Monday, April 05, 2004

Recent Movie Rentals

At the house of a friend who specializes in a very unusual form of torture--showing bad movies--I was made to see a movie called Voyage of the Rock Aliens, a b-movie musical from the 80s starring Pia Zadora. It was retro in a 50s beach movie kind of way, complete with a 50s soda diner, but the music was all extremely dated in a very 80s way. There are aliens who look like new wavers (with a bad, fake looking robot). The film kicks off with a duet between Pia and Jermaine Jackson, and every subsequent song is identifiable in its rip-off style, from Devo to A Flock of Seagulls. Dare I admit I actually enjoyed this movie? If I had the soundtrack, I'd actually listen to it a couple times. (But, then, I love Xanadu.) And although it was all very bad, it was enjoyably bad. Consistently. And, trust me, I'm learning that consistent enjoyability is very, very rare in bad movies.

OK, so I watch tv shows I read about on the Internet, buy music I hear on tv, and rent movies because of commercials they show at the cineplex. Well, at least I have now. I saw that funny commercial featuring Tiger Woods as Bill Murray (Mr. Academy Award Nominee and subject of a ritzy NY retrospective) in Caddyshack, and realized I'd never actually seen the original, so I rented it. (I wonder how big a spike in rentals there's been lately because of idiots like me. Ah, the power of suggestion.) I enjoyed it. It has a mellow, laid back approach with a wide variety of characters and comedy styles. Murray is, of course, hilarious, and I personally loved Ted Knight (of Mary Tyler Moore fame), esp. in his clashes with boob/uber-plebe Roddy Dangerfield. Michael O'Keefe is a charming young hero, likably skinny and down to earth. And who knew Chevy Chase was once a looker? Too bad his cocky jerk quality is already in evidence. Watching this film by Ramis (who went on to direct the great, great Groundhog Day--hmm, what's with the rodents?), I actually got the feeling that he knew some version of this milieu in the real world, and as class wars go, this one reserves affection for all parties concerned.

Something's Gotta Give turned out to be an often delightful comedy ("Who's the lucky boy?"), with Diane Keaton totally living up to the nomination she got for the film. I was really enjoying the film until the last stretch when it sort of fizzled for a few reasons I can think of: 1) Keaton is off screen too long as we switch to Nicholson's character alone a little too long--the joy of the film is seeing them together; 2) it's too damn long for a comedy, a basic rule; 3) the ending is the most familiarly formulaic section, and it just feels like going through the motions of separation and reunion. Still, I highly recommend the film. In the supporting roles, Keanu Reeves and Amanda Peet, who can be iffy performers, are at their charming best, with Frances McDormand underutilized but an Always Welcome Presence. Yes, the naked glimpse in the hallway scene (as spoofed, brilliantly, by Billy Crystal) was great, but Keaton's crying jag is a set piece to treasure. As Hollywood stars go, Keaton and Nicholson are true pros. You'll eat it up.

Lastly, I rented Jane Campion's In the Cut, which stars Meg Ryan in her new, bad-girl, deglamourized phase, and Mark Ruffalo. It's not one of Campion's best pictures, but that's not being as harsh as it sounds. After all, Campion's directed The Portrait of a Lady, The Piano, An Angel at My Table, Sweetie, and Two Friends. (By the way, if you can track down Two Friends, it's a real treat. A tale of a friendship between two girls, it moves backwards in time.) This is an interesting film, maybe even a very good film, though, certainly better than Holy Smoke, which had its moments. Basically, it's a woman's (I wouldn't quite say feminist, though it's arguable) take on the serial killer detective genre, the kind of thing I imagine you'd get in a James Patterson adaptation. Here, you see things from a woman's pov, and the accent is all on the romance between a detective and a woman he interviews for a case and starts to date. Except when I say romance, here it mostly means sex, and lots of it, fairly original and realistic sex as far as movies go, no missionary position cliches. (Breasts/chests and backsides, mostly, if you were wondering.) It's the woman who solves the crime, although it's kind of by accident. The film sympathizes with the macho male characters to such an extent that you never feel this is an example of feminist male-bashing. I can see what it didn't reach much of an audience, though. The film is kind of woozy and drunken and seedy (the camera is blurred at the edges) and although there's action (there are decapitations, for Pete's sake, but the cutting, the violence is offscreen), the focus is on the more nuanced experience of a new relationship. I was never bored (I was actually kind of entranced), but the film is kind of subtle. You might argue that there's too much sex, but most stories like this have way too much violence. If she was trying to reinvent the genre, I don't think Campion was at all radical enough. But it's a solid film, and definitely recommended for Campion fans.



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