The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: How Do You Screw This Up? – Rental Review (Day 10)

I take a look at a movie that genuinely shouldn’t have been able to fail, but did.

SUMMARY

A century before it was time to party like it’s 1999, a terrorist named the Fantom (Richard Roxburgh) commits crimes in both Britain and Germany implying each time to be working for the other country. This brings the world to the brink of all-out war (despite the fact that in 1899 Britain and Germany were still military allies). The British Empire tries to recruit adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), who refuses until assassins attempt to kill him and end up killing one of his longtime friends. In London, Quatermain meets M, the head of British intelligence, who reveals that the Fantom plans to bomb the peace talks that are set to occur in Venice. This will apparently start a World War, despite, again, the fact that both sides have agreed that the Fantom is behind it and that both sides have been openly attacked by him. This premise is dumb, is what I’m saying.

Sean Connery, seen putting his career out of its misery.

To combat the Fantom, M plans to resurrect a former special ops team, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This generation will consist of Quatermain, Indian engineer Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dracula’s sire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and invisible thief Skinner (Tony Curran). While attempting to recruit the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the team is attacked by the Fantom and saved by the intervention of US Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). The group then manages to capture Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) whose counterpart, Dr. Jekyll, joins the League in exchange for amnesty. The group travels to Venice to stop the Fantom, but don’t find the bombs until it’s too late and a chain reaction starts to sink Venice under the sea. Sawyer uses a car and a homing missile to stop the reaction and save the peace talks.

Sawyer, who has never seen a car before, drives expertly.

It’s then revealed that Dorian Gray and M have been behind this entire affair in order to steal the secrets of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They plan to duplicate all of the powers of the members and sell them off to the highest bidder. They then bomb the Nautilus, but Hyde saves the submarine. It’s revealed that Skinner is onboard the ship Gray used to escape and is sending the coordinates to the Nautilus. The team arrives in Northern Mongolia and attacks M’s compound. Mina, who dated Dorian, kills him, while the rest of the team destroys the factory. M is revealed to be James Moriarity, arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, who kills Quatermain. Moriarity is then killed by Sawyer and the League’s secrets fall into a frozen river. The rest of the team bury Quatermain in Africa while mentioning that a shaman had decreed that Africa would never let him die. The shaman appears and the Earth shakes as a lightning bolt strikes Quatermain’s grave.

END SUMMARY

This movie should have been one of the easiest properties to make interesting. It deals with some of the most interesting literary figures which are now part of the public domain. Yet, somehow, this movie manages to alternate between being pointlessly convoluted and mind-numbingly boring. Even more upsetting, there are clearly the bones of a legitimately good movie buried in here somewhere under the mediocre action sequences and washed-out colors. So what would need to change for this movie to be done right?

Keep Kung-Fu Nemo, but maybe explain why he doesn’t use guns but is fine with missiles?

Well, part of it would be to at least try to think about actually adapting the comic series on which this movie was supposedly based. Granted, apparently the film was so close to another proposed script that Fox was sued over it, with the lawsuit claiming they bought the rights to the comic just so they could adapt the script without paying the authors. While that’s probably not true, the film does change a number of things for the worse. 

They lost the weird decor, for one.

First, it added Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer to the team, meaning that we now had seven main characters to try and follow, which just makes the film more convoluted and the characterization weaker. Second, the villain in this was stupid. He looks stupid, his plans are stupid, and the reveal that he’s supposed to be one of the smartest villains in literature, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, only makes everything else so much worse. Third, the series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like most of Alan Moore’s work, is deeply cynical. The main characters in the comics are mostly broken individuals: Mina, who is not a vampire, is a cold and calculating agent and the central character of the series; Quatermain is a drug addict; The Invisible Man is a rapist; Hyde is a psychopath;  and Nemo mostly just hates the British. Even Moriarity is revealed to actually just be working on behalf of the empire. This film lacks any of that dark edge, instead replacing it with literally dark filming. Last, the characters are too unbalanced. Mina, as a vampire, can literally take out an army. Hyde, since he’s fairly controllable in this, is essentially the Hulk. Nemo has rockets and GPS navigation (fun aside: The rockets make sense as Nemo’s uncle in the Verne works was the inventor of the two-stage rocket). Quatermain and Sawyer, the focus of the film, are basically the Hawkeye of this team, but without the quips.

In fairness, the original Hulk was based on Jekyll and Hyde.

Then there are the other things that have bothered me so much more on rewatch. Dracula takes place in the 1880s and 1890s, meaning that Mina, who apparently was turned into a vampire in this universe rather than being saved, has only been a vampire for a few years. Apparently she has since dumped her fiance and dated Gray, but the two act like it’s been forever since then. Also, the car. Nemo shows them the vehicle and says he calls it an “automobile” like he came up with the word. It’s 1899, we’ve had cars for over a decade. They’re not popular, but they’re certainly a thing that most people in a major city would have seen at this point.  That’s not even counting the steam powered models from the 1750s.

First electric car: 1899.

So, how do you make this movie better? First, you need to either tone down the powers on some of the characters or up the villain’s resources. Even after Moriarity supposedly has all of the powers of the team at his disposal, plus bulletproof troops with flamethrowers, and yet we only see a single invisible assassin (who is apparently an idiot), and a single super-Hyde, both of whom get killed in under two minutes. It always seems like the film has to go out of its way to try and slow down the plot points just so the situations aren’t instantly resolved by some of the characters. Either nerf the protagonists or give the villain something more interesting to work with. Second, either give the movie the cynical and grotesque at times edge of the comic or, alternatively, make it brighter and lighter and just more fun. This movie was forgettably generic because it tried to be superficially dark. Either be R-rated or be fun (or be Deadpool and do both), but don’t try to split the difference. Third, BE F**KING INTERESTING. So much of this movie is just dull conversations and long silences that don’t do anything to further the plot or deepen the characters. Seriously, how come no one is more interested in the vampire on board or the immortal or even how Tom Sawyer started working for the US Secret Service? I mean, the last Tom Sawyer story is Tom Sawyer, Detective, so it kind of makes sense, but I’m curious how he got to the point of international spy. But none of these are explored. 

Keep the SuperHyde, though. He was awesome.

Overall, this movie sucks, and I really hope that it gets remade, possibly as a TV show, because it had a solid premise.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ambiguity – Amazon Review (Day 9)

A former superhero actor puts his career back on track by reminding people that he’s a heck of an actor.

SUMMARY

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor and the former star of the Birdman superhero series in the 1990s. He has started to go insane and hears the voice of Birdman telling him how he’s wasting his potential in his current venture: writing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” with his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Riggan appears to display telekinesis and levitation superpowers, but only when alone. When a lighting fixture hits Riggan’s male co-star, Ralph (Jeremy Shamos), a day before previews are supposed to start, one of the leads, Lesley (Naomi Watts), recommends replacing him with her boyfriend, method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). 

Bit of a generation gap.

The previews go horribly. Mike wants to drink real alcohol during the show and gets into a fight with Riggan while onstage, while the next night Mike attempts to have sex with Lesley onstage despite her refusal and ends up showing his erection to the audience. When Mike does an interview with the New York Times and steals a story he heard from Riggan, Riggan attacks him and tries to fire him. Riggan’s lawyer and producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), convinces him to continue. Riggan’s daughter and assistant,  Sam (Emma Stone), who is fresh out of rehab, gets caught smoking pot by Riggan and proceeds to insult his entire life and ambition. She and Mike then start to flirt and eventually sleep together. 

When your daughter has a five-minute monologue to attack you with, that’s bad.

During the last preview, Riggan gets locked out of the theater in his underwear and walks through Times Square, becoming a viral sensation. Riggan goes for a drink and encounters critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), who tells him that she hates Hollywood celebrities pretending to be real actors and promises to kill his play. Riggan then insults her and claims she’s just biased. Riggan then gets drunk and passes out on a stoop. While heading back to the theatre, Birdman appears to him and tries to convince Riggan to do another Birdman movie because audiences love spectacle and will praise him as long as there are big action scenes. Riggan flies to the theatre… or takes a cab, maybe.

Okay, I admit that I would see this movie.

On opening night, Riggan gives a command performance and apologizes to his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) for his behavior during their marriage, admitting that he tried to kill himself once out of guilt. As Sylvia wishes him luck, Riggan grabs a real gun and does the final scene in which his character kills himself, shooting himself in the head to applause. Riggan wakes up the next day in the hospital with a new nose and a glowing review from Tabitha, who claims Riggan’s suicide to be “super-realism.” Sam visits with flowers and new respect and love for her father. Riggan goes to the bathroom and tells Birdman goodbye before climbing out on a ledge to watch the birds. When Sam comes into the room, she runs to the window and looks down to see Riggan’s body, but then, confused, looks up and smiles at something she sees.

END SUMMARY

When I saw that the prompt was “Film with Great Cinematography,” I immediately knew that it had to be this movie. Not only are almost all of the shots in this film perfectly constructed, but the film itself is designed to seem like it’s mostly only a single take. It serves as a way to give the experience a feel more akin to a theatrical performance. While there are a few visible cuts, they roughly correspond to the “dream sequences” that apparently Riggan worked into the stage production. The single shot nature of the film is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rope, which used a number of long-cuts and editing tricks to disguise the fact that the movie was shot on reels that could only hold 10 minutes of film at a time. While Rope is depicted as taking place mostly in real-time, Birdman instead uses transitions between parts of the theater or the city to move us forward in time, often connecting the shots thematically. 

Such beautiful framing even in seemingly unimportant scenes.

Similar to a play, too, the film will often focus on interactions between side characters, such as Lesley and Laura or Mike and Sam, in order to allow for Riggan’s story to move forward. Some of those scenes, while they are interesting and well-performed, often wind up reminding me more of a Shakespearean monologue crafted to buy an actor time for a costume change. They end up seeming even more blatant on re-watch when you realize that many of these side stories have no real resolution. Laura and Lesley begin to seemingly find an attraction to each other, but nothing further comes of it. Mike has no character arc and his relationship with Sam doesn’t move anything forward for either of them, aside from setting up the scene of Riggan getting locked out of the theatre. This makes the movie feel like everyone really exists to support Riggan’s story, which is exactly what his daughter accuses him of believing.

Jake makes stuff go away, somehow.

Keaton was really the perfect pick for this and, honestly, I can’t imagine it working with anyone else. Riggan Thomson is a thinly-veiled substitute for Keaton and Birdman for Batman. I was shocked to find out that this movie was in production without Keaton in mind at first. Riggan, like Keaton, is a great actor whose career suffered due to being typecast as a superhero. Despite the fact that superhero films are no longer treated as complete popcorn fare, with some getting critical acclaim or even Oscar wins, Riggan still hasn’t been allowed back in bigger dramatic roles. Birdman seems to represent Riggan’s love of celebrity, wanting Riggan to abandon his dreams of “real acting” and instead focus on spectacle. 

Which is what we see him constantly imagine, amidst a ton of flashy ads for plays.

The characters in the film tend to try and draw a distinction between spectacle films and real dramatic acting. Birdman even delivers a monologue directly into the camera during a fake action sequence, saying “[the audience members] love this shit. They love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” When Tabitha tells Riggan that she intends to close his play, she describes it as being because she hates what he represents, film actors trying to appear on Broadway. Without any regard to whether or not Riggan actually can act, the fact that he once appeared in a popcorn film disqualifies him from any claim to actual artistry. This actually works even better under the final cast, because most of the leads in the film had all appeared in superhero/comic films (Norton – The Incredible Hulk; Keaton – Batman; Emma Stone – The Amazing Spider-Man; Naomi Watts – Tank Girl) and yet all of them give command performances in this film. Despite pointing out that studios will often conflate art with spectacle (they aren’t mutually exclusive, though), the film makes a point of showing that actors can do both. 

These men have range.

Overall, this movie is a masterpiece. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Rent, steal, whatever you need to do.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Alien: Still Terrifying after 40 years – HBO Max Review (Day 8)

I take a look at a film that, surprisingly, passes the Bechdel Test.

SUMMARY

There’s an alien. Or maybe the humans are the aliens, since they’re on another planet. But there’s more than one human, so the alien is probably the alien.

ACTUAL SUMMARY

In the future, the spaceship Nostromo is on a return trip to Earth when the ship’s AI, Mother (Helen Horton), detects a distress signal on the moon LV-426. The computer awakens the seven crew members: Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Engineers Parker and Brett (Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton). Weyland-Yutani (here Weylan-Yutani), the company that owns the Nostromo, has a policy to investigate any distress signal. They land on the moon and discover that the signal comes from a broken-down alien ship. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert head to investigate. Ripley deciphers the message enough to determine it’s a warning, but can’t tell any of the three due to interference. 

You can tell they’re astronauts because they have space-undies.

Kane discovers a chamber filled with hundreds of eggs and is attacked by a creature which hugs his face. They probably call it a visage-grabber. Dallas and Lambert take Kane back to the Nostromo, but Ripley refuses to let them back inside. Ash overrides her and tries to remove the creature from Kane’s face, discovering its blood is a powerful acid. The creature later detaches from Kane on its own and dies, leaving Kane seemingly unharmed… until a separate monster bursts out of his chest. The small monster escapes into the ship. The crew try to find it but fail, until the now human-sized creature attacks Brett and kills him. They realize that the creature must be living in the air ducts. Dallas goes in to try and drive the alien to the airlock, but is ambushed by the monster. Lambert wants to abandon ship but Ripley says that the escape shuttle can’t support all of the remaining crew members. She takes charge and sets about trying to flush the alien out of the ship.

Kane is not feeling great at this point.

While dealing with Mother, Ripley finds out that there’s a secret order for Ash to bring the alien back alive and that the crew is now expendable. Ash attempts to kill her and is revealed to be an android when Parker attacks him. Ash’s head is reactivated and he acknowledges that he had been assigned to protect the creature. Now that there are only three people, the remaining crew can survive on the shuttle, so they decide to self-destruct the Nostromo. As Parker and Lambert try to gather supplies, they’re both killed by the alien. Ripley tries to get to the shuttle with her cat Jones, but the alien blocks her path. She tries to abort the self-destruct, but fails, and she barely makes it onto the shuttle. As Ripley tries to go into stasis, she sees the alien is on the shuttle. She puts on a space suit and manipulates it with gas sprays until she blows it out of an airlock. The alien holds onto the engine and Ripley activates the burners to destroy it. She and Jones go into stasis while she enters her final log. 

END SUMMARY

The prompt for this was suggested as “A movie that passes the Bechdel Test.” For those who haven’t heard of that before, the test was created by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It was a rule proposed by a woman in the strip that the only movies that she sees must satisfy three requirements: 

  1. The film must have two women in it.
  2. The women must talk to each other.
  3. They have to talk about something that isn’t a man.

Despite how low this bar is, studies show that fewer than one in three Hollywood films can meet it. I decided to pick a movie that people probably wouldn’t think of as passing the Bechdel Test… only for me to realize when writing this that Alien was, in fact, the example Alison Bechdel used in the comic strip. Oh, well, any excuse to rewatch this movie is a good one.

Lambert and Ridley talk about more than that.

While I don’t usually do content warnings, because if you saw the movie you clearly know what kind of stuff will be discussed, I should warn you that a bit of this review will address sexual assault. You’ve been warned.

Part of what makes this film great is how it subverts the sci-fi and horror tropes of the 1960s and ‘70s. A big one is that none of the women in the movie are made into sex objects. Instead, the closest thing we have is Kane being attacked by the facehugger. Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon have never been particularly shy about saying that the film heavily tries to attack men with sexuality. Kane has a phallic rod shoved down his throat, is impregnated, and gives birth all non-consensually. In short, this is a film in which a man has to deal with the kind of sexual victimization that women usually had to deal with. Additionally, the alien was famously designed by H.R. Giger, an artist who specializes in terrifying sexual images. Its head is phallic and its tongue shoots out to attack its prey with another mouth. Freud would have a field day with this film. The “Director’s Cut” goes even further, showing that the alien, rather than killing Brett and Dallas, has instead abducted them and is turning them into eggs, apparently continuing the life cycle by more forced birth. This movie has a lot of rape undertones aimed at men, is what I’m saying. However, they’re not the sole victims, as Lambert’s death, while offscreen, is preceded by an image of the alien’s bladed tail rising between her legs, but maybe I’m reading too much into that one.

I’ve had at least one woman describe giving birth with this scene.

The alien is one of the most instantly iconic horror movie monsters. While fans have adopted the name “Xenomorph,” a term used in the sequel to denote any alien organism, the creature is not named in this movie. It’s best described as distinctly humanoid but never approaching human. Unlike most movie monsters at that point which usually resembled a combination of animal traits, it was intended to have a biomechanical appearance that blends into the spaceship. It is capable of being almost unnaturally still, something which allows it to be in the background of shots for long periods of time without being noticed by either the characters or the audience. It’s probably most memorable for its face. It doesn’t have any eyes, but has a large mouth which contains a second smaller mouth attached to the tip of its tongue. It tends to attack by penetrating its victims with the tongue, often through the head, similar to how cattle are killed by a captive bolt gun (featured in No Country for Old Men). Also, it bleeds acid, so attempting to hurt it, particularly on a spaceship where it can bleed through the hull, will almost certainly guarantee your death. Everything about it is designed to be deadly and unnerving. Here’s the first time it’s on screen:

Anyone who has read this blog has probably heard me defend Ellen Ripley as not only the greatest female action hero, but the best action hero period. I listed her as the most bad-ass mother in film (tied with Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise), but a lot of her more notably action-oriented accomplishments are from the second Alien film. However, in both movies, Ripley’s greatest strength is that she’s almost always right. Her greatest weakness is that, as a woman, most of the men in the films tend to ignore what she says. In this movie, she suggests that they decipher the signal before checking it out, but Dallas overrules her. When Kane is attacked, they try to bring him back on board and Ripley refuses, citing quarantine protocol. She’s permitted to override Dallas in this situation, but Ash violates it anyway. When confronted by the alien on the shuttle, she methodically figures out how to get rid of it despite the fact that it is almost unstoppable. In the sequel, when asked for advice about what to do with the colony located on LV-426, she advises they destroy it from orbit. Ripley’s cool head stands in stark contrast to the typically panicky final girl in horror films. 

Even when dealing with a monster and the vacuum of space, she survives.

Overall, this movie holds up just so well. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. If you’ve got a friend who hasn’t seen it, let them know they’re in for a treat.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Hitch-Hiker: Ida Lupino’s Noir Masterpiece – Free on YouTube (Day 7)

I take a look at the first horror movie directed by a woman.

Okay, here’s the film in its entirety if you want to watch it:

SUMMARY

A man is seen killing multiple people who pick him up on the side of the road. At the same time, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) are two friends heading to Mexico on a fishing trip. Near the Mexican border, they pick up a man named Emmett Myers (William Talman) whose car has run out of gas. Myers quickly reveals himself to be a psychopathic serial killer when he pulls a gun on the pair and hijacks the car. He gets the pair to drive him into Mexico. Myers constantly monitors the radio broadcast of the authorities tracking him. At night, he sleeps with one eye open constantly, making it impossible for the pair to know when he is awake or asleep. 

THEY DENIED AN INCREASE IN COMMUTER FARES!!!!

The longer they drive, the more insane and paranoid that Myers starts to become. As Myers doesn’t speak Spanish, every time they stop he has to keep a gun trained on the bilingual Bowen. The pair keep attempting various tactics to escape, including sabotaging the car and leaving clues about their identities at the scenes of several stops, but Myers’ unrelenting gaze keeps them from getting further away. At almost every opportunity, Myers tries to torment the pair psychologically, never allowing them a respite. He mocks their friendship, saying that if they each tried to make it on their own, one of them would get away. 

Is he asleep? You’ll never know.

Throughout the film, law enforcement starts to pick up on the trail and the clues left by the two men. Eventually, when the three arrive in the Baja Peninsula, Myers forces Collins to switch clothes with him to try and disguise himself. Upon finding out that the ferry he was looking for was destroyed, Myers tries to rent a fishing boat, but the locals discover Myers is a wanted man and alert the authorities. Myers tries to resist, but is revealed to be a coward when confronted by the police. He’s taken into custody and the two friends agree to give a statement before heading home.

END SUMMARY

This is typically regarded as the first noir film made by a woman and, although it wasn’t considered part of the horror genre at the time, it definitely fits under the modern horror umbrella. It was directed by Ida Lupino, the only woman to ever direct episodes of the original Twilight Zone, as well as the only director to ever act in the same episode. Originally an actress, Lupino kept getting into fights with Jack Warner (of the Warner Brothers) and got suspended by the studio, so she started studying directing. Given that, at the time, the only working female director in Hollywood was Dorothy Arzner, even considering directing films was a bold statement.

She was good enough to direct The Twilight Zone. ‘Nuff said.

This movie is a rare case in which the opening saying that it is based off of a true story is not a wild exaggeration. The film was based on the real-life story of Billy Cook, a drifter who killed six people on a spree. He encountered all of his victims while hitchhiking. He then kidnapped two men who were going on a hunting trip and forced them to drive to Santa Rosalia, Mexico, where he was recognized and apprehended. While there appears to be no indication that Cook had near the level of sophistication of his on-screen counterpart, that’s still closer than most adaptations of true crime stories. The number of victims was reduced to three in order to satisfy the Hays Office, the US’s censorship organization.

To counter that, they gave the film one a bigger gun.

The key to this movie is the tension. In a stark contrast to most film noir of the 1940s and 50s, this movie doesn’t take place in an urban setting, but instead in a wide-open landscape. Most of it is the desert of the US-Mexico border. This massive desolate area forces the main characters to be inside of the car at all times, giving it a horrible claustrophobic feeling. We first see Myers pull the gun only about 7 minutes into the film. From that time, the protagonists are almost always under his watchful eye, with him trying to torment them into submission. Myers’ mental state slowly deteriorates as the film progresses, making him even less rational and more dangerous. The moments we see the investigation tracking Myers are the only respite and hope we get, but it also makes it clear that Myers is likely to kill at any provocation.

When he first appears, he emerges from the darkness.

Aside from the beautiful cinematography and great use of landscape, the thing that makes Lupino’s work stand out is that she constantly makes you aware of how each of the characters feels at any time, something that wasn’t common among the hardboiled leads in film noir. She focuses heavily on the eyes, especially on Myers’ wild gaze and single unblinking eye. However, the two protagonists are constantly shown worrying for each other’s safety as well as the safety of the bystanders who get dragged into the situation. When a small girl tries to hug Myers, we see the panic and dread in their eyes. 

Saving a girl’s life, and she’ll never even know.

Overall, this is a great work of film noir, but it’s more emotionally honest than most US works at the time. It’s public domain, so I would recommend giving it a watch.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Do The Right Thing: Fight the Power- Peacock Review (Day 6)

Spike Lee’s masterpiece manages to stay relevant for over 30 years.

SUMMARY

It’s the middle of a heat wave in Bedford-Stuyvesant and everyone around the neighborhood seems to be going a little overboard. At multiple points of the movie, we see characters expressing their “inner voice” to the camera. Local highlights include: Radio DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson); friendly one-liner quoting drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); wandering boombox enthusiast Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn); local horndog Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito); neighborhood watchdog Mother Sister (Ruby Dee); mentally disabled man Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith); and then there’s Mookie.

Fun fact: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who flirt and fight throughout the movie, were married.

Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man for neighborhood pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello). Mookie lives with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and has a baby with his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez). Mookie frequently fights with Sal’s racist son Pino (John Turturro), but is friends with Sal’s other son Vito (Richard Edson). Sal, an Italian-American, gets into a fight with Buggin’ Out over the fact that Sal puts famous Italian-Americans on the pizza wall, but not African-Americans. Mookie tells Buggin’ Out to just stay away for a while, but Buggin’ Out points out that since this is a black neighborhood, Sal should honor some black people. Meanwhile, in order to deal with the heat and the blackouts, local residents Ahmad (Steve White) and Cee (Martin Lawrence) open a fire hydrant. Some of the teens use the water to soak a local man until the police shut down the party and the hydrant. 

Mookie doesn’t have time for your crap.

Mookie and Pino get into a fight over the fact that Pino keeps using the “N word” despite idolizing black people. After Mookie leaves, Pino asks Sal to sell the pizzeria and move to an Italian-American neighborhood, but Sal insists that this is the only place where they can make money and that he likes the neighborhood. When Buggin’ Out tries to start a boycott of Sal’s to get a black figure on Sal’s wall, the neighborhood uniformly defends Sal’s, so Buggin’ Out is the only person boycotting. Jade and Sal have a conversation, leading Mookie to believe Sal wants to hit on her and he tells both parties not to associate. 

Danny Aiello is pretty charming.

Later that evening, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin’ Out come into Sal’s as it’s closing and try to demand black people be on the wall, calling Sal and sons “Guinea Bastards.” Sal, angry, calls Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out the “N word” and smashes Radio Raheem’s boombox. Raheem attacks Sal and soon a brawl erupts into the street. The police arrive and arrest Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, but not Sal. In the process, one of the officers, despite the crowd telling him to stop, chokes Radio Raheem to death. The officers then put Raheem’s corpse in the car and leave. A mob starts to direct their anger at the police, but with them gone, they direct their anger at Sal and his sons. Mookie walks away from Sal as Da Mayor tries to convince the crowd that it wasn’t Sal’s fault. Realizing that violence is imminent, Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window, leading the crowd to attack the restaurant as Da Mayor gets Sal, Vito, and Pino out of the way. Smiley sets the building on fire and firefighters arrive to put it out. They quickly turn the hoses on the crowd, leading to more fights and arrests. 

The broken window of mercy.

The next day, Mookie goes to see Sal and asks for his money. The two have a tense interaction, but end up reconciling somewhat. Mookie walks back as another hot day begins and Love Daddy tells everyone to register to vote. The film ends with a pair of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the nature of violence and a photo of the two leaders together, the same photo Smiley was selling throughout the film. 

END SUMMARY

The prompt for this film was “Best Film Soundtrack (No Musicals).” My first thought was Purple Rain, because that soundtrack is amazing, but then I decided I wanted to eliminate movies where the musician starred in the film, because that seemed too close to a musical. Then I was caught between this film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Top Gun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a half-dozen others. I picked this movie because out of all of the movies, I think this one has stayed the most relevant. 

Granted, Prince is never NOT relevant.

The soundtrack to this film, much like Reservoir Dogs, is typically music that the characters are actually hearing, rather than just the audience. The music is almost entirely played by either Radio Raheem’s boombox or by DJ Love Daddy. The only times in which the music is entirely internal seem to be when the characters are directly addressing the audience. The central song in the film which is played both during Rosie Perez’s extremely powerful and energetic dance during the opening theme, and at almost every time that Radio Raheem is in the film, is “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. The song is, as you would think, an anthem dedicated to empowering black Americans and trying to rebel against the dominance of white culture and subservient images of black heroes. Public Enemy wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee and it ended up being one of the band’s biggest hits. The rest of the soundtrack intentionally includes songs that are particular to the scene, but were not major hits. Part of the reason is that DJ Love Daddy ran a small local station and probably only could afford independent music, and part of it is that it better showcased underground music. After being featured in the movie, several songs, including “My Fantasy” by Teddy Riley and Guy, shot up the Hot R&B Singles charts, with “My Fantasy” hitting number 1. There’s a great variety in the soundtrack, ranging from gospel to Latin to R&B, which is in part because it is ostensibly a variety radio lineup. The score for the film was composed by Spike Lee’s father and is a blend of Jazz, Classical, and R&B.

One of the film’s strengths comes from the variety of characters featured. The story isn’t really as much about Mookie or any single character as it is about this neighborhood. Most of the recurring characters don’t have real names, only sobriquets, because that’s how they know each other. The audience is treated as if it’s just another person in Bed-Stuy. Because of that, we’re given a heavy dose of honesty from the various people around, including the famous scene of many of the characters directly stating which race they hate the most. 

Lots of personalities.

Throughout the film, tempers flare as the temperature rises. The temperature is one of the most brilliant parts of the film because it simultaneously functions literally and as a metaphor for racial tension. When the characters are feeling the heat or deal with racial issues, they start sweating more profusely, the lens becomes a little more fish-eye, and the dutch angles start to take over, indicating unease or tension. It’s heavily used in the scene in which Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out confront Sal, pushing him over the edge until he finally responds with slurs and breaking Radio Raheem’s boombox. Was it the heat or the pressure that finally causes Sal to snap and Raheem to snap in turn? 

Just a bit off-kilter.

The death of Radio Raheem is a large part of why I selected this film. Radio Raheem is needlessly choked to death by a police officer over attacking a man who had just destroyed his property. Raheem had confronted and harassed Sal in his place of business, but Sal destroyed the most important piece of property which Raheem owned, something which was tied directly to his identity. Raheem doesn’t even say “my boombox,” he says “my music” when confronting Sal, because being accompanied by music was part of who he is. However, when the police arrive, they don’t touch Sal or Pino or Vito, but they kill Radio Raheem. We’re required to watch the entire thing as multiple characters are yelling at the officers and saying that they’re killing him, including the officer’s partner. We’re even shown that the officer pulls Raheem literally off the ground as he chokes the life out of him. When he falls to the ground dead, what is the first response? The police yell at his corpse and kick it, telling him to quit faking. The police then get the hell out of there and leave Sal, Vito, and Pino to be their scapegoats. 

There have been plenty of discussions about why Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal’s, but I’ve always stuck with the interpretation that Mookie realized that something had to happen. Losing Radio Raheem was too great of an inequity for the crowd to bear, a brutal reminder of the inequalities of the world they live in. The mob was going to try to balance the scales and Mookie decided that it was going to be either Sal’s or Sal and that property is not as important as life. Sal is insured, he’ll rebuild. Radio Raheem cannot be brought back. This is why the scales can never be balanced under the current system. At the end of the film, DJ Love Daddy reads a message from the Mayor that says that destruction of property will not be tolerated. That’s what the politicians care about: A burned-up building. Not the dead body of Radio Raheem. This movie is over 30 years old and yet this message seems so contemporary that it’s frightening.

Mookie, having had enough.

I don’t think I can add anything else to this. If you haven’t seen this movie: See it. If you have seen it: See it again. And, as DJ Love Daddy reminds us at the end of the film: Vote. It’s a constitutional form of violence against the powers that be.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Secretary: A Movie You Should Never Watch with Your Parents – Peacock Review (Day 5)

The prompt was “A Movie You Would Never Watch with Family,” and I think I nailed it.

SUMMARY

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman who has been in treatment for self-harm. Her family is revealed to be pretty deeply dysfunctional, stemming from her father’s (Stephen McHattie) alcoholism, which disrupts Lee’s sister’s (Amy Locane) wedding. She takes a course in typing and applies for a job as a secretary for attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader).  Grey informs her that it’s boring work and that she is probably overqualified, but she accepts. Grey’s firm solely uses typewriters, despite the fact that it’s 2002, because he is notably eccentric. 

It gives the briefs the “Huck Finn” feel.

Partially due to the lack of word processors, Lee makes occasional typos which appear to anger Grey immensely. Additionally, several of Grey’s associates are needlessly cruel to Lee. However, it becomes apparent that Grey is deriving some level of satisfaction out of forcing her to obey him. Moreover, she starts to feel satisfied by earning his approval. Grey starts to notice her self-harm marks and eventually confronts her about it, ordering her not to hurt herself anymore. Afterwards, when she makes another mistake on a letter, he spanks her over his desk while forcing her to re-read the letter. They start to enter into an intense Sub/Dom relationship which leads Lee to fall heavily for Grey. At the same time, Lee is dating Peter (Jeremy Davies), a family friend with whom she has a more milquetoast relationship. 

The red pen lines are a big thing.

It turns out that Grey feels disgust over his proclivities and, after finally giving in and sexually pleasuring himself to Lee, he fires her. She tries to convince him that what they have is real, but he sends her away. She tries to find other BDSM partners, but none give her what she wants. When Peter surprisingly proposes to her, Lee accepts. However, while trying on a wedding dress, she realizes that she loves Grey and leaves to confront him at his office. He tells her to put her hands and feet in place and not move. Friends and family try to talk her out of it, but she stays for three days until Grey comes and gets her. The two then enter into a real relationship and marry, continuing their Sub/Dom dynamic. 

Most people won’t wear a wedding dress for three days total.

END SUMMARY

First, a short notice: This film is available on Peacock for free with ads. However, the film is very quiet at most points and the ads are much louder, so you will jump when the ad breaks happen and it breaks the movie’s tension poorly.

Some ads are more torture than the BDSM.

The prompt for this was “A Film You Would Never Watch with Family.” I actually had a hard time coming up with one, but once this one came up, I knew there was probably no other film as uncomfortably awkward to watch with your parents than this one. It’s not just that the entire film is about kinky sex practices, but that the movie is so intense in general. It doesn’t shy away from harsh experiences, whether it’s the Sub/Dom relationship between the leads, Lee’s self-harm, or her father’s alcoholism. Because of this, the few moments of levity or sincere emotion hit harder than they do in most films. 

Also, the outfits are nice.

Part of what sets this movie apart is its visual storytelling and efficient use of dialogue. We don’t hear someone say that Lee’s father is an alcoholic, we just see him drinking at her sister’s wedding to the point that he can’t stand up. Later, he calls Lee from “somewhere downtown,” and it seems clear that this is not the first time this has happened. Similarly, much of the buildup of the relationship between Grey and Lee is unspoken, but communicated largely through the looks that they exchange. Special attention is paid to each of their gazes compared to other films, with him looking for her vulnerabilities and her looking for his approval. In the first real scene of emotional connection they have, when he confronts her over her cutting, we get a picture of exactly how each of them handle things. He has planned everything in the conversation out from the beginning, apparent from the fact that he has hot chocolate and a Polaroid camera placed within his reach. This is an indicator of his need to plan and control how interactions go, something that is doubled down when he avoids an unplanned interaction with attorney Tricia O’Connor. Meanwhile, Lee is feeling like her life is out of control, which is why she’s hurting herself. When he orders her never to hurt herself again, she realizes that he’s telling her that she doesn’t need to seek control, because he can offer her submission instead. Obeying him will be her form of control. 

Subservience can be calming.

One of the most notable scenes in this movie, for a number of reasons, is the first time that Grey spanks Lee. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face during the entire encounter conveys everything and it is front and center at the camera. In several shots, we can see both of them at the same time and we see what this action means to each of them. It is sexual, it is brutal, it is emotional, all at once. It helps that Spader manages to be commanding and in control while also unleashing himself bestially. However, it’s the short shots afterwards in which Lee puts her pinkie over Grey’s thumb and then he moves his thumb along her hand that say more than the rest of the scene. This is a moment of Lee seeing if there is something deeper there and Grey, for a moment, hinting that he is developing real feelings for her. Much like the rest of the film, it’s about what is unspoken more than about what is.

That’s some sensual fingerplay.

What’s interesting is that the movie does have some moments of levity to break it up, but they’re usually a strange kind of black humor. I think they just wanted to make sure that it wasn’t treating the subject as a joke. One moment is when a number of Lee’s friends are talking about being sexually harassed at work and Lee advises them to try Grey. The tongue-in-cheek nature of this conversation is so thick that Lee literally laughs at it to herself. Later, when she has sex with Peter, she says that her conditions are that she keeps her clothes on and all the lights are off. Rather than question this or protest, Peter almost injures himself trying to get the lights off as fast as possible. It puts the bare minimum “com” in rom-com, but it’s also mostly humor you couldn’t find in any other film. 

Jokes are hard to screenshot, here’s some more spanking.

Now, I do feel like I need to address a few controversies levied at the movie. First, yes, this movie does directly suggest that submission can be a substitute for self-harm. While I have witnessed this overlap anecdotally, I don’t believe that it is uniformly true. If you are considering self-harm, please seek a therapist before you seek a dom. At least in this film Lee has been seeing therapists, though they appear to have little effect. Second, we don’t really see Lee and Grey have a conversation about their limits or consent during this movie. If you’re going to actually have a BDSM relationship, it’s important to make sure that consent and limits are discussed. However, during one of the fights, Lee invokes “Time Out” in a manner that indicates she has that as a safe word, so I think the implication is that they did have the conversation, just not on screen. I’d also point out that this is movie is under two hours long, so naturally, it might not cover everything correctly, because, let’s be honest, going over a “contract” seems like a boring scene. Instead, we just get the scenes of them having fun and living honestly with each other. *Edit* I have been told the contract is a massive part of 50 Shades of Grey, which I will include on my list of reasons for not seeing that movie.

Reason #1: The inferior “Mr. Grey.”

Overall, this movie is not for everyone, but if you haven’t seen it, maybe give it a try. You might like it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

10 Things I Hate About You: Kiss Me, Heath – Disney +/Hulu Review (Day 4)

I legitimately forgot how awesome this movie was, and I remembered it being great.

SUMMARY

Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is an antisocial student at Padua High School outside of Seattle. Her father, Walter (Larry Miller), is overprotective of Kat and her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) due to the loss of his wife and the fact that he is an obstetrician who works with teenage pregnancy. While he originally forbade the pair from dating, he modifies it so that Bianca can only date when Kat does. Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a new student at Padua, wants to ask out Bianca. Realizing that the way to Bianca requires Kat to get a date despite her hostile attitude, he decides to recruit local delinquent Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. Cameron, using his friend Michael (David Krumholtz), convinces Joey (Andrew “Apparently I run a Cult now” Keegan), the wealthy jerk who has made a bet that he can bed Bianca, to hire Patrick to seduce Kat. 

Yes, this is the 90s, why do you ask?

Kat immediately rebuffs Patrick, but Michael and Cameron provide him with insider information gleaned from Bianca. Patrick starts to gain Kat’s trust and interest, leading to the two going to a party together. Bianca also gets to go and upsets Kat by talking to Joey over Kat’s objection. Kat gets drunk and cuts loose, then knocks herself out on a chandelier. Patrick takes care of her and she finally opens up, but he can’t reciprocate when she attempts to kiss him. Meanwhile, Joey’s behavior angers Bianca and she ends up kissing Cameron. 

Gabrielle Union was 27 here. Gordon-Levitt was 18. She has earned that look.

Joey, still wanting to sleep with Bianca, hires Patrick to ask Kat to prom. Though she’s still mad about him not kissing her, he wins her back by arranging for the marching band to play Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and serenading her. However, Kat refuses to go to prom with him due to her hatred of popular and sexist events. She finally confesses to Bianca that her rejection of social norms is because she slept with Joey years ago due to peer pressure. Bianca tells Kat not to make decisions for her, so Kat relents and goes to Prom with Patrick. Bianca goes with Cameron despite Joey asking her, leading Joey to take Chastity (Gabrielle Union), Bianca’s former best friend. 

The opposite of a Joker smile.

At Prom, Chastity tells Bianca about Joey’s bet to sleep with her and Joey reveals that he paid Patrick to date Kat. Kat storms off and Joey punches Cameron, only for Bianca to beat Joey up for his actions. The next day, Bianca reconciles with Kat, as do Kat and Walter. Kat reads aloud a poem entitled “10 Things I Hate About You” which reveals that she still loves Patrick and the two reconcile. 

I MADE A THING AND I THINK IT LOOKS GOOD!

Also, Daryl Mitchell plays the most aggressive English teacher ever and Allison Janney plays an erotica-writing guidance counselor.  

END SUMMARY

Upon watching this film again, I realized that there’s nothing more appropriate for Shakespeare than to take a tired plot and revitalize it with clever lines and fun performances. As most of you probably remember from High School (where you might have been allowed to watch this film as part of the course), this is an updated version of the play The Taming of the Shrew. Much like this film, the core of the play consists of a man being hired by a suitor to seduce and marry the older sister of the second man’s intended. The twist is that the “Shrew” in the title, Kate (here Kat), is constantly rejecting proposals and has a harsh way with words. In the play, Petruchio (here Patrick), convinces Kate to marry him by being the only man willing to trade verbal jabs with her (in some of Shakespeare’s funniest dialogue). 

The promotional materials don’t capture the verbal exchanges that well…

However, the play doesn’t age well after that because he starts to psychologically torment her into being completely subservient to him and a “good” wife. This film mostly tries to avoid the latter part while keeping the harsh verbal jabs, which is probably the ultimate way to “update” the Bard. Instead of trying to “tame” Kat, Patrick mostly just tries to get her to open up about her interests and for him to realize that he actually likes her. Kat’s changes, while prompted by Patrick, are mostly internal, such as realizing that she only is anti-social because she has to push against any kind of peer pressure. While the film doesn’t make it explicit, it seems like part of her willingness to go to the prom is because she finally recognizes that only doing things because they’re against the crowd is still letting the crowd influence your behavior. 

You. You are the sheep.

I remembered this being a fun movie, to be sure, but I actually was amazed how much I had forgotten about it since the last time I watched it, which, and I’m dating myself, was probably in High School. Right at the beginning of the film, I had forgotten how we were introduced to the characters and the world. Most of it is through either David Krumholtz introducing the various “cliques” around the school (something that would be taken to the extreme in Mean Girls and parodied in Not Another Teen Movie) or through Allison Janney interviewing the various students as a guidance counselor while attempting to write her own pornography. Interestingly, the only two students who actually contribute to the erotic language are Kat (who contributes “quivering member”) and Patrick (whose antics motivate Ms. Perky to use Bratwurst as a euphemism). These are intercut with some witty dialogue exchanges between the various characters which gives us an idea of who everyone in the film is within just a few minutes. 

But Mean Girls didn’t have the “cowboys” subset.

Between Ms. Perky’s wildly inappropriate behavior with the students and Mr. Morgan’s tendency to bluntly berate the students for failing to acknowledge their privilege, the film doesn’t treat teachers like impartial authority figures as much as most high school stories, but more like regular people who somehow fail to get fired. In contrast, Larry Miller, the actual authority figure, is shown being genuinely just concerned for his daughters, even if he’s over the top. Mr. Morgan seems to mostly serve to keep taking the students down when they forget to check their privilege, something that becomes incredibly blatant when he tells Kat “[i]t must be tough for [her] to overcome all those years of upper middle class suburban oppression. His character seems a bit ahead of his time, when you consider this movie is from the late 90s and Mr. Morgan repeatedly points out that the school refuses to let him teach black authors and that Shakespeare’s prevalence, while valid, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still complicated by being a white guy from the 1600s.  Both of the teachers just seem to exist to give the characters an opportunity for honest and funny interactions. 

YOU ARE ON A WORD PROCESSOR. IT HAS A THESAURUS.

While the story is an update of a play, I will acknowledge that this movie is very dated. From the slang to the outfits to the pop culture references to the soundtrack, this movie screams “welcome to the 90s.” If you were a kid in the 1990s, you’ll probably find almost everything nostalgic. If you weren’t, then there are a number of jokes in this film that will fall flat. While I do love the soundtrack, I will also acknowledge that the heavy presence of Letters to Cleo also feels off, since the band broke up shortly after this film. Their cover, with Save Ferris, of “Cruel to Be Kind” does really elevate the prom scene, though. However, all of the other music gets overshadowed by the sheer beauty of Heath Ledger’s iconic singing of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” That scene is so over-the-top and ballsy and genuine that it really should never have worked, except that Ledger completely commits. You can feel that he knows it’s ridiculous but that he is willing to do it anyway. It’s iconic for a reason.

Then there’s the poem that gives the movie its name. I remembered that it existed, but I will admit that I forgot that it really is the climax of the film. Kudos to Julia Stiles, it comes off as completely sincere even though the poem is slightly ridiculous. I mean, one of the lines is “I hate you so much it makes me sick – it even makes me rhyme.” That’s pretty corny. However, when she reaches the end, she finally breaks down as she openly admits that, as much as Patrick did to her, she still can’t hate him.

Overall, this film really does still work. Yes, it’s mostly for 90s kids, but I think anyone would appreciate the clever dialogue and great performances by most of the cast. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Blind Date (1987): This Movie is a Trainwreck – Amazon Review (Day 3)

I took a look at the movie that welcomed me into the world. It was bad.

SUMMARY

Walter Davis (Bruce Willis) is a salaryman who is constantly running behind and unlucky in love. When he finds out that he’ll need a date for a business dinner, he asks his brother, Ted (Phil Hartman), to set him up with someone, despite Ted’s terrible record with set-ups. Ted’s wife, Susie (Stephanie Faracy), sets Walter up with her cousin Nadia (Kim Basinger). The two seem to hit it off, but the night starts off awkwardly when they attend an H.R. Geiger art exhibit and are attacked by Nadia’s stalker ex-boyfriend David (John Larroquette). Walter takes Nadia to a private performance by guitarist Stanley Jordan and offers her alcohol. It turns out that Susie had warned Ted about Nadia’s drinking issues, but Ted hadn’t really conveyed it to Walter. When Nadia drinks, she instantly becomes a nonsensical, loud, and abrasive person. 

Nothing says “good first date” like an exhibit of erotic techno-organic symbolism.

The pair go to dinner at the same restaurant where Walter’s boss is having an important business dinner, and Nadia starts a fight with the wait staff that eventually involves Walter’s boss, the client, and the client’s wife. Walter gets fired as a result. When he tries to drive Nadia home to a party at a friends house, the pair are repeatedly attacked by David. Nadia has Walter drive to a bad neighborhood resulting in him being mugged and his car seats being stolen. When they finally end up at the party, Nadia has sobered up and Walter has had a mental breakdown, leading him to emulate Nadia’s earlier zany behavior. When David attacks them again, Walter pulls a gun on him and gets arrested. 

Yes, because the geisha didn’t make the dinner awkward already (again, 1987).

David agrees to get Walter’s charges dropped in exchange for Nadia’s hand in marriage. She agrees and David meets with Walter’s judge, who happens to be David’s father (William Daniels), and gets the case dismissed. At the wedding, Walter sneaks a bunch of chocolates filled with alcohol into Nadia’s room. She gets drunk and dumps David at the altar, reuniting with Walter and getting married to him.

END SUMMARY

The prompt for day three was originally “a movie that came out the week you were born.” Unfortunately, this was the only major release the week I was born. Wanting to avoid this movie like the plague, I decided to expand it to the month I was born (which included Evil Dead II, Lethal Weapon, and Raising Arizona), but I would select it by random number generator. The generator picked this movie, which cost me $3 to rent. I think this proves that God hates me… although the cancer should probably have tipped me off.

The universe giveth Dirty Dancing and the universe taketh away.

This movie is astonishing because it seems like it’s going out of its way to ruin careers. This movie was directed by Blake Edwards, the guy who made Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and the good Pink Panther movies. It was written by Dale Launer, the screenwriter who would go on to write Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, My Cousin Vinny, and Love Potion No. 9. The music was done by Henry Mancini, the multi-Oscar winner who did most of Edwards’s movies. It starred Bruce Willis in the middle of his run on Moonlighting, Kim Basinger coming fresh off her big break in 9 ½ Weeks, and John Larroquette in the middle of his run on Night Court. In other words, there was a ton of talent in this film, which makes it astonishing how abysmally unfunny and unpleasant this movie is. 

A snooty French waiter? Yes, that’s the kind of originality that gets you Oscar nominations.

To give you an idea of how much I hate this movie, no less than seven of my viewing notes are “is this still going?” The first one was only thirty minutes into this ninety minute film, when we got through the dinner that was supposed to be the crux of the whole set-up, only to find out that this was really just the start of act two. I should probably have guessed what I was in for when one of the opening jokes to the movie was a fake ad for the “James Brown Car Alarm” that went on for two damned minutes. It’s just a car alarm that shouts like James Brown, but that’s how this movie decides to prime us for the feast of gags it clearly thinks it’s going to lay before us. This movie had more points where it should have ended than Return of the King, but didn’t have the benefit of giving me 8 hours of enjoyment beforehand. It’s like they just kept coming up with short scene ideas, but couldn’t come up with any funny dialogue for those scenes.  

It does have the most ’80s mugging ever.

Everything in this movie seems to be based on the humor of running gags, but the gags are mistimed and terrible. David just keeps showing up out of nowhere and attacking them, but always in an awkward way that ends with him humiliated. Because of this, at one point, John Larroquette crashes into two separate store fronts in less than 2 minutes. It was around the third attack that I realized that “running gag” is sometimes code for “didn’t have another original idea.” 

Twice. In. Two. Minutes.

The icing on this crap cake, though, is that none of the characters are likable. Walter goes from desperate to crazy and vengeful to obsessive, but at no point do I want him to be happy. Nadia and Walter have a fun meet cute moment, but once she starts drinking she’s not the “wacky” person, she’s an angry antagonist. Later, when Walter starts acting like her at her party, she starts to get indignant and act superior, despite the fact that she literally just got him fired earlier. David isn’t a fun antagonist because he literally just shows up and psychotically attacks them. Even though he’s revealed to be a high-powered attorney with a judge father, he should be in jail. Well, okay, maybe him being free makes sense, but still, he’s not a clever character.

Yes, Nadia gets indignant over Walter being attacked by her angry ex-boyfriend.

Overall, there are a few moments of levity in the film, but mostly, it’s just a drag. If Die Hard hadn’t come out the next year and given Bruce Willis a new career as an action star, this might have wrecked him.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Dirty Dancing: It’s Cheesy, It’s Controversial, It’s Still a Classic – Hulu/Prime Review (Day 2)

I watched the first of the Audience picks, and I still like it.

SUMMARY

It’s the Summer of 1963, the British Invasion isn’t happening for a few months, and 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is vacationing with her family in the Catskills. It turns out that Max (Jack Weston), a friend of Baby’s father, Jake (Jerry Orbach), runs the resort and has instructed the wait staff to seduce the daughters of the guests. One night, Billy (Neal Jones), one of the locals, invites Baby to a secret dance party that the staff throws after hours. There she meets and briefly dances with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a 26-year-old dance instructor at the resort. Yes, he’s more than one-and-a-half times her age, but I guess it was the 60s?

Or maybe he’s just so damned sexy you don’t care.

Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), gets pregnant after sleeping with Robbie (Max Cantor), one of the staff who goes to Yale Med School. Robbie quickly starts to move onto Baby’s sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) and abandons Penny. Baby borrows money from her father to get Penny an abortion, but Baby has to take Penny’s place at a dance performance at another resort. Baby and Johnny train together repeatedly and do a decent job, aside from not being able to pull off the finale. However, Penny’s back-alley abortion turns out to be done by a hack and she starts to bleed out. Baby gets her doctor father to stabilize her, but Jake assumes that Johnny was the father and bans Baby from seeing her. They continue to see each other in secret.

You disappointed Jerry Orbach. Never disappoint the Orbach.

Johnny gets hit on by a cheating wife, Vivian (Miranda Garrison), but he rejects her. She sleeps with Robbie instead, which fortunately turns Lisa off of Robbie when she catches them. Vivian sees Baby leaving Johnny’s cabin, however, and tries to frame him for theft as revenge for turning her down. You’d think the fact that she got laid anyway would have assuaged her anger, but I’m guessing Robbie is crap in bed. Also, missing out on some Patrick Swayze lovin’ is probably going to anger any woman. Fortunately, Baby alibis Johnny to save him from being arrested and the real thieves are caught, but Johnny gets fired for sleeping with Baby. 

The two worst people in this film.

At the talent show at the end of the Summer, Jake gives Robbie a recommendation for med school, but then retracts it because he admits he got Penny pregnant. Also, he’s just a jackass in general. Johnny arrives and declares his love for Baby, leading him to inform her father that “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” They end up performing the dance that they’d practiced but this time they nail the final lift, which is so powerful that Dr. Houseman apologizes to Johnny and Baby and apparently classism ends forever. 

END SUMMARY

The prompt here was a movie which began with my first initial (D). I let you all nominate films and I picked a movie using a random number generator. The first time, I let the films be weighted by how many people nominated them and got this movie. I decided to try just assigning one number to each movie to see what would win that way and… this movie won again. So, apparently, the universe wanted me to watch this again.

The universe… or something more?

It’s only when I attempt to summarize this film that it fully hits me just how ridiculous much of this movie is. I know that a ton of people have made fun of it before, but the idea that Dr. Houseman is the bad guy for forbidding his daughter from sleeping with a guy who would be a statutory rapist in some states does not age well. While it’s clear that he’s a bit overprotective and doesn’t have great communication with his children, I’m pretty sure every parent with a high-schooler would be wary of her banging a guy who is pushing 30. Of course, to balance this movie putting the idea that this is okay in the audience’s head, we have Lisa’s journey trying to lose her virginity to Robbie, the elitist jerk, and only being spared that presumably terrible moment of regret by catching him with another woman. On the other other hand, Robbie was literally ordered by his boss to have sex with the customers, so maybe Max is the real crapbag of this film. I was shocked that I’d remembered that we were supposed to hate Robbie but had completely forgotten about Max. 

Encouraging prostitution. That’s why he makes the big bucks.

Actually, that’s one of the things that surprised me most on re-watch, how much of this movie really gets forgotten about while we mostly remember Patrick Swayze flexing and Jennifer Grey being thrust into the air. A back-alley abortion that was so poorly done that it almost killed the mother is a large plot point in this film. Having to bring Baby’s father in to save Penny’s life is responsible for Baby and Johnny being separated for the second half. I don’t know if it was intentionally trying to make a point, but this film is one of the rare instances of media pointing out how desperate women would seek abortions even when it was illegal and that it would often go horribly because of the clandestine nature. 

The “doctor” had a dirty knife and a folding table.

Also, I had forgotten exactly how horny this movie was. I know it’s a film that’s famous for conflating dirty dancing and sexuality, but that’s kind of ignoring the unbelievable amount of actual sex that’s in the movie. Everyone in the catskills wants to get it on, from the guests and the wait staff to Lisa and her burning desire to lose her virginity to Johnny and Baby to Vivian the adulterous housewife. Sex so permeates this movie that I am shocked how many parents let their kids watch it. Hell, I think I saw it before I was 10. I think it’s because the dancing sequences are so overwhelming that people literally just forget about all of the wanton sexuality. Given that the movie is set in 1963, it stands to reason that this is really just on the gap between the uptight social mores of the 1940s and 1950s (which consisted of banging people but not admitting to it) and the free love movement of the 1960s (which consisted of banging people and telling everyone about it). 

So damned sexy. Also, Jennifer Grey was cute.

The performances in this movie are solid, no question. The characters are pretty simple (poor guy with heart of gold, poor little rich girl), but there’s a reason why Swayze and Grey are icons for the roles. She has a natural ability to convey her desire through a mask of being a meek good girl. On the other hand, Swayze has a natural earnestness that makes him seem heroic while he has so much charisma that it practically oozes off of his shirtless body. It gives them the perfect balance.

Such perfect balance.

The soundtrack to this movie is so good that, if it had not won the vote, it would be a strong contender for Day 6’s “best movie soundtrack.” Aside from the iconic “The Time of My Life,” which will forever be associated with this film (for which it was composed), the background music is a litany of great 50s and 60s songs. There’s Otis Redding, The Drifters, The Four Seasons, and the Ronettes, and they help convey the setting far better than most of the other aspects of the film. The hairstyles and outfits make this the most 80s version of the 60s ever, but at least the soundtrack puts it on track. A weird thing I’d never noticed before is that they use The Blow Monkeys’ cover of “You Don’t Own Me” rather than Leslie Gore’s original version. While Gore made it into a powerful feminist anthem, the Blow Monkeys sing it from a man’s point of view, which is really odd since the famous line is “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” not “nobody puts Johnny in a jail cell.” I just think it’s a weird twist.

She was having the time of her life, though.

Overall, still a great film. It’s got a lot of stuff in it that I just plain didn’t remember about it, but it’s got so many iconic scenes that it deserves its status as a perennial watch.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.