Blindspot: Sholay (1975)

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The reason why I love films like The RockDrunken MasterThe Good The Bad and The Ugly and even Blazing Saddles is that more than anything else the films have that “did you see that?” quality to them. They’re ridiculous, flashy and keep us moving in a way that doesn’t ask too much of the audience. Sholay is a film that does just this and possibly more. Infusing western cinema with the idea of the vast western, riffing on well known motifs, and sometimes even lifting complete shots from films such as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Magnificent Seven we see the answer to the question of what would be if India adopted Westerns with a tone of Blaxspoitation cinema and threw some musical sequences in the middle of it all.

It seems apt that I make Sholay my blindspot entry from the month of May, because it feels like the perfect summer movie. It feels as if someone was in a lab constructing this film from all the best elements of entertainment for maximum enjoyment while at the same time lost in how to reign in any sense of control over what they were doing. When half-way through the film we discover the reason for Thakur’s (Sanjeev Kumar) reason for his need to have Gabbar (Amjad Khan) captured you feel as though we’ve seen a too much. Continue reading

‘Bad Words’ Seems Like the Right Kind of Asshole

Jason Bateman has been an actor I can never quite peg down to be honest. He has this off-kilter way too nice a guy dad in Arrested Development, and after that he always seems to play these comedic roles that almost asks him to be as unfunny as possible. He’s always played the proverbial butt of all the jokes in his films I find. Here however he’s continued to play that same wrong end of the stick guy, but he owns it. He owns his own weird thing in doing a children’s spelling bee on technicality and it just looks so amazingly right. He has the right brand of asshole written for him, so I’m down.

What do you think of the ‘Bad Words’ Trailer?

Blindspot: Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

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Last month the Blindspot Series went into the realm of silent cinema with Metropolis and this month it continues to wander around in the same vicinity as the 1924 film directed and starring Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr takes a spot forfront in my mind for discussion.

I spoke about the fragility of comedy over the years, decades (and more), when I discussed Chaplin‘s City Lights last year and somehow I find myself hard pressed not to fall in love with this as I did with Chaplin then. The physical jokes are things which comedy has based its entire pretense on over the years so much that we’re no longer watching their derivative but their derivative’s derivative’s derivative; which makes it that much more surprising when the desired effect is still found in an audience today.

The film begins with a simple idea that one cannot push your focus between two differing studies and expect to do either justice. With Keaton playing a Projectionist who’s hoping to be a detective that one day is given a mystery of a stolen watch that he can’t quite solve takes to thought whilst falling asleep in the projection booth of the cinema – stay with me here.

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Where this film rises above a lot of even today’s films is in it’s visuals. Something about films of today are so understandable by the audience. When someone goes to watch Avengers there is an understanding by him and the film even before a frame is shown that we already know how 99% of the film was made and the part of one’s brain that spends rattling around trying to figure out how we got a Hulk to take down a big Alien ship living thingy (whatever that was) is completely disengaged through the experience. However, watching Sherlock Jr that part of your brain is constantly engaged attempting to figure it all out because unlike with today’s films there is no understanding before the film begins.

The understanding is exactly the opposite. We, the audience, understand in that at the time they were still in an analog filming process and would’ve had to have accomplished all these things we see before us with a lot more time and cleverness than we’re willing to attribute to technology of today. It’s as if a magician came to town and had a dove pop out of his empty hat. At one point in time there was no way of us knowing how it was done, but with google and all we can now look it up and see how it was probably done and once we’ve created a logical explanation for the fantastical and dangerous it becomes the opposite of that completely.

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With all that said this film is peppered with those moments and I’d love nothing more than to spend the next thirty (or hopefully less) years of my life watching the film frame by frame figuring out how to have done what Keaton did. From jumping into a dress, to setting up a stage so it looks like a screen of film and having him interact with it in a very Last Action Hero style manner, or as simply as playing that perfect game of pool that he does. Moments like the later can be easily said that, “He was that good,” but I want to give him a more magical explanation than that because the rest is just that… more magical.

What do you think of Sherlock Jr.?

We’re The Millers (2013)

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If you’re like me you’re an avid follower and fan of the wonderous man that is Patton Oswalt. In his last stand up special he had a bit where he talked about romatic comedies, and more specifically films starring Jennifer Aniston. He goes on asking, “why do they even bother advertising them anymore?” and I kind of agree in that thought process. They’re all the same right? Pick a profession and a guy and she’ll work it and fall in love with him and be frustrated along the way.

We’re the Millers manages to be that movie and at the same time something else as well interesting enough.

With Jason Sudekis playing the role of the wandering drug dealer who’s being forced out of his depth by having to go to Mexico to pick up what he thinks is a small amount of marijuana turns out to be enough to, as he himself puts it, “kill Willie ‘Frigging’ Nelson!”. His idea to try and make his pass by the Mexico/USA border with a little less suspicion is the recruit a fake family, with Rose (Jennifer Aniston) - the broke stripper – Kenny (Will Poulter) - the weird teenager – and Casey (Emma Roberts) - the homeless/runaway teenager – and pretend to be the cookie cutter do good American family.

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With films this summer, like The Heat and This is the End, hitting my funny bone the right way I’m starting to come to terms with how I approach comedy more and more. There are two types of comedy – just like with stand-up — that I can easily identify; there’s the long-form storytelling comedy that tries to keep everything within one simple setting that in itself is funny and uses tone more than anything, like a Mike Birbiglia, or the quick fire sketch where they may be telling a story but it seems that every few minutes they’re setting up and nailing jokes which are hit or miss throughout, like Mitch Hedberg. We’re the Millers is more a Hedberg film that a Birbiglia movie and I appreciate it for that. There are a number of things I liked a lot and some things not so much, but if I had to give the film an average I say that overall it ends up on top.

As I expected going in Jason Sudekis kills it. From a lot of the simple gags of him playing Bane voice scenes to saying the ‘big A’ is anal as opposed to abstinence, “neither makes a baby,” it just works. He is the kind of comedic actor that elevates another’s on screen moments from the cameos of the likes of Ed HelmsLuis GuzmanNick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn and Matthew Willig — as ‘One Eye’ — and it ends up being overall better for the film.

There were things that bothered me also. While I’m not going to go and say that Jennifer Aniston is the be all and end all of things that are horrible about this movie it really bothered me that she was playing a stripper. I would’ve forgiven it if it was just for the setup and gave me those choice moments at the bar with Ken Marino, which I loved, but when it returns later on in the film as a scene where she has to impromptu strip for a drug lord to prove that they’re not a real family it just seems bad. I don’t want to be the one to get all pro-feminism with this film as I’m sure a lot of more dedicated to that idea will do that writing for me, but it felt like gratuitous over sexualizing of not just the character but Aniston herself. It also does hurt me that for the most part I feel people aren’t just saying that she’s hot, but that she’s hot for her age and like Sudekis tells his pretend son, “have some respect.” It felt like it was my mother stripping than some random hot chick and just felt dirty.

Otherwise laughs abound to be enjoyed. Including a pretty fun gag reel in the credits that has a separate take on the singing on the RV scene that had me in stitches because you could see Aniston cringing with laughter that they went there.

What did you think of We’re the Millers?

Deathtrap (1982)

This is part of my Sidney Lumet Syllabus

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It’s a thriller comedy about a writer of thrillers embroiled in a thriller where he plots to kill a former student in order to gain his flawless script so that he can finally have a hit again and stop living off of his wife’s wealth.

When discussing a filmmaker like Sidney Lumet, who has made Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men – two of the best single-location films — it’s hard to imagine him making as ‘run of the mill’ film as this. Sadly though it is. While I don’t want to take this into the completely negative bracket, the film can be categorized as plain in so many ways. While it uses the pretext of the thriller, and even having the play style used as a backdrop, it comes off as completely hokey in ways that films such as Death Becomes Her is able to brush off with ease. I’m not trying to say that the likes of Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn are better or worse that Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but it just works out better as a tonal mood that each film takes with Death Becomes Her than this film.

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To keep it positive though I completely and utterly admit to feeling so good about how this movie embraces it’s own schlock. Murder mysteries can be so dumb. With thrillers like the ones we know Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is famous for making it can always feel like the writer is discovering the twists at the same time the audience is, not because he’s made it that much harder to find but that he’s put almost no thought into how the plot of this story is actually going to be twisting and turning and throws in these twists and turns like a blind driver making his way around a open field just throwing his life to the wind. Here the film admits to these faults up front with Bruhl having to endure n audience completely hating his current work and critics being even worse about it. It points to all the genre faults that the story falls into and then stumbles into them completely intentionally just for the sake of making these cracks so apparent that it’s almost as if Ira Levin, writer of the play this film is based on, wanted to make audiences aware of these problems with the genre so that they would be able to see them that much easily in other murder mysteries.

However, the film squanders this great murder mystery farce by being somewhat forgettable in the end. At one point the film shows it’s mark by explaining one of the writing basics of it’s genre, “to create a set of circumstances so ridiculous and entertaining that the audience has to end up suspending their disbelief”. The film does this and does it wonderfully so. However, three days out from watching it I find it difficult to remember specific details about it’s plot other than the generic twisting beats. Who killed whom and why is barely a point of discussion as much as who was in the film. Is there anything else of note in this film? I doubt it.

It’s silly and most times dumb, but somehow the likes of Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve make it work for me.

What did you think of Deathtrap?