Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer Flicks

Monica and I see loads of movies in the summer. My nephew Nolen and his wife Aisha like to "call" movies, that is, beating each other at predicting good ones. They must get the trailers on the day of release because we can rarely beat them on calling a movie. This may be a good thing because if you call a bad one, they hound you forever about it. I once suggested they see Magnolia. I wasn't calling it, just saying they should see it because it was so weird. So now when I suggest a film, I hear, "aren't you the one that told us to go see Magnolia?" Such a vindictive bunch.
I remember Magnolia because that was our first encounter with the "Show Nazi." We saw it at the Village Theater on Clark Street in Chicago. It was then what was called a $1 show. Almost recent movies for a buck. Good deal. It's a dinky little theater and should be only a buck. But they had this guy, an usher? or manager or something who directed everything in the lobby. He put up this velvetine rope and barked orders while we stood in line. If you wanted to use the bathroom before the movie you had to raise your hand and he'd let you through to sit in the chair and wait your turn. He watched everyone closely. Now this theater is in a pretty upscale area so it's not like the patrons were hoods, far from it. But this power hungry usherguy took no prisoners including with the snacks. Monica and I bought popcorn and added salt to which he barked, "that's too much salt!" OMG! I hid the Raisonettes.

Anyway two flicks we've seen are Hairspray and I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry.

Hairspray 1988 vs. Hairspray 2007
The 1988 John Waters cult classic is an old favorite of ours (especially Monica) and now the 2007 version is just chock full of some of my favorite people. John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Christopher Walken, Jerry Stiller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Allison Janney and a slew of talented new folks.
I'm doing a comparison here not a review. But I'll tell you the new version is really new, with new songs and dances, a different perspective and emphasis on different characters. But, the story is the same. In early 1960's Baltimore, chubby teen Tracy Turnblad is obsessed with a local TV dance show. "The Corny Collins Show" is all white except the once a month "Negro Day". This reality creates the drama worked out in the midst of tons of teenage angst.
Overall, I like the John Waters film better, but there are exceptions.

Mrs. Turnblad - Divine vs. Travolta. Slight edge to Divine. Slight. Travolta's fat suit was curvy and fun but his face didn't move. John's dancing at the end was wonderful. But I miss Divine's voice and Edna's obsession with ironing.
Mr. Turnblad - Walken, a good dancer, but is always spooky looking and not very fatherly and I was disappointed that he didnt dance more.
Jerry Stiller - I prefer Stiller opposite Divine in '88 as Wilbur Turnblad. Playing a small part in 2007, Stiller is always an asset.
Mrs. Von Tussell - Michelle Pfeiffer as a bigot and villain? It worked! And she can sing! How 'bout that!
Motormouth Maybelle - Diminuitive R&B singer Ruth Brown in HS'88 with the blond hair and kooky rhymes, was more quirky and it worked with John Waters' edgy humor. Queen, with her talented bigger than life self, made it harder to believe that even in the '60's she could be held to one "Negro Day" a month on The Corny Collins Show. But, Queen is a winner with her singing, especially the moving song during the protest march that brought home the racial topic. Nice touch.
Mrs. Pingleton - Allison Janney's Prudy Pingleton was even more manic about keeping daughter Penny pure and white than in the original version. Penny's character was faded back a lot in 2007. I liked the 1988 lollipopping, positivily permanantly punished Penny much better.
Seaweed Stubbs - This character overshadowed Penny this time. Played by Elijah Kelley, this guy can do it all and made that character stand out.
Tracy Turnblad - Ricki vs. Nikki - For me Ricki. Nikki Blonsky is certainly talented, energetic and adorable in her first movie and did Tracy proud but Ricki's Tracy just seemed more personable.

HS'88 was made 20 years after the events in the film and it was still fresh and topical. John Waters used actual 1960's songs and dances. Add another 20 years, HS'2007 creatively took a different approach with slicker production numbers, snappier modern lyrics, but still bringing home how things were. Both movies do a good job of reminding us, and especially teens, of how racist and stupid the world was not so very long ago.
Look for cameos of John Waters and Ricki Lake.

Chuck and Larry
I like Kevin James and Adam Sandler so I went to see what I thought was sure to be a growing and learning type flick. Nothing deep, just another entertaining, lightweight, summertime, little message movie. Cool.
Sandler (Chuck) and James (Larry) are NYC fireman and best buddies. Chuck is a womanizing jerk pretty much and Larry is a still grieving widow with two kids who wants to name his buddy as beneficiary to care for his children if he dies. He discovers he has let the time expire to name a beneficiary after his wife died and the only immediate remedy is get remarried or gay domestic partnership. Yep, Chuck and Larry go up to Canada to get hitched and spend the rest of the movie trying to fool the insurance peeps and everyone else.

What and who was this movie aiming for? (A)Can crushing macho heterosexuals and homophobes and the folks who never gave gays a serious thought? (B)Trying to reach a broader audience with it's little message? Well it was marketed to reach both but the script was writen for group A.
It's a comedy that trotted out every gay cliche and stereotype. All of them. The point being, I assume, to oversaturate with the bashing and stereotypes and cheap shots, then hit us with tolerance. Bam! Stop It! Gays are people too!
That's nice. However, according to this flick, gay men are all sex crazed swishy clowns who may incidently manage to contribute to society and don't deserve to be hated or ridiculed.

Just a few of the stereotypes and cliches all in this one movie.
Chuck and Larry's firefighter buds don't want to play basketball or shower with them anymore. Surprise!
Their lawyer, played by Jessica Biel, has a silly swishy brother.
A very macho black firefighter who is reveered and feared by all, comes out.
The mailman is gay and offers late night deliveries and more.
Larry tries to get his son to play baseball, but he's more interested in tap dance, doing the splits and getting a part in Pippin' and Annie.
Larry is ousted from coaching little league and the scout troop.

There is not a single gay man in this film who is not sniffing around for sex, skipping, or wearing a boa. (Except for Chuck and Larry who aren't really gay.)

The two buddies confront their firefighter friends, "we are the same guys" who have come to your aid many times including pulling you from burning buildings. Think about that.
When the guys go to court, the fire squad shows up in full support. Because of Chuck and Larry, they understand being gay is ok. (Except Chuck and Larry are not really gay.) When the guys come out as not gay it makes no difference because everyone is now all tolerant. Chuck says, "don't say faggot, it's not nice".
Well, unfortunately, or fortunately there exist some group A types who will learn something from this flick, it goes where they are, so all is not lost.

And, there was the one character that could have help pull this film from the fire, but nope, they totally missed it.
It's the super macho black firefighter, played by Ving Rhames, who was inspired to come out by Chuck and Larry's situation. But, as soon as Rhames' character admits he's gay, he gets the limp wrist etc. etc. They could not just let him be.

Oh, and Larry's son gets the part in Annie because Chuck has been secretly encouraging and helping him with his role. Quelle Suprise.


Dustin said...

I saw Magnolia many years ago but I remember liking it. I especially liked Julianna Moore and John C Reilly. I do remember a technical difficulty with my DVD player at the time that made the entire movie darken and lighten which added to the craziness of the film.

I have never seen Hairspray but I will definitely have to see both versions. I like John Waters and have always heard good things about the original. Thanks for the review .

Jackie said...

Both Hairsprays are good fun and deliver the message. You'll like them and it's fun to compare.

I thought Magnolia was interesting but Nolen and Isha thought it was weird. Well it was weird, but i like weird. They just like to tease me.