Dead and Loving It – Mel Brooks stakes a claim in the Vampire genre

27 Dec

What? Am I doing this right?

What impressed me about this film was how it hasn’t lost it’s appeal after so many years. It’s not like this is considered by many to be a classic and it might seem timely to review since the passing of the revered Leslie Nielsen but my reasoning to take it on was simply that it happened to be on TV. I sat through the entire feature without looking at my phone or checking my email in the middle of it, that alone says something about a matinee screening of a lesser known comedy.

Part of why I have a fondness of this film is my memories of watching Mel Brooks movies on the 6.30 Saturday night time slot and loving every minute of it. I was too young to get all the references at the time but as I’ve grown older, things start to fall into place. I haven’t seen Dead and Loving it since I was twelve and being able to see it from a more educated lens made the experience something marvelous. The humor was cleverly crafted with subtle jokes tossed around the place for fans of Brooks comedies to pick up on. Some people might find it hackneyed and lame but there is something valuable to be learned from Brooks and his brand of satire.

Enough pandering, let’s get onto business.

Leslie Nielsen is a great pick for the role of Dracula and Brooks does well to cameo in his own film. The cast is minimalistic, using actors from his previous production to fill out the other required performances to surprisingly great effect. Some scenes did at times feel a bit stiff when focusing on the romantic lead Jonathan, however many of the extras and side characters steal the show (particularly Peter MacNicol as Renfield) from Nielsen but his delivery isn’t labored. This film has a very classic horror air about it and great production value for what it is which is expected from Brooks but it does become obvious that the budget is a lot smaller than some of his works of the eighties and even than that of his previous film Robin Hood: Men in Tights (as evidenced by the quality of the fake gore).

This has to be a guilty pleasure for me, as much as I can see plenty of flaws to pick on like the light plot and a lot of the gags feel easy but the commitment to recreating the story of Dracula as a period piece redeems it. You can take it or leave it, there won’t be much here to get you excited if you aren’t already familiar with the works of Brooks. Best watched with tea and a warm blanket.

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Film Night: Weekend at Bernie’s

13 Jul

I wonder if he evacuated his bowels after dying

What really impressed me with Weekend at Bernie’s was the sheer amount of screen time can be devoted to milking one joke. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and that is its greatest strength as a film. Because of that I didn’t feel cheated having spent around 90 minutes with an actor that plays dead for almost the entire film. The name of the director must have been an important factor in getting interest in the movie at the time because his name appears twice in the opening titles as the director, which in some logic would make sense considering this broken masterpiece is directed by Ted Kotcheff who brought us Rambo: First Blood and Wake in Fright.

The plot surrounds two knuckle head office workers (Richard and Larry) who are tired of working for the man and getting little in return. One is a lay-about party boy and the other a hard worker, with a pair like that you can just tell that hilarity will ensue (at least that’s the idea). On a fateful Sunday at work, the couple discover an accounts error that suggests a dead person claimed their life insurance more than once. When they bring it to their boss on Monday morning, he scrutinizes their find and suggests any results be kept quiet until they have been proven. When Richard pushes the issue Bernie finally acknowledges his hard work and is so impressed that he invites the two to spend the weekend with him at his getaway on Hampton island.

Unfortunately for Richard and Larry he isn’t as pleased as he seems, Bernie goes and puts a hit out on the poor bastards for revealing his money laundering. Though he isn’t the only one double-crossing, the gangsters Bernie does business with decide he’s gotten sloppy and got to be got. There’s so much dramatic irony going on up in here, you’d think that it would really help the story which makes it such a shame the plot is just terrible. This set up is actually the high point of the plot arc, which is not a good sign considering we’re 15 minutes in. If it wasn’t for the principle cast being so damn good at being endearing losers I wouldn’t have lasted to the end. This is a “it’s so bad it’s good movie” which you must be patient with in order to reap the rewards so prepare to have you suspension of disbelief tested because there are some doozies to be found in this classic film.

As I was saying, Richard and Larry are off to Hampton island. But before they can go on their weekend getaway Richard has to tie things up with Gwen, his office crush (and complete a full week at work cause it’s well… Monday). They go on a not so amazing date and Richard finds out that Gwen is just finishing up at the company and is about to go back to study at university. Richard only has one shot to get this right, so at the end of the night he decides to take her home to his house and pretend that he doesn’t live with his parents. This is completely unnecessary as Gwen already revealed that she also lives with her parents but if you can ignore that fact it isn’t that bad a scene. Richard gets caught up in own lies, each becoming more elaborate until his Dad comes into the kitchen and the jig is up.

Before Richard and Larry arrive, Bernie has already been clipped by Paulie the assassin. Paulie was one of my favorite characters in this movie, simply because he has a marvelous talent of disguising himself when there is absolutely no need to and in doing so he becomes more suspicious looking. He departs the house pretending to be a priest leaving the two to discover the body. This is where things get interesting.

Larry convinces Richard that they shouldn’t call the cops before they’ve had their fun because it’d ruin the party. This I could believe up to a point but they really stretch out how long that takes. I could talk about the continuity issues with how hard Richard finds it to use a phone but it’s better just to move on. They find a message on the machine that reveals they might have a price on their heads for unraveling Bernie’s embezzlement. According to the message, the only way they’ll stay alive is to keep Bernie with them at all times until they can get off the island.

The rest of the movie is just set up after set up of how badly Larry and Richard are prepared to mistreat Bernie’s dead body, since the ends justifies the means. Never mind that there aren’t any killers to run from and innocent people are injured in the process, since this is where most of the jokes start to shine. It feels like a complete farce and boarders on the Hitchcock-eske, only set on an island with 80’s excess and rich phonies. I have to admit that I actually laughed a fair few times considering how predictable the humor was. Everyone that Bernie knows is too self obsessed to notice that he’s dead and greatest rewards of the movie don’t appear until he’s out of the picture (figuratively speaking at least).

This is a keen example of a one trick pony but despite its obvious flaws the production value was solid and the awkwardly dark humor really did make me laugh every now and again. The only way to judge this film is by how much ridiculousness you can take. Another point in this film’s favour is how nostalgic watching it feels since it’s like somebody went out and tried to make an 80’s movie that made fun of every other terrible 80’s movie, even the Caribbean style title song and synth soundtrack made me feel it was all intentional.

Sadly the results were not deliberate, but it wouldn’t be as fun to watch if they were.

This is definitely a low end guilty pleasure.

GUILTY PLEASURE

What surprises me the most about this film is the fact that the screen writer managed to get funding for a sequel, with the same lead cast, which he directed himself. No doubt you’ll be seeing that review soon.

To those concerned…

13 Jul

Ride out winter in style

Dear Bloggers,

Just in case you were worried that I wasn’t going to bring you more Justified, you should fear no longer. Next week I’ll be kicking back into TV reviews with some force bringing out some Justified, Spartacus: Blood and Sand and believe it or not I’m taking on the Jersey Shore before the new Miami season comes out. Thank you for using my blog to procrastinate at work, at home or even on the move for those of you with iAnythings. It’s going to be cold winter so settle in for some fiery hot rants about the TV I watch so you don’t have to.

Sincerely,

The Rizzle J.Tizzle

Film Night: Judge Dredd

10 Jul

In Mega City, the law is only enforced by officers with engorged chins

Sylvester Stallone…

That’s all I needed to know when I encountered Judge Dredd. The title sequence with it’s need to make the audience aware of the fact it was an adaptation by showing a whole bunch of old Judge Dredd comic book covers on screen seemed a little bit redundant but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to this low budget action schlock. For every reason I could hate this film, there were several to make me enjoy it. If you want a B grade sci fi/action movie then you probably won’t get much better enjoyment than this. It has evil plots, some awesome armor, cheesy special effects and character, that’s right I said it.

There isn’t anything particularly special about the plot of Judge Dredd and there are some things to be said about the use of slow motion in to his film (the D.O.P mustn’t have known about increasing frames per second because that slow-mo was sooooo stagnent) but here is a general summary anyway.

James Earl Jones opens the film with his awesome voice over and we discover that the people of Mega City live in some pretty close quarters which make it hard to manage crime. So in all the government’s wisdom they install Judges to be judge, jury and executioner. This works for them ok until they have to put their own Judges on trial of course. After being generally bad ass and stopping a “block war” between two appartment buildings, Dredd gets framed for the murder of two civilians (one of whom is involved with the media).

After that shiz goes down, Dredd gets a life sentence and is stripped of his rank, his badge and his guns. On the transport ship to Aspen (which is a prison in the future, not a ski resort) he runs into Herman who he judged just before he was judge himself. Oh the delicious irony, not only are they both wrongfully imprisoned but they happen to be on the same shuttle AND sitting next to eachother. You won’t find better irony anywhere.

Naturally these two are stuck together for the rest of the film, destined to right the wrongs done to them by a corrupt system with the help of Judge Hershey. Through his journey Dredd learns valuable lessons about friendship, emotions, ethics and the pitfalls of cloning supermen to enforce the law. Rico is unfortunately the weakest point as the core villian of the piece. Though Dredd fighting his only brother who has devoted himself to chaos is awesome from a plot point of view but his motives aren’t as solid as they could be and he doesn’t really have any long term goals after he destroys the Judges. The fundementals of a good villian are there but unleashing free thinking supermen on the world that he wouldn’t really be able to control? Rico, you aren’t using your brain…

Stallone really embraces this role, which is to his credit because really he could get a film with a lot more production value than this and still be lousy. He made me feel as though he was the right square jaw for the job, not because he hammed up his performance but because he played it straight and with integrity. Finally a movie that makes use of his deficiancy in the area of showing emotion. Rob Schnieder didn’t seem like he belonged there at all as the comic relief until he demonstrated that he could play off Stallone quite well. Schnieder mightn’t be a star player but he has delivered far worse performances than can found in Judge Dredd and as a supporting role he is able to hold his ground.

The real surprise for me was how naturally Diane Lane played Judge Hershey, for her it seemed that it wasn’t about taking the spotlight from Stallone and just did her thing which worked in the favor of this film. I personally really liked how they didn’t push the love interest angle that much and just let Judge Dredd be who he is without ruining it with a need to explore the emotion love. That’s just not what he’s about and I’m glad they made sure it stayed that way. He’s an emotionally defunct super human obsessed with enforcing the law, what more could you want in a hero?

I haven’t read the comics and don’t have any real background into the workings of the world of Megacity or how it is represented in the film but the end product on face value was an enjoyable yet cliched action adventure. I could definately go as far as to recommend it but a technical achievement this is not, the sets lazily rip off Blade Runner and there isn’t nearly as much atmosphere in this world as there could have been.

 Therefore Judge Dredd shall henceforth be deemed…

GUILTY PLEASURE

You’ve been officially judged Dredd.

New Rating System

10 Jul

My commandments are a little more open source

Dear Bloggers,

For those of you that enjoy the reviews here, from now on there will be a rating attached to each of my reviews. Now before you start complaining about how star ratings ruin the experience of reading a written review hear me out.

Attached to each review will be a ranking of either “guitly” for a bad review, “guilty pleasure” for a reasonable effort and “pleasure” for something I could recommend.

If you have any problem with the way this will effect your experience feel free to send abusive comments my way.

Sincerely,

The Rizzle J.Tizzle

Film Night: New Moon

9 Jul

They can actually smile, so why don't they in the movie?

What can you do to review anything related to Twilight when it’s become so big already and the target audience already have the DVD by now? The answer is to simply ignore the buzz and take the film on face value. I decided that with Eclipse coming out that now was the time to suck up my pride and go outside of my comfort zone for the cause of my reviews.

Where else could I go but the places I felt a resistance towards the most? Shiny vampires…

There is a wealth of material for the scoffing cynic to chew on if you take a good look, but that would take the fun out of the story (I kid, it’s the best part). This film was actually better in many ways than its predecessor. Aside from the first part of the opening scene, I could figure out exactly what was going on and why for the majority of the film. Now that isn’t because I’m drawn into the story that much, come on I have a rep to maintain. Having no prior knowledge of the story from the books or internet spoilers, I genuinely thought that maybe Jacob could win out and Edward would earn Bella back in the next movie but I was wrong (as usual, the more interesting way to drive the plot is ignored). This was a character driven piece with a star that acted like driftwood. I’m sorry Kristen Stewart, you’re hot but you know you can do better than this. None the less it attempted to show how Bella changed as a result of Edward leaving her to fend for herself.

In case you were wondering the results aren’t good, especially if you happen to be somebody that actually cares about her. I’m glad her Dad decided to put his foot down because if I had to deal with a housemate with emotional night terrors for three months, I’d consider drastic measures too. Bella starts being a little bit of a drama queen, and that would be ok if she had some other character traits but she doesn’t. The strongest performance came from Jacob, which isn’t saying much at all with a few scenes stolen by the side characters (Jacob’s Dad: “My kung fu is strong” for the win) which is a plus considering that Edward is absent for… almost the entire film. I’m sure that some won’t be disappointed that this movie is carried by abs, lots and lots of abs. Edward’s smoky visions popping up now and again sure didn’t help Bella stay out of trouble. In fact, is anybody else noticing that she seems to be the cause of a lot of problems but is completely ok with it? Edward leaves in order to protect her after some shiz goes down at her birthday dinner. Come on guys, you can’t seriously expect some viewers to believe throwing Bella through a table was going to help the situation. So what does she do? She decides to get into more trouble to lure him back. The selfish bitch…

I’d go as far as to say the movie is a smidge sexist underneath the skin but with Bella being such a manipulative bitch, I actually am not surprised that she won’t drive her own car if a man can do it for her. The whole time she’s having a mope about Edward, she’s actually playing everyone else for chumps. Whether it’s Jacob, her school friends or even Edward, she’s secretly exploiting them all just because she can. This is what aggravated me most about this particular movie, the main character suddenly becomes a giant douche and we’re still expected to care when she’s in danger. Wake up Jacob, the bitch be crazy! Bella’s got serious self esteem issues if she imagines that the only way she’ll get any attention from a man is if she’s in mortal peril. This ain’t the middle ages girl.

The relationship between Jacob and Bella added a much needed change of pace from all the emotional brooding. I almost forgot that she isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Having a little more insight into the werewolves and where they fit was a good move in terms of framing the story, though many of the action sequences managed to disappoint. Very little was at stake and the tension just wasn’t there. Only two people were killed on screen that mattered and even then they were only minor roles. The culture of the werewolves was explained very superficially and I had hoped there would be more, maybe there will be more in the next instalment but I have doubts.

Victoria motives for killing Bella were a tad sketchy at times, until it is revealed that Edward does actually care (of course, he wouldn’t just run off to Italy when he can stay in a hick town). But wouldn’t you think she’d be a little more effective, made me think that her heart just wasn’t in it. Revenge is a dish served cold, not luke warm without any particular commitment to achieving it. You can kill a werewolf chief in two seconds but you can’t kill a teenager that is trying to kill herself anyway? If she comes back for Eclipse she’d better have a little more gumption. The comparison of vampires’ and werewolves’ isn’t exactly very clear in this film which better sets up the possibility (more so, inevitability) of a struggle between them. If there is going to be any hope for this franchise picking up a male audience who don’t see it for the shirtless manservice, there gots to be some more Vampire vs. Werewolf throwdowns.

Towards the end of the film Bella manages to somehow run into Alice at the Cullen house and then finds out that Edward is beside himself with angsty sadness, believing that Bella is dead. Jacob worked his arse off to hit that only to have the grass cut from under him when he made serious headway. Bella goes to Italy to go find him, navigating here way through a festival full of people to tackle Edward before he shows off his shiny shiny self to the world. A little girl notices but nobody listens to kids. After that ordeal, the couple find themselves on their way to consult with the elder vampire, which requires a trip down in their haunted elevator with terrible music. It’s nice to have a change of scenery but there really isn’t much story told in this location. The sets were well designed and gave the Elders a more regal feel but I just couldn’t shake this Da Vinci Code vibe I was getting.

The soundtrack had a lot to be desired since the majority of it was simply for the benefit of the target audience. Sad sounding pop tunes droned through the entire film and when there were orchestrations they did not add much in the vein of creating a feel for the scene. More often than not some interesting looking stuff gets ruined by the soundtrack… and then the acting.

I laughed a little when the Elder vampire tried to read Bella but couldn’t find anything. Perhaps he’s the only character to uncover that there really isn’t much there. But I digress, after a bit of reading the future everyone is allowed to return home as long as Bella becomes a vampire fairly soon. They didn’t give an exact time limit on it but you can guess that in the next film it’ll be a major concern.

The only way I could perceive myself being able to review this film was to enter without any expectations whatsoever in order to remain entirely objective, and even in that I failed. As I mentioned before, I did not struggle to follow what was going on since a lot of the screen time was devoted to Bella and her feelings which were fairly well established after the first half hour let alone the rest. As I chose to ignore those facts, it was surprisingly easy to watch running at just over two hours which is quite a feat considering the subject matter. Compared the last film which felt as though it was shot as a music video, the plot really wasn’t all that disappointing. Despite not all that much more happening than the original, there was at least some potential for growth (even if that means many factors have room to improve).

The melodramatic ending to the piece made me scoff just a bit but considering the amount of pining those two do without each other it was only a matter of time before Bella and Edward would talk about getting married. Given the experience, it wasn’t as though it didn’t fit the genre despite being a little tacked on and entirely predictable in the progression of things. Poor Jacob gets stiffed after doing all of the work the entire film (that includes the acting AND man candy) but who cares right? Edward’s back! Huzzah…

In conclusion all I can say about New Moon is this. If you are to enjoy it in any way then you will need to bring your sense of humour because it’s a bumpy ride to the end. Mock early and mock often.

Film Night: Legend

9 Jul

I'd be mad too if I had that little screen time

The problem I had with Legend wasn’t the sets or the creatures or the characters, twee as they were( I’m looking at you princess) but the affair turned out to be an utter mess. And not deliberately.

Legend is the tale of a mystical land which is currently doing alright for itself, until peace and harmony is threatened by the demon named Darkness (I had to look that up because the movie was quite vague about it). All he wants is to make sure the sun doesn’t rise again so he can go out and do what he would normally do anyway. Either he’s not a morning person or he just doesn’t like natural light which doesn’t really come off as that evil when  considering I know many people with an aversion to it. Many of the inhabitants of this land seem to enjoy frolicing in the sunlight with unicorns and pixies so you can see where the conflict of interest would arise in this situation.

After Darkness decides the best way to end daylight forever is to kill some unicorns, his minions go out and find one in the forest. I did appreciate that the unicorns bait was innocence, really playing with the fairy tale genre but that was as far as I was prepared to go with my suspension of disbelief. The princess being a flirty tart manages to convince Jack to let her see the unicorns, which he didn’t really want to do but he loves her. This causes some problems, since the unicorns are ambushed but fortunately only one of them is killed. The goblins commence dicking about with the magic unicorn horn, the leader thinking that with the magic he can use it to defeat darkness and start running  shiz himself. He is promptly proven wrong soon enough. The other goblins get a lecture for not doing a good enough job and go after the other unicorn.

After this point the plot gets particularly hazy since most of the middle plot connects very well with what their quest actually is… which is actually pretty vague. Is is save the unicorns? Maybe, but most of the action derrives from Jack’s attempts to get princess Lili back. Jack gets a pretty raw deal considering it’s Lili’s fault the unicorns were captured in the first place, scolded and having his loyalties called into question he admits that it was for love. Fortunately for Jack in the magical kingdom where they live, love trumps high treason.

If only it were that simple in real life.

Fantasy written for children is best taken with a grain of salt but this example simply baffles me as to how much the script can be paired down in order to suit the target audience. The princess to me was the least likable of the characters because when she wasn’t being sickly sweet and naive she was just an annoyance when she pretended to be evil. Tom Cruise looked the part but was hardly challenged in this role, which to his credit he played a forest boy to the best of his ability. Tim Curry was indeed the most well formed character and yet he somehow managed to get the bare minimum of screen time, which is a pity considering just how much effort went into his costume design. At least you understood his motives.

After Lili is captured, Darkness tries to seduce her and seems to eventually succeed as all great villians do in these films. If it wasn’t for Lili turning evil I wouldn’t have payed very much attention until the end of the film, here was I thinking ‘good for her, now she might some other characteristics’ but unfortunately she was just using the pretence to serve her own purposes as usual. Why couldn’t she just have frailties aside from selfishness? She was under a spell, they could have just went with that to explain her actions.

When discovering Lili under a spell, Jack has to make a moral choice in order to save the unicorns or the woman he loves. Even though the outcome was entirely predictable it gave me a little hope in the vein of some plot peering out of the pretty sets and visual effects (glitter is apparently a special effect). The duel between Jack and Darkness was particularly disappointing action wise but there really isn’t all that much you can do with a sword fight when one of the actors is terribly top heavy. I felt that this part should have been longer and Darkness could easily have done some serious “come to the dark side” tempting to bolster Jack’s undeniable courage and purity etc but alas it was an opportunity lost. Darkness appeals to his father for help and yet recieves no heed from the devil himself. A little more clever dialogue here couldn’t have hurt but that could be said about the whole film.

This film was definately a visual spectacle if anything, since the characters and story really didn’t engage me as much as it could have. It had so much potential to be a classic of it’s genre but got bogged down in creating imagery that rarely added to the story. Some may say that I’m being too harsh, that it’s just a kid’s movie made in the 80’s so I should back off. To them I offer these words. With The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth being released only a few years earlier than Legend, one starts to think this was merely a knock off of Jim Henson’s creations (Dark Crystal was vague but not like this!) with the sole aim of attaining some quick dollar dollar bill. Ridley Scott has offered far better than this before Legend‘s release and continued to do so after, which adds to the legitimacy of my grab for cash theory.

In closing, I would say that if you are looking for nostalgia you will find plenty of it here, but if you didn’t grow up with this hackneyed tale of adventure it should be given a miss. Even if you did grow up with it, Legend should only be watched when there’s nothing better to do or you’re terribly ill and looking for some kind of familiar comfort because that is about all it can realistically offer. If you can’t handle that then I’m sorry you wasted your childhood memories on such a unfortunately constucted film that just wanted to make a buck.