Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another post, another roundup

Still a big backlog here at the world's best blog devoted to fine cinema. (Seriously, I've got trophies and everything.) Today we'll focus on a few classics -- some I saw for the first time, others old favorites.

Paging Patsy Cline: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

You know ... "Craaazyyyy ... "

While I read, and loved, the book way back in high school, I had seen only bits of Jack Nicholson's tour de force until recently. That's a shame, since this is a pretty good movie.

We know the basic story: Nicholson is an instigator in a mental hospital, mainly because he's not really a nutjob. Rather, he's merely ducking a prison sentence. Once among the challenged, however, he starts riling them up, much to the dismay of uber-controlling Nurse Ratched. (What a great character name ... very Dickensian.)

Louise Fletcher is perfect as Ratched, and Nicholson's performance as Randle Patrick McMurphy is legendary; they both won Oscars, as did the film. But just as interesting are all the supporting roles, with mental patients played by these guys in their somewhat tender years: Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, "that guy" Vincent Schiavelli. Throw in Brad Dourif as sweet Billy Bibbit, and it's a great ensemble. Just keep anything sharp away from them.

If you thought "Clerks" was low-budget: "Plan 9 From Outer Space"

Yes, the oft-regarded "Worse Film Ever." And you know, they may be right.

You really owe it to yourself to sit through this, especially since it's not long. You might think this tale of aliens turning people into zombies would falter when it comes to special effects -- Is that a pie tin as a flying saucer, and is that fishing line holding it up? -- and sure, they're pretty bad. (Watch for those cardboard tombstones.) But what really sets this Ed Wood "classic" apart is the (a) ham-handed attempt to pass various footage off as a coherent story and (b) amazingly hokey acting, from police officers to aliens to the zombies themselves.

What really must be seen to be believed is the "casting" of famous horror star Bela Lugosi. What we get are a few scattered scenes of a frail Lugosi outside a house and wandering through a cemetery, then a guy who looks nothing like him -- taller and fairer, to start -- walking around with a cape covering his face. Calling it comical is like calling Paris Hilton shallow -- a major understatement. It's not "so bad that it's good," but it is so bad that you have to see it for yourself. I'm glad I finally did.

Believe it or not, he was young once: "Rocky"

Well, maybe not "young" in his late 20s, but at least easier to accept than the geriatric in the ring these days.

I've seen "Rocky" several times, of course, but The Woman Who Makes Me Complete never had, so we caught it on TCM the other night. Good timing, considering this "Rocky Balboa" nonsense now in theaters. The first time around makes a little more sense, with a palooka from Philly's less-than-swanky side getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight the heavyweight champ. (With the great name Apollo Creed, no less.)

While the story still holds up well enough after 30 years, what surprised me was the relatively short amount of time devoted to the big fight/climax. Maybe I remembered it being longer, or was thinking of the drawn-out fight scenes in the sequels, especially two-fight affairs like "Rocky III" and "Rocky IV." But while the original seemed to move a little too quickly when it came to the fine art of pugilism, it's still a rousing tale. Bonus points for creating a reflex anytime you meet someone named Adrian.

And yet "Lethal Weapon" still gets all the buddy-movie pub: "The Last Boy Scout"

Did I say this post would cover "classics?" Hey, this counts in my book. Consider it part of the misunderstood movies category, a la "The Cable Guy" and "Flash Gordon." Sure, it's directed by the bludgeoning Tony Scott and written by Shane Black, the scribe behind the aforementioned "Lethal Weapon" and its sequels. And sure, it opens with a ridiculous sequence involving a pro football player with a gun tucked into his pants during a game. I still love it.

Because really, what's not to love? A post-"Die Hard 2", pre-"Pulp Fiction" Bruce Willis playing a haggard private eye/former Secret Service agent with a dry wit. Damon Wayans as a hotshot quarterback with a drug problem and a dead girlfriend. Taylor Negron -- yeah, I know ... who? -- as a slimy bad guy. They're great!

If you really want to know what this story of the PI and the QB trying to solve a murder mystery does for me, consider the abundance of throwaway one-liners and exchanges. To wit:

"This is the nineties. You don't just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first."

"Right now, I'm trying to figure out which one of you looks the most like my d*ck."

"OK, what would Joe do at a time like this? He'd kill everybody and smoke some cigarettes."

"Yes, officer. As a matter of fact there is a problem. Apparently there are too many bullets in this gun."

"Danger's my middle name. " "Mine's Cornelius. You tell anybody, I'll kill you."

"Where are you goin'?" "To the bathroom, OK? You wanna come? The doc said I shouldn't lift anything heavy."

"You think you are so f*cking cool. But just once, I would like to hear you scream in pain." "Play some rap music."

That last one always kills me. And just imagine if they had gotten Brando and Poitier like they wanted ...


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