death and is actually still alive, while also reminding us of the influence Andy Kaufman has had on comedy and pop culture.
I was familiar with Kaufman but honestly didn't know much about him before seeing this movie. After watching Man on the Moon I wanted to know a lot more about him and do research on his life, which is something any good biopic should do for its subjects. Luckily there are plenty of videos of him on YouTube, including the infamous Fridays fight incident.
Man on the Moon was directed by Milos Forman, a two-time Oscar winner. I had only seen one of his movies before, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which I love. Somehow I haven't seen Amadeus yet, so I need to watch more of his films.
An interesting piece of trivia about this film is that Forman could not decide between Jim Carrey or Ed Norton for the role of Andy Kaufman. Forman let the studio decide and they chose Carrey because they felt he was a more bankable star at the time.
Man on the Moon received mostly positive reviews from movie critics but lost money at box office. It's too bad that the film was a financial failure as its probably part of the reason Forman hasn't done much since.