WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 32
1) Gods and Monsters:
Ian McKellen does an excellent job portraying James Whale, homosexual film director best remembered for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Based on the novel Father of Frankenstein, Gods and Monsters is a speculative account of the last days of Whale's life, as he struggles with increasing mental “storms” in the wake of a stroke. Old memories can overwhelm him at any time, and he laments the fact that his mind is dying before his body. He forms an unlikely friendship with his gardener, a brutish ex-marine played by the versatile Brendan Fraser. The film is a series of awkward, uncomfortable moments, between the film itself and the audience, as well as between the two leads. Fraser's character initially agrees to sit for Whale and model for sketches, facing both fear of his alignment and fascination with his fame. Whale's loyal housekeeper, played by Lynn Redgrave, stands by her employer, though she feels that his sin is the “worst sin of all”. Fraser slowly adopts a “live and let live” attitude, and Whale becomes something of a surrogate father to him. His own was an alcoholic who berated him for not lasting with the marines. Still, it's a difficult relationship for him to process. As we catch glimpses of Whale's own military career, the horrors he saw there as well as the social ones he faces as a forgotten famous person, the title of the film becomes more than just a line taken from Bride of Frankenstein. Which people are gods and which are monsters? More often than not, we make this decision based on outward appearances. More often than not, we're wrong. Whale speaks of giving the creature in his film a nobility to contrast his hulking frame and patchwork facade. In the end, no matter how monstrous any of us appear to others, we all have a little bit of nobility inside. And no matter how beautiful some might appear, we all struggle with monsters inside as well.
I'm not sure who thought this was a good premise for a movie, and I'm about to spoil the opening set-up for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Ben Affleck plays a hotshot young ad executive on a business trip fresh off scoring a major client in a large airline. While waiting for his delayed flight in a bar, he meets another man trying to get home to his family, as well as the beautiful Natasha Henstridge. So when his flight comes in and the others are still delayed, he opts to do a selfless and selfish deed in one by giving his ticket to the family man while he stays behind to hook up with Henstridge. The plane crashes and everyone on board dies, and Affleck struggles with guilt upon his return home, especially when his company helps the airline put a good spin on the situation. After spiraling down into alcoholism, he seeks rehabilitation and gets himself cleaned up. But he decides to visit the widow(Gwyneth Paltrow) of the guy he switched places with, to see how she and her sons are doing and express his sorrow for the unfortunate turn of events. When he meets her however, he instead falls in love with her, and now has the moral dilemma of being in a relationship with someone who doesn't know he's indirectly responsible for her husband's death. The two do have good chemistry together, and it's actually not bad watching them get closer and watch Affleck bond with her two sons. He does deliver the occasional corny movie line that would never work in real life(“I don't have a last call of the day!”), but he's definitely done worse. It's just that the whole situation exists on the thin and slightly creepy ice of the dead husband, so you can't get too invested in this relationship without realizing that sooner or later the truth is going to come out and the ice is going to break. And at that point, there's not really a good outcome. Either it all falls apart and we get a depressing ending, or it falls apart but somehow they work through it to an unlikely happy Hollywood ending that rings hollow. I don't need to tell you which route they took, but they definitely painted themselves into a corner with the whole concept to begin with. Joe Morton, Johnny Galecki and Jennifer Grey show up in supporting roles and do a good job, but beyond that you wouldn't be missing anything if you skipped this one.
3) Dance Flick:
The quickly-produced parody movie genre is definitely out-of-control, and the humor is aimed at high school kids and younger. There was a time when it was possible to do a “dumb” satire and still have intelligence in the humor. The most recent example of this for me was Black Dynamite, which was absolutely brilliant in its send-up of ‘70s blaxploitation, right up to the grainy film, obvious stunt doubles, visible boom mikes, and recycled stock footage. The attention to detail was immaculate. In any case, slapping “Movie” after a genre has led to these mass-produced spoofs well below the caliber of the people making them. After the terrible Scary Movie 2, David Zucker took over that franchise, but while his films were marginally better than the second installment, it was hard to believe that this was the same guy who brought us Airplane! or The Naked Gun. With Dance Flick, we see a return of the Wayans family to the film genre satire business, this time picking on an easy target, those absurd films with choreographed dance “battles”. I had low expectations, and only checked it out after learning the male lead was Damon Wayans, Jr. Sadly, either that apple has fallen VERY far from the tree, or he still has a lot to learn. Various other family members show up in the film, with Keenen giving a surprisingly bad performance and Marlon and Shawn giving surprisingly good ones. It's saying something when those two are the strongest Wayans in a movie, and though Marlon has proven he has great potential with his dramatic role in Requiem for a Dream, he always seems to take a step backward in his collaborations with Shawn. Here, his over-the-top drama teacher has some winning moments, while Shawn gets some laughs as a deadbeat dad. If you've seen the trailer, you've probably seen the bit where he shows up to pick up his son, picks the kid up for a second, then puts him back down, telling the baby's mother, “I'm out. I'll be back to pick him up again next week.” More importantly, if you've seen the trailer, you can skip the film. There were one or two laughs beyond what was shown, but that was the best stuff. Even worse, the trailer was better edited, and scenes end on logical high notes. In the movie, they go on just a bit too long. Damon Jr.'s delivery and comedic timing need work. And I don't understand what David Alan Grier was doing slumming in a fat suit here. He's better than that, and I guess was just doing a favor for his old friends from In Living Color. Remember In Living Color? Remember when they were all better than this? Though several Wayans I never heard of were involved in front of and behind the camera, Damon senior was conspicuously absent. Maybe he didn't want to steal his kid's limelight, or maybe he distanced himself from what he knew to be a bad picture. It's not all bad, and does take Twilight down a peg, one of the few good scenes that wasn't in any of the trailers. And I liked Affion Crockett as the main character's friend A-Con, who gets into an argument with him about there being no “I” in team and mispronounces the word “Iensemble” to try to win the debate. His line delivery cracked me up consistently throughout the film. Ultimately, the problem with this genre is these end up either being a collection of sketches that might be funny on their own for 2-3 minutes, or a 2-3 minute sketch stretched to an hour-and-a-half. The Wayans are funny and talented, but perhaps their strength does lie in the sketch comedy. Perhaps they need another In Living Color. Unfortunately, if they keep going back to these manufactured low-end spoofs, no one is going to give them another TV show.
More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!
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