WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 21

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 21st WWW:

1) Duplex:
I remember years ago, after my family got our first VCR and first joined a video store, one of the first movies my mom rented was The Money Pit, in which Tom Hanks and Shelley Long portray a young couple struggling with their first home, a hyperbolic fixer-upper. I remember thinking it was funny at the time, and I got some good laughs out of it, but I don't know if it would stand the test of time, especially if it's anything like Duplex. On the surface it seems similar, a young couple starting out, but the only thing that needs “fixing” is the old lady who lives upstairs. They can't throw out the tenant above their new apartment due to rent control, but if she dies of natural causes, then a two floor apartment is all theirs. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play the couple in question, with very little chemistry. Here are two performers I normally enjoy, playing unconvincing roles and, more importantly, roles I had trouble finding sympathy for. The film tries to show how the sweet old lady can be annoying, to justify the protagonists' attempts to eliminate her. She plays the television loud. She sprays Barrymore's boss in the eyes with mace(while Barrymore and Stiller are taking party guests into her apartment, so not entirely unjustified). It's a series of increasingly outlandish situations, including an unnecessary scene in which Stiller causes the contents of the old lady's backed up sink to fly into Barrymore's mouth as she leans over it, which in turn causes her to throw it all right back up into her husband's face. Yeah, as I ranted about earlier this week, that scene alone cost the movie a star. Ultimately it was all unnecessary, and I would have expected better from Danny Devito, who directed and narrated this mess. The title sequence with his voiceover and a series of real estate animations was very promising, but it all went quickly downhill, right up to the predictable ending followed by the lame “twist” ending. I suppose it was all more average than terrible, but I've seen much better from all involved.

2) The Poseidon Adventure:
I actually had seen The Poseidon Adventure before, although I was a kid, caught it on television, and didn't see it from the very beginning. So I remembered upside down sections of an overturned ship with people scrambling up ladders and shafts to escape flooding chambers, but not much else. I didn't remember Leslie Nielsen as the ship's captain either because I'd missed his scenes, or because he was so serious that I didn't recognize him. I definitely remembered Ernest Borgnine's curmudgeonly cop and Shelley Winters, who was sweet and funny and not as big as I remembered. There are a few fat jokes in the movie, but given how morbidly obese people have gotten in this day and age, they seem out of place. Rewatching the movie as an adult, for the life of me I can't remember why I wouldn't remember Gene Hackman as the rebellious preacher who keeps everyone together and leads them away from certain death. I guess in my youth I didn't readily make connections from film to film when I saw actors I knew from elsewhere. Red Buttons ended up being my favorite character after Hackman's on my rewatching, playing a lonely haberdasher who never settled down because he never had the time. He's one of the more selfless and likable characters of the bunch, finding strength--and maybe love--amid death and tragedy. Much like the remake, The Poseidon Adventure follows that same template used by disaster and horror movies in which a group of people slowly get whittled down. Unlike those movies today, I found I cared about each and every individual. The effects might be better, but this ‘70s classic stands the test of time. Maybe I've become cynical or movies have become formulaic, but I'm at the point now where I can tell early on if a character is unlikeable, and thus will die, likable, and thus will live, or too likable and thus will die heroically saving everyone else. In the days of The Poseidon Adventure, you kept guessing. They don't make them like this anymore. They either try and fail, or they do a remake.

3) The Great Mouse Detective:
As Disney classics go, this tale of a mouse detective who lives beneath the home of the human detective that inspired him is probably not one of the major or more well-known ones, but it is a significant one. As I watched the movie, there was something really familiar about this Basil of Baker Street, even though I wasn't sure I'd seen the film before. When the special features spoke of a children's book series being the inspiration, I realized I knew the character from my own childhood, reading every detective story I could find at my local library. It was like watching an old friend. The tale is a fairly simple one, in which a toymaker is kidnapped and his daughter seeks the aid of the titular detective and his new sidekick. The toymaker is being coerced to build a mechanical replica of the mouse queen, which will allow an evil rat(voiced by the late Vincent Price to ascend to the throne. His Ratigan is no joke and at one point summons a cat to devour a disrespectful henchman. The devouring is shown in shadow, but is still pretty harsh for a cartoon. The animation is top-notch, and I was especially impressed by a sequence in which Basil is being chased through the innards of Big Ben by his nemesis. I couldn't believe all the intertwining gears within the clock and dramatic angles were done by hand. As it turns out, that sequence was Disney's first foray into computer animation, but it still maintains a traditional look because it was still drawn, just by a computer with a robot arm and a pen attached to it. It was impressive for 1986 and it still holds up today. The DVD also included two classic cartoons I probably hadn't seen since I was young enough to read Basil books, 1937's Clock Cleaners and 1945's Donald's Crime. Both were a true treat, and a reminder that the original characters like Mickey Mouse have gone from being stars to being corporate logos. It's a little sad. At least my generation got new adventures for some of these classics with shows like Duck Tales. I think the originals deserve a new feature film at some point, though.

4) Never Been Kissed:
I generally enjoy Drew Barrymore, Duplex notwithstanding, but I think I avoided this “chick flick” for a while because I couldn't suspend my disbelief that high school kids wouldn't notice that their new classmate was an undercover reporter in her 20s, even though movies and television have been casting twenty-somethings as teenagers for as long as I can remember, giving us all unrealistic expectations. Why didn't I have stubble in high school? (And why the hell did I have breasts? It didn't seem right. But that's off topic.) Drew actually does a good job playing younger(Maggie Grace could have learned a thing or two from this for her Taken role). I bought her as both a 23-year-old and a 23-year-old convincingly acting 17. It helped that her character was an outcast and never fully recovered, retaining her social awkwardness, an element of the film I could relate to. I think having Drew play her true 17-year-old self in flashbacks didn't quite work, as the addition of braces wasn't enough. But for scenes set in the present, it was amazing how hair, makeup, and clothes could change her appearance. By the time her older brother, played by David Arquette, also goes back to school to help her out, the disbelief is stretched pretty thin. By then you don't really care though, as you're caught up in her plight. She's there for a story, but it's also a second chance, and she's reliving the past and changing things, making headway with the popular kids, including Jessica Alba, James Franco, and a slew of other familiar faces that would become more famous in subsequent years. Leelee Sobieski plays an intellectual girl who befriends Barrymore, who gets discarded in favor of the more popular kids. Sobieski is so mature and proper in both her roles and her talk show appearances, that at one point I was convinced she was another adult reporter posing as a student to get a story. There's an element that's never explained, that a rival paper keeps scooping her on things they couldn't possibly know unless another undercover reporter was there. And of course, the larger question is why major newspapers would even care what goes on at a high school. These details are unimportant in this type of film. Drew is likable and sympathetic, and her situation is even more complicated by a seemingly mutual attraction between herself and a teacher played by Michael Vartan. It would be unethical for him to pursue a student. She can't blow her cover and tell him the truth. But she, as the title suggests, has never been kissed, at least not what she considers a “real” kiss, in which the world around blurs and only the two people locking lips exist for a few wonderful moments. With anyone else in the lead, I probably just described a film that would make me want to gouge my eyes out(outside of a dating situation). But Drew Barrymore sold me on the role, and I went from checking my watch and wondering when this goofy movie would be over, to being truly invested in her character, and wondering if her second chance would lead to experiences she missed out on the first time around.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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