Saturday, May 07, 2011

Great films I just don't get-Starting with A Fish Called Wanda

Just saw A Fish Called Wanda for the second time. This film is considered a classic and I thought it was OK the first time I saw it several years ago, but I found the film really flawed on second viewing.

The film is a combination heist thriller and romantic comedy. The romance is between an entirely irredeemable woman (Jamie Lee Curtis, who I've personally never found very attractive) and pretty much every other member of the all-male ensemble who she seduces as a fall-black plan every time something goes wrong. Not only is Curtis' character unsympathetic, she's uninteresting.

Her main love interest is a British barrister (aka lawyer with a wig) played by John Cleese. She's playing him so that she can get the inside scoop on a case he's trying. Although there's sappy music playing in the background during their scenes together, any sediment here is unearned: Cleese's character loses all credibility by not seeing through a hot young woman (who just happens to be a defense witness) posing as a groupie who wants to discuss details of his upcoming depositions during their lovemaking. He's also irredeemable himself as he renegs on a gift from his wife and then leaves her (along with his daughter) for a woman who is obviously a fraud.

What's worse, even though the movie's clearly a dark comedy, I don't think the film's flimsy romantic subplot was intended in any ironic way either.

One of the other subplots involves another one of the baddies trying to kill off an old lady who's a witness. It's completely predictable that nothing will happen to her because she's really sweet and this particular guy (Michael Palin) is a softie, so those scenes are a waste of time.

The film does have a couple high points. Although he's a little too mean-spirited to be endearing, Kevin Kline creates a character that's certainly amusing to watch. He's Curtis' main lover and is passed off as Curtis' brother for some reason (so she can screw more people) and he has a good running gag of blowing up completely and ruining everything when someone calls him stupid. Michael Palin, as a stutterer who loves animals, also brings something enjoyable every time he's on screen.

The film has some great scenes but as a film, I think it falls apart.

Other films considered classics that I'm not a fan of:
The Incredibles-This Pixar film that parodies superhero conventions is something I saw five years earlier in "Mystery Men" and a year later in "Sky High." I'm sure there are other examples too that I just can't think of at the moment, but "Sky High" (even though it fits squarely in the teeny-bopper genre) and "Mystery Men" are just as astute as "Incredibles" to me.
For a studio that is considered a hallmark of originality, "Incredibles" really didn't bring that much new to the superhero parody genre.

Viva Zapata-Considered one of the better films of legendary director Elia Kazan, the film tells the story of Mexican Revolution hero Emiliano Zapata. The film isn't entirely inaccurate (from someone who was taking a grad level course on Latin American history at the time), but it's also oversimplified and hard to follow, so you likely won't even be able to develop much appreciation for the subject matter anyway. On the whole, I get the impression that Kazan doesn't care much about the Mexican revolution. The film's purpose, as far as I can tell, was to give Kazan's prize pupil, Marlon Brando, an opportunity to flex his acting with dramatic speeches on how he wants to freedom, and later how he doesn't want to fight anymore, or how he wants a pinata that matches his sombrero- I stopped caring after a while.

Annie Hall-Considered Woody Allen's best film. I've never seen a romantic comedy and thought "This is good but it needs more of a Momento-style fracturing of the storyline to make it great." The film attempts to be clever and it really just feels like a stream-of-consciousness first draft of a better film. Woody Allen did experiment a lot with the conventional love story and some of those results are very good. I suppose a few misses are aloud along with the hits and we each have different definitions for what hits are. I'm just surprised so many have gotten behind this one as "the hit."

All That Jazz, 8 1/2 and The Doors-Sympathetic portraits of rock stars who had more sex and fame than most of us will dream of who we're supposed to feel bad for? Films about highly successful artists should at least attempt to bring them down to Earth so we can relate to their struggles and I found myself not really caring about why they caused their self-inflicted reckless behavior. A good film in this genre ("Ray" or "Walk the Line" comes to mind) treats the character like they're interesting stories.

These three films reek of vanity: Be interested in their predictable problems, because they're famous people you know and love and want to know more about them. "8 1/2" reeks of vanity because it's autobiographical. "All that Jazz" is borrowed from the template of 8 1/2. It's probably the most promising of the three films (although 8 1/2 is the most praised): Roy Scheider does well in the part and it has a few interesting motifs.

Expecting me to like "The Doors" is pretty much the same as expecting me to subscribe to "Rolling Stone" magazine and worship rock stars like the magazine does. "The Doors" is even worse than those Oscar bait films about a guy with some disability who's limited in life, because this is a guy who's just inflicting his own wounds for the hell of it. It's the difference between the degree of sympathy we feel towards Charlie Sheen verse Temple Grandin.

The Graduate-Not a particularly bad film, but not a film that isn't great either. It's got great performances, no doubt, but it's just about a guy screwing his dad's friend's wife. It's a little bit of a stretch to say it's a big symbolic statement about the 60's. The filmmakers themselves said that the cross symbol at the Church scene was entirely by accident (I'll have to double-check but I believe that's the case)

Heaven can Wait and Shampoo-If Heaven can Wait is a best picture nominee, then I absolutely agree with Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes: Ghost Town (or "Heart and Soul" or "Ghost Dad", take your pick) got robbed of a best picture nomination too. It's just a lightweight relatively fun film.

"Shampoo" is really a film about nothing except how studly and charismatic Warren Beatty is and how his politics and problems are interesting. Oh, and it was written by Warren Beatty himself. Nothing against Beatty (he comes from my hometown) but the guy's overrated. He's basically got one go-to move as an actor: shrugging his shoulders like the world is too hard for him. I don't think the quality of his films would be damaged that much if Matt LeBlanc replaced Beatty in every role he played.

The Queen-David Spade, when he was the anchor of "The Showbiz Show" said it best: This was a film that boiled down to about whether to read a press release or not.

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