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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Movies: Whoops!

YIKES I haven’t written about movies in a little bit over a month, so I’m way behind, and I’m gonna cheat a little bit by trying to make these as quick as possible because I think I watched a pretty sizeable amount this past month.

D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994) Sam Weisman
Why didn’t they just get Keenan’s hockey team to play in the Pee-Wee Olympics instead of these selfish dorks from Minnesota?  This is one of those movies that will be near and dear to kids who grew up with this movie and got into Anaheim hockey for like a week because of The Mighty Ducks.

She-Devil (1989) Susan Seidelman
I had no idea this movie existed, but I’m glad I live in a world where there is a movie where Roseanne systematically destroys the life of her ex-husband and Meryl Streep is caught in the crossfire.

Kung-Fu Panda (2008) John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Any movie where you can get Ian McShane to self-aggrandize for children is tops in my book.  The action sequences were very slick, and I think this movie is hilarious.

Now You See Me (2013) Louis Leterrier
What an entertaining mess!  The movie is structured around this idea that these solo magicians learn to work together as a team, but the entire process of them learning to work together looks to have been left on the cutting room floor as the movie almost immediately jumps from the “they’ve heard of each other and they hate each other” phase to the “we’re a team and nothing’s going to break us apart” phase.  Dave Franco’s character almost seems like a post-production after thought.  His lines are unessential and tacked on, which I guess fits pretty well with Dave Franco.  Heh. Dave.

Magic Mike (2012) Steven Soderberg
I’d seen this one before, but whatever, I love this movie.  This is the one that completely sold me on Channing Tatum.  Soderbergh makes it look like a Soderbergh movie, which I tend to like.  McConaughey is being McConaughey, and when we finally get to see his act, it’s like Soderbergh is doing what McConaughey’s character monologues about in a scene where he’s teaching the new kid how to dance: something about teasing the crowd just the right amount before you thrust your cock at them.  I’m sure that also extends to life and grander things somehow.

Jawbreaker (1999) Darren Stein
This movie is like the halfway point between Heathers and Mean Girls and it’s nowhere near as good as either of those movies.  There are some very funny moments and a great Marilyn Manson appearance, but it mostly felt like a waste.

Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott
This is one of those movies where I was more familiar with the endless parodies than I was with the actual movie, but man, I really enjoyed this one.  I love that Thelma and Louise are sort of reflections of each other, and I love Thelma’s liberation comes when she realizes she loves doing crimes.  All in all a very manipulative-ass movie, but I was very much along for the ride.

Rollerball (1975) Norman Jewison
I can’t believe anyone felt they needed to update this movie.  It looks so brutal, and I think the idea behind a remake was to give it cool, modern special effects or whatever, but I’d imagine that CG effects would really just make it look less violent somehow.  How many people got injured in filming this thing?  I hope it wasn’t a lot, but I sort of hope a couple of people got hurt because I’m selfish.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Francis Lawrence
I liked the first one, but I liked this one so much more.  It’s bigger, it looks better, the stakes seem higher, and everything looks more dangerous.  My main complaint is that the actual event of the Hunger Games is completely uninteresting to me.  I like this awful dystopia that these teens have to take down through their celebrity, and I felt like the movie just kind of took a boring halt as soon as the games portion started.  I also think Katniss is not very likeable and pretty boring, but it works because the movie acknowledges this in that the movie just sort of happens to her and all of the characters involved know that they have to work around her to get anything done.

Gattaca (1997) Andrew Niccol
This was one of those movies that I really liked in High School, but I also liked a lot of stupid shit in High School, so who knows?  Upon a rewatch, though, I think it held up.  This movie gets by largely on an interesting, if at times traditional, sci-fi premise, but Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman, etc. are great.  The look of the movie is that pleasant sort of beige that makes it look like it’s happening in a future that takes place in a really nice hotel lobby, and I think that works for this sort of thing.  Andrew Niccol went on to direct In Time so he’s definitely got a thing for high-concept one-liners, but Gattaca is an actual good use of this one-trick pony.

Slapshot (1977) George Roy Hill
Man, this was a fuckin’ sports movie, and I loved it.  That scene when the Hanson brothers first take the ice is so awe-inspiringly violent and funny.  Paul Newman’s a total creep just like most everyone else in this movie, and it’s great, but I was a bit confused as to who this movie wanted me to side with.  Like, everyone seems so intent on labelling The Chiefs as a bunch of goons, but everyone who’s doing this is also an asshole.  Is everyone an asshole, then?  Safe bet is yes.

Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
Another one where I’m more familiar with the endless parodies, and again another one I enjoyed.  Jimmy Stewart’s sort of a smirking piece of shit, which works because he’s a famous photographer, and I tend to think famous photographers are smirking pieces of shit more often than not.  But that’s just me.  I liked the movie, but I think I was watching it wrong, because I was operating under the assumption that there was no way Jimmy Stewart’s suspicion about his neighbor being a murder could have been right, and with that bias in mind, I started watching this as something more along the lines of an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia than a Hitchcock thriller.  In retrospect it was absolutely foolish of me to think that someone wasn’t murdered in a HITCHCOCK movie.

Nurse 3D (2013) Douglas Aarniokoski
Now this was an amazing trash movie.  It is a movie that is absolutely no good, but it’s so fun to watch.  Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock gives a typically self-serious horror movie performance that you get from hot people who think trash like this is their step up into the next phase of their career (and they’re not always wrong), and Corbin Bleu does a similar thing except maybe the stakes are higher for him because he’s still in that phase of trying to make everybody forget that he was a Disney Channel star?  Whatever, this movie is really just a canvas for Paz De La Huerta to display her, um… idiosyncratic… talents.  Every line is this weird slur of a phrase, ending in a tiny inhale of breath that makes her seem like the worst possible caricature of a Marilyn Monroe impression, BUT IT’S GREAT.  The dialogue is campy and awful, and it comes off sounding like the writer just put in his first draft of a lower-division writing class to impress his peer review group with how edgy and sexual he can be.  The characters curse like high schoolers on a packed train, desperate for you to notice them, and the violence, while not as plentiful as I was expecting, is very much over-the-top and gory, taking full advantage of my favorite use for 3D technology, silly shit getting thrown at your face.  I’ll leave you with the first line of the movie, from Abby’s (Paz De La Huerta) inner monologue: “My name is Abby Russell, and I look like a slut.”  If you don’t hear something like that and get immediately excited for the next hour and twenty-ish minutes of your life, I’m not sure I can do anything for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

a page from Daredevil #193


I bought a few old Daredevil comics last weekend, and this particular action sequence from Daredevil #193 by Larry Hama and Klaus Janson really jumped out at me, so I figured I'd talk a bit about it here.

The set up to this scene isn't so important, it's just Daredevil getting up to beat up a couple of goons, pretty standard stuff.  However, what I think immediately sets it apart is that the five wide panels maintain one consistent, cropped view of the action.  The view stays close to the ground level, perhaps meant to give us the feeling of some kind of cowering bystander witnessing the action from a hiding place, holding our breath and hoping we don't get drawn into the action.  While some artists may have chosen to use a more dynamic perspective to draw you into the action, Janson opts to keep this view throughout the fight as a way of distancing us from the action, making the fight impersonal, and effectively allowing us to better appreciate the motion and movement of the fight.

The fight is quick as these are just ordinary goons meant to showcase our hero's fighting prowess.  I'd say the amount of time that passes from panel one to panel five is probably a couple of seconds, but because of Janson's usage of wide panels for the length of the page, he's able to make it feel like a longer span of time.  The five wide panels encourage our eyes to move along the width of the page, each time focusing on what is happening to each of the four characters on the page.  The use of a blank yellow background ensures that the eye focuses solely on the contrasting red and green figures in each panel.  So what happens is that within each wide panel, we get several smaller beats of action that would probably even work as panels of their own.  If Janson were to use an arrangement of smaller panels, however, I think the action would feel much quicker and more frantic.  What we get by keeping these beats within one panel is something more measured and deliberate, a pacing that is more confident and in control, reflective of the way that Daredevil easily dispatches these three men.

The best instances of multiple action beats within the same wide panel occur in panels two, three, and four.
Let's break it down right quick:

Panel 2 -- DD THOK!s Goon #1 and we catch the follow-through of his billy-club as Goon #1 is knocked off his feet.  The posture of Goon #2 suggests that he got startled by watching his buddy get THOK'ed right in front of him, but his legs ignore his brain and he keeps on moving, determined to get the jump on DD.  Goon #3 meanwhile is a couple steps behind, slowing down after seeing how hard DD's just hit this guy.

Panel 3 -- By the time Goon #1 hits the floor, DD has completed his wind-up in anticipation of Goon #2, now running headlong at our hero (see also: "cruisin' for a bruisin'").  Goon #3 has come to a full stop, and because we can't see anyone's face we can only imagine the sort of "No way man, I don't get paid enough for this" face he's making.

Panel 4 -- Goon #1 is out cold.  We catch DD at the end of the follow-through of his backhand as he knocks Goon #2 right off his feet with a THOOM.  Goon #3 has turned tail and started running in fear.

A lot of action is happening simultaneously in these panels, but while we are taking them in all at once, it never feels overwhelming because Janson's choreography is so clear.  The wide panels fit in all this quick action and work to stretch out our own perception of time.  It's interesting that Janson chooses to depict the moments after the impact rather than the actual moment of impact.  It's an old Alex Toth-style trick to never explicitly depict the actual moment of violence, but rather its after effects as a way of encouraging the reader to get in on the act.  This could also explain Janson's choice to keep the same cropped perspective with more emphasis on the body than the face.  The distance keeps us away from the fight, but the cropped view that focuses on the moment right after the damage is done works to bring us in, forcing us to imagine what it looks like when Daredevil gives a couple of dudes some brain trauma.

The rest of the comic is okay too.  Daredevil goes on a cruise that gets robbed by stage magicians.

Review: Vandroid #1

Vandroid #1
Dark Horse Comics
Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid, Melissa Edwards

Vandroid is the comic adaptation of a screenplay for a fictional movie whose reels were supposedly lost to a fire that burned down an equally fictional grindhouse movie studio in 1984.  It’s a story about a washed up mechanic and his scuzzy business partner who unwittingly unleash a dangerous android into the world.  The fictional movie studio back-story is nonessential, but it’s a great added layer to the sort of retro-future, video store atmosphere that the creative team is trying to evoke.  Vandroid perfectly captures the fearful wonderment I’d feel as a kid when I’d walk down an aisle of the video store and stare at lurid VHS covers for movies my dad would never let me rent.  These VHS covers were a lot like an updated version of pulp mystery novel covers-- sexy, dangerous women and some hungover tough-guy with a weapon who was definitely not Superman.  I’d stare at those VHS covers and they’d be burned into my mind, leaving me to just imagine what could’ve possibly been contained on those tapes.

Tommy Lee Edwards and Noah Smith’s 80’s cult movie plot pairs well with Dan McDaid’s art and Melissa Edwards’s colors.  Together they create a world that exists in the murky back alleys of a radically cool, very-1984 Los Angeles.  McDaid’s figures all carry a substantial sense of weight underneath a layer of griminess from M. Edwards’s colors, effectively adding a mood of menace to an admittedly goofy premise.  Moreover, McDaid’s excellent sense of timing and well paced violence play the premise straight while never venturing into the territory of the self-serious.  Vandroid has a sense of humor about itself, but T. Edwards and Smith are firmly rooted in paying homage to the 80’s cult genre style, being careful to distance themselves from parody.  Vandroid is given to us earnestly, but it can feel lumbering at times, with several instances of unsubtle exposition being delivered to get us caught up.  However, I think this is again where the added layer of the burned-down movie studio backstory works to sort of justify these flaws in the narrative, or at least to place them within the context of the world.  Vandroid certainly feels like something of that era of cult movies, like you could see the Vandroid movie sitting on the shelves alongside stuff like Escape From New York, The Toxic Avenger, or Return of the Living Dead.  My worry is that this could be a crutch for the creators, but I think everyone involved in this comic shows an enthusiasm for both their work and the influences they are so happy to wear on their sleeves.  It’s an enthusiasm that carries over to the reader as well.  It isn’t 100% perfect, but I’m too busy having fun reading Vandroid to care.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 Movies: I don't know what the link is between all of these, so I'll just go ahead and say "FREEDOM"

Hi everybody! A little bit longer this week since I finally got around to writing about The Apartment and Drug War, two movies I had watched on New Year's day, before I started writing about movies I was watching this year. Hope you like these things!

The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder


After finishing this movie, I just could not believe that it gets filed under the Comedy section.  I suppose it does end on a sweet note, but man.  I just have a rough time with movies where a mostly good person just spends the entire time getting dumped on (see also: Synecdoche New York).  I liked this movie a lot, though I guess things like this, where pretty much everyone is an asshole, are just frustrating to me.  Jack Lemmon is funny and sympathetic, but I spent the entire movie just wishing I could step in there and tell every one of his bosses to fuck right off.  He eventually gets around to it, but it’s not the big spectacle we’re hoping for.  He finally stands up for himself, then quietly walks out, getting ready for a move to another city and another job.  Fran runs to his apartment and they end up playing their card game and they’re friends now, so it ends up a win for the good guys, but they really drag you through the mud to get that happy ending.  Makes you feel like you’ve earned it, I guess.


Drug War (2013, North America) Johnnie To


I haven’t really been exposed to a lot of these Hong Kong crime-type movies, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far.  It seemed like for a while everyone in my circle of internet friends was just raving about this one, so I figured I had to check it out, and this one was good, I liked it.  However, with the way that everyone had been talking it up I guess I was expecting something with The Raid: Redemption levels of crazy, and it’s my fault I guess for having those sorts of expectations and being let down that Drug War just couldn’t meet those expectations.  It’s not even really that fair to compare the two as they are both trying to offer up a different experience.  The Raid: Redemption is fast-paced and gleeful fighting and action, while Drug War is very slow and steady, with less of an emphasis on high octane action in favor of a more deliberate look at clever Police work and investigating.  Drug War’s got action, don’t worry (the shootout with the deaf brothers and the final fight in front of that school were particularly exciting), but I think the thrills that I got with this movie came more from watching this relentless detective sticking with the case and the Mission: Impossible-style operations he pulls off with his crew.  It’s a pretty straightforward crime story, and while it may not be doing anything all that different, Drug War is still a solid, confident movie that excels on the well-tread ground of Crime Thrillers.


Bernie (2011) Richard Linklater


This one’s based on a real bummer of a true story.  Jack Black plays the nicest guy in town who ends up befriending and then murdering Shirley MacLaine, the meanest old woman in town.  The movie’s divided up with interview segments from some of the actual people in the actual town of Carthage, Texas where all this happened, and they’re all great.  I could’ve sworn some of them were like lesser known character actors or something, but they were all real people and funny and excited to tell their take on the story.


Jack Black takes the titular role in this one, and I think he’s amazing.  He’s a dude who has his shtick, sure, but over the years it seems as if he’s refined it and he’s found a way to make it work with his roles (it also helps that some roles are specifically for him and his shtick).  Bernie is a sort of weird vehicle for Jack Black, but it speaks to his ability that he can inhabit a more subdued role like this one and still manage to make it his own.  He pulls off big friendly guy in any of his roles pretty easily, but this one feels like it has an added layer of real tenderness and kindness, maybe even a touch of loneliness.  


Bernie is a look at a good man who loves his life and the people in it and how he is slowly broken by a hateful person.  It’s almost unreal how good and generous this guy is.  I’m not sure how much of this is my own view and how much of this is the movie’s intent, but it felt to me like Bernie, despite all his involvement with the people in his community, was a lonely person.  Maybe I just feel like living a truly selfless life seems lonely and I’m projecting my own biases onto this movie.  (Is that messed up?  Am I messed up to think that?)  In any case, if we’re going with the idea that there’s some loneliness in Bernie, it adds another dimension to examine in his murdering Marjorie, namely that perhaps their relationship gets started both out of Bernie’s generosity as well as their shared loneliness.  Sort of related: Was Bernie gay?  I think the movie kind of suggests that, and it would certainly supplement my idea that Bernie was a lonely person.  Being secretly gay in a small Texas town would bring about those sorts of feelings, I’d imagine.


Anyway, watching Marjorie slowly take away Bernie’s joy and freedom is difficult and heartbreaking, and Jack Black does a wonderful job of finding the bits of humor in this bleak situation while still being respectful in showing Bernie’s struggle to keep his dignity intact.


Airplane! (1980) Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker


It’s probably exaggerating to say this movie changed my life, but I don’t know, maybe it did?  I remember for a couple of years when I was a kid my mom would take my sister and me out to Blockbuster to rent movies, and I guess my mom decided it was time to rent something funny that didn’t have the Power Rangers on the cover, so she picked up Mel Brooks’s High Anxiety for us, and that just got us going.  I don’t really remember much about High Anxiety but I remember my sister and I loving it, so within the next couple of visits to Blockbuster my mom introduced us to History of the World, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, And Now For Something Completely Different, Young Frankenstein, and Airplane!, among others.  We were big on dumb movies, and watching Airplane! now I understand some jokes a lot better than I did when I was like ten or whatever, but they’re all still such dumb jokes, and that’s what makes movies like this charming for me.


The jokes in Airplane! are all so tight and varied.  It’s mostly all dumb jokes, but they come at you from all angles, at all speeds, so you have to pay attention.  Dumb visual gags, dumb wordplay, and jokes that were only relevant to America in 1980.  They’re all there and they’re all fun.  There’s no sense of self importance, no high minded attitude about changing the comedic landscape, it’s just a movie that has a lot of good dumb jokes trying to get a laugh out of you.  Airplane! probably took such a hold on me when I was a kid because it was what I wanted to be -- something funny and silly and unafraid to be itself.


A movie brimming with dumb jokes isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea (sometimes it’s not even my cup of tea either), but I think there’s a particular sweet spot you have to be in when you first watch these movies.  You have to be young and dumb and receptive for these sorts of things to take hold in your brain, but I think it’s possible to watch and appreciate these dumb joke movies as an adult.  The key as an adult is of course being open and receptive, but also taking these movies in context.  It helps make dated topical references funny again in a sort of repurposed way; like the humor comes in the joke you see, but it also works when you think back like “Ah, this joke about Reagan being a whatever movie star was what was funny to people in 1980.”  I don’t know, I think the instinct is to just throw those topical jokes away as irrelevant products of the past, but I think they can still be funny in a time-capsule-y sort of way.  Ask me again when I watch Scary Movie or some shit in twenty years.


Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Sean Durkin


I don’t think I’ve been more relieved for a movie to be over.  But even by the end of the movie it’s still not really over, is it?  I’m getting ahead of myself, sorry, but what a harrowing movie.  It’s a very slow, quiet thing, and it’s difficult to watch because you can just feel that something bad is about to happen.  John Hawkes does an excellent job at instilling a sense of dread in every scene, and we feel a genuine sense of concern for Elizabeth Olsen’s character even though she never comes off as someone very likeable.  You just know that no one should be put through the sort of manipulation and abuse that she’s experiencing and you fear for her.  She’s difficult and closed off and it’s not entirely her fault.  From the way her sister interacts with her after she escapes from the commune she’s been living on, we get the sense that Martha wasn’t the ideal sister or friend to begin with, but after witnessing the flashbacks to her life on the commune with Patrick and the rest of them psychologically/emotionally/sexually abusing her, it’s tough to hold her aloofness against her.


Compounding all of this trauma is that Martha has no way of expressing the abuse that she’s been through.  It seems that she came to Patrick’s commune when she was the most vulnerable and receptive to his brand of manipulation, and by the time she makes her escape she’s still unsure about what’s happened to her.  She needed a purpose, a direction, somewhere to belong, and Patrick gave what seemed like all that to her.  That she doesn’t even have a vocabulary to express what she’s been through is one of the more frustrating things.  Weren’t those people her friends?  Couldn’t she have left any time?  She escapes to her sister, the only family she has, but she still can’t find acceptance, and whether that’s due to her traumatic experience or the fact that she and her sister never really got along to begin with is unknown and confusing to her.  Martha’s experiencing a great deal of conflicting emotions and and confusion, making it difficult for her to tell which of her thoughts and feelings are even her own, which in turn further distances her from her estranged sister’s hospitality.


The ending was interesting to me.  Martha sees someone watching her taking a swim.  Later, when she is being driven to the city to see some sort of doctor or therapist, we see maybe the same person get into a car which begins to follow the car she’s in, and then that’s it.  That’s the end of the movie.  There’s no resolution, and it’s one of the more scary endings I’d ever seen.  The camera stays focused on Martha throughout that final sequence, and we never really see the face of this man who’s following her.  The tight focus on Martha and the uncertainty about who this person is and what’s happening bring us in closer to Martha, making the space almost claustrophobic, crowding the backseat with Martha’s palpable fear and distress.  The quick cut to the end credits means she’s disappeared from our lives and we will never know what happens to her.  With Martha gone, the only thing we have left is fear.


The Addams Family (1991) Barry Sonnenfeld


We’ve all seen this one, right?  I love this movie, bad jokes and all.  I love the Addams’s weird bizarro speak (unhappy=happy, that sort of thing), I love all the dumb hand jokes whenever they talk to Thing (“Thanks for lending a. . . hand!”), I love the obvious “we’re all pretty weird if you think about it” ethos, I love the fuckin’ Mamushka, I love Raúl Juliá, I love all of Gomez and Morticia’s very quick and dry throwaway punchlines.  But what I love most is how loving and supportive all of the Addamses are.  It’s a movie about a family who just loves each other so goddamn much in spite of everyone around them, and it makes me so happy to see that.

Tessa told me that they had originally shot two endings.  The one we get is that Gary was Fester all along, which I appreciate because it just fits with the zaniness of this movie, but the other one had no secret reveal, it was just Gary all along, deciding he would stay and live with them as Fester.  I like this supposed alternate ending as I think it fits better with this character Gary, an outcast who finds total and pure acceptance in this family of outcasts.  It fits with Gary/Fester’s character arc as well as the overall message of love and acceptance.  Anyway, what we get is nice too, and it’s silly, so, whatever, it works.

Friday, February 7, 2014

2014 Movies: Three funny movies

It's a little bit lighter this time around, but here are the movies I saw this week. All of them were funny, but only two of them were supposed to be.

Cry-Baby (1990) John Waters



One of my favorite kinds of stories are stories about shitty teenagers, and this one’s got shitty teens to spare. Tessa describes it as "everything that Grease was afraid to be."  Cry-Baby is John Waters going all out with his love of 50’s Camp and his enthusiasm in this movie is infectious.  He’s great at finding silly little details in the Teenage Tragedy Song model and blowing them up, exposing how funny and ridiculous a teenage romance can be.  Every actor gives a hilarious performance, finding the perfect level of funny and sincere, and never taking any of it too seriously.  It’s a quintessential campy movie and the rock n roll / doo wop songs fit the mood perfectly.  Anyway I loved this movie, and I don’t think I have much in the way of analysis for this one, so here’s a bullet point list of some things I liked:



  • Hatchet-face’s awful, awful makeup
  • Every teenager referring to themselves as teenagers
  • IGGY POP
  • All the parents hanging out, embarrassing their teenagers
  • That scene in the charm school where that one Square is imagining being married, and that one girl is imagining Johnny Depp’s face on everyone
  • Cry-Baby’s tragic story about his father being executed
  • Cry-Baby’s electric chair tattoo
  • That scene where literally EVERYONE is making out on a blanket in the park
  • IGGY POP
  • The scenes in Turkey Point all look like the most chill place to have a summer party
  • That song Cry-Baby sings in jail
  • How all the Squares travel by bunny hop dance
  • The daring prison breakout mix-up
  • IGGY POP
  • Everyone’s gross open mouth kissing on the dance floor
  • That last song they sing while The Squares and The Drapes play a game of Chicken
  • Remembering that Johnny Depp once had a talent for bringing an unsettling strangeness to a role


Battlefield Earth (2000) Roger Christian



I’d been avoiding this movie for so long because I’d heard it was just terrible, but after reading Lawrence Wright’s incredible Scientology exposé Going Clear last year I figured I had to just see for myself.  As it turns out, Battlefield Earth is not a very good movie, but I was surprised to find out how watchable it was, at least for maybe the first hour-ish?  I guess I was just expecting something very self-serious and not fun, but this movie is bad the way a dumb, substanceless kids’ movie cash-grab is.  It’s such a goofy movie and a lot of what I liked about it was how surprising that was to me, so I doubt even the parts I did enjoy would hold up in a rewatch.  I don’t really remember much of what this movie was about, something about aliens called Psychlos (from the planet “Psychlo,” speaking their native language “Psychlo”) strip-mining the earth and enslaving humanity, and Barry Pepper leads a human revolution or something.


All the human portions are boring, predictable garbage, but all the Psychlo stuff with John Travolta and Forest Whitaker is fun, schlocky garbage.  Travolta’s character is a smart, top-of-his-class kind of guy who is trapped on earth working a job he thinks he’s too good for, surrounded by people/Psychlos he thinks are beneath him.  He’s more arrogant than intelligent, and he plays this role like a sort of alien version of Kelsey Grammer’s titular character on Frasier (which I guess casts Forest Whitaker as Roz?  I’m not sure, I haven’t seen that much Frasier).  Travolta’s hammin’ it up like one of those cartoonish villains in a kids’ movie from the mid to late nineties.  He’s over the top and obviously evil, but he’s also just so silly.  Every other scene is a big monologue about his master plan and how much he hates earth and his own superiors, but when you remove the human enslavement half of the equation, Battlefield Earth just becomes a movie about a guy who hates his shitty job.  There doesn’t seem to be much difference between Psychlo culture and human culture, at least with what we’re given in the movie.  Psychlos work for a living, they get drunk, they let off steam, they’re just a bunch of regular joes showing up to their boring jobs every day.  It’s funny stuff, but man, I really doubt it was on purpose.  I didn’t really mind most of it, but when a movie is pushing two hours this sort of stuff wears thin, especially considering that the last almost half hour of the movie is an incomprehensible action scene.  Anyway, it’s good for a couple laughs, I guess, but it’s hard to enjoy a movie that gives you so little to care about.


The Jerk (1979) Carl Reiner


This is one of my favorite comedies.  It’s a rise and fall-type story about a total idiot lucking into fame and fortune, but it’s never mean-spirited and it doesn’t revel in any character’s suffering.  It never aspires to be anything more than a goofy comedy, and by understanding what it is and what it wants to do, The Jerk gives off a purposeful sort of joy that works to keep the movie fresh.  Whenever I watch this movie, I’m just in awe of the timing that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters have.  They’re mostly dumb, throwaway lines, but the sheer volume of them is impressive.  30 Rock does something similar where it’s just joke after joke after joke after joke, so quick that by the time you’ve processed and reacted to that first joke they’re already wrapping up their third, but I think The Jerk’s jokes are a little bit more evenly paced, much less frantic than 30 Rock, and I think that’s due to a difference in format.  30 Rock doesn’t have the luxury of time like The Jerk so the frantic pacing and the assault of jokes happens because of the half-hour time constraint.  


The Jerk takes advantage of the longer movie format, particularly in how they have space to just let jokes develop.  There’s this one scene where Navin is in bed with Marie, and while she sleeps, Navin tenderly whispers to her how even though they’ve only known each other for “four weeks and three days” it feels like “nine weeks and five days.”  Navin continues to sweetly ramble, going day by day and figuring out the math behind this sentiment, and it becomes one of those jokes where the comedy comes not only in the lines that he says, but also that you’ve been watching him parse it out for a full two minutes.  It’s hilarious, but there’s  a sweetness and earnestness to The Jerk that you don’t typically get out of these sorts of screwball comedies.  It’s a very self aware movie, but it is never embarrassed to be itself.  It’s happy to be a comedy and that obsessive desire to generate laughter seeps into the other aspects of the movie.  For example, the romance between Navin and Marie sometimes verges toward the saccharin, but just as it is about to cross over that line, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters swoop in with perfect comedic timing (and a trumpet solo) to simultaneously undercut and supplement the romance.  I think that the variety to the delivery of the jokes, that the humor can come verbally, visually, conceptually, time-ly, etc.-ly, is one of the major strengths of The Jerk, as well as something that allows it to change emotional trajectory and still be fun after so many rewatches.