Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Review Round-Up | January 2011

Caddyshack (1980)

A film that left me feeling decidedly nonplussed at various points throughout. Chevy Chase puts in the most successful and funny performance as the privileged and unsettlingly wacky Ty Webb. Bill Murray is also funny as the dimwitted Carl Spackler, although this is far from Murray's best work. Rodney Dangerfield's nouveau-riche Al Czervik is amusing, although over thirty years on both the character and Dangerfield's performance come across as decidedly dated. The film generally suffers from a lack of direction, with the story seemingly dropped without warning and then picked up again all the way through, allowing for some amusing stand-alone sequences but also some more tedious sections. Entertaining, and worth seeing to get some of those Simpsons and Family Guy references you've never quite recognised, but ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Uncle Buck (1989)

A John Candy vehicle plain and simple, but undoubtedly a highly successful one. The plot's nothing to write home about - family crisis forces parents Bob and Cindy Russell (Garrett M. Brown and Elaine Bromka) to call Bob's brash brother Buck (Candy) to take care of their three children whilst they're away - and in the hands of anyone but Candy and director John Hughes this would be a very ignorable film. Candy entirely inhabits Buck, creating one of his most memorable characters, and owns every scene he's in, which adds up to the vast majority of the film. A pre-Home Alone Macauley Culkin shows why he became such a huge child star in the early '90s, giving a charming, cute and genuinely funny performance as Buck's nephew Miles. Jean Louisa Kelly as older sibling Tia also provides a pleasingly acerbic turn in an entertaining battle of the wills with her uncle. This is Candy's show though, and he truly delivers with a genuinely very funny performance punctuated with a handful of well-handled more emotional scenes. This might not be the most lauded of Hughes' films, but his innate ability to understand and bring out pure entertainment from everyday people makes this film a great pleasure.

Hot Shots! (1991)

Hot Shots! very much wants to join the heights of success and popularity that both Airplane! and The Naked Gun films enjoyed, and at times the humour comes close to the sharpness of those films. Charlie Sheen as Topper Harley plays things pleasingly deadpan, recalling (although never coming close to the heights of) Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin, and giving the film a sound foundation on which to build its ridiculousness. Lloyd Bridges as Admiral Tug Benson is also a surreal delight throughout. But although the jokes largely hit their mark, too often it feels as though you're waiting for the next laugh to come, and the story and performances are ultimately nowhere near strong enough to prop things up when the humour is absent. That said, Hot Shots! is enjoyable and entertaining with enough examples of sharply observed comedy to make it worthwhile viewing.

Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)

Pretty similar in many ways to Hot Shots! with the main focus of parody moved from Top Gun to the Rambo franchise. All the things the first film did right are done right here too, and thankfully several of the problems seen previously have been remedied. There are fewer gaps between laughs, and the gaps that are there are shorter and more bearable. The humour is better crafted with well-placed parodies and references that draw from a pleasingly broad range of films - look out for nods to everything from Terminator 2 to Lady And The Tramp - and the vast majority of these are successful. There are also a handful of great moments where the film touches on postmodernist humour. A conversation between Topper (Charlie Sheen) and his love interest Romada (Valeria Golino) on the nature of film sequels is particularly well done, and followed quickly by a brilliant reference to another Sheen movie. Not a quite classic, but consistently enjoyable and very funny.

Dumb & Dumber (1994)

The film that, for better or worse, spawned a thousand "gross-out" imitators and successors. Few have reached the idiotic heights of Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) however. Daniels and Carrey have genuine chemistry and give it their moronic all throughout, both as a duo and individually. Daniels takes to the role brilliantly, and Carrey gives arguably his best "rubberface" performance. The Farrelly Brothers get the comedy spot on, with gag after gag hitting the mark. Seventeen years on and this is still a complete hoot from start to finish.

Click (2006)

Incredibly patchy and seemingly unsure of what type of film it wants to be. Sandler swings wildly in the message of using his "universal" remote control, from crude humour (pausing his life to fart into his boss's face or kick a love rival in the crotch) to much more sinister, heartless reasons (skipping having to "endure" spending an evening with his aging parents). The sudden switches between these two extremes is sometimes so sudden as to be uncomfortable. The key problem I had with Click is the same problem I've had I've had with other Sandler films, in that I found it very difficult to either like or care about Sandler's character. The ending also comes across as lazy, clichéd and ultimately unsatisfying. David Hasselhoff as Sandler's boss is somewhat amusing, but becomes a bit tiresome before thankfully bowing out around halfway through. Christopher Walken's kooky performance as Morty (essentially Walken parodying himself) is Click's main saving grace, along with a James Earl Jones cameo in the film's most inspired moment. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not enough substance to be a drama, and ultimately far too preachy for its own good.

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Fantastic performances from Willis and Pitt give the film the substance and depth needed to carry off the phantasmagorical story and cinematography. Gilliam's direction suits the themes and plot, and whilst the film occasionally becomes too entangled in its own concept, it never seriously takes away from the film's success. Both Gilliam's stylised presentation of the future and the present marry together well with a satisfying grittiness and authenticity that again helps to ground some of the film's more far-flung elements. Intelligent and bold film-making place Twelve Monkeys amongst the finest sci-fi films of the 1990s.

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

"It's like living in a Tex Avery cartoon" Vida (Patrick Swayze) comments to Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) at one point during the film, and this is exactly the way in which To Wong Foo... should be viewed - an over-exaggerated camp-fest that should be enjoyed way before anything else. And viewed this way the film is a great success. The trio of Swayze, Snipes and John Leguizamo make the film incredibly fun and all three give very impressive performances. The film's more serious elements, such as a spousal abuse subplot involving Arliss Howard and a predictably excellent Stockard Channing, are generally handled satisfactorily, but thankfully take a backseat to the humour. The cartoonish elements of the film are its biggest successes however - Snipes' Noxeema teaching the local men to treat women with respect in a very painful manner is a highlight. Almost certainly not a film for everyone, but if you can enter into the spirit of To Wong Foo... with an open mind and a light heart, there's a great deal here to enjoy and appreciate.

Did You Hear About The Morgans? (2009)

Sarah Jessica Parker struggles to make her character light enough, and Hugh Grant's befuddled Englishman in America comes across as noticeably tired. Together they aren't any better with a severe lack of chemistry throughout. It feels as though director Marc Lawrence has gone for a style harking back to the classic romantic caper films of yesteryear, but this for the most part backfires as the feel of both the film's plot and execution is cheap and clunky. Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen provide a welcome remedy to Parker and Grant, although they can only do so much with the lacklustre material they are given. The film's presentation of rural America is occasionally amusing, but much more often comes across as clichéd stereotype. A mediocre rom-com which aims low and achieves lower.

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