Yesterday Once More (2004, Johnnie To)

The event romantic comedy is a familiar genre, but not one with frequent entries. With the exception of Julia Roberts (and maybe Sandra Bullock), the genre in American cinema does not exist anymore. The hardships of making these films is finding a project the stars jibe with–I mean, people actually like Runaway Bride. Two Weeks Notice, which I thought was a huge bomb, was actually a hit. It’s just a hard genre because these films are about the audience’s affection for the actor, not the character she’s playing. I say “she,” of course, because there isn’t–currently–a male event romantic comedy star. Though Hugh Grant tries, it only works when Julia Roberts is part of the equation.

Yesterday Once More is a Hong Kong event romantic comedy, pairing Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as a pair of divorced (but still, of course, in love) professional thieves. As I understand it from my cursory research, Lau and Cheng did a couple other romantic comedies (as well as some dramas, I guess) and a pairing is a big deal. I’ve seen Lau in Days of Being Wild, but I don’t remember him and I’ve never seen Cheng in anything. I’m not hip on my Hong Kong offerings anymore. I used to watch John Woo stuff, but now I don’t and unless it’s a Wong Kar-Wai, I just queue a Chinese-language film, I don’t rush to see it. An event romantic comedy has a specific target audience (albeit, in theory, a large part of the moviegoing audience) and I am not part of Yesterday Once More’s demographic. But I got it.

For the first forty minutes of the Yesterday, there’s nicely shot, nicely scored montage after montage. First the divorce, then a proposal to Cheng, then a heist, then a trip to Italy. I had to pause it to see what the time was when the film finally slowed down for a scene. Since Yesterday is supposed to be purely entertaining, it has to do very little. It has to be charming. Well, Yesterday pits Cheng against a kleptomaniac mother-in-law to-be, has a couple private investigators who worry about each other’s cholesterol intake. The heists are even cute. Yesterday works because it keeps it simple–besides the couple, there’s a mother-in-law to-be and a few supporting characters, really supporting. When I started watching it, not remembering why I’d queued it in the first place, I realized as long as they kept the character count low, the film would work.

While Lau is good, he’s not the protagonist–he is the character the audience has to identify with, however. Cheng is the one who actually has to act in Yesterday and she brings a semblance of depth to an easy character. Ultimately, the film stumbles because it doesn’t want to embrace its levity. Out of nowhere, in the last half hour, it actually wants to say something, which it can’t. But even those false steps can’t defeat the film’s charm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Johnnie To; written by The Hermit and Au Kin Yee; director of photography, Cheng Siu-keung; edited by Law Wing-cheong and David M. Richardson; music by Chung Chi Wing and Ben Cheung; production designer, Bruce Yu; released by Media Asia.

Starring Andy Lau (Mr. Thief), Sammi Cheng (Mrs. Thief), Jenny Hu (Mrs. Allen) and Carl Ng (Steve).


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Mallrats (1995, Kevin Smith), the extended version

Of all my youthful indiscretions, I think my affection for Kevin Smith is–today–the most embarrassing, simply because it perplexes me. I watch Mallrats and I don’t get how I could have watched and liked this film multiple times. By 2000 or so, I didn’t. But from 1996 to 1999, I must have watched this film six or seven times and thought it was good. Even the things I thought were good about–things I thought I would still think were good about it (namely, Jason Lee)–they aren’t good. He isn’t good. He’s bad. His acting is bad. All of the acting is bad. Jeremy London is worse than Lee and I am a little surprised Shannen Doherty is so much better than Claire Forlani, but I just can’t believe I sat and watched this movie.

I rented the ten year anniversary edition because it finally has the original cut. On the original DVD, there are deleted scenes and a lot of talk about the longer version, and it has been a while since I’ve Mallrats. I thought maybe I was wrong. No, I didn’t. I thought at the least, I’d laugh. But it’s not funny. Maybe Kevin Smith’s Mallrats style has so saturated modern Hollywood film I can’t appreciate it for the constant… no, I lost the thought it was so silly. Essentially, the longer edition makes the film more about Jeremy London, which is not a good idea, because it means Claire Forlani is in more scenes and Michael Rooker is more scenes. The film finally gets to the mall at the thirty-five minute mark, after the first act, making the title a little perplexing. The additional footage probably makes the film better, because it gets worse when they get to the mall. Smith isn’t in his element anywhere in this film–I kept thinking about Clerks’ tight opening and the lack of one in Mallrats, theatrical or extended versions.

Mallrats is an incredibly influential film–it created the expectations of a significant portion of a filmgoing generation. This film was a big video hit and, though the general “fanboy” public has abandoned him, Smith tapped something the audience desired in Mallrats. The film is not good, the characters are not good–the dialogue is stagy and bad and a high school drama class could do better–but it connected. It’s filled with pop culture references and bad dirty jokes and people (unfortunately, mostly of my age group) wanted this experience. And they didn’t grow out of it because Mallrats isn’t about actual film reference, like Tarantino’s films. It’s about faking it.

I realize Mallrats doesn’t deserve all this vitriol (the audience’s reaction is offensive, not the film itself; the film is just awful), but I really didn’t know how bad a film it truly is… and, of course, I’m only angry at myself because I was a member of said audience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kevin Smith; director of photography, David Klein; edited by Paul Dixon; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, Dina Lipton; produced by Sean Daniel, James Jacks and Scott Mosier; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Shannen Doherty (Rene Mosier), Jeremy London (T.S. Quint), Jason Lee (Brodie Bruce), Claire Forlani (Brandi Svenning), Ben Affleck (Shannon Hamilton), Joey Lauren Adams (Gwen Turner), Renée Humphrey (Tricia Jones), Jason Mewes (Jay), Ethan Suplee (Willam Black), Stan Lee (Himself), Priscilla Barnes (Miss Ivannah) and Michael Rooker (Mr. Jared Svenning).


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Return to Peyton Place (1961, José Ferrer)

I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.

Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….

The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.

It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Ferrer; screenplay by Ronald Alexander, based on a novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie), Jeff Chandler (Lewis Jackman), Eleanor Parker (Connie Rossi), Mary Astor (Mrs. Roberta Carter), Robert Sterling (Mike Rossi), Luciana Paluzzi (Raffaella Carter), Brett Halsey (Ted Carter), Gunnar Hellström (Nils Larsen) and Tuesday Weld (Selena Cross).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

Volunteers (1985, Nicholas Meyer)

The oddest part of Volunteers is the opening credits. I queued it because I’ve been reading Ken Levine’s blog (he’s one of the screenwriters) and he did a whole write-up on it a while ago. I suppose I knew, but had forgotten, Nicholas Meyer directed the film. Volunteers is his follow-up to Star Trek II, which would have been considered a success for him. He even brought James Horner along from Star Trek to score Volunteers. James Horner should not score comedies (though he does use some of his other material, I think from Star Trek and Aliens, in the film).

Since Meyer brings nothing to the film, all the responsibility falls on Tom Hanks, who does the whole film with an exaggerated New England accent. He manages to keep the accent for the whole film too. The film takes place in 1962, just after Kennedy started the Peace Corps–I missed that detail somehow, I just thought they were showing the old film clips over the titles to be historical–and I’m wondering if my misunderstanding affected the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes are mildly amusing. Tom Hanks is acting like a prick, which he’s very good at doing, but nothing really made me laugh. Then, once he gets to Thailand–maybe just on the Peace Corps plane–Volunteers starts getting funny. It might have more to do with John Candy. Candy is good in Volunteers, better than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. Still, he’s not the best supporting cast member–Gedde Watanabe is great.

Since I saw the film for Levine, I suppose I do have to say something about the writing. It’s good and funny. There are quite a few laugh out-loud moments in Volunteers–most of Watanabe’s lines for a forty minute period are real funny–and the film’s never predictable in the story progressions, with the regular exception of the romance between Hanks and Rita Wilson. The film’s become a footnote in Hanks’ biography for that reason. She’s not good, but it hardly matters, the film isn’t interested in her character. The funny stuff is going on elsewhere.

Even with the traditional romance story-arc, Volunteers ends on an unexpected note, managing to stay truer to itself than expected. The film’s humor isn’t irreverent–Levine and co-writer David Isaacs are sitcom writers who write for good shows–but it is a referential humor. One would need to know, for example, about the CIA’s activities in East Asia, which might not have been too much to ask in 1985, but certainly is too much today. Hanks’ performance is also so unlike his regular performances (he only had a few years before he found his shtik) doesn’t help its accessibility either. Still, there’s no excuse for its bad reputation. It actually needed to be longer–Levine and Isaacs set up a few jokes they never finished and could have….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, from a story by Keith Critchlow; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Ronald Roose and Steven Polivka; produced by Richard Shepherd and Walter F. Parkes; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Lawrence Whatley Bourne III), John Candy (Tom Tuttle), Rita Wilson (Beth Wexler), Tim Thomerson (John Reynolds), Gedde Watanabe (At Toon), George Plimpton (Lawrence Bourne Jr.), Ernest Harada (Chung Mee), Allan Arbus (Albert Bardenaro) and Xander Berkeley (Kent Sutcliffe).


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