The Addams Family

Whenever I stumble upon The Addams Family or Addams Family Values, I have to watch it to the end. Even though I own both on DVD. These movies never fail to make me laugh. In the 90s there were a lot of movie remakes of classic television shows and most of them are shit. The advantage that The Addams Family had was it was able to take the existing material and truly modernize it. The television show presented a family who was odd but pleasant. They were always eager to meet new people but would accidentally scare them off with their creepy house. In the films, the family can be a lot darker and really run with the concept. There are frequent jokes about the various family members murdering people, committing arson, and engaging in acts of violent sex. This is a great example of everyone involved with a film just having fun with the material.

The film has an outstanding cast. Raul Julia and Angelica Houston are perfection as Gomez and Morticia. In the show, John Astin was a charming but somewhat goofy Gomez. Julia gives Gomez a hint of danger. It’s hard to say who is the better Gomez, but Julia gets some of the best moments of the films. He’s amazingly over the top, especially when faced with any type of setback. When kicked out the family mansion in the first film, he quickly devolves into a rerun watching couch potato, completely giving up on life.

Angelica Houston clearly had great time as Morticia. She gets to be sexy, mysterious, and wickedly hilarious. In the second film, the crew has a movie long joke about Morticia and her lighting. In every scene, she is specially lit, a beam of light across her eyes. She even occasionally walks into her special lighting. It’s an extra wink to the viewer that always cracks me up. One thing that made Gomez and Morticia different than other couples on television in the 60s, was that they were the first couple that clearly had sex with each other. They overflowed with passion at a time where couples couldn’t even be shown in the same bed. In the films, they really kick it up a notch, with reference to their kinky bedroom behavior and engaging in sexual acts at a charity auction. To this day, they are one of the few couples in television or film that show that your sex life doesn’t die when you have kids.

Christina Ricci dominates the second film, really coming into her own as an actress with Wednesday’s brilliant barbs. Wednesday had very little to do in the series so to have her become such a fully realized character is a real treat. In Addams Family Values, she and brother Pugsley attend sleep-away camp, where they stand out among their bubbly campmates. They are sent to the Harmony Hut where they are forced to watch family fare in order to learn how to be chipper. Wednesday exits smiling, ready to follow the rules, only to rebel later, burning the camp to the ground. Wednesday attempting to smile is hilarious.

The screenwriters did themselves a favor by creating strong plots that complimented the familiar characters. It didn’t rely on sticking the family members in wacky situations. Both films focus on Fester Addams (which is interesting, because in the television show he wasn’t even an Addams, he was Morticia uncle). In the first film, Fester (played by staple of my childhood Christopher Lloyd) has been lost for years and suffers amnesia when a con-artist uses him to trick the family out of their millions. Over time, he learns to love the family and realizes he is, indeed, an Addams. In the sequel, he meets and falls in love with the family’s nanny (played by Joan Cusack, clearly relishing in the chance to play the sexy villain) only to discover she has a history of murdering her wealthy husbands. They are plots that could have worked with original characters but compliment these pop culture icons.

The dialogue is really smart. What really works is that the family is both aware that they are different and completely oblivious to it. One of my favorite bits is when Cousin Itt (you know, the walking mound of hair) shows up to the family’s Halloween celebration wearing a cowboy hat and a holster. His wife (who is a totally normal human) says everyone keeps asking him where he got his costume. To which Gomez says “It is a great hat”, because that’s what people are struck by. The hat the walking mound of hair is wearing. I could probably dissect every joke in both movies, giggling the whole time, but that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? The Family Channel (excuse me, ABC Family- gag) was airing both films regularly for awhile. I urge all who come across them to check them out, for the first or hundredth time.

Favorite Quote:

Gomez: [shouting] Has the planet gone mad? My brother, passion’s hostage. I seek justice – denied! I shall not submit! I shall conquer! I shall rise! My name is Gomez Addams, and I have seen evil!
[Grandma waves Pubert in the air]
Gomez: I have seen horror!
[Lurch waves]
Gomez: I have seen the unholy maggots which feast in the dark recesses of the human soul!
Morticia: They’re at camp.

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Mad Men

Mad Men returned this weekend and it’s one of the few television series currently airing that I follow religiously. As a writer myself, nothing is more frustrating than when a beloved show takes a turn I don’t approve of. But Mad Men is an interesting case, because it never does what I want it to do, but it’s still incredibly satisfying. The show’s strength is its rich cast of characters. All are supremely flawed in one way or another but each is played with such respect by the actors, that you can find something to love about all of them. Well, except maybe Betty.

Jon Hamm plays advertising genius Don Draper, who won’t let anyone get too close out of fear they will uncover his less than admirable past. While I love Jon Hamm and thinks he does a great job in the role, I find the Don-centric parts of the show a little boring. What I’ve always found interesting, is his taste in women. He married a model who quickly conformed into the classic Donna Reed housewife (despite it being a less than perfect fit) but he tends to favor career women. He clearly wants to be the dominant one in any situation, but perhaps likes the challenge a more independent woman presents. What I love about the pilot is that when we first meet Don, he seems to be a fairly modern man. He has a cool girlfriend who has a solid career and is the only one not telling the new secretary to show her legs more, even shutting down her advances. You find yourself really liking this Don Draper. But in the episode’s last minutes, you learn he has a wife and children waiting for him at home. He’s just like the others.

The character I find the most interesting is Pete Campbell. He’s petulant, he’s awkward, and I find him fascinating. He can’t help himself but express his every annoyance and concern. He often seems to be trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing or feeling. He’s super ambitious and hard-working and you can see how frustrated he is that success in the advertising world is based on charm, something he can never have. His wife is played by the always adorable Alison Brie. Trudy started out as a rich brat, but over time has become a wife who truly understands her husband and will always provide him with the support he needs, whether he deserves it or not. I would love for Vincent Kartheiser to get more props for his portrayal of Pete Campbell, but John Slattery seems to be the go to guy for the best supporting actor nominations.

John Slattery’s Roger Sterling is a perfect supporting character because he always gets the best lines. However, his main character trait is how incredibly shallow he is. Born into privileged, working a job he got because his daddy started the company, he has gotten by on his charm but as he gets older and times change, it becomes clear he needs to start trying once in awhile and he is never able to step up to the challenge. When he comes across a problem he throw money on it instead of pausing for self-reflection.

While the show has a lot of boys behaving badly, a lot of attention is paid to the women they use and abuse, as it feature several strong female characters who are all taking different paths in life. Most of the women are kept very separate. The only two who have frequent interactions are Peggy and Joan, who women who started out in similar position but took very different paths. Peggy has focused on her career and has worked her ways up the ranks in a male dominated field at the expense of her personal life. Joan is extremely competent and dedicated to her job, but she has a non-threatening job for a women to have and has that magic touch where she has power, but the men around her still feel like they are the ones are in control. Joan is now trying to balance work with family and is finding it harder than she expected. Probably the saddest thing about Peggy and Joan is how little has changed. We act like we live in such enlightened times, but society still prefers Joans to Peggys and everyone woman has to decide for herself whether work or family will be her focus.

As I hinted at before, January Jones’ character Betty Draper is a very polarizing character among fan. When we met her, she was fairly sympathetic. She obviously unhappy in her role of housewife and was resentful of her husband’s infidelities. However, over time the writing has highlighted what a bad mother she is, making her the show’s closest thing to a villain. Also, I find myself unclear what she really wants. She doesn’t like being a mother, but she doesn’t seem to have interest in going to work in an office everyday. I’m left feeling like she wants to be pampered and complimented 24/7, which makes her a hard character to get behind.

I’ll admit the show is not for everyone. It’s a slow burn and audiences are used to dramas that end every episode with a big reveal and a cliffhanger. However, if you’re a fan of deep character studies and multilayer writing, it’s a treat. As we get to know the characters and their relationships, every line of dialogue has more and more meaning. It’s also a show you have to pay attention to. Mad Men does not do info dumps, so often the audience is not privy to important conversations, instead getting a throwaway line from a character that tells the audience “Yeah, that happened when you weren’t looking”. It asks more of its audience than most rewards, but it also rewards viewers time and time again.

Favorite Episode: Shut the Door. Have a Seat.

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids was apparently the industry’s test to see if women can do comedy. A few years ago a lot of high profile films starring A-list women bombed at the box office and the decision was made that people don’t like lady movies. There was one executive who flat out said he wouldn’t green light any project with a female protagonist and a few films that were in production were altered to beef up the male lead’s part. Then Bridesmaids came alone, written by and starring Kristen Wigg who is pretty much universally adored by the industry (even though I know a lot of people who have major problems with her, myself included) and it was decided that no comedies with female leads would get given the go ahead unless Bridesmaids was a hit. A lot of pressure for one little movie, no? Thankfully for funny ladies everywhere, the film was a hit so girls are allowed to make poop jokes. Hurray!

I was a little wary going into the film due to my previously stated dislike of Wigg. However, I found her much more tolerable as a lead in a film, then in SNL sketches. It’s probably because she’s playing a real person and not just a character. That being said, after repeat viewings, it’s clear her character is the weakest in a very strong cast. While she’s hit a string of bad luck, she spends a good chuck of the two hour plus movie feeling sorry for herself and alternating between being passive and passive aggressive, allowing her anger to bubble up until she can’t help but throw a tantrum. There have been many comedies in recent years that focus on male friendships, and I think this could have been a great story about female friendship, and how hard it can be when one friend takes a big step forward in life, and the other is forced to stand still and watch, but instead we got multiple scenes of Wigg baking. My issue with Wigg is I find her to be a selfish performer whose characters exist in a vacuum, and each time I rewatch Bridesmaids, I realize how many scenes feature Wigg alone.

This film has a great sampling of women in comedy today. Almost every woman with a speaking part is a familiar face and everyone gets a moment or two in the sun.  This was a breakout role for Melissa McCarthy, who kills it in every scene, injecting her over the top character with a sweetness so you can’t help but love her. The other bridesmaids are all a lot of fun and they each do a great job of injecting their strong personalities without letting things get too wacky. Each woman has a rich backstory and Wigg’s script does a great job of showing us who these women are, without too much exposition. Maya Rudolph mostly plays the straight man as bride-to-be Lillian, but the few moments she does get to be silly, remind you how great she is.

One of my biggest pet peeves in the movie is that on multiple occasions, Wigg complains that her arch-nemesis bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) is thinner than her. This stood out to me because Wigg is almost painfully thin, so even if Helen is thinner (which I don’t think she is), it’s by an insignificant amount, and really, who freaking cares? They’re fighting over a female friend! I really don’t think May Rudolph (who’s bigger than both of them, not that it matters) is choosing her friends by their dress size.  I get that Wigg’s character is in a full blown tailspin of self-loathing, but it was so weird to me.

While the film has a lot to offer, it could have used some editing. If they chopped off a half hour of Wigg’s navel gazing, it would have been a stronger movie.  I will give Wigg credit for supposedly turning down 20 million dollars to do a sequel that she didn’t think was necessary. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Bridesmaids did have on the comedy landscape in the coming years.

Favorite Quote:

Becca: You are more beautiful than Cinderella! You smell like pine needles, and have a face like sunshine!

Little Miss Sunshine

**Contains Spoilers**

Little Miss Sunshine has a very simple plot. A family travels so the daughter can compete in a child beauty pageant. When you think about it, not a lot happens to the family on their journey. They don’t run into too many of the typical road trip movie obstacles, but they are all different people by the end of it. The film’s strength is in the characterization of the six family members. While they all have some sort indi-film character quirk, the actors transform them into a relatable family. What the film is truly about is family, and how, even when things don’t work out, you’re not a loser if you have people who love you.

This was the world’s introduction to Abigail Breslin, a very talented young actress who will be interesting to watch in the upcoming years as she transitions from a child to teen to adult actress. When we first see her character, Olive, she is watching a beauty pageant, clearly dreaming of being a winner one day. However, Olive is an unfortunate looking child. She’s plain, she wears glasses, she’s chubby. While, a sweet girl, you find yourself feeling sorry for her, having an unrealistic dream. We learn that she has been chosen to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine competition, forcing the somewhat dysfunctional family to cram into their van for a few days on the road. As they get closer to the competition, Olive does express doubts about her chances of winning, and feels pressure to win because her father’s self-help plan that emphasizes the importance of winning. Olive eventually learns the world of beauty pageants is not for her and that she is surrounded by people who love her and that is more important than being perfect all the time.

The relationship between Olive and her grandfather (Alan Arkin) is very touching. Grandpa is cranky and an admitted heroin user, but around his granddaughter, he’s a sweetheart. He is Olive’s choreographer for the pageants; his routine for her brings the film’s biggest laughs. There is a scene between them, where Olive expresses her fears about winning and her grandfather tells her he loves her, not for her personality or her intelligent, but because she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. It’s a funny moment because that’s exactly what you shouldn’t be telling a child, but it shows how important it is for children to have people in their lives that think they are most perfect creature alive. Another interesting element is that through this interaction with his son (Greg Kinnear), he was not this constant source of love for his own children, only Olive.

Sadly, this is their last moment together. Olive finds him dead the next morning. The scenes in the hospital hit very close to home for me. It encapsulates the disconnect one can feel in the hospital where, you’re experiencing one of the worst days in your life but, to those in the hospital, it’s just another day.

This film was a real change of pace for Steve Carell. He plays a homosexual Proust expert who attempted to kill himself after his lover left for him for his academic rival. I found his performance to be pretty perfect. It’s very subtle but he has this cloud of sadness hanging over him, even as he starts to see that everything is going to be ok. He’s an interesting character because while these people are, for the most part, his family, they are unknown to him. You get the impression there has been intentional distance kept between them, but it’s not clear who was enforcing it. While Carell is very good at wacky, I find him to be very refreshing in his quieter roles.

This was also the first big film for Paul Dano who plays Dwayne, the sullen teenage son who has taken a vow of silence until he becomes a fighter pilot. Like the others, he learns his dream is not obtainable. Dano does a lot with a character that doesn’t speak for two acts. When he finally does begin talking, during his flip out when he learns he can never join the air force, you see all he’s kept bottled up. You also see his tender side, when he tries to stop Olive for competing in the pageant. He knows Olive doesn’t belong in that world and while he thinks that world is bullshit, he still doesn’t want his little sister to be rejected by them.

This is an interesting film because every character goes through some sort of great change. When we meet them, they are all so focused on their goals, they have ignored each other. By the end of film, they have all lost their dream but they all gained a family. Say it with me, “Awwww”.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean

Felt like writing about a fun movie, since I’ve been having a long week. Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the most surprising films I have ever seen. I was very apprehensive going in. It was based on an amusement park ride! And I remember thinking “This is going to be bad” after watching the trailer. I think it was one of those trailers that cram in all the cheapest jokes the movie had to offer. But I went because Johnny Depp is my favorite living actor and my college friends had an obsession with pirates. I was blown away by how funny it is and what a great ride (hee hee) this film is.

Depp really makes the film. It would probably be a completely forgettable movie with anyone else as Jack Sparrow. I can’t think of a better example of an actor completely losing himself in a role and having as much fun as possible. It really shows how craft can completely elevate a role. Depp makes choices as Jack Sparrow. Many of Jack Sparrow’s best, or at least most in character lines, were adlibbed by Depp and he had a lot of ideas about who this crazy cartoon of a pirate really was.

Depp is interesting because he was pretty much born to be a movie star. He’s handsome, he’s a bad boy, he’s talented, but he has spent most of his career rejecting his natural place on the A-list. He prefers playing oddballs, usually choosing roles that require make-up or hair pieces to disguise his looks. But then he goes and makes a Disney movie? Of course, he did it on his terms. Disney did hold him back a little, he originally wanted Sparrow to not have a nose, but Depp soon learned how to play their game. Knowing the studio would balk at him wanting gold teeth, he had a dentist implant more that he really wanted, so he could bargain with them and still get the amount of gold teeth he really wanted.

While the whole film could have just been Depp acting like a drunk pirate for two hours, he does have a strong supporting cast. He has not one, but two adversaries – undead pirate captain Barbosa and pirate hating naval man Norrington. Even though they are the mandatory love interests, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have amazing chemistry with Depp and their relationships with him add to the film. Knightley’s Elizabeth is no damsel in distress, standing up to pirates and bucking against the life that’s expected of her.  Also, both pirate crews are filled with colorful characters.

While this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, it has had some unfortunate consequences. Since no one really expected this movie to be so good, there was no way the sequels could be anywhere near as fun. While they certainly made money, the sequels come off a bloated and formulaic. Johnny Depp’s still having a good time so he’s currently signed on to make Pirates 5 and 6. Also, I worries he’s suffering a plight common to underappreciated actors. After years of subtle, nuanced performances, he finally started to get serious praise when he went completely over the top, so now I worry there’s a little bit of Jack Sparrow in all his roles.  That being said, I will always smile when I have the chance to say “Why is the rum gone?”

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is, in my opinion, the greatest teen movie of all-time. I think what makes it so amazing is that it doesn’t try to make high school into this magic place where we make friendships that last forever and experience our first loves, but instead, it presents it as a place where we are all trying to act like everything is ok but we’re all equally confused and hurt on the inside. It shows that no matter how different people may look on the outside, we all experience pain. I kind of feel like the world would be a better place if life was more like this movie, where everyone’s shit was out in the open . There would be less misunderstandings.

The kids follow boy band logic, have different enough members so everyone has someone to relate to. I define anyone to not see themselves in one of the protagonists. Each character puts a lot of effort to live up to their titles, even as they hate how suffocating it is. This reminded me how in school people would tell me they were planning to cheat off my test because I was “Smart, right?” and feeling a lot of pressure to do well so the person copying me didn’t get pissed off when I gave them wrong answers. Totally stupid, right? That being said, I always identified with Alison, the basket case, the most.

This movie may prove that every human being on the planet Earth was fucked up, in some way, by their parents. Each of the kid reason for being in detention that day was in some way related to how they felt about their parents. Whether they felt pressure to be perfect or neglect, their pain led them all to their high school’s library on a Saturday afternoon. One of the saddest moments is when Andrew admits to pulling a mean prank against a weaker boy to make his father proud and imagining the other kid having to tell his father what happened at school that day. They’re all trying so hard to win their parents’ love, all while hoping they never turn into them.

One thing I appreciate a lot about this movie is that at least the majority of the kids admit to being virgins. John & Andrew are the only ones who never say anything concrete. They are all so embarrassed by the truth, even though it’s clear that being a virgin in high school isn’t that so strange after all. A lot of current teen shows and movies focus on the fact that TEENS HAVE SEX!!!! But most of the people I know were virgins until senior year at the earliest. I do think there needs to be less focus on high school being this non-stop sex party. Not to be a prude, but sex is a big deal, with consequences and I think it’s ok to make it clear to teens that some people are lying through their teeth and not everyone is “doing it”. Ok, off my soapbox.

My favorite scene is when they talk about what they are going to be to each other after that day. I feel like there are so many people in your life that you share a real connection with, only to lose touch with them because the relationship is too troublesome to maintain. It’s a little bit of a cop-out that they sort of partner off. John and Claire, maybe, but they seem to admit it’s just going to be fling at best. But Andrew and Alison come out of no where and he really only notices her when she stops being herself. And how sad is it that Brian is left alone to write their paper? A more realistic ending would be to show the five walking past each other and totally ignoring one another.

Favorite Quote:

Brian Johnson: I’m a fucking idiot because I can’t make a lamp?
John Bender: No. You’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.

Up

Pixar is probably the most evil company ever. No production company makes movies that consistently make me cry like Pixar does.  I can’t even describe the scene where Jessie gets given away in Toy Story 2 without bursting into tears and I was doing pretty good during Toy Story 3 until Andy says good-bye to Woody. But no movie in film history makes me cry like Up! It tells the story of a couple who have a love for adventure but reality keeps them from living their dreams. After the wife passes and developers plot to kick the husband out of his home, he unleashes millions of balloons, which carries him and the house (and an enthusiastic boy scout) to Paradise Falls, the land of his wife’s fantasies.

There are three key moments that make me lose my shit in this movie and not one of them contains a single line of dialogue: 1) Early in the film, we see a montage of Ellie and Carl’s lives together and we see them eagerly preparing for a baby, only to see them later in a stark doctor’s office, Ellie devastated. Carl helps her move on with plans of a trip to South America, which due to a series of financial hardships and the illness that takes Ellie’s life, they can never go on together. 2) Towards the end of the film, Carl discovers Ellie’s scrapbook, filled of pictures of all the adventurous locals she never got to visit. He feels helpless when faced with all she couldn’t do, and then see the scrapbook also contains photos of their lives together. While Ellie didn’t get to live her dreams, she still had a full and meaningful life because she had Carl’s love. 3) At the end we see the house eventually ended up at the top of the waterfall, just like Ellie always wanted. Carl made her dream come true afterall. And I’m a blubbery mess!

When this film came out, a lot of people gave Pixar flack for having another male dominant movie. Brave, will be the first Pixar film with a female protagonist. While the point against Pixar is valid, I felt it distracted from how good Up was. I don’t believe this movie would work as well with if the genders were reversed. Since the two leads are an elderly person and a child who spend a good portion of the film alone together, they have to be the same gender. It’s awkward having a little girl following around an old man, or an old lady being stalked by a little boy. Also, while this film is known for it’s tender moments, there is a lot of comedy and a grumpy old man is funnier/less sad than a grumpy old lady. I’m sorry, it’s true! Also it’s probably more PC to have a husband who is the quieter member of the relationship, than the opposite. If it was the story of an old lady trying to fulfill her dead husband’s wish, people probably would have complained about her being defined as a wife or something. Ellie is such a strong character that we know everything we need to know about her in just a few minutes of screentime and her presence is felt throughout the film. I’ve heard people say Carl and Ellie’s story is more completely told in a few minutes than many other “classic” couples and I agree, because we are not just told they love each other, we are shown why they love each other, a key element missing from some of the most famous couples in romance history.

The relationship between Carl and Russell is great too. They both are missing key people in their lives (Carl ‘s wife and Russell’s father) but show that just because life deals you an imperfect hand, doesn’t mean your life can’t be filled with love. These two fill in the blank in each other’s lives and prove that families can come in all shapes and sizes as long as everyone cares for one another.

Favorite Quote:

Dug: My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.

Shaun of the Dead

Hubby and I are pretty much on the same page about most things. We tend to enjoy the same movies, television shows, music, etc, but the one area where we are not on the same page is horror movies. Hubby is a big horror movie fan, particularly zombie movies. I find horror movies boring. They just don’t interest me. I think it’s mostly because dialogue is what captures my attention, not visuals, and horror movies tend to be heavier on the visual. I have the same issue with action movies. So while hubby is usually forced to cram all his horror movie watching when I’m out of town, we will always be able to share zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead. It has jokes for me and plenty of classic zombie references for him.

While the central action of this film is a fight for survival in the wake of the zombocalyse, it’s really about growing up. Shaun finds himself trapped between his best friend, who represents his past and his girlfriend, who could be his future. Everyone in his life is urging him to ditch his immature best friend, Ed, so he can grow-up and enjoy the next stage of his life which will include all those grown-up things like career and marriage, but Shaun still cares for Ed. They share a lot of good memories and Ed can always make Shaun laugh. This is a very relatable conundrum for those in their mid to late 20s. I have friends from college that haven’t fully stepped into adulthood and it’s always awkward when they mingle with the friends I’ve made since graduating. Luckily, by the end of the film, Shaun learns that if he doesn’t reprioritize, he’s going to lose out on a lot of great stuff, and finds a way to grow-up, without kicking Ed out of his life. The aftermath of the zombocalypse does make this change a little easier, but that’s besides the point.

What makes this movie so funny is how it shows what it would be like for real people to be faced with this extreme situation. At first Shaun is completely oblivious to the zombies, showing Shaun  is the zombie as he bumbles through life. Slowly, Shaun and Ed piece together what has happened and concoct a plan of what to do about it. I also like that they remain fairly out of their element, never truly rising to the occasion. It also has some real serious moments. Shaun finds himself having to kill loved ones who have been infected and his struggle is very touching and honest.

I had a playwriting professor who adored callbacks, when something seemingly insignificant from earlier in the film, leads to something much bigger later on. Shaun of the Dead is full of callbacks. Almost everything said in the first act comes back throughout the film. An example is when Shaun runs into friend Yvonne (played by Simon Pegg’s Spaced co-star Jessica Stevenson) and when finding out he’s still with Liz, Yvonne says it’s good to know somebody survived. When they run into each other at the peak of the zombocalypse, she again says it’s good to know somebody survived. The same sentence, with a completely different meaning.  It’s an excellently crafted script full of laughs, humanity, and zombies.

Fight Club

Fight Club is one of those films where I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw it. I will admit, I’m a sucker for a twist ending and didn’t see this one coming at all. But it isn’t a story that relies on shock value, despite their being a lot of shocking content, but sheds a light on a lost generation struggling to find meaning in a world filled with consumerism and with no great struggle to define them.  The acting, the directing, and the script are all perfection, and while it is now considered a modern classic, it received little attention by the big awards when it was released (one Oscar nomination for sound effects editing).

This film was an obvious labor of love on the part of director David Fincher and stars Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. Fincher is among the great directors of his generation, with a distinct style that really fits the core of this film. I’ve heard it said that he directs movies “you can smell” and the world of Fight Club reeks. Norton and Pitt were very involved with finding props and creating small moments that further drive the film’s main themes across. Both insisted that their characters destroy a Volkswagen Beetle saying “It’s a perfect example of the Baby Boomer generation marketing its youth culture to us. As if our happiness is going to come by buying the symbol of their youth movement” . It’s clear that they felt the film’s message of this lost generation was very important.

I think Tyler Durden an interesting marker in Brad Pitt’s career. He’s one of a handful of Hollywood pretty boys who has purposely taken riskier roles to be taken seriously as an actor. While basically playing the man every man wishes he was, Pitt still really goes balls to the wall creating this gritty, unstable character. I think early on, he felt his path to respect was to take on the uglier parts, while now he is choosing more traditional “Oscar films”. I kind of miss this Brad Pitt.

I recommend a viewing of this film with the audio commentary by Fincher and the three leads. You not only learn  a of fun facts about the process of making this film, but it’s fairly clear that the men (Fincher, Norton, Pitt) filmed their commentary separately from Helena Bonham Carter, but it takes you awhile to figure it out. It’s pretty hilarious. The guys will be telling a story about how they found some prop, laughing and reminiscing, then Helena Bonham Carter comes out of nowhere, talking about her  character. When I first listened to it, I was really confused because it sounds like they are all in the same room but nobody interacts with Bonham Carter. She never comments on what the others are saying and nobody acknowledges her. I pictured the four of them in the room, the guys having a good time and then here comes Helena talking about HER character, and the dudes waiting for her to finish so they could continue to ignore her. They were either recorded at separate locations, or Helena Bonham Carter is crazy and nobody likes her. I’m going to go with the former, but the latter is funnier.

While I am predisposed to make fun of Helena Bonham Carter, she really does an amazing job in this film. It’s so easy to ignore her, being that this is such a dude movie at its core, but Marla is such a complex character. She is the most vulnerable to the twist ending, so her choices have to make sense the first time you watch it and during repeat viewings. I notice something new about her performance every time I watch this film.

I don’t think this film could have been made post-9/11. There are some obvious plot points that would probably be deemed insensitive in today’s culture and the main characters become terrorists, which would be a bigger problem now, but I think the overall theme wouldn’t be touch today either, despite still being relevant. The film claims the protagonists are from a generation who has no great tragedy to define them and are therefore doomed to search for their identity. However, despite obvious generation defining markers (9/11, the Iraq War, everything Bush did, the recession) there is still a feeling of “when are we going to be adult” among those in their 40s, 30s, & 20s. I think this film has the answers to a lot of our current problems as a country, how we are raised thinking we are a special and unique snowflake but are still pressured to conform and get that big job so you can buy more crap you don’t need. It’s an honest love letter to a generation who needs a punch in the face once in a while.

Favorite Quote

Tyler Durden:You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the first time when the VHS was sent to me and my brother by our grandparents. We were five and three at the time, and in hindsight, we were probably too young for this movie. The scenes where Judge Doom dips that poor little show and when he reveals his real identity were possibly the most terrifying things I had ever seen (I still look away to this day). I also may have asked to be Jessica Rabbit for Halloween because she was so “pretty”, (Mom brilliantly talked me out of it by saying I’d be too cold to go trick or treating in a sleeveless dress).  I imagine this film confused a lot of people, because it’s a very well told mature film noir with cartoon characters!

This film was so ahead of its time as far as effects go, that almost 25 years later, it could not be improved by modern technology. So much energy went into making sure that you believe this you are in a world where humans and toons can intermingle.  Many techniques were used to allow the actors’ to feel like they were really interacting with something. One way was having motion control machines move real life items that, in the finished film, would be used by the toons. An example of this is the octopus bartender in the Ink & Paint Club scene. They also used life-sized foam models to make sure blocking and eye lines would be accurate, and so the actors would know what it would be like to actually physically touch these characters. They also had actors standing just off set, reading the toons’ lines to the actors playing human characters. The man who played Roger insisted on dressing up as his character, which confused crews on other films being shot in the same studio. They were all doubtful about the special effects on “that rabbit movie”.

While not the first film to mix live action and animation, the effects and animation teams made sure to break all the rules and didn’t make anything easy for themselves. They had the camera  moved so the toons were fully dimensional figures and the characters were subjected to extreme lighting so animators had to pay special attention to the toons’ shadows. It’s the kind of detail that would be lost on most viewers, but I dare any animator to find fault in the work done in this film.

While the majority of the attention is paid to the toons, the live action stuff is done will just as much care. The story of what made Eddie Valiant such a toon hater (a toon killed his brother) is slowly revealed and despite the inherent silliness of the actual death (a piano was dropped on his head), it is never played for laughs. Early in the film, Eddie asks Delores if he can borrow her camera. She sadly says she hasn’t used it since their trip to Catalina. We later learn that was most likely the last trip they took with Eddie’s brother. The last time they both weren’t haunted by his death.  Despite being surrounded by silly toons, there is a veil of sadness that hangs over their interactions. I heard the script was written with Harrison Ford in mind for Eddie, but this is one of the few situations where the movie would have suffered by the addition of Harrison Ford. Bob Hoskins is perfect as Eddie.

While this is a film that was a large part of my childhood, I’m on the fence about whether I would share it with my own kids. Well, maybe not when they are 5 and 3. And maybe I’ll fast forward past the really scary parts.

Favorite Quote

Eddie Valiant: You mean you could’ve taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?
Roger Rabbit: No, not at any time, only when it was funny.