My Cousin Vinny (1992, Jonathan Lynn)

My Cousin Vinny succeeds due to a strange combination of Dale Launer’s script and the charm of the cast. It’s a strange combination because director Lynn seems entirely inept at facilitating it–all of Lynn’s directorial flourishes flop (for a while, he tilts the camera for emphasis and then forgets about it) and the rest of the time he’s very pedestrian. Peter Deming’s photography is rather bland too. And the editing from Tony Lombardo and Stephen E. Rivkin is downright inept.

But Vinny works. Launer’s script has a great structure–even if Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield, as two wrongly accused college students, are more annoying than sympathetic (Whitfield’s more grating, but his performance is better than Macchio’s). Launer positions all the subplots and characters; the film takes place in the South and the caricatures are distinct enough to be memorable, so when he calls them back later, there’s enough foundation.

Later is when the film gets to the trial section, but before then there’s the introduction of Joe Pesci (as the students’ lawyer) and Marisa Tomei as his fiancée. They’re mostly caricature too, just nice ones. Pesci and Tomei get by on a lot of charm and a lot of chemistry. She’s so impressive, his best scene is reacting to one of her better deliveries (not even her best).

Along with great support from Fred Gwynne, Lane Smith and Bruce McGill, the film ends up a decent success. It’s unfortunate the direction’s not stronger, but the acting’s what matters.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Lynn; written by Dale Launer; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Tony Lombardo and Stephen E. Rivkin; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Victoria Paul; produced by Launer and Paul Schiff; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Joe Pesci (Vinny Gambini), Marisa Tomei (Mona Lisa Vito), Fred Gwynne (Judge Chamberlain Haller), Ralph Macchio (Bill Gambini), Mitchell Whitfield (Stan Rothenstein), Lane Smith (Jim Trotter III), Bruce McGill (Sheriff Farley) and Austin Pendleton (John Gibbons).

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Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014, Tommy Wirkola)

How do you follow up Nazi zombies? Nazi zombies fighting Russian zombies. Sort of. That aspect of Dead Snow 2 comes near the end, with director Wirkola first having to deal with the fallout from the first movie. But Russian zombies don’t really have the bite of Nazi zombies, so Wirkola just amps up everything in this film.

Vegar Hoel, sole survivor from the first movie, wakes up in the hospital to discover the doctor has given him a zombie arm. Snow 2 is never particularly original–even when it is original, it feels like Wirkola took some of his Army of Darkness fan-fic and changed Bruce Campbell to Hoel–but the excess succeeds more often than not.

The absurd factor carries over to the U.S. zombie hunters who show up–Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Haas–not to mention the idiot Norwegian police chief, Hallvard Holmen. Stig Frode Henriksen plays Hoel’s reluctant sidekick.

Wirkola, Hoel and Henriksen’s script is fairly light on character development. DeBoer’s an annoying Star Wars fangirl, Henriksen’s in the closet (which is nowhere near as successful as the filmmakers seem to think). Haas doesn’t have any characteristics and Starr’s a geek thrilled to discover zombies are real. But the film’s fast-paced enough it usually doesn’t matter. Except with Holmen, who only gets a couple good jokes and lots of lame ones.

Wirkola’s direction’s adequate. Nice photography from Matthew Weston.

Snow 2 gloriously goes too far as often as possible; sometimes it works.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tommy Wirkola; written by Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel and Wirkola; director of photography, Matthew Weston; edited by Martin Stoltz; music by Christian Wibe; production designer, Liv Ask; produced by Kjetil Omberg and Terje Stroemstad; released by Well Go USA Entertainment.

Starring Vegar Hoel (Martin), Ørjan Gamst (Herzog), Martin Starr (Daniel), Jocelyn DeBoer (Monica), Ingrid Haas (Blake), Stig Frode Henriksen (Glenn Kenneth), Hallvard Holmen (Gunga), Kristoffer Joner (Sidekick Zombie), Amrita Acharia (Reidun) and Derek Mears (Stavarin).

[FYI] Announcing The Stop Button’s tenth anniversary celebration (#tsb10)

In three months, The Stop Button celebrates its tenth anniversary. While the blog did exist previous to February 20, 2004, when I was hosting it at jablog.com, the first post I retained when transferring from the original blogging platform to later ones was on February 20–a review of the assembly cut of Alien³.

There have been a number of changes to The Stop Button in 2013 and 2014. Feature images for each film have returned for the first time since 2010 or so. The blog has a new theme. I am currently streamlining both the genre categories–previously I have been using genres straight from IMDb, but now am curating the genre selection carefully–and the code of each post. While somewhat tedious, the work has also been very interesting and got me thinking about doing a statistical examination of the site’s posts for the tenth anniversary.

While thinking about that project, I realized there was an opportunity for a more thoughtful recollection of the posts. For the first half of The Stop Button, posts were far more colloquial in nature than in the second half. I thought about doing written recollections of the films and the experiences around them, but for time and space constraints, thought about doing a podcast.

By this time, I had already decided to do a monthly audio commentary podcast (“Stop Button Favorites”) from February 2015 to February 2016 to celebrate the site’s tenth anniversary. A second, weekly podcast, wouldn’t be too much work. And, even after doing a couple ashcans of the recollection podcast (to be called “Stopped Buttons”), recording and editing proved to be quick. But recording recollections cuts into deliberating time and I was forgetting salient details.

Instead, I will be posting ten tweets about each film on the day of its post–so, on February 20, any films from that day will get the twitter recollections. I decided to go with a #tsb10 hashtag, which will seem a little late for the zeitgest in 2015 but retro in 2025 with the #tsb20 hashtag.

All the tweets will be stand-alone and later compiled into daily posts on The Stop Button.

2014 also saw a change in posting habits–instead of daily, The Stop Button is now weekly at best. Starting February 20, I will post responses twice a week–Fridays and Mondays. I am choosing all of these 104 films from movielens’s list of top picks for the site. It will be a static list, generated on February 19… just because I don’t necessarily think I’d be able to see all the recommended films in order. I have only rated films written about on The Stop Button on movielens, so the recommendation is closer to the site than to me. Sort of.

On these 104 responses will a link–much like the emphasis links I’m currently adding–identifying it as a tenth anniversary post. Most of The Stop Button’s traffic still comes from IMDb and MRQE, after all.


tsb10

THIS POST IS PART OF THE STOP BUTTON TENTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION


It should make for an interesting year of responses, recollections and podcast commentaries. The site will be daily, including weekends, for the first time in a couple years (I haven’t figured out how to account for leap year recollections yet). There may be some giveaways as well, but I am still trying to work out the details.

Mannequin (1987, Michael Gottlieb)

When Mannequin is at its best, it makes one forget about its worst. There’s a lot of weak writing–and some strong writing–and director Gottlieb is terrible with actors. What’s so strange about his inability to direct them (most visible with Carole Davis) is how well other performances turn out. Both James Spader and G.W. Bailey are playing, at best, thinly written buffoon roles, but both of them are entirely committed and it leads to some successes.

The film gets off to a rocky start–after a nice animated opening credits sequence–because Gottlieb can’t find his narrative distance. Lead Andrew McCarthy often seems like he’s waiting for some kind of direction, not getting any, then proceeding ahead. Without Gottlieb getting any better, the film gets comfortable pretty soon after Kim Cattrall reappears–she’s McCarthy’s mannequin (who only he can see).

Like Mannequin needs any explanation.

There are a number of montages, which are usually successful thanks to Tim Suhrstedt’s photography and Sylvester Levay’s music. It helps McCarthy and Cattrall are, if not actually having fun, giving the impression of it. The film never finds a tone, which doesn’t help the actors, but they muddle through. Gottlieb seems like he wants it to be realistic, but it’s absurd in concept and his execution.

Estelle Getty also suffers from Gottlieb’s direction, but she’s still likable. Meshach Taylor starts as a caricature but soon becomes a reliable sidekick to McCarthy.

The leads’ chemistry and sincerity–and Levay’s music–carry the picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gottlieb; written by Edward Rugoff and Gottlieb; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Frank E. Jimenez and Richard Halsey; music by Sylvester Levay; production designer, Josan F. Russo; produced by Art Levinson; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Jonathan Switcher), Kim Cattrall (Emmy), Estelle Getty (Claire Timkin), James Spader (Richards), G.W. Bailey (Felix), Carole Davis (Roxie), Steve Vinovich (B.J. Wert), Christopher Maher (Armand), Phyllis Newman (Emmy’s Mother) and Meshach Taylor (Hollywood Montrose).

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997, Arthur Hiller)

Besides being generally awful, the most annoying thing about An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is how it never fluctuates. Once the director–Arthur Hiller took his name off, amusingly not as a publicity stunt but because of writer Joe Eszterhas–and Eszterhas’s script establish the rather paltry quality of the plot and the jokes, it never changes. It’s unrelentingly misguided, mean-spirited, misogynistic (but Eszterhas identifies all the females–except Whoopi Goldberg–as feminists, so it must be all right) and not funny.

Poor Sylvester Stallone is actually amusing, while Goldberg comes off as a punchline parody of herself. Jackie Chan’s playing a moronic, stereotypical Asian guy. But the regular cast–those three figure into the movie within a movie–is even more uneven. Ryan O’Neal tries but it’s obvious he knows he’s doing tripe. During one scene, as the film’s a mock documentary (apparently Eszterhas has never seen an actual documentary), O’Neal is visibly surprised at the level of bad acting from Richard Jeni.

Jeni gets some of the film’s worst material. Still, he’s real bad.

As for the titular director, Eric Idle’s also real bad. Ezsterhas’s approach–the documentary–could be seen as a way to save money (instead of telling the actual story) but it also appears he doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Even within a story.

So there are crappy cameos and stunt casting.

Even when the scenes are supposed to be sincere, either the actors flop or the script immediately discredits the idea of sincerity.

It’s a terrible film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller, as Alan Smithee; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by L. James Langlois; music by Chuck D., Joel Diamond and Gary G-Wiz; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Ben Myron; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Ryan O’Neal (James Edmunds), Coolio (Dion Brothers), Chuck D. (Leon Brothers), Eric Idle (Alan Smithee), Richard Jeni (Jerry Glover), Leslie Stefanson (Michelle Rafferty), Sandra Bernhard (Ann Glover), Cherie Lunghi (Myrna Smithee), Harvey Weinstein (Sam Rizzo), Gavin Polone (Gary Samuels), MC Lyte (Sista Tu Lumumba), Marcello Thedford (Stagger Lee), Nicole Nagel (Aloe Vera) and Stephen Tobolowsky (Bill Bardo).

The Devil’s Backbone (2001, Guillermo del Toro)

The Devil’s Backbone takes place at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War (in Spain, obviously). The film follows Fernando Tielve as he arrives and has conflicts with the other boys, before everything gets worked out. For about half the film, one of the other boys, Íñigo Garcés, is the antagonist. But everything with the boys is basically a misunderstanding and, in the second half, the film introduces the real villain.

There’s also a ghost, some political unrest, unrequited love between the school doctor and the headmistress, lust, greed and an unexploded bomb. Director del Toro goes overboard with the symbolism; for much of the film, it works too. He tries to be way too tidy in the end, however, and it doesn’t work. He refocuses the story away from Tielve and Garcés and the other boys–greed and lust are the (literal) apple here–but the boys have nothing to do with them. They lose their story.

It’s too bad, but there’s still a lot of great work in the film. del Toro’s direction, Guillermo Navarro’s photography and Javier Navarrete’s music are all phenomenal. Luis de la Madrid’s editing hangs a little, but usually for symbolism’s sake, which might be del Toro’s fault.

Tielve and Garcés are both excellent. As the adults, Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes are great. In the film’s most difficult role–an orphan grown-up and returned–Eduardo Noriega does okay, but better when it matters.

Backbone’s almost an excellent film. Very, very close.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; written by del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Luis de la Madrid; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, César Macarrón; produced by Agustín Almodóvar and Bertha Navarro; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Fernando Tielve (Carlos), Íñigo Garcés (Jaime), Marisa Paredes (Carmen), Eduardo Noriega (Jacinto), Federico Luppi (Dr. Casares), Irene Visedo (Conchita) and Adrián Lamana (Gálvez).

Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

Moneyball is the traditional American sports movie with all the excitement sucked out of the accomplishment. The excitement isn’t gone because of the story–about how the Oakland A’s applied a statistical theory to how to win baseball games, but more because director Miller wants to make sure everyone is paying attention to the symbolism in his filmmaking.

Miller’s style is generic, competent important mainstream filmmaking. He has a minimalist Mychael Danna, he has a big movie star (Brad Pitt) playing a guy who didn’t make it, he has a cast-against-type sidekick for Pitt (Jonah Hill), he’s even got Robin Wright as Pitt’s ex-wife. I didn’t realize she was in the cast, but when her single scene came on, I knew it was her before she got a close-up. Why? Because Moneyball is that type of movie.

And the first hour, maybe hour and a half, moves beautifully. Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay makes everything–all the baseball business, all the statistics–nicely digestible. It’s a very smooth film for that first ninety minutes, with some great editing from Christopher Tellefsen.

But then Miller realizes he’s making an American sports movie and so he has to do his variation on the big game moment. But because Moneyball isn’t “just” a sports movie, everything goes on and on and on after that moment. It meanders when it needs to come together and the ending is way too obvious.

Still, it’s perfectly acceptable mainstream “thinking” movie stuff.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bennett Miller; written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a story by Stan Chervin and the book by Michael Lewis; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), Robin Wright (Sharon), Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg) and Stephen Bishop (David Justice).

Le Fear II: Le Sequel (2015, Jason Croot)

I thought the biggest joke in Le Fear II: Le Sequel was, not to rip off Maltin too much, the title. I didn’t realize it was an actual sequel. I thought writer-director Croot was spoofing the idea of making a sequel to a crappy horror movie. But, not. It’s an actual sequel, though there’s no time given to establishing that situation for the viewer.

Croot somewhat successfully employs improvisation style, but without any thoughtfulness as to how the Le Sequel will play for the viewer. He shoots it on video, with occasionally jerky camera motion, but improvisation comedy has gotten so far away from Christopher Guest, I guess the viewer isn’t supposed to assume it’s a pseudo-documentary. Instead, it’s just the film’s rather problematic style. Croot and editors Steve McAleavy and Alexander Trotter-Fernandez don’t do well with transition shots or passage of time (although Croot does establishing shots just fine).

The problems start immediately with protagonist Kyri Saphiris’s unbelievably naive director putting in for a second mortgage on his house to get the film made. Now, if Saphiris’s bonehead director really does have a house worth 500,000 pounds, which is $805,775 (as I write this post), someone should have realized he can’t be a complete fool or at least he’d need to be a rich fool. And then wouldn’t need investors.

Then there’s the “stupid African immigrant con artist” thing. All of the African characters are buffoonish comic relief.

Croot and Saphiris are sincere but so what.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Jason Croot; director of photography, Matthew Taylor; edited by Steve McAleavy and Alexander Trotter-Fernandez.

Starring Kyri Saphiris (Carlos), Seye Adelekan (Efi Womonbongo), Denise Moreno (Racquel), Leila Reid (Jessie), Hadrien Mekki (Jacques), Roxy Sternberg (Africa) and Andrew Tiernan (Dirk Heinz).

Our RoboCop Remake (2014)

It’s hard to imagine how Our RoboCop Remake would play for someone who doesn’t only love the original Robocop, but has seen it quite a few times. A lot of the humor in Remake is broad, but enough of the choices are subtle and incisive (while sometimes still maintaining a wink), one has to be familiar with the source material.

The Remake project is the work of approximately fifty filmmakers who each took a different scene of Robocop and adapted it. Some are more straightforward than others; some use the beginning of the scene as a starting point for comedic interpretation, some just adapt through absurdist humor. Robocop has a lot of great lines–pretty much every actor taking over for Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer does an amazing job–and a lot of violence to comment on. The scene where Robocop stops a rape in progress becomes frantic ultra-violence in a way Paul Verhoeven never got to show.

And Remake is definitely better towards the beginning; later, once Robocop appears, the filmmakers tend to go for the inherent humor having a guy in a bad costume allows. There are exceptions–the last few scenes (before the finish) are fantastic, with a couple musical numbers and a great action figure-based one.

But the early scenes, with puppets, babies playing adults, interpretive dance… those are fantastic.

There are some good animated sequences too.

Remake is, overall, uneven. But it’s still a great time. Though probably mostly for Robocop aficionados.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kelsy Abbott, Eric Appel, James Atkinson, Paul Bartunek, Todd Bishop, David Codeglia, Casey Donahue, Fatal Farm, Kate Freund, Matthew Freund, Hank Friedmann, Clint Gage, Ariel Gardner, Paul Isakson, Tom Kauffman, Alex Kavutskiy, Jim Klimek, Jason Makiaris, Timothy Marklevitz, Michael McCafferty, Wendy McColm, Aaron Moles, Nick Mundy, Dan Murrell, John Olsen, Ben Pluimer, Wade Randolph, Kyle Reiter, Ryan Ridley, Dan Riesser, J.D. Ryznar, Joshua Sasson, David Seger, Duncan Skiles, Tyler Spiers, Spencer Strauss, Erni Walker, Jon Watts, Brian Wysol, Scott Yacyshyn, Zach Zdziebko and Mike Manasewitsch; screenplay by Appel, Atkinson, Codeglia, Isakson, Kauffman, McCafferty, Olsen, Ridley, Seger, Spiers, Strauss and Michael Ryan Truly, based on the film written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; directors of photography, Codeglia, Nate Cornett, Matthew Freund, Brian King and Zdziebko; edited by Appel, Codeglia, Robin Comisar, Friedmann, Makiaris, Manasewitsch, McColm, Murrell, Reiter, Ryznar, Sasson, Seger, Watts and Yacyshyn; music by Andrew Kaiser and Zdziebko; production designers, Josh Simpson and Kristi Uribes; produced by Seger, Brian Dillingham, Ricky Lloyd George, Brent Lydic, Philip Marlatt, Karolyn McKenzie, Andrew Meredith, Eddie Ryan and Spiers.

[FYI] JR Ralls has a new project (not movies)

If you haven’t seen Dark Dungeons, which JR Ralls produced, you need to check it out as soon as possible. Ralls primarily funded the film through Kickstarter and now he has another Kickstarter project, only this time he’s doing a movie, he’s putting together a Desert Bus video competition.

If you don’t know anything about Desert Bus, you can read about it below in Ralls’s description of his project, but you can also check it out for iOS in the App Store. It’s a crazy great idea, much like Dark Dungeons was a crazy great idea–and Ralls delivered a crazy great short film with that one so the Desert Bus Grand Championship should be amazing.

Check out the Kickstarter, read more about it below.

desert bus esport

Desert Bus Grand Championship – The World’s Hardest eSport

If you are not familiar, Desert Bus is a game. A real game in which you drive a bus in the desert (hence the name). There are no obstacles, no other cars, no scenery, nothing but you driving a bus for eight hours in a featureless desert at a top speed of 45 mph. In real time. In. Real. Time. It was designed by Penn and Teller in response to charges that video games didn’t teach kids real life skills. It was never officially released, but if it had been, Penn and Teller wanted to hold a Desert Bus competition. Sadly, that never happened but with your help we can change that. We can make the Desert Bus Grand Championship a reality.

The Desert Bus Grand Championship will not be a virtual event. Competitors will have to play Desert Bus, live and in person, at the venue of the match. We will have announcers and entertainers to keep the event as exciting as possible, for the audience that is. The competitors will, of course, have to keep all their attention on the excitement that is Desert Bus. Just as there is no radio or music or other distractions in Desert Bus the game, so there will be no distractions in Desert Bus the competitive eSport.

Once this Kickstarter reaches its funding goal, I will put together the best Darn Desert Bus Championship the world has ever seen. I will find the best venue, organize the event, and host the competition with as many entertainers, announcers, competitors, and sheer showmanship as possible.

Again, the Kickstarter.

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