Mystery Men

Mystery Men. Dark Horse Entertainment 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I have hardly any idea what this movie is like, and it kind of occupies the same headspace with Mystery Team, another cult movie that I think is ensemble-based that I need to get around to, but it looks like of the large ensemble there are a lot of big names, but only one I’d expect to be involved in something like this. My early impression is something like Watchmen by way of Kick-Ass. A deconstruction of superhero narratives, but as a farcical parody.

The timing of the movie should make an interesting tone. The late 90s were a time where superhero movies weren’t very popular, and sometimes not very well made. After Superman and Batman fell apart, the superhero genre struggled in movies, but the technology was starting to provide the ability make more convincing effects than the stunning work of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but the cynicism and assembly line pop culture of the post-Dark Knight/cinematic universe era hadn’t yet come in. Without global tentpole scrutiny from the studio, maybe a superhero movie could even Say Something. That’s probably a lot to ask of a failed spoof, but the possibilities are there.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: The Secret of My Success

I’m not sure how this evaded my first pass through the filmography of Michael J. Fox in middle school/high school when I discovered Back to the Future. Maybe it was because the library didn’t have it. This one, I found in a rummage sale. I feel like the idea of seeing his character get rich successful quick was an element that attracted me, but mostly it was just that I was a fan of his work.

The Secret of My Success. Rastar 1987.

I think there’s a reason I get a bit of a similar feeling to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in parts of this movie aside from the fact that they both use “Oh Yeah” by Yello, which I’m sure is the main link between them. Perhaps it’s a general 80s yuppie aesthetic.

Brantley Foster, fresh out of college from Kansas, arrives in New York with the promise of a job in big business and high hopes of growing an impressive career from it, only to find that the job evaporated the day he arrived. Stymied everywhere by entry level jobs demanding experience he hasn’t got, he seeks an audience with Howard Prescott, the CEO of Pemrose Corporation, with whom he has the sketchiest of family ties. Impressed by his brief moment with his “nephew”, Prescott begrudgingly gives him a job in the mailroom. Eager to make the most of this opportunity, Brantley uses his position in the mailroom to learn everything about Pemrose’s operations, and after answering a phone in a vacated office and making good executive decisions for the harried manager on the other end, Brantley hatches a plan to create a fictional executive named “Carlton Whitfield” from his vantage point in the mailroom and commandeer that vacant office to prove his worth to everyone who won’t give “Brantley from Kansas” a chance. Not only do “Whitfield’s” ideas shake up the status quo so much that Prescott worries that he’s a spy from the corporate raider trying to make a hostile takeover of Pemrose, they get him close to the beautiful executive of his dreams Christy Wills. However, his time in the mailroom also got him the attention of an executive’s wife seeking revenge on her cheating husband by having an affair of her own, the executive in question turning out to be Howard Prescott himself.

While the first few times I watched this movie I learned a lot about how hostile takeovers work and vaguely got the idea that the trendy but panicked cuts to expenditures would cause a panic in the market while bold expansion could strengthen the company’s value, what struck me this time is just how much inefficiency is in the upper levels of Pemrose. Of course, Brantley notes in his studies that there are departments with overlap that don’t talk to each other or do their job well, but for all the talk of cutting the company’s expenses to the bone, no mention is made of options like reducing executive salaries, putting the space taken by the company gym to better use, or not using the limousines from the motor pool to chauffeur around non-employees (though Prescott’s wife is technically the company owner). The Suits really do live comfortably on the backs of the trench workers they’re ready to turn out in the streets to raise stock prices a few cents.

The directorial choices often feel like a dream. There are multiple mopey montages set to sad power ballads. Flashbacks aren’t accompanied by any visual language identifying them as flashbacks, leaving it to the intelligence of the audience to work out that this already happened. There’s also one or two dreamy imagine spots just intercut with the scene like they’re supposed to be diegetic. The climax also feels a bit underwhelming. After spending so long frantically keeping all these plates spinning with some big, madcap close calls, Brantley gets outed relatively quietly.

This movie is the main source of my interest in mailroom work. I’ve also since gotten experience that translates well to a corporate mailroom, but mostly I always thought what I saw Brantley, or rather his slacker partner, doing in the mailroom, was work I could handle pretty well. Even that looks better than anything I’ve done until my latest job. And there are plenty of “worked their way out of the mailroom” stories, even if most didn’t do it with the flash of Brantley Foster.

When I first saw this movie I was a bit entranced by not only the elegance of the executive lifestyle, but also the raw independence of Brantley’s meager life on his own in a new city. Having lived through my own “starting out alone in a new city” and gotten jaded by the excesses of the wealthy, a lot of the shine has worn off this movie, but there’s still a kind of melancholy splendor to it. It’s a more mature movie than I could really appreciate at first.

Beverly Hills Ninja

Beverly Hills Ninja. Tristar Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I think I only just realized how commonly “Beverly Hills” is used as an adjective meant to evoke something in the vicinity of “spoiled rich white people”. As someone who grew up only vaguely aware that Beverly Hills is a neighborhood in California, (Beverly Hills 90210 was popular in my childhood but I have seen zero seconds of it and didn’t even know what it was about) I never really picked up on a deeper meaning. I was most aware of The Beverly Hillbillies, and it took a long time to click with me that the town itself was supposed to connote the richest of the rich and the family wasn’t just in the richest neighborhood in your typical town.

I would really like to see this movie do a little more with Farley’s character than have us point and laugh at him for the whole run. However, I don’t have high hopes for him to have much dignity. Maybe at best, this can be something that Kung Fu Panda owes a lot to while improving upon it.

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Yellowbeard

Yellowbeard. Hemdale Film Corporation 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This looked like a bit of a mess when I first passed by it and taking a closer look now it seems like it’s even worse than it initially appeared. The huge cast of big names probably means that nobody except Graham Chapman’s Yellowbeard gets much time to be all that important to the plot. There’s a whole lot of Monty Python alums here, but it’s not a Monty Python or Terry Gilliam project. Though as Chapman is a writer, it’s easy to see how they were assembled.

At this point, it seems that the most marketable names in the movie are Cheech and Chong, and it’s not just weird that they’d be in a movie together and not at the center of it, but I don’t understand what they’re doing in such a Python-y movie.

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Planet 51

Planet 51. TriStar Pictures 2009.

Before watching the movie:

I vaguely recall the publicity for this movie at the time, and it didn’t particularly interest me then. The concept of extraterrestrials reacting to an astronaut from Earth as an alien invasion plot turned inside out was moderately intriguing, but it didn’t particularly call out to me at the time. Animation outside of Disney and Pixar (and sometimes them as well) at the time struck a tone that didn’t really connect with me, and still doesn’t. But as that tone was almost obligatory for the market of the day, it was probably exaggerated in the advertisements and this has the potential to be more in line with what does appeal to me.

I didn’t even know that the astronaut is played by Dwayne Johnson. The character design even looks a little bit like a redheaded reimagining of Johnson, how his appearance (and race) would have to change to fit the classic image of space race NASA astronauts. Or I may just be very bad with faces.

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The Nutty Professor (1996)

The Nutty Professor. Imagine Entertainment 1996.

Before watching the movie:

There are two reasons I avoided this movie. First, the original probably didn’t need a remake (I thought I reviewed that but I guess it was before I started this blog), and second, I’m concerned by how the Eddie Murphy version of the character is ostracized for being obese, not for being a nerd, which almost certainly means that fat jokes will fuel a lot of the movie. Why wasn’t it enough for the Dr. Jekyll side to be nerdy? 1996 was still a little before geek culture took over the zeitgeist. Was a black nerd drinking a potion to turn suave too close to Steve Urkel/Stefan Urquel, debuting three years earlier on television? Judging from Eddie Murphy’s live action movies since this one, I suspect he just thinks wearing fat suits is funny, and he’s Eddie Murphy so he can make whatever movies he wants.

I am kind of excited to learn that James Coburn is in this somewhere.

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Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin. Mosfilm 1925.

Before watching the movie:

While this is Soviet propaganda, it’s also considered a highly influential piece of cinematography. It got mentioned in my film studies class and we saw a clip of some metaphor-driven editing, but the main thing I remember is that it was briefly mentioned that this movie doesn’t have a traditional protagonist, but is focused on the collective actions of the crew, and because of how steeped I am in individualist Western hero narratives, and especially American big damn hero narratives, I have a hard time imagining how such storytelling can work. But after a lot of “one man in the wrong place at the right time” action movies lately, I’ve developed an interest in seeing what a movie that refuses to put any one person in the spotlight looks like.

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The Caddy

The Caddy. Paramount Pictures 1953.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t really know much beyond that this is a Martin and Lewis movie. I guess Jerry Lewis is the good golfer posing as his friend’s caddy because he can’t handle the attention of the crowd. But he’s hopeless as a caddy. Laughs ensue.

Looks like they both have love interests? I guess there’s room for some subplot around the slapstick and friend arguments.

I’m not sure I’ve seen enough of Dean Martin to know what to expect from him. He’s clearly the straight man of the duo though.

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Congo

Congo. Paramount Pictures 1995.

Before watching the movie:

So much as I thought I knew what this was about, it seems I completely misunderstood this movie. I had the idea this was some kind of action drama about conservation, like fighting poachers or something. Maybe a military operation in the jungle.

What this actually seems to have something to do with is a new species of killer gorilla and also a signing gorilla, and the preview I saw looked a lot funnier than I expected. So I’m completely at a loss for what to expect now, besides Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson being in it.

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